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Old 06-30-2010, 10:01 AM   #1
bthebert OP
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Mar 2006
Oddometer: 190
Coast to Coast x 2 on an F650GS Dakar

Traveling from Connecticut to Wyoming to see my daughter graduate from college had been in the plan for months. Making the entire trip on an overgrown, single-cylinder dirt bike was a last-minute impulse. Traveling completely coast-to-coast and back again was a decision made only *after* I was already underway.

I'd never done anything quite like this. I'd ridden 200-300 mile dirt days before, sure. I'd even made the 875-mile trek from CT to North Georgia -- but never in less than two days. In short, I'd never been more than a single day's ride from one familiar home or another.

So while this trip might not have consisted of quite as much dirt as other "adventure rides", I nevertheless felt quite adventurous -- setting off solo on a trip of unprecedented length (for me).

Two months and 10,000+ miles on a thumper. From Connecticut to Big Sur, Atlantic to Pacific, and back again.

Longest day: 1150 miles, give or take.

Shortest day: Zero. Just lounged by a tiny lake with no name, reading and fishing.

The best sunsets: Monument Valley

The best moonrise: Shenandoah Valley

The best truly authentic Navajo food: "The Blue Coffee Pot" in Kayenta, AZ. Kayenta is also the best place to find a local, small-town rodeo on a Saturday night, in case you feel like riding a bull. Just sayin. (Wear your armored jacket and helmet, but don't let them try to tie spurs to your riding boots.)

National Parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon (North Rim), Zion, Yosemite. And a dozen or more National Forests.

State Parks: too many to mention, plus several Navajo Nation Tribal Parks.

What follows will be some of my images and random thoughts. Very few "riding action" shots, since I was traveling alone. And some stories about the interesting people I met along the way. It's almost always about the people.

Preview of coming attractions:

Monument Valley

Antelope Canyon


Death Valley

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Old 06-30-2010, 10:17 AM   #2
bthebert OP
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Joined: Mar 2006
Oddometer: 190
Some folks, I've learned, tour with little more than a clean pair of underwear and a credit card. They eat in restaurants; they sleep in motels; they rely on dealers to fix their rides if it should become necessary.

I'm not one of them.

I carried full camping gear: tent, groundsheet, sleeping bag & pad.

I carried a full (backpacking style) camp kitchen: JetBoil stove & fuel, food, cup and utensils.

I carried tools and spare parts: levers, cables, fuses, alternate sprockets, tubes, mini-compressor and other miscellany.

Being a photographer by trade, one entire side case, a Pelican 1550, contained nothing but camera gear. I even humped a tripod.

On top of all that, I got to carry the stuff that everyone else carries: clothes, rain gear, maps, modest reading material, netbook computer, cell phone, iPod, GPS, etc. Even a small day pack for carrying cameras and such when away from the bike.

Yes, I was hopelessly overloaded. (Did I mention that I'd never done anything quite like this before?)
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Old 06-30-2010, 10:44 AM   #3
bthebert OP
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D-Day was Sunday, April 25th. The entire East Coast was under rain -- from Maine to Georgia, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.

My original plan had been to run down the Shenandoah Valley and turn westward across Tennessee, to experience some of the Trans-America Trail, and to waste some time in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas on my way to Wyoming. That plan was out the window before I even left the driveway.

I opted instead to blaze my way West as far and as fast as I could, to get out from under the rain. THEN I'd turn South and see what I could discover.

Not many photos from the first two wet days. I made Sharon, PA, the first night -- right on the Ohio border. I crossed Ohio, Indiana and half of Illinois on the second day. The worst of the rain was in Akron, where it was just teasing and toying with me. When the rain was bad enough that I considered stopping, there was no safe or convenient place. When I came upon a safe and practical place to stop, the rain would ease up -- just enough to bait me into continuing -- before letting loose once again. When the rain slackened, the 40-50 mph cross-winds out of the North would kick up.

I hit sunshine and St Louis at about the same time, on the morning of the third day, a Tuesday. That's when I left the interstate and started angling southwest.

In retrospect, I now think that starting this trip off in rain was a good thing. It helps to put one in the proper Zen frame of mind. I mean, you can spend your day fighting what you can't change, hoping to make N miles or X destination by H hour. *OR*, you can learn to go with the flow: enjoy the experience of the rain; or find something to enjoy about stopping, wherever you happen to be. It helps to teach one to enjoy the journey, not just the goal or the destination. "The un-aimed arrow never misses," or so they say.

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Old 06-30-2010, 12:02 PM   #4
bthebert OP
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Oddometer: 190
I spent the next week more or less in a stationary camp in the Ozark National Forest. I was able to offload most of the luggage and enjoy the bike unladen, criss-crossing northern Arkansas and southern Missouri on twisty two-lane and occasional dirt. From Devil's Den to Eureka Springs to Jasper and Mountain Home. I was able to detox from life on the East Coast, do some reading, and generally unwind and get into the right frame of mind for the rest of the trip.

Please excuse the shortage of photos from this portion; when one photographs for a living, taking pictures is *not* the first thing that comes to mind to do on a "vacation". I get better later. I promise.

One thing (among many) that I enjoy while traveling is to investigate quirky tourist attractions. You know, the "world's largest ball of string", or frying pan, or rocking chair. "Cadillac Ranch" and such. One that I saw in southern Missouri (but at which I was unable to stop) was Mermac Cavern -- where they claimed to have "LIVE VIDEO of Outlaw Jesse James!" I'd have paid to see that. *g*

This one is located on the Kansas/Colorado border. The owner claims you can see six states from his "Tower Museum".

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Old 06-30-2010, 12:32 PM   #5
bthebert OP
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Prior to recently moving to the East Coast, I'd lived most of my adult life in Colorado. Just before I left Kansas, I phoned ahead to a good friend in Colorado Springs; and before I finished telling him where I was, he'd extended an invitation to stay at his home as long as I wished. Home sweet home. *g*

Mexican meal with good friends:

(That's another thing . . . there's no good Mexican food in Connecticut.)

I spent some time tinkering on the bike, making some small adjustments that I'd always procrastinated about doing when I was home. Stuff like installing a Loobman automatic chain oiler that I'd purchased several years ago but just never gotten around to. Same with lengthening my side stand so that the bike doesn't lean over so much, especially when laden.

With my friend Darrell's help we also fabricated a mini bump-stop, so that the foot of the now-longer side stand wasn't dangerously close to my rear tire. And we serviced/improved the side stand pivot bushing at the same time. And lastly, I geared UP a bit for the mostly pavement I'd been riding so far -- from 15/49 to 16/47. Higher top speed, lower cruising RPMs and better fuel economy.

My new side-stand bump stop, welded to the center stand:

A post-adjustment test ride (sans luggage) up Hwy 24, past Pikes Peak, looping around to Monument via Rampart Range and Mt Herman roads:

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Old 06-30-2010, 01:23 PM   #6
bthebert OP
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Oddometer: 190
I'd intended to ride from Colorado Springs to Casper, WY, on Wednesday, 5/12. But the weather experts were forecasting a winter storm for the area; so I accelerated my plans by a day and rode up on Tuesday instead.

I rode 350 miles in rain. And within an hour of my arrival in Casper, the rain turned to snow:

Casper was the purpose of my trip, however. Both my daughter and her husband were getting their degrees: he on Thursday, and she on Friday.

The graduation PARTY was on Saturday, and on Sunday the three of us, plus my parents who had flown in, departed for a week-long motor tour of southeastern Utah. My daughter and her husband in a Mitsubishi Montero; my folks in a rented Chevy Impala; and I on the bike.

I had some time to kill between festivities in Casper, and I happened into Casper Mountain Motorsports on the day of their Spring open house shindig. I dropped my business card into a fishbowl and came out with a free set of tires: Dunlop K750, which is the OEM tire on the KLR650.

When I bought my F650 in 2006, it had a half-gone set of Metzler Tourance tires on it. I immediately removed them in favor of something more aggressive, tossed them in the corner of the garage and thought no more about them. I remounted them, however, before setting off on this cross country adventure, thinking them better suited to my mostly-pavement plans than knobs. 2,950 miles later, the Tourances still had some life left in them, so the Dunlops went in the trunk of the Impala. Perhaps I'd mount them in Moab, I thought.
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Old 06-30-2010, 03:23 PM   #7
bthebert OP
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Eight hours and 500 miles, more or less as a caravan, brought the five of us to Moab, UT, on Sunday, 5/16, by way of Rawlins, Baggs, Craig, Meeker, Rifle and Cisco. We opted to run Hwy 128 along the river instead of the faster 191 from Crescent Junction.

Colorado River, Fisher Towers and the LaSal mountains:

Monday we wandered the shops and galleries in the morning, explored and photographed in Castle Valley in the early afternoon, and motored through Arches National Park in the late afternoon as sunset approached.

The light at Arches sorta sucked, so here are some old images from prior trips.

Delicate Arch:

Papa-san waiting with us at the Delicate arch viewpoint for great light that never came:

Tuesday morning we headed into Canyonlands in pre-dawn darkness.

Mesa Arch at first light:

The light was mediocre and fleeting. My daughter actually did better at capturing the "glow" inside the arch than I did:

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Old 06-30-2010, 09:09 PM   #8
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Old 07-01-2010, 05:10 AM   #9
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Looking forward to more of this

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Adirondacks and Beyond
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Old 07-01-2010, 08:13 AM   #10
bthebert OP
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After watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch and a tailgate breakfast, we made the obligatory visits to Grandview Point and Dead Horse Point State Park. This portion of Canyonlands consists essentially of three levels: we're atop the highest, called "Island in the Sky", looking down on the middle level of harder, whiter sandstone (and containing the famous "White Rim Trail"). The Colorado River is below that, on the lowest of the three levels.

As I said earlier, prior to moving to Connecticut, I'd lived 20 years in Colorado. I'd made countless trips to this region and explored thousands of miles of backcountry on both two wheels and four. But for my parents and for my daughter and her husband, this visit was their first. Our tour consisted, therefore, primarily of the most famous and most easily accessible highlights.

We departed Island in the Sky and returned to Moab via the Shafer Trail which descends to the "White Rim" level by means of a series of sharp switchbacks:

We detoured AWAY from Moab just as far as Musselman Arch:

It's Tuesday afternoon, and the next stop on our whirlwind post-graduation motor-tour is Cortez, CO, and Mesa Verde National Park.

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Old 07-01-2010, 08:35 AM   #11
bthebert OP
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There are literally hundreds of mesa-top dwellings (earlier) and cliff dwellings (later) to be seen at Mesa Verde. Only a handful are publicly accessible, however. On my last visit, ALL were ranger-guided -- which meant it was hard to linger and photograph, hard to set up a tripod and still keep up with the group, hard to not have a ton of other people in your images. This time, however, we got lucky.

"Spruce Tree House" is now self-guided. That means you can spend all day there, if you want. You can wait for the right light, wait for people to get out of the way (to give the illusion of having the site all to oneself), etc. Spruce Tree House is an easy quarter-mile walk on a paved path, with only 100-feet of descent from the mesa top.

Kiva at Spruce Tree House:

We got tickets for two ranger-guided tours: "Balcony House" at 2PM, and the west-facing "Cliff Palace" at 5PM (the last available time of the day). That decision turned out to be wiser than we anticipated.

Accessing Balcony House requires descending several hundred feet via footpath and stairs, then climbing a 32-foot ladder to reach the site. There are several other ladders, as well as some very exposed hand & toe hold climbs, to get back out.

Ranger in the lead:

Balcony House:


Emily exiting:

Son-in-Law, Jason, is the last one out:

Balcony House is particularly interesting, I think, because it is obviously apparent, even to the untrained eye, that it was built in at least two phases. And there are some striking differences. Compared to the first phase, the later phase devoted much less attention to aesthetics: small ornamental stones are NOT pressed into the clay mortar between the larger stones. And there appears to have been a shortage of material: SINGLE timbers support the upper floors, rather than the DOUBLED timbers seen in the first phase. Moreover, many changes were made so as to make it HARDER to enter the dwelling. Entrances have been walled up, or REDUCED to a long, small tunnel that you must crawl through on hands and knees. Attackers (presumably) would have had to come through ONE AT A TIME in a very vulnerable, non-fighting posture.

I've often speculated what would drive a people to live like this. Something *really scary* must have driven them from living on the mesa tops where all their crops were planted and tended. My Mormon friends believe this to be evidence of an ancient race war between the two lost tribes of Israel, as documented in their Mormon scripture. I'm not sure I'm buying that; but it's unquestionably a hellacious "commute" between one's fields and one's home to live on a cliff like this. This is the sort of thing I like to wonder about when I'm exploring the ancient canyons, hunting for dwelllings or rock art. Call me crazy.

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Old 07-01-2010, 08:36 AM   #12
bthebert OP
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"Cliff Palace" is the trademark dwelling at Mesa Verde. It's the one pictured on all the brochures and books. *g*

We opted to visit it late in the day because it faces West, and we thought the light would be better. As it turns out, everyone else is thinking about dinner at this hour, after a long day in the park. So Emily, Jason and I were the ONLY ones on this particular tour. We had the ranger AND the site all to ourselves. Hence, we had the rare privilege of 90 minutes alone in Mesa Verde's most famous site, total photographic freedom, and an expert guide who largely pocketed his prepared spiel and answered questions and offered photo suggestions.

I'm still editing all the stuff we shot there, but here are a few:

While hanging out at the Cliff Palace overlook after our tour, we met the most charming couple, Juergen and Christa Niedermeyer, from Agathenburg, Germany (a tiny village near Hamburg).

The large number of German tourists visiting the American Southwest gives me plenty of opportunity to practice my rusty German language skills. I may have even managed to impress my daughter and son-in-law as well.

We'd planned to head toward Monument Valley -- via Four Corners -- the following day. It was Juergen who told us that the park there at four corners was CLOSED. Apparently some sort of political/budgetary pissing contest among the four States about who was or wasn't paying their fair share. Well, New Mexico has the DRIVEWAY, so they said "Screw it!" and shut the place down until the matter was agreeably settled, according to Juergen.

They vacation on a Kawasaki Z1300, and we've exchanged several emails already since we've each returned home. For their sake I'll be rooting for Germany in the World Cup soccer semi-final against Spain (and in the finals against the Netherlands).

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Old 07-01-2010, 08:53 AM   #13
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At the Cortez, CO, motor inn I ended up a few doors down from what appeared to be a brand spanking new R1200GS Adventure. Turns out that a man by the name of "Paul Something-or-other" from Worcester, Massachusetts, had flown out to Eugene, OR, to purchase this bike and was riding it home. Coincidentally, I believe we'd seen him the previous day on the White Rim Trail. My best to you, Paul, if you happen to be reading this. Sorry about forgetting your last name. *g*

Thursday morning, 5/20, we saddled up once again for another short drive to Monument Valley. En route, I stopped for coffee at a general store about 8 miles outside of Montezuma Creek (which is between Cortez, CO, and Bluff, UT), where I got to actually PRACTICE what had hitherto been merely theoretical knowledge about tick removal. I extracted a small tick from the ankle of a young woman from the Pacific Northwest who was traveling with her parents and fiance. They claim not to have ticks up there, and were somewhat at a loss. Sorry, no photos of the operation.

Entering Monument Valley:

Other misc MV images:

My daughter, Emily, has all the "riding action" images from Monument Valley. I've not yet mastered the skill to taking photos of MYSELF while riding solo. *shrug*

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Old 07-01-2010, 09:18 AM   #14
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Monument Valley sure has CHANGED since I was there last. The tribal visitor center used to be little more than a shack. I recall being the only one there on occasion. Now there's a toll-collecting "entrance station". They've built an enormous (and wickedly expensive) hotel, a restaurant, a gift shop, a MASSIVE parking lot, etc. The former campground (that offered water, shower facilities and shaded picnic tables) is now employee housing. The new campground is a flat spot of bare ground and two porta-potties that appear to be maintained/serviced every six months, whether they need it or not.

And I failed to find a single local Navajo who felt that the changes were GOOD. They say the schools are just as poor as ever, the employee pay sucks, the gift shop has actually REDUCED sales previously enjoyed by the independent vendors along the self-guided loop road. Some of the vendors are now actually Goulding's (Trading Post) EMPLOYEES rather than independent. Everyone says that all the revenue from the new, bustling, Disney-esque commerce in Monument Valley goes uphill in the Navajo tribal government to Window Rock and nothing ever comes back down. Now, I don't know who backed the new developments, who technically "owns" the place (the tribe or a licensee), etc. I just know that now there are dozens and dozens of "tour buses" on the loop road, when it used to be deserted.

Antelope Canyon (coming up) is the same way now. Used to be that you could drive yourself the three miles up the sand wash from the highway to Upper Antelope Canyon. More recently, you'd hop in the back of someone's pickup in exchange for a few bucks. Now there are no fewer than six "tour trucks" there at any given time. Guided groups are bumping into one another inside the canyon. Tour leaders with laser pointers are indicating "here you can see 'George Washington', 'Abraham Lincoln' or 'King Kong'" in the sculpted rock of the canyon walls. There is now a Navajo Tribal Park entrance station here as well; it costs you $6 just to enter and THEN to find out that "guided tours" START at $25-40 per person. It's another $20 per person to see the lower canyon across the road.
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Old 07-01-2010, 09:55 AM   #15
bthebert OP
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At one of the jewelry vendor tables along the self-guided Monument Valley Loop Road I asked a Navajo man (whose name escapes me, dammit) where we could get a truly authentic Navajo meal -- not the mass-produced, fast-food-like "Navajo tacos" being pimped at the new visitor center restaurant. (In addition to jewelry, he was also selling photo ops as his now-deceased Father had done for years, either on or next to his tired, 20+ year-old horse, in front of "John Ford Point".) He graciously invited us to his home, where he said his Mother would cook for us.

This is where we learned that the jewelry he was selling was NOT, in fact, hand/home made and that he was NOT the independent beneficiary of his own labors. Rather, he was an employee of the huge Goulding's Trading Post across the highway. They provided his wares and paid him a wage.

I feared that it would have been rude to ask him whether he was happy with this new arrangement or not. Perhaps he had no choice; perhaps genuine handcraft could not successfully compete with lower-priced wares. Or perhaps it made business sense for him to accept a wage from Goulding's in return for the reduced time/effort required of him. I wish I'd had the courage to ask. I found it sad, however.
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