|01-24-2012, 08:21 AM||#1|
Joined: Jan 2007
Pain, Curiosity and a Bear off to see...whatever.
The hardest part of any long, overland trip is deciding to go. Not deciding that you want to go, that's pretty easy. But actually picking a day, announcing it to all your friends and family, giving your cushy job and no longer having an address? That is much harder.
The decision, for me, was made after a very bad week at work. I was a Critical Care Paramedic for a private company in Milwaukee. Now, before you start to day dream about what a “bad week” for a paramedic might be, no external bleeding was involved. In fact, unlike a lot of my co-workers, I've always been bored by trauma. Not much you can do, really, in an ambulance. Part of my job, though, involved hospice transport. Wisconsin has some touchy rules about keeping people alive in ambulances, and people on hospice would rather be left alone when it comes to that stuff. As a paramedic it is a lot easier for me to let that happen, legally speaking.
So, I had this one week with three of these transports. It was pure luck of the draw, nothing personal. There were probably half a dozen more that I wasn't involved in. These three, though, were all my age or thereabouts. One, a couple years older, had managed what most of us dream about. Retired in his late thirties with a massive bankroll after his company was bought out. Nice home, nice wife, they bought a huge (I saw it, it was massive) RV and planned to just tour the country. Time together to make up for all the vacations missed while he made his company worth buying.
They never left. He was diagnosed with cancer and now, six months later he was in a drug induced coma, seeming little more than a skeleton and going home to die. The wife, who was as heartbroken as anyone I had ever seen, wasn't sure what she was going to do next. I couldn't give her advice, I wouldn't know either.
And it wasn't like I walked out of the house and decided to go, but going was something that I always wanted to do. I've read Jupiter's Travels and Zen, and seen the Long Way X movies, Terra Circa and Mondo Enduro, and read ride reports of people in far away places dreaming of going there myself. And, yeah, I was getting older but I enjoyed my job, my house, my life. Why leave?
After leaving that house, with the massive RV carefully concealed by what was probably a custom made weather cover something inside me changed. I was suddenly aware that putting off something for someday was running the risk of never doing it, and I really wanted to go and see some of those places myself. So, one night while staring at a map on the wall, I decided I really didn't need any of the stuff I had around me as much as I needed to go.
And then I freaked out, slowly but progressively, over the next two years while I arranged to get rid of almost everything and limit myself to a motorcycle and it's luggage for at least one year, but probably two. More, if I could manage it, but at least that.
Of course, a long motorcycle journey needs a motorcycle. I chose a 1981 Yamaha SR250, the street model of Yamaha's XT250 of the same era. Why a thirty year old street bike? Well, it was cheap. Lets just say the bike and all the prep work (cables, tires, chain and sprockets) was under 500. Maybe way under. Also the bike was as simple as it gets, one cylinder, one carb and chain drive. And light, under 300lbs wet. Of course, all these things exist in those dirt and dual sporty bikes, but the street bike will manage interstate speeds even loaded, which I thought might be occasionally helpful either in the USA (I'm in the Midwest, there is a lot of the USA to cover) or other long, boring stretches.
I have a tendency to name my motorcycles, usually depressing names (goes with Pain, after all), but a good friend suggested something a little more up-beat for this bike, so – Curiosity.
To be honest, Curiosity wasn't my first choice. I own a Ural Patrol, which I had meant to bring on the trip. In April, before I left, I took the Ural (named Despair) to the Overland Expo. The low fuel economy (28mpg) was topped off by some odd transmission issues as I was headed home. I decided, only a few months before leaving and after having spent the winter getting Despair ready to go, to switch bikes.
So, back up a few more months, to October. A friend, with her two kids, came to town for trick or treating. I know a place in Milwaukee that does Halloween like most places wishes they did Christmas. Since there were kids, they went to the mall, to Build a Bear, and I decided to get my friend a bear (ended up being a bunny) as a “Thanks for the help” present...and then I decided to get myself one too. I thought I would bring him along and take pictures of the bear in various famous locations, like people do with gnomes. And, since I was bringing a sidecar I could never fill with my usual gear, space was a non-issue.
So, Blue (a limited edition Star Wars bear)
(He dressed up for this pic. He was more casual when we were on the road)
Blue was insanely popular everywhere we went, even before the trip started. And, I am personally amused to admit, we we left he had more changes of clothes than I did. That didn't last.
Lastly, we needed a plan. A vague plan, with lots of wiggle room to go and do other stuff as it took my fancy. So, I would leave in late June (the 21st was settled on later), head for my oldest and best friend's place in NE Georgia, to hang out a few days (she has a boyfriend who gets very uncomfortable when I visit. Had one I mean, they split up again after I left), then return to Wisconsin for the 4th of July with other friends, finally leaving with the M2M ride a week later.
From there I would head for the Badlands, to spend a few days hiking, then Northish to Glacier and then Canada and Alaska. Then back down the Pacific coast to the end of Baja, over to Mainland Mexico, and then south until I reached Ushuaia. After that I would head back up the Atlantic coast to Buenos Ares and then Brazil and Rio, and then decide where to go next.
|01-24-2012, 10:26 AM||#3|
Joined: Jan 2007
It is very important, before moving into a motorcycle from a two bedroom flat, to take a couple of test road trips to make sure you have what you need, and don't have what you don't need. I have been taking road trips of at least a month every year for the last 2 or 3 years, so I have some idea of what to pack, but it is psychologically different when you aren't going home afterward. Also, all my other long trips had been with one of my trusty XS1100s (which I had decided were too heavy and complicated for this trip) and the smaller SR didn't have the same carrying capacity.
I had taken several day trips with the bike to get an idea of how far I would want to ride and at what pace, but decided to take a long weekend ride, with two nights camping. Looking at a map I decided to ride over to Austin MN. I had never been there, but had wanted to go for a while. Why go to Austin? The Spam Museum.
I packed up the bike as if I was going to be on the road for more than a weekend, but I didn't back a computer, spare parts, or my backpack. This would cause issues when I did my final pack before I left but I didn't even think about it at the time.
The gas can and water bottle had to come off, sadly.
I headed west in the general direction of Minnesota, taking a bit of a side trip to Wildcat Mountain (one of the twistier areas of Wisconsin)
before heading for the Mighty Mississippi.
Once in Minnesota I wandered around some more. I hadn't every just poked around in this corner of the state, and there were some pretty spots
before looking for somewhere to camp. There was a “Mystery Cave” state park, but attempts to find it using only paper maps didn't work out. There was a road on the map that I just couldn't find in the real world, though I found a place a road might have been at some point in the past. I looped back to a private campground I had seen. I had it mostly to myself but the people who were there assured me there weren't usually that many mosquitoes.
The next morning I was up, stunningly early (when I sleep in a real bed, not a tent, I think a good time to get up is around 11, or noon maybe. In a tent I am usually up before 8 and okay with it) I packed up and headed for Austin.
The early start meant I was there before the place even opened, so across the street for breakfast.
After my morning Spam I headed over to the museum to learn about what I just ate. If you haven't been, and aren't immediately repulsed by meat in a can, then you should stop by if you are in the area. Admission is free and I got a lot of samples (but I was there on a Saturday).
Leaving the museum the weather started to turn against me (figures) as I rode back towards the river. I was planning on crossing a little further north, and going to my girlfriends house for a few days after the weekend ride.
I found an old school house as the rain started, warm and falling straight down.
After riding a little more I took shelter at a gas station, buying some lunch from the hot case while I watched the rain get heavier. At least my sleeping bag was in a kayak bag and would stay dry.
While eating a skewer with kielbasa and onions an RV rolled in with a classic car on the trailer.
They were headed for a campground in Southern Wisconsin, where RV would be parked and the car used to get around for a week. I asked if there was a car show involved, but the owner said no, he just liked using the classic car.
Eventually I headed back out, finding a state park to camp, glad I ate something warm since cooking seemed too much of a chore.
It was still cloudy in the morning as I packed my wet tent and continued to my girlfriend's house. She made dinner.
I was happy with the pace, content that I wasn't going to go crazy not doing 90mph or 700 miles a day. All the rest of my gear I had owned for years and wasn't worried about it. I was a little concerned about the total available space. And, like many riders I wanted somewhere to put stickers, which the soft bags didn't offer. I would have to consider a hard sided option
|01-24-2012, 10:27 AM||#4|
Joined: Mar 2011
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Wow, that's awesome. So where are you at now?
My buddy and I finally booked a 2 week journey of the Pacific Northwest USA for July and that seemed like a big deal. I can't imagine a 1-2 year journey, lol.
|01-24-2012, 10:31 AM||#5|
Joined: Jan 2007
Also, I had to wash the bear. He was getting pretty dirty.
|01-25-2012, 05:42 AM||#6|
Joined: Jan 2003
Location: Where the stupidest people on earth run things
When you're back on the road & need a place to flop close to the central Kalifornia coast, look me up. Honey & I have a place for you to flop, tools, and food. And a couple of sidecar rigs for kicks.
We can talk about proton pump inhibiters and narcotics or, if you'd rather, motorcycle travel.
Equal to all of you of roads and good luck! - krokodil al-kashi
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.” —”Extreme Behavior in Aspen,” February 3, 2003
"The State sees the spectre looming ahead of terrorism and anarchy, and this increases the risk of its over-reaction and a reduction in our freedom." - Stanley Kubrick
|01-26-2012, 08:22 AM||#7|
Joined: Jan 2007
Test Trip #2
Like many riders, I have a thing about stickers. I want to be able to cover my bike with stickers of the places I have been. With the soft luggage that really didn't seem like it would work, so I was always trying to think about hard luggage choices.
Curiosity already had vetter racks installed, since Yamaha had a tendency to put the rear turn signals right where you would want your throw-over saddle bags to go, and for a while I had them on, along with the stock truck option.
Those particular bags are off my XS1100. Naturally I would have to find red ones. But the vetter bags worried me, since they were plastic. I have crashed plenty on my XS11 (not having a car & riding year round, not to mention the off roading, will do that) and the cases were pretty beat up. They hadn't ever really broken, but if they did I doubted I could fix them on the road. So I wanted metal ones. Worse, steel (With can be welded just about anywhere in the world)
Okay, so I wasn't thinking all that clearly. I admit it, lets move on.
I already had couple of large ammo boxes, and with a few trips to home depot I had them installed on the sides of the bike. Then I packed them to see how it would all fit. The boxes were much larger than my regular bags, so naturally I found more stuff to cram in, and on, and so on.
My next test trip was longer, and I managed to make my bike look like this
I headed south west, planning to spend a week or more on the bike, wandering around. I was still not using the Eisenhower, so there were a lot of cool places to take pictures.
Entering Iowa I saw signs for the motorcycle museum and rolled in to see it. Even though I have been to Barber and Wheels through Time (twice) I have never actually gone to The National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa.
I admit it doesn't look like much on the outside. That is dedicated motorcycle parking, though, which is nice.
Inside is better.
I got back on the road, following 151, which was larger than I really wanted but it felt good to be making some miles. Curiosity was definitely heavier than I have ever felt, but could still manage 60mph without pinning the throttle, at least in Iowa.
I noticed a slight wobble starting a looked down to see what was going on. Then I quickly found somewhere to pull over.
Some of the home depot brackets had failed, letting the left box bounce and pull the rack sideways, twisting it and bouncing as I rode along, which caused the wobble I felt.
I twisted everything back into place
added some safety wire
Then used straps to re-secure everything.
At this point I probably could have carried on, but I decided instead I really needed to re-think my whole luggage plan, and headed back to my house. I did think about using the Vetter cases, but never seriously and from here on in soft luggage was the plan.
|01-26-2012, 02:08 PM||#10|
Joined: Jan 2012
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Count me in! I like how you're taking the time to stop and take photos. Looking forward to reading more!
Sent from my DROIDX using Tapatalk
|01-27-2012, 08:41 AM||#11|
Joined: Jan 2007
Time to Go
Time to Go.
I had decided to leave on June 21st. Not because it was the solstice, but just so I had time to go the NE Georgia for a few days, and be back in Milwaukee around the 3rd of July, when the city has it's fireworks.
So, Monday the 20th, I rented a U-Haul and convinced a couple of friends to help me move what was left of my belongings into a storage locker I had rented over the weekend.
Blue put the truck on his card. Bear has cred.
Putting the Ural in first would turn out to be a mistake, but who knew?
There were others helping me besides the bear. Enough others that what I had thought would take most of the day was done before lunch. The truck was returned and I turned my attention to packing the bike. One of the friends stayed to help with this, and as a result my kit was messed up and confusingly packed. I also had 'useful' things tucked into the bags when I wasn't looking. “Oh, you need this spatula. And this box of handi-wipes.” That sort of thing. After the bike was loaded (with way more stuff than I had planned, but some of it I wouldn't find for until late the next day) and in the garage I did a final cleaning of the apartment, set up a little camp in the living room, and called it a night.
This luggage arrangement wouldn't even make it a mile from my house.
I took the interstate through Chicago and Gary, getting into Indiana, planning on staying on it all the way to Kentucky. Yes, my little bike loaded with all that stuff was able to go on the freeway, it still managed over 70mph actually. I admit to being impressed, though I also didn't go that fast most of the time. I had a long way to go and didn't want to break anything on day one.
The big result of the interstate ride was, unsurprisingly, no pictures.
I stopped short of a large storm in the middle of the state, and given the wind was blowing over signs and knocking out power, opted for a hotel. I had found out during the day before I hadn't updated the maps on my GPS (an old streetpilot 2610), so that was on the agenda for the morning.
Blue helped, of course.
Back on the road early I got through Indy and then headed for Corbin. I have passed Corbin countless times without stopping, but this time wanted to go and see
Of course, I ate there too. It wasn't really all that impressive, just a KFC. I guess that is what I should have been expecting.
Wandering generally south and east I found somewhere to camp just as the rain started. I got my tent up and crawled in before it developed into anything serious.
I am not quite as under that tree as this makes it look, but given the lightning show later it was perhaps not the best choice. Knoxville had some power outages from this storm too, and I was starting to sense a theme for this part of my trip.
The next day we rolled into the Smokey Mountain National Park, and had to get a few pictures even though I have been there a dozen times (first time for Blue, though.)
Apparently neither of us could be bothered to look at the camera.
On the other side of the Smokey's we got onto smaller roads, stopping in little towns when we saw something interesting.
Zoltar was for sale in an antique mart. 8 large.
Finally I got to Hartwell, where my friend lives. Despite goofing off all day I was there before she was done work, so I got some dinner at the local BBQ
Oh, sweet bless'd sweet tea.
Then enjoyed the sunset.
After which my friend came out and said people were worried I was a homeless person looking for somewhere on the street to sleep, and made me come inside.
|01-27-2012, 08:43 AM||#12|
Joined: Jan 2007
I took what seems like an amazing amount of pictures, so many pictures that every time I start to sort through them I give up. But I still missed stuff, and there were places I couldn't go 30 feet without wanting to stop and take more. Almost everywhere is just awesome. Almost.
|01-30-2012, 09:40 AM||#14|
Joined: Jan 2007
I could bore you with all the stuff I did, hanging out with my friend, but I will skip most of it. You probably had to be there anyway.
Here's my friend, showing me all the bits she has recently broken off her ninja-bike by taking it off-road.
Of course, she had to meet Blue
And by some strange, wonderful coincidence, the town she lives in does all their Fourth of July stuff a week early. So there were parties and fireworks and grilling and squirrels.
To the best of my knowledge I didn't eat any squirrel, but I also didn't ask about it. If I did it certainly wasn't going to be the worst thing I had to eat on the road.
Eventually I had to get back on the road to get back to Milwaukee in time for it's fireworks, which are on the 3rd (I really like fireworks). I also didn't want to just rush back, but planned to wander around some. I didn't have a real plan, other than heading generally more west, then north through Illinois the long way. I know that sucks, but it was the same vague route I took on my first multi-day motorcycle ride (in reverse) and I hadn't gone that way since.
I realized, going through my pictures, that I didn't have one with the Smokey Mountain NP sign, so I headed there first.
I had also seen a brochure for the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. It's shaped like the ship, so I had to go and look at it. I am not a fan of the Titanic or anything. The last movie was simply awful. But this was certainly an oddity and I thought it might be interesting.
It isn't the whole just, just the first half. Still, pretty cool. I took the tour (AIR CONDITIONING!!) but they had draconian no-pictures policies and even Blue couldn't talk them into it. Apparently it has the largest collection of Titanic artifacts in the world, and the owner was the second person to arrange dives on the wreck. Coincidence?
Back on the road I headed out of Pigeon Forge (Simple because of the 28 lane highway they have) and made my way west. It was getting late in the day and I found a state park to camp in.
I like city, county and state parks (in that order) since they tend to be less expensive than private parks, but with all the stuff you might want (like showers, grills, food nearby, etc). They are also usually empty.
Cumberland Falls Resort State Park wasn't empty, but it was nearly so and I got to pick a site.
Eat some dinner
And get a good night sleep.
The next morning I was up, early, packed and ready for go before 8. One of the things I had learned was the park contained Cumberland Falls (not as obvious as you would think, given how many parks have the word “falls” and don't have anything of the sort), considered “The Niagra of the South.” So this was something I had to see.
I was there early
a few minutes after 8, and nothing opened until 9. So Blue and I the place to ourselves.
The falls themselves were...cool...but not that impressive.
Blue and I spent a little time watching them. Rushing water has a strange soothing effect, which is odd since being trapped in rushing water isn't very soothing at all.
And we learned the one thing that is Cumberland Falls claim to fame, being one of two places in the world were you can see a moonbow
the other being Victoria Falls. I was no where near the right time, and it was cloudy anyway. And day time.
I was getting ready to leave as the first few staffers arrived to open up the little gift shop and a museum with local history stuff. I thought about staying a little longer to see what was inside but passed. There were other things I wanted to see more.
|02-06-2012, 08:17 AM||#15|
Joined: Jan 2007
I have wanted to go to Mammoth Cave for a couple of years, but it just hadn't worked out. Either it was too far off the ride plan or the people I was riding with weren't interested (or were more interested in other things, and there was a time limit).
This time I was alone, and I had all the time I needed. So, I headed into the park. There was no fee to enter, but the tours cost money. And you had to take a tour, or all you saw was the visitor center. Interesting, but not why I was there.
Signing up for the tour I ran into my first real problem of the trip. Or Blue did, anyway. He usually rides in my backpack (which also has my wallet, camera, passport, and everything else of value), but backpacks weren't allowed in the cave. I pulled Blue out, and asked if I was allowed to bring him in, without the backpack. This caused successive calls to older and older looking park rangers until one said no. Apparently nothing was allowed into the cave which might contain “something dangerous.” I thought about calling bullshit, but didn't. It's a new world of paranoia.
So, Blue, and the backpack, had to stay outside. Oddly, this was something I really hadn't planned for, having locks for the helmet and jacket, and the jacket pockets being empty. In the end I got everything locked up and Blue had to go into a locker, poor guy. He took it in stride, though.
With that all out of the way I got some water, since the tour was two hours and we weren't supposed to bring anything in, then waited for my tour group.
You will notice backpacks and (maybe, I don't know if I got them in the pic) water bottles. The ranger with his back to me is the one who said no to Blue, but he didn't say anything to the others. I think if I had just shown up with him instead of asking nothing would have happened, and I did learn from this.
Mammoth is the longest cave system in the world, and has been a fixture in the local culture as far back as records go. Craved from limestone, it has been a food storage area, saltpepper mine (used in black powder) and bootlegger hangout. It became a National Park in 1941.
Inside it was dark.
This was my first time in a cave with my new camera, just a Canon Elph I got because it was small. It took me a while to work out the right settings for caves, so the pictures got better as the tour went on.
For years before the cave was a NP people would come on private tours, and often write their names on the walls or ceiling. They would also break off pieces of the cave to take home with them. The breaking off of pieces ended with the cave was made a National Park, and the name writing stopped not long after.
Surprised no one has made them take that sign down.
As the tour went on I lagged further behind. I thought the group was large, but apparently the tour was only half full. The rangers said the slowest part of the group was near the front, the back had to walk faster. I didn't really want to walk faster, and didn't want a bunch of people in all my pictures. So, I was at the back and going 'at my own pace,' which caused the ranger at the back of the group to try and hurry me along. I countered by asking where the cool pictures where, since if she told me I wouldn't have to take time looking for them. After that we just chatted and ignored the rest of the group. She was surprised Blue hadn't been let in, since other stuffed toys had been, but wouldn't go so far as to call the senior ranger an ass.
Once out of the cave I had to walk through a spongy bath. Mammoth apparently has a fungal infection killing it's bats and this was supposed to keep it from spreading.
Out of the cave I rescued Blue from his metal box, got a couple postcards, drank a couple bottles of water, and hit the road again. I had spent a fair amount of time at Mammoth and it wasn't long before I was looking for a campground, finding a State Park in Indiana that was empty.
Hot showers too.
The rest of the ride north was pleasant, lots of green.
I enjoyed grilling out and fireworks, did some maintenance,
(Two thousand mile valve adjustments don't seem like that big of a deal when you read it) then headed back to Milwaukee for the M2M.
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