Monday, June 13, 2011

Goin' Solo

This past weekend I took the first ride of moderate length (260 miles round-trip, including side-rambles and other tangents) since Trish and I started riding together. The purpose of the trip was to do some jumping down at Skydive Sebastian. Riding without Trish alongside me was strangely bittersweet. The intensity of the feeling took me by surprise.

I hadn't realized until that point what a profound emotional and psychological impact riding with Trish had made; it had effectively created a great mental milestone dividing my personal motorized two-wheeled history into B.T. and A.T. periods (as with almost everything else in my life). I ride every day, of course, commuting to and from work, going to the grocery store etc. -- I don't even own a car -- but this was the first time I have taken a purely recreational motorcycle trip in the A.T. Era, so to speak.

Dinnertime at Mulligan's Beach House Bar and Grill in Vero Beach. I sat in an Adirondack chair and watched the windblown surf breaking over the sand as the sun went down behind me. The whole time, I was texting Trish, telling her how great it was, how much I missed her and how much I wished she were there with me.

During my previous major rides, I enjoyed the significant benefits and pleasures of riding alone. Chief among them are:

  • The ability to set your own pace. Some people like to ride fast for short intervals; some people like to ride slowly but stop infrequently.

  • The freedom to abide by your own schedule. Are you in the mood to do 1,000 miles today? Or do you feel like stopping at every scenic overlook, roadside attraction, local curiosity, exhibit and marker? Do you want to wander and explore aimlessly? Or do you want to reach a specific destination by a fixed deadline? When you ride alone, you can change your plans on a whim.

  • Not feeling responsible for anyone else's safety or well-being. Everyone has to look out for everyone else, but this sense of responsibility is especially strong when one rider has significantly more road experience than another.

  • Not having to communicate and coordinate. Some messages are realatively easy to get across -- "I need gas," "let's stop and get something to eat." More complex suggestions and requests are difficult to convey without radios. This can get aggravating.

Riding in groups -- or even as a pair -- requires making a series of strategic compromises that usually leaves everyone frustrated to some degree. This is true, obviously, of any partnership or team effort. It even serves as a reasonable metaphor for marriage! In our case, however, I have discovered that the fun and satisfaction of riding with my best friend more than overbalances these negatives.

I think I had expected riding alone again to be a relief -- instead, it felt kind of sad, like something was missing. I was unprepared for that.

One of my favorite parts of any motorcycle trip is the unplanned and unexpected detours. I see something that looks potentially interesting and I stop on an impulse. Those moments almost always end up being the most memorable highlights. I stopped several times during this trip and deliberately indulged in a roundabout, unhurried intinerary. My overwhelming feeling, again and again, was I wish Trish were here.

I stopped at Castaway Point Park on the way back to eat a protein bar and enjoy the scenery. It was a pretty spot -- I could see large crabs scuttling among the oyster shells and coral rubble in the clear, shallow water. Several small sailboats were anchored in the lagoon nearby.

I'm usually a little bit sad to see a road trip coming to an end. This time the opposite was true; I couldn't wait to get Home. That's Home with a capital H, as in wherever Trish is. I don't feel bound to any particular geographic location, but it's not Home if she isn't there.

Riding alone can be great; it often is. Riding with a partner or a group can be nerve-wracking and annoying. In fact, it can detract from the experience to the point of ruining it.

But riding with someone you really care about -- someone who gets it, who gets YOU, who enjoys traveling in all the same ways and for all the same reasons you do -- can enhance the ride so much that you find yourself never wanting to hit the road without that person beside you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Fix is In

After a minor mishap, Y.T. (Trish's 2004 Honda Rebel) was left with some very slight damage. It included a skewed footpeg and a warped license plate -- both of which I "repaired" using the old-fashioned method of pulling, twisting and hammering them back into place -- and also one thing that rendered Y.T. effectively unrideable: a bent shifter lever.

  This was easy to fix . . .

But this was not.

The lever was bent into a position that made it impossible to get your foot under it. Thus, one could not shift gears. Thus, one could not ride. Hence the dilemma.

Trish ordered a new shifter lever and it arrived about a week later. Today we finally had a chance to get out there and devote some time to removing the bent one and replacing it with the new one.

While we were already working on the bike, it was a good time to go ahead and also replace the headlight bulb. (The low beam was still working, but the high beam had failed. Or maybe it was the other way around. I don't really remember.)

Trish begins the process of removing the headlamp casing.

Changing out the shifter lever was a multi-step process. It was not complicated, requiring only a properly sized hex key and an adjustable crescent wrench, but it was just a bit annoying, for two reasons: first, it turns out that you have to remove the entire left footpeg assembly to gain access to the actuator rod to which the lever connects. And second, the replacement lever doesn't come with its own rubber boot -- believe it or not, that's considered a separate part! No one told us that, so we had to pry off the boot from the old lever (using a screwdriver helped) and then wiggle and tug it onto the new one in a process not entirely unlike attempting to put on a much-too-small condom without tearing it.

Trish holds the left footpeg assembly after we removed it. The actuator rod is still attached to the shifter lever here.

After one trip to the hardware store and three or four trips back inside the house to look for various tools, we succeeded in changing the lever.

I made the foolish mistake of assuming that changing the headlamp bulb would be much easier. It turned out to be equally challenging, if not more so. The headlamp casing is not designed to be easy to get into. (The owner's manual doesn't even contain a procedure for changing the bulb -- clearly they want the dealership to do this.)

After several false starts and two separate Internet research sessions, however, I figured out what needed to be done.

Let there be light!

I triple-checked to make sure the new bulb was working right and then Trish and I embarked upon an elaborately choreographed committee project to get the bulb into the lens housing, the C-clip over the bulb, the boot over the C-clip, the two COMPLETELY REMOVABLE (WTF?) brass fittings that hold the C-clip in place, the screws into the brass fittings and finally the headlamp case back into its housing, where it is secured by two bolts. I have never seen such an unnecessarily complex configuration for such a simple -- and frequently replaced! -- item. Why not have a simple hinged opening in the back of the housing that allows somebody to unplug the old bulb and plug in the new one?

After we were done, I took Y.T. on a quick 12-mile ride and filled up her tank with fresh gas. On that ride I noticed that the right rear-view mirror stem had also been bent. I'm going to have to figure out if I can muscle that back into its proper position without breaking it or if we're just going to have to buy a new one. The good news is, Y.T. seems to be running fine and our field repairs were apparently at least semi-adequate. The shifter lever feels a little bit too low; I might have to experiment with adjusting it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Sometimes the best trips just seem to materialize out of nowhere.

We'd had long-standing plans to hook up with our good friend Danni when she flew down for a short vacation trip to St. Augustine. When we saw how good the weather was supposed to be on Friday and Saturday, we made a more or less last-minute decision to ride up there instead of driving.

This turned into a slew of firsts for Trish -- including her longest ride so far by a wide margin (nearly 200 miles there and back) as well as her first overnight motorcycle road trip. She's quickly turning into a hell of a rider.

We got a (relatively, for us) early start, leaving Geneva westbound on SR 46 at around 9 A.M. From Sanford we took SR 415 northbound, crossing the St. Johns river on the Osteen Bridge and continuing up into the Spruce Creek area, surveying the sweeping curves and rural scenery along the way. Traffic was light and the conditions were perfect -- clear, sunny, dry and cool. It was my favorite kind of ride: the kind that gives you a chance to see and enjoy the real Florida -- the lakes and forests, the goat farms, the fields of celery and strawberries, the orange groves, the pastures filled with cattle, the horse ranches, the old oak trees covered with Spanish moss, the small towns, the roadside diners, the country racetracks, the houses built in the 40s, the occasional phosphate mine or limestone quarry. It's a wonderful reminder of the pre-Disney era.

We followed CR 421 eastbound all the way on out to the coast, vaulting over the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway on a long, high, steep bridge and finally hitting the T-intersection with A1A in Daytona Beach. (It's a particularly dramatic junction: you come over the top of the bridge and find yourself facing the great, wide, rolling blue Atlantic directly in front of you.) From there, we turned left and headed north.

We paused in Ormond Beach at an oceanside restaurant called the Beach Bucket for a late breakfast. Trish got coffee and pancakes, I got orange juice and a tomato-Swiss-onion omelet with home fries and sourdough toast and as usual we shared everything. What a brilliant morning! The timing and location of this stop couldn't have been more ideal.

Enjoying a late breakfast at the Beach Bucket in Ormond Beach.

With our bellies full and our spirits high, we resumed our trek northward.

It's funny how seaside communities are similar all over the world. You've always got the one main two-lane highway with the beach itself right there on one side (plus the usual ramps, boardwalks and sandy parking lots) and immediately on the other side, facing the water, rows of quaint, cozy, often eccentric cottages. You always have a few whimsically decorated with pirate or general nautical themes, you always have a scattering of extravagantly elaborate private mansions and you always have plenty of houses painted in the international standard beach colors: coral, periwinkle, seafoam, aqua, lime, driftwood-gray, conch-pink and cloud-white.

At one point we found ourselves sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway on the left and the Atlantic Ocean on the right. A sloop of about 35-40 feet was motoring northbound parallel to us. I'm assuming it was a retired couple. The wife was at the helm and the husband was up on the bow, hanging onto a shroud while he talked on his cell phone. They glanced at us briefly as we passed. I wondered if they were as curious about our journey as we were about theirs.

We made it into St. Augustine shortly after noon.

Trish prepares to pull into the hotel parking lot.

We met Danni and had a splendid afternoon. We hung out on the beach together for a little while, caught up on news and puzzled over some jellyfish that had inexplicably washed up in large numbers on the sand. Then she gave us a condensed but entertaining tour of the historic city, we bought a generous assortment of candy from the Whetstone Chocolate Factory and we had a mostly delicious (but strange) dinner at a Spanish restaurant where the food was pretty good but the staff and management are evidently from another planet.

Danni and her daughter had tickets to go on a ghost tour, so Trish and I took a long, romantic walk past the Castillo de San Marcos, along the waterfront and into the Old Town Square. We wandered past various craft shops and art galleries and finally found ourselves upstairs at a quiet little wine bar with an open balcony that faced a tree-filled courtyard in the Spanish Quarter. I ordered an Argentinian Malbec, Trish tried a bartender-recommended red (a Rioja) and we sat there talking of ships and shoes and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings as live music poured softly from the room around the corner. It was a lovely, delightful evening.

We said our goodbyes back at our hotel and then Danni and her daughter returned to theirs. (They had an early flight out the following morning.)

Our bikes parked at the hotel with the St. Augustine Lighthouse visible in the background.

Trish and I sacked out hard and slept in until ten. : ) We were remarkably (and unexpectedly) efficient about getting up, getting out the door and getting on the road -- much to my surprise, we were pulling out of the hotel parking lot by 10:35. We pondered this point later; we came to the conclusion that it was easier to leave a hotel than it was to leave home simply because you have fewer decisions to make. You can dither and fidget for hours trying to get out the door when you have your entire array of worldly possessions to sift through and pack -- when you're leaving a hotel room, you bundle everything together, stuff in it your luggage and off you go.

Just before we started our engines, we were approached in the parking lot by an old man who asked us where we were from and where we were going. After Trish told him, he proclaimed that he had always felt that "four wheels were safer than two." This, of course, is the Standard Reaction that I was writing about in my previous blog. Sometimes it's polite disapproval, sometimes it's a harsh condemnation, but it's always an admonition. It makes me want to go up to those same people while they're eating in a public restaurant and say, "excuse me, but all that high fat, high sugar, high sodium and high cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes and certain types of cancer."

Trish defused the situation with her usual aplomb, however, pointing out to him that between the two of us we did, in fact, have a total of four wheels . . . thus there was nothing to worry about. And with that, she shut her visor and we roared off.

Refueling along a quiet section of A1A.

We stopped at another oceanside restaurant, the Java Joint, for food and coffee. The Java Joint has an upper deck that provides an excellent, unimpeded view of an unspoiled stretch of grassy dunes, shell-strewn sands and breaking surf. After filling up on a bagel and a veggie burger, we went down the sun-bleached, weather-worn wooden steps and rested for a few minutes before getting back on the road again.

Taking a short beach break in the Flagler area.

Soon we were once again southbound along A1A. Now that the weekend had begun, the highway was thick with other riders out enjoying the fine spring day. We weaved through some congestion surrounding a local craft fair and stopped for cold drinks at a dollar store. A woman came up to Trish and complimented her on her bike, saying that she wanted to get one just like it for her daughter.

By now it had warmed up so much that Trish switched to her mesh jacket. (Thanks, Karen!) The rest of the ride back to Geneva was as scenic and pleasant as the ride out had been.  It was definitely our best ride together yet. Trish has progressed rapidly into a damn good motorcyclist and is already tackling excursions that riders with twice her experience would consider ambitious. Danni described her as "fearless" and "a rock star." I tend to agree with those characterizations.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tao of the Black Bag


Being Present, Living Mindfully

"Why aren't you on Twitter," I am asked. "Why don't you blog more often?"

Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that it is necessary to choose between living life and telling stories about life. The never-ending act of transforming existence into a coherent, cohesive narrative is so intrusive and invasive, he suggested, that it prevents the author from simply absorbing sensory, emotional and intellectual input.

For a certain type of person, at least, Sartre is evidently right.

You know the type; they are constantly using their iPhones to update their Facebook status, constantly texting, constantly posting new pictures to the Web. They are, in other words, so busy telling everybody about what they're doing right now that they hardly have any time to enjoy the experience itself. They're hardly even paying attention to the experience at all. To some extent, yes, we all do it. But for some it is a pathology, an addiction.

Fame is often characterized as a disease or disorder. The type of person described above suffers from "micro-fame." Nothing is done for its own sake; everything is done for the benefit of your audience of readers and followers. This attitude separates you from your own life, turns your life into a packaged product.

You must, I believe, be able to immerse yourself fully in an experience -- to commit to it, to invest yourself in it, to engage with it completely. This does not preclude, however, writing about it later. You might operate under the assumption that at some point in the future, after you have had a chance to process and assimilate the totality of the experience and frame it in the greater context of your life, you might (or might not) attempt to distill it and capture it in words. Knowing this does not prevent you from living in the moment.

I reject the idea that one must choose between exclusive modalities. What one must do is know where to draw the line. If your awareness of the need to tell the story is interrupting the experience -- interfering with it -- then you need to pull back.

It has been widely theorized that in this online era people would be able to present themselves to the public in a totally controlled, inherently false and misleading way. We would see not the real person but a Photoshopped avatar -- a loose, malleable representation that can be enhanced, manipulated and distorted at will. Your online persona can be smarter, funnier, more successful and more interesting than you are: you as you wish to be, not as you are -- an upgraded mythology of yourself.

It is no longer the realm of speculative futurism; we now live in that universe. And you know what? The thing that I find ironic and surprising is not how effectively we have each created, modulated, edited, adjusted and fine-tuned this artificial construct -- it's how most people have completely failed to do this!

They post photographs with no captions, no explanations and no apparent relevance. They post images of random celebrities or animals as their own profile pictures. They post bizarre, rambling, incomplete thoughts pockmarked with spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization and syntax errors and dripping with omissions, inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies.

In this age of Wikipedia, Google and Spell Check it would be so easy to look smart. You wouldn't be able to tell who was clever, well-rounded and intelligent with so much information (very literally) at everyone's fingertips. It never ceases to amaze me that despite the minimal effort required, people don't take advantage of these things. It's not as if you even have to get up out of your chair, walk across the room and actually get a dictionary down off the shelf. Half the time they don't even bother to proofread. They post comments like, "there was this movie i forget who was in it or what it was called but there was this guy who . . ." Oh, for crying out loud! Just look it up on IMDB!

An increasingly common attitude is, "why should I do it in real life and expose myself to risk when I can play a computer game that simulates the experience with no risk?"


Choosing Experience, Choosing Reality

Since this is a blog about motorcycle travel, I can safely talk about the fact that I ride. I have learned not to bring this up in general social situations. If I mention motorcycles or motorcycling to non-riders, the usual immediate standard response from them is to begin telling me some gruesome, gory tale of horror. It's a weird but consistently predictable reaction. So I have trained myself to avoid the topic. (Years ago I wrote a short essay devoted to the subject of the skewed perception of risk you can read HERE if you are interested.)

It is well documented that human nature causes vivid, dramatic threats like shark attacks seem much scarier than long-term, invisible, intangible threats such as high cholesterol. A shark attack is an extremely remote possibility and hardly worth worrying about for most people most of the time. High cholesterol is likely to kill you. But the shark attack is vivid and dramatic while the high cholesterol is long-term, invisible and intangible . . . so you see some fat person sitting on the beach, afraid to go in the water, eating a double cheeseburger with extra mayonnaise and a jumbo order of fries. That is faulty hazard analysis.

Fear is a poor reason not to do things.

If something involves risk, evaluate the risks. Minimize the risks. Manage the risks.

Don't avoid doing things -- do things right! Do things safely!

People's reactions to hearing about someone else's adventures are often obliquely apologetic and subconsciously defensive, freighted with rationalizations.

    "I wish I could buy a motorcycle but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could get my pilot's license but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could sail around the world but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could learn to skydive but . . . [insert excuse]."

The most common excuse is "my wife won't let me." It's usually followed by a self-deprecating laugh, but I don't think it's humorous; I think it's kind of sad. I don't mean to seem harsh or judgmental, but that doesn't sound like a fulfilling marriage. I would hate to think that I was somehow standing between my wife and actualization. If she really wanted to have an experience, it it were really important and meaningful to her, then I should be supporting, encouraging, facilitating and enabling in every way I possibly can -- that's what best friends are for. Inversely, if my actions or presence in her life were preventing her from achieving her goals I would feel (rightly) very guilty and depressed about it. If Trish wants to do something, then the way I see it it's my job to do everything in my power to make it happen. I fell in love with her because she is who she is. Why would I want to change that? Why would I want to hold her back? That doesn't make any sense.


Setting Priorities, Allocating Resources

The second most common excuse is "I can't afford it." This statement makes me wince. Unless you are living in abject poverty (and some are, but usually not the ones using this excuse) this probably isn't really true.

Ten Levels of Wealth (measured as a function of lifestyle)

Notice that the levels are not associated with hard numbers such as annual gross income. That's because what matters is your CIRCUMSTANCES, not your account balance or net worth. The two key factors are the real cost of living where you reside and your own personal (perceived) lifestyle needs.

The phrase "basic fundamental human needs" as I use it here includes (A) nourishing food and clean water, (B) clothing adequate to the conditions, (C) adequate shelter, (D) health care and hygiene and (E) access to education and work.

Level 1: It is impossible to obtain the basic fundamental human needs.
Level 2: It is extremely difficult to obtain the basic fundamental human needs.

NOTE: For perspective, according to the World Bank, almost half the global population -— over three billion people -— live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

Level 3: Obtaining the basic fundamental human needs requires all available resources.
Level 4: Obtaining the basic fundamental human needs requires most available resources, with little left over.

Level 5: Some disposable income is available for discretionary purchases.
Level 6: A significant amount of disposable income is available for discretionary purchases -- spending on entertainment and consumer goods becomes a substantial part of the budget.

Level 7: Enough money is available to cover all expenses and still put aside for savings or major purchases (such as a house).
Level 8: It is possible to live comfortably while simultaneously amassing increasing savings.

Level 9: It is no longer necessary to choose between saving and spending; there is enough money to live very well with no great danger of running out.
Level 10: Unlimited extravagance.

As a practical matter, once a household hits Level 10, additional wealth is just a figure on a ledger with no impact on your lifestyle. Let's face it, the difference between having $5 million and $50 million in your personal checking account is effectively nil. (Although I'm sure many millionaires would emphatically dispute that assertion.)

Since there are so many multi-billionaires out there these days, it might make sense to add a ridiculous Level 11 to this list -- more money than you and all your staff, entourage, ex-wives, mistresses and illegitimate children could ever possibly spend.

The disparity is staggering. Roughly 42% of all the wealth in America is held by just 1% of the U.S. population. Most people (the bottom 80%) hold just 7%.

With all this in mind, people who are at the mall buying clothes and music CDs, DVD players and iPods, new cars and new furniture can't logically or accurately use the "I can't afford it" excuse. "I choose to spend my money on other things" would be more correct.

So why do so many people make excuses? And why do others choose to get out there and do things? What makes the difference?

I think it essentially all comes down this: many people prefer to cling to a comforting, idealized, glamorized fantasy rather than embrace an imperfect (and perhaps sometimes disappointing) reality. The truth is usually messy, complicated and difficult. A dream can remain abstract and therefore flawless.

Some people apparently want things to be simple and beautiful. Reality is rarely simple and often ugly. Reality can be dirty, annoying, uncomfortable, boring and challenging -- complex and riddled with paradox, ambiguity and contradiction. Navigating reality requires sacrifice and compromise. Trying to bypass, sidestep or circumvent these aspects of human existence on Earth entails hiding, withdrawing, cocooning, protecting oneself from authentic experiences rather than accepting them or seeking them out.

Take climbing Mount Everest, for example. The statement "I climbed Mount Everest" sounds exciting. The reality, however, involves spending days in a tent at base camp playing poker to pass the time while waiting for the weather to break. It involves altitude sickness and hypothermia. It involves physical exhaustion. It involves great expense. Adventure equals excitement but it also equals adversity, uncertainty, danger and discomfort. But that's not a reason not to go if climbing Mount Everest is your dream.

The distinction between a dreamer and a doer is therefore nothing more than a willingness to overcome that fear of contaminating the perfect fantasy with imperfect reality.

I have been on many, many imperfect trips. But as imperfect as they were, they were still better -- far better -- than all the theoretical perfect trips I didn't actually take. There is never a "right time." We can sit around and wait for the "right time" forever. The "right time" is fiction.

"Go small, go simple, go now," say world cruisers Larry and Lin Pardey, who have been ocean voyaging since the 70s. My own version of that motto, applied to motorcycle touring, might be something like, "keep it cheap and hit the road."


The Black Bag

The Black Bag is my one key piece of equipment. It is no accident that I use a picture of it as the header of this blog, nor is the capitalization arbitrary. It is not just a black bag; it is THE Black Bag. It is emblematic of my travel philosophy. All I need to do is grab the Black Bag, along with a change of socks and underwear, and I'm ready for an adventure.

A few of the most important contents:

  • A bottle of Excedrin. I try to never be without this. If you've ever been sick while traveling, you know how miserable it can be. I get terrible headaches (especially when I forget to eat) and the only thing that gives me any relief is that combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine.
  • A toothbrush, dental floss, a pack of tissues, nail clippers and tweezers. A minor problem like a hangnail or something stuck between your teeth can drive you to the verge of insanity when you're on a trip and can't take care of it.
  • A comb and a hairbrush. When I stop to eat, get gas or check into a hotel, taking just a couple of seconds to clean up slightly is helpful. When I look like a scruffy, unkempt, disheveled bum I'm less likely to get prompt, courteous service.
  • A pair of sunglasses.
  • A bottle opener. (You can see it in the picture.) It's a souvenir from the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau. I picked it up during a brewery tour. Ever been caught without a bottle opener? That can be aggravating. People get mighty creative when they're desperate.
  • A couple of safety pins. These can be amazingly useful in a variety of situations.
  • A battery-operated electric beard and mustache trimmer. I figured out a long time ago that it's much easier to keep my facial hair trimmed than it is to try to actually shave every single day, especially when I'm on the road.
    Shampoo, deodorant and bath soap. Not every motel offers these and most campgrounds never do.
  • A Leatherman multi-tool and a Swiss Army Knife. (Unless I'm going to be traveling by airline. Then I leave them at home.)
  • A small LED flashlight.
  • A pair of earplugs in a tiny protective case. These really save the day when you're trying to sleep in a noisy place.

It is the simple things like this, plus some good, solid, basic riding gear (capacious luggage, comfortable gloves etc.) and NOT the perfect $20,000 touring bike or two weeks of paid vacation, a large travel budget and an exotic itinerary that facilitate a rewarding trip. A great trip can be three days and $100. Just go. Just. Go.

Keep it cheap and hit the road. I'll see you out there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Preliminary Plan Begins to Form

Trish and I discussed it, took a few notes and clicked on a few links the other night and it looks like we've developed an early outline for The Big Ride.

We're talking about a three-week (ish) trip, with a focus on the parklands of Southern Utah.

We would begin by going northwest (through the Ozarks?), taking a full six to eight days to get to out there.

Then we'd spend an entire second week exploring places like Arches, Zion, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Monument Valley. During that time we could either establish a single base and do a series of hub-and-spoke trips or else change lodging a couple of times along the way, probably mixing in some moto-camping.

Then we'd head across the border into Arizona, stop at the Grand Canyon (preferably a seldom-visited part of it) and then proceed due east across Texas (maybe spending a night camping at Big Bend and later catching some live independent music acts in Austin) and Louisiana (maybe including a short side-trip into New Orleans) and finally back to Florida over the span of that third and final week.

View Larger Map

(The map above is interactive, not a screen cap.)

We'd strive to keep the daily average mileage relatively low -- it's about a 6,000-mile route, so at 21 days that would give us about 300 miles/day, with an occasional 400-mile or 450-mile day here and there (when the weather's nice and the road and traffic conditions are easy etc.) plus a couple of zero-mile "break days" as well.

We'd stick almost entirely to secondary highways and remain well off the beaten path as much as practical. We would maximize opportunities for unexpected diversions and be open to schedule changes when things caught our interest. We'd try to make lots of time for checking out museums, historical markers and exhibits and weird roadside attractions. We'd take brewery tours, hike, eat at unusual local restaurants (NO NATIONAL CHAINS) and allow serendipity to guide us on a largely improvisational kind of journey between flexible objectives.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Short But Nearly Perfect Ride

As much as I love cross-country rides, the local jaunts do have a couple of advantages.
  1. They require minimal planning and preparation -- you can just walk out the front door and go.
  2. You don't have to pack gear for a wide range of possible weather conditions, from wet to dry and hot to cold.
  3. You don't need to schedule your life around them; there is no need to request time off from work or have the Post Office hold your mail.
Today's officially stated objective was to ride to the "U-Pick" strawberry patch about ten miles from our house and harvest ourselves enough fruit to keep Trish busy for the next few days making strawberry pie, strawberry tarts, strawberry jam, strawberry pancakes etc.

The ride itself was wonderful -- the route took us down two of the prettiest roads in Seminole County: Highway 426 through the Little Big Econ State Forest and Florida Avenue south of Lake Jesup.

Trish on Florida Avenue.

The ride was wonderfully scenic and the weather couldn't possibly have been nicer. Although lots of other motorcyclists were also out enjoying this fine March day, traffic overall was light. We rode past horse farms and cattle pastures, past signs advertising homemade pottery and warning drivers to watch out for deer and gopher tortoises, smelling fresh-cut grass and orange blossoms.

But then (as always) came the unexpected development: the patch was closed -- fenced off and chained up.

With a laugh and a shrug, Trish realizes that our mission has gone awry.

One of the things that I love so much about Trish -- and one of the most important, primary and fundamental reasons why I would consider embarking upon an epic long-distance ride with her -- is that she has an amazing ability to roll with sudden changes, to improvise, to adapt, to relax and enjoy herself when events do not unfold as intended. While some (many? most?) would pout, whine, complain, fuss, sulk, pitch a fit, throw a tantrum, fly off the handle or generally be a pain when such cracks, puddles and craters in the pavement of life appear, Trish never loses her perspective. She just smiles, makes a joke and alters course.

Not getting bent out of shape about things, she once told me, is her mutant superpower. I have learned to embrace her motto, which is, "It'll Be Fine."

So we turned around and headed back to Geneva. The ride back home was as delightful as the ride out there had been. In the driveway she high-fived me and I gave her a kiss. I can think of worse ways to spend a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

A Long-Overdue Repair

Well, Pancho's clutch finally gave out. It began with a gradually worsening sticky-slippy feeling but then it deteriorated until it finally became difficult -- nearly impossible -- to shift gears in the conventional manner. I was still able to speed-shift once I was moving along at a brisk pace, but getting started from a standstill required accelerating slowly and cautiously . . . totally unacceptable in real-world traffic situations.

The ride to the dealership in DeLand was, to put it succinctly, terrifying. (The greatest obstacle was the steep driveway ramp; if I didn't carry enough momentum through the 90-degree turn to carry me up the incline, I would get stuck since I could not roll on the throttle rapidly. But I made it.) Once that challenge had been overcome, however, the next grim specter to confront was the looming price tag. Doing a complete clutch rebuild was going to cost so much that I seriously considered buying a new bike. Then again, I had already invested a great deal of time and money in getting the Suzuki modified and configured just exactly the way I liked it, so I did not relish the idea of starting that whole process all over again. Anyway, nearly ten years and more than 126,000 miles isn't bad for the factory-original clutch, so I guess it's not such a bad deal.

By the time they were done, I had a new clutch, a new master clutch cylinder, a new slave clutch cylinder and a new clutch fluid line -- all of which look oddly clean and shiny compared to the weather-worn, battle-scarred rest of the bike. Now I'm hoping this fix means I can hang on to Pancho at least into 2012. I know a replacement is ultimately inevitable, but I'm hoping to put that off as long as possible -- maybe even long enough to collect all 48 states.

Monday, February 28, 2011


It's an art and a science. It has advantages and drawbacks. It adds color, flavor and texture to a journey but it can also impose additional hardships.

My bike, with all its storage space, is well suited to moto-camping; my system (as shown below) is to secure my sleeping bag and tent to the rack on my topcase using a bungee net with hooks. Simple, but it works.

Then I put all my clothes and other personal items in one side case, an inflatable air mattress in the other side case and all my miscellaneous bulky riding gear, maps, tools etc. in the topcase.

The primary benefit to moto-camping is that it's usually very cheap. This really helps to stretch the travel budget.

A secondary positive aspect is that it introduces an element of adventure. You feel just a little bit more intrepid when you sleep in a tent, a tad more self-deterministic, marginally (albeit temporarily) more free, less connected to society, less encumbered by the constraints of civilization. There is nothing quite like enjoying a campfire under the stars out in some remote area all by yourself.

There are, of course, also some significant minuses. First of all, it takes much longer to settle down for the night and much longer to get going again in the morning; you have to work this into the daily schedule. Whereas checking into a motel is typically quick and easy, setting up camp takes time and effort.

Another problem is that you leave yourself vulnerable to the whims of the weather. If it's cold and rainy, camping might sound less appealing than a real bed indoors, particularly if you've been riding all day.

And lastly, there are no hot showers, no flushing toilets, no pizza delivered to your door. Of course, that's the whole point. But if you've just banged out 500 miles and you're tired, stiff, sore and cranky you might be in the mood to take it easy.

The picture above shows my improvised campsite on a perfect late afternoon in 2006: I got there in plenty of time to set up my tent before it got dark, it was a lovely day for being outdoors and the ride that brought me to that spot was not excessively arduous.

My own guideline for moto-camping is to limit it to no more than one-third of a trip. Of the remaining two thirds, those nights should be divided between ordinary motels (for economy) and more offbeat lodging -- such as art hostels, bed & breakfasts, tree house cottages, spa resorts or crashing out on a friend's sofa. While it's tempting to become over-reliant on hotels, I have often looked back to realize that some of my most memorable moments on the road were at the more unusual and exotic overnight stops.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Story of Y.T.

Trish and I had been riding together ever since she started traveling down to Florida in late summer of 2007 -- she rode on the back of Pancho, which was a less-than-ideal arrangement for her because the passenger pillion was small, narrow, too firm and generally inadequate. I had never intended the Bandit to be used to carry a passenger, so the Corbin saddle I bought to replace the OEM seat was designed for my butt alone, with a short pillion tacked on as an afterthought.

Even so, we had some great rides to some cool places. And she never complained, even when it rained.

Trish took the ABATE course up in Indiana in 2008 and got her motorcycle endorsement. I couldn't have been prouder or more enthusiastic; it was one more item on a long list of things we can share and enjoy together. She seemed pretty excited about it so I asked her if she would be interested in having my backup bike, a 250cc Honda Rebel, to practice on. She eagerly said yes.

"Are you SURE," I pressed, "because I'm totally serious."

"Yes, I'm absolutely sure."

"OK then."

And with that, I embarked upon one of the more memorable rides of my life . . . not the longest distancewise or timewise by a long shot, but memorable nonetheless. I rode that Rebel from Orlando to Indianapolis -- in November.

It was a thousand miles through chilly mist and drizzle on that little bike. The Rebel has a lot of positive qualities, but long-distance comfort is not among them. It was a bit of an ordeal, but I survived.

I left the Rebel there and flew back to Florida. Trish practiced riding around her apartment building, mainly in the parking lot across the street.

Trish named the Rebel "Y.T." after a character in the Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash, one of her favorites. The arrangement worked well until Y.T. was inexplicably towed. To this day we have no idea who had the bike towed or, more importantly, WHY.

I had to fax a bunch of notarized documents officially designating Trish as the custodian of the bike (it was still registered in my name and we weren't married yet) before she could reclaim it from impound. It was an enormous headache, and we'd love to know who the hell initiated that silly pointless nonsense.

When we moved all of Trish's stuff down to our place in Geneva, we had no room for Y.T. so our good friend Danni was kind enough to keep the little Honda in her garage for weeks while we made arrangements to have it commercially trailered down to us. (I was not particularly inclined to fly up there and  ride Y.T. back down to Florida, although I would have if that had been the only economically viable option.) THANK YOU, Danni! As if hosting our beautiful, fabulous wedding reception hadn't been enough!

So now, at last, Pancho and Y.T. are reunited and they sit happily side-by-side in our driveway. Trish and I have been taking a series of rides of increasing length together, starting with short loops around the local area and culminating with our most ambitious excursion yet, a scenic jaunt up to DeLeon Springs State park, where we had a lovely midmorning pancake breakfast before turning around and riding back.

We've put together a list of places within day-tripping range that we'd like to do on our bikes (such as Canaveral National Seashore) as well as our first overnight trips -- possibly including an offbeat treehouse lodge in south Georgia that Trish discovered online . . . and/or possibly stays in Athens or Savannah.

Eventually, I'd love to take her to one of my very favorite riding destinations, Two Wheels Only. (I posted five pictures of that place on here page and another 14 here.)

And ultimately, of course, the goal is the Big Ride of 2012 -- although that remains a distant, vague and elusive objective shrouded in question marks. Y.T. may or may not be Trish's mount of choice for that undertaking, but there is plenty of time between now and then to contemplate possibilities and alternatives.

A Curious Sight

Last night I spotted this unusual situation: a girl on a Honda CBR waiting for someone at the "Arriving Flights" area of the main terminal at Orlando International Airport.

It made me smile and filled me with a sudden rush of fond nostalgia for those heady days in 2007 and 2008 when Trish would fly in from Indianapolis and I would pick her up from MCO on the Bandit at this very same exact spot. She would have her helmet and riding jacket with her on the airplane. She'd climb on the back and then we'd ride out to Geneva or over to Quest Air Hang Gliding.

It's good to be back in Florida. I'm indescribably, immeasurably glad that coming back from a trip now means coming Home (with a capital H) to Trish. "Going back" used to mean the end of a painfully short interval of togetherness. Now it means the end of a period of separation.

When we lived 1,000 miles apart, meeting up meant days or weeks of planning. It meant spending a lot of money. And it meant a frenzied attempt to maximize every second we were in the same Zip code. As exciting as that era in our lives was, I'm glad it's over. The ultimate luxury commodity, we've found, is being united geographically as the natural default option. All the resources we used to invest in achieving that can now be reallocated to other projects. (We call that the Togetherness Dividend.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Out of Town / Comparing Bikes / Feeling Bad for My Sick Wife

I'm posting this from Dallas, where I am on a very short weekend visit for work. There are two kinds of travel: the fun kind and business trips.

Trish was languishing in bed feeling pretty rotten yesterday. She had started getting ill on Wednesday and by Thursday it had developed into some kind of full-blown infection: fever, body aches, nausea, headache, sore throat -- in short, utter misery and suffering. I did my best to take care of her after I got home from work, but aside from bringing her medicine, refilling her water glass and keeping her company while she read her comic books there wasn't really much I could do. It's a helpless, frustrating feeling when someone you care about is in such acute discomfort. I hope she makes a full and speedy recovery. I feel kind of guilty about having to leave town. She just texted me and said that she is starting to feel a lot better today, so that's encouraging (and remorse-mitigating).

Meanwhile, Pancho is in the shop for a complete clutch rebuild, so I've been riding Y.T. all this week and probably will continue to do so for most of next. On one hand, it's actually a good thing that we have a reason to fire up Y.T.'s engine and get out there and knock the rust and dust off; unlike the Suzuki (which gets ridden every single day) that poor Honda tends to sit in the driveway for way too long. The worst thing you can do to a bike is not ride it.

On the other hand, however, this is going to be a very expensive repair and I'm rather grumpy about that. Even so, I've had very good luck with this motorcycle. The original clutch has lasted until now, so that's not bad, right? Right? You tell yourself these things.

Riding the Honda for a change has reminded me of the extreme contrast in (1) weight and (2) riding position between the little 250 and the big 1200. What a completely different experience! Pancho, being basically a sportbike despite all the touring mods, forces me way over into a hunched-forward, knees-bent riding position. Then again, the Corbin saddle is super-comfortable. Y.T. is the opposite in every way: I'm in a nice, relaxed, upright, neutral riding position -- but the OEM seat is like a plank, narrow and hard. That bike would be a real bun-burner on a long trip!

When I ride Y.T. too work, I find myself looking around more; it's much easier to turn your head and glance to the left and to the right when you're sitting more vertically. I keep discovering minor aspects of the scenic ride along County Road 426 through the Little Big Econ State Forest between Geneva and Oviedo that I hadn't noticed before -- a glimpse of a lake through the trees, a quaint, cozy little cottage set back in an orange grove etc.

The handlebar vibration is much worse on Y.T. than it is on Pancho, as well. Having gel-palm gloves helps, but it would still be an issue on a longer ride.

Y.T.'s lighter weight gives a feeling of tremendous confidence, especially when maneuvering at very low speeds in very tight places or on rough, soft or uneven surfaces. Handling Pancho at times like that can be a bit nerve-wracking; on Y.T. it's no big deal at all.

Finally, it's really nice to get such incredibly great gas mileage on the Honda. You can use the change you find behind the sofa cushions to fill the tank, and that lasts you for days.

In general, going back and forth between the two bikes has been an object lesson in what works and what doesn't, what I like and what I don't. That's a useful reference point as I contemplate my next bike.

This was supposed to be a quick day-and-a-half trip, but due to delays it's turning into nearly three days. I miss Trish. I hate to leave while she's sick and I hate traveling without her. We always seem to manage to have a good time no matter where we are (perhaps even especially when) things don't go according to the original plan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preliminary Thoughts on Routing

Looking ahead, I'm starting to formulate rough ideas of where we might go on the Big Ride.

One obvious choice is up the eastern United states along the US 1 / I-95 corridor. The White Mountains of New Hampshire and the rugged Maine coast are beautiful riding destinations with fantastic roads. The two drawbacks would be the unpredictable autumn weather and, more importantly, the extremely heavy traffic and densely populated areas that stand between here and there.

Another possibility is a direct westward course, heading towards Texas and continuing all the way out to Arizona or even southern California. (I did this in 2006.) This would largely allow us to avoid the potential cold-weather issues and we'd be able to spend a lot of time relaxing on wide-open, lightly traveled highways. On the down side, the scenery doesn't really start getting interesting until about the fourth day and (unless you turn north) most of the highways are laser-beam straight through mostly flat countryside until you get pretty far west.

If we went in time to beat the arrival of the snowy season, we could think about a loop through the upper western states -- Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana -- where the spectacular views and insanely fantastic two-laners would definitely make the trip enjoyable and memorable. That if is a big one, however, and we would probably need to get started no later than September if we wanted to make sure we didn't hit an early winter weather blast. Also, Trish may or may not feel ready to tackle twisty Rocky Mountain roads at that point.

Another strategy would be to keep the overall distance shorter and contain the trip within a smaller geographic area, permitting a slower, less challenging pace and enabling us to wander and explore in a more improvisational, serendipitous way. We could loop through Texas hill country, the Ozarks or along segments of the Lincoln Highway, Route 66 or the Great River Road. Taking this approach would mean we could stop more frequently, make more side trips to weird roadside attractions and adopt a meandering track.

In any case, I've found that I like to alternate moto-camping (one third) with regular hotels (two thirds) and the occasional nice bed & breakfast (one third) for a balanced experience -- not too much grimy adventure, not too much cushy indulgence. I think that will probably be our default lodging tactic regardless of our destination(s).

Ultimately, of course, the Big Ride will be about us, so rather than just focusing on where we want to go, I think our planning should emphasize how we want to spend our riding days together. It needs to be challenging enough to be interesting -- not scary. It needs to be ambitious enough to be satisfying -- not frustrating. Most of all, it needs to be safe and fun.

I have definitely learned from previous trips that a key element of an enjoyable ride is to keep the daily mileage within realistic parameters for both the rider's experience and comfort level and the type of bike -- an easy day's ride on a touring bike might legally constitute abuse on a sportbike with an OEM seat. For me (on this particular motorcycle), 300 miles is an easy day, 600 miles is a full day and anything above that is tough but do-able. The most I have ever done in one day on the Bandit was 1,000 miles: Orlando to Beaumont. (It stopped being fun after about 750 miles.) If I had a differently configured, better-equipped bike I think I could probably add 200 miles to all three of those categories.

One hard lesson was not to plan your route in such a way that you get stuck late in the trip having to do consecutive big-mileage days to get back home again on time. Doing 800 miles a day early in the journey because you want to is exciting; doing it after you've been on the road for a couple of weeks because you have to can be exhausting.

In any event, I'm looking forward to watching the hazy outlines of a plan start to emerge and evolve.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Contemplating a Chilly Commute

Pancho is at the shop with a clutch problem, so I'm riding Y.T. to work this morning. That's not a problem, of course -- I rode Y.T. all the way from Orlando to Indianapolis a couple of years ago -- but when I came downstairs to lube her chain I was surprised and mildly bemused to see this:

. . . Frost completely covering Y.T.'s seat! Now, I fully realize that right now Northern riders who are buried under six feet of snow are snorting in disgust and scornfully shaking their heads, muttering with contempt and disdain about those wimpy-ass Florida riders. BUT! I would just like to point out that even modestly cool conditions can get pretty darn uncomfortable on a 23-mile ride (much of which is on highways) when you're not prepared for it. So as soon as I finish this blog post I'm going to bundle myself in multiple layers (including the all-important balaclava and double neck warmers) and hit the road.

This is a sharp reminder of one critical consideration for our Big Ride: cold weather gear.

One thing I learned (painfully) on my ride to South Dakota was that no matter how many warm layers you pile on, there is simply no substitute for active heating once the temperature drops below about 40 and/or you're on the open road for hours at a time. So I think Trish and I will have to seriously consider upgrading to electrics before that point.

Living and riding in Florida means that I have been able to get away without electric socks, an electric vest, heated handgrips or a heated seat for all these years. I have, however, regretted and bemoaned the lack of those things on the coldest days -- rare though they may be. Does anybody have any particular advice or recommendations regarding electrics? I'm leaning very strongly towards gear with rechargeable batteries simply because (A) I don't want to do wiring work on the Suzuki and (B) I'm not sure the little Honda's alternator could handle the load.

Definitely one more thing we'll have to figure out before the Big Ride, assuming we decide to go northward instead of westward.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Project Begins

The idea sort of spontaneously occurred to us just now as we were doing the usual minor weekend chores around the house -- cleaning, straightening, organizing, putting things away. I was washing the dishes and Trish was doing the laundry. The latest issue of Road Runner magazine had just arrived and we were taking turns skimming through it, glancing at the pictures, showing each other interesting articles, saying, "hey, look at THIS!"

"So where shall we go," I asked, looking at photographs of trips through the jungles of Brazil, the hills of West Virginia, the rugged canyons of the Arizona desert and the winding Pacific Coast Highway.

"EVERYWHERE," she responded immediately with a grin.

I poured us each a glass of Malbec and we toasted: "to going everywhere."


Trish is an enthusiastic and experienced world traveler, although she is relatively new to motorcycling. She earned her motorcycle endorsement in Indiana in 2008. She rides a black 2004 Honda CMX250C Rebel, "Y.T." (a reference to a character in a Neal Stephenson novel).

My own traveling background is mostly limited to road tripping within the United States, but I have done a substantial amount of that over the years. I ride a silver 2002 Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit, "Pancho." I bought Pancho new; I now have over 126,000 miles on the odometer.

I'm in the middle of an ongoing endeavor to ride it to all 48 contiguous states -- I've hit 21 so far.

Three of the many things we have in common are:
  1. Wanderlust -- a never-ending desire to Just. Go.
  2. The ability to travel very light and endure minor hardships for the sake of adventure.
  3. A sense of humor about the inevitable adversities of being Out There -- one should never be too wound up about trying to stick to a certain plan. Stuff happens; roll with it.


We have resolved to embark on a major motorcycle road trip in the Fall of 2012, when Trish finishes school. The primary purpose of this blog will be to document the planning process.

Rough Parameters:
  1. The trip will be no shorter than two weeks, no longer than a month.
  2. It will be 100% on our bikes -- no trailering.
  3. Although we will not rule out crossing into Mexico or Canada at some point, this will be mainly a U.S. trip.
  4. We will want to see unusual stuff, stop at unusual places, do unusual things and meet unusual people.
  5. Finally, these are street bikes, so there will be little or no off-road action. Maybe the occasional dirt or gravel side-track to get somewhere well off the beaten path, but that's it.

During the intervening time we will be soliciting suggestions and input. Have you done a trip like this? Do you know of a place we should definitely visit? Do you want to offer us a place to sack out for a night? If so, we'd like to hear from you!