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!