Traveling Alone

I always write about traveling; this time I think it would be interesting to maybe put some of me into the story. Things that have happened to me along the way that weren’t necessarily interesting to the plot of the day or trip don’t always belong with the rest, and I’ve saved a couple more embarrassing moments, personal ones that no one else knows about for now.

Once I was riding in Sequoia National Park after camping in a great campground near the southern entrance. The views were breathtaking, and just being there was quite impressive. Traveling alone allows one to really observe themselves given the chance and one little mistake I made that day came to be an important memory. You know that old saying about stopping to smell the roses? This might have been one of those times when it is more prudent to keep on going and remember to go back another time. It was a steep climb of windy road into the mountains. My campsite was near the bottom at the park entrance, and the road took me many miles up and up. Even then I was still in the shade as the sun hadn’t yet gotten high enough to light up the valley. Occasionally I’d find a spot where the mountains had a break and rays would cross the road, but for the most part all of the ambient light was scattered throughout the atmosphere on this crisp mountain morning.

I was so happy to be there that every viewpoint was worthy of at least a look and probably a photo, and the views of California’s central valley from the shady roadside overlooks were sights to behold. Without hurrying too much, although I tend to keep a quick pace while riding, I’d catch glimpses of pretty flowers or trees that were special to see. At one particularly precarious place on a right bend in the road going up a steep section there was a patch of blow flowers or whatever name they go by. You know, the kind that you can make a wish on and blow, and if you get all of the white puffy parts off you wish is supposed to come true. They were really interesting to me growing on their embankment, and I just had to stop. This was a hasty pause mostly just for taking a picture, and as I got off the bike I realized that my right leg was a good bit lower than the left. The road was banked steeply to the right and left me with no ability to hold up the bike. It was too far over to even lay on the side stand, and instead went the other way – all the way over.

Some of you have seen how heavily I pack the bike, and some still wonder how it all fits on there. Well, this was one of the rare times when I began to wonder for myself why I was carrying all this crap. My bike probably weighed an extra 60 pounds, and all of that was on the top. To make things worse the bike was not even flat but below grade meaning the handlebars were below the level of the tires. This put the gas tank in an inverted position leaking profusely. I fought and fought to get the bike uprighted. The first problem was the weight, but because I was so much lower than the bike even what would have been enough strength on level ground to get her up wasn’t nearly enough for this. I was in a bind, all the while leaking gas. There are techniques for picking up bikes, using you legs with the bike behind you, and that failed too. Almost given up and waiting for someone to pass by on an early weekday morning I gave it one more shot. Falling back on my schooling and using the physics principle of leverage I was able to pick the bike up by the sissy bar enough that it could lean over the other way. I still had the problem of getting her to stay on the stand, and it proved to take a lot of balance and strength. Finally she was up right and I could breath, a little more worse for the wear. No one ever came to help me, and I learned an important rule of watching where you step, or park. I did stop to smell the flowers though.

 

A photo, and another.

 

Another time almost a year later, I did something that doesn’t seem like much and involved no physical exertion only mental instability was as I rolled into Yellowstone National Park. The park itself is fantastic and probably the best on in our country and maybe the world. I came in from the north east side on the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, MT. It is an amazingly powerful experience, and everyone on earth should have the opportunity to go up there. I was so excited about being there that I got caught up in all the things there were to do. My plan was to stay only 2 nights in the park, and I couldn’t decide where to start. After probably 15 miles of the most beautiful mountain road following a wide grassy valley with a bubbling brook in the middle and herds of buffalo on either side of me I pulled over for a nap and to make some plans. I had to come to a decision: head left, south, and plan to spend the next two days in that area; or head north and stay up there for a night then head south. See, I needed to start heading back to Texas at that point. I had finally made it to Montana, the 48th state traveled to on one motorcycle, and it was time to go home and prepare for an entirely different adventure of moving to Germany.

I had planned based on my preliminary research to head south and spend two day there in the same campsite. This was a good plan and would allow me to see some of the biggest sights with relative ease. I made a left at the intersection and felt good about it. Something hit me though as I waited behind the long string of cars winding their way up into the mountain: the other direction didn’t have any traffic. Why was that? Maybe I should be heading that way? My insecurity got the best of me and I turned around. This was downhill and repeated some of what I had already seen. Now, some of you may think this all very silly, but I actually turned around 4 times in that short span. I couldn’t make up my mind. Everything seemed so important to see and do, and I didn’t want to miss a thing. This is by the way a time when it is nice to be traveling with another person. At least that way you’re more locked in to the decision that you came to together. At any rate I would have looked like there was something wrong with me to anyone paying attention, something terribly wrong.

Finally I pulled over, got off the bike and asked what I wanted to do. I doubted myself quite heavily at that moment and everything seemed like the wrong thing. After much deliberation I remounted and headed south, my original direction. It turned out to be a great decision and I really enjoyed the next couple days – plus it put me in a better position to make good time to the south. That wasn’t the only time I had an experience like that; it happened a time or two more, but this was the oddest case, and it sticks in my memory like a hot poker.

A ride story for Christmas

It was a day of accomplishment, a successful day. I awoke early, camped out at a KOA not far from Rapid City, South Dakota. I was there for a rally called Braveheart, a group of friends that get together every year having met on a web site. The friends you make like that can sometimes be the best kind This story involves one such friend.

Unlike the previous 5 days I rolled up my sleeping gear, packed my luggage, and took down the tent. See, the rally was over and everyone was going home. Everyone but me. I was only partway through my trip. In previous summers and this one included I had conquered 46 states and two Canadian Provinces. This day would round out the contiguous states and accomplish a motorcycle traveling goal.

On the way to the hotel where most rally attendees stayed I stopped by another where two friends from Iceland had stayed. Earlier that summer they purchased a motorcycle from another friend and rode that across the United States. Their trip was an impressive one and still going too, but they would have to turn home soon. I was unable to wake our friends, affectionately called the Bezerkers due to a patch on Tommy’s vest. Nanna was his wife and riding partner, and the two of the made quite a pair and quite a site.

Since they weren’t answering the call it was time to meet up with the others. Some of the people I knew from past rallies and others I had only met days before. Two of those people are Trapper_Canada and his wife Kat who had ridden in from Saskatchewan. They are a neat couple and fun to ride with. Others like Raymond and Emu and Chuck are old friends that meet up whenever the opportunity arises. They’ve ridden together extensively, and just to see them grouped together will make you laugh; wait till you hear them talk. There were many more people at that rally, around 80 in all, and all are worth mentioning and will be soon.

This day wasn’t a normal day however, not even for the last day of a rally. Two people I had met that week were Frmrpat and Plowboy. These guys are brothers raised on a farm up in Circle, Montana. They invited me to ride with them and see their place only about a day’s ride away. Farmer knew of my desire to see as much as possible along the way and offered to show me the more scenic route. And by more scenic route I mean more of the same but in a less direct manner. See, when you get in that part of the country things don’t change much, not for a long time.

After saying goodbye to our new and renewed friends the farmer and I headed west on Interstate 80 towards Sturgis, SD. This is a neat little town famous for another motorcycle rally. We were only two weeks early for that, but as I understand it it’s nicer that way. Since we had already gotten all the souvenirs we wanted earlier there was no reason to stop, and we rode on past the currently barren one horse town.

Before long our small gas tanks needed a fill and us a rest. The climate in the west is arid, and it takes a lot of water to maintain one’s hydration. I remember purchasing a little beef jerky at the gas stop to supply my energy. Breakfast obviously wasn’t keeping up. We said goodbye to Plowboy and his wife who were headed with the van and trailer on the faster roads, and the farmer and I turned north.

This was really nice for me and more special than even he knows. I’ve ridden quite a bit, and most of that was alone. There were only two times I can recall from before that time that I had ridden any distance with another person, traveling I mean. Many times, at rallies for instance, I had ridden with people and ended up at the same place for the night. But only Strider1 and Trev had ever ridden with me outside of their own area. Farmer would be the third person to do this, and until now the last. This means a lot to me, and even though it may be only one day’s worth of riding it sticks in my memory. That and the rest of the day.

The road was a straight one, almost inperceptively straight. It endured hours with nary a curve. One could ride days up there is seems and see little more than road and grass, not even the bank of a curve breaks the vastness of it. If you look at a road map of that corner the Dakotas you’ll notice the lack of roads, maybe 2 per county. There’s no natural boundary to cause builders to make a curve. It’s a hypnotizing experience, and pretty soon one can lose concentration. Usually at times like this I find myself singing, sometimes the urge to sleep is strong. But there are ways to break the monotony like moving around, and of course picking favorite tune and shouting it out loud. Before long our tanks were low and it was time to stop again.

Somewhere in there we were passed by two other travelers; you can see them in that second picture. In the town of Buffalo there were approximately one gas station, one house, and one post office, so it was eventual that we would see each other again. Bikes cannot pass up gas stops when they are that far apart. It was a father and son crew both riding older Gold Wings headed somewhere further north. While we drank orange Gatorade to cool off and rehydrate, they took off and were long gone before we hit the road again. There was no reason to hurry; the company was too good.

We had at some point slipped into North Dakota. Politically we were in a different place, but the scenery didn’t change. The farmer graciously consented to me looking around for a pin to fit on my vest. I had started collecting pins after my second trip, and this meant usually it was my second visit to a state before buying the pin, but I didn’t have a plan to make it back to ND anytime soon, so this was my one chance. We found a pin soon enough, quite a nice one with a duck on it suggestive of hunting, and it was time for the road again.

Not long later we were to head west again. We were in South West North Dakota as I like to say and turning away. The farmer knew of some neat sights along the way, and he made sure we stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Unfortunately our ride that day would be a long one, and we only had time to stop for a picture and some ice cream. The ice cream was delicious on that hot dry day, and the rest very worth the time. I still had my National Parks entry card and stopped in just for a map before we headed out.

I asked the farmer at some point what made the park worth of even being there. It seemed that this part of North Dakota was only flat and that there wasn’t much to see. I realized soon enough what the attraction to ND’s only National Park was. We began riding into canyons and the scenery changed quite a bit from less than exciting to something special. I had never seen anything like this before and really enjoyed it. The dryness of it all and color of the rock walls running alongside of the road was only a hint of what the rather large park offered. Of course my riding partner had seen it already and once remarked how he had canyons like that on his very own property. I could hardly wait to see it.

I was taken off some that the government would take the only nice peice of land away from North Dakota. I thought it a shame the state’s biggest attractor should be federally run and the proceeds out of reach for them. It is however a nice memorial to a great president and a testimonial to his forethought and legacy.

It was another long stretch to the border, but I anticipated every minute. Up to then I had ridden in 47 states and my last was only minutes away. The anticipation heightened my awareness, and every sign on the horizon piqued my attention. Each time one would come into view I’d strain my eyes to read it. Most left me wanting more, some were interesting like “Home on the Range”. I still wonder what is over there. Soon though the one I had waited so long for was in sight and I snapped a quick shot. I was in Montana!

This is again one of those times most people can relate to. Remember when you were a kid and in school you talked about Maine, or France, or Australia, and as a kid with a still small world view you remember thinking “that is so far away, I’ll never get there”? The world is a big place, but each time you break down that barrier it feels a little smaller. Montana was one of those ‘too far away’ places I would never see; only there I was. I still remember the feeling of hair raising excitement upon entering the state.

Now, Frmrpat is from Montana, born and raised. And I am from Texas, so of course there is some rivalry between us about how big things are. And to this day I have never set foot on property larger than his. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, and if I do say so myself there are many such places here in Texas. Don’t tell him that though, he prefers to live in that state of denial. 😀 I guess this is as good a time as any for me to tell his joke but in my own words.

“Two ranchers were talking, one from Montana and the other from Texas. The Texas farmer, bragging about his property, speaks up and says his is so large he could get in his truck in the morning and ride all day. The sun would set before he reached the end of his land.

‘The Montanan thinks about that for a minute, always having to one up the Texan, and says ‘yea, I used to have a truck like that too.”

The farmer loves that joke and of course switched the roles of the two gentlemen in the story from the original telling to fit his needs. When he did that I found my own version about how the Montana man’s cow was so big that the beef had lasted an entire year, and the Texan replied “I had a cow like that once too”. He didn’t laugh as hard at my joke.

He and I swapped lots of stories like that, and at our last gas stop for the day he presented me with a state pin in the shape of Montana. The farmer is a gracious man and quite generous. That would not be the end of his hospitality. We rode on in to his town sometime before dusk and took the nickel tour. There would be more time later on land and by air to see Circle, Montana so I didn’t press for too much. Plus we were exhausted; it had really been a long day, and the heat made it even more tiring.

I said his town earlier, but what I really meant is the town nearest to where he lives. See, the farmer and his brother with their wives and father live out in the boonies as we used to say. Directions to his house might read, “follow the one road out of town till it turns to gravel. Eventually it will turn to the right and you’ll be in the neighbor’s farm. Go several more miles and there’ll be a driveway on the left…” His place is really secluded, and that’s a nice thing.

Remember how I said the farmer was gracious? Well he really is. Upon arriving he fired up the grill and asked what we should put on it. See, the farmer raises cows and keeps a few pieces in a freezer. I chose rib eye, and that was a good choice. The meat was excellent, hand cut and home raised. I can’t remember a better one I’ve eaten. This was a great way to end a great day.

Later that night I went outside to reflect a little. This is when I noticed how close the stars were. They don’t call Montana Big Sky Country for nothing. You can see so much of the sky, and it was so clear I bet there are few places even in Texas that can rival his view of the night. I snapped a couple photos to remember it by.

That was a pretty cool day in my life, and I took plenty of photos to remember it. Here are all of them. And sorry about not posting a story last week, I was real busy with graduation and work. I did write one, but you’ll have to wait to read it.

Good night and Merry Christmas.

A riding tale

Ride story.  Photos here

To tell the truth I had fear of Devil’s Drop until the rally last year. The first ride of 2004, my first large group ride, was Devil’s Drop. I had only about 13k miles under my belt total, and I learned quickly that there were many better riders than I. I still remember the wet parts of the road; crossing the yellow line; and worse of all going slow through those curves when the person in front slowed down. I kept that road in my memory for 2 years.

In 2006 Devil’s Drop was again the first ride of the rally, this time however I had a few more miles and curvy roads under my belt. But I still had that memory from two years earlier or crossing the line and the fear of someone coming the other way to knock me off. When it came time for all of us to suit up another member mentioned a ride for the less experienced members going around Devil’s Drop. There wasn’t much interest however, but then I said I’d tail gun it. I think about 15 of us decided to go the other way and meet the group on the BRP. Maybe my presence made people feel comfortable because CC was showing it wasn’t being afraid if you live to ride another day. I’m sure no one expected at all that I wasn’t too sure of myself – and actually I wasn’t. I knew I could ride that road better than most, but it haunted me. It was the first time I had ever been scared on a motorcycle. The other group beat us to the top, and our smaller group made it safely. No one had any problems. And we finished the ride in good style.

The next day I led another small group up to the dragon. A few of us have led large groups before, but for those of you who haven’t it is no easy chore. Longbow knows as my wingman last year and leader of that ride this year, that the leader has to make sure that everyone rides at a comfortable pace and also that it’s not boring. We took it nice and easy on the way up there, stopped for gas and chatted at the Dragon’s store, and suited up. I made sure to tell the group that I would be leading the fast ride and everyone should run the Dragon at their own pace. Everyone is responsible for themselves, and only do what is comfortable. I probably could have run the Dragon a little faster; we didn’t set any speed records; but it was no grandma speed.

I had a secret however. Two years earlier I had gone off the road and slid into a ditch on the Dragon. I still held that memory because it was my first time to go down ever, and my first time to be back on the road. I was a much more confident rider that the last time, and did well. No incidents at all – everyone made it through just fine. In fact that wasn’t even the hardest part of the ride for those of us that remember. In Smokey Mountain National Park it began to rain something fierce. We saw it coming and suited up just in time. But the next 5 miles were straight up and wet. There was no point in stopping, I’d ridden through more water than a submarine captain, and most of the others followed me. When we reached the top we were pleasantly surprised that the clouds were breaking, and the ride home would be drier. And it was.

That night Sharon, slinky on this board, flew in to meet me. She wanted to see old friends and most importantly we were trying to patch things up from some time apart. I picked her up at the airport in a car, thanks to spokeschick. It was wet and Sharon had a pretty dress on. It was the night of the pizza party, and everyone was happy to see her. Even the pug who I made sure kept his dirty paws off her. Sharon and I didn’t make the group ride on Saturday. We slept later than the group and had to make plans for ourselves. After showing a few others on a map where some good roads were Sharon and I headed off. It was lunch time and she treated me to some good fish out by the Biltmore. Then it was the BRP.

We headed on that wonderful road for a while. I knew that Devil’s Drop was coming up but wasn’t sure what to do. I had another route planned to bypass it. Until, until it started raining. We had already passed Devil’s Drop and were approaching some high points in the mountains – with beautiful views by the way – and now we had to chose. Ride into the rain? Go back the way we came? Or take Devil’s Drop.

Truthfully I had expected it to rain on top of that mountain, but I didn’t know what I would do. We didn’t want to ride back the way we came. So I decided DD was the way to go. I hadn’t told Sharon what was on my mind but now I did. “I’m a little afraid of this road; we’re going to take it slow” She understood and didn’t say anything. She had never been on a road like it before. Of course we passed shady wet spots, gravel running across the road, and sticks everywhere. I took it easy, and we made it to the bottom with no trouble. I had finally done it, second time actually, survived Devil’s Drop!
When we finished Sharon told me she could have ridden a little faster. I thought to myself “I could have too.”

There is no road I am afraid of anymore. I’m proud to say that. :biggthumpup;

Enjoying Texas

I’ve done it; completed all 48 states on my motorcycle. Since then I’ve ridden home and began enjoying this last month before moving to Germany. So far I’ve visited Sharon and Mom. I’ve hung out with Aaron a little and am not at my grandma’s house for the next few days. We’re having a nice time.

Things are going great for me, just getting everything together in preperation; have to say goodbye to everyone too. Wednesday I’ll go back to Austin and start packing for real. Gotta make sure to have everything, but not too much, for the next year. I can still buy things when I get there.

The excitement is building, but more than anything it’s the questions and wondering that are pressing. What will happen next? Who will I meet? Will I get to see Europe like I hope? Only the next year will show me the answers.

Also, there’s the year after. Can I get everything prepared for when I return? There are a lot of things to do, and I won’t be here to do them. Gotta remember them all.

People keep asking me questions to which I know not the answer. I’ve got 3 weeks or so to figure them out.

Braveheart Day 2

Yesterday was a great day. I met the Icelanders at their hotel and we rode over to eat breakfast with the main group. Frmrpat, Plowboy and wife were heading in the same direction as us via a different route, so we all planned to meet in Sturgis.

The Icelanders and I took a more scenic road through the Black hills to get there and only arrived a little late for lunch. After dining we all rode to the famous Main St. for some shopping and a little looksieloo. Shirts were cheap for years past and we all bought a few. After our fill of the famous rally town our group headed to Deadwood to see where Wild Bill Hickock died and even some reenactments of the gunning down. Dinner was good and the company great. The ride back was just as nice and we ended a “perfect day” back at the hotel chatting with many of the other Bravehearts.

Braveheart Tours Day 1

Day 1 of Braveheart is going very well. The first groups have returned from their rides and not too many people have been rained on so far.

South Dakota is beautiful. The praries are fantastic even though they lack trees. Today a group of 10 of us rode down to Badlands National Park and made a loop towards the Southeast. The group split, but we found each other later in the park. Strider1 with Pat, the Big Skys and I made our way behind the other group. It is truely amazing and beautiful albeit bizarre. The Badlands are unlike anything most people have ever seen.

The group stopped in Wall, SD to see the famous Wall Drug. After buffalo burgers and cherry pie a la mode we headed back. We hit only a little rain and had dried by the time we returned.

Tomorrow should be fun. Several of us plan to head down to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I’m trying to convince some of them to join me in Windy Cave National Park before heading back. I hear Needles Highway is around there, maybe we’ll get to ride it too!