It was a long and eventful day today but good. I'm slowly finding my way. I am, however, far too tired to write. I'm going to have to find a rest day and catch up on all the photos and events.
I originally started writing during my 2010 Alaska trip. I would tell people where I was going, "Alaska". And how I was going there, "On an 18 year old street bike with street tires." I would then tell them about the Dalton Highway and it's unpredictable largely unpaved 424 miles. All my guy friends responded similarly, "Cool. Let me know how it was when you get back." In contrast, virtually every single female friend I had at the time responded, once I told them about the Dalton, "YOU'RE DOING WHAT?!? YOU'RE GOING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED! You have to send me an email or a text message every day to let me know you're ok!" I promised that I would each and every time. Once it got to be about 20 women, most of them new mothers who have never been on a motorcycle, I mentioned to one that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with all these messages every day. "Why don't you write a blog?" she asked. "That way we can all stalk you and when the updates stop we'll know more or less where you bit it."
This made sense to me. As I embarked on that journey, now six years ago, I tried to think of what to write. I had no experience doing anything like this. "Dammit Jim, I'm a programmer, not a writer." I asked myself the question, "What is it about this thing that I am doing on this motorcycle that a new mother who has never been on a motorcycle would find interesting?" Certainly not tire wear, oil consumption, mileage or any of the other typical things that motorcyclists focus on. This turned into the question, "What is it about this experience that I, because I have been doing it for so long, take for granted?"
This provided me a framework from which to write. I was writing for these non-motorcycling new mothers who were convinced I was going to bite it. It caused me to look at every detail of what I was doing, thinking, and experiencing and see it with new eyes, with beginner eyes.
But now, six years later, I embark on a different trip for similar reasons. Reset. Away. To take a pause from myself and maybe find a lost perspective that I only ever seem to find Out There. But now, in this new context with 20+K followers on Facebook many of whom are professionals in the motorsports industry and much harder core and capable than I am, it's not as clear who to write for or what story to tell. Because so many had expressed interest in riding the TAT, my thought initially had been to try to write a kind of "guide to the Trans America Trail" for them. There isn't a lot of good information out there on what riding this route is like. There are some youtube videos of sections that look rough. There are some articles and even a DVD, but nothing is comprehensive. But describing the trail is much like trying to take photographs of it because the route thus far has been so similar. "Gravel, dirt, rocks, hills, switchbacks, cliffs, trees, pavement, rinse, repeat." The sections meld together and I can no longer remember the finer differences between them and one could largely describe what this riding has been like in a couple of paragraphs. "Much much easier than anticipated, but tiring. Appropriate for advanced beginner level riders who have ridden on gravel and dirt."
But I still have a number who are concerned about my demise, hence the reason for the Spot. I still have quite a number of non-riders who follow me and some have sent messages saying how much they're looking forward to reading about the philosopher motorcyclist's travels again. They certainly are not interested in how well the Mefo Explorer tires I have are working out or the other motorcycling minutiae about dualsporting.
So I came up with a thought which may make things a bit easier. Over the last too long, I've been attempting to build a mapping system for motorcyclists to share routes, stories, and experiences. It's not ready for prime time but it's slowly getting there. Hopefully, at this point, it works for more people than not.
So what I am going to try to do is document conditions on the trail in maps, not here in the blog. I'll include tracks, notes, and photos but not Sam's routes. (GPS routes, rollcharts, and maps can be purchased from Sam at http://transamtrail.com.) The maps of my ride I'll target at riders who might want to ride the TAT someday. (If you just want to look at the set of maps and skip the blog you can view them here: http://miles-by-motorcycle.com/136/maps). I'll add comments where applicable. If you have questions you can register for the site here and post comments directly to things on the map or to blog articles here. (If it doesn't work please do let me know.)
I'll try to write the blog the way I've done in the past and save you endless photos of corners with gravel in them. Maybe that will work better. At the end of the trip (we'll see how far I get) maybe I can put together a 'Yermo's Guide to the Riding the TAT" article if anyone's interested.
As some have pointed out, I've been sounding like I'm not doing that well. Truth be told the first four days have been much much more tiring than I would have guessed. Nothing has been difficult or even challenging. The roads are overwhelmingly easy. I can see that this is greatly dependent upon weather, though. However, it's a different style of riding and it requires a different level of attention. It wears me out so much quicker than road riding does. After 150 miles on these gravel and dirt roads I feel like the equivalent of 800 street miles. It's also exercising muscles I didn't know I had.
The seat has also caused me much more pain than I would have expected and I should have stopped to address that some time ago, but I often let the thought of a task become much larger in my mind than the task itself, even if the end result is an improved situation. I remember riding into Deadhorse, Alaska when it was 25 degF out with a strong wind. I didn't stop to put on my electric vest because I didn't want to deal with the momentary painful cold of putting it on so instead I was moderately cold for hours. Thus it has been with making the bike seat more tolerable. I originally bought the Saddlemen seat because I had such good luck with the one they made for my Beloved Blue Oil Burner, a '92 BMW K100RS. It features a layered gel design that is the best seat I've used by far. I thought that the seats they make for dualsports like my DR650 would be comparable. I had been a little concerned about how narrow the seat was but I figured since it was a Saddlemen seat it would be ok. I was so confident about this I even contemplated not packing my AirHawk but decided to bring it with me just in case.
An AirHawk is a seat cover with an air bladder that you inflate and strap on your seat as a kind of cushion. It evens out the pressure you put on your rear and generally makes riding on uncomfortable seats much more tolerable.
The "problem", which is not a problem at all, is that on the Suzuki the seat is bolted fixed to the bike. All removing it entails is pulling off two dirty side covers and then undoing two difficult to thread bolts. For some reason that I cannot explain, this task seemed onerous possibly a sign of how low energy I've been of late.
In the relatively early morning, reminding myself that a task is often easier once you get started, I went outside, pulled out my tool roll, and began to undo the covers.
The seat doesn't quite line up 100% so getting the bolts to thread back in takes some fiddling and pressure, but all went back together in short order. Hours and hours of pain for fear of minutes of work.
"Take the time." I reminded myself.
I wasn't convinced that it would make that much of a difference in this particular context but something needed to be done. Even the day after a ride sitting on anythng was so painful that I was beginning to fear that the pain was indicative of real injury.
I put everything back and packed up the bike and rolled down the street to a diner. The seat still hurt. As I rolled up, an older gentleman was sitting outside and started talking to me. "I think you're gonna get wet today!" he said with a wry grin. "I used to race dirt track and ride all over up in them har hills, but I'm too old now." he said.
A young rough looking woman walked out of the diner and, looking at the bike, said to the old man, "There's no way I'm ever getting on one of those. I'm too scared." as she lit a cigarette and took a big drag. The smoke lingered as she exhaled.
Inside, I sat down and ordered an omelette as I often do in the mornings on a road trip. I asked if they had any fruit. The waitress looked at me quizzically as if she was pondering a question she had not been asked before. "I don't think so." I then remembered that I had ventured into the Land That Fruit and Vegetables Forgot.
I sat, painfully, and pondered the day sipping my brown colored water. My mind was largely blank which for me is unusual. The thoughts that normally occupy my consciousness were somehow missing. Disconnected. It's like I've been less than me for a very long time.
I paid my tab and then headed down the street to an autoparts store hoping to find some loctite and maybe some race wire or similar. Loctite is a fluid you put on bolts that, once it hardens, prevents them from coming back out again. It comes in multiple grades depending on how strongly you don't want the bolt to come out. Given the number of bolts that have been falling off the bike my thought is to apply loctite to anything I take off. Bare wire, which I should have brought with me, could be used to wrap something about the exhaust where the heat shield fell off. One experienced rider on Facebook suggested a beer can could provide a makeshift solution. Unfortunately, while they did have loctite they did not have any bare wire.
I loaded the current route into the GPS and headed off to explore the next section of the TAT. The last section had ended with a lot of pavement. This next section started out also on pavement. At this rate, I suspect there's going to be more pavement on this route across the country than I expected.
At one point, I saw a turtle on an empty road and immediately turned around the help the little guy to the shoulder but I was saddened to see he had already been hit and was dead.
I hadn't noticed the previous day that I had come down from the mountains and was now in a relatively wide valley. It seemed like everything slows down. The streams barely seem to move.
The miles ticked along without me noticing. I realized after some time that the airhawk was making quite a difference. I didn't need to switch positions every few seconds and was more able to meld into the ride. Eventually, I started to see hills.
But as I approached the route took a long turn to the left and I was left on pavement for an extended section. The miles ticked off and I continued not to notice. At one point, I passed a sign I did not expect.
I tend not to notice details but I was pretty sure I had not crossed into Middle Earth.
While it was still overwhelmingly pavement, there were beautful vistas to behold.
Eventually, I did find myself on gravel roads again for a time.
My progress slowed as I usuallly only to around 20mph or less on these roads. Turns and surface changes are unpredictable. What looks like a good long straight stretch can turn into a downhill deep gravel covered switchback at a moments notice. Caution is warranted.
I was soon back on pavement. I found myself thinking about differences.
"You don't sound like you're having fun." one mentioned. "Maybe you should turn around and go home." another said.
My road trips have been very different. I suspect if I had written about my first long road trips they would have sounded much the same. Pain. Discomfort. Fiddling. Errors. Regret. As a teenager, I rode up to Saranac Lake on the Honda Sabre V65 I had at the time, a large top heavy bike without a fairing that leaves you to fight the wind yourself. It had gotten quite cold and half way to my destination it started to rain dramatically. I had no rain suit. I had no cold weather gear. I was miserable. Eventually, a muscle under my right shoulderblade cramped up so bad it started to feel like it was bleeding. That muscle never recovered.
I could have stopped riding at that point. But I didn't. I learned, made more mistakes along the way, and slowly grew into a style of riding that worked me. Over time and a few hundred thousands of miles, I have road travel down to muscle memory. I have figured out how to manage my fatigue and lack of energy. I have grown into something resembling a sport touring street rider.
"Then maybe you should just do that." I can hear the voices say. "It would be easier."
I needed to leave and I've learned that when I don't listen to some of the more constructive "intuitions" or "voices" I do so at my own peril. I need reset. I need "different". I've had the thought, no, feeling that there is something to be learned out here on this "trail" doing something quite different than I've ever done before. As we get older, we tend to specialize and once we know what it feels like to be good at something we tend to shy away from doing anything that might shed us in an incompetent light. Fear of judgement of the other, even when the other is just a voice in our head feeling embarrassed hoping no one will "see". But there in lies a danger because we lose sight of our "beginner's mind". We get used to having answers. We get type cast in our own minds. "I am a sport touring rider, not a dual sport rider." And in that we start to make excuses. "I'm just too old." so many say. Or have I not put in the effort to adapt? And once you start to say you are too old, your possibilities narrow and you further adapt solely to the familiar.
And I agree that I am mal-adapted to this ride. And that is, the whole point.
I knew when I embarked on this little journey that I would be surprised by the unexpected. I have ridden a couple thousand miles of gravel and dirt roads over the years so I thought I should be able to handle the technical aspects of riding on these surfaces. The roads and trails have been almost disappointingly easy. What has completely surprised me is how tiring this kind of riding is day in and day out. But slowly it gets easier.
As is the case with all change, there's a painful period involved. We are not machines. We are not static "things". I like to say we are not "beings" but instead of "processes" that adapt and grow. With change comes pain. But, hopefully, it's temporary and I'll learn to slowly adapt and grow into a different kind of rider. And hopefully, a different kind of person.
The same has been true of all the big changes I've made in my life. When I figured out starch, sugar, and lactose was making me ill because I apparently have a defective immune system that hates me, I cut them out of my diet. What I rarely talk about was how downright painful that change was. But that's past tense pain so I rarely think about it and focus primarily on the benefits. It's good to have all my innards. Back then, before the diet, I was so bad off even riding on the street for short distances was so painful that I would usually opt just not to do it. Friends would see me pass out as soon as we reached our destination. Post diet everything changed.
There are also those who have done this ride and rides like it before. And like me when speaking to road riders, they have endless advice to offer in an attempt to save me some pain and mishaps. I listen and carefully consider all of it. I've even gotten the occasional implied "I told you so." when predictable problems arise. But here in lies another thought. I have to make many of these mistakes myself. I have to figure out a way to do this that works for me, even if that means just doing it slowly because my body just isn't as robust as I would like it to be. And here, being the beginner on the learning side, instead of the teacher which I have been for so many years now, I see clearly a flaw that I have been making.
When I see someone struggling with something I know something about, my first uncontrollable impulse is to jump in and help. I want to jump in and save them the pain I went through. In some rare cases it's warranted and, if I want to be charitable, some would say I've done a bit of good in the world. But in most cases my help turns out to be burdensome. If I had let people do things for me, if I had only ever gone on guided tours and done the tourist thing, if I had never ventured out into the rain on my own or faced the consequences of some of the mishaps along the way, I would not be in the position to help and advise that I am.
It's a difficult thing to know you can help, to know you can make their lives easier but to hold yourself back and do less, not more. This is a terribly difficult lesson for me having adapted to too many years in a world where not helping meant imminent disaster. I have great empathy for soldiers returning from too many years at war no longer adapted to a peacetime life. They still perceive enemies and IED's at every corner.
I taught my last girlfriend how to ride a motorcycle. I set the DR up with a lowered seat beause I hoped she would enjoy it and had visions of riding with her despite the fact that I enjoyed having her as a passenger so much. In parts she did enjoy riding. It felt good to see her do something she didn't think she could, which was and continues to be a recurring theme for her. But I tried too hard to save her from the fall. It should have been obvious to me how important she was to me, but it wasn't. I was trying to save her from the fall to save myself from the pain of watching her fall and my fear took much of the fun out of it for her.
That story has repeated itself in countless ways in all areas of my life and contributes to the reason why my life is the way it is.
"Here. I know things. I can help. Here let me help you. Let me save you the pain. Really. I'm good at these things. Let me do this for you."
But without the pain, without the effort, without the struggle, there is less if any growth. And people need to grow. It's only human.
I see that now despite the fact that I still knee-jerk overhelping at every turn when I see someone I care about in need. But much like coming into a corner too fast, it's not "don't panic". It's more "realize you are panicking /quicker/ and correct /quicker/." Identify the feeling. Feel it. Watch it. Learn to pause. Eventually, you adapt and grow to no longer panic at things that would have terrified you before.
And so it is with me as I grow into these gravel roads and many aspects of my life as I try to rebuild myself.
I had been concerned about rain. I didn't know what to expect having never been caught in any kind of real rain on dirt roads before. It turned out to be no issue. There's a bit less traction. As a matter of fact, it's the pavement portions that are more dangerous as I would come across mud and debris washed across the road. On the trail, it was much less so.
I got good and soaked but it didn't bother me although it did get dramatically cooler.
Owing to the fact that there was so much pavement, I made pretty good time and was in Jasper well before nightfall. Things continue to fail. My little laminar lip screen just isn't holding on so I'll have to remove it today. Bugs here we come.
Given that there was serious rain in the forecast for the next two days I thought I would take a rest day and see if I could make some progress fixing some bugs on the site. I was feeling pretty good despite the long day. The airhawk helped more than I realized and I think I'm starting to adapt. It's getting easier.
I slept fitfully and when I awoke I felt like I had aged 100 years. Every joint, muscle, and fiber in my body ached so a rest day was in order. "When hungry eat. When tired, sleep."
It's now Sunday, Day 11. It's been raining heavily all morning. I geared up, checked out, and am sitting in the lobby typing. The rain is supposed to pass soon and then I'll head back out and see if I can learn to adapt some more.
Let's see if this works. I've made some changes so if you're interested you should be able to click on the map below and get a larger version that you can zoom into and click on photos. The photos are a bit small now but I'll correct that soon once I get a chance. If it fails horribly and you have a comment please let me know. I've only tested it on Chrome so far.
I managed to just beat the rain and duck into a dive motel in a little town somewhere in Georgia just down the road from a place called Chatsworth. I'm sitting on a pillow because the plush chair is just too painful.
I woke this morning at around 08:30 after having stayed up too late writing once again. Over the last couple of years, sleep has been a huge difficulty for me but this trip is wearing me down so much that it's not the problem it usually is. Things are getting a bit easier. A system for how things are done and where everything should go is slowing starting to make itself known. Before I embarked on the day's ride, I tried to secure my errant tail light a bit better. The gorilla tape just wasn't cutting it with all the jackhammering that's been going on while riding these forest service roads. Audrey had pulled my chain a bit about the number of zip ties I keep in the garage (and presumably the number I packed, which is not insignificant.) I mentioned possibly carrying too many zipties to Megan when we were discussing packing lists to which she said, "There's no such thing as too many zip ties.".
I suspect even Rube Goldberg would approve:
Last night I encountered two riders who were following the same route. One was from Calgary and other from somewhere in California. They looked really beat. The one told me that he had fallen at the fourth Witt Road water crossing. It's where a lot of riders fall. They ended up staying at the same motel but when I got up in the morning they were already gone. Rushing.
I found myself thinking, as I had pondered while I was home, each moment on this trip is one likely not to repeat. But despite this, I'll pass the occasional vista and let it go. I've passed up meeting up with people I've wanted to see again. I've ignored chances at conversations.
I opt instead to ride the trails thinking of the next destination, the parts falling off my bike, the concerns at home that occupy my heart, mind, and soul, allowing myself, erroneously, to think about schedules, destinations, and worries about the future.
This is not the way to ride a motorcycle and I know this. It's also no way to live life. We have these moments. They are all we have. What am I rushing for? The rain that pounds the mountains on the horizon? It's sunny here. It's cool. The forest is beautiful and all I can think of is being someplace else. I snap bad photos quickly for reasons not entirely clear. They represent no memory, just a snapshot not even of a moment considered but as an interruption in another moment being interrupted by ...
I forced myself to stop. I got off the bike and merely listened to my surroundings letting the seconds and minutes tick by alone in this quiet forest.
A solitary wildflower caught my eye. I carefully took a photo to take with me to send to someone it reminded me ot once I could get back where there was cell service.
I'm not sure how I let myself forget this again. Some enjoy thinking in terms of goals, destinations, and the social context, whether real or perceived, of having accomplished something that many other have not. I'm not sure any of it is actually all that meaningful. If I go all the way to Oregon, assuming the near terminal case of "Old White Man's Saggy Ass Syndrome" doesn't kill me first, will it mean anything?
I realized as I looked at the flower, I'm not here to "make it". I am here just to be here. I am here in search of "reset". The trail is just a means. Circumstances hang over me that could end this trip on a moment's notice. One text message and I head back "home". What will I think of my time here if this is all there is?
The most painful thing that has ever happened to me resulted, in large part, because I wasn't present and I simply didn't see the wild flower.
If I go just one more day or if I reach Colorado or go all the way across, it all makes no difference save for a few people who will be disappointed, but I suspect that they will understand.
The forest roads here have been of the kind I had hoped to ride. In Maryland, near DC, we spend our best efforts trying to find small stretches of gravel or country road to ride our dualsports on. Yet here I am inundated by all the incredible roads and scenery. It's what I've wanted to explore times a thousand. It's too much of a good thing. The mind craves change. It craves a progression, a story. There is no story yet in these woods. There are just endless switchbacks, hills, bumps, rocks, cliffs, small rivers and other details amidst endless trees.
The first part of the day involved forest roads much like the ones that I have seen for the last couple of days. Then I came across a "Log Trucks" sign and the scenery changed. The road became much wider and resembled a construction zone. Then I came upon devastation.
After so many miles of glorious forest, this was shocking. Obviously, humanity needs trees but it seems to me that we could be much better parasites on this forest organism. A good parasite doesn't kill its host. A better parasite evolves a symbiotic relationship with its host.
We do neither.
At one point, in a blind switchback the surface suddenly sadistically turned to deep-ish gravel.
This lasted for miles upon miles. At first it was just in blind corners and switchback, and then it covered the road with mounds of the stuff in the center and on the sides. This amounted to tiring riding.
There had been threat of rain all day and once again, just as the rain started, I managed to find a motel across from a modest restaurant.
I think I will pause and take some time tomorrow to mount the airhawk, an air bladder cover for the seat which should hopefully make it a bit less painful. It involves removing the seat which isn't a problem except the mounting bolts tend not to line up.
We'll see what tomorrow brings. I'm more beat than I realized so am going to sign off now.
Today was the eighth day of this trip and the second day on the Trans America Trail.
Even though it is still very early and there's no knowing what is in store for me as I continue this little journey, I can say that so far this feels very different from any long distance motorcycle trip I've taken. Something is missing. There's always been a peace that I find after a just few days on the motorcycle. Even when I was a much younger and smaller version of myself, the bike was the only place I ever knew any real peace. My Beloved Blue Oil Burner has often been referred to as my meditation chamber. Megan and I talked about the meditative nature of the act of motorcycling. "I ride because it calms the voices and let's me be." I stated to which she replied, "Yes, it quiets the monkey voices. It's a buddhist concept."
That feeling, however, has been completely missing. The calm that always comes after just a few days is simply not there even though I am exhausted. I feel no sense of "away". It's as if I am still just at home.
Maybe it's because I'm not on "my" bike. The DR650 is a different beast. It's designed as a compromise between on and off road use. After all the work I've put into it, it's quite a nice motorcycle and with the suspension, brake, and tire upgrades I've made it handles on street and off quite well. To try to make it more comfortable for long distance, I added a little windshield by Laminar Lip and I also had a nice Saddlemen seat made largely because of how well the seat on my bike performs. Unfortunately, this seat, liimited by the fact that Dual Sport motorcycles are thin by necessity, is simply too narrow and puts pressure at odd places. It has gone from uncomfortable to downright painful.
Maybe it's because of the trail. The trail so far, while not "challenging", does require constant vigilance as the bike moves erratically over the uneven traction reduced surface of gravel, dirt, rocks, bumps,dips, twigs, branches, and leaves. It's no wonder parts are falling off the poor dualsport. For shorter rides you really don't notice it but the experience of riding these forest service roads all day long is much like what I would imagine strapping a jack hammer to yourself and your bike and leaving it turned on for 8 hours would feel like. It is a thorough unmitigated rattling which, as a general rule, seems to intefere with any kind of thinking.
Maybe it's that I can't separate myself from home the dark clouds that follow me beckon my thoughts and feelings homeward preventing me from being right here, right now.
But maybe it will change.
As I said in the article I lost in the ether last night in one of my many errors, I had originally intended just to pay Francois and Megan a quick visit and to my surprise was invited to stay for a few days. Megan strongly suggested a group shake down run, which we did through forest service roads. As part of that they reviewed the gear I had brought. Overall it seems I had covered most of the bases. I even got myself a water bladder backpack thing so I could sip water while riding. Megan looked at the small thing I had bought and told me that it simply wasn't large enough. It held maybe a little over a liter. I liked it because it was small. They had a spare three liter one which they loaned me. I am glad they did because I am certainly drinking more water than I was expecting.
It's worn like a backpack. I fill it with water and ice and it lasts the day. Before I left, Audrey gave me a sugarless electrolyte solution designed to be added to water for those of us who can't drink things like gatorade. I think it's helping.
Megan, after looking at how I had my top bag secured, told me that she simply didn't like how I had done it. She strongly recommended that I get so called "Rok Straps". They allow you to secure things to the bike much better than a simple nylon strap. She also recommended that, since I have a water proof camera that I get this auto-retracting lanyard thing that can be securely attached to a jacket. This has turned out to be a fantastic recommendation as it makes taking bad pictures much easier.
Given how late I stayed up writing and fixing software, I was surprised that I got up well before 9. I was out of the motel just after 10 which for me is not too bad. I headed up the street to Wheeler's Cycle in the hopes that maybe they would carry roll charts. It's a slow place and you have to be ready to wait a while. Unfortunately, they did not carry roll chart holders. Bummer.
Given that this was a bust I decided to head out and worry about it another time. I soon found myself on gravel roads again.
Nothing was particular challenging but the scenery was simply beautiful. At every turn I would try to capture some sense of the wonder of these forests but to no avail.
There were streams filled with moss covered boulders.
There were sections of road that were moderately straight and hard packed allowing speeds reaching 30mph although for most of the day doing between 15 and 20 was a comfortable pace.
There were more streams.
At one point I came across an interesting little cabin. Surprisingly, the forest has a strange kind of monotony to it. After you've seen the first 500 turns that all look very similar the mind begins to crave seeing something different.
So here we have a cabin. It is not a tree, a cliff, a rock, or gravel. Hence, it is different and note worthy.
Flowers are also note worthy.
I believe this is the only bridge I have traveled under so far. I thouth the flowers lining both sides of the road were pretty.
Most of the day was spent riding on roads with distressingly steep drop offs. These roads are not difficult but they are very very unforgiving of inattentiveness. Gravel strewn switchbacks appear randomly. Combine that with a steep downgrade and it can make for interesting lack of traction on braking if you are not expecting it. It would be very very easy to miss a corner and go tumbling down the mountain into the trees. Given that over the entire day I only saw a handful of other human beings, one would be unlikely to be found off the side of the mountain. Caution is merited.
I tried to capture how steep these dropoffs are, but of course the photo doesn't do it justice.
At one point I was taking a break at the end of one of the GPS sections when a man rolled up on an old Honda Transalp. The Transalp is now a fairly coveted rare machine so it was unusual to see. His name was Eddie and we talked for quite some time. Well, he talked and I listened. I as surprised to learn he was about to turn 61.
It was getting late and I was already hungry so I pushed on hoping to make it to Telico Plains. I had been doing pretty well with navigation that day despite not having a roll chart holder. When the GPS got confused I would pull the chart ticker tape out of the tank bag fumbling with it to find what turn this was. Unfortunately, at one point I failed to realize that I had gone off the prepared route. I don't have much experience following routes on the GPS as I mostly either use it to get to a destination or to record a ride.
I had thought that once a route track was imported it would continue to display that route even if one veers off of it. This is not how it works. Once you are off the prepared route by any distance the GPS automatically recalculates and provides you a new route. This happened at a wrong turn which led me on yet another detour. I didn't actually realize that I had gone the wrong way until I came upon Witt Road from the wrong side.
Megan and her friends Marissa and Caleb (sp?) had taken me down Witt Road to do the water crossings under supervision. After a rain I'm told they can be quite challenging. "You've done them so you can go around and skip that section." Francois would say.
I was hungry and was not interested in doing a big detour so over the four crossings I went. In reverse the first one is the challenging one.
I made it through all four crossing without issue and headed to Telico Plains. I stopped by a motorcycle shop there to see if they had any roll chart holders but it was to no avail. I went to a nearby cafe and had a salad. The waittress when taking my order asked me about my crazy diet restrictions. It's always a topic of conversation and makes traveling and eating out challenging. "No cake, no soda, nothing fun?" she asked seeming honestly distressed by this. "Nope." I replied.
"Don't worry, I still love you." she said jokingly.
I know it's just how people down here speak but it hit me like a lightning strike. I'm not sure why. "At least someone does." I said regretting it instantly.
I distracted myself with GPS issues. I wondered if there was a way to get it to stop auto-routing when one goes "off-track". It seemed like a feature the contraption should have. Perusing discussion forums on the phone yielded conflicting information. Some people say the Zumo 550 has the feature and others say it doesn't. Maybe it's a software revision thing.
I paid the bill. The waittress asked if I would be around again and I told her it was unlikely as I was heading West. I walked outside and futzed with the GPS in the heat. It turns out the Zumo 550 does have the ability to turn off auto-recalculating of routes.
Setting this to "prompt" now gives me a nice visual warning when I'm off the track while leaving the track displayed on the screen so I can find my way back to the point where I took the wrong turn. This works like a champ. I made no further egregious navigation errors. The two times I took wrong turns I was able to quickly find my way back to the official trail. What's challenging is that sometimes the turns you are supposed to take look like little more than driveways but now I have a failsafe.
Off to Witt Road I went to ride through the four water crossings for a third time. Witt road, up until this point, was the least maintained of the roads on the route. In sections it's quite rocky with quite a bit of gravel. I had decided to try to film myself doing the crossings. You can see the results of my efforts in this video on youtube.
I continued to ride through the deep dark forests into the late hours of the day. At one point I came across forest road 80 which is the least maintained "road" so far on the trail. It's more a big trail than a road and winds it's way up steep fairly narrow inclines. There are downed trees, ruts, grass, rocks, It feels like a proper trail in the mountains.
I made my want into Ducktown where I found a motel. Two guys who were also riding the TAT arrived around the time I did. Earlier in the day I had come across an older guy at a gas station saying he had done it 5 times and would fall down "about 50 times" on each trip. Foreshadowing?
I spent the last two and a half hours writing an article only to lose it in it's entirety. I suspect my little notebook keyboard may be failing.
I stayed with Francois and Megan from Friday through to this morning. They were extremely kind to me. They too have a guest and gear room where they store guests and gear and I was stored there quite comfortably. We spent two days doing a shakedown run through mountain gravel roads and even did a night run through Deal's Gap. (Much of what I spent this evening writing talked about my time with them.)
Because of multiple failures and errors, I did not get to the start of the Trans America Trail today until 4pm. A GPS error took me 50 miles out of my way. The error was probably mine. I swear I triple checked the coordinates but the GPS still routed me over 50 miles from where it was supposed to. I should have realized something wasn't right, but did not. Details. Details and I have an antagonistic relationship. However, the road from where I erroneously ended up and where I was supposed to be was fantastic.
Unfortunately, the two days of shakedown runs I did with Megan and Francois have shaken a bit more loose than I realized. Parts are starting to fall off.
One of the brake light mounting screws has fallen off so it's now held on by gorilla tape.
The heat shield on my exhaust has fallen off so my leg gets quite warm. I pondered why my leg was getting warm and thought maybe the engine was running hot. To actually look and see did not occur to me. Details again. They say I am smart. I suspect evidence may point to the contrary.
The right side rollchart holder cover has fallen off. Having a rollchart which is a form of step by step directions mounted in a convenient fashion to the handlebars is especially useful as a backup when the GPS gets confused. At one point the wind grabbed the sheet and it started to stream out flopping all over the place.
I suspect other things will fail as well.
I had great plans of making good progress, but was thwarted by these errors. There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow and I wanted to practice traveling a bit in the clear so I opted to ride a short section to start getting a feel for it. In retrospect, I should probably just have stayed in Andrews and started fresh in the morning. I was already pretty sore and tired.
The first section of the trail was this one lane deeply wooded mountain road that was carved into the side of a mountain. It was a seemingly endless onslaught of hills, switchbacks, cliffs, and beams of sunlight
I rode to mile 30 which took me fairly close to Robbinsville where I knew I could get a room. I opted not to try the next section as it was getting late and I was pretty beat.
Hopefully, I will become less error prone. At present, nothing is flowing. I am making a lot of mistakes. Everything is forced. I am off-balance and strangely disconnected.
Writing is proving difficult.
I feel very closed.
I've spent the last four days with Francios and Megan who run Dual Sport Touring, Inc. I keep trying to tell Megan the last people who fed me this well had to put up "Do Not Feed The Yermos" signs in the neighborhood. They do not believe me at their own peril.
I had all the best intentions of writing about the last four days and what I've experienced and all I've learned, but there simply hasn't been enough quiet time. So much has happened and I fear it will get lost to time.
I am extremely grateful for all their help. As a result of my time here, I feel much more prepared for the journey ahead.
I leave tomorrow to head to Andrews, North Carolina where I will find the new start of the Trans Am Trail.
The best laid plans are often cast aside. I had the best of intentions of writing once I got back to my motel room after dinner but apparently riding my Mighty DR takes it out of me more than I realized as I woke up face down on the bed some hours later hands and face quite swollen.
I contemplated getting up and writing only to roll over and go back to sleep and sleep until the morning.
Checkout time is in 15 or so minutes so I have to make this brief.
I think I may have poisoned myself at dinner the night before because I woke up feeling very off and quite tired. As a testament to how poorly I was doing I failed to turn on the Spot Tracker, lube the chain, or even check tire pressures or oil. As fatigue descended on me in earnest I came down from the hills and ventured into Roanoke in search of a Starbucks where I sat in air conditioning drinking water and coffee and working on software. After this extended break I started to feel better and braved the heat, stop lights, and traffic to ascend back to the tree covered cool parkway.
At one light I noticed I was in a turn only lane at a red light.. A scooter was to my right and a behind the scooter. The light turned green and the scooter took off and so did I. I signaled at least two car lengths ahead of the car and merged into the lane to continue past the turn. At the next light I noticed the car was not stopping so I stayed near the while line as he forcefully drove right up next to me.
"Sorry, shit happens." this toothless and antagonistic man said.
I was not angry. A previous me would have been.
"I'm glad it didn't." I said. He seemed surprised by this and seemed calmed by it. The light turned green and I pulled away.
The weather on the Blue Ridge Parkway continued to be fantastic.
At one point I came across some construction. It was quite some time before the lead truck arrived. I asked the lead car if I could pull ahead which they said was ok. The guide truck arrived and, as they do, guided us slowly past the construction site. We sped up a bit doing maybe 35 miles and hour when in our lane around a corner a full sized dump truck came hurtling at us. The guide truck slammed on his brakes as the dump truck swerve to the left to miss him. I hit my brakes thankful for the upgrades I had installed. I will be helping Duncan install stainless brake lines on his bike as soon as I get back if he doens't do it. Surprisingly, whereas I've had terrible luck with EBC brakes on my Beloved Blue Oil Burner, the EBC brake pads I got for the DR have made a big difference.
I came across this interesting cemetary I've seen a number of times before.
I remember this corner from years ago when Ian and I first traveled this road and stayed at a campground not far from here. I remember this corner because at the time it caught me by surprise. The Blue Ridge will do that to you especially on your first or second time down it.
There were so many dirt roads and trails going off in all directions that I wanted to explore. There's something about going through an area knowing that I am about to say goodbye to it for a while that makes it more compelling, somehow easier to be more interested.
I stopped at a picnic area and noticed several messages on my phone and a voicemail. I braced myself for bad news. "There are big problems in life, this is not one of them." I told her. I spent a bit of time on the phone as angry clouds rolled over me. "I have to go. It's about to rain." I thought as I put my phone and wallet into my, hopefully, waterproof tank bag. I rode on and less than a mile from my previous location I came upon absolutely soaked roads which lasted for miles. I was left dry.
It had been my intention to write about the days events,musings, thoughts about the Trans Am Trail, the reasons why ...
Unfortunately, I had to spend a number of hours trying to figure out how I broke my software (specifically the feature that lets me search for and insert a photo into an article, such as the ones you see below). It turned out to be something called a "race condition". Instead of saying, "first get the photo from the server and insert it, and then close the window", I had unintentionally told it to "get the photo from the server and close the window.". On my computer at home, it apparently was fast enough that I never noticed, the "get the photo" part finishing the race first. Here the connectivity is horrible and the "get the photo from the server" part took significantly longer so didn't win the race. "Why aren't these %#!@$#@!$ photos appearing?!?" Oops.
I suspect the first several days of this trip will be plagued by tracking down and fixing things and/or finishing things that were left undone. I do have a bug in the "daily digest" which unfortunately sent out a huge email to all members of the site yesterday. Another Oops. I've turned that off until I figure how I broke it.
Contrary to what I would have expected, despite having the last few items done to it the morning of the first day of the ride, this grossly overloaded and untested Suzuki DR650 is performing quite well. On street and gravel, I really don't notice the weight. The new suspension, tires, and brakes make a huge difference and the Saddlemen Seat is slowly breaking in and becoming comfortable.
It was strongly suggested to me that I carry of Spot Tracker. Every 10 minutes, this gadget sends my position via satellite back to the company where you can see my progress, or lack there of, on a map. You can click this link if you'd like to see it. I do have to remember to turn it on and start the tracking manually every day. It's also somewhat easy to press the wrong button with gloves on so I'm hoping I don't accidentally call the calvary when I intend to say "all is ok".
On my way out, I stopped by to say goodbye to Audrey who works at Ikea. She kindly braved the sunshine and heat to take some photos which she posted on Facebook.
I rode around the Beltway and out onto I66 West. The Mighty DR is not a highway bike. At speeds over 65mph it becomes uncomfortable and I find it challenging to accelerate away from fast moving traffic. Actually, challenging is th wrong word. At some points, I felt more like a obstacle caught between battling semi-trucks. But, with one small exception, traffic was largely light and it wasn't too hot. There's this one point as you get close to Front Royal where the landscape changes and suddenly the scene opens up. This is the point, when leaving town, where it begins to feel like I'm underway.
I expected to be quite sad and dark today, but it hasn't desecended on me yet. I was in unusually good spirits despite lack of sleep, software and equipment problems. It's amazing to me how much simple acts of kindness by people who matter can affect me. The converse is also true.
The road was calm. The weather was simply gorgeous and improved as the day progressed.
Of course, I had to stop at the Starbucks in Front Royal. I had hoped this photo would turn out better. In this suit, especially with this helmet, I look like a Storm Trooper.
Every time I stop here, I think of the time when Ducan, Bruce, and I were heading to Deal's Gap and Joel surprised us by arriving just before we did to join us on our trip. That was such a pleasant surprise.
I was in no mood for I81 with its incessant tractor trailers and retread so I opted for one of my favorite local roads, Fort Valley Road just Southwest of Front Royal. It's a winding country road hidden in this valley that doesn't seem like it should exist. Just a few miles in, the valley narrows into a proper little canyon with sheer cliffs as the road carves its way along a babbling mountain stream.
A little further south, the valley opens up to beautiful vistas. It's crazy to think this is 90 minutes from DC.
After some miles, Fort Valley Road forks. One can go left and head down to Lurray or turn right and head to I81 and points crowded.
And then there's this little gravel road I've never really paid attention to before that heads straight. Deadlines. Obligation. The pull to be elsewhere. Unlike the usual me, mired in my daily life unaware of the voices directing me this way or that, today I recognized these thoughts tugging at my soul trying to pull me elsewhere instead of where I happened to be.
Before me was a gravel road.
And I was on a dirt bike.
And the sun was shining.
Why not pause for a moment?
"Now when you see that trail going up that mountain and it seems like a good idea ...", Duncan would say.
But it was just a little gravel road. I checked the GPS and noticed that after some miles it did look like it went all the way through to another major road.
A truck passed in the opposite direction throwing up a huge cloud of dust. Sun beams shone through trees and dust producing an otherworldly effect.
This photo in no way captures any of that.
At one point the trees opened and suddenly I realized I had climbed up some elevation.
Towards the end of the road after it had turned back to pavement, there is a natural stone wall in an impressive 180 degree steep corner. This photo hints at how cool it is.
The road dumped out onto route 211. Again avoiding I81 I turned left instead of right and wended my way down to route 340 which I followed all the way to Waynesboro which I picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of my all time favorite roads.
The road and scenery is simply beautiful.
The dude in this photo not so much.
(It's now 01:30 in the morning and after some hours trying to fix software after having ridden all day and not slept much the night before, I fear I may be cracking.)
Every now and again as the sun set over the mountains there would be these tunnels of trees that opened up into bright light.
As I mentioned I had intended to write more, so I ended the evening while it was still light out. Unlike my Beloved Blue Oil Burner, a '92 K100RS, the 2009 Suzuki DR650SE is a coveted machine and I have heard many reports of them getting stolen. So while I don't think I've ever bothered to secure my K100, I thought it best to make it at least cursorly difficult to someone to make off with my machine.
Aerostich sells these cool foldable lock bars. It took a while to figure out a good way to position it, but this seems to work. It's not that heavy and packs down very small.
It's been a major push these last several days trying to get ready for this trip. It's now almost 1 AM. I am almost ready and just have a few last details to take care of.
I had planned on trying to upgrade the site several days ago but unfortunately, as is always the case when I try to leave, life had other plans. So here I sat the night before I am to depart trying desperately to get the latest software installed and working. I considered it entirely reasonable to do a 10 revision upgrade the night before a big trip just as I considered it entirely reasonable to finish bolting the bike I'm going to be riding back together this morning.
Unfortunately, there was some revision control issue I don't yet understand (way too tired right now) which conspired to make what should have been a simple upgrade into a many hours endeavor. I'm bringing all my work with me so maybe I'll have a chance to fix a few of the problems and get it all a bit more stable than it is now. It does, however, seem that the updated blogging software that I've written works (with the exception of the tags tree and archive. I'll have to figure out what's going on with that. It worked on my development copy.)
So I leave tomorrow. My intention is to update this space regularly.
For those interested in my untimely demise I am carrying a spot tracker with me: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0nyIQjW2hqc98ef74mZru7g0PsAqljHB6
(which I assume will start showing something as soon as I depart in the late morning.)
This is the beast I'm going to be riding:
More later ...