DAY 9 9/8
In the morning I get a call from another inmate who I met online while preparing for the trip. He was doing a trip himself and would be out that way around the same time I am. We tentatively talked about doing the White Rim trail should all the stars align. He was calling from a Flagstaff hospital. He had just broke his leg coming down that same sandy hill in Monument Valley. He was on a big BMW. 1200 something I think.
I mentioned to Alex that we could drop our luggage at the KOA and do the White Rim trail. He wisely didn't take the bait. It was very wet and still raining. We then head to Arches National Park.
I think Arches had the most impressive rock formations I have seen yet on this trip.
It was also very touristy and crowded.
After an hour Alex was ready to start his return journey. I stay and ride around Arches for another hour, then make my way to Telluride. At this point I had no specific plans for this trip. The only plan was to wait and see what I feel like doing.
I find Bruce's house and spend the night. Bruce, if you're reading this, thanks again for the hospitality. I did a little bike maintenance and see my front tire has very little air. I don't remember if I ever checked it. Maybe that explains the strange wear pattern it would develop near the end of my trip. I was able to clean all my gear for the first time. It was totally refreshing to get a night’s sleep in a real bed.
DAY 10 9/9
The next day Bruce gave me directions to some of the mountain passes. I never had plans to do mountain passes or even Colorado. I would have really missed out on some great stuff if I hadn't run into Bruce on the ferry.
The first was Ophir pass. I went up and down the same road 3 times looking for the turnoff to the pass. I finally pull off onto a side road which had some houses, hoping to see someone outside and ask directions. Nobody was outside. I spot a BMW1200 in a gazebo by a lake. It's owner is another ADV'r. We chat for awhile and I head off with new directions. I again drive right by the turn off. I stop and ask directions again. This time I find it and it was so obvious! Cleary it was where Bruce said it was. It seems like when information gets in my brain something very bad happens to it.
The pass road quickly turned into a jeep trail. A deer comes out of the trees in front of me and puts its front feet in the road. It immediately does a u-turn back into the trees. I was really lucky it did because I had no time to react. I would have hit it for sure.
Next on the list is Cinnamon pass. Before I reached the top of this pass, there is a hill climb that is somewhat gnarly. Normally this would be a hill that I would do a double or triple ponder over. At the base were two other riders working on one of their bikes. I went right up the hill without near the anxiety. Just knowing someone was there made all the difference in the world.
The next pass is the Cottonwood pass. This was a nice easy one that any passenger car can do. The Ophir and Cinnamon passes were jeep/suv only trails.
After Cottonwood pass I decided to try for Rocky Mountain National Park. My mind is really drawing a blank. I can't remember how I got all the way from the Cottonwood pass to Rocky Mountain park. But one thing I do remember was the miserable wind I ran into going north up highway 9 into Kremming. It was constantly blowing me off to the shoulder. I was leaning in the straights like I was going through a corner. I was so grateful when I got to Kremming and could turn east. It was much worse than being passed by those trucks on highway 15 in Nevada.
It is getting dark when I get close to Rocky Mountain park. I stop at a hotel near the park entrance. I try to bargain with the attendant but he doesn't agree to my price. Pride doesn't let me accept the motels asking price so I push on to the park. When I finally get to the park campground, it is dark, cold and very windy. I am regretting passing up the hotel. Setting up the tent in a hurricane sucked big time. That night I could not keep warm even wearing several layers and a bag liner. Even the inside walls of the sleeping bag were cold to the touch.
DAY 11 9/10
The next morning the bike and tent are covered in frost. It began to snow lightly after I gain about 500 more feet of altitude. I really appreciated the heated grips but even they were not enough. I was quite cold going over the pass at 12,000 feet. It felt good to get down the other side where it was much warmer.
I really made no plans for how I was going back to Raleigh. In the beginning I thought about seeing some old friends. But they were far from each other and out of the way so most likely I was going to take a southern route back. But now that I was in northern Colorado I decided I would stop in on a high school buddy in Minnesota who I have not seen in 25 years. My general plan will be to go through Wyoming to the southwest corner of South Dakota. See the sites in that area before cutting across the state to Minnesota.
I learned today that I didn't know what real wind was. Coming up 85 to Cheyenne, it was even worse then when I came into Kremming. I spent more time on the shoulder than on the road. When I got to Cheyenne, the gps put me on highway 25. Now I experienced un-rideable wind. Even the low heavy Harleys were leaning 30 degrees into the wind. My bike was blown right off the road. I had to slow way down and turn into the wind to get back on the road. After a mile I realized this constant slowing to 20mph on an 80mph superhighway wasn't the way to go. I pulled off the nearest exit and find highway 85 again. It went mostly east at this point so I got a break from the wind.
Not quite sure where I am here. I think I am close to the South Dakota border. Maybe the intersection of 85 and 18.
My plan is to camp in Custer State park. It is dusk when I arrive. What a great park to ride in. It was late so there were no cars and I had it all to myself. Lots of nice curves. I get far into the park and there is a herd of buffalo grazing in the road. They were in no hurry and there was no way I was getting through. I turned around and headed back to the town of Hot Springs in the dark. I was going to stay at a dive I passed on the way out but I noticed a more interesting motel which consisted of cabins. The price was right and I rented a cabin. They did not have a liquor license, so they gave their beer away. Lucky me.
DAY 12 9/11
In the morning I ride some of the dirt roads around Custer State park. The plan is to head to the Badlands via dirt roads at about 11am. This day is starting out great.
I notice on my very not to scale tourist map, that there is this area known as the needles. It should only take about an hour (not!) to go through. It was a great road but the cars were going sooo slowwwwww. It was like they were site seeing or something.
I am behind schedule, but how can I be so close and not see this?
I am several hours behind but I still want to take the dirt roads to the Badlands. It's looks simple. The map says just follow route 1 all the way there. So I follow 1, but it comes to an end at another road which is not on the map. Which way does route 1 go? I take a guess which turns out to be correct. That's unusual for me. Normally when I am presented with 2 choices I take the wrong one 75% of the time.
Again I dead end on another road. My choices are now either take 1A to the left or 1B straight ahead. So I take 1A and it dead ends onto someone's farm. I backtrack and take 1B which also dead ends on somebody's farm. I just now notice every road is labeled 1. Now WTF (where) am I? I pull up to a nearby farm building where I see someone working.
I don't see the mean looking dog until I am almost near the building. The dog doesn’t attack. A man walks towards me who looks as mean as the dog. He was not the typical friendly person I usually run into while traveling. More like somebody in a B horror movie. But he didn't kill me so I am happy with that. I explained that I was lost and he gave me directions, all the while giving me that “you are an idiot” look. I follow his directions and end up near Hot Springs. Now I am back to where I started the day and 8 hours behind schedule.
I take the slab to the Badlands and end up with just enough daylight to get through. I wish I could have stayed in this corner of the state longer. There is so much to see here. I even missed seeing Sturgis.
From the Badlands I head north to highway 34. It was dark shortly after getting through the park. I end up riding another 2 hours in the dark on the way to Pierre. I know there is a lot of deer out there so I was a little on edge. My headlight is so dim. I wish I had done some kind of upgrade on it. I guess my solution was just to not ride at night. It took longer than I thought but I finally arrive in Pierre. I check out several hotels and choose the cheapest one.
DAY 13 9/12
I check out early in the morning. In the daylight I can see that Pierre is really a nice town. Today I ride with an mp3 player for the first time ever. I always thought it would be dangerous because I couldn't hear cars, etc. But I knew I had a long boring stretch of road today so I was going to chance it. I ended up riding with the mp3 player almost every day since.
I'm in corn country.
When I get maybe 40 miles from my friend's house, a motorcycle passes me going in the opposite direction. The rider stares at me and I know instantly who it is. My friend Cam knew I was coming this way and my bike certainly sticks out. He came to meet me and we take a spirited ride together via the back roads to his house. There was a delicious pot roast waiting for me when we arrive.
Cam has a few classic bikes sitting around. Being a minimalist at heart, I really took to this one.
Some other classics.
Plus several others in varying states of mummification.
Minnesota wasn't the frozen tundra I thought it was. Lots of pretty lakes.
Tread on the rear tire is getting low. So I order another tire and have it shipped to my sister's. I will regret not getting a front too.
That night we jam but I don't rediscover the musical talent I never had.
DAY 14 9/13
The next morning I do my oil change. No way would I ever do anything as stupid as put the new oil in without first installing the drain plug. It must have all been just a dream.
It's time to say goodbye and head to my sister's house in Michigan. Because of the distance, there was probably only a 25% chance originally that I was going to make it to Minnesota. It would really have been a mistake if I hadn’t. I had a great time and wanted to stay another day. I would like to talk this guy into going on an adventure ride with me someday. But I think he would only go if we did it on lawn tractors.
Cam, thanks for everything. It won't be another 25 years before we meet again.
I have a long and uneventful ride to the border of Michigan. I don't even remember going through Wisconsin. It is like I went directly from Minnesota to Michigan. I am sure it is a nice state but I was just trying to make time. I drive another hour at night through deer country. I stay in some cheap but ok dive near the Michigan border.
DAY 15 9/14
Reached the bridge to the lower peninsula. There was some longitudinal metal grooves on this bridge that were playing havoc with my knobby tires.
My sister lives just west of Kalamazoo in south central Michigan. It is going to be a long drive to her house. I have to abandon the route I wanted to take and do a straight shot down 131 instead. Daylight is gone when I get to Grand Rapids. The last 1 1/2 hours are spent riding in the dark. What a surprise.
It is always great to see my sister, since we have bad genes and could croak at any day. She came to visit me in July and we spent a week at a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina. But we hadn't seen each other for 1 1/2 years before that. While I am here I decide to see another friend (Jeff) who I haven't seen in 25 years. We lived close by and played together as kids. First I have to track down his phone number. Luckily my sister has seen the facebook page of his sister. We leave a message there that I am trying to get Jeff's number. The next day there is a message on my phone with his number.
DAY 16 9/15
Jeff has to work today but we manage to hook up for lunch. I learn Jeff met his son for the first time last year. His son is grown now. They are just starting to become part of each other's life. A lot has happened to both of us over these 25 years.
After lunch I return to my sister's house. My tire has arrived so I put it on in the driveway. I lubed the hell out of the tire, and it slipped easily on the rim. However, it was almost impossible to get the wheel back on the bike. I should have replaced my front sprocket with a 16 tooth since it will be slab from here on out.
DAY 17 9/16
Today I am going to meet my old college roommate. We had both transferred from separate universities to Northern Arizona University about 30 years ago. We met in the parking lot of our residence hall (Secrest). He couldn't tell at first meeting how lame I was, so he asked if I wanted to be roommates.
We had lost touch until one day he discovered me on Linkedin. Now I am headed to Detroit to meet him. I leave in a light rain. I have been pretty lucky with the weather on this trip.
No indecision here. I'm turning right!
Yeah baby! I reach Mike's house with plenty of daylight left! Mike looked just like in college, only a little grayer. No beer belly here.
I have to remove the panniers to slip the bike into the fenced back yard. This being Detroit I am a little worried about my bike being stolen. Next priority is beer! We talk over a 12 pack about what has happened over the last 25 years. Then we go out for some hot Thai, followed by dinner. I think about going to Montreal tomorrow to see a friend I haven't seen in over 10 years. We look on the internet and it looks like a long ride on the superhighway to get there. I am thinking now it will be too far.
DAY 18 9/17
That night the beer and hot Thai doesn't sit so well. I wake up about 2:30am and can't sleep. I am thinking if I can't sleep I might as well be riding. If I leave very early, I think I can make Montreal before nightfall. I had let Mike know I might leave before he gets up. I want to quickly and quietly reassemble my panniers and load the bike in the front yard, before anyone can rob me. First thing, I open the front door and it almost comes off in my hands and hits the floor with a bang. It didn't come completely off the hinges, thank goodness. I get on the road about 4am. Thanks Mike for putting me up or putting up with me.
I am riding at night again but it was good to ride these normally busy Detroit highways with no cars. When I get to Highway 94 it is raining. I cross the border into Canada at Port Huron. There is no one in front of me. The border agent was sarcastic and unpleasant but I guess sitting in that booth all night can be depressing. Soon the rain stopped. Taking highway 401 is my only chance of making it to Montréal before dark. This will be a 600 mile all superhighway day on a one lung bike. Really wishing I had a road bike now. There was a couple traffic jams along the way, the worst being through Toronto, but otherwise it was smooth going. I was passing many more cars than were passing me. Normally it is the other way around.
I arrive at my friends house in Laval (northern Montreal) at about 6pm. I actually judged this stretch correctly. I think superhighway is just easier to estimate. I meet my friend Christine at her apartment when she arrives home form work. Christine is from Ivory Coast, Africa. It is located on the south side of the club of Africa. That is where I made my first of several trips to Africa. She immigrated to Canada earlier this year.
We order a pizza and talk the best we can despite the language differences. She is a French speaker. I have forgotten most of the meager French I knew. Between her small but growing English and my fading French we did ok. Her employer provided this apartment for her on a temporary basis. It had a spare room where I could bunk. As good as the Luxury Lite is, it can’t compete with this.
DAY 19 9/18
The next day Christine went to work. I took my motorcycle downtown. I rode around for a little while trying to figure how motorcycles generally park there for free. I find a space on the street next to another motorcycle, and note the name of the intersection. I proceed to walk around for several hours. I lose track of how far I go. I get tired and head back to the motorcycle. I come to the intersection where I thought I parked it and it is not there. I think don't panic, maybe it is further down. The brain however is going to run amuck until it can make visual contact with the bike.
I go past a few more interactions. The streets are looking different now because there are so many more people on them. Now I am thinking it may be stolen, or maybe I parked illegally and it was towed. Oh no, now I have to get a plane flight. I will miss work. I put so much time and money into that bike. etc. etc.
If I pass another intersection or two I am going to look for the police. At last I see my motorcycle. That wave of relief just feels that much better after a good panic attack.
I head back to the apartment and get a little lost on the way. It doesn't matter. Plenty of daylight and no deadlines. I relax at the apartment. When Christine gets home we head out to see one of the tourist sites and have dinner. This church may be the world's tallest. It has a lot of steps but my hip is handling it fine.
DAY 20 9/19
Its time to head back to the USA. I am noticing some unusual wear on my front Dunlop 606. One row of knobs looks like they didn't wear at all. The second row is very near the rubber. How can this be and have the tire still be round?
It was great to see Christine after 10 years. I have aged 20 years since then but she looks exactly the same. Maybe she stole 10 years from me when I was in Ivory Coast. Africa is a mysterious place. It was another good decision by me to come here. I could have passed up this opportunity and then die on the operating table. Christine, if you are reading this it means that you are probably really bored. Thanks so much for your hospitality.
Back in the USSA!
My time is really short now. I have to be at work in 2 days and I have a long way to go. Looks like there is going to be a lot of night riding. I crossed into New York on highway 87. I got off at highway 3 and took some of the scenic roads south. It was hard to find a good non-superhighway way through New York and Pennsylvania on the fly. The Adirondacks were beautiful. I need to come back when I don't have to race through it. I didn't take any pictures the rest of the way.
When I get to Scranton it was dark and raining. I pull over to gas up before looking for a hotel. I am at the pump and reach into my pocket for my wallet. It is not there. That little wave of adrenalin starts to flow. I check every pocket and the tank bag. No wallet. I must have left it at the last gas stop about 3 hours ago. Here I am with no money or id, its raining and I have to be at work the day after tomorrow. My front tire is about ready to blow. I don't know what made me do it, but I felt down around my ankle. There it was, caught between my mesh pants and the rain pants over top. The wallet sat there for hours without falling out. Another big wave of relief.
I need to find a hotel so I can search for a tire online. The nearest hotel has no vacancy. I go down the road and the next one is a Holiday Inn Express $120 OTD. It is against everything I stand for but I pay it anyway. They let me leave the motorcycle parked under the entrance overhang. On the internet, I find a dealer in Harrisburg. I find a motorcycle shop too, so I am all set.
DAY 21 9/20 FINAL DAY
I get on highway 81 in the morning. The front tire is so bad I am afraid to go over 50mph. When I get to Harrisburg I call the shop and they have two tires available. I choose the Duro. It cost around $120 installed. The tire was on in little over an hour and I was on my way again.
I have to be at work tomorrow, so today was all about making time. I make it through 5 states. It is becomes dark at the North Carolina border. There is not much time left for me to make any more boneheaded mistakes. I get to the house at about 9:30 pm. Normally I drive the bike between a bush on my left and my 4-runner on the right when putting the bike in the garage. So I did that as I always do. Except I never had panniers on before.
Last act of stupidity (for this trip).
Final tally is 6,200 miles over 21 days. The first half was about seeing the incredible scenery of the American west and camping under the stars. The second half was an unplanned mad dash from place to place to reconnect with old friends.
I am so grateful that I did the 2nd half the way I did. It was never a focus of this trip. Sometimes we can wait too long to visit friends and never get another opportunity.
This was a fine adventure for me all by itself. However this trip was also a test of my ability to do a true epic adventure. Since it is a test, it must have a final grade. My final grade is a passing C based on the 6 criteria below.
1. Bike prep: B
I did a good job here. I should have done something about the dim headlight but my overall electrical and suspension mods worked great. The bike ran perfect the whole time, even in high altitude and temperature extremes.
2. Trip prep: D
Too much night riding and setting up camp in the dark. Set myself up for too many chance encounters with deer in the dark. Ironically the only time I almost hit a deer was in broad daylight and the unplanned part of the trip went the smoothest.
3. Nav/gps ability: D
To get lost in the area I most wanted not to is unacceptable. The places I want to ride in the future may not be as forgiving. Lumped in with this was waiting to the last minute to rent a SPOT, and having them all rented out.
4. Riding: B
Even though I had one crash, I managed to stay on two wheels. I was wise to ride the DR one time in deep sand and once in very rocky terrain before this trip. None of the terrain on this trip was worse than my prep rides. But I wasn’t ready for the handling difference between the loaded bike and unloaded bike. Most of my riding problems were caused by what was going on in my head. I thought about the metal panniers, not being able to right the bike, etc. A lot of the obstacles made me nervous simply because I was alone. If I was on my WR250R and with someone, I could handle so much more.
5. Number of Totally Avoidable Bonehead Mistakes: D
I didn’t include the millions of minor TABMs. These were the ones that had the potential to be significant in the wrong situations. I thought 8 was too many.
Almost lose gas cap
Almost lose keys
Almost lose wallet
Almost lose motorcycleFail to monitor front tire
Almost lose myself
Park lot error, bike fall over
Hit car with panniers
6. Intangibles: B
Fudge factor needed to get me C.
I spent the big bucks for the Luxury Lite cot. I knew with my hip and back I would never be comfortable on just a pad. It was money well spent. It did add about 12 minutes to set up, then another 12 to tear down. I like that it kept me a few inches off the ground since I usually slept without the tent. I still used a pad too. The cot is very stable for someone in my weight range. Wolfman and Ortlieb bags were very tough as were the Happy Trails Panniers. Aerostitch rain gear worked great to keep me warm and dry.
Do I have the physical capability to do an epic ride? The facts say probably not. But it is human nature to ignore facts that don’t support what we want to believe. So I am going to believe that an epic trip is still in my future.
Maybe not possible, but two months in South Africa/Namibia/Botswana solo in 2012 would be my ultimate dream. I am studying some Spanish too for possible forays into the Spanish world.
I would also like to do an off/dirt road camping trip like the TAT or CDT on my WR250R with another rider.
Thanks for reading.