2 Wheels To Adventure

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A Few Personal Notes---Very Few
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Alaska/Canada Trip--2006
Two "Adventure" Bikes

Ride boldly, Lad,  fear not the spills! (From "The Man From Snowy River," by Banjo Paterson) 
I'm not the man I used to think I was. (RBW)
"Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!"
(William Butler Yeats)

For a looong discussion on motorcyling in general and Adventure riding in particular, see the archives (or scroll down) for the first post on September 28, 2006.
It gives some opinions and ideas, along with a bit of philosophy; one (old) man's view of the world of 2 wheels.

New Scooter---2014 R1200RT
Cap'n Ron in the Straits of Georgia
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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Final Thoughts

Thursday, April 12, 2007 Day 149 plus 5 PHOENIX (SCOTTSDALE) ARIZONA

The trip was three days short of 5 months, and covered 27,506 miles by the odometer.  Figuring a 5% error in the Odo, that comes to approximately 26,130 miles.

Would I do it again? Certainly. Will I do it again? Probably not. Why not? Not enough time left, and there are other places to explore: Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, who knows? All I can say just now is that it is time for kicking back and contemplating the good fortune I have had on this trip and in my life. I am thankful for it all. It has been a great ride, and I am not just talking about this trip to South America.

What did I learn on this trip, or at least, what was made clearer if it were not new information? I learned that people are essentially good. Of course there are jerks in the world. This trip merely reinforced my belief that almost all people everywhere are interested in strangers, where they came from, and where they are going. They want to know what makes that stranger tick. They are interested in what the traveler thinks of them and their country. There are scammers and thieves, to be sure, but I met very few. Most folks were curious without further motive. We were something unusual for them, and they wanted to learn more.

South America is a very large continent, made up of 13 nations (counting Guyana, French Guiana and Surinam, but not counting Tobago, The Malvinas, or Panama). Some areas of each country are definitely third world, but the general perception that countries there are populated by illiterate brown people riding burros, wearing sombreros, and napping every afternoon during Siesta are by and large false. These people and countries are modern and up to date in large measure, with growing middle class and considerable affluence. The disparity between rich and poor is sharp and evident, but the disparity here at home is also growing, and the middle class here is in a vise and just beginning to feel the squeeze.

There were areas in several cities I visited that reminded me of cities in the US. The Miraflores area of Lima looked a lot like some upscale areas of NYC. Rio de Janeiro is modern and bustling, as are Buenos Aires and Santiago. These are not backward nations, and the people there are not  scraping out a living growing bananas. More than once I sat at a sidewalk cafe, sipping expresso and nibbling flaky pastries and mused about the risky and rugged life there in the “Third World.”

I learned that a lot of these people are proud of their homeland, and there are a lot of them who do not yearn to come to the U.S. Many do, but most of their motivation is economically driven, because of poor opportunities at home and the belief that a better life can be had here. I had a shoe shine fellow, no child, tell me that he wanted to come to the US to shine shoes,  because he could earn more money doing that job here. I told him that that was true, but that things cost a lot more here, and that shoe shining was not a highly sought occupation. He didn’t care, he just wanted to make more than 50 cents for a shoeshine. The freedoms offered here did not seem to be of great interest to him, and I can only surmise that his perception was that it was not an issue. He only wanted to be free to earn a decent living.

I learned that most people with whom I came into contact were not America haters. Most of them disliked what our country is doing in the world, specifically in Iraq, but they do not hold US citizens responsible. That seems odd to me, since we are in fact responsible for the governments we elect. We are the government, and it speaks and acts for us, its citizens. I was counseled to identify myself as Canadian on this trip (especially in Colombia), because of the perceived animus against Americans, but I will never deny my citizenship. I am an American, and will not hide behind a false identity. I am what I am, and my approval or disapproval of my government does not alter that fact. When I identified myself as being from the United States (I almost never called myself “American,” because everyone from Canada to Tierra del Fuego is “American”) people usually smiled and seemed genuinely pleased to meet a “norteamericano,” but I did not meet one foreign national on the whole trip who supported American Foreign Policy.

I learned a good deal of patience, although I would be the first to admit that I still have a long, long way to go. I take after my father and his father, and fly off the handle at things over which I have no control. This is an ugly trait, and I tempered it a tiny bit on this trip, but I have scarcely begun to get a grip on it. I am only 73. There still may be time...

Along with that beginning toward patience, I learned that seeming crises are not usually as bad as they appear when one is in the midst of one. Things always could be worse, and usually what seems dismal often turns out to be trivial when looked at later. Disasters do occur, but they are rare. Don’t sweat the small stuff!

I said it early on, but this trip reinforced it: One needs retain a sense of humor. There is a funny side to nearly everything short of injury or death, and I am not certain that death is always humorless.

Take it one day at a time. I am again repeating myself, but it is worth repeating. Looking at the Big Picture can be daunting. The view of one day at a time is focused, and the participant needs to savor each and every one, because, be it a on a motorcycle to South America or the trip we are all taking through life, the days are numbered, and they will not come again. Enjoy even the rain and the sleet, because it is part of the experience. Wishing time away is one of the least productive things we do. We wish it were tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. We wish we were somewhere else, and when we get there, we wish we were in another place. We are always wishing for what we do not have at the moment, and seem never to be satisfied with what we have. A motorcycle trip is like that, if you let it. You wish you were up the road, and that the destination were withing reach, and then, you are there, and you look back and wonder why you did not take more in while you were there. You move too quickly down that long and winding road, and fail to see the trees and the grass and the people and then, all too soon it is over, and you have this feeling that you were just passing through and that you missed a lot. And, of course, no matter what your speed, no matter what your philosophy, you did miss a lot. The question is, what did you gain, what did you see that made that passage worthwhile? Live in the moment, with an eye to a future. What future? Who knows, but live for now and hope for a future. We cannot accurately recall the past, so it does not exist. We cannot know the future, so it too does not exist. This moment is all we have, and we must constantly remind ourselves to make the most of it. This is not to say live ONLY for the moment. That course often takes one into deep waters from which there is no exit. No, live for now, take it in and cherish it, but keep one eye on the hope for tomorrow. It can never be tomorrow, but we can stay on the road that points in that direction. Motorcycle example: We have a flat tire, and no way to fix it. It is getting dark, and we have a long ride before finding a place for the night. We can stand there grousing about it, wishing  we were “there,” and wrap ourselves in misery, or  we can look at it as a part of  the experience, and set about solving the problem. We knew there would be flats when we started the trip. We cannot expect no delays or breakdowns on any ride, nor in life. Besides, some problems make one more appreciative when things do go smoothly and according to plan. Peaks and valleys are part of life, and rain and sun, cold and warm, good and bad, night and day, are all the ups and downs in rides or in life. Without the valleys we could not have the peaks. Keep things in perspective.

One person I encountered on this trip had the habit of taking huge breaths from time to time, then letting it out in a great sigh with lips pursed. It came out in almost a whistle, and seemed to convey a strong sense of fatigue and stress. It was as if he was saying, “When, oh when will this terrible ordeal be over?” I am not dead certain this was his  feeling, but that was the message I received, and it became most puzzling. I began to wonder just what he was really feeling, and why was he  continuing on if  it was such an apparent struggle. I may well have mis-interpreted this plaintive sigh, but it  sure sounded to me like a cry for relief. If you are having a good time, act like it, for goodness sakes!

Another thing I already knew, but had reinforced was the difference between ignorance and stupidity. Most people are not stupid. Lack of formal education does not make one stupid, only ignorant of the things that education might offer. Many unlettered people are very bright, while a good many degree-holders are pretty stupid at base. Literacy can assist intelligence, but readers who fail to use critical thinking can prove their stupidity by their actions, despite shelves full of books once read. Illiterate people generally have pretty good memories because they have to have to survive. Those of us who read often let our memories slide because we have the ability to “look it up.” We make notes to remind ourselves of things, and when we misplace the notes, we are lost. Illiterates have to remember. Who is the smarter in that case?

We are all ignorant about many things. I am ignorant about raising llamas, for example. That Peruvian Indian I passed there along the road to Cuzco is well-versed in llama care, but may not be literate. He may not even speak Spanish, the language of his country. He may be ignorant about some things we deem important, but he is not ignorant about the things central to his life, and he certainly is not stupid. Stupid is the inability to learn new things, perhaps the refusal to change one’s thinking about cherished ideas and concepts. Stupidity is the inability to grow as a person.  Rigid thinking and stupidity go hand-in-hand. The world is imperiled by too much of it.

Here is another lesson re-inforced on this trip: People deserve respect always until they prove unworthy of that respect. We make instant judgments about them, based on first impressions that are usually visual. Closer inspection often proves us wrong, especially when that first impression was negative. We judge them by countenance, gender, skin color, hair, tattoos, body shape, size, or clothing. We rarely see what kind of person inhabits those traits until we engage them in some kind of social intercourse. We find that our negative take often, usually, I might say, is wrong. People are essentially good. They do what they think is best for themselves, and most people seem to know that social grace and congeniality are the best course. A smile and a greeting usually bring out the best in them, and break any ice that might be present. And, remember this: even stupid people have something to offer, if nothing more than pointing out how wonderful not to be one of them.

Don’t take it personally. Whatever happens to you, the person responsible didn’t really do it out of personal malice. He did it to better his situation, and he doesn’t give a good damn about you as a person. You just happened to be there and were the recipient of his action. It could have been just about anyone, so relax and roll with it, because the perpetrator clearly doesn’t give one little hoot about you. Suck it up and move on. Don’t let your ego get in the way or allow bruised feelings ruin your day.

It occurs to me that one need not take a long motorcycle trip to learn or acknowledge these things...

That is it for this “adventure.” Thanks for your interest, your comments, and your support. It was grand, and I hope it gave you a little peek at a different world.

Life is good. This trip is now in the memory banks, but, like Arnold. “I’ll be back.”

Hasta la vista, Baby,



2:11 pm mdt          Comments

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The End---Almost

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 Day 149 Plus 2 SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA

The remaining two legs of the trip passed without incident. I left Johnson City, Texas at around 0930 on Sunday, the 8th, under gray skies and with chilly temps that hovered around 35 degrees. But, suited up in warmups and hooded sweatshirt, electric vest, nylon windbreaker, electric gloves, and riding suit with liner, I was quite toasty. The road was clear but wet except for bridges, which were icy and in a couple of cases, still coated with slush from the previous day's sleet and snow. One crosses them in as upright posture and steady speed as possible, making sure to effect no sudden moves.

The day progressed westward, and with it raising ceilings and visibility along with elevated temperatures. The freeways in Texas have posted speeds at 80 MPH, and I made good time on US 10 once I joined it south of Junction. I hoped to make Fort Stockton at best, but reached it fairly early in the afternoon, and decided to press on for Van Horn. That also was easy, and I continued to El Paso. Feeling pretty good when I reached it, I went on to Las Cruces, NM, and then, what the Hell, made it to Deming, where I stopped for the night. I got there about 1900 MDT, having "gained" an hour en route with the time change.

Monday morning dawned bright and clear, and I left at 0730. At Lordsburg I took US 70 to Globe, Superior, Miami, and finally Apache Junction. I rang the bell at our little place in Scottsdale at 1330, and was received with a grand hug and kiss by my Dear Wife, who made all this possible with her indulgence and support. Thanks, Ruth! You are truly a Jewel! And they said it wouldn't last...

For the reader, I regret that more true adventure did not come to pass, but for myself, I repeat that the adventure of just making the trip was quite enough for this old man.

Der Klunkenschiffter carried me faithfully and without serious problems. I had one flat tire, blew a couple of non-essential fork seals, and had a rear (non-stock) shock absorber bushing go bad. The latter was an after-market item, and I was told it was never designed for long distance heavy duty riding, so the bike is not to blame for its wearing out. This bike is a tank, and does the job. The only real disadvantage is its weight, making it risky to ride alone into unknown road conditions, because a dropped GS means more often than not dependence upon others to get it back upright and onto the rubber.

The upside is that this big scooter is pretty comfortable either on pavement or on gravel, and carries you along at turnpike speeds with ease and without straining. When you go off pavement, it rides well, at least until deep sand, mud, or gravel is encountered. That's when it is nice to have a riding partner to help when you go down, and you will go down sooner or later. Most of my spills occurred when stopped, reaching for the ground with my short little legs. On a slope, by the time the foot reaches the ground, the bike is over so far that she is on her way, and there is no stopping her. If it is to the left and the side stand has not yet been extended, there she goes! If it is to the right, get out of the way, because, timber! There is always the chance that there is loose dirt or gravel underfoot, and when you put your foot down, it slips away from you, and the bike is sure to follow.

For these reasons, the bike needs lowering for those of us with inseams of less than 32 0r 33 inches. That is why I put the Works shocks on the bike in the first place. It is remarkable what a difference a couple of inches in height reduction makes in handling the bike. I am thinking of putting Ohlin shocks on this bike to bring her down to my size but retain the weight carrying capablilties the Works shocks seemed to lack. 

Minimalism is the standard to be sought on a trip like this. I took entirely too much stuff. Essentials need be defined and rigidly enforced. This is no time for extras, as they just weigh one down and add to the bulk. Discipline!

A trip like this begs for more time, no matter what length has been planned. I estimate one year minimum to do a South American tour real justice. On this trip, I merely skipped over the tops of the waves, and never got into the depths. There were many, many places bypassed that needed seeing. I have several regrets. I did not book a boat trip to the Antartic. Shoulda. I did not get to Torres de Paines Park in Argentina. Shoulda. Coulda. These are just two examples of opportunities missed.

$$  This trip can be done cheaply, of that I have no doubt. But, and I am not speaking of real luxury here, I estimate this trip to cost $100/day if one does not scrimp or splurge. Figure $20/day for gasoline, $25/day for hotel, $30 for food, $25 for incidentals (border crossings, snacks, visas, bike servicing, tires, etc). I paid as little as $0.15/gal for gas and as much as $5.50. Hotels ranged from $6.00 to $85.00. Meals were all over the scale, from $1.25 (you don't want too many of these) to $25.00, and that does not include any alcohol. One can go on the cheap, and that is better than not going at all, but why suffer? If the means are there, then give yourself a break and live comfortably, if not lavishly. Comfort is nice when climbing off the old horse after a trying day in gravel. A hot shower, not always available in the $6.00 hotels, can take a lot of the "tired" out of the day's ride. 

I'll have some observations on the trip and what was learned a bit later on. This here now blog ain't quite dead yet! 

10:44 am mdt          Comments

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Deep In The Heart Of Texas

Saturday, April 7, 2007 Day 147 JOHNSON CITY, TEXAS

Last night was the third night in a row for Chinese Food, and the quality seems to be diminishing as I move westward. The Kung Pao Beef was more like Kung Pao Fat, and my ears are still ringing from the MSG dosage I took in (OK, I lied about the ringing ears; my ears ring all the time, with or without MSG).

It has been cold, cold, cold ever since Lake City, Florida, but I got up this morning in Vidor, TX, where I spent the night and had ungood Chinese (the cook may have been from Somalia, or maybe Lower Slobovia), and was greeted by gray skies and temps in the very low 40s. Off and running at 0700, I was pretty toasty in my electric vest and gloves until Houston, where it began to rain, where it continued and intensified along with dropping temperatures. My warm-ups were in the bottom of my clothes bag, and I had no place to change, so I pressed on until abour 1330, and finally finked out and pulled into the Best Western Motel in J. City, about 45 miles W. of Austin.

A hot shower restored feeling to my toes, and good humor to my soul, and clothing and riding gear are draped all over my room to dry. Tomorrow bodes more of the same. The Austin paper says this cold front is forecast to be the worst in years, and clearing may not start until Monday. I will do a humor check in the morning and see if I am up for a ride in cold and rain toward the next stopover, wherever that may  be.

Der Klunkenschiffter was very reluctant to start this morning, and needed unusual coaxing. Fortunately the battery is strong, and she finally kicked over and ran well all the way. I think the plugs may be fouling, and hope they will hang in there for two more cold starts.

It is so bleeping cold here that sleet was falling awhile ago. This was one of those days that was less fun than others. It was perhaps the least comfortable day of the whole trip---so far! But, the rainproofing I did on my Aerostich jacket worked, and there was but one small leak through an outside pocket that didn't penetrate to the inside.

Happy Days! 

5:02 pm mdt          Comments

Thursday, April 5, 2007

And The Days Dwindle Down, To A Precious Few...

Thursday, April 5, 2007 Day 145 CHIPLEY, FLORIDA

Off and running this morning, very early, I headed West up Okeechobee Road and onto Alligator Alley toward Naples and the West Coast. I had forgotten how much time one can make on good US freeways (turnpikes to you Easterners). There were a couple of slow-downs due to the ubiquitous traffic that seems to congregate anywhere in the world where there is paved roadway, but generally, I made excellent time, and got here to Chipley about 1900, EDT, making it just under 700 miles for the day, and that includes a 30 minute stop for breakfast (IHOP, and predictably boring), and an hour-and-a-half in St. Pete for lunch. (Chipley is about 30 or so miles west of Tallahassee on US 10.)

I had also forgotten just how mind-numbingly boring these roads can be. They stretch for mile after mile with almost no curves, and what curves there are are so gentle as to be no curve at all. I much prefer the two lane blacktops that have some adventure or other waiting around that next blind turn. The monotony of the freeway lulls one into that dangerous day-dreaming that takes focus off the ride, and sets one up for disaster, but I made it through without incident, although I did pass one nasty wreck where a car had left the pavement and apparently rolled a couple of times before coming to rest on its right side against an embankment. Traffic slowed briefly, as if in tribute, then resumed the mad dash secure in the perception that "it can't happen to me."

The other boring thing associated with the turnpike experience is the numbing sameness of the exits and the businesses that line them. They all seem to have the same fast food restaurants, gas stations, and other service businesses. They do vary with different parts of the country, but you can count on them being the same, wherever you go. I found a Motel 8 here that has WiFi (becoming a very high priority, along with Comedy Central for the Daily Show and HBO as of April 8 for the last season of "The Sopranos). Then it was off on foot, looking for someplace to eat that was not in the fast food vein. We had Subway, Burger King, MacDonalds. KFC, Domino's Pizza, and, yes, there tucked away almost out of sight---a Chinese Restaurant! Wherever you go in the world, you can always rely on Chinese Restaurants for a good fried rice or Kung Pao Beef. This evening, I opted for the buffet, and it was passable. I should have gone with the pork fried rice... 

9:13 pm mdt          Comments

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Breaking Out

Tuesday, April 3, 2007 Day 140 KEY WEST, FLORIDA

It was a long weekend, but Tuesday did come, and lo! The bike was ready by 1130, with new tires, a new fuel quick-disconnect in place, fresh oil and filter, and new front brake pads. The bill was a mere $950, and I was off, pounding southward on US 1  to Key West. New oil seems to make a great difference, and Der Klunkenschiffter purred along with new life and vigor, and I along with her.

We arrived KW at about 1530, and I began the search for a reasonably priced hotel. Silly me! They were either full or charging in excess of $250, or both. I finally capitualted and landed at a Travelodge, where the clerk gave me a 10% break for being retired military, and the tariff is only $206 plus tax. But, they do have WiFi in the room, and that sealed the deal. So here I am, blogging away.

Oh yes, I broke down and washed the bike. At a stoplight in town this afternoon, a guy on a motor scooter pulled up and observed that my bike really needed a bath, so I was shamed into washing her down after I settled into my $200 suite. Then, I went to dinner---at Denny's! Now there is a combination---an over-priced hotel room and a sumptuous meal---fine dining at its best. 

While in the Beemer shop I met an Argentine fellow who now lives in Miami and who is going on a gaggle of 6 or 7 people to Alaska in June. He asked me if I could meet with the group and give them some tips on traveling the Alaska and up to Prudhoe Bay. My ego thus polished, I said sure I could, and will go back to Miami tomorrow night and meet with these guys at their local biker restaurant and try to help them with planning. They only have a month, so they need to use the time to the best advantage. This puts me at least another day from home, but time is no longer pressing as it was from the southern continent, and I still can make Phoenix by the middle of the month, and Boise by the 21st. After all the nice people and help I had on this trip, the least I can do is give some information to these road warriors. I think most of them are on R1200GS, and at least one on a Triumph Tiger. 

8:30 pm mdt          Comments

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Trip That Would Not Die

Sunday, April 1, 2007 Day 138 MIAMI, FLORIDA

Sometimes, things just are not meant to be. One must be philosophical, relax, and go with the flow, even if it is not flowing at the time.

When I left Der Klunkenschiffter at the Beemer shop Friday afternoon, the service manager explained that he was short-handed and down to only one mechanic. Because of this, he was not able to guarantee that he could get the bike out before closing time of 1800 on Saturday. We briefly discussed what needed to be done, and he said that the priorities were: 1) Get the fuel line repaired, 2) put on new tires, and 3) change oil and filter. He could not fix the turn signals or the right turn signal switch because he did not have the parts in stock and it would take several days to get them. 

"Fine. Do what you can," I told him. "I don't want to have to stay here over the weekend, and you are closed on Mondays, so get it on the road, and I can get the oil changed later."

He said it would not be ready until late Saturday, and I said I would call. I gave him my hotel telephone number and asked him to call if he needed to talk to me.

I did call at 1600 on Saturday. He said, "Oh, I am glad you called. I lost your hotel phone number, and I wanted to talk to you. My mechanic had an accident this morning. He splashed solvent in his eyes, and has gone to a clinic for treatment. He is still there. Before he left he mounted the new tires and changed the oil and filter, but the fuel line is still not repaired. He should be back in about an hour."

I called again at 1700. The mechanic was not back, and would not be coming back today. Sorry.

I asked if there was a chance I could get a loaner bike. He said he didn't know, and I would have to ask the manager. He tried to transfer the call, but no one answered. I called the main shop number, and spoke with the floor salesman. He said he would see if the manager could maybe get someone out on Monday. I asked for a loaner. He said he would try to find out, and he would call me right back.

At 1730 I called again. The salesman said he had not yet talked to the manager, as he was "out on a Demo ride," but he would talk to him as soon as he got back. The salesman said he would call me right back, within 5 minutes.

That was 16 hours ago. It is going to be a long weekend... 

7:37 am mdt          Comments

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For future use

Our New Best Friend, TRES

My Hero, Uncle Pete, two days short of his 90th birthday.

Meet Mort--- Mortem "mors me cum equitat"
The view from 50 feet up the mast
The Old Guy At The Helm Of "OH MISS"
Adventure Bound
The Old Guy, Back Home Unscathed
2005 BMW K1200LT, long gone to bike heaven
"Der Klunkenschiffter" at age 4, 102,000 miles