It's about 10:30 central time in Northern Wisconsin at the Black River Falls State campground. I'm sitting at a campsite on a picnic table with my laptop plugged into the bike for power. It's pitch black. No moon. No stars. There's a slight breeze in the trees and the sounds of far away trains. The light from the laptop screen is attracting all manner of flying insects. Right now it looks like a scene out of Survivorman. There are bugs crawling all over the display. It's very disconcerting.
The day started out in Chicago. As I mentioned, I met a fellow net entrepreneur on facebook who suggested I give him a visit. We went out to dinner and talked about business, India and other topics. Like me, Dave has had some bad experiences with venture capitalists. Today thinking about what he and I talked about, I find myself wondering if maybe I might be ready to walk back into that world. I guess I tend to discount the experience I have, but I kept coming back to the realization that I know how to do this ... I know how to build a business. Maybe I'll write more on that subject later. There's so much more to building a business than just coming up with a cool techology or putting together a good team to "do stuff". It's late and I think I'll keep it simple for the moment.
Today was simply beautiful. Sunlight but cloud filled skies. Gentle breezes. I have to admit Chicago made a better impression on me than I had thought it would. There were countless bicyclists and joggers. All the streets I saw were tree lined. It reminded me a bit of of Europe in a way. Being so close to Lake Michigan also added it's own character. Yesterday, when the it started pouring I saw countless people getting drenched completely unfazed by the deluge. Cool.
Instead of heading straight out of Chicago I stopped to see the Lake, just for a moment.
I had wanted to walk around on the beach for a bit, but there was some kind of elementary school to the left and I noticed the adults giving me dirty looks, so I turned around and left.
(the bugs crawling all over the screen are pretty disconcerting. There's the moth that refuses to leave.)
The weather was just perfect today. Mid 70's. Light breeze. Sunny. Just wonderful.Something to note if you're on the interstate in Illinois. They have these strangely marked toll boths. 4 lanes go through and if you don't notice you won't realize that the through lanes are an "electronic" toll booth. If you don't have a transmitter, you'll get photographed. I figured this out the hard way. The idea is if you don't have a transmitter, you have to know to pull off to pay the toll in cash. If you miss a toll you have to ask a subsequent toll operator for a form that allows you to send in the toll or pay it online (which I'll do as soon as I finish writing this).
There are these really cool service centers on the Illinois toll road. They span the highway. I stopped at a starbucks and sat and watched the road.
In the parking lot I ran into a GS rider who clearly had done some miles. He was describing a 5000 mile ride he was doing based on the music he liked. He had just been to someplace out of the Blues Brothers movie and was off to find where Buddy Holly wrecked. For a moment I thought "Hmmm. 5000 miles, that's alot of miles" ... then I reminded myself that I'm doing 15.
(not that it matters at all)
Northern Illinios into Wisconsin is just beautiful. Rolling tree covered hills. Carefully groomed farm country in between. Incredible vistas.
Northern Wisconsin is an area I would like to spend some time riding. Here's a photo of the highway close to the campground where I'm currently being attacked my increasing numbers of bugs. (If you've seen the Amazon Rainforest episode of Survivorman you know what I'm going through right now.)
It was a really easy day. The camera battery died at one point so there were alot of shots that I wasn't able to get. I stopped alot mostly to get coffee or snacks.I only did 270 miles today. Because the weather is so gorgeous I decided to camp. First I checked out a commercial RV part (think "horrible KOA"). To hell with that. There was a state park not far away which is far more my style, but it was expensive. $21 for one night. Damn. I had camp set up in about 20 minutes.
(now the bigger bugs are attacking).
On my way into camp, a couple of guys waved to me saying "Free Beer for BMW riders". Cool. I met Mark and Scott who were up here from Madison Wisconsin and, if memory serves, Missouri to canoe down the Black River. They were incredibly open and friendly. Offered me a bratwurst and we talked about riding and canoeing. It turns out Mark has a '99 R1100R which he has done some traveling on. Cool
Trying to reciprocate the hospitality I offered them some scotch to which Mark said "I don't touch the stuff. The last time I did I ended up married." :) Hmm. Scotch doesn't seem to have the effect on me. ;)
I hope to run into those guys again. They seemed like really good people.
I committed a bit of "grand theft stump" and rolled a large cut log back to my campsite so I'd have something to sit and and built myself a fire. All the wood is wet and getting something going was becoming annoying, so I cheated and used a bit of white gas. The solved it.
I'm 200 miles from the Aerostich Warehouse. I hope to get an early start. My credit card is going to be screaming tomorrow.
One thing that bummed me a bit today was that I passed right by Madison Wisconsin and didn't realize it. I could have stopped to visit Pei-Pei if I had had my act together.
As I mentioned, I camped last night.It had been such a nice day filled with cool breezes and alot of sunshine. All good things must come to an end, abruptly.
At 2AM I was woken up to the sound of rain.This turned out to be convenient since I needed to take a leak. I crawled out of tent tentatively (pardon the pun) and was surprised to find that none of the rain was reaching the forest floor. "This won't last". And it didn't.
I was woken up again around 4 when the rain started coming down in earnest. The sound of water hitting the tent got progressively louder until it all became a single din. I fell back asleep.
Some hours later I thought to myself, "now isn't that strange, my shoulder is cold, my hands get cold, but never my shoulder". Foreshadowing. Hmmm. Why is my shoulder wet? Because there's a steady stream of water flowing into the tent.
You know I'm pretty smart. As a matter of fact, I am a fucking genius. This genuis, after applying the full weight of his massive intellect to pick out the exact correct spot to pitch a tent, pitched it in a depression that was fed, once the rains came, not by one but by two hills. A small pond had formed around the perimeter of the tent and was flooding it from underneath.
The photo just doesn't do it justice.
I laid there for a while pondering what to do as sheets of rain could be heard pouring down outside. This was the scenario I had dreaded, breaking camp in a cold rain and being wet for the rest of the day. I devised a plan. Man up. Put on my leathers. Run to the bike. Put on the rainsuit top. Break camp. It all went pretty much according to plan ... including the prediction that I would get completely soaked in the process. At this point it had been raining steadily for 7 hours.
I grabbed a shower to try to make myself feel a bit human. The rain continued.
With all this rain I've become somewhat concerned about the bike. After spending all night outside in the deluge, the first time I tried to start it the starter motor wouldn't turn over. Press the starter button, nothing. The second time it worked fine. More foreshadowing? It is an 18 year old bike with a considerable number of electrical connections that are now fairly aged.
I rode to a Perkins restaurant, had some breakfast and then decided to try to make my way north. This rain had to let up eventually, no? I rode for 168 miles in one sitting through a combination of driving soaking rain and wind. From what I could make out through gaps in the fog and mist, the countryside was probably beautiful. Wisconsin is a strange place. Fantastic pristine forest punctuated by tourist trap billboards.
I should have put on the electric vest. Did I mention it was 46degF? Thank you, Duncan, for the heated handlebar grips. They are a lifesaver.
I naively searched for a starbucks for hours. No joy. So eventually I stopped at a gas station and the attendant took pity on me. I sat inside for a while sipping brown colored water (what they call "coffee") and warmed up for a while.
Seeing the error of my ways I put on the Aerostich electric vest at which point I noticed that my nifty tank bag power distribution box had failed. My cellphone was dead and the gps was running on battery. Oh this sucks.
Basking in the glory that is electric heat, I pushed on to Duluth. I didn't realize that Duluth is a port town and that it's big. I was used to towns up here being very small. The rain was coming in at an angle and the wind was still that angry buffeting kind that beats you senseless. Then I noticed the bridge. There's this huge bridge that climbs a few hundred feet up over a body of water. The wind was intense and coming from all sides. Did I mention it was raining as well? At one point a gust damn near pushed me into the next lane.
I found my way down into Duluth and arrived at the Aerostich Warehouse. I had wanted to take pictures of the outside but it was just raining too heavily. So in I went.
Aerostich (www.aerostich.com) sells hardcore motorcycle touring gear and apparel. They produce a highly regarded catalog. I've been buying from them for years. Last year they came out with a leather riding suit that they claim is waterproof and yet breathable. Yea, right. Then motorcyclist magazine did a review of the Aerostich Leather Transit Suit and gave it a 5 out of 5. So this is the reason I'm here.
The Aerostich warehouse and manufacturing facility is located in a 100 year old candy factory. It's actually really cool. The outside is that old brick with a very small Aerostich sign on it. The inside is a bustling mail order business that seems more improvisational than I would have expected given the quality of their gear. It may not be pretty, but it works.
I spent the next few hours trying on various sizes of Transit Suits. My first impression wasn't all that positive. They just don't fit me all that well. I guess I don't have a typical American body. Not enough gut I guess.
But I'm done with rainsuits. Putting on a plastic rainsuit on top of a set of a bulky leathers SUCKS. Especially if you have to perform this operation in the middle of traffic in Chicago when the police are watching. The Aerostich folks swear up and down these suits are water proof but also able to withstand both cold and hot. ("Too good to be true"). So after far more deliberation and trying on various sizes, I finally picked one up.
The Aerostich folks were very nice and are going to ship my Tourmaster leathers back home for me for free. On top of that, since I showed up in person they gave me a 10% discount. Cool.
A guy walked in while I was agonizing over my purchase decision. His name was Tom, I think. He had an old Roadcrafter suit on (the suit that made the Aerostich name way back in the day). The suit was old and faded and his hands were colored purple, the telltale sign of having worn black leather gloves in far too much rain. We got to talking. He had ridden from the West and had gotten rained on every day. Ouch. We talked for a bit, he asked me where I was going and I mentioned that I was going to try to make it to Deadhorse, Alaska. He had done that trip twice. As a matter of fact he had toured all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego from the US! In addition to that, he had ridden Eastern Europe, all through Canada and even done New Zealand. From talking to the guy, I got the impression that he may be the hardest core distance rider I had ever met. I asked a bunch of questions about the Dalton highway to Deadhorse. At first he made it sound doable, but then he mentioned that if it rains the Dalton highway can turn into five inches of soup. He described how the calcium carbonate they use to bind the gravel turned to cement under his front wheel causing it to stop spinning. He had to pull over when he noticed it was cutting groves into his tire. He ended up removing the front fender to free it up. Ouch. He cautioned that I should make reservations in advance if I want to stay at the hotel up there since tour buses go up there now. Yea, a real hard core destination. I'm competing with tour buses.
I asked if I could take his picture. He said, "I'm nobody". I said, "You're someone I've met on my journey".
After I bought my Transit Suit and got everything taken care of I walked out into the pouring rain. Yup, the Transit Suit is waterproof. Tom asked how far I would be riding this evening. I thought to myself, "HELL NO". "I'm staying in Duluth", I said. Yea, hardcore.
I made my way to a Motel 6 not far from the warehouse and dragged all my gear into the room and opened it up to let it dry out. What a mess!
The tent and sleeping back were soaked.
I turned the heat up on full and proceeded to fall asleep to the sound of continuing rain outside. I woke up a few hours later feeling really cold. You know that kind of cold that gets inside you and makes you think you're about to get really sick. I filled the tub with a bunch of hot water and sat in it for a while to raise my body temperature. "Yea, hard core", I thought to myself. I came in the rain. I ride in the cold and wet but I have the option to stay in some powered, heated hotel whenever I want. Imagine if I didn't have this at my disposal. Imagine not being able to afford to pay for a hotel, having instead to camp in the cold and wet using wet gear when your core temperature is dropping? Even with camping, and riding in the rain, and the discomfort, this is the lap of luxury. I might as well be in an RV.
Around 21:30 I noticed the rain had stopped, so on a recommendation from Todd (from the yml.com forum), I headed over to Fitger's, a great brewpub with good burgers and fine scotches. Strangely, Duluth seems to like it's alcohol. There are a ton of bars here. The waitress asked me where I was from and where I was heading. She mentioned some hot springs I should check out in British Columbia but I have already forgotten the name. Bummer. I should have taken the camera. There are so many instances where I should be taking photos to share ...
Tomorrow I start the trip down to Dancing Rabbit. It's only 550 miles away, but I haven't been doing that much mileage. Also, I'd like to look around Duluth a bit. I may have to ride later into the evening tomorrow. There's no way I'm camping tomorrow night.
If you're not a YML.COM member and would like to comment on this, just post over at facebook. I put a link there to each one of these. I really need to build the anonymous commenting code but haven't had a chance ...
Day 5. I had gone to bed reasonably early and woke up early having slept fairly well. Being dry is a good thing. Most of my gear was dry by the morning, with the exception of the sleeping bag. I proceeded to pack everything on the bike. Menacing clouds were still present on the horizon. 20% chance of rain my ass. I headed over to a diner next to the Motel 6 for some breakfast. The waitress was very nice and gave me a booth where I could see the bike. She noticed how everyone who passed it seemed to stop and look at it. "Oh, now I see why you want to keep an eye on it". I told her the story of Duncan's bike. All the pretty women stop to gawk at Duncan's bike. My bike only gets the attention of old men. :)
When I went to start my bike after leaving the diner, nothing happened. It wouldn't turn over. On the second attempt the bike fired right up. I speculate that the starter motor or solenoid might be developing a problem due maybe in part to all this rain. Foreshadowing again?
I was intent on snapping a few required tourist photos in front of the Aerostich warehouse.
The actual entrance to the place is quite non-descript.
Having done my touristly duty I had did what any self respecting hard core long distance bmw rider would do .. I headed to Starbucks and wasted most of the morning idly staring into space.
I sat there a good while thinking about the stories the hardcore guy, Tom, had told me. 1000 mile easy days. Trips up the Dalton. I remembered how focused Dave from Chicago seemed to be on mileage. I used to be like that. I used to value numbers. I saw meaning in them. But right now, I really just want to sit and contemplate the sun poking through the clouds as if to tease me. "Sucker hole", I thought.
I sat at Starbucks musing about how hardcore I was, got myself a second cup when a bunch of silly white people walked in and sang/played an African funeral song. Apparently they had just finished some class on this.
It wasn't bad, but lacked any of the heart moving emotion that comes through when Africans, ones who have known true suffering and loss, sing. "Silly middle class fortunate white people, you just don't get it. This is not something that can be learned.", thinks the BMW rider to himself as he sips his $2 cup of coffee while checking text messages on his $300 droid. Close minded, short sighted and hypocritical of me? Maybe.
I decided that I would check out the waterfront. I saw on the GPS that there was a place called Canal Park. I had imagined a green grass covered "park" but it was more like Baltimore Inner Harbor. As the name implies, there's a canal leading off Lake Superior that flows under a really cool bridge.
I hung out for a few moments and then followed the GPS instructions to get out of dodge.
I have to admit Duluth, MN intrigues me. It seems like a very interesting town and is a place I would like to visit again. The waitress last night was telling me that it was the largest fresh water port town in the US and possibly the world. I could believe it. There's so much interesting architecture. The people are also very different from what I'm used to in DC. I don't know how to capture it in words. Somehow more open. More curious. Friendlier. A bit more rugged as if the too used to cold weather.
On the way out there were so many photos that I wanted to take but the highway prevented it. There was this one street that headed up a hill at an incredible angle. From the angle I viewed it it looked like something out of San Francisco.
On the way out of town I ran into construction and it began to rain. Strangely, I had no emotional reaction to this at all. I saw the drops on my faceshield and thought to myself "hmmm. I have seen this before. It is called rain". I pulled over to put the tank bag rain cover on and proceeded through the cold downpour completely undisturbed. The Aerostich Transit suit is completely water proof. I can't believe it.
I went through intervals of heavy rain for some miles. Passing tractor trailers was as challenging as it had been before. The road surface soaks up the water and then as the tractor trailers pass over it, the water gets pulled up into a fog like mist blocking any view of what's coming ahead. You pass them with blind faith. On a motorcycle, you also experience how aerodynamically challenged these beasts are. The air is so confused and disturbed around them that it shakes you to you core ... and then you pass them and you're back in smooth air being able to see in front of you.
Eventually the rain stopped. The highways in Minnesota are beautiful. It feels so remote.
Miles and miles and miles of green woods lined the highway. No billboards. No stops. Nothing. Just forest. As I rode down this stretch I found myself considering what effect the road on a motorcycle has on me. There's something about being a motorcycle that lets me think more clearly, more sharply, than I can ever muster when I'm in my daily grind.
It's not just about being away.
When you're on a motorcycle, racing over land through the wind, there's the effect it has on you. As so many people have said, you're out in it. You feel every bump, every breeze, every change in temperature. You're not isolated from your environment at all. But there's more to it than that.
There's an aspect of being trapped, which is, counterintuitively, very liberating. You're alone. Your route is set, and you know what you have to do. You've done it for so long that you know to be hyper-vigilant. For the next so many hours you know exactly where you'll be, on this motorcycle. The scenery will change. You'll adjust for traffic and hazards. You'll constantly scan the sides of the road for the deer that will eventually ruin your day. But all these things that you do happen autonomously. Because you're moving and there's so much going on, you never get bored. You're trapped by the circumstances of your decisions to be in this place, but as a consequence your mind if free to wander where it may. Freedom through imprisonment.
I found myself wondering about how time seems to speed up once you're "in the zone". There's something about being on a motorcycle hurtling down a stretch of superslab that puts me into a meditative state. This is what I've come out here to experience. The places I go, the history behind them, the state I happen to be in, are largely irrelevant to me. This is journey of the mind and soul, and strangely the motorcycle gets me there. I have heard it said that watching fish swim will lower blood pressure and heart rate. There's some speculation that this is because our primeval ancestors sat at the waters edge with a sharpened stick for hours on end waiting to spear a fish. It's an adaptation. I wonder if being on a motorcycle somehow invokes a similar vestige of our primeval past, maybe of riding on horse back for hours and hours on end. Time accelerates. Hours seem like minutes. You're acutely aware of the present but strangely free to let your mind wander.
I rode through seemingly endless forest and, because I had had so much coffee, I stopped at a rest stop.
This rest stop looked like something out of Germany. It was immaculate, very tasteful and clearly put there by people who cared. Off in a forested section they even put a picnic table, which I thought rocked.
If I were put in charge of designing a rest stop it would be this one. So I'm standing there admiring the stop when an elderly couple walks up noticing that I was taking pictures and offered to take a photo of me.
I'm looking all bad-ass in my Transit Suit. They were very nice. It's strange and I don't understand it. In the first 5 days of this trip I've had more people approach me than in both previous cross country trips combined. Actually, in both of those trips no one approached me at all. I wonder if attitudes towards motorcyclists have changed. I've also noticed that many more people are aware that BMW makes motorcycles. Maybe it's just that I'm older now and perceived as less of a threat, or maybe being separated from my life long problems has made me more open. I don't know, but I think I like it.
I contined southward for some hours when the rolling hills of forest opened up into expanses of plains.
Just beautiful. I eventually came up on the Iowa border.
The view back across the highway I had traveled captures what it all looked like.
I was making good time. It was warm. Visibility was excellent. Traffic was light. At one point I started tailing this Audi A8 who was going at a good clip. The driver was pleasantly disciplined. Passing happened when I thought it should. Caution was exercised when needed. We were going at a good 90mph indicated. When I passed her I noticed she was a rather attractive brunette. There's something about a woman that can drive ...
Shortly thereafter I started tailing a Ford F250 doing 100mph! Now there's a case of excess hydrocarbons being combusted to propel excess mass forward against too much wind resistance. He kicked up alot of turbulence.
I have to admit people out here can drive.
I continued on southward stopping only to snap the occasional photo. I happened across a field of wind turbines.
This scene repeated itself a number of times. On a few occasions I stopped to shoot photos.
At the end of the day I hopped off the interstate and made my way down one of the state roads heading towards Dancing Rabbit. I thought this shot came out pretty well.
I wanted to try to capture the flowers along the road.
I checked into a hotel. The woman behind the counter asked me a bit about my trip. "You're not exactly normal, are you?" she asked, "I mean that in a good way" she said. "I want to keep track of your trip". I've been getting a bit of that on this trip. It's always so flattering.
I've gotten a few comments encouraging me to continue to write these entries. I'm trying. Thank you for all the feedback and words of encouragement. I'll try to keep it up. As always, if you're not a YML.COM member, you can post comments on the links over at facebook. If you want to be a YML.COM member, just contact me.
Tomorrow I head to Dancing Rabbit to see Ted and Sarah. Then it's off to Kansas city to see Angela and possibly Mike who I met at Deal's Gap. From there it's on to go camping in the Rockies with Bruce and Ha.
I slept fitfully last night and when I finally did fall asleep late morning came too quickly. As I write this I am incredibly tired, so please forgive me if I ramble.
I showered and quickly moved my gear out of the room to make it out in time for checkout.
The Comfort Inn I was staying at was set up for business travelers and they had a nice work area where I could set up the laptop. Right before I left, we got a little contract. So I spent a couple of hours working on that. We so live in the 21st century. From somewhere in the middle of Iowa I was able to log into the servers sitting in my office, write code and get work done virtually as easily as I could if I were physically there.
I got what I needed to done, sent our new affiliate instructions and packed up my gear. This was one of those really slow days where I could just make no progress despite my best efforts. The hotel clerk who was on duty came out and talked to me about my bike for a while. I tend not to notice, but for a bike that's 18 years old it's in pretty good shape. He was very complimentary. I then got into a conversation with the maintenance guy about my new leathers while I was once again trying to fix something that broke on my nifty power distribution box. It had stopped working, which meant my droid phone didn't charge and subsequently died. Running the "OpenGPSTracker" app to record my routes on it apparently takes alot of juice.
I finally got underway around 12:30. Then I noticed the fuel light was on. Argh. Off to a gas station ... then finally back on the road.
It was overcast with threatening clouds and the occasional hints of rain which didn't materialize while I was riding. It was a country road that slowly made its way through rolling country side. It had become the land of big sky.
I found myself thinking about something that Dave in Chicago said. "Tour buses go up to Deadhorse. It's not really all that." or something to that effect. He's right. This trip, while far, is entirely doable. It's been done many many many times before. It's even become somewhat of a tourist destination. I've heard that bus loads of old ladies will go up there to look around. People do it on Harleys, although someone pointed out it's not clear that they actually make it back under their own power.
So in this context, where it's been done before, what's the point? It's a silly destination to some arbitrary far away point that contains no significance other than it's the farthest I can go to get a sense of "away". As I pondered this question I began to speculate that in the context of a commodity destination,in this case Deadhorse, AK, it's not the trip that matters. It's not the making it that matters. It's the story. The internal journey of the mind. While it's been done before, I haven't done it before. The story, if there even is one, the mental journey, is what makes it worth doing. It's what hopefully makes it unique to me. The destination, the circumstances, are somewhat arbitrary, but the thoughts, the ideas, the insights, are what's important to me. This long motorcycle journey merely unlocks those long locked doors in my soul. And it's those doors I feel I finally have to open.
In a way it's akin to the problems faced by the auto industry, and so many others now a days. In the good 'ol days, building cars was difficult, so doing it well was all that was needed to stand out. But in modern times most cars are "good enough". As a result, manufacturers have to distinguish themselves by the stories they tell. The ideas they attempt to convey.
Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman are an excellent example. They were not the first to do the Long Way Round trip. They were the first to tell the story in a way that really captured the imagination. I heard it said that they actually met up with another group doing the same trip on a shoestring budget but those scenes were edited out to prevent our famous actors from looking to rich and spoiled.
In most things, the doing it no longer seems to matter all that much. I'm an excellent software engineer who can design, develop and manage the development of complex software systems. Does anyone care? No. There are plenty of them out there that do the job good enough.
So I'm off on this commodity adventure trying to tell myself a story.
I continued through the rolling country side zooming along a bit too quickly when in the distance I saw what could possibly be the most awesome shot of a horse on a hill. I slammed on the brake, came to a complete stop, fumbled with my gloves, tried to grab the camera and the damn uncooperative horse started to take a leak and then walked away. So this is a tribute to what would have been the most awesome shot of a horse ever ... this is however not that photo.
I continued on under threatening cloudy skies and rode past something my mind did not comprehend. I turned around through a gas station to take a closer look.
On the side of the road was a completely restored WWII vintage BMW motorcycle with a side car. In the middle of Iowa no doubt. It was just sitting there on the side of the road. No sign. No nothing. Just sitting there.
Some time later I noticed some impressively large birds flying around. One landed on a small structure and I was able to shoot a photo of it. That's one ugly ugly bird.
Eventually the landscape started to change. It was a 60mph road and I was probably doing close to 80 when all of a sudden this impressive wall of asphalt approached. It appeared like a rogue wave on the ocean. Hmmm. "Wall" I thought. Up I went to the very sharp crest. Hmmm. "airborne" I mused as the tires left the pavement. These were some of the most aggressively steep and sharply crested hills I have ever seen on pavement. I mean this was just nuts. It was like a roller coaster ride. Up down up down up up up DOWN!!!!! And so forth.
The photo doesn't do it justice. After about 100 miles I arrived at the Dancing Rabbit Eco Village. Dancing Rabbit is a demonstration and experiment in alternative building and lifestyle choices. They try to do as much as they can to live in a sustainable fashion. Ted, Duncan's youngest brother, has been living here for years now with Sarah. Over Christmas and Thanksgiving they've talked about it for years, and when they invited me to stop by, how could I say no?
Based on what I had been told, what I saw on the "30 Days in the Life" episode I was unprepared for the scene I was greeted with. It was very hot and I was immediately greeted when I arrived so I failed to take pictures of the entrance. I had expected something "earthy", maybe akin to some of the historical villages I have seen in Germany, but this looked more like a post apocalyptic refugee camp at first. It looked like a hodgepodge of improvisational structures surrounded by left over construction materials. There were alot of vehicles and equipment, many internal combustion engines. I stopped and basqued in that awkward feeling of "I'm not in kansas anymore" and wondered how soon would this scene around me seem "normal". As it turned out, not long at all. While the outside of the Inn looks a bit off, the inside is beautiful. They use a kind of renewable construction technique reminiscent of old mud hut construction. Hay bail encased in a lime plaster. The walls are thick, very well insulated but it's all very clean.
There is no commercial power here. Right now I'm typing this email under a 120VAC light powered by an inverter that was charged by solar energy. Power here is a constant challenge, but once inside it doesn't seem like they are lacking for any of the modern conveniences. "The router is the last thing to get shut down", Sarah says about her house.
There's no AC but it's not oppresively hot. Downstairs Kurt and Alline (sp?) were experimenting with making pizza. They hooked me up with some coffee and a snack. I was extremely grateful. Alline and I talked for a good while.
Ted and Sarah took me for a little tour of the village. There are gardens everywhere. Ted and Sarah built their own house.
It's small but cozy and has an artistic flair to it. I had expected to live without here, but soon Ted produced a bottle of Laphroig and said venison was on the menu for dinner.
Their house has this incredibly cool spiral staircase built around a section of tree. I have now forgotten the name of the plaster substance they use to form the walls. Clay, hay and other ingredients form the mixture if memory serves. It looks and feels like plaster. It's a staple building material here at Dancing Rabbit. They have an impressively wild garden where they grow all kinds of things ranging from raspberries to asparagus and brocolli.
All the vegetables at dinner were picked here. We continued our walk. One of my favorite houses looked like something out of Tolkien.
No electricity or running water. At Ted and Sarah's house, they have power provided by an inverter and battery bank powered by solar panels. The water is captured rain water. Most houses seem to have cisterns to hold a few thousand gallons of water.
As promised dinner was venison with garden vegetables including asparagus. It was communal style and I have to admit delicious.
There is so much to say I can't possibly include it all here. We talked for hours about topics ranging from my motorcycle trip to sustainable living, life choices, and what does one need in order to live the life one wants. Sarah at one point said "I've chosen not to live the life I was taught to want".
On the way down here while riding I had at one point considered how I live my life, the stress, the sense of obligation, the worry about the future, the attempting to hedge against all possible downsides. I feel so irresponsible for taking this trip. There are so many things I "should" be doing ... and at one point I thought "just live".
When I was a kid, I had a Harley AMF two stroke my old man had bought for me, somewhat against my wishes. It was always breaking down, making funny noises and otherwise misbehaving. In my 8 year old mind, I always worried that it would break so whenever it acted up I would stop and inspect it carefully. At some point I decided to try and just not worry about it and ride the thing. I had much more fun.
Maybe life is the same way. And it seemed apropos because here I am surrounded by people who have rejected virtually all traditional modern values and are just living life, simply. Between the post apocalyptic scene, the construction materials, the improvisational nature of the buildings, the disorder, there's something very compelling about life here. People here are nice and genuine. There's a sense of calm.
We continued to talk until late in the evening.
Around 9 Sarah left to put Aurelia (sp?) to bed. I have to admit I have always really liked Sarah. There's something very warm, compassionate and understanding about her. Good people. Really good people. She's someone I always look forward to seeing.
Ted and I talked for a while longer about sustainable living, population growth and the limits of this demonstration community. They don't have all the answers, but something that I really appreciate about their approach is that they are not preachy. They do what they do because they choose to, and demonstrate to others that one can take a more sustainable approach to living without really giving up much at all. In some ways I find the "sacrifices" they make there are probably net positives. For instance because power is so limited everyone has to cooperate in it's use. It brings people together.
We walked outside and stood in the dark. It's been years since I've seen such darkness filled with so many fireflies. We listened to the sound of frogs and birds for some time. Then I came back to my room to do a little writing and call it an evening.
This is the so called "hellraiser" room and I've been instructed to raise hell very quietly. :)
I'm supposed to be at breakfast tomorrow at 9:30. I'll probably hang out until the middle of the day then head on towards Kanas City to meet up with Angela and Mike who I met at Deal's Gap.
I have to admit after today, I think I should have scheduled more time to spend here. Life here is definitely outside of my comfort zone in many ways, but that's part of what I came here to experience. At the same time, there's something here that draws you in. Once you get past surface appearances, there's a lot here to experience and ponder. I think I'll return.
I'm currently just outside of Kansas City staying at another motel. I had intended on camping but menacing clouds and oppressive heat caused me to wuss out in a big way ...
Today was hot. Crazy hot. I'm completely wiped out and am likely to call it a night shortly ... we'll see how much energy I have left to write anything.
I woke up this morning around 9 to a cacophony of bird songs. The windows were open allowing a cool breeze to permeate the room. Sounds of people arriving at the Mercantile Inn gave it a kind of hub feeling. You got the sense that people arrive, stay a while and leave.
My room had been comfortable. Basic lap of luxury. Much more so than I had imagined it would be. The inn uses only collected rain water, solar power, composting toilets and straw bail construction. Despite all of this, it was all comfortable and there wasn't a sense that anything was missing, well, with the possible exception of air conditioning.
Breakfast was berries with home made yogurt followed by an egg veggie scramble. Oh, and there was coffee. I was grateful. Ted and Aurelia joined me for breakfast. It was a lazy hot morning and mostly we just sat.
Ted had some things to do so I headed back up to my room to answer some emails and check on the world. Lunch was served at noon, which was a very nice yogurt/tuna salad. Sarah, Ted and Aurelia joined me for that one.
By this time the heat had set it. I went up to my room, put on my leathers and packed up my gear. I was pretty well cooked by the time I got on the bike. Sarah, Ted and Aurelia saw me off.
I'm going to have to finish this tomorrow ... I am simply to wiped out tired right now. The heat today really took it out of me ... more tomorrow.
(10 or so hours later). Man, I was well roasted yesterday. The heat had completely taken it out of me. I was passing out at the keyboard. I'm now well rested, packed up and sitting at a starbucks waiting for a rainstorm to pass so I can go visit Angela and Mike, who I met at Deal's Gap.
So, where was I? Yesterday ...
I have to admit I was sad to leave Ted and Sarah and Dancing Rabbit. In many ways, the place is what you would kind of expect once the initial shock wears off. It's one of those environments that pulls you out of your comfort zone. As a younger man, I hated that feeling but now as an older man I find I enjoy it. I think, however, it would have been much different if Ted and Sarah hadn't done so much to make me feel welcome and make it easy for me. The thing that strikes me about the village is how many people interactions one has in a typical day. Its reminiscient of a middle ages village. People everywhere coming and going. Everyone on foot. People helping each other out. Obviously, there's politics, and work and stresses like anywhere else, but there's something to this communal living that I've never lived myself but I've gotten a taste of from afar.
It dawned on me that was I saw here was not unlike a societally acceptable form of communal living, namely family life. A family unit is merely a kind of commune. A group of people sharing resources and cooperating. One might say that it's different, but I speculate it isn't really. Husband and wife aren't blood relatives. They get together to raise some kids, to not be alone. We get so used to the structures we grew up with that often times we dismiss anything that's too far removed from what we consider "normal". But as is the case in so many things in life, if you give yourself the time to aclimate to a new environment, what was initially very strange and foreign can, after a while, seem quite normal.
I found people there to be curious, interesting and very willing to explore other ideas. Not a single person was preachy. They were very cautious not to be judgemental of the guy wearing the leather suit riding the technological hydrocarbon consuming monstrosity. I appreciated that.
But it's definitely an environment that will challenge your ability to be open minded and to adapt. There's alot that you see where your initial reaction is "I don't understand how they like to live like this" or "wow, that just ain't right". Then you give yourself some time, and you get used to it, and it seems less alien.
It was nice havinig breakfast, lunch and dinner surrounded by other people having interesting conversations. It was nice to feel included. I spend so much of my life so alone that just sitting down to eat with someone else can be such a special treat. There was a family that used to invite me over regularly to join them for dinner when times were bad. I always used to value that so much ...
So I was sad to leave. The next time I go there I think I'll try to stay longer and help out a bit. There's alot of unconventional construction being done there that could be very interesting to try my hand at.
But the road was calling me and it was time to leave.
I took a different out since I was heading southwest and encountered more steep waves of asphalt. These photos just don't do justice to how hilly this area is.
I rode for maybe 30 miles when I came up a "bridge closed ahead" sign. The road was closed. I thought to myself "no problem, I have the Garmin Nuvi 1440 GPS, I did like Duncan said and updated the maps before I left and all I need to do is hit the detour button." Yea, right.
I wasn't stressed. I was only about 200 miles from Kansas City and didn't have to be in town until the followinng afternoon, so I was looking forward to tooling around a bit on side roads. The GPS guided me to a dirt road. "Practice!", I thought looking forward to a little offroading.
These were numbered roads. Gravel, but entirely passable. No problem. The GPS continued to guide me around the closed bridge only to point me to a road that didn't exist. The engine started heating up and the radiator exhaust basically cooked me as I was riding along these roads at less than 30mph. I tried half a dozen routes trying to find a way to the far side of the closed bridge. An hour and many miles of false starts and turn arounds passed. At one point, having travelled a few miles down a very promising road that degraded into a grass covered trail I encountered a rickety bridge.
This thing was nuts. It was a couple of steel I-beams with spaced planks laid on top of it. The creek was some 30 feet below.
I crossed the sketchy bridge and found a mud trail made by a tractor on the far end. I followed it as far as I could only to find another dead end. I turned around in the muck and crossed the bridge again. While entirely doable, this maneuver was probably questionable.
At times, while I was trying every deadend trail I could find, the GPS consistently lying to me in it's female voice, I came across wide beautiful fields.
It started getting really hot. The Aerostich Transit Suit was not as hot as I expected it to be, but the venting could definitely be improved. Beginning to get tired to snapped less photos. Riding on gravel, dirt and mud on a bike as large and street oriented and loaded as my K100RS takes all of your concentration. There was no philosophizing on this stretch. I was a man on task.
The landscape was as hilly as the paved roads I had ridden. At times I found myself wondering as I was heading downhill towards deep ruts to cross a creek over some wooden planks if maybe this was ill advised. At one point in the distance I saw a critter walking.
I used the extreme zoom on the camera. I figure this is probably a racoon?
At another point some kind of huge raptor flew right in front of the bike carrying off a huge snake. There was no way to pull out the camera fast enough to snap a photo.
Attempt #10 took me down a very steep grade past some ponds. The GPS said to go straight which unfortunately turned out to be across a river in a 30 foot gorge.
At this point hours had passed and I was starting to get low on gas. I began to wonder if I shouldn't just bail on trying to get around the bridge and head north for a while. I decided to try one more time. In the distance I saw a stretch of pavement and the gravel was smooth so I started rolling down a hill too quickly and failed to notice the god-awful deep hole in the middle of the road which I hit square on with a large bump. The left saddlebag came off it's mount and crashed onto the gravel and slid for yards and yards. "Fuck".
(note bag in distance)
Fuck. In all the years I've ridden this bike this has never happened. But it's good that it happened here. It provides a good perspective about what can happen on the Dalton Highway if I let my concentration lapse. I was pretty thoroughly roasted and I think I was probably suffering a bit of dehydration; my leathers were completely soaked in sweat. Structurally the bag was undamaged, so I was able to ride on. The pavement I saw was there just to tease me. Back onto dirt roads I went.
What added a surreal aspect to being caught in these fields out in the middle of nowhere was that I was in constant contact. I would ride a bit, stop, check for txts, answer them, ride on ...
Eventually I came across another bridge across the same large deep creek.
The guard rail, if you can call it that, is about 6" high. This had to be the creek I had been trying to get across all this time. Encouraged I continued on.
Some more miles of dusty albeit well maintained dirt roads later I found myself on pavement and soon after that on superslab. I ended up dragging foot as I cornered and accelerated onto the slab. The thermometer read over 90degF. On fumes, I stopped at a gas station, got gas and drank a liter of water.
From there one the rest of the day was uneventful. I ran through a tank of gas on the kind of large superslab the midwest is known for.
It was still over 90 as the sun set. I'm a little concerned about the bike. I had clicked off 150 miles before I knew it and already hit reserve. When I got gas I calculated that I had only gotten 40mpg. That's 10mpg less than it has been on this trip. I wonder if I got a bad tank of gas or whether the bike is developing a problem. There wasn't that much dust so I doubt the airfilter is clogged. I'll have to keep an eye on it. There's been alot of little worrying things, from the key getting stuck, to the starter delaying before engaging, to the hazards not working at first, etc. These are all issues I've never had with the bike.
The clouds became more intense I decided to wuss out and bail on camping again. Off to a super 8 motel conveniently located next to a steakhouse I went. By the time I had all my gear moved into the room I was completely spent. I downed alot of water than hobbled off to the steakhouse for dinner. I talked to a guy at the bar for a bit who was an insurance salesman. We talked about my trip, the markets, places to go. The bartender, Sarah, is married to a military guy and had lived in North Carolina for a while.
I went back to the hotel and tried to write for a while, but was so tired, I crashed. I slept for nearly 10 hours solidly. When I finally did wake up the rain was coming down in sheets. Note to self, thank my former self for not camping. I packed up the gear and moved over to a starbucks where I currently sit typing away waiting for the rain to lessen. I'll probably hit the road in the next 30 minutes or so. The Transit Suit may not be ideal for the heat, but I do so appreciate the fact that it actually is waterproof.
I sat at Starbucks for some time writing and waiting for the rain to let up. Of course, the rain only got worse. To add insult to injury, in the distance I could see the boundary where the clouds ended and the sunshine began. It continued to pour where I was and the sunshine in the distance was just natures way of teasing me. My route out of starbucks would take me along the boundary, always on the raining side.
Mike, Angela's boyfriend, had sent me an email saying that he was tied up with his sons at a game and he would not be able to make it. I thought to myself, "change of plans, maybe I can meet Angela at a starbucks to chat for a bit and then roll on.". I didn't really know either of them that well as I had just spent a short time with them at Deal's Gap. But I remember thinking that the two of them were my kind of people. Angela had made quite an impression on me. I remembered feeliing a strange sense of familiarity. I wanted to at least have a chance to talk to her again.
But of course there's the endless internal conflict. I'm endlessly getting myself in trouble one way or another with boyfriends and husbands. For instance the husband of one good friend of mine eventually developed a problem with me and reportedly said "He's dangerous, he listens". This kind of thing has happened so often that I have become over-cautious, as Maria at Piratz can attest to.
I guess maybe Mike picked up on my hesitation to spend time with his girlfriend when he wasn't around. (Have I mentioned she's crazy beautiful?) He sent me another email encouraging me to go to Angela's despite his absence. "She'd enjoying seeing you again". I really appreciated that. "Good guy", I thought to myself. If he hadn't sent me that I don't think I would have gone. Angela sent me an email suggesting I just show up at her house. For an instant, I thought I should ask her "Are you sure you want some strange man showing up at your house? Wouldn't it be better to meet at Starbucks". I have been chastised recently for deciding for others what they should or should not do, so, quite out of character for me, I decided to squelch that impulse.
I left Starbucks overcaffienated and rode the 29 miles in the rain, consistently teased by the sunshine just a few miles to the west. It was pouring when I arrived at Angela's house. Before I could even say hello and garage door opened and a space had been opened up for my bike. "Garage!!". Excellent.
I rolled in, took off my helmet, pulled out my earplugs and said hello and thank you. Her three year old daughter, Lillianna, was there at the garage entrance asking a ton of questions and flitting about.
They have this flighty white cat named "Schreck". I laughed as I realized the cat wasn't named after the movie character but instead after the German word "Schreck", which means a fright. Apparently I am the only person to ever pick up on this.
The house, the environment all seemed strangely familiar. As Angela took care of making lunch for her daughter, any sense of discomfort I had disappeared and the next thing I knew Lillianna was asking me to open her vitamin bottle from the fridge. Instinctively, I pulled it out, opened and handed her one as if I had been doing this for years.
Have you ever met someone where you instantly felt like you knew them and that they had the same feeling about you? It was as if we had been friends for years.
We sat down on the couch and talked for hours. I forgot that I had just met her and that these were the first hours we were spending together talking. Topics ranged from her extremely varied interests to her experiences with divorce. (Did I mention she's a Phd Chemist and that she models?) A mind forever voyaging. She fences, runs, pilots powerboats, rides dirtbikes, shoots, has taught at Medical school, has been through Deal's Gap and wants to go again, is a computational chemist, and the list goes on and on. A disparate collage of impressions, insights, abilities, compassion and intelligence that somehow fits together in one person. Completely improbable. The time we spent talking was great.
I don't remember exactly when, but Lillianna seemed to take to me and started using me as a climbing toy. Over-energetic precocious 3 year old. The cat, Schreck, eventually got into the act. Unfortunately, I guess because there was this strange guest in the house, Lillianna refused to take a nap. After Angela put her to bed she was endlessly trying to sneak out of her room.
The hours past like minutes and before we knew it it was dinner time. Here in Kansas City there's a place called the Country Club Plaza which is kind of like Inner Harbor combined with Georgetown, but much nicer. I got out the leathers into some jeans and off we went to McCormick & Schmidts. It was high on a hill overlooking the plaza. The three of us sat outside during a brief sunny period. By the time had arrived Lillianna was out cold, having not taken her nap earlier.
Dinner was excellent. Angela had told me two things. 1) She's somewhat absent minded when it comes to the little practical things, such as where she's left her phone. 2) She had a gift certificate for McCormick & Schmidts. It wasn't until much later that she realized I had paid for dinner and she had failed to include her gift certificate. I was strangely pleased by this.
After dinner we went for a walk through the Plaza. There are boutiques, shops, cafes, bars, and endless numbers of women walking around in cocktail dresses.
There are also alot of fountains here which seemed to be a source of never ending fascnination for Lillianna.
(As I write this Angela is sitting on the couch reading up on her new camera. She asked me, "is it ok if I make you Kansas City Strip steak?". "You are asking me if it's ok to grill me a steak?" "I could get filet mignon if you prefer". I told her no good can come of this. "So which room am I moving into?" :) )
Back to our story. We walked for a few blocks when Lillianna spied a horse drawn carriage and asked to go. It sounded like a good idea to me so we got a ticket and went for a ride through the Plaza streets as the sun set.
Everything around us conspired to create a memorable moment in time.
We looked around and Angela pointed out all the places she would've liked to show me if there was more time. We were having a wonderful time.
After the ride we walked through the lit streets. Lillianna decided she had had enough of walking and demanded to be carried. Yes, I carried a 3 year old around the streets of Kansas City. Don't tell anyone.
It dawned on me we were having a story book romantic evening. There was something truly magical that I have not experienced in many years. Gesa used to always describe me as a "manifest cynic, latent romantic". This evening definitely brought out the latent me.
I found myself thinking about cages again. Donna and so many others kept telling me that I am now free. I can do anything with my life that I want. I am free to choose what I want. Choice has not been a big theme in my life. Most everything was prescribed for me or problems were dropped into my lap that I could not walk away from.
I realized that I do not excel in freedom. I excel in cages; within boundaries. I mentioned to Angela today that I thought if she had been single, if there had been any question, then we would not have been as free, as comfortable. Things would have been more cautious and the wonderful evening we had had would likely not have been possible. We were free to have one of the most romantic evenings I can remember because of constraints. Freedom through boundaries.Freedom through limitation.
I figured I would get a hotel but she insisted I stay in the guest room. 4 star accomodations. I fell asleep very early and woke up promptly at nine. As a mssion of mercy she drove me to starbucks in the morning, then on to a nice diner where we had breakfast. Compassionately, she looked at me and asked if I wanted to go to another starbucks. Yea, she is so not on my good side.
After the second coffee break, we went back to her house and walked over to a nearby park so Lillianna could play with reckless abandon. After some time it began to rain but were completely unfazed. "I have seen this before, I think it's called rain". It was a warm steady rain. We walked back to the house slowly getting more soaked. Lillianna demanding to be carried. I admit, I've got quite the squirming 3 year old workout during my time here.
This has been a very good time.
Mike and his two boys just showed up. I told Mike he was going to Deal's Gap in the fall. Angela had said earlier that she really wanted to go but convincing Mike might be challenging. No problem. 10 seconds later it was agreed, we're going to Deal's Gap in the fall. Then again in May. Excellent.
Angela and I stayed up fairly late talking while an absolutely insane rain storm raged outside. I heard someone say it was coming down at a rate of 3" per hour. Close to 2AM we decided to call it a night. She retired to her room. I needed to get a change of clothes off the bike in the garage. I was fumbling with the big BMW bag when I realized that rushing sound I was hearing was coming from inside the garage. I found a staircase in the corner that lead downstairs to the basement.
I crept down the stairs and when I realized what I was looking at I thought "Oh shit, this is not good".
Water was gushing into the basement and over 6" had already accumulated. I considered all the options I had but quickly realized there just wasn't anything I could do. I had no tools, no sump pumps, no tools, nothing. It was, after all, not my house.
Angela's basement had flooded some months earlier requiring her to vacate the house when an epic rainstorm caused the sewer to back up into her basement. She had just gotten it all cleaned up.
I so did not want to do this, but I crept back up the stairs walked through the house and knocked on her door, "Angela, Angela, I have some bad news ....".
She got up, looked at it and took it really well. "Nobody died, it's a solveable problem". She turned off the fan and the AC. I tried to sleep but some short time later I heard the sound of work outside. "Maybe it'll go away", I mused naively. Nope. So I got up, got dressed, tip toed out of the guest room and there was Angela on the phone. The water level had continued to rise, she had checked on it and had decided to call an emergency plumber to rig something to pump out all the water.
Epic epic rain. Helplessly and feeling useless I went back to my room and tried to sleep. Poor Angela was up until after 4 when the plumber finished. I should have stayed up. My bad.
Since I was planning on leaving today, I asked Angela to wake me up when she was about to leave. She knocked on my door and said she was just taking Lillianna to school. I threw some clothes on and walked out to say goodbye. Lillianna was pretty tired and I don't think realized I wasn't going to be there when she got back. I tried.
After they left, I grabbed a shower and sat on the couch realizing simultaneously that I was absolutely out of my mind wiped out tired and that there was no coffee in the house.
"She's been gone a while", I thought. "She wouldn't, would she? Nawww, there's no way. Is there?", I reasoned.
Shortly thereafter, she did. The door opened and there she was holding a grande Starbucks coffee for me.
"I am so worshipping the very ground you walk on and the air you breathe.", I silently thought. "Thank you. I'm floored" I said aloud, or some approximation thereof. There is no one so grateful as an exhausted addict that has been given a free fix. "The very air you breathe ...", I thought. Of course I also immediately thought of the disaster downstairs, how she had gotten so much less sleep than I had, how early she got up, everything she had to do ... I was feeling quite humbled and small.
She sipped on her frappucino thing and I on my coffee and we talked. Again with the time compression, hours turned to minutes as we talked roles, her work, her background, her relationship with her various titles which she has a rather antagonistic relationship with, the basement, Lillianna, her boyfriend Mike and his kids, and all manner of other topics. (As an aside, why does it seem that guys named "Mike" always attract the most compelling wonderful women?) We realized we were both starving. I suggested that I could stay and wait for the plumber while she gets something to eat. As she was about to leave, Mike called saying he could come by. He brought food.
In a fashion not unlike earlier I thought to myself "Dude, you rock", which I may have said aloud.
We ate lunch together and chatted while waiting for the plumber, who eventually arrived. He got the water heater working again but didn't have much in the way of insights as to why so much water was getting in the basement when for years, apparently, it had not. Weird.
Mike had to leave to return to work and Angela had some work of her own to do, which she was prevented from doing due to remote network problems. We talked for quite a while longer at which point that feeling of "it's time to go" made itself known. She gave me a big hug and then left to pick up Lillianna. I pulled the bike out of the garage, closing the door behind me.
I sat there in the driveway for some time with the engine running, GPS plugged in with the my destination route set. I just didn't want to leave.
She had painted on her wall "We remember the moments", not days or events, but moments. I thought to myself that this two day moment in time would be one that I am not likely to forget.
Sucking it up, I shifted the bike into first, and headed down the road.
I70 is one boring road. I have complained up a storm about I70 through Kansas. This afternoon late I rode 188 miles of I70 through Kansas. I have dreaded the stretch.
Strangely it was not that bad. Lost in thought the miles just ticked by. I found myself in the land of endless road and big sky.
There was an impressive expanse of clouds to the south. Dark angry clouds. I thought for sure that I would get rained on.
The miles ticked on for a while and occasionally I would get sprinkled on but the rain I expected, but did not fear, never materialized.
I70 is one long road that I have bored myself to the verge of insanity on before. Strangely, this time it's not bothering me. I just keep riding.
I70 through Kansas is weird. There are mini off-ramps that turn into dirt road right in the middle of the ramp. I should have taken photos.
After a while the landscape became truly flat, sinfully flat.
I rode on to Salina, Kansas and found an econolodge with an attached restaurant. I decided not to tempt fate by trying to camp ... once again. Maybe I should have just left the camping gear at home with as infrequently as I've been using it.
I find myself concerned about the money I've been spending ...
Tomorrow I continue West. Since I've only got 727 more miles to go by Thursday afternoon I think I might consider some side roads through Kansas just to be different. We'll see what the weather has in store for tomorrow.
I had big plans for this post, but it took longer to get to Colorado Springs than I had thought, so we'll see how much energy IK have to write before I collapse.
Cell service out here is spotty at best and the wireless access at the motel I'm staying at leaves something to be desired, so I'm sitting on the steps outside next to the office. Connectivity is fairly good here. Loud cars and bikes race by on the road here. Colorado Springs seems to be a colorful town.
I figured some of my friends would give me a hard time about the last two posts, and as expected that happened. Few people have seen that side of me, so I imagine some are probably a bit suprised. Finding what to write, what to share, what to keep concealed in these posts is challenging. While it's difficult and gives me that "oh, this is not comfortable" feeling, I'm opting to be more open in this venue than closed. Maybe that's a decision that will bite me in the ass at some point, but I feel this is an experiment in finding a voice. Yes, under the overly self controlled and polite exterior, there are big unexpressed parts of me that are a hopeful romantic. Surprised?
The Econolodge I stayed at last night was the worst accomodations I've had this whole trip. There were endless numbers of unidentifiable insects running around the room. You could hear through the walls as if they were not there, and this was not a good thing. Whenever someone turned on a faucet the water would run cold. All in all it sucked but I had the foresight to put in my earplugs. I slept pretty well.
I did some work in the morning, packed up my gear and headed to a local diner.
There was this strange phenomenon that I observed. The H20 that had been so reliably falling from the sky had ceased, somewhat disturbing my world view. I decided to call this new hitherto unobserved phenomenon "sunshine".
I was in no hurry. I had futzed around the hotel until check out time and I lingered at the diner drinking bad coffee. At some point I got that distinct "it's time to leave" feeling, so I got back on the bike and headed west on I70.
I70 is flat.
In previous trips, this road has really bothered me. The miles would wear on you. However, today it wasn't bothering me in the least. I was lost in thought.
Eventually on the horizon I saw some electricity producing windmills. They were simply huge and you could see them from miles away.
I watched for miles as they got larger.
These things were just monstrous.
I rode on and saw a sign as I pulled off to get gas. Starbucks. Exit 55! I thought I was in heaven. Then I realized I was at exit 165 or somesuch.
I could have really used a cup of coffee. Actually, I needed a cup of coffee. I looked around. Yup, as I expected, no Angela.
So I rode for the next 110 miles to get myself a cup of coffee.
Yup, I'm one hard core adventure rider. I travel from Starbucks to Starbucks all across the country. This starbucks was very unusual. It was in Kansas and was physically attached to a travel center. I sat outside, drank some water and sipped my coffee. I noticed a BMW F800GS that had signs of some use. The rider and his passenger were fumbling with some gear. "I have a spare bungie net, if you need it", I said. We got to talking.
The riders were Hans and Cody. They had been riding in Colorado and reported that there had been snow in the mountains just the other day. This is the kind of bike I should be riding for this trip.
We talked for a bit and I told Hans about my trip. He expressed the same kind of envy that so many riders have. "I wish I could do that trip". So I tried to instigate a bit of irresponsible peer pressure. "It's really easy. Fill up the tank and follow me.". I had tried the same thing with Mike to no avail.
Mike, you know, it's only a day out to Colorado Springs. I'm at the base of the Rocky Mountains. What's a couple of days to the Rockies? (And this is how I get them, because you know, once out here it would be "It's just a couple of days to Yellowstone". I'm just evil like that, but Mike saw through my evil plot.) You could meet me in Yellowstone, you know. It's not that far.
I sat around unhurried and eventually decided it was time to leave. Instead of heading back to I70 I decided to do what I had planned and I headed South on KS25. I wanted to experience "flat".
It was flat. I mean epicly flat. The kind of flat that inspired thoughts of a malevolent divine being. The miles dragged on. This was a kind of flatness I remembered.
Rolling on mile after mile the human mind, lacking any kind of external stimulation, begins to grab ahold of anything it can. After hours and hours a couple of bumps on the horizon become significant landmarks of great significance
To prevent insanity, the mind begins to wander and make up stories to explain the lack of stimlation. At one point I decided to compare what I saw in front of me with what I saw behind my eyelids.
Open eyes: four unchanging colors: pavement, white, green, blue.
Closed eyes: black.
So Kansas is only four times as interesting as closed eyes.
Kansas wouldn't be that bad ... 1000ft under water.
The mind wanders. It seeks stimulation and when, confronted with Kansas, it begins to tell itself stories to pass the time ... odd stories ... there's something about Kansas that inspires divine thought ...
I imagined a time when Kansas had been interesting; a time when Kansas was the center of human endeavor, the core of curious inquiry, disciplined investigation, rational thought; and a place where motorcycling would be as fun as the Smokey Mountains.
What had gone wrong? Clearly, I reasoned, this epic flatness could only be due to divine marital strife.
You see, in a drunken stupor one day, God created the universe and blew all the money he had on it. He had always wanted a universe because he was narcissist. "It would be good to have a universe where the beings in it worshipped me", he thought to himself. So he created one, but because he was drunk, it became a mess and being no fun he neglected it.
His wife, the Goddess, saw that he had spent all his money on creating this universe and had left it only partially done. So she, having a doctorate in both physics and mathematics and being the primary bread winner in the household not to mention always having to clean up his partially completed messes, added physical Laws to the universe and watched it unfold.
The universe unfolded logically as a result of the Laws she had created, and it was good. Eventually, the Laws combined with probability and gave rise to creatures capable of rational thought. Curious creatures that could reason, deduce and slowly figure out the Laws for themselves. This made her happy. She was proud, because the Laws were not easy.
But her drunken narcissistic husband came home one day after a bender at the bar and saw what she had done and became angry. "I don't want them to think!!", he shouted. "I want them to worship me! It's time I got some respect around here!". He saw that the Goddess had allowed Reason to flourish amongst these curious creatures and they had begun to question and investigate. Enraged, God decided to punish them. So he brought ruin unto the land and drove all manner of mental stimulation from it. "They will not think!" he declared. "They will only blindly worhip me! I will remove all manner of mental stimulation from them!". So anything to inspire these insightful creatures to be creative, to think, to dream, any feature on the land that might cause an independent thought or question was crushed. God so flattened the Earth that there was nothing left except signs on the side of the road declaring his greatness. Having nothing else to do, the inhabitants of the great flat expanse devoted themselves to his worship, which fed his narcissism just as he wanted. He was content and called this place "Kansas".
The Goddess, disgusted with him, moved out and currently lives with her mother, which is why you never hear from her.
And so the miles dragged on, my mind desperately seeking more stimulation yet finding none.
That is until I saw two small hills in the distance. "Hills!", I thought. "HILLS!". A feature, something to observe. Some feature that could feed my hungry mind.
But all too quickly it passed and I was once again subject to the flatness and His wrath. "Church isn't so bad", I found myself deliriously thinking.
After some more hours of the same I need to take a leak. Fortunately I came upon a rest stop only to realize it was, in fact, a museum in the middle of nowhere. Clearly, this was Her work.
I went in and talked to the nice lady. They even had an exhibit showing the prehistoric fossils found in the area. Luckily, He had not found out about this yet, otherwise it would have been flattened. They uncovered an 80million year old fossil of a bird here. Pretty cool. I don't normally like museums, but this one on KS40 towards Colorado Springs is definitely worth checking out.
In the back I saw a poster and realized I needed to get out of dodge quickly.
Outside I saw a Vorpal Bunny. Very dangerous.
Off I went and continued on. Every time I thought I had seen the limit of flatness a new and more intense from of the punishment was unleashed.
At least there was a tree. I rode along and came upon some railroad tracks and to my shock and horror there was a train on them.
I would guess it was probably a mile long.
The hours rolled on. Eventually I thought I had found salvation, my mind had nearly cracked from all the big sky.
But to my shock and horror, Eastern Colorado is actually flatter than Kansas!
Oh no. What transgression had Eastern Colorado committed to exceed that of Kansas? It was inconceivable.
After more hours I stopped because my earplugs began to hurt. I hung out for a while on the side of the road and eventually noticed some flowers.
The miles rolled on and at one point I saw a critter.
I know not what kind of critter, but it moved and was alive. I was happy to have seen Something(tm). Eventually after many more miles I reached the end of the Punished Land of Flatness and stopped in awe of an incredible sunset over the distant Rocky Mountains.
The Motorcyclists Promised Land(tm) not to be confused with Motorcycle Mecca which is Deal's Gap.
I rolled into Colorado Springs glad to have survived with most of my mind intact, found myself a motel and then headed out to get a bite to eat. I happened upon a bar called The Ritz Grill or something like that. Inside I found the fastest moving bartender in the world. His name is Paul but I nicknamed him "Fast Forward". Literally, when he counts money the bills are in a blur. I kid you not.
(It's amazing I was able to snap the pictures. 1/4 second later he was gone.)
And thus ends my journey across the mindless expanse and I think I will call it a night. Tomorrow I head into the mountains where I figure I will encounter a range of weather conditions, none of them good.
I've spent the last few hours taking care of a few things for the business while sitting here at a starbucks in Colorado Springs. In a little bit I'm going to head up into the mountains. I'm meeting Bruce, Ha, kids and their friends in Ouray to go camping for the next four days or so. I don't know if I'm going to have connectivity, so for all of you who have forbidden me to tag guardrails, get eaten by mountain lions, mauled by grizzly bears, slide out of corners, keep the rubber side anything but down ... you may have to wait patiently. ;)
I am now in some motel in the town of Buena Vista somewhere on Colorado route 24. Surprisingly I'm getting 5 bars so I'm able to write another road report. I'm pretty beat, as usual, so we'll see how much of this I get written.
The hotel last night was old but clean and comfortable. It was a family owned place called the Travelers Inn, in Colorado Springs. I can recommend it. As I was packing up my gear I ran into the proprietor and asked him where one might get a good breakfast. He suggested this funky old diner down an alleyway from his hotel. This place rocked. A real diner, like in the old days. It was very small and could only seat a handful of people.
The place has been there since the 50's. It has a very serious local feel to it. As has been the case almost everywhere I've gone, people asked me about where I was from and where I was going. At one point a gentleman walked in wearing my watch, and we got to talking about them. It was a friendly comfortable atmosphere.
When I walked out the guy behind the counter, I either have forgotten his name or never got it, came out and offered to take a photo of me in front of the place. Cool.
A funky little diner called Kinds Chef.
Since I didn't need to be in Ouray until Thursday, and it was only 270 miles away, I had an entire day free. Some development at work required my attention, so I found myself a starbucks, pulled out the laptop and got some work done.
Ha commented that I should go take a look at the "Garden of the Gods", so when I finished with the work I needed to get done, I headed off in that direction having absolutely not idea what it was.
Turns out it's a major rock formation in the area. I tried the Hero Helment Cam and used the 720p setting this time to avoid the fish eye effect. Unfortunately, you can't really tell how the camera is angled and I had it angled down too much so the photos really didn't turn out.
Towards the middle of the park is a rest are where I met "Mr. Anderson", said in my best Matrix Agent voice, a.k.a. Joe.
Joe was from Wisconsin and had taken some time off to ride down and visit friends in Colorado. He kindly snapped a photo of me with the rock formations in the background.
After extolling the virtues of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Deal's Gap we got to talking about local rides. It turned out that he had not been up Pikes Peak on his bike as a result of being concerned about the unpaved sections. "No problem!". We talked some more and then, continuing to ply my "bad influence" trade, I suggested we take a ride up Pikes Peak, since he had never been.
He went for it. Cool!
It was a bit windy today.
I didn't have enough gas for the trip so Joe kindly waited while I ran out to get some. The attendant had said it was 5 miles but it was more like 10. When I got back Joe was helping some family with engine trouble.
Pikes Peak is the highest point in North American accessible by car. It tops out at 14,110 feet. The route up is about 17 miles long and is almost completely devoid of any guardrails. There are intense switch backs covered in gravel. The drop offs which can exceed several thousand feet are intense. The road surface is a combination of pavement, old pavement mostly covered in dirt, packed dirt, gravel and loose dirt.
We made our ascent. The last time I went up it it was less paved and it was wet. Todays' ascent was a cakewalk.
I tried the Hero Cam again, again not realizing it was misaligned, so of the more than a thousand photos it took, only a few are worth viewing.
As I mentioned, the switch backs can be a bit intense.
You're so high when it's cloudy you're looking down on the tops of clouds.
After a while we reached the summit.
The air is really thin. The last time I was here I really didn't have a problem with it. This time, however, it seemed to affect me. I got dizzy. My feet and legs starting falling asleep and I felt like I could pass out at any minute. I'm glad I did not end up helping a broken down Harley rider push start his bike. I think that might have done me in. I wasn't feeling well at all.
We spent alot of time looking over the edge.
(Joe looking over the edge).
I have so many photos of this place in which I tried desperately to capture the scale of it, but of course, as is always the case, the photos just don't do it justice. As Joe, being a Marine, pointed out, we were only 6000ft under the height at which WWII bombers flew.
It was only 40degF up here with a steady wind gusting to probably close to 50mph.
Standing in the wind the Transit Suit kept me warm but my hands were freezing.
I got pretty good and chilled. We went into the cafe, bought some souveniers and had a cup of coffee. By this time I was starting to feel pretty poorly. After we finished, we did one more round for a few photos.
There were countless people snapping photos. It's a bad habit of mine to offer to take peoples photos, which I found myself getting roped into over and over.
So we're getting ready to leave and I'm in mid-packing-electronics-and-camera-gear-fumbling when a woman, who we had helped with photos, ran up and asked if she could get a photo of her on my bike. This so never happens. Despite not being dressed for 40 deg temperatures, she waited patiently in the cold biting wind while I finshed fumbling.
"I got to sit on a BMW", she said. Ok, times seriously have changed. This never happens. As a matter of fact, I can't remember a single instance when someone has walked up and asked to sit on my bike for a photo. I've owned this bike for 18 years!
We made our descent. Joe led and I tried to shoot video with the Hero Cam, but again the angle was wrong so the video kind of sucks. We stopped a few times to take shots.
It just doesn't do it justice. You can see Kansas from the top of the mountain. The trip back down was uneventful. Dust got all over the bike, but otherwise it faired well. Joe needed to head back to Pueblo to meet his friends. He invited me to stop by in Wisconsin if I happened to be in the area on my way back. I may just do that. It was nice to have someone to ride with.
I hung out at the bottom of the mountain for a while and then headed to points West in the direction of Ouray. I covered beautiful harsh countryside. It was as if you could see the tectonic forces pushing the mountains up out of the ground as I rode along. There were so many things to photograph I eventually just gave up and continued to ride.
At one point cresting a hill I was presented with this incredible valley.
Photo just not doing it justice.
I rode on for miles more and watched the sun set.
At one point, while taking a photo, a couple stopped and asked for directions. GPS in hand I was able to help them find where they needed to go.
I arrived in Buena Vista after dark looking for a place to get a bite to eat. There was a sketchy looking grill up the street and an equally sketchy looking hotel. Both turned out to be just fine. As I moved my gear into my room a pair of women arrived and were checking into their room. Shortly thereafter they walked down the street.
By the time I had packed everything into the room, gotten on the bike and ridden to the grill, the women were just arriving. I had guessed that's where they were headed. It turns out it was a mother and daughter pair. I'm so tired now, I have forgotten their names. I sat at the bar and they asked if they could join me. It was nice. The mother was born in Russia and if memory serves had been there until '94. Her daughter was 17 and was up here to go rafting. They were some of the most extensively travelled people I have ever met. Name a country and they have been there multiple times. Her daughter speaks fluent Russian although I was under the impression she had grown up in the states. Interesting people.
I went back to my room, found that I had connectivity and sat down to write.
The bike has been concerning me a bit. I had one tank of gas that ran through at 40mpg, the lowest this bike has ever gotten. Before it got retuned to fatten it up and make it more "fun", I would consistently get 55mpg, sometimes as high as 60. During the last tank, I got close to 50mpg, but now the bike is occasionally experiencing powerloss. I crank the throttle and it just doesn't accelerate like normal. This clears up after a while. I find myself wondering if the fatter mixture maybe fouling the plugs. I'll have to find a BMW shop in the northwest to maybe check it out when I get the tires replaced. By the time I get up there they'll be due. The clutch is also starting to give me issues. I think the cable may be binding, or maybe it's just the lever sticking. I meant to get a can of WD40 to eliminate the lever as a possible source of the sticking. It makes shifting smoothly challenging.
Otherwise everything seems to be working. All the electronics have been working as have the cameras. Other than the aforementioned occasionaly glitches, the bike has been performing fine, but it is looking a bit worse for wear. The tank protector I had for years failed and now the tank exposed to the elements, and my legs, is pretty scratched up. I have a feeling this bike is going to be significantly aged by the time I get back. It still gets alot of compliments, which is weird, because in all the years I've owned it it has never gotten noticed much. Very strange. On this trip, it seems to get noticed, people everywhere seem interested in what I'm doing. I am not used to it.
Tomorrow I'm supposed to arrive in Ouray at 3, which should be easy to do. I'm only 190 miles out from there. Hopefully the weather holds.