Monday, June 13, 2011

Goin' Solo

This past weekend I took the first ride of moderate length (260 miles round-trip, including side-rambles and other tangents) since Trish and I started riding together. The purpose of the trip was to do some jumping down at Skydive Sebastian. Riding without Trish alongside me was strangely bittersweet. The intensity of the feeling took me by surprise.

I hadn't realized until that point what a profound emotional and psychological impact riding with Trish had made; it had effectively created a great mental milestone dividing my personal motorized two-wheeled history into B.T. and A.T. periods (as with almost everything else in my life). I ride every day, of course, commuting to and from work, going to the grocery store etc. -- I don't even own a car -- but this was the first time I have taken a purely recreational motorcycle trip in the A.T. Era, so to speak.

Dinnertime at Mulligan's Beach House Bar and Grill in Vero Beach. I sat in an Adirondack chair and watched the windblown surf breaking over the sand as the sun went down behind me. The whole time, I was texting Trish, telling her how great it was, how much I missed her and how much I wished she were there with me.

During my previous major rides, I enjoyed the significant benefits and pleasures of riding alone. Chief among them are:

  • The ability to set your own pace. Some people like to ride fast for short intervals; some people like to ride slowly but stop infrequently.

  • The freedom to abide by your own schedule. Are you in the mood to do 1,000 miles today? Or do you feel like stopping at every scenic overlook, roadside attraction, local curiosity, exhibit and marker? Do you want to wander and explore aimlessly? Or do you want to reach a specific destination by a fixed deadline? When you ride alone, you can change your plans on a whim.

  • Not feeling responsible for anyone else's safety or well-being. Everyone has to look out for everyone else, but this sense of responsibility is especially strong when one rider has significantly more road experience than another.

  • Not having to communicate and coordinate. Some messages are realatively easy to get across -- "I need gas," "let's stop and get something to eat." More complex suggestions and requests are difficult to convey without radios. This can get aggravating.

Riding in groups -- or even as a pair -- requires making a series of strategic compromises that usually leaves everyone frustrated to some degree. This is true, obviously, of any partnership or team effort. It even serves as a reasonable metaphor for marriage! In our case, however, I have discovered that the fun and satisfaction of riding with my best friend more than overbalances these negatives.

I think I had expected riding alone again to be a relief -- instead, it felt kind of sad, like something was missing. I was unprepared for that.

One of my favorite parts of any motorcycle trip is the unplanned and unexpected detours. I see something that looks potentially interesting and I stop on an impulse. Those moments almost always end up being the most memorable highlights. I stopped several times during this trip and deliberately indulged in a roundabout, unhurried intinerary. My overwhelming feeling, again and again, was I wish Trish were here.

I stopped at Castaway Point Park on the way back to eat a protein bar and enjoy the scenery. It was a pretty spot -- I could see large crabs scuttling among the oyster shells and coral rubble in the clear, shallow water. Several small sailboats were anchored in the lagoon nearby.

I'm usually a little bit sad to see a road trip coming to an end. This time the opposite was true; I couldn't wait to get Home. That's Home with a capital H, as in wherever Trish is. I don't feel bound to any particular geographic location, but it's not Home if she isn't there.

Riding alone can be great; it often is. Riding with a partner or a group can be nerve-wracking and annoying. In fact, it can detract from the experience to the point of ruining it.

But riding with someone you really care about -- someone who gets it, who gets YOU, who enjoys traveling in all the same ways and for all the same reasons you do -- can enhance the ride so much that you find yourself never wanting to hit the road without that person beside you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Fix is In

After a minor mishap, Y.T. (Trish's 2004 Honda Rebel) was left with some very slight damage. It included a skewed footpeg and a warped license plate -- both of which I "repaired" using the old-fashioned method of pulling, twisting and hammering them back into place -- and also one thing that rendered Y.T. effectively unrideable: a bent shifter lever.

  This was easy to fix . . .

But this was not.

The lever was bent into a position that made it impossible to get your foot under it. Thus, one could not shift gears. Thus, one could not ride. Hence the dilemma.

Trish ordered a new shifter lever and it arrived about a week later. Today we finally had a chance to get out there and devote some time to removing the bent one and replacing it with the new one.

While we were already working on the bike, it was a good time to go ahead and also replace the headlight bulb. (The low beam was still working, but the high beam had failed. Or maybe it was the other way around. I don't really remember.)

Trish begins the process of removing the headlamp casing.

Changing out the shifter lever was a multi-step process. It was not complicated, requiring only a properly sized hex key and an adjustable crescent wrench, but it was just a bit annoying, for two reasons: first, it turns out that you have to remove the entire left footpeg assembly to gain access to the actuator rod to which the lever connects. And second, the replacement lever doesn't come with its own rubber boot -- believe it or not, that's considered a separate part! No one told us that, so we had to pry off the boot from the old lever (using a screwdriver helped) and then wiggle and tug it onto the new one in a process not entirely unlike attempting to put on a much-too-small condom without tearing it.

Trish holds the left footpeg assembly after we removed it. The actuator rod is still attached to the shifter lever here.

After one trip to the hardware store and three or four trips back inside the house to look for various tools, we succeeded in changing the lever.

I made the foolish mistake of assuming that changing the headlamp bulb would be much easier. It turned out to be equally challenging, if not more so. The headlamp casing is not designed to be easy to get into. (The owner's manual doesn't even contain a procedure for changing the bulb -- clearly they want the dealership to do this.)

After several false starts and two separate Internet research sessions, however, I figured out what needed to be done.

Let there be light!

I triple-checked to make sure the new bulb was working right and then Trish and I embarked upon an elaborately choreographed committee project to get the bulb into the lens housing, the C-clip over the bulb, the boot over the C-clip, the two COMPLETELY REMOVABLE (WTF?) brass fittings that hold the C-clip in place, the screws into the brass fittings and finally the headlamp case back into its housing, where it is secured by two bolts. I have never seen such an unnecessarily complex configuration for such a simple -- and frequently replaced! -- item. Why not have a simple hinged opening in the back of the housing that allows somebody to unplug the old bulb and plug in the new one?

After we were done, I took Y.T. on a quick 12-mile ride and filled up her tank with fresh gas. On that ride I noticed that the right rear-view mirror stem had also been bent. I'm going to have to figure out if I can muscle that back into its proper position without breaking it or if we're just going to have to buy a new one. The good news is, Y.T. seems to be running fine and our field repairs were apparently at least semi-adequate. The shifter lever feels a little bit too low; I might have to experiment with adjusting it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Sometimes the best trips just seem to materialize out of nowhere.

We'd had long-standing plans to hook up with our good friend Danni when she flew down for a short vacation trip to St. Augustine. When we saw how good the weather was supposed to be on Friday and Saturday, we made a more or less last-minute decision to ride up there instead of driving.

This turned into a slew of firsts for Trish -- including her longest ride so far by a wide margin (nearly 200 miles there and back) as well as her first overnight motorcycle road trip. She's quickly turning into a hell of a rider.

We got a (relatively, for us) early start, leaving Geneva westbound on SR 46 at around 9 A.M. From Sanford we took SR 415 northbound, crossing the St. Johns river on the Osteen Bridge and continuing up into the Spruce Creek area, surveying the sweeping curves and rural scenery along the way. Traffic was light and the conditions were perfect -- clear, sunny, dry and cool. It was my favorite kind of ride: the kind that gives you a chance to see and enjoy the real Florida -- the lakes and forests, the goat farms, the fields of celery and strawberries, the orange groves, the pastures filled with cattle, the horse ranches, the old oak trees covered with Spanish moss, the small towns, the roadside diners, the country racetracks, the houses built in the 40s, the occasional phosphate mine or limestone quarry. It's a wonderful reminder of the pre-Disney era.

We followed CR 421 eastbound all the way on out to the coast, vaulting over the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway on a long, high, steep bridge and finally hitting the T-intersection with A1A in Daytona Beach. (It's a particularly dramatic junction: you come over the top of the bridge and find yourself facing the great, wide, rolling blue Atlantic directly in front of you.) From there, we turned left and headed north.

We paused in Ormond Beach at an oceanside restaurant called the Beach Bucket for a late breakfast. Trish got coffee and pancakes, I got orange juice and a tomato-Swiss-onion omelet with home fries and sourdough toast and as usual we shared everything. What a brilliant morning! The timing and location of this stop couldn't have been more ideal.

Enjoying a late breakfast at the Beach Bucket in Ormond Beach.

With our bellies full and our spirits high, we resumed our trek northward.

It's funny how seaside communities are similar all over the world. You've always got the one main two-lane highway with the beach itself right there on one side (plus the usual ramps, boardwalks and sandy parking lots) and immediately on the other side, facing the water, rows of quaint, cozy, often eccentric cottages. You always have a few whimsically decorated with pirate or general nautical themes, you always have a scattering of extravagantly elaborate private mansions and you always have plenty of houses painted in the international standard beach colors: coral, periwinkle, seafoam, aqua, lime, driftwood-gray, conch-pink and cloud-white.

At one point we found ourselves sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway on the left and the Atlantic Ocean on the right. A sloop of about 35-40 feet was motoring northbound parallel to us. I'm assuming it was a retired couple. The wife was at the helm and the husband was up on the bow, hanging onto a shroud while he talked on his cell phone. They glanced at us briefly as we passed. I wondered if they were as curious about our journey as we were about theirs.

We made it into St. Augustine shortly after noon.

Trish prepares to pull into the hotel parking lot.

We met Danni and had a splendid afternoon. We hung out on the beach together for a little while, caught up on news and puzzled over some jellyfish that had inexplicably washed up in large numbers on the sand. Then she gave us a condensed but entertaining tour of the historic city, we bought a generous assortment of candy from the Whetstone Chocolate Factory and we had a mostly delicious (but strange) dinner at a Spanish restaurant where the food was pretty good but the staff and management are evidently from another planet.

Danni and her daughter had tickets to go on a ghost tour, so Trish and I took a long, romantic walk past the Castillo de San Marcos, along the waterfront and into the Old Town Square. We wandered past various craft shops and art galleries and finally found ourselves upstairs at a quiet little wine bar with an open balcony that faced a tree-filled courtyard in the Spanish Quarter. I ordered an Argentinian Malbec, Trish tried a bartender-recommended red (a Rioja) and we sat there talking of ships and shoes and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings as live music poured softly from the room around the corner. It was a lovely, delightful evening.

We said our goodbyes back at our hotel and then Danni and her daughter returned to theirs. (They had an early flight out the following morning.)

Our bikes parked at the hotel with the St. Augustine Lighthouse visible in the background.

Trish and I sacked out hard and slept in until ten. : ) We were remarkably (and unexpectedly) efficient about getting up, getting out the door and getting on the road -- much to my surprise, we were pulling out of the hotel parking lot by 10:35. We pondered this point later; we came to the conclusion that it was easier to leave a hotel than it was to leave home simply because you have fewer decisions to make. You can dither and fidget for hours trying to get out the door when you have your entire array of worldly possessions to sift through and pack -- when you're leaving a hotel room, you bundle everything together, stuff in it your luggage and off you go.

Just before we started our engines, we were approached in the parking lot by an old man who asked us where we were from and where we were going. After Trish told him, he proclaimed that he had always felt that "four wheels were safer than two." This, of course, is the Standard Reaction that I was writing about in my previous blog. Sometimes it's polite disapproval, sometimes it's a harsh condemnation, but it's always an admonition. It makes me want to go up to those same people while they're eating in a public restaurant and say, "excuse me, but all that high fat, high sugar, high sodium and high cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes and certain types of cancer."

Trish defused the situation with her usual aplomb, however, pointing out to him that between the two of us we did, in fact, have a total of four wheels . . . thus there was nothing to worry about. And with that, she shut her visor and we roared off.

Refueling along a quiet section of A1A.

We stopped at another oceanside restaurant, the Java Joint, for food and coffee. The Java Joint has an upper deck that provides an excellent, unimpeded view of an unspoiled stretch of grassy dunes, shell-strewn sands and breaking surf. After filling up on a bagel and a veggie burger, we went down the sun-bleached, weather-worn wooden steps and rested for a few minutes before getting back on the road again.

Taking a short beach break in the Flagler area.

Soon we were once again southbound along A1A. Now that the weekend had begun, the highway was thick with other riders out enjoying the fine spring day. We weaved through some congestion surrounding a local craft fair and stopped for cold drinks at a dollar store. A woman came up to Trish and complimented her on her bike, saying that she wanted to get one just like it for her daughter.

By now it had warmed up so much that Trish switched to her mesh jacket. (Thanks, Karen!) The rest of the ride back to Geneva was as scenic and pleasant as the ride out had been.  It was definitely our best ride together yet. Trish has progressed rapidly into a damn good motorcyclist and is already tackling excursions that riders with twice her experience would consider ambitious. Danni described her as "fearless" and "a rock star." I tend to agree with those characterizations.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tao of the Black Bag


Being Present, Living Mindfully

"Why aren't you on Twitter," I am asked. "Why don't you blog more often?"

Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that it is necessary to choose between living life and telling stories about life. The never-ending act of transforming existence into a coherent, cohesive narrative is so intrusive and invasive, he suggested, that it prevents the author from simply absorbing sensory, emotional and intellectual input.

For a certain type of person, at least, Sartre is evidently right.

You know the type; they are constantly using their iPhones to update their Facebook status, constantly texting, constantly posting new pictures to the Web. They are, in other words, so busy telling everybody about what they're doing right now that they hardly have any time to enjoy the experience itself. They're hardly even paying attention to the experience at all. To some extent, yes, we all do it. But for some it is a pathology, an addiction.

Fame is often characterized as a disease or disorder. The type of person described above suffers from "micro-fame." Nothing is done for its own sake; everything is done for the benefit of your audience of readers and followers. This attitude separates you from your own life, turns your life into a packaged product.

You must, I believe, be able to immerse yourself fully in an experience -- to commit to it, to invest yourself in it, to engage with it completely. This does not preclude, however, writing about it later. You might operate under the assumption that at some point in the future, after you have had a chance to process and assimilate the totality of the experience and frame it in the greater context of your life, you might (or might not) attempt to distill it and capture it in words. Knowing this does not prevent you from living in the moment.

I reject the idea that one must choose between exclusive modalities. What one must do is know where to draw the line. If your awareness of the need to tell the story is interrupting the experience -- interfering with it -- then you need to pull back.

It has been widely theorized that in this online era people would be able to present themselves to the public in a totally controlled, inherently false and misleading way. We would see not the real person but a Photoshopped avatar -- a loose, malleable representation that can be enhanced, manipulated and distorted at will. Your online persona can be smarter, funnier, more successful and more interesting than you are: you as you wish to be, not as you are -- an upgraded mythology of yourself.

It is no longer the realm of speculative futurism; we now live in that universe. And you know what? The thing that I find ironic and surprising is not how effectively we have each created, modulated, edited, adjusted and fine-tuned this artificial construct -- it's how most people have completely failed to do this!

They post photographs with no captions, no explanations and no apparent relevance. They post images of random celebrities or animals as their own profile pictures. They post bizarre, rambling, incomplete thoughts pockmarked with spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization and syntax errors and dripping with omissions, inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies.

In this age of Wikipedia, Google and Spell Check it would be so easy to look smart. You wouldn't be able to tell who was clever, well-rounded and intelligent with so much information (very literally) at everyone's fingertips. It never ceases to amaze me that despite the minimal effort required, people don't take advantage of these things. It's not as if you even have to get up out of your chair, walk across the room and actually get a dictionary down off the shelf. Half the time they don't even bother to proofread. They post comments like, "there was this movie i forget who was in it or what it was called but there was this guy who . . ." Oh, for crying out loud! Just look it up on IMDB!

An increasingly common attitude is, "why should I do it in real life and expose myself to risk when I can play a computer game that simulates the experience with no risk?"


Choosing Experience, Choosing Reality

Since this is a blog about motorcycle travel, I can safely talk about the fact that I ride. I have learned not to bring this up in general social situations. If I mention motorcycles or motorcycling to non-riders, the usual immediate standard response from them is to begin telling me some gruesome, gory tale of horror. It's a weird but consistently predictable reaction. So I have trained myself to avoid the topic. (Years ago I wrote a short essay devoted to the subject of the skewed perception of risk you can read HERE if you are interested.)

It is well documented that human nature causes vivid, dramatic threats like shark attacks seem much scarier than long-term, invisible, intangible threats such as high cholesterol. A shark attack is an extremely remote possibility and hardly worth worrying about for most people most of the time. High cholesterol is likely to kill you. But the shark attack is vivid and dramatic while the high cholesterol is long-term, invisible and intangible . . . so you see some fat person sitting on the beach, afraid to go in the water, eating a double cheeseburger with extra mayonnaise and a jumbo order of fries. That is faulty hazard analysis.

Fear is a poor reason not to do things.

If something involves risk, evaluate the risks. Minimize the risks. Manage the risks.

Don't avoid doing things -- do things right! Do things safely!

People's reactions to hearing about someone else's adventures are often obliquely apologetic and subconsciously defensive, freighted with rationalizations.

    "I wish I could buy a motorcycle but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could get my pilot's license but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could sail around the world but . . . [insert excuse]."
    "I wish I could learn to skydive but . . . [insert excuse]."

The most common excuse is "my wife won't let me." It's usually followed by a self-deprecating laugh, but I don't think it's humorous; I think it's kind of sad. I don't mean to seem harsh or judgmental, but that doesn't sound like a fulfilling marriage. I would hate to think that I was somehow standing between my wife and actualization. If she really wanted to have an experience, it it were really important and meaningful to her, then I should be supporting, encouraging, facilitating and enabling in every way I possibly can -- that's what best friends are for. Inversely, if my actions or presence in her life were preventing her from achieving her goals I would feel (rightly) very guilty and depressed about it. If Trish wants to do something, then the way I see it it's my job to do everything in my power to make it happen. I fell in love with her because she is who she is. Why would I want to change that? Why would I want to hold her back? That doesn't make any sense.


Setting Priorities, Allocating Resources

The second most common excuse is "I can't afford it." This statement makes me wince. Unless you are living in abject poverty (and some are, but usually not the ones using this excuse) this probably isn't really true.

Ten Levels of Wealth (measured as a function of lifestyle)

Notice that the levels are not associated with hard numbers such as annual gross income. That's because what matters is your CIRCUMSTANCES, not your account balance or net worth. The two key factors are the real cost of living where you reside and your own personal (perceived) lifestyle needs.

The phrase "basic fundamental human needs" as I use it here includes (A) nourishing food and clean water, (B) clothing adequate to the conditions, (C) adequate shelter, (D) health care and hygiene and (E) access to education and work.

Level 1: It is impossible to obtain the basic fundamental human needs.
Level 2: It is extremely difficult to obtain the basic fundamental human needs.

NOTE: For perspective, according to the World Bank, almost half the global population -— over three billion people -— live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

Level 3: Obtaining the basic fundamental human needs requires all available resources.
Level 4: Obtaining the basic fundamental human needs requires most available resources, with little left over.

Level 5: Some disposable income is available for discretionary purchases.
Level 6: A significant amount of disposable income is available for discretionary purchases -- spending on entertainment and consumer goods becomes a substantial part of the budget.

Level 7: Enough money is available to cover all expenses and still put aside for savings or major purchases (such as a house).
Level 8: It is possible to live comfortably while simultaneously amassing increasing savings.

Level 9: It is no longer necessary to choose between saving and spending; there is enough money to live very well with no great danger of running out.
Level 10: Unlimited extravagance.

As a practical matter, once a household hits Level 10, additional wealth is just a figure on a ledger with no impact on your lifestyle. Let's face it, the difference between having $5 million and $50 million in your personal checking account is effectively nil. (Although I'm sure many millionaires would emphatically dispute that assertion.)

Since there are so many multi-billionaires out there these days, it might make sense to add a ridiculous Level 11 to this list -- more money than you and all your staff, entourage, ex-wives, mistresses and illegitimate children could ever possibly spend.

The disparity is staggering. Roughly 42% of all the wealth in America is held by just 1% of the U.S. population. Most people (the bottom 80%) hold just 7%.

With all this in mind, people who are at the mall buying clothes and music CDs, DVD players and iPods, new cars and new furniture can't logically or accurately use the "I can't afford it" excuse. "I choose to spend my money on other things" would be more correct.

So why do so many people make excuses? And why do others choose to get out there and do things? What makes the difference?

I think it essentially all comes down this: many people prefer to cling to a comforting, idealized, glamorized fantasy rather than embrace an imperfect (and perhaps sometimes disappointing) reality. The truth is usually messy, complicated and difficult. A dream can remain abstract and therefore flawless.

Some people apparently want things to be simple and beautiful. Reality is rarely simple and often ugly. Reality can be dirty, annoying, uncomfortable, boring and challenging -- complex and riddled with paradox, ambiguity and contradiction. Navigating reality requires sacrifice and compromise. Trying to bypass, sidestep or circumvent these aspects of human existence on Earth entails hiding, withdrawing, cocooning, protecting oneself from authentic experiences rather than accepting them or seeking them out.

Take climbing Mount Everest, for example. The statement "I climbed Mount Everest" sounds exciting. The reality, however, involves spending days in a tent at base camp playing poker to pass the time while waiting for the weather to break. It involves altitude sickness and hypothermia. It involves physical exhaustion. It involves great expense. Adventure equals excitement but it also equals adversity, uncertainty, danger and discomfort. But that's not a reason not to go if climbing Mount Everest is your dream.

The distinction between a dreamer and a doer is therefore nothing more than a willingness to overcome that fear of contaminating the perfect fantasy with imperfect reality.

I have been on many, many imperfect trips. But as imperfect as they were, they were still better -- far better -- than all the theoretical perfect trips I didn't actually take. There is never a "right time." We can sit around and wait for the "right time" forever. The "right time" is fiction.

"Go small, go simple, go now," say world cruisers Larry and Lin Pardey, who have been ocean voyaging since the 70s. My own version of that motto, applied to motorcycle touring, might be something like, "keep it cheap and hit the road."


The Black Bag

The Black Bag is my one key piece of equipment. It is no accident that I use a picture of it as the header of this blog, nor is the capitalization arbitrary. It is not just a black bag; it is THE Black Bag. It is emblematic of my travel philosophy. All I need to do is grab the Black Bag, along with a change of socks and underwear, and I'm ready for an adventure.

A few of the most important contents:

  • A bottle of Excedrin. I try to never be without this. If you've ever been sick while traveling, you know how miserable it can be. I get terrible headaches (especially when I forget to eat) and the only thing that gives me any relief is that combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine.
  • A toothbrush, dental floss, a pack of tissues, nail clippers and tweezers. A minor problem like a hangnail or something stuck between your teeth can drive you to the verge of insanity when you're on a trip and can't take care of it.
  • A comb and a hairbrush. When I stop to eat, get gas or check into a hotel, taking just a couple of seconds to clean up slightly is helpful. When I look like a scruffy, unkempt, disheveled bum I'm less likely to get prompt, courteous service.
  • A pair of sunglasses.
  • A bottle opener. (You can see it in the picture.) It's a souvenir from the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau. I picked it up during a brewery tour. Ever been caught without a bottle opener? That can be aggravating. People get mighty creative when they're desperate.
  • A couple of safety pins. These can be amazingly useful in a variety of situations.
  • A battery-operated electric beard and mustache trimmer. I figured out a long time ago that it's much easier to keep my facial hair trimmed than it is to try to actually shave every single day, especially when I'm on the road.
    Shampoo, deodorant and bath soap. Not every motel offers these and most campgrounds never do.
  • A Leatherman multi-tool and a Swiss Army Knife. (Unless I'm going to be traveling by airline. Then I leave them at home.)
  • A small LED flashlight.
  • A pair of earplugs in a tiny protective case. These really save the day when you're trying to sleep in a noisy place.

It is the simple things like this, plus some good, solid, basic riding gear (capacious luggage, comfortable gloves etc.) and NOT the perfect $20,000 touring bike or two weeks of paid vacation, a large travel budget and an exotic itinerary that facilitate a rewarding trip. A great trip can be three days and $100. Just go. Just. Go.

Keep it cheap and hit the road. I'll see you out there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Preliminary Plan Begins to Form

Trish and I discussed it, took a few notes and clicked on a few links the other night and it looks like we've developed an early outline for The Big Ride.

We're talking about a three-week (ish) trip, with a focus on the parklands of Southern Utah.

We would begin by going northwest (through the Ozarks?), taking a full six to eight days to get to out there.

Then we'd spend an entire second week exploring places like Arches, Zion, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Monument Valley. During that time we could either establish a single base and do a series of hub-and-spoke trips or else change lodging a couple of times along the way, probably mixing in some moto-camping.

Then we'd head across the border into Arizona, stop at the Grand Canyon (preferably a seldom-visited part of it) and then proceed due east across Texas (maybe spending a night camping at Big Bend and later catching some live independent music acts in Austin) and Louisiana (maybe including a short side-trip into New Orleans) and finally back to Florida over the span of that third and final week.

View Larger Map

(The map above is interactive, not a screen cap.)

We'd strive to keep the daily average mileage relatively low -- it's about a 6,000-mile route, so at 21 days that would give us about 300 miles/day, with an occasional 400-mile or 450-mile day here and there (when the weather's nice and the road and traffic conditions are easy etc.) plus a couple of zero-mile "break days" as well.

We'd stick almost entirely to secondary highways and remain well off the beaten path as much as practical. We would maximize opportunities for unexpected diversions and be open to schedule changes when things caught our interest. We'd try to make lots of time for checking out museums, historical markers and exhibits and weird roadside attractions. We'd take brewery tours, hike, eat at unusual local restaurants (NO NATIONAL CHAINS) and allow serendipity to guide us on a largely improvisational kind of journey between flexible objectives.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Short But Nearly Perfect Ride

As much as I love cross-country rides, the local jaunts do have a couple of advantages.
  1. They require minimal planning and preparation -- you can just walk out the front door and go.
  2. You don't have to pack gear for a wide range of possible weather conditions, from wet to dry and hot to cold.
  3. You don't need to schedule your life around them; there is no need to request time off from work or have the Post Office hold your mail.
Today's officially stated objective was to ride to the "U-Pick" strawberry patch about ten miles from our house and harvest ourselves enough fruit to keep Trish busy for the next few days making strawberry pie, strawberry tarts, strawberry jam, strawberry pancakes etc.

The ride itself was wonderful -- the route took us down two of the prettiest roads in Seminole County: Highway 426 through the Little Big Econ State Forest and Florida Avenue south of Lake Jesup.

Trish on Florida Avenue.

The ride was wonderfully scenic and the weather couldn't possibly have been nicer. Although lots of other motorcyclists were also out enjoying this fine March day, traffic overall was light. We rode past horse farms and cattle pastures, past signs advertising homemade pottery and warning drivers to watch out for deer and gopher tortoises, smelling fresh-cut grass and orange blossoms.

But then (as always) came the unexpected development: the patch was closed -- fenced off and chained up.

With a laugh and a shrug, Trish realizes that our mission has gone awry.

One of the things that I love so much about Trish -- and one of the most important, primary and fundamental reasons why I would consider embarking upon an epic long-distance ride with her -- is that she has an amazing ability to roll with sudden changes, to improvise, to adapt, to relax and enjoy herself when events do not unfold as intended. While some (many? most?) would pout, whine, complain, fuss, sulk, pitch a fit, throw a tantrum, fly off the handle or generally be a pain when such cracks, puddles and craters in the pavement of life appear, Trish never loses her perspective. She just smiles, makes a joke and alters course.

Not getting bent out of shape about things, she once told me, is her mutant superpower. I have learned to embrace her motto, which is, "It'll Be Fine."

So we turned around and headed back to Geneva. The ride back home was as delightful as the ride out there had been. In the driveway she high-fived me and I gave her a kiss. I can think of worse ways to spend a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

A Long-Overdue Repair

Well, Pancho's clutch finally gave out. It began with a gradually worsening sticky-slippy feeling but then it deteriorated until it finally became difficult -- nearly impossible -- to shift gears in the conventional manner. I was still able to speed-shift once I was moving along at a brisk pace, but getting started from a standstill required accelerating slowly and cautiously . . . totally unacceptable in real-world traffic situations.

The ride to the dealership in DeLand was, to put it succinctly, terrifying. (The greatest obstacle was the steep driveway ramp; if I didn't carry enough momentum through the 90-degree turn to carry me up the incline, I would get stuck since I could not roll on the throttle rapidly. But I made it.) Once that challenge had been overcome, however, the next grim specter to confront was the looming price tag. Doing a complete clutch rebuild was going to cost so much that I seriously considered buying a new bike. Then again, I had already invested a great deal of time and money in getting the Suzuki modified and configured just exactly the way I liked it, so I did not relish the idea of starting that whole process all over again. Anyway, nearly ten years and more than 126,000 miles isn't bad for the factory-original clutch, so I guess it's not such a bad deal.

By the time they were done, I had a new clutch, a new master clutch cylinder, a new slave clutch cylinder and a new clutch fluid line -- all of which look oddly clean and shiny compared to the weather-worn, battle-scarred rest of the bike. Now I'm hoping this fix means I can hang on to Pancho at least into 2012. I know a replacement is ultimately inevitable, but I'm hoping to put that off as long as possible -- maybe even long enough to collect all 48 states.