15 years riding!

Fifteen years ago this week I entered the world of motorcycle riding by buying a beautiful 1998 Suzuki Intruder VS800. She was a fantastic machine from the start. Taking some risk, I bid $3,250 on an ebay auction from Ohio and won. The seller promised that, “you won’t be disappointed,” and his promise was the biggest understatement of my life. I received the bike about a week later, filled the tires and gas tank, and rode home, totally unconscious of the joy that this bike and motorcycle riding would bring me.

That was May 2003, and I was a young pup of 22 years, still working my first job after college and living with my mom. My first long ride, about a month later, was from Lufkin, Texas to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and my love for motorcycle travel was born. That winter I moved to Illinois and met several people, including Kevin, Kevin, and Brian. The four of us agreed to attend the Intruder Alert rally in Asheville, NC in June and made the trip out there. I met so many wonderful people at that meeting, far too many to name here, and decided that this was the crowd for me.

On the return ride to Illinois, I learned that my company was closing and that I wouldn’t have a job when I got back. With some obligations in Texas and Pennsylvania later that summer and the recent success of a 9 day trip, the concept for big road trip covering a lot of miles and states was an easy choice. In all, I met some amazing people and visited 33 states and two Canadian provinces in 12 weeks. The handle I had given myself, “crosscountry” wast aptly chosen.

In this post I can’t show all of the pictures from that trip, or the trips in 2005 and 2006 to visit the other 15 states to the west, or to the bigger rallies. I can’t name all of the wonderful people that opened their homes to me, shared some miles, or bought a wayward traveler a meal. My gratitude to them is enduring, and many I call lifelong friends. With their support I developed a greater love for this country and the beautiful people that live here than I could have any other way.

Since those first trips on the intruder, I’ve been blessed to have other fantastic road trip experiences riding across Europe, around New Zealand, deep into Mexico and have ridden scooters in a few other places. I’ve also bought and sold 8 motorcycles, including my current DL650 VStrom, many of which took me to far away places.

My enthusiasm for motorcycle riding continues to grow. Since May 2003, I’ve ridden almost 145,000 miles to places my younger self never thought I’d visit. I’ve been truly blessed with good experiences and good friends, all of which have shaped me into the person I am now.

I plan to continue riding a motorcycle long into the future, even as free time gets shorter and responsibilities grow in number and size. It’s a passion that gripped me and won’t let go. Here’s to 15 fantastic years of riding and as many more as my body will allow.

Motorcycle Trip to the NW, Three national parks and an eclipse!

This year I saved my big road trip until August. Something special happened that month, and I wanted to do something special. Some colleagues of mine, including Paul and Becky, organized a campground near Bend, Oregon, so I went to join them. This trip was special. Emma joined me. It was her first motorcycle trip ever and my first trip taking a girlfriend with me. As you’ll see, we had a great time.

The trip was 3,400 miles all told, including side trips, and we went through 8 states.

I left Denver on the 18th of August and rode to Salt Lake City for the first night. My aunt, uncle, and cousins live there, so we had a nice evening eating pizza and catching up. I hope to see them again soon, without the 2 year break. The next morning I rode to Boise to stay with Brooks and Mallory. I had seen them at their wedding in May, but we had much more time to talk that day. Mallory made fantastic meals for us, that we enjoyed on the patio.

On the 20th, I left their place to pick up Emma at the airport. She brought some things with her, and I carried the rest, so we loaded up and headed out. That first stretch was approximately equal to the longest she’d ridden with me before, and now we were 1000 miles from home! Stopping near the Oregon border, we took the opportunity to talk that wasn’t available at the airport. She said the first stretch was good, and so we aimed west towards Bend. The road was just like Brooks had described. At first we were in a river valley, but eventually we climbed onto the high plains, where it got smoky from the nearby fires. This year has been especially bad for fires. On that stretch we rode past Burns, Oregon, where the Bundy clan took over a national forest office. The Dairy Queen in Burns was fine, and that’s where we realized that Oregon doesn’t have sales tax (but pumping your own gas is another story).

Our campground was south of Bend, and we found it without too much difficulty. We arrived early in the afternoon and had time to set up, only to learn that the seam on my new sleeping pad had given up the ghost. So we added another 50 miles onto the day to replace it in Bend. This also gave us the opportunity to try some Deschutes beer at the brewery. Yum. We had dinner with the group, made plans for the morning, and went to sleep. It was a long day for me, and Emma had to get up at 3 AM to fly from Denver, so she was even more tired than me. That night was chilly and taught us some lessons about how to stay warm (in mid August?) that we had to use later on the trip too.

We got up early in preparation for the eclipse. Traffic wasn’t bad, and we should have gotten to the predetermined spot with plenty of time to spare, but our navigators – who had already been there – failed, and we found ourselves on little more than a dirt trail with a low clearance Hyundai. We never did meet up with the rest of the group, but we did find a great spot overlooking a valley to watch the eclipse. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.

I took a series of photos as the moon moved in front of the sun and back out, and Emma snapped a beautiful photo during totality. It looks like sunset, but the sun is very high in the sky.

We fought horrendous traffic to get back to the campsite, all the while fighting an overheating car. We didn’t get back until nearly dark. After sharing a dinner with the group we dressed properly and went to bed. This night was even cooler, but the extra layers worked.

It was now Tuesday, and we had a long haul from the campsite south of Bend up to Spokane. Traffic was still bad going through Madras, and Emma was introduced to the superpowers that come with a motorcycle – namely some traffic can be ignored (we rode in the bicycle lane through town, probably saving 45 minutes off stop and go). Those motorcycle super powers came in handy many times on the trip, especially finding parking in the national parks. It’s hard to justify driving a car when you know how much easier you life can be on a motorcycle.

Much of the ride was in the high plains of Oregon, and I decided that I would never want to live there. No trees, frequently windy, even cows don’t do well there. No thanks. Finally we got to some really cool stuff, the Columbia River Gorge! Wow is that beautiful. We entered the gorge on the dry side of the mountains, but it was still an amazing place to see. Thanks to the tip of a local, we rode on the north side of the river, skipping all of the interstate traffic and riding a good bit above the speed limit. That was until I remembered that we had patched a flat tire that morning. A previous plug was leaking and had to be replaced. I trusted it enough to forgo getting a new tire, and the new plug is still holding, some 2,000 miles later.

We rode into Kennewick, Washington to meet a fellow biker and old friend, Machelle. She treated us to lunch, and we had a good time catching up. The last time we saw each other was in 2005, when I stayed with her and Jesse on my way back from Seattle. It was really good to see her again.

In the parking lot I lubed the bike’s chain and was cleaning up when a man approached us. He was friendly and recommended a hotel in Spokane, which we reserved. The rest of the ride through East Washington was tiring, and we looked forward to not sleeping on the ground – but there was a big surprise. The hotel was pretty fancy, and the room was sparse except for a king sized mirror as a headboard. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After a late dinner we got some rest. The next morning we took a walking tour through Spokane and saw some interesting items, including the worlds largest Radio Flyer wagon.

We rode that morning to Harrison, Id to see Steve and Ann. I visited them in the cabin two years ago, and they were kind enough to invite me back. It’s a stunning spot, and they are great hosts. I should have taken a picture of all of us! I’m a huge fan of North Idaho. It’s so beautiful that I want to go back often. Sadly, they sold the cabin on the lake right after Emma and I left, so we won’t be able to visit them there again, but they are welcome in Denver any time, and I’m sure we’ll catch up in Austin.

After the eclipse I was excited to go to Glacier National Park. Going there and to Harrison, Id added 800 miles to the trip, but it was absolutely worth the extra mileage. We left Steve and Ann to ride into Montana (the 6th state on the trip) and up to Glacier.

After buying Emma a fleece vest (she had been wearing mine to stay warm) we found a hotel in Whitefish called the Cheap Sleep motel, and it did not live up to it’s name. I guess hotels are just more expensive up there.

Glacier National Park is a fantastic place. I can’t do it justice with photos, so I recommend that everyone who reads this make the trip up there at least once in their lives. Don’t worry about the glaciers, they’re basically gone. The mountains and valleys are totally worth the trip on their own!

Thankfully we arrived on a day with little smoke. We parked the bike and shuttled to the Logan Pass visitor center where we ate our snacks and began the 12 mile hike back to the bike. Every part of this was stunning.

A view from the trail overlooking a big glacial valley and the “Going to the Sun Road.”

There are far too many beautiful parts to show here, so please have a look at the photo gallery. I’ll post the rest of the trip hopefully soon.


I flew into Havana via Houston. The process wasn’t difficult, and after waiting for a short period I had the necessary documents to enter Cuba: the travelers insurance and tourist card, both required by the Cuban government.

The flight down was longer than expected. From Houston we flew directly across the Gulf of Mexico, so most of the trip was over blue water. It wasn’t until we were right above the island that anything changed.

Not surprisingly, the water was very blue. The flight path didn’t take us over any special beaches, but the bottom of the ocean was easily seen, even the geomorphology of the reefs. Also, and this was surprising, it was quite easy to see entirely across the island. Cuba is a very narrow, or short island, so being able to see 100 to 200 miles was entirely sufficient to see the Atlantic and Caribbean sides at the same time.

After customs and a 1/2 hour taxi ride, I was in Havana, walking around. My first sites were nearly exactly what you’d see from photos of other people’s trips. Old buildings, people in the streets, old cars. How cool!

It’s tempting to put all of the photos here, but it’s better if you go to the photo gallery.

There were lots of cool old cars 😀

And it was really easy to find good music to dance to.

Havana is also right on the ocean, although there is no beach there, so it was easy to take photos of beautiful beach scenery and the pig roasts that take place just across from the Malecon (boardwalk).

The food in Havana was good. I ate a lot of seafood and even the bbq pork. Had to get a Cuban sandwich! One funny moment was when the bbq pork vendor was right next to the piña colada vendor. The sandwiches were on a generic bread (more on this later) with just pork and drippings poured over it. Of course it was good, but I was eyeballing the pineapple next door, so I asked if I could get a slice of pineapple for the sandwich, which seemed to confuse both vendors. They did acquiesce, and I got a pulled pork sandwich with pineapple and pork drippings, which I think made the sandwich much better. Somehow I found myself paying more than the total of a sandwich + a piña colada, so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – DOH! Perhaps this will give the locals an idea, and next time I visit there will be new sandwich shops with more than one filler!

About the bread. I’m convinced that communism has been played to its natural conclusion there. In 11 days I ate bread every day, and every day it was the same, whether it be on the west end of the island or 700 miles away on the east coast. The only thing that changed was the shape of the bread (some rolls were rectangular, but most were square). My guess is that the government has installed bakeries (of which I saw several) and that the bread is prescribed, meaning every bakery must make the one type of bread. No independent bakeries seem to exist, so everyone eats what the government gives them. If you walk around Havana or Santa Clara or Santiago at night, you’ll see bakeries pumping out thousands of identical rolls in preparation for the next day. It’s possible to get them hot out of the oven. The rolls cost only a few cents each, but don’t look for variety. You won’t find it.

We have an image of Cuban food in the US. It involves fried plantains and sandwiches stacked with 3 or 5 types of meat. Don’t expect to find either. The sandwiches tended to be either pulled pork or ham. Once I got a sandwich with ham and a cucumber. That was a rare improvement.

To my surprise, I didn’t see a single plantain in 11 days even though every morning I was served a platter of local, delicious, ripe fruit. Occasionally I did get fried bananas for a side at dinner, and I saw banana trees everywhere, but there seem to be no plantain trees on the island. More on the delicious fruit later!

Now for some of my other favorite photos from Havana.

That last photo is an important one. Private Wifi doesn’t exist in Cuba, but every city I visited had at least one Wifi hotspot. No where else I went had it, even the wealthy B&B owners (if you can call them that). You had to find a government kiosk, usually near to the park, and buy internet cards, similar to phone cards in the US. Connecting was not always straightforward, and sometimes I had to try for 15 or so minutes just to connect. This of course had several effects. One was that the parks became a sort of zombie playground where hundreds of people (at night, or tens in the day) would hang out looking at their phones. The other effect was that I got over using the internet very quickly. Since it sometimes required a taxi ride and sitting in the rain just to check my email, I had to really want to connect to make it worth while. The same must be true for Cubans, and I didn’t see a single person texting and driving!


I just got back from an 11 day trip to Cuba. It was a fantastic experience, and I learned so much. I plan to go into more details, but this is an introductory post to get started.

It’s impossible to talk about Cuba without first mentioning the people. Nowhere else I’ve been have the people been so warm, friendly, and open. Everyone was great to talk to, and they welcomed me into their houses like we were old friends. I stayed at Bed and Breakfasts the whole time, so I saw a lot of homes and met a lot of families, but complete strangers invited me to have coffee with them or meet their family. It’s hard to imagine that happening in the US, Europe, or Japan.

Another thing that was striking is the total lack of violence in Cuba. Of course they have no firearms, those were basically outlawed decades ago. But I felt totally comfortable walking down poorly lit streets at night in poor neighborhoods. There are a lot of poor neighborhoods; no one in Cuba is rich, but that lack of income disparity probably has an affect on the way people behave. Even little kids or teenage girls walked around a night. American parents won’t let their kids do that in the day in the suburbs!

Cubans are poor, and they know it, but they sure are happy. Maybe it’s the weather or the delicious fruit, but the warmth and openness were sincere. They love to dance and sing. They wear bright colors and drive old cars. It’s such a romantic place and totally captivating.

I, as a visitor, represented a source of income for them. Their economy isn’t strong for many things. They do have a fantastic education system and medical system, so there is some medical tourism, but overall tourists are the livelihood for many people. Most of my encounters with locals were through the B&Bs, tours, classes, and taxis. I took a lot of taxis. They’re the most efficient and reliable way to get around – even between cities.

One type of taxi is the “taxi collectivo” in which 3-5 to 12 strangers going to the same place get into a car and ride with a driver. Usually these cars are 60 years old, and they aren’t especially comfortable, but the ride sharing aspect saves a lot of money. They cost about the same as a bus but leave at reasonable hours and take half as much time.

You can also get personal taxis within a city (cheap), between cities (expensive), or for a whole day (fixed rate depending on what you want to do). The drivers really love the last option. They get a guaranteed fare and spend a lot of time waiting. They all complained about boredom while waiting, but not driving saves them a lot of gas, and as I learned later, they have to pay for all of their own repairs. So, making money for not driving is best for them.

I plan to talk about the places I visited more in future posts, but here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Old taxis waiting to give a ride; Old men singing in the street, and me eating coconut ice cream from a coconut.

Photos from a horseback tour I took through tobacco and coffee plantations and the Viñales Valley National Park.

Highlights from Cuba would be incomplete without photos of dogs on roofs. Capturing them on film became a fun goal. Sadly, the majority I saw were from a car, and the photos didn’t turn out well, or I was too slow.

Some other fun shots from the national park and then Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast.

Finally, a trip to Cuba would not be complete without visiting the tomb of their country’s founder. Santiago de Cuba was the site of the beginning of their revolution, and they buried him there after a country long procession where millions came out to say goodbye.

There is so much more: cigar rolling classes, dancing classes, a SCUBA refresher course, and cooking classes, not to mention all of the Spanish I got to relearn. It’s been almost 10 years since I spoke Spanish on a regular basis. I was glad that it came back so quickly. At the end of the trip I had no trouble communicating, and my recollection of Spanish words was good enough that I gave my Spanish/English dictionary to one of my B&B hosts who was trying to learn English.


More soon!


Things are going well. After the onslaught of deadlines and presentations in February and March, I’ve been able to get back into a more regular schedule of work.   I also have more free time now, so I’m trying to do more things in Denver, like see comedy shows and take classes. It’s been nice getting out more.

February was brutal

I sure am glad to see February gone. It’s hard to explain how much work goes into writing a NASA grant proposal to someone who hasn’t done it, but many people say it takes a month to write. I submitted two last week. Thankfully, one had some legacy from last year’s (unfunded) submission, and a lot of time was saved because of that.

For some reason, the powers that be decided to hold a Mars specific conference on the same exact day as the proposal deadline for my Mars proposals, and I traveled to California to speak there.  Those things in combination were pretty bad, but one might guess that I would get a break afterwards. Instead, I had two deadlines for today. One was a paper I wrote with a colleague in France. He also submitted one as first author and asked me to provide comments. The other deadline was a presentation to my work colleagues, one that is a precursor to a presentation that I’ll give later in March.

Finally, though, all of those things have passed, and I can breath. Tonight I’m celebrating with a home cooked steak dinner, which is a step up from eating dinner at my desk or getting taco bell to go. Goodbye working late hours! And welcome the sun. I can’t wait for Daylight Savings Day – the best day of the year!  Then I’ll be able to enjoy evening activities that require daylight 🙂

Some new things

Lately I’ve been pretty busy with work. Research is going well, and I’m knee deep in three manuscripts on top of my other job duties. I was also teaching until yesterday. I finally submitted grades, and this semester is over. I’ll miss teaching. Next semester was looking to be too busy applying for grants (and hopefully getting a job interview!), so I decided to not over stress myself. Of course I’m applying for jobs. This is one of the coolest of the year.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for that one, but it feels good even being qualified for a faculty job there!


I’ve also been skiing with Katie. This will be our third weekend in a row to go out We’re headed to Steamboat Springs. It’s supposed to be cold, but I invested a lot of money in this, and I want to maximize my experience. 🙂


Long time waiting for an update

I’ve been so neglectful here, but there is good reason. Since my last post (in Sicily!) I’ve been terribly busy. After Sicily I went to Rome for a week of work. Upon returning I immediately started prepping for my 5 day per week astronomy course at CU. That was a blast, but it consumed all of my free time. Then it was August, and August meant moving – both the office and the apartment. Than and I left SwRI to join PSI. PSI opened a new branch for us in Lakewood, CO, and it’s wonderful. I couldn’t be happier with the facility. The view from my office is fantastic, and my office itself is enormous!

I do miss working with a larger group of people. Hopefully one day this office grow.

So, August was a mess. Not only was I adapting to the new office (and commuting 40 minutes each way), I began packing and moved to Denver. Pictures of the new apartment are coming. I’m still trying to get it situated. Why, you might ask, haven’t I gotten it done? The end of August was more than 7 weeks ago. Well, I also ran a conference in Iceland! As soon as I got my furniture in place at the new apartment I flew to Iceland with Katie. We enjoyed some field trips (pictures to come), and I convened a conference with 102 people from 11 countries. It was an amazing experience, deserving of its own writeup.

Lately, I’ve been teaching at Regis again, and trying to catch up with the major changes at the new office. Currently we’re trying to get our servers and file systems to work again. They were moved from SwRI two weeks ago, and not everything is running yet.

Well, this is a fast update, but I feel better about getting something down.

My Lunch

Yes, I just ate bread with cheese and salami on a Sicilian beach. Yes, I accompanied that with olives and a nectarine. Yes, I’m about to go swimming in crystal clear blue water and take a nap under an umbrella. Yes!

Pretty Awesome Day

Today was great. I woke up late but still had time to enjoy many of the things that LA has to offer. After successfully running the glacier model (the main point of this trip). I headed out to LACMA, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was recommended to me by Akili, a buddy from France, and his recommendation couldn’t have been better. The art was excellent, and it took me to a really cool part of LA. I met up with some people that I met at a bbq last night. Keith, a fellow motorcycle rider I met while on a road trip through Glacier National Park, invited me to eat brisket with him and other guests. This was superb and really gave me the fix I needed from being away from home. Well, his friends Chris and Taylor are art connoisseurs, and they were excited to have someone join them. They left me in the afternoon, and I found myself in Little Ethiopia, so I said why not get some Ethiopian food? I had never had it before, and now seemed like the best time.

The Ethiopian food was excellent, and while eating I had to decide on what to do next, so Yelp came in handy because it told me about a big flea market that’s only open on Sundays. It also reminded me about improv theater, from Upright Citizen’s Brigade and the Griffith Observatory. My afternoon and evening were planned! The flea market was fun, and I picked up some things for Katie. Hopefully she likes them. After that I headed to the theater and got in line. Sunday’s 7PM show is free, and people were already lining up when I got there at 5.

I met a nice couple and their friend, and we chatted the time away. Seeing live comedy was something I had been excited about before coming here, and it didn’t disappoint. Finally, it was dark, and I could head to the observatory. Griffith observatory is no longer active in research, but it is a fantastic place and highly respected for its public events. Tonight was a special night too, with Mars being the closest it’s been since 2003 and a nearly full moon, so lots of people were there. I was extremely lucky because I was the last person in line to see Mars. An employee got behind me and sent a lot of people a way. But I did get to see it  and the northern ice cap! Finally I’m ‘home’ and still excited enough to share some pictures with the internet.

A fun view with the observatory, the moon, and Mars above them both.

Again with the moon, Mars and Los Angeles. Also, you can see Saturn between Mars and the moon. It’s not as bright, but it’s equally as cool.

Finally, I want to make a special note to how awesome it is having a motorcycle in LA. It’s basically a super power. Five times today I pulled up to something cool (LACMA, Ethiopian restaurant, flea market, UCB, and the Griffith Observatory) and five times today I parked exactly in front of the venue. It’s almost impossible to be closer than I was. We call this ‘Rockstar Parking’ and motorcycles are the best. So here’s to Blue 🙂