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Old 08-30-2014, 04:01 PM   #1
ternus OP
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Cool2 El Gran Camino: Boston to Argentina, No Holds Barred - Now in Mexico


We're finally in Mexico!



After nearly 2 years of dreaming, thinking, planning, and preparing, it's finally here. Welcome to our chronicle of our six-month overland motorcycle expedition: Boston to Argentina.

I was inspired by The Long Way Round, The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, stories I read on other people's blogs, but most of all the trip reports that I read here. I was determined to make an adventure like that happen, no matter what it took.

So here we are — about to leave Boston. My choice of steed is a KTM 1190 Adventure R. If you're curious, you can read all about how I prepped the bike on the blog.

My friend Greg will be accompanying me on the trip on his KLR 650. Hopefully this bike combo should allow us to take on any terrain two continents have to throw at us.

Tomorrow we head out of Boston, taking the back roads to Stamford, Connecticut. Our plan is to make our way south, approximately following the Appalachian Mountains, to New Orleans and thence across Texas.



The title of the trip is El Gran Camino: "The Great Road” in Spanish. Both Greg and I have made an effort to learn as much Spanish as possible before departing. We'll see how much we actually managed to retain once we hit the border.

Being the twentysomethings that we are, this trip comes with blog, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter feeds. You can follow us on the social medium of your choice.

http://elgrancamino.net is the main site for our expedition. The ride report here will largely mirror what were posting over there, but since you guys are special, you may see some extra stuff showing up here



Hope to see you on the road!
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Old 08-30-2014, 09:11 PM   #2
Barekat
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Good luck on the trip. I frequent another forum www.katriders.com and there was a guy who did a similar trip on a suzuki katana. He was fluent in Spanish and ended up marrying a young lady in central america if I remember correctly. I don't know if you feel like reading all 53 pages... http://katriders.com/vb/showthread.php?t=100799
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Old 08-31-2014, 01:46 PM   #3
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Old 08-31-2014, 02:39 PM   #4
DustDog
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ternus View Post



after nearly 2 years of dreaming, thinking, planning, and preparing, it's finally here. Welcome to our chronicle of our six-month overland motorcycle expedition: Boston to argentina.

I was inspired by the long way round, the adventure motorcycling handbook, stories i read on other people's blogs, but most of all the trip reports that i read here. I was determined to make an adventure like that happen, no matter what it took.

So here we are — about to leave boston. My choice of steed is a ktm 1190 adventure r. If you're curious, you can read all about how i prepped the bike on the blog.

My friend greg will be accompanying me on the trip on his klr 650. Hopefully this bike combo should allow us to take on any terrain two continents have to throw at us.

Tomorrow we head out of boston, taking the back roads to stamford, connecticut. Our plan is to make our way south, approximately following the appalachian mountains, to new orleans and thence across texas.



the title of the trip is el gran camino: "the great road” in spanish. Both greg and i have made an effort to learn as much spanish as possible before departing. We'll see how much we actually managed to retain once we hit the border.

Being the twentysomethings that we are, this trip comes with blog, facebook, google+, and twitter feeds. You can follow us on the social medium of your choice.

http://elgrancamino.net is the main site for our expedition. The ride report here will largely mirror what were posting over there, but since you guys are special, you may see some extra stuff showing up here



hope to see you on the road!
subscribed....
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Old 09-03-2014, 08:53 AM   #5
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Day 1-3: Stamford, CT; NYC; Fairfax, VA


Day 1-3: Stamford, CT; NYC; Fairfax, VA

Here we go. I still can't believe we're doing this -- it doesn't feel real.



We set off from Cambridge a bit after noon. We'd plotted a course to avoid the major interstates, and we filtered through Boston's Sunday traffic in the afternoon heat.





As we were riding down Beacon Street in southwestern Boston, a fellow biker pulled up alongside Greg's bike and told him his rear tire was wobbling. After a quick check and confirmation, we pulled over into a gas station to see what was up.



The rear tire hadn't seated on the bead. Using Google Maps, we found what we thought was a bike shop. It wasn't, but they were willing to take a look at the bike.



Stephanie went to pick up some food while the mechanic poked at the rear tire. The heat and humidity combined with the heavy bike gear made us sweat like crazy, and we passed around a thermos of ice water, refilling it from the mechanic's water cooler.



Some fiddling with tire levers and a roast beef sandwich (nom) later, the mechanic applied some red lithium grease and hit the tube with high-pressure compressed air. After a few seconds, the bead popped on with a loud PONG. Relieved, we backed the bikes out and hit the road.

Thanks to Brighton Motor Services for a fast, easy, and helpful repair job.

We met several people along the way who came up to us, fascinated by the looks of our bikes and the gear strapped to them. We passed out blog stickers (hi folks!) and heard some great stories from people who've done similar trips.

We made our way down MA-9. We pulled into a gas station while I fueled up -- and managed to drop my bike at exactly the same time as Greg. In retrospect, the conversation we had over the comms was pretty damn comical.

The going was pretty slow, so we decided to hop on the interstate for a while. Clouds gathered and the rain began to drizzle down. We pulled over to zip up vents and put on waterproof gear.



The Sena comm system made it easy for us to entertain ourselves as we rolled down the interstate, even in the driving rain. The downpour thickened. Visibility dropped, and our bikes created little bow waves as we rode. The roar of the engines and the road and the pelting of raindrops on our gear kept us company as we plowed through the storm.



We pulled over at the first rest stop on CT-15. When we walked into the mini-mart/restaurant, we received quite a few of what I call the You Poor Bastard/Are You Nuts? look.



Greg discovered his new gloves were turning his hands blue.



We bought a road atlas and made a plan for our next few hours.



A few minutes after we hit the road again, I heard Greg's voice over the intercom.

"We need to stop at the next rest stop."

"Why?"

"My headlight just went out."

Steph and I pulled around behind his bike to check the taillight -- still on, but the license plate light had gone out. Greg rode right behind us, effectively creating a two-bike convoy until the next rest stop few miles later, where we pulled over.

Half an hour of wrenching in the rain and the dark later, the KLR's fuse was replaced and we were back on the road.



Very few things have felt better than arriving at Stephanie's father's house, drying off, and eating a delicious barbecued dinner. Thanks, Patty and Morty.



Their cats were happy to see us too, especially when Patty broke out the freeze-dried tuna.

So: on our first day we:
  • Met some excellent people
  • Experienced torrential rain (and kept going)
  • Dropped the bikes (at the same time!)
  • Had a bike problem (that someone else fixed)
  • Had a bike problem (that we fixed)
  • Ate a delicious home-cooked meal
  • Stayed with friends and family

Enough motorcycling achievements for one day?





We got a leisurely start out of Stamford the next day. The ride to New York was an easy few miles down CT-15, though the heat started to get to us as we rode.

We're always asked variations on "Aren't you roasting in that gear?" The answer is: sometimes, when we're stopped. Most of the time it isn't too bad, and when moving the airflow is enough to keep us reasonably cool.



Of course, on 95+-degree (33C) days like this, there's not a whole lot you can do but spray cool water on yourself and hope for the best. We all got a bit overheated, and Greg and I added "figure out cooling!" to our list of things to do before leaving the country.



We rolled into upper Manhattan in midafternoon and parked the bikes on the street. I tried to find us an indoor garage to park in, but every one I visited told me the same thing: "No motorcycles allowed. Go down the street and there will be one." Nope. Sigh. On-street parking it was to be. Luckily for us, it was Labor Day, so parking regulations weren't being enforced.



Our host that night was April, a community health worker and all-around lovely human being. She helped us carry our gear into her apartment -- we worked in shifts, with one of us standing guard on the bikes.



A short trip to the deli across the street gave Greg a new best friend:



We then headed out in search of something tasty to eat.



Dinner was take-out burgers from a sweet open-air shop across the street. Took a while, but was totally worth it. A place that knows what "medium rare" actually means is a rare treat indeed.



Stephanie had to go, sadly -- she'll be rejoining us somewhere in Central America in a couple of months. We took the subway to Penn Station, lugging a (literally bursting-at-the-seams; we couldn't hold it by the handles lest it rip) duffel bag with her stuff. We ate a cinnamon pretzel and wished each other goodbye -- for now!

See you soon, Steph. It was great having you along. We'll miss you.



I returned to the apartment to find that Greg had been fixing April's fridge. There are advantages to carrying around a good quantity of tools wherever we go.



That night was full of drinking, laughing, discussion of social issues and more. We stayed up until nearly 4 a.m., and it was an unforgettable night all round. At one point, I remember Greg using cigarettes, salt shakers, and more to diagram a complex relationship situation between our acquaintances. (In this diagram, I myself am the bowl of bananas -- entirely unconnected.)



The next morning was unfortunately early -- we needed to move the bikes before the street sweepers arrived at 8:30 a.m.. In a frenzy, we strapped our stuff onto the bikes and wished April farewell. Thank you, April -- you rock.

The heat was intense as we rode out of Manhattan and across New Jersey. At our first rest stop, we ate a quick breakfast while we sought refuge from the sun and humidity.



The ride that day was a blur of interstate cruising and rest stops.



We encountered a few people intrigued by the looks of ourselves and our bikes, and our story of where we were going never failed to make an impression. One notable group was from Ecuador, who asked to take a photo with me in my gear. They were excited when we told them we were heading to South America, including Ecuador.

One of the greatest pleasures of traveling via motorcycle is meeting people like this. If we keep handing out stickers at this rate, we'll go through them before we leave the country. Got to put in another order.







At long last we reached Fairfax and our host, Erik, a friend of Greg's and a generally awesome dude. We pulled into the guest parking spot and gratefully stripped off our hot motorcycle gear.



After entering Erik's apartment, I nearly passed out from air-conditioned relief. Luckily, the prospect of a delicious nearby brewpub was enough to get me going. I set up our gaggle of devices on the multi-tentacled USB charger and we headed out.



The road took us under a looming storm cloud. Erik's stereo played a mix of epic soundtracks as we drove, and the occasional flashes of lightning meshed perfectly with the ominous music.



The brewpub, Sweetwater Tavern, was everything I'd hoped for: an open, barn-like restaurant with a vaguely Western ambience paired with unusual beers and tasty food.



The wait for food wasn't long, but it seemed like forever. Fried bread and addictive whipped butter kept us from devouring the upholstery while we waited. At long last our meals arrived, and we tore into them like starving men.



Then we headed home. Despite the near-constant lightning underlaid with the thunderous chorus of Erik's car stereo, it was all I could do to stay awake. When we got home, my strength failed and I passed out on the floor. Luckily Greg was there with the camera to capture the moment for posterity.



Twelve hours of sleep later, I'm awake. Today will be an easy day, hopefully -- we're sticking around in Fairfax for the moment and possibly heading to DC later.

To all we've met: thank you for making our trip memorable and full of great moments. To all we've yet to meet: see you on the road.



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Old 09-07-2014, 07:03 AM   #6
CourtRand
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Have a great trip! See you in the middle of the world. Be sure to stop in our shop, run by an native Bostonian (me) when you get to Quito!
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Old 09-07-2014, 08:18 AM   #7
Johnnydarock
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Good Luck

Looks like you guys are off to a good start. Maybe I read your ride report too fast...but what's your plan? How long are you going to take? What's your intended route? Keep posting lots of pictures. Ride safe!
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Old 09-07-2014, 08:41 AM   #8
WhicheverAnyWayCan
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Have fun and be safe! I'll be following along from computer for one more winter before heading south to Argentina next year!
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Old 09-08-2014, 07:03 PM   #9
ternus OP
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We spent the next day or so in Fairfax relaxing and getting some bike work done.



Greg replaced his fusebox (more on that in a future post), replaced the brake fluid, and tweaked the KLR's wiring harness to improve reliability.



That night we headed into Washington, DC. The Metro ride took quite a while, but the reward was certainly worth it: a fantastic little speakeasy bar in an anonymous-looking basement.



Erik, Greg, and I met with Greg's friend Tom and we downed some nice cocktails. The surroundings were dim and Thirties music played in the background -- perfect atmosphere.



Unfortunately they didn't serve food -- that's what the Jumbo Pizza place across the street was for.



The pizza lived up to its name: this pizza is more than a meter wide.



It was a pretty late night.



We spent the next day catching up on errands and sleep. That night's dinner was at the Dogfish Head brewpub: tasty meats and tastier beer brewed on-premises.



The next morning we hit the road early. Our goal was to traverse Skyline Drive to get to Charlottesville, Greg's home town and another restful stop on our trip.

We ate breakfast a few miles from the head of Skyline at a lovely place called the Apple House. Delightfully filling breakfast -- the home fries were a big hit -- fueled us up in preparation for the day's long ride.



While parked out front, we met a pair of guys on their own adventure bikes, on their way to a weekend in West Virginia. Great folks -- keep safe, guys!



Skyline Drive early in the morning was nearly empty. Gorgeous, sweeping views were linked by enjoyably twisty stretches of road.



The bikes have been running great ever since that first night's problems.



We ate lunch at Skyland, the visitor's center and restaurant midway down Skyline. It was an overwhelming relief to shelter from the punishing heat -- even at 3,000+ feet (1000m) the weather was unforgiving, and standing still in our motorcycle gear for more than a minute or two guaranteed a full coating of sweat.



Then it was back on the road for fifty or so miles of Skyline Drive.



We turned off the Drive about two-thirds of the way down to take VA-33 to Charlottesville. Arriving there, we stopped at Greg's parents' house, where I enjoyed a quick shower. We then set up our tents in the front yard and sprayed them down with permethrin, a long-lasting insect repellent that should help keep us safe from mosquitoes.





Leaving the tents set up, we rode over to visit Greg's friend Kate, an all-around excellent human being who made us delicious absinthe and cocktails. Greg and I were up late talking and carousing and generally having a wonderful time. Kate, thank you again for having us -- I can't possibly say how much of a pleasure it was.



We attempted a bonfire, but the fire turned into more of the "camp" variety. Oh well. Better luck next time.

The next day Greg's parents treated us to an experience I'd never had before: a football game at the University of Virginia. Despite it being 85-90 degrees (~35ish C) in the shade, I had a much better time than I was expecting.



The pageantry and energy of the crowd (well, for most of the game -- it was pretty one-sided) were interesting to witness. UVA gets really into football (as you might imagine) and the crowd knew how to cheer.



The marching band was pretty talented, but I felt bad for them: the heat and humidity made me wince at the thought of shouldering a sousaphone for hours.



Afterwards I experienced another classic cultural touchstone: the tailgate party, hosted by Greg's parents and their friends Peggy and Bob, native Bostonians. It was good to hear the Boston accent after so much time in the South.



We weren't the only ones celebrating.



Afterwards it was back to Greg's family's house for ice cream. We made sure Erik got a chance to ride on the back of a bike and to grab a photo before he left. Erik: thank you so much for everything. You were and are an important part of our trip and I hope you stay in touch. Thanks again.



We got a chance to chat with Peggy and Bob and their family: delightful humans all.



The next morning we had a full calendar. First was a trip to a local Wal-Mart in an attempt to buy me a replacement bite valve. We didn't get that, but we did get a panoply of insect-repelling and sun-blocking fluids. We'll see how well it all works -- the mosquitoes have been merciless these past few days.



For enduring Wal-Mart, our reward waited downtown in a place called Marco and Luca's Dumplings. The little store served up the tastiest fried dumplings I've ever had. It'd almost be worth living here just to eat them on a regular basis.



The local library was celebrating Banned Books Week, which I happen to love.



Then it was off to Kate's place again to make sure she and her friend RJ got bike rides. RJ is a grad-student geologist near here, and we had some great conversations about life and travel that made me wish I could stick around and get to know them better.


But first, I managed to tip over my bike in their driveway. Go me.



After hauling the bike up -- thanks, Brian -- Greg rode it the few feet onto the lawn where we left it parked while we checked off the other item on our agenda: porcelain destruction. Yep: baseball bats + stump + fifty-cent porcelain figures from Goodwill = tons of hilarious and cathartic fun.





It's unspeakably satisfying to whack a porcelain goose with a baseball bat and see it utterly disintegrate into flying shards. Hard to truly convey unless you've done it.

Then I gave Kate and RJ rides on the KTM. There was a bit of "ride it like you stole it" going on, and both seemed to have a good time.




We reluctantly said goodbye to them -- catch you on the road, Kate, Brian, and RJ! Thanks for being excellent people -- and headed back to Greg's parents' place for a delicious home-cooked family-style dinner. Greg's friend Irtefa joined us and brought tasty homemade pakoras, which were a huge hit.



Some photo processing and blogging later and I was ready to hit the sack. Catch you on the road, everyone. Thanks for following along with us.
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Old 09-08-2014, 07:14 PM   #10
ternus OP
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Also, here's a dramatic slow-motion video of us smashing porcelain. Fun times.

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Old 09-14-2014, 09:39 AM   #11
ternus OP
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Update written by my friend and trip companion, Greg.



We had decided to stick around Charlottesville for an extra day, so that Monday morning we could get a little help modding our bikes that we couldn't manage on our own.

So Monday morning rolls around and we get an early start and headed over to Buddy's shop. Buddy is a family friend who's been our mechanic for many years, and he'd agreed to take a look at our bikes.

wpid838-20140908_1006_80017.jpg

Christian's bike has an aftermarket skid-plate added that is much sturdier and larger than the stock part, which is great for that purpose, but meant that the side stand needed to be relocated further back. The skid-plate kit has a bracket to remount it, but the stand still drops to an angle that makes more sense when attached to the engine itself.

wpid840-20140908_1017_80020.jpg

So, Buddy worked some magic and shortened the stand a bit and welded on a bolt that keeps the stand from swinging so far forward.

wpid834-20140908_0941_80011.jpg

All said, we ended up with a much, much more stable solution, and he was ready to hit the road.




 

On my end, I've been taking care of a lot of overdue maintenance on the Kawasaki KLR650 over the last few weeks.

Before we left Boston I replaced the rear brake pads, but wanted to give them a chance to wear in a bit before replacing the front pair. While we were in Fairfax with Erik, I figured it was a good time to take care of that. Unfortunately, the bolts had corroded and I ended up rounding off my allen key and stripping the bolt! No good!

Luckily, Buddy had the tools and expertise to get the old bolts out, and the new pads in.

At this point my maintenance check list is almost complete.

* Brakes Front - Check
* Brakes Rear - Check
* Replace Brake Fluid - Check
* New Tires (K60 Scouts) - Check
* New Tubes - Check
* New Blade Style Fuse Box - Check
* Air Filter - Check
* Oil Change - Check
* New Oil Filter - Check
* New Battery - Check
* New Exhaust Heat Shield - TODO replacement
...
* New Sprockets - TODO replacement
* Chain - Oiled, Tensioned, TODO Replacement




 

So we make plans to hit I-64 West to I-81 South and get to The Great Smoky Mountains by nightfall, camp, get up early, and go tame The Dragon's Tail - a few times.

After almost a week in Virginia, Christian and I are excited to see a new state. We make great progress and are about 30 miles outside Roanoke when I hear a giant cracking sound and the engine red-lines as the bike decelerates. I can only imagine Christian's reaction to my verbal exclamations over the coms as we pulled to the shoulder of I-81S. At this point, I think I've blown my clutch. We definitely aren't making the Great Smoky Mountains tonight!

wpid843-20140908_1401_80022.jpg

So, we try to call for roadside assistance, but don't have any cell service, so we both pile onto Christian's bike (awkwardly, I might add, seeing as I'm the heaviest passenger it's had yet), and head to the next exit where we find a dealership and call a tow truck.

wpid847-20140908_1449_80028.jpg

That dealt with, we head back to the disabled bike to wait for the tow, and as we get close we see a bike chain lying in the center of the road.*When we get back to the bike it becomes apparent it is*in fact my chain that is missing - definitely preferable to the clutch. Still embarrassing.

wpid845-20140908_1412_80026.jpg

I was impressed that 2 separate pickups pulled over to offer any assistance they could while we were waiting for the tow truck.

While we waited, I walked back up the road and retrieved the chain to keep any other poor motorists from having potential tire problems.

wpid853-20140908_1610_80034.jpg

My ride eventually showed up, and our driver, Patrick, was incredibly friendly and helpful.

wpid851-20140908_1609_80030.jpgwpid858-20140908_1613_80044.jpg

By the time we made it to our destination, I was in a much better mood.

Amazingly, the dealership had exactly the chain I wanted on hand (DID VX2 for anyone wondering), and we had gotten in about an hour before close of business - almost exactly enough time left to have it in riding shape that evening.

wpid862-20140908_1804_80049.jpg

At this point we are trying to figure out new plans, but we are running out of light. Between some road closures and other traffic issues we ended up in front of a Domino's and figured, why not? They only did take out, so we had to strap it onto the back of the bike!

wpid866-20140908_1924_80052.jpg

Our initial contingency plan was camping, but we decided it was better not to ride fire roads in the dark, especially with a forecast of rain. Also, we didn't want to deal with rigging a solution for the leftover pizza in regards to wildlife.

Priceline to the rescue! We got a cheap hotel, gorged ourselves on pizza, got a well deserved shower, and some much needed sleep, so that we could hit the road early and try to make up some time.

See y'all on the road!

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Old 09-19-2014, 09:17 AM   #12
ternus OP
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Joined: May 2012
Location: On the Great Road
Oddometer: 90
Tennessee

Blue is Greg, yellow is me.



After an eventful previous day, we get up early, ready for another day on the road.

wpid871-20140909_0813_90058.jpg
Another day, another interstate.

But before that, we need to avail ourselves of the hotel's continental breakfast. That taken care of, we strap the remaining pizza and Bodo's bagels to the back of Christian's bike and make a speedy exit.

 

Since we had been set back a bit, we want to push a little further west than originally planned which sadly means we aren't going to get to explore The Dragon's Tail this go round. If we can make it to Nashville before nightfall, we'll be well set to tackle Natchez Trace Parkway tomorrow. Pretty much everyone we have talked to about it has raved about it. I'm excited; we have a new goal!

At 456 miles, this is set to be our longest single day's ride yet.

The roads down here are vastly better maintained than what we are used to up north. The fact that it isn't constantly freezing and thawing probably helps considerably. The interstate stretches out before us, cutting through the hills with trees lining either side for as far as I can see. It's an uneventful ride and we get a good hundred miles before I need to pull over and gas up.

wpid873-20140909_1005_90060.jpg
For us, "gas up" usually includes the caffeinated drinks of our choice.

What was supposed to be a quick refuel turns into a longer chance to catch our breath when discussion turns to our expectations and plans going forward. It turns out there is quite a laundry list of things still left to grab or take care of before we leave The States. We start a notebook to keep track of our todos, shared expenses, important addresses, and anything else that might come up.

wpid877-20140909_1050_9090044.jpg
TODO: have a plan?

Just a little ways down the interstate, we find a massive shopping complex where we figure we can probably tick off a good portion of our new list in one go.

wpid879-20140909_1240_90061.jpg
Sure, we need a ton of stuff -- but where are we going to put it?

At Advance Auto Parts, we find an itty bitty baby torque wrench for our fasteners, especially for those going into plastic and aluminum without stripping out the taps or cracking them.

Walmart - We're surprised to find that they carry neither camera straps, nor lens caps. They do however have Thank You cards, which we wanted to pick up for hopefully obvious reasons. This trip would not be possible without all the support and kindness from friends, family, and strangers alike. It is surprising to find that the Thank You cards section is smaller than the Clergy Appreciation Month section (note: it's not clergy appreciation month).

wpid881-20140909_1305_9090048.jpgwpid883-20140909_1306_9090049.jpg

Best Buy. They actually do have the lens caps we want, and I manage to pick up a protective slip case for my laptop.

Unfortunately, my bike is fairly well packed to the brim and doesn't have much in the way of external storage. We unpack our new acquisitions and start cramming them wherever they will fit.

As an aside, this means that Christian has been dealing with carrying many of our shared peripheral items (think pizza, bagels, 2-liter, etc) in the mesh net on the top of his case. It's worked pretty well so far, but I need to get a similar set up to offload some of that.

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Pizza: delicious at any speed.

As we pull out of the parking lot and get up to speed on the main roads, out flies a 2-liter of Coke. It skids a good 50 feet down the road, bouncing much the way you expect a football to bounce -- unexpectedly. Somehow it doesn't explode, but there is a dump truck tailgating me, so I can't very well stop to retrieve it. Alas poor Coca-Cola!

This stop is taking a little longer than we had wanted, but it's been productive. That said, we are so ready to get back on the road. We still have 300 miles to go and it's past noon!

From I-81 South we hop over to I-40 West. The road seems much the same, but it is definitely getting hotter as the sun hangs overhead and we head further into the heartland. We are making great time, though, and as long as we keep moving, the air rushing through the jackets keeps us reasonably cool.

In fact, we're doing so well that I haven't been paying attention to our mileage. I feel my bike hiccup under me. Crap, I'm running out of fuel! The KLR has a fun little quirk, though. Since the fuel valve is on the left side of the bike and the tank slopes down on either side of the frame, you can bear a little left and slop some extra gas to the valve side - which I do before I start fumbling to switch to reserve.

We pull off at the next exit and take care of business. We demolish what was left of the pizza and re-hydrate.

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Nom.

Taking a quick step back - Christian had reached out to the ADVRider tent space list to try to find a place to stay when we get to Nashville. We had gotten an offer from a fellow named David to camp in his back yard, so we took this break as an opportunity to coordinate a little more on that front. But then it's time for butts back in seats.

I-40 West is pretty much as uneventful as I-81 South. The only real exception is finding one more thing to add to our todo and shopping list when Christian's water bottle also made a successful bid for freedom from the cargo net. We pulled over at the next safe occasion to double check the rest of the tie downs and luggage, but it seemed everything else was actually pretty well secured (we were vindicated when nothing further managed to escape).

Back on the road, we get a nice surprise; we've just passed into Central Time and our clocks have gone back an hour. We might actually make it in at a reasonable hour.

The sun is starting to sink lower in the afternoon sky, but it's still pretty warm and we haven't eaten in 150 miles, so we start looking for food options that aren't bagels. This being Tennessee, we manage to find a Waffle House pretty quickly that fits the bill perfectly.

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It's like a house, but for waffles!

While we were eating another patron came by to chat about the bikes. Turns out he's a rider as well, and shows us some pictures and raves a little more about Natchez Trace Parkway. We even managed to get a picture with him.

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Impressive stories; even more impressive beard.

Refueled both in body and gasoline, we set out for our last 120 mile stretch. The goal is to make it in before dark - it's going to be close. As we get closer to Nashville the traffic definitely picks up, and there are a few points where it slows down a bit. Luckily as we get into the suburban area surrounding the city, we find an HOV lane (which motorcycles are welcome in). Perfect!

We roll into David's neighborhood just as dusk is settling in, and set up our bikes behind the house.

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I swear there's a method to this packing madness.

While we are in Nashville, I had been hoping to see my friend Carl Anderson, a talented musician in the area, but the timing just doesn't seem like it's going to work out - hopefully next time.

We do have a great evening with David, his lovely wife Michele, their family friend, Lawrence, and their adorable cats, though. I sat down at one point to start writing up the post for yesterday, but one of the cats apparently thought that the keyboard was her bed - and who was I to say otherwise?

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Um, yes. Hi.

David has been a long time rider and had some useful suggestions for keeping cool - Car shammys: cheap, small, light, effective. Sounds great to me.

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Nothing like swapping riding stories to finish out the day.

A shower, a beer, a conversation later, we are all exhausted and ready to hit the hay so we can do it again in the morning.

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Christian was unreasonably excited about his USB-powered fan.

Thanks so much to David and Michelle! It was great to meet you and we really appreciated everything - especially the showers!

Ride safe.

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Old 09-19-2014, 09:29 AM   #13
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Natchez Trace and New Orleans



We left David's early the next morning after our first night sleeping outdoors. My USB fan, which I thought would be little more than a novelty when I bought it, proved to be fantastic for keeping a small breeze going in my tent overnight. Despite the heat and humidity, we slept through the night and woke reasonably refreshed (though neither of us had had our caffeine yet). Greg doesn't believe in breakfast, so I scarfed a protein bar and we hit the road.

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I was a little slow getting going. As penance, here's me making a stupid face.

We left Franklin headed west and then south, bound for the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 400+-mile scenic route through southern Tennessee and Mississippi.

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Note the "You Are Here" in the upper right corner of the sign, maybe 1/20 of the way along the trail.

The Parkway took us through narrow wooded passages punctuated by occasional fields, kept closely-mown by the park's maintenance crew. I found myself longing to swing my bike off the perfectly-paved road and romp around in the golf-course-like grass fields, but the thought of Greg's suspension and the infrequent-yet-present police kept me on the straight and narrow.

That day continued our record of travel through serious heat and humidity. For the first time this trip, I broke out my Rev'it cooling vest -- basically a sponge in vest form. You soak it in water and wear it while riding, and the evaporation helps cool you off.

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Yep, it's a vest-shaped sponge.

At least, that's the theory. In practice the humidity was so high it ended up just being a hot, wet sponge. I took it off at the next rest stop.

We pulled into Collinwood, a small town off the Trace, sometime around noon. The air-conditioned welcome center, staffed by a pair of friendly volunteers, was a welcome respite from the heat, and we took advantage of their water cooler with gratitude.

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"Isn't it a little hot in that suit?" asks pretty much everyone.

We stopped by the local hardware store to see if they had footman loops for Greg's bike, but alas, there was nothing suitable. Still a lovely little town, and the gas station gave us much-needed fuel and beverages, which we drank outside while we took a break from wearing our heavy gear. As usual, the bikes garnered a few interested looks, and we explained our journey to a few skeptical locals who nonetheless were friendly and encouraging.

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Pretty much the archetypical Main Street.

And so it went, just us humming along the Trace, occasionally encountering a car or two, but for the most part alone but for one another and the thrum of our engines echoing through the trees. The shade and the 50 mph speed limit kept us cooler as the day wore on.

We pulled off for another fuel stop. While I chugged canned iced tea, Greg started calling dealerships in Texas in search of someone who could put new sprockets and clutch cables on his bike. The heat was back, made worse by the bare asphalt, and the gas station had no bathroom.

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Greg's on his third dealership call and I'm on my second Arizona iced tea.

Long story short, we were glad to get back on the road, and the sun falling low towards the horizon was gladly welcomed.

Our destination that day was the Jeff Busby campground, a free campsite about two-thirds of the way down the Trace. We pulled into it in the early evening and stripped off our gear, thankful that the heat had mostly dissipated. I paced around the campsite looking for a place to set up my enormous tent, then decided "screw it" and put up my hammock. Good choice, self.

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Pictured: hammock, set up; tent, not.

Greg quickly followed suit. These mosquito hammocks were cool and relaxing, and we spent a while chilling.

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I don't remember if his butt actually touched the ground here. He adjusted it afterwards.

As we made camp, we spotted a visitor at the edge: a thin, feral cat, barely more than a kitten. I slowly reached for my camera and snapped a few photos as we whispered, trying not to scare him away.

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"Ssshh, he might run away!" What fools we were.

Well, scaring him away wasn't the problem -- quite the opposite, in fact. Once he realized we weren't immediate threats, he became quite friendly.

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Yes, hello, hi there. I am a cat. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

In fact, after he scarfed a stray piece of beef jerky (okay, okay, one that I had left out intending to feed it to him) we couldn't get rid of him.

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I hear you have beef jerky. I must verify this empirically.

He hung around the campsite, dogging (catting?) my heels as I walked around the campground, occasionally mewing when he thought I wasn't paying enough attention to him. I tried to avoid touching him -- he seemed friendly enough, but fleas were not something I desired at this stage in the trip (or ever).

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No, don't go. You haven't given me the jerky yet.

Night fell. I broke out the stove for the first time this trip, and it ably performed its duty: heating up our beef stew.

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Cooking in the woods, like Thoreau. If Thoreau had had about a dozen electronic devices in arm's reach, that is.

We hadn't thought we'd want hot food after a day like that, but after greedily devouring the entire pot we concluded a hot dinner had been a good plan.

Sidenote: I have a personal theory about travel. In trips past I've let things like eating real food, washing clothes, and nightly hygiene slide, figuring I'd be back in civilization soon enough and I'd take care of it then. After all, I'm out in the woods, right? Washing my hair and eating with utensils isn't so important now that I've left the civilized world behind, right? I don't really need to take the time to cook a full dinner when I can just eat this protein bar... right?

I've now come to believe that the further away you get from the comfort of the familiar, the more little things like cleanup and brushing your teeth and wearing clean clothes matter. When I put off things like that, I'm unconsciously building up a mental debt which limits the duration I can travel. Eventually the lack of clean anything starts to get to me, and I feel self-conscious about being in the presence of, well, any other human whatsoever.

So now I travel with synthetic clothes and the necessities, eating- and hygiene-wise, to keep going more or less indefinitely -- and I make sure that the further I get, the more I stick with it. This has opened up my horizons for trips, and I can travel almost anywhere for any length of time on what I can fit in a daypack.

Anyway, back on track. I woke up before dawn the next morning and started packing my things. Greg woke up shortly thereafter and told me something unfortunate: apparently the kitten had kept him awake all night by batting at the bottom of his hammock once every hour or so.

As we packed, the miscreant kept us company -- right up until the point we encountered a new friend. I have no idea if he belonged to anyone, but he certainly was friendly.

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HI! THE CAT SAID SOMETHING ABOUT MEAT? I'M A DOG!

The cat was not happy about the dog being there, arching his back and hissing until the dog happily trotted off, his curiosity satisfied.

Thus we left Jeff Busby Campground behind, burning rubber south along the Trace to Jackson, Mississippi. We made very good time as we rode, stopping only briefly for bathroom and water breaks until we got to an overlook near the Jackson reservoir. There we stopped, taking in the scenery and breathing in the fresh air (and answering the now de rigueur questions from passing tourists -- Boston, Argentina, a KTM and a KLR, 18,000 miles, planning it for over a year now, yes we have a blog and here it is!)

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Almost too perfect to be real.

At Jackson we stopped for a fuel/caffeine/shade break as we planned our next move.

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While we were stopped here, a passerby asked us about our adventure. When we mentioned we were going to South America, he asked if we were bringing back cocaine. I'm not sure he was joking.

Our route took us down I-55 to I-12 and then across the Lake Pontchartrain bridge into New Orleans. As we neared the city, Greg pulled up alongside me, gesturing frantically to the side of his helmet. I tapped my helmet's comm to activate it. "Greg?" No response. He gestures "pull over!" and we take the next exit.

It turns out his helmet comm had fallen off his helmet on the interstate, dangling precariously from the ear-speaker wires which were still attached. He ended up holding the microphone boom in his teeth as he rode, and his prior attempts to signal me had gone unnoticed (I'd figured, hey, if he had a real problem he'd call me on the comm! Oops).

We pulled into a bank parking lot. Greg sat on the front steps with an Allen wrench and fiddled with the comm's mount while I stood in the shade of a nearby tree.

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The vestibule had refrigerator-like air-conditioning. Praise all the gods that ever were.

At that moment the skies opened up, bringing a spattering of BB-sized raindrops that spurred us to hurry up. Once Greg had finished, we quickly packed up our things and hit the road for our final stretch into NOLA.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge is the longest bridge in the world. Over twenty miles long, it bisects the lake in a dead-straight line into downtown New Orleans. We zoomed across it, a two-lane, geometric line of concrete with choppy waters on either side and a thunderhead in front. We could see the rain falling. From that distance it looked gentle, the fury of the storm not apparent from many miles away. Occasionally we'd see a flash of lightning in the clouds far ahead.

The bridge crossed, we wended our way through the city until we reached the home of our host, the gracious Robin. Parking the bikes out front, we practically charged into the house and its welcoming embrace of air conditioning like sweaty moto-Vikings.

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End of the road -- for now.

That night Robin took us to Parasol's, a hole-in-the-wall place that served us staggeringly delicious po'boys (for New Englanders like me: a sub, basically) and something called an Irish Sundae: potato salad with gravy. Stuffed to the gills, we lumbered back to Robin's place. Greg and Robin went out to see a concert (sadly the pictures, along with those of Parasol's, were lost in a dumb "Format Card?" accident) while I passed out like I'd been clubbed over the head.

We wake the next day in Robin's house. Greg's already up when I wake up, getting some blogging done.

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Greg's "heh, check this out" face.

He's also pulled out the KLR repair manual and finally tweaked the rear suspension. Already we can see that the preload fix makes a ton of difference, even when the bike is standing still.

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RTFM! For future reference.

But we're hungry and New Orleans beckons. Greg's dug up a delicious-sounding place called Boucherie, and we head over there with stomachs growling.


Here we see the rare beadvine (Mardigras whodaticus) in its natural setting.


Another entry in the "Greg Entering Restaurants" photo series.

Lunch is fantastic. I'd never had boudin balls (like falafel, but with rice and meat inside) before, and they are de-licious. My reuben sandwich also hits the spot, especially accompanied by Abita, a local beer recommended by my brother Brendan.

On our way back we encounter a friend by the name of Sushi.

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It's a trap!

Some literal chilling in the air-conditioned apartment later, Greg and I hit the streetcar to explore the French Quarter of New Orleans.

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They look like life-sized versions of model train cars, and travel about as quickly.

The streetcar's nineteenth-century decor (dark wood and brass) compensates for its nineteenth-century land speed (generously, "a fast walk").

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The insides are beautiful, though: clean, well-lit, and airy.

And then we're here -- downtown New Orleans of story and song. We wander down Royal Street, avoiding Bourbon St., again at my brother's recommendation. On the way we spot a kindred spirit.

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Hail and well met, brother/sister of the road.

Gradually, evening descends as we walk through narrow streets framed by colonial-style buildings. The barely-discernable smell of Cajun cooking hangs in the air, tickling the senses like a song we can't quite remember.

We pause on the edge of the waterfront, where we're brought back to ourselves abruptly by a deep, bone-vibrating chord. "A train?" Greg asks. Nope, I'm pretty sure that's a steamboat. And so it is: the steamboat Natchez was preparing to depart.

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We can hear the sounds of jazz drifting off the decks.

We loiter for a while, enjoying the ambience of the slowly-departing paddleboat and the Mississippi River evening.

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When night falls, the bridge lights up like a necklace of luminous gems.

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I never get tired of sunsets like this.

Greg splits off to join Robin et al. for dinner. I decide to call it a night and head back to the apartment, so I walk back through the French Quarter as night descends. Eventually I find myself back on Canal Street, and pause to take in the neon-lit ambience.

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"This is the fanciest CVS I've ever seen!"

A short walk and a five-minute wait produces a streetcar, lit from within by cheery incandescence.

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The streetcar stops aren't conspicuously denoted, and it takes me a while to be sure I'm in the right place.

Highlights of the ride back include a singing chorus of high-school students (good) and the guy in front of me vomiting all over himself (bad). The trip takes about an hour all told, dropping me back at the apartment.

The next day, Robin's other house guest,*Heath, Greg, and myself go out to a little breakfast shop called Live Oak Café. Despite several service mixups, our stacks of pancakes (for me and Heath; Greg chows down on a biscuit) arrive and are splendidly delicious. We're sitting outside in the morning heat, which despite the overcast sky is noticeable. The wind picks up, knocking over a sign and occasionally sending our napkins flying.

I'm feeling a little out-of-sorts at this point, so I decide on a quiet day indoors catching up on some writing and other stuff. The day's report wouldn't be complete, though, without a photo of Robin unboxing what I'm pretty sure is a deer skeleton:

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Morbid, yet fun!

Then it's Sunday morning, and we're off to a brunch: eggs, waffles, new friends, and the Saints game on TV.

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Did somebody say WAFFLES?!

We hang out in the living room discussing our trip and life in general until half time. Our next stop, though, has me excited. It's called a Second Line.

A Second Line is a New Orleans institution: a street parade centering around one or more moving bands, it's open to everyone to walk and dance along with it. They're a product of the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, benevolent organizations dating to the Civil War: newly-freed slaves couldn't get insurance, so they formed these societies to help one another out in times of need. The "first line" is the official parade, while the "second line" is the informal after-parade following behind. These days they have them pretty much every week -- sometimes it's an occasion like a jazz funeral, and sometimes it's just for fun.

We drive a bit, pull up to the curb, and park the car. In the near distance we can hear the sounds of sousaphones and other brass instruments. A short while thereafter we spot the crowd:

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You can't tell from the photo, but most of these people are dancing.

We join right in, Robin unfurling her rainbow umbrella:

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Provides shade and makes it easy for your friends to find you!

Despite being among the ~half a dozen white people in the entire crowd, everyone is warm and welcoming to us. Midway through, I realize I'm wearing FiveFingers, a Tilley hat, a synthetic shirt, zip-off shorts, and sunglasses, and carrying a camera. "It's not just that I'm white," I say to Greg. "It's like I'm dressing up as a white person for Halloween." Yet the friendly spirit of the event is infectious, and pretty soon we're boogieing along.

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Greg is rockin' this hat.

All too soon we reach a stopping point in the shade, where we regroup.

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I could keep going, honestly. It's fun.

Robin wants to catch the tail end of the Saints game at a courtyard party at a friend's place, and that's where we head*next.

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Rarely have I seen a party atmosphere this tense. 26-25 with 10 seconds on the clock.

It is*the Saints versus the Browns, and the Saints are*ahead by one point as the clock ticks down. It's one of the most tense sporting events I've ever seen, with people literally on the edges of their seats as we watch.

With three seconds left on the clock, the Browns score a fieldgoal. The atmosphere turns funereal, and soon the beer is flowing in an attempt to soothe the fans' misery.

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When people hear about our trip, they inevitably have questions. We're getting good at answering them.

It takes us a while to get going, and by the time we get back, I'm pretty much beat. I gratefully collapse on Robin's air mattress and enjoy the air conditioning and Coke Zero. Ahhh.

Greg heads out that evening with friends, while I have a quiet night.

The next day Greg and I are on our own. Our destinations: a pork restaurant called Cochon, and the National World War II museum. Once again the streetcar is our friend as we head downtown.

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The curtain starts billowing out like a sail, prompting the operator to halt the car and secure it.

While I take care of mailing a package, Greg camps out at Cochon and waits for a table. When it finally comes, it's well worth the wait. We share deep-fried alligator ("eat it before it eats you!" I wish the menu said): tasty, like squishy buffalo wings. Greg polishes it off and we order our main dishes: cochon (like pork crab cake) for Greg and the special, pork shoulder steak, for me. One of the tastiest meals I've had so far.

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Yee-haw! Thin-cut blackened steak, of whatever meat? Sold.

Then it's off to the World War II Museum, which turns out to be practically across the street.

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In the lower right, you can see the Rosie-the-Riveter photo-op stand.

It used to be the National D-Day Museum, and the focus is still heavily on the American part of the conflict. If you knew nothing else about World War II, this museum might give you the impression that, well, maybe some stuff happened before 1941, but it wasn't all that important. The America-centric nature notwithstanding, the museum is extraordinarily well-done, with great exhibits and a well-presented collection of interesting artifacts. We both pause for a moment to enjoy this diorama of the D-Day landing fleet.

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Really well done.

As we walk through the museum, a quick glance through an outside window shows us the gathering clouds. It's shaping up to be another rainy day.

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Welp, glad we're not outside!

We cross the street to the second building, a collection of full-size aircraft including a B-24 bomber cross-section with a special display on the Norden bombsight. Interestingly, the gallery has several viewing bridges across the main "hangar", allowing us a view of aircraft from several different angles.

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DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU FEAR HEIGHTS, says a sign just off-camera.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoy our trip to the museum, and as we leave we remark on how well it all was put together. One particularly notable aspect is the league of volunteers, including veterans, who donate their time to help visitors out and speak about their experiences. Well worth a visit, if you're considering it.

So we head over to the streetcar stop to make our way back home. At the stop, we spot a couple of stools beside the tracks and head over to rest our tired bums -- then are mildly surprised to learn that they're made of steel and welded to a metal plate on the ground.

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I could have sworn they were wooden.

Then Robin texts us, offering to pick us up if we're willing to wait. That sounds good to us, but waiting outside doesn't -- so we take refuge in a nearby bar and order some more local libations.

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Covington Strawberry: pretty good.

We get the go-ahead from Robin a short while later, and trek across downtown on foot to the pickup point. Greg gets dropped off near a friend's house, and Robin drives me home.

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We can't thank Robin enough for all she did for us during our stay. This included chauffeuring us around in her battleship-like station wagon.

I spend a while doing laundry and packing my things, for tomorrow we're leaving New Orleans to make the 350+- mile trek to Houston.

So what do I think of New Orleans? A fascinating place, one I could easily have spent another week exploring. A place clearly marked by hurricanes and poverty, yet full of rich culture and friendly people. A place where you have to keep your wits about you (a police officer was shot 3*blocks from*where we were the previous night) yet one where hundreds of thousands live and thrive. A place where Greg and I both concluded we could live -- if it weren't for the heat and humidity.

Our overwhelming and heartfelt thanks go out to Robin and Heath. Folks, thank you so much for having us. You made our stay both comfortable and memorable -- we tend to shoot for at least one; it's pretty amazing when we find both. I hope we'll get a chance to see you again soon.

Thus we pack, another city under our belt. We've thoroughly enjoyed the stay but are glad to be moving again.

More on that in the next post, but until then: see you on the road.
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Old 09-19-2014, 11:10 AM   #14
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Great report/pics....
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A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

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Old 09-25-2014, 09:59 PM   #15
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Finally in Mexico!


Note: "What about Texas?" That post will be up soon.



After three weeks, it's finally time to say goodbye to the United States and truly begin our international adventure. Awakening in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, we take the time to post a few Texas postcards and snag a quick bite to eat before making the short ride to the border.



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Jack-in-the-Box: Surprisingly delicious!



The border crossing itself is simple -- a short-but-confusing gate and a brief check of our bags, an explanation of our trip to the helpful customs agent, and ¡we're in México!



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Foreground: Mexico. Background: the United States.



Our first order of business is getting our visas and TVIPs: Temporary Vehicle Import Permits. Greg heads in first while I wait outside and watch the bikes. A couple of guys poke their heads out the window and whistle at the sight of our loaded-up ADV steeds. The ringleader introduces himself as Javiér, from right here in Nuevo Laredo. ¡Holá!



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¡Holá, amigos!



Then it's my turn to wend my way through the immigration process and put down my deposit for a TVIP. The permit is supposed to discourage you from selling your bike while in the country, and we'll have to be sure to cancel them when we cross the border.



That done, Greg and I gratefully rest in a nearby café and enjoy a well-earned Mexican sugar Coke.



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It's not Mexican Coke here. It's just Coke.



And then we're off. The warm air blowing through our jackets nonetheless cools us as we roll south down Mex-85 to our first destination: Montemorelos, a little city just south of Monterrey.



We stop to fuel up the bikes and ourselves: our first meal in Mexico and our first experience ordering food.



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Yes, our first meal was at a rest stop. Look, we really wanted to get past the 50-mile zone.



We sit down in a nearly-empty restaurant, and when the food comes we tear into it with gusto. I order something good-looking at random -- machacado, a local dish with meat and eggs in a perky spice -- and it's delicious.



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Spicy homemade tortilla chips: super tasty!



The total comes to $12, and we marvel at how cheap it is. Little do we know it's to be our most expensive meal of the week. Welcome to Mexico.



The road is arrow-straight, bisecting the horizon with geometric precision. Along either side lies grass and scrubland, punctuated with the occasional turn-out. Our bikes eat up the distance as the sun begins to set, the vast blue canvas of the sky painted vibrant whites, golds, and reds by the setting sun. Sadly we do not stop to take pictures -- we're in the ~80-km-from-the-border hot zone and don't want to draw attention to ourselves -- so the moment becomes ours alone. The road opens up before us and we ride.



Night falls. The road becomes a gray reflection in the blackness around us, punctuated by the occasional functioning streetlight and passing car. My nerves tense a little, thinking of potholes, wandering animals, other road hazards... okay, fine. Almost nobody else is on the road, so I hit the high beam switch and the KTM's twin headlights and LEDrider aux-lights ignite, bathing a swath of the road in harsh brilliance. We speed on towards Montemorelos, passing towns and open desert alike in the warm evening dark.



Around eight p.m. we reach Montemorelos. We pull into a 7-11. Greg runs in to check the directions while I consult Sjoerd Bakker's brilliant Economical Hotels in Central America book.



A few words about this book. It's a masterpiece of travel info in a hand-drawn/typewritten/photocopied/folded/stapled book. He only advertises it in the middle of a thread on ADVrider, and it's a shame it's so obscure -- we've consulted it many times in the past few days, and its recommendations have always been sound. It lists cheap hotels in different towns, giving a listing of amenities (does it have secure parking? AC? Private bathroom? Hot water?) along with notes such as whether the hotelier will let you park your bike in your room and whether the city's police are honest.



So when Greg emerges, I've picked out a hotel within shouting distance of the 7-11 and we're ready to go. But first, it's time for another classic adventure-riding experience: being treated like a minor celebrity. A sedan pulls up next to us and a little kid leans out, goggle-eyed at the bikes and us in our riding suits. They're flabbergasted that we've come so far and yet have so far to go. I'm able to have a decent back-and-forth conversation with him and his family, and when his mother asks to let him sit on the bike, I say "¡claro que si!" -- of course.



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Despite his pleading, once in the saddle Eduardo was pretty ambivalent.



I love talking to people like this -- it genuinely seems to make their day when we stop, smile, and chat, or even just wave. In a country where most bikes are 125cc and a few are 250cc, the larger, heavily-laden ADV bikes never fail to draw attention.



So after a bit of meandering around back streets, we roll up to the Hotel Kasino, which despite the name has nothing to do with gambling. The proprietor is a bit taken aback by our late arrival and unusual transport, but readily agrees to have us. One problem: cash only, and the amount I changed at the border isn't quite enough. He says something to the effect of "go across the street," which I do, leaving Greg to watch the bikes.



What ensues is a hilarious, madcap run from convenience store to convenience store. At the second, a prettily confused cashier deciphers enough of my me-Tarzan-you-Jane miming routine with my debit card ("You need money?" "No, I have money, it's just in here, and I need to get it out" *waves debit card*) to give me the word I'd been searching for: cajero -- ATM -- before informing me that there isn't one here and I should try across the street.



I end up over a kilometer away, well past the original 7-11, before I find the mythical cajero. By this time I'm sweating rivers in my riding suit, which I foolishly failed to doff before going on the ATM hunt. Laughing at my own US-centric assumption that ATMs are easy to find, I walk back and rejoin Greg. The front desk guy shakes me down for an additional hundred pesos (for future reference, it's 13.2 pesos to the dollar) for "watching our bikes overnight" -- a patent scam, but we're too tired to argue. We ride the bikes through the door he opens for us and into the courtyard.



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Sleep tight, bikes.



Then we open the door into air-conditioned heaven. It's cramped, the room barely large enough to contain its two beds, but it's here and it's ours and it's chilly and it has electrical outlets and that's all we want right now. We fall over and rest our tired bones.



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It looks big, but that's the wide-angle lens fooling you.



There's a TV, which we turn on to watch Spanish-dubbed American movies (hilarious, even if you only catch about half the words; the voice-dubbers have to speak double-time as Spanish tends to be more verbose than colloquial English) until we fall asleep.



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Good morning, bikes!



We wake ready to ride. Our plan: head into the Sierra Madres, ride up into the mountain heights, and possibly camp there. Our alternative post-mountains plan is to go to Ciudad Victoria, the local capital, and find a hotel. We set off in high spirits.



The roads become smaller and smaller until eventually we're riding across cracked two-lane asphalt through rocky, rural countryside. The sky arcs above us, cloudy and brilliant in the morning sun. Ahead of us we spot mountains: through fog and the clearing mists of daybreak, they appear to be no more than cloud layers -- until our perspective suddenly shifts and we realize we're riding in the shadows of*giants.



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We're living the dream. No joke.



I say to Greg: "This is what I signed up for."



The road continues straight toward the mountains, and I wonder how it can possibly keep its course through the rocky heights. Soon we see the answer: a narrow divide, practically a canyon, wends its way through the mountains threaded by a roaring river. The road clings to one side like a cut shelf, offering us the best riding we've seen since leaving Boston. Sorry, Skyline Drive: the Sierra Madres have you beat. We're practically alone in this beautiful land on which the human presence rests but lightly.



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The clouds flowed over the mountains like a river in slow motion.



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This is why we ride.



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And this is just the beginning.



As we ride, our comm link mostly carries silence, broken only by the occasional "can you believe this road?" and "I'm stopping to take a picture, hold on."



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Over-the-shoulder shot.



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These roads are deliciously curvy.



As we rise out of the valley and reach the altiplano -- the high plain -- we stop at a Pemex station. Pemex is Mexico's government-run gasoline company, and they're all right, with the sole quirk that you have to let the attendant fill your tank for you. Suffice it to say that's a tad awkward on a motorcycle.



We run into a motorcycling couple on the back of a sport bike. They're enthralled by our bikes and our story, and again we get a request to take pictures. ¡Claro qué si!



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Her motorcycle-riding boyfriend might have been a little jealous.



They race off, and soon we too depart, following the road higher and higher into the high plains of the Sierra Madres. At 2500m elevation (over 8000 feet) we stop in a field for a quick break and some adjustments. We're wrapped in silence so complete it's unnerving: little or no wind, no noise of cars or people, no birds, no rushing water break the stillness. It's almost like a church up here on the altiplano: blue sky, yellow and green flowers all around us, and, of course, the ribbon of the road leading us ever onwards.



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The Cathedral of the Sky.



The sole low point in an otherwise excellent day is when both our bikes take a spill in a patch of clay mud, covering us with dirt and wearing on our spirits. Soon enough, though, we're through it and back on the road, none the worse for wear save for a coating of clay rapidly drying in the Mexican sun.



The day wears on, and we soon realize we have no hope of making either Ciudad Victoria or a mountain campsite before sunset. A sign for a nearby hotel proves too tempting to resist, so we swing off the main road onto a smaller, windier road that leads us to the little mountain village of Aramberri.



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This town was full of actual, honest-to-god cowboys. Wide-brimmed hats, lassos, spurred boots, horses, the lot.



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And this is with most of the mud cleaned off, if you can believe it.



Asking locals for directions leads us eventually to the gates of the Hotel Esmeralda, our home away from home for our second night in Mexico.



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Bienvenido!



We pull into a courtyard full of squawking chickens and strutting roosters, and after a short conversation with the desk clerk/convenience store owner, we're checked in. Cost for both of us: 300 pesos, or $11 apiece. We pull our bikes over to our ground-floor room as the skies slowly begin to drizzle. Greg disappears for a moment and returns with two bottles of the local cerveza. 10 pesos, or seventy-five cents, apiece. ¡Viva México!



With plenty of daylight left, we heed the call of hunger, wandering out to the nearby town square in search of la comida. It proves to be a popular gathering spot for the locals, and we relax a bit and take in the atmosphere.



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Despite our hunger, we spent a while just sitting and enjoying the town's vibe.



As we're walking away, we hear a shout: "Hey, you speak English?" It's the first English we've heard in two days, so of course we turn and look. Thus we meet Pepe, a nomadic guitarist who's wandered the world.



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¡Ay, Pepe! It was great to meet him.



He used to hitchhike but has now invested in a bus, which is home to himself and a pair of friendly dogs.



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He bought this bus for $3600, earned over a year by busking.



After a great traveler-to-traveler conversation, he leads us to a local eatery: a pair of shade structures next to an old stone stove, where a smiling old woman cooks us up plates of steaming-hot enchiladas. To our starving stomachs, it is paradise.



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Out-of-focus picture courtesy of hungry me who couldn't be bothered to take a good one.



I think that meal ran us three bucks apiece, including drinks. (I promise I'll stop going on about how cheap Mexico is eventually -- probably once we cross the border to Belize.)



On our way back, we spot Pepe standing next to a local policeman. Both of them are shouting and waving in the other direction. Our riding done, our bikes parked, our stomachs content and our minds full of amazing memories --- we turn, and behold the perfect end to a day of adventure.



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If a chorus of angels had broken into heavenly song, it could scarcely have improved such a perfect moment.



Welcome to Mexico. We'll see you on the road.

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