Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time


Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 10

Riding the TAT we’d been in rural areas for quite some time.  But the deeper we ventured into Mississippi, we began to notice that we’d entered another level of rural and got the feeling that we had really passed into an era where time may have stopped for a while.

On the gravel, we found remnants of old farms and homesteads.  It was a little mesmerizing riding through this part of the country.  You could really get the feeling of old-time farming and people scratching a living from farmland carved from the thickly wooded earth.  Each farmer cutting down trees by hand and pulling the stumps with horses or oxen.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Then suddenly, the farms disappeared.  Fields gave way to forests once again.  Forests partially relented and gave way to water.  We were in the true wetlands of Mississippi.  When I was a kid, we called these places swamps.  We weren’t in a swamp, we were in the true definitions of wetlands.  The swamps of my childhood were a smelly, litter infested, mud and still water mess.  These were different.

Green and brown never mixed in such symmetry.   The brown water was tinged with green and rolled lazily past the shores.  Trees sprouted from the depths of the water on roots that gave the trees a “standing on tip-toes” look.  The roots arched from the water forming a triangular base from which the tree trunk sprouted.  Although they provided a platform out of the water for the tree trunk, the moss-covered roots reached away from the base and dove into the water.  A clear sign that the tree needed water to survive.  These rounded tubular roots were a natural straw, feeding the ever-growing trees life-giving nutrients and fluids.    It was a great example of the circle that is life, be it human or otherwise.

We stopped to take a few pictures of this natural wonder and in the 30 minutes that we were taking pictures, not a single soul passed by.  We were enjoying our frozen moments, but we had to get moving in order to make it to the Arkansas border for the day.

Before we knew it, we had transitioned into back onto hard surfaced roads and farms once again began made began dotting the landscape.  Most were fairly large and crossing from one to the next took some time.  We had passed several and as we rounded a corner and headed down a straight stretch of road, we came across a somewhat immovable object.  There was a very large animal standing in the middle of the road.

Tracy had already ridden by the large animal but the rest of us were stuck behind.  Kim saw it before I did and said into her communicator, “Oh look, there’s a cow in the road.”   I paid more attention than I had been and sure enough, there was a very large animal standing in the middle of the road.  I muttered into my comm back to Kim, “Um Kim, that’s not a cow, it’s a bull.”  “Oh” was the somewhat unimpressed response.  But the bull wasn’t going anywhere fast and he was in a somewhat testy mood.  He stood his ground and stared directly at us.

Somewhat surreal, in a fenced field beside the road, a group of cows and calves stood at rapt attention watching and waiting to see what might happen.  While the cows watched from the side of the road, the bull watched us and we watched the bull.  We yelled at him and revved our engines, but still he remained unmoved.  Now we were stuck.  What could we do to get this bull’s attention and make him move?  After a lot of shouting and revving of engines, I decided that we had to do something different.  What could we do?  There was only one thing left to do.  I reached over to my handlebar and gave my NH approved street legal horn a blast.  Said horn was of the rubber bulb type normally associated with little children’s bicycles.

After about the 6th “honk”, the bull slowly walked to the side of the road and stared into the brush.  MaryLee took off in a flash and was past.  Kim and I revved our engines, I engaged the clutch and…  stalled my bike.  Great!  I immediately pushed the starter button and… silence.  My battery was now dead, it had given up but we hadn’t.  I kick started the bike furiously and it caught on the fifth or sixth kick and we were off.

With the bull facing to the right we rushed to the left side of the road and we were quickly past.  Not happy with trespass, the bull immediately turned left and started chasing us!  He followed for about 50 yards and then stopped.  But in the end, I guess he felt had to show his bull chivalry and put on a show for the cows who had been watching.

With the bull dispatched, the next item on the agenda was to try to find a replacement battery for my KTM.  I thought to myself, “Oh great, we’re out in the wilds of Mississippi.  Where are we going to find a motorcycle shop and better still, one that is familiar with KTMs.   As we trundled on, I resigned myself to kick starting my little KTM each time we stopped.

We hadn’t been back on the road for more than an hour when Kim called through the communicator, “Look on your left!”  I didn’t see anything and motored on.  She said “Turn around, there’s a KTM shop on the left!”  Amazed, I said, “What?  Did you say that there was a KTM shop?”  “Yes!” somewhat loudly she responded, “turn around we’re going to pull in.”

I made a very rapid U-turn and sure enough, it was a combination farm store and motorcycle shop, complete with KTMs!  I couldn’t believe our luck.  I walked to the back of the store to the parts counter and asked them if they had a battery for a KTM 250XCF-w.  Sure as heck, they did.  They also had oil, filters and other miscellaneous parts that would come in handy.  While I waited for the other parts I wanted, little did I know that Tracy had taken the battery, had it installed and I was ready to go.  Wow, he had done that in the stifling heat and had never said a word about it.  I was so grateful, I didn’t know what to say other than thank you.  True friends are amazing.  With a new battery in place, the bike fired right up and we were back on the road and hightailing it to our rest stop for the evening, a moored riverboat that was also a casino.  The best part, only about $40 a night.

As we motored on towards the casino, we decided that the heat was too much and we needed to stop get into some air conditioning and quench our thirsts.  We found a small roadside market and went inside.  There we met some of the nicest people.  One gentleman came over and sat down at our table and asked us where we were from.  We told him a little about our trip and he told us about himself, his family and his farm.  I was a great little chat, and I think he wanted to invite us over to his house for dinner, but just couldn’t get that part out.

It was just as well, as we’d walked into the market, there on the counter were two large gallon jars filled with picked pigs lips and pickled pigs feet.  Help yourself.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to try that delicacy.  But others had enjoyed it because both jars were only partially filled.

Having had a nice chat and cooled of in the air conditioning, we walked outside once again into the thick and muggy air.  Kim was just finishing off her Coke when she decided that her “cool vest” had dried out.  These vests are made to cool by being immersed in water and then as you move through the air, the water evaporates and cools you.  “No worries”, I said, and quickly readied my hydration system to cool Kim off.  One of the nice things about my hydration system is that it keeps the water fairly cold, especially when it had been filled to the brim with ice cubes that morning.

Before she could say anything, I had the hydration system going and ice cold water was shooting out at her.  At first I don’t think she knew what to do.  Be angry or be happy that she was being sprayed with ice cold water.  Luckily for me, she liked it more than the initial shock and ultimately asked me to spray her all over.  But I must tell you, when the water first hit her, her expression was priceless.  Surprise, dread and relief all at the same. I was a wonderful sight and one that Tracy caught on film.  It is one of my keepsakes from the trip that she and I now both enjoy.

A couple of hours later, we were pulling into the parking lot with our dusty and dirty little machines.  We parked in front and went inside to the front desk outside of the casino.  After about 15 minutes, we had our rooms and headed to the bikes to get our gear.  We asked the doorman where we should put our bikes and he said, “Leave them right there, We’ll keep an eye on them for you.”  Wow, we’d never been treated like that and after gathering our gear to go to our rooms, we left the filthy bikes next to the sparkling clean limousines.    What a great scene!

Even better was our walk to our rooms.  To get there, we had to walk through the casino.  With people sitting at tables and at slots, we “moseyed” our way though.  Some people were dressed to the nines and we had our own attire.  Dusty riding pants and pressure suits were our wardrobe and they created a bit of a surreal picture.  I just had to stop to take a picture of Kim.  It came out wonderfully with Kim’s bright smile and dusty gear providing an amazing contrast to the well dressed people, flashing lights and ringing bells.

We’d had a long day, and it was time to turn in for a good nights rest.  For tomorrow, we would make our way into Arkansas and start another hot humid day on the TAT.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 9

With Tracy’s pannier repaired we were once again underway on the TAT.  The day had been filled with enchantment and excitement and we wondered what other treats the TAT could drum up on this day.  It wasn’t long before we would get a taste of some of the twists and turns of the TAT.  Literally.

We found ourselves on a gravel road somewhere in Tennessee.   The joy of travel sort of overwhelmed us and we just decided to go the way we thought we should be going instead of taking the time to properly assess where we were.  What else could happen on this day’s journey?  As the TAT wandered and snaked its way westward, we found that it still had a few tricks.

As we made our way, I guess we zigged when we should have zagged.  Suddenly we seemed to be making a lot of turns when the route sheet said we should have been going straight.  We had become wanderers instead of travelers and that was ok with us.  Winding roads changed from gravel to asphalt and back to gravel.  Soon we were pretty much lost but we were having fun.

We guessed where we were and turned left onto a gravel road.  Shortly thereafter, we came upon a wooden bridge without guardrails of any kind and we decided it was worth a try.  Boards laterally placed on beams comprised the base with with three rows of boards running along its length for each tire track.  It was an easy crossing of a lazy stream and it sort of represented the kind of day we were now having.  Easy going.  We thought, what the heck let’s go and see where it led.

The road snaked through a short section of forest and then into an open field.  Soon we found ourselves at a farm house with a gate at the end of the road.  Wow, we had not been on a road, but we had been riding someone’s long driveway!  A woman came out of the house and made it clear that we were on her property and she’d like us to leave.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

We said we were sorry for trespassing on her property and soon she calmed down.  We told her we were riding the TAT and told her a little about it.  She said that we weren’t the only ones to ride down her driveway without permission and asked us to tell all those TAT riders that they should keep off her property.  Well I guess we weren’t that far off course then.  All those TAT riders on her property?   We must not be that far off course then.  We finalized our apologies and rode back the way from which we had come.

Soon we were back on the trail and going in the right direction.  The roads were good to excellent and we were once again having a lot of fun, wicking it up a bit through some pretty rural areas.  Tracy and Mary Lee had the need for speed more than Kim and I did and soon we had nothing but their dimming dust trail to follow.

But Kim and I were not worried, we knew they would stop and wait for us at some intersection ahead.  We were enjoying ourselves and took our time dawdling along.  The road was covered with a thin layer of pea gravel on top of some very hard dirt.  Not super challenging, but enough to make the bike move around underneath you a bit.  Kim was doing great and she was merrily chugging her way along and I was just as happy to follow in her wake and take in the sights.

About ten minutes after we lost sight of them, we once again found Tracy and Mary Lee.  Tracy’s bike was facing the wrong way, parked in a shallow ditch at the side of the road.  Mary Lee’s bike was on the correct side of the road but sat in the middle of her travel lane.  The two of them stood standing at the side of the road and they looked like they were in conference.  They stood shoulder to shoulder, looking across the road hands gesturing as if explaining some exciting event.

Kim pulled over and stopped beside them both.  I on the other hand went past them and pulled off to the side of the road and walked back towards them.  Now I could see that Kim was in discussion with Tracy and MaryLee.  All were animatedly chatting at a level that did not allow me to hear what was being said.  When I arrived at the group, they told me that MaryLee had just crashed but was OK.  That’s strange, I thought to myself.  Mary Lee’s bike is parked on the road and Tracy’s bike is in the ditch, but MaryLee crashed?  Hmm….

They proceeded to tell us the whole story.  It was a minor crash and Mary Lee’s bike had escaped mostly unscathed.  The bike and MaryLee had only picked up a few scratches in the incident.  The only remnants of her fall were some shallow gouges in the pea gravel.

I was amazed at Mary Lee’s enthusiasm.  She had just crashed and was relating the incident more like a war story than something that had just happened.  One thing we learned about MaryLee, she did not do anything half way.  She either went for it all out, or didn’t do it.

It turned out that she too had her own little secret (to me anyway).  MaryLee is the first Woman’s Downhill Bicycle World Champion and she knows how to ride bikes (obviously)!  She was also an Olympic Nordic skier and has retained her competitive spirit and drive throughout her life.  Every time Tracy wicked it up a bit, MaryLee was right on his tail, on all sorts of terrain.  Her spirit is indeed impressive, but she was fairly new to motorcycling and at the speeds she sometimes traveled at, I feared for her safety during parts of the ride.

But Mary Lee was unfazed from her little get off and she was raring to go. All that was left of her crash was a small spattering of pea gravel and some marks in the road.  She was ready to go and so were we.  So once again, we hopped aboard our little machines and headed toward new trails.

The TAT was once again going to deliver special sights, sounds and smells.  The trail squirmed and twisted its way southward leading us towards Mississippi.  With the southerly turn, the temperature started to soar even higher.  It was well over 100 degrees F, and the humidity was unbearable.  It became apparent that we would soon need to stop to hydrate and rest.

Passing through a small town, we arrived at the Olive Hill Store.  Inside it was cool so we purchased some drinks and decided to stay a while.  The proprietors for the day were a pair of 16-17 year olds talking about things that kids their age discuss, while apparently running the store.  Soon a friend of theirs came in and the two girls talked about their friends while their male acquaintance passed judgment on the girls friends.  It seems that small towns are the same the world over, people just being people.

After our brief respite, we returned to the bikes for some more heat, humidity and amazing sights.  Riding along, it soon became apparent we were getting to places where not many people go and time slows down.  It seemed we were going back in time and we were willing time travelers to this very special part of the TAT.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 8

A narrow gravel road greeted us shortly after we got back on the TAT.  Sunlight beamed through the trees and lit a sparkling path before us.  It was like nature was putting on a little light show for us, egging us on to go further and faster along the TAT.  The beauty and the excitement got the best of all of us but Tracy and I were the first to succumb to the enticing TAT.  It sparkled our eyes and whispered to us sweetly. Enjoy this as much as you can for it may not be here forever.

For a short while, Tracy and I apparently lost our minds and we raced along, dust rising in our trail with the sun flashing through the green canopy like a golden strobe light.  It was a mesmerizing environment and somehow time stopped.  We had become as one with our surroundings.  I knew we were moving at a rapid pace but the sense of speed was gone.  The feel from my fishtailing bike in the soft gravel only made me feel more part of the environment.  As the bike slowly swayed back and forth beneath me, I imagined being part of a school of fish.  I followed the swaying tail of the bike in front of me, and sped forward trying to keep up with my fellow school member on a stream of gravel,  not water.    I knew something was propelling me.  It was not fins, but the fire from within the bike as well as the fire inside me.  Ultimately we came to a “T” in the road where we were forced to stop and the magic moments were no more.  But we both exchanged knowing smiles, we both knew that we had been enchanted by this particular section of the TAT.  The ladies of our group, apparently much smarter than us, caught up to us at the T junction.  Tracy and I just smiled but I know the ladies knew we had been enchanted and our little escapade was a joyous event for Tracy and I.  We sat at the junction for a brief time and told MaryLee and Kim how much fun we had just had.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Our little jaunt over, it was time to get going.  As we rode the narrow gravel, we started seeing the first signs of water crossings.  Small slabs of concrete had been poured over narrow creek beds.  Most were less than 100 feet wide with a one inch deep flow of water lazily crossing half the width of the concrete.  We straight lined most of them and before long, we got cocky.  Once again, we started enjoying ourselves and Tracy and MaryLee quickly vanished into the distance while Kim and I dawdled along enjoying the green canopy that surrounded us.

I had almost forgotten about the our travelling companions when we rounded a corner and started down an incline.  There in front of us lay Tracy’s bike on its side.  A downtrodden looking couple stood and gazed down at the machine which seemed to be taking a nap in the very shallow water.  It was a sorry sight.  They both stood there for a while, a bit dazed about the whole event.

Tracy, a veteran rider of more than 30 years fell off his bike in less than an inch of water?  How could that happen?  I quickly got my answer as I stopped and dismounted my bike to assist.  As I hurried over to them, I stepped into the tiny stream and almost ended on my backside.  This was no ordinary water crossing.  This water crossing was over a layer of stone, not concrete.  An on that stone was an almost invisible very slippery and slimy algae.  No wonder Tracy fell off!  I have walked on skating rinks in my shoes before and I can honestly say that this rock was far more slippery.

Now the three of us stared at Tracy’s stricken machine while Kim stood at the side of the crossing taking pictures.  For posterity!  Surely three of us could easily pick up a 650cc motorcycle!  But it was not to be.  Each time we reached down to pick it up, we started scrambling for footing.  This algae was slimy!  So in a concerted and coordinated manner we proceeded to pick the bike up.  After a couple of tries, we were able to get it back on two wheels.  Now all we had to do was push it across the water crossing.

Very carefully, the three of us slowly pushed the bike to the opposite side of the water crossing.  We decided that we had better get the other three bikes across as well.  So Tracy and I agreed that we would take the ladies’ bikes across the water crossing ourselves.  It wasn’t that the ladies were not good riders, it was the thought of either of them going down on this slippery rock would not be pleasant.  But how to do it?

Riding with legs outstretched like outriggers, Tracy slowly rode MaryLee’s bike across.  Then it was my turn, first Kim’s machine and then mine.  But it must have been a real sight watching two middle aged men taking the bikes across the crossing.  With only an inch of water, we must have looked like we were 4 year old beginners.  It was not a difficult task, but it sure was a slow one.

When we had all four bikes across, it was time to inspect Tracy’s bike for damage.  His right pannier was damaged significantly.  It was bent backwards and downwards and its perfect rectangular shape was now a very interesting trapezoid.  The lid lay hanging at the side of the pannier but it had retained its shape.  Once we flipped the lid over the top of the pannier, two separate gaping isosceles triangles appeared under the lid leaving the contents of the pannier in the elements.

We would have to make a field fix if Tracy was to be able to use his pannier for the remainder of the trip.  I got out my toolkit, but there wasn’t really anything that would help this mangled pannier.  So we’d have to improvise and improvise we did.  We roamed the area and found a fist size rock.  That ought to do the trick I thought as Tracy prepared to do his best McGyver impersonation.

With a little pounding and tugging, we were able to get the pannier to be rectangular enough to be able to close the lid with the assistance of some good old duct tape.  That stuff is great for everything!

After about an hour at and on the side of the trail, Tracy’s pannier was sealed and we were once again on the TAT motoring towards the evenings destination.  Little did we know it but we were to have another challenge that day and let me say that this challenge was no bull!

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 7

The following morning, the sun rose quickly and immediately heated the muggy air to a grey haze.  We finished a quick breakfast and headed out to the TAT once again.  We were quickly back on the TAT and were greeted by narrow twisting roads under a lush green canopy from the surrounding trees.  The traffic was non-existent leaving us to enjoy the swoopy corners and somewhat cooler air.

Again I was riding at the tail of the group, and clouds of dust rose from the gravel track.  But it didn’t diminish the pleasure that the TAT was gifting to us.  I watched from the back of the pack as Tracy faded into the distance and MaryLee and Kim played a kind of moto tag with each other.  MaryLee would lead the way and Kim would sprint up to her until the dust began to get too heavy and faded back.  I was enjoying the playful component of the ride immensely.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

But after about an hour, the verdant canopies began to part and we found ourselves in farm country.  Green fields contrasted with golden fields of grain.  As we rode along, we saw evidence that the locals were working the fields to get the crops of grain in.    We were used to seeing the huge plastic rolls of hay that are widely seen in New England.  But the stacks we were seeing were vastly different.

Small piles were neatly stacked along side each other.  The stacks consisted of what appeared to be individually bound bundles tossed in opposing directions making for a tightly bundled and geometrically shaped pile.  We had never seen stacking like this and to us, it didn’t seem to be prepared by the large farm equipment that roams some of the fields back home.  But something was stacking these small works of art dotting the fields.  Who or what could be doing it?

It wasn’t long before we got our answer.  As we turned from one small road onto another, there in a field directly in front of us was a pair of beautiful harnessed draft horses.  As draft animals, they were huge and they dwarfed their owner who stood close by.  Clad in jeans and a shirt topped off by a large brimmed black hat, a young Amish man watched as we approached and ducked down seemingly trying to hide.  So it was him who had been making these beautiful stacks of grain.

Tracy  stopped to take a picture and the farmer insisted that he not to take one, so as requested, Tracy put away his camera, said hello and rode off.  As we continued our way through the county, it became clear that we were in fact in an Amish enclave.  Good sized farms were all about but suddenly I noticed something a bit odd.  At the roadside, there were no telephone poles and no wires running into the farms.  They had no electricity!

Kim’s uncle is a farmer and we know how hard and thankless a job farming can be.  Many, many hours are spent in the fields trying to bring a crop in and/or taking care of the animals.  It has to be one of the most difficult and exhausting jobs in the world.  And then it dawned on me.  As difficult as it was to be a farmer, they often use electricity and power tools to accomplish the day’s tasks.  Now take away the electricity and all the power tools and you have the life of an Amish farmer.  It makes you think about how committed those people are to their beliefs.  Forsaking even the most rudimentary of power equipment, they still carry on the difficult day’s work without complaint.  It truly is an amazing act of faith to maintain such a life.

It also made me think about the little works of art that were the grain piles.  No farm equipment making 10 foot rolls of hay were being used.  The Amish used their own two hands and made each bundle individually.  When you looked at the size of some of the fields, I felt a deep admiration for those people who toil so hard, while the tools to make their lives easier went unused.  Their faith was their tool and they used it well to maintain a hard but appreciated life.   Witnessing this, I thought to myself that to be Amish, you have to be a very stout person.  Very stout indeed.

The enclave was fairly large and it took us about 10 minutes to pass through it.  Along the way, we passed one of their well known plain black buggies.  Pulled by a single horse, the buggy made its way along the road, with its lantern headlights and tail lights.  Two women sat in the buggy, one middle aged and another old.  I could just make out their black clothes and bonnets as I rode by.

It made quite a contrasting scene.  Immediately in front of me were two women in a single horse drawn wooden carriage.  While just ahead, I could see two women riding on small horses of steel and aluminum that far eclipsed the power of the larger single horse buggy.  Riding through this little enclave, really helped me put things into perspective and open my eyes to a different way of life.  A way of life that could be more physically demanding, but for them, more meaningful.

Soon after passing the buggy, once again the fields started to fade and we found ourselves traveling through very sparsely populated land.  The road narrowed and the trees closed in.  The road was now barely large enough to fit a single car, but it was nice to be in the shade at times.  What structures there were on this road were very old and most abandoned.  Wooden planks of siding sagged from the buildings, age having long since taken the remnants of colorful paint away.  But in their grey hued glory, they told a story of remote living and of farms that had long since come and gone.

We lazily dawdled along in the oppressive heat under the canopy of green leaves and grey branches.  At times, the gravel road gave way small concrete water crossings an inch or two deep.  At first they were no more than 50 feet across, but they soon got wider and more treacherous.  You might ask how a couple of inches of water might constitute a treacherous hazard.  How could water on a hard surface only one or two inches deep cause any problems?  We’ll talk about that in the next chapter.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 6

We knew that to find some cool air we’d have to get off the TAT for a while.  So we found the nearest paved road and hightailed it towards the nearest town.  Along the way we found a small marina perched on the side of a narrow green river.  A dirt parking lot greeted us with a single large willow tree drooping in the heat.  We parked the bikes under its branches to get out of the sun.

As we walked towards the marina, the river’s yellowish green water sluggishly churned under an old rusted metal railroad bridge.  The water looked to be moving as slow as we were, both of us slowly making our way towards our final destinations.  We walked towards the marina boat house hoping to find somewhere to could cool off.  Unfortunately there weren’t any apparent public areas.  The few people at the marina looked at us but didn’t utter a word.  We must have been quite a sight in our dusty, sweaty gear with our riding pants open at every vent.  We smiled at the people, said hello but other than a short hi, there was no other response.  It was clear that this place wasn’t going to provide us a respite from the heat so we returned to the bikes and got under way again.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Luckily for us, about 5 miles down the road, we came to a small gas station with a little restaurant and… air conditioning!  We were elated.   Kim and I needed fuel, but the cool air beckoned  and we just couldn’t wait to get inside.  We almost immediately ripped our gear off and rushed towards the restaurant.  It was one of those 3 Stooges moments, each of us racing to get our gear off and looking at each other.  Who was going to make it into the cool air first?  If we had all gotten to the door at the same time, I could have seen me pulling Tracy backwards while I clawed at the door while just as I got to the threshold, MaryLee would jump on my shoulders knocking me to the ground and plunge for the entry way… until Kim would have grabbed MaryLee by her ankle and pulled her from the entry.  And so it would continue until one of us had established our supremacy and fell through the door with a triumphant yell with the others hot on their heels.

Once inside, it was literally a breath of fresh air.  Cold air blew from not one, but two air conditioners.  So cold that Kim got goosebumps from being chilled; she was quite happy with that result.  As we surveyed the rest of the scene, we found pure country.  The gas station part of the store had all the little things that a local small town family owned store might have for its residents.  Gum, fishing lures, comic books, pliers, firewood; you name the little market had it.

The restaurant was even better.  The walls were covered with farm implements and the tools of farming.  Fastened to the wall just above our table was a horse collar that had been converted into a mirror.  Next to it was an empty feed bag and next to that were a couple of scythes.  It was just a wonderful mix of eclectic farming implements used to make the place feel like all were welcome.  It was a terrific place to stop.

Settled at our table, we read from a paper menu filled with down home items like meatloaf with gravy, hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, potato salad, fries and chips and the like.  There was no fancy stuff here, just comfort food.  Having been cooled off, we were ready to eat.  No sooner than we sat down, than almost as by magic a waitress appeared and took our order.  Our requested food arrived in what seemed like no time and we got down to the business of eating.

By now we were very hungry and ready to shovel the tasty food down.  But in this cool air, none of us was in a rush to finish and get back into the heat and humidity.  We even took the time to order and eat dessert!  By the time we were done, our 30 minute lunch had turned into an hour and a half meal.  Ultimately we could delay no longer, and we ventured back out into the heat.

Once outside, we returned to our bikes and the girls decided that they’d had enough of the heat for the day.  A suggestion was made to leave the TAT for the rest of the day and head towards the hotel at all due speed.  Normally, we’d want to spend as much time on the gravel as possible, but in these conditions, no-one objected.

As we prepared to mount our bikes, Kim found that she had a visitor and it looked like he wanted to get a drink too.  A three inch wide moth walked his way over the top of Kim’s gear and nestled himself (or herself) up against Kim’s water bottle.  It looked like he was settling in for the ride and slaking his thirst before we departed.  We tried to give him a little motivation to be on his way but he decided he wasn’t going anywhere but with us.  Ultimately, we had to remove the little guy by hand and send him on his way so we could get started towards the hotel.

Moth removed, we put on our gear and went to fuel up the bikes.  As we pulled up to the pumps, we noticed a small handwritten cardboard sign inside the pump proclaiming NO ETHANOL.  Wow, no ethanol!  In the US, no ethanol fuel is quite a find and is non-existent where we live in New Hampshire.  So with our small tanks, Kim and I proceeded to fill our bikes to the brim with the undiluted high octane fuel.  Little did we know that this one decision would have grave consequences on our ability to finish our TAT journey.

During lunch we had decided that we would take the shortest route back to the hotel due to the heat and humidity.  Once again it would be all pavement to the hotel at this late time of day.  But some fun times would still be had before we arrived at our evening’s destination.

Although it was really, really hot, we were having fun on the lonely twisting roads.  We were not on powerful bikes, but it was still a joy to be on a lightweight machine swooping back and forth, playing with and on the curves.  Speeds and spirits were high until I rounded a corner and saw the unmistakable markings of a police cruiser.  I was about to grab the brakes but just beyond the cruiser sat another car parked next to the cruiser.  It was an orange Dodge Charger with Confederate stripes on the roof.

Wait a minute, flashed through my head, that’s not a real cruiser.  As I got closer, it was clear that it was not a real cruiser and the Charger was a replica of the General Lee from the old TV show Dukes of Hazzard.   Cool!!!  For this, I had to stop and the rest of the gang stopped to let me take pictures.  I was never a big fan of the TV show, but both replicas were really well done and I had to get a few pictures.  I placed the bike in front of both cars and snapped a couple of pictures as a remembrance of this nice chance encounter.

It was soon time for us to get underway and once again fortune smiled down on us.  Our route would take us across the Natchez Trace.  A brand new smooth ribbon of asphalt twisting through a forest.  It was a two lane road with broad grass shoulders that made the whole road seem like a ride through a carefully manicured park.  The road was virtually deserted and once again we had a chance to play on the curves of the road without any traffic.  The heat of the day was almost forgotten as we swooped our way through lazy open sweepers, our group snaking lazily through the woods.

Once again I was tail end Charlie, but this time I wasn’t eating any dust and I was really enjoying the views as we made our way towards our hotel for the evening.  Even though we were on the pavement for another hour and a half, the time literally flew by and before we knew it we had arrived at our hotel for the evening.  We’d need to clean up a bit before dinner, but all of us were happy with what we’d done and where we’d been on this day.

Tomorrow would be another hot day, but we were undeterred, we were having a great time and with the next sunrise, we’d be on gravel most of the day.  We were psyched and with a little rest, we’d be ready to attack the TAT once again.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 5

Our brief night’s sleep was followed by a morning dawn of bright blue sky.  Although the sun had set on our first day’s ride, the heat of the previous day had never broken.  I stuck my head out the hotel door to sample the temperature and immediately a wall of heat and humidity streamed into the room.  It was already sweltering.

I walked back into the room and I guess that my face told the story.  Kim just looked at me and said “It’s sweltering isn’t it?”  I gave her the look that said yes and she smiled and just started to get ready to ride for the day.  We both stared at our dusty riding gear laying on a chair across from the bed.  Neither of us really wanted to put on all that gear in the sweltering heat.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

But the TAT was calling and the longer we waited, the higher the temperature would climb.  So we put on our dusty gear and headed out for the day.  Tracy and MaryLee were ready and we wasted little time in getting underway.  A quick stop to pick up some fuel and a little meddling with the GPS and we were soon on the TAT.

After only about 15 minutes on pavement, we were once again back on the gravel of Tennessee passing verdant fields and small family farms.  On today’s ride we would not see any of the massive commercial farms, only those run by enclaves of dedicated families who tilled the earth to bring us the food we eat each day.  As we rode, proud but weary buildings told stories of those people who toiled each day to scratch a living from the earth.  Some once proud very large barns had now given their all and leaned precariously or fell completely under the sweltering sun.  Patches of once bright paint clung to the barn board that was now grey with age and withered with time.

Trucks from the 1950s and 1960s with their dulled paint and pieced together bodies sat side by side with newer expensive dual wheeled, closed cockpit air conditioned tractors.  Each of these tools had its role, and each would be used until it could no longer give any more.  Then like an old animal, it would be put out to pasture to lay in the sun, watching the seasons pass until it was no more.

We were only in this farmland for a couple of hours but with each passing farm scene I could see that each was but a chapter in the very beautiful story of how nature and man are inextricably intertwined.  Viewing them made me feel very small and the world very large.  Having taken all this in, I was awed by how unbelievably important our farmers are to us and how little we think of them and fail thank them each day.

It was now getting hotter with both the earth the riders baking in the sun.  It was time to do something to get some relief.  Anticipating some heat, Kim and I had brought cool vests for extreme heat.  It was now or never and we put them to good use.  Cool vests are vests that you wet down and then wear close to your body.  As you move through the air, the vest retains the water but allows a small amount to evaporate cooling its wearer.

Both Kim and MaryLee were really suffering in the heat so I gave mine to MaryLee and Kim put hers on.  Tracy and I could almost see immediately that the girls were more comfortable and the vests were doing their job.  Under our riding gear, Kim and I were also wearing pressure suits.  Pressure suits are like jackets made of mesh with molded in plastic armor.  Not ideal for pavement but sufficient for gravel roads.  Kim and I decided that we would offload our jackets and ride with the pressure suit as our jackets.  Anything to get some cooling air past our bodies.

Lighter and somewhat cooler than when we started the day, we rode along taking in the farms and the green countryside.  As we rounded a corner we approached a barn with a pond in front.  Not unusual you might think, and as to barn there was nothing unusual.  It was the pond that was a bit different.  Inside the pond, a big black blob appeared to be moving slowly back and forth.  What the heck could that be I thought to myself and as we got closer, we found that it was not a rock.  It was something far more interesting.  It was black with small splotches of white… and it was furry.  It was a cow standing belly high in the pond.

As we approached and ultimately passed, the cow looked at us impassively and merely got back to the business of cooling off.  Now I didn’t feel so bad.  No I wasn’t a wuss, no sir.  It was so hot that the cows were standing in the ponds to cool off.  That my friends is pretty hot.  Even though she had a leather jacket on, I did not give her any credit.  Some of us were out riding in the heat, and others of us were simply lounging around in their natural pools.

We continued riding gravel and found ourselves somewhat lost.  The TAT isn’t always that well marked and sometimes you just have to make a decision to go one way or the other until you can find the next section.  So as we mosey-ed along, we came to another gravel road that could have been the right one for this segment of the TAT.  The girls were pretty hot so Tracy and I went on ahead and scoped out the possible turn.  What we found was pretty cool.

We rode a section of rather loose rocky gravel enclosed by trees.  Branches of all sizes littered the road and there were some tree falls partially blocking the road as well.  We rode around the tree falls and branches enjoying the somewhat cooler air in the trees.  Ultimately, we ended up at a locked swinging gate that was supposed to barricade us from a wooden topped dam.  We could ride around the swinging gate, but at the other end of the dam was a tall chain link fence that we could not get around.

I walked across the dam taking some pictures of the dam itself and an apparent power station.  It must have been overly dry or they must not have needed the energy because although one side of the dam was full of water, the lee side of the dam was mostly dry.  A mostly dry river bed ran to an impressive building and large array of power lines, but no water was churning any generators.  It was a bit strange seeing all that engineering sitting idle while the supply of water it needed to produce electricity sat on the opposite side of the dam waiting its turn to go rushing through the generators and empty out into the river below.

Time passed very quickly during my little dam inspection and when I returned to the meet with the rest of the gang, it was clear that Kim was really suffering from the heat.  She was all flushed and she literally had to sit down to keep her head clear.  It was time to get into some cooler air pronto, so after we had plied Kim with water and recharged her cooling vest, we got under way to find some cool air and some food for our road worthy women.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 4

The increasing heat and humidity turned the once bright blue skies and surrounding air to shades of grey.   A murky haze surrounded us completely; so dense it appeared to be making everything sweat.  Little did we know it at the time, but each of the pictures we would take this day would have a washed out, grey hue.

Our initial riding section was to be through some dirt country lanes.  Plumes of dust were hurled skyward by each bikes tires.  Dust clouds slowly rose and as each bike passed, the dust became more intense.  As the fourth out of four riders, visibility was greatly reduced but it still didn’t dim my excitement about riding the TAT.

Our environment was beautiful.  Trees surrounded us from both sides and overhead.  We continued our ride thinking that the more we rode under the leafy canopies overhead, the cooler it would become.  But the heat was unrelenting and even as we rode in the shade, the temperature and humidity continued to rise.  I opened all the vents on my lightweight Goretex off-road gear, I an attempt to get some cooling air.  However, as the tail end Charlie of our group, the vents only let in the dust which rapidly transformed from its airborne state to a muddy goo inside the suit.  It was truly damned if you do or damned if you don’t situation.

It was beginning to become quite uncomfortable, but we were there to ride and we wanted to get the most from our adventure.  It just so happened that at this moment,the adventure was becoming more difficult.  So we continued our ride in the stifling heat and humidity taking brief stops here and there to drink some cool water.

As we were approaching one of those stops, I think the heat got to me.  Tracy, MaryLee and Kim had already pulled to the side of the road to have a drink and check the maps.  For some reason, I took this as an opportunity to do a bit of a fly by.  Coming off the corner and approaching the trio, I twisted the throttle and went flying by letting them eat a bit of my dust for a change.  Wooo….  Hoooo….  I thought as I passed them all.

However, my victory pass would be very short lived.  I turned the bike around and then pulled up behind them.  I turned the bike off and started to dismount.  As I alighted from the machine, I lost my balance and dropped the bike to the ground in an exceptional display of ineptitude.  Marvelous.  Sometimes the heat can do crazy things to you.  I scrambled to pick the bike up as quickly as possible using my best, “I meant to do that” look, but nobody was buying it.  They merely looked at me like an insolent little child and went back to cooling off and checking the map.

We decided it was time for some fuel, something to eat and the possibility for some air conditioning.  So we made our way through the canopies at greater speed hoping that we would soon come across a suitable stopping place.  After about an hour, we found a small gas station with an attached mini-mart and restaurant.  We had struck gold.  We pulled in and fueled up quickly.  We rolled our bikes away from the fuel pumps and quickly shed our outer riding gear.

Just as we were heading into the restaurant, a group of bikes pulled in, then another and still another.  We had arrived at a bike rally of sorts.  All different types of bikes were represented.  From sports bikes to cruisers to our dual sports bikes, they were all there.  We stopped and chatted about various topics and the types of bikes we were riding.  We would have chatted with everyone, but not everyone was human.  One of the riders had as his passenger, his small dog complete with goggles and skull cap.  It was a great meeting of riders on diverse types of machines.  But they were only there for fuel and while standing in the sun the heat was intense.  Before we knew it, they were all on their way.

Our conversations completed and wilting from the heat, it was time for cool air and some food.  We quickly made our way inside and the cool air was amazing.  As I stood looking at the menu, I realized how hot it really was.  Finally clear of all the covering gear, sweat poured from my head and into my eyes.  My under layer shirt was totally soaked and I could feel the rivulets of sweat pouring down my back and into my pants.  Being inside seemed only to intensify my awareness of how hot I had been.  I thought to myself that I might be eating this meal very slowly to extend the time I had in the cool dry air.  I didn’t want to hold everyone up, but I was really, really hot.

I needn’t have worried though.  As we sat at the table together eating our sandwiches, we exchanged knowing looks that indeed all of us were feeling the effects of the heat and sun.  There were only 40 trail miles left to go on the day’s ride, but we each knew it was 40 miles of dust, gravel, sun and heat that none of us wanted to continue in.  The temperature was well over 100 degrees and the humidity was unbearable.

We decided that although we probably only had about two more hours of trail riding to go, we’d stick to the pavement and head straight to our hotel and air conditioning.  Once we had eaten our sandwiches and hydrated ourselves, we put our gear back on and made for the hotel in Crossville, Tennessee.  There would be no gravel roads on this final leg, just smooth pavement where we could maximize our speed and reduce our exposure to the heat.

Thus ended our first full day on the TAT.  We had enjoyed our introduction, but we were rapidly learning that the TAT commanded respect in all aspects.  We’d been taught respect for the roads and trails, as well as environment in which we rode.  We knew that the TAT would provide some challenges, but we’d underestimated all of the types of challenges that the TAT could throw at us.  We were now well schooled, and with new awareness we readied ourselves for day two.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 3

We packed the truck quickly, cramming in all our gear and loading the two little KTMs into the bed of our little truck.   The passenger compartment had three occupants, one more than would be riding the TAT.   For the journey to Tennessee, we had Kim’s dad Dick along for the ride.  Dick would drop us off and then drive the truck back to New Hampshire after stopping to meet some relatives along the way.  It was a great deal.  Dick got some someone to chat and keep company with on the way down (and past) and we got free transportation of the truck back to New Hampshire.  It was a win/win situation for us both

Finally, we were ready to depart for Tennessee.  The pressure associated with the decisions surrounding the extra fuel tanks was over since it the design was done and anyway, we would have to live with it at this point.  The mood in the truck was pretty light as we all looked forward to things to come.  Kim and I could hear the TAT calling and Dick was ready to have a visit with the relatives.

The trip to Tennessee was pretty straight forward with no real issues.  As we made our way south, we passed through some areas that had just been struck by tornadoes and the damage looked pretty severe.  Light posts were bent at odd angles, house were leveled or portions were in shambles.  It gave us pause to think how lucky we are not to not usually have to worry such destructive displays of mother nature.  We may get the odd blizzard or two or lose power for a while, but at least our house would still be standing after the blizzard had passed.

We stopped along the way for some Bar-B-Que at a roadside stand and it was good.  We thought we must be getting closer to the south because you sure can’t get good Bar-B-Que in the north-east.  At about 7:00 P.M. we decided to call it quits on the driving for the day and got a cheap hotel.  Up early the next morning, we were raring to go.  The TAT awaited!  We quickly checked out and got back to the truck.  Good, there were still two bikes in the back, so we were good to go.  Soon back on the highway, we watched as we scooted past towns, rest areas and truck stops.  The music was on, there was some light chat and we were feeling good.

In case you don’t know it, if you’d like to see any of these pictures in full size, simply click on one and you will be taken to a full size gallery where you can page by each picture you’d like to view.

Before we knew it was lunch time and we needed to stop to get fuel.  Off at an exit that promised fuel, we found a mini-mart type gas station.  In scorching heat, I filled the truck up and as I was looking around, spotted this most amazing sign.  A smiling chubby pink pig in a chef’s hat leapt about and beckoned to us.  His recommendation, the Sweet Lips Diner; Come In & Pig Out!   

Well, this we had to see.  Once the truck was fueled, we headed just down the road a bit and there it was.  A long diner like you’d expect to see in a rural area.  A dirt parking lot surrounded it and it was packed.  We took that as a good omen and headed inside.  We were seated at wooden tables and served home cooked Bar-B-Que.  What do you know, the pig was right, the food was good and there was plenty of it.  We stuffed ourselves on the great Bar-B-Que and waddled our way to the door.  Our next stop would be Jellico and our long planned meeting with Tracy and MaryLee.

Back in the truck the time flew by.  Before we knew it, we had made it.  Just up ahead was the exit sign for Jellico, Tennessee and the hotel where we would meet Tracy and MaryLee.  We pulled off and there it was, our hotel for the evening, the meeting place and our departure point for our TAT journey.  It sat at the top of a small hill and as we pulled up the driveway, we saw two bikes.  Both with Alaska plates, Tracy and MaryLee were in the house!W

We registered at registration desk and picked up our keys.  As we were unpacking our gear, out came Tracy and MaryLee.  They were a great sight.  We hadn’t seen them in almost two years and here they were, ready to ride with us again on another adventure.  We were psyched.  We hugged and shook hands and had all the banter that good friends have when they haven’t seen each other in a while.  The excitement of seeing them again was multiplied by the excitement of the upcoming TAT journey. 

It was dinner time by the time we unpacked our gear and bikes from the truck and made it ready for packing on the bikes.  There was time for a few “group” photos and sooner than we imagined, it was starting to get dark.  Hunger overwhelmed excitement so we drove over to a small pizza joint and toasted our upcoming TAT journey with pizza and beer.  The excitement was palpable and each of us was a bit giddy at the thought of starting the ride for real.   We soon finished our dinner and headed back to the hotel.  We wanted to get an early start so we called it an early evening and racked out for the night excited by the thought that by daybreak, we would be on the TAT.

When we awoke the following morning, it was already very hot; like 85+ degrees hot.  You could cut the humidity with a knife and by the time the bikes were loaded, we were all somewhat overheated.  I filled my hydration system with ice cubes and cold water and hoped that they would last for a while.  I knew that water was going to be important.

We said our goodbyes to Dick and my little truck we were finally off.  We took a leisurely pace and the first part of the morning was mostly on pavement.  But as we wandered along, the sun rose and the air heated and stilted.  The horizon turned grey with hanging moisture, and seemingly our bikes cut their own wakes through the murky moisture.  It was as if we had an extra burden of pushing the laden air in front of us, each carving and then leaving our own wakes.  The heat was growing so intense that in our full riding gear it was almost unbearable for these four northerners.  We thought we might be somewhat unaccustomed to the southern humidity, but when we spoke to the locals, even they said it was overly hot.  Boy did we pick a tough time to ride. 

But as we entered the afternoon, things began to change to the better.  We left the pavement and got onto gravel, a place where we all felt more at home.  In addition, as we left the beaten track, we got into some wonderfully green and canopied lanes.  Immediately the air was a bit cooler and we were shaded from the intensity of the direct sun. 

Riding along was like being in a strobe lit verdant wonderland.  Bright flashes of sun briefly blinded us to the terrain ahead.  The view was then almost instantly replaced by wet, deep dark greens, soothing to the eyes and cooling to the body.  We knew it was hotter than Hell, but with the show presented before us none of us wanted, or dared, to stop.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 2

Time was indeed running out to complete our bike preparations.  Two similarly colored red unbreakable fuel containers lay on the concrete.  They were both supposed to be the same color but for some reason, one was bright red and the other was an organish red.   From the cold concrete, they stared at me like non-identical twins, begging me to take them along for the ride.  Oh well, at least we’ll be able to tell the two apart.  

I was in a bit of a panic to get them on the bikes; but how?  They were tall, slim and would be full of explosive gasoline.  I searched the lines of the bikes to try to figure out where I would fit two fairly large odd shaped canisters on a very small bike.  Normally, the back of the bike would be an ideal place for the fuel tanks, but that area would be consumed by our Giant Loop saddlebag crammed to the gills with our supplies for the trip.  There was no way that they were going to go on the front.  The front fender was only a couple of inches wide and lacked any real rigidity.  Besides, that space was already taken up with our spare tubes and tire tools. 

Where the heck was I going to put these absolute necessities?  I thought about manipulating the bracket a bit to mount it low and on the side of the bike. But the right side was consumed with the exhaust and the exhaust exit.  I wasn’t really keen on putting a fuel tank just forward of the hot exhaust and exhaust gasses.  The left side was available, perhaps I could put it there, with the bracket hanging the tank over the left side.  But the more I thought about it and looked at the actual position of the tank, the more I decided I didn’t like it.  I did not like it one iota.  As placed on the left side of the bike, it was in the perfect position to take the brunt of a fall.  We would be riding on unknown (to us) terrain, so the likelihood of dropping the bike onto a rock or gravel and piercing the plastic tank was a fair possibility.  I really wasn’t sure what to do. 

I admit, I was stymied for a few moments.  There really wasn’t any more space on the bike normally associated with where a fuel tank would be mounted.  Anger began to boil inside me for having not thought through this issue earlier and also for not being able to solve it correctly now.  It was one of those throw the wrench across the garage to feel better moments.

So as I stood in the garage, anger welling inside me, one of my fuel tank orphans stared at me from the concrete floor and the other waited patiently in my hand for a miracle solution.  Unfortunately none seemed imminent and the phone rang.  I put the tank I had in my hand on the tail of the bike and ran into the house to answer it.  It was a call about my real job and that didn’t make my mood any better.  

I finished the call as quickly as I could and hustled downstairs and into the garage.  When I got there I found a sight that changed me altogether.  There on the floor was the fuel tank that I had put on the back of the bike.  Lying next to it, was the plastic cap of the fuel tank broken into two large pieces.  I was mortified.  My concern about mounting the tank anywhere a direct impact was likely, was correct.  All I could then think about was Kim dropping the bike on the left side on a rock on the gravel.  Fuel spraying all over from a broken cap or a split in the tank as Kim lay trapped under the bike.  After seeing the cap lying on the garage floor in pieces, broken from a fall from about three feet on a non-moving bike, I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t mount the tank on the side of the bike.

If we were going to bring the extra fuel, it was clear that some sort of drastic measures would be necessary.  The tanks were designed to be used on ATVs and to be mounted upright.  Hmm… Could I mount them upright just behind the seat but behind the Giant Loop saddlebag?  It was this or nothing, and not having the extra fuel was out of the question.  So I proceeded to mount the tank in an awkward position, high but in the center of the bike furthest away from direct contact with the ground in the event of a drop or fall.  

It looked ridiculous.  Mounted straight up, rigid at full attention, the tank cried out for a better design.  But there was none to be had in such a short period of time due to my inattention.     Matched side by side, the two tanks stood on the bikes like sentries guarding the bikes and all the goods on them.  I felt foolish.  But it was the only way we were going to get extra fuel on the bike. 

In case you don’t know it, if you’d like to see any of these pictures in full size, simply click on one and you will be taken to a full size gallery where you can page by each picture you’d like to view.

I showed the mounting set up to some of my friends and some rightly chided me for the installation.  “I had to be kidding; Didn’t I know anything about center of gravity?”  He was right, the extra fuel weight would be up high and reduce stability.  But I did not have to fill the tanks completely to maintain a significant addition in range and in total the weight would be less than 15 pounds, tank and mount included.

Others offered non-tank solutions such as canteens filled with fuel held in panniers at the side of the front fuel tank or other similar suggestions, but I did not like other aspects of these suggestions and besides, we were out of time.  We needed to get going, Tracy and MaryLee were already on the road and headed towards Jellico, Tennessee for our meeting. 

It was time to load up the truck with our bikes and gear and head for Tennessee.  We only two days to make it to Tennessee in the truck and a total of two weeks (including the two days in the truck) to make it from there to New Mexico.  We’ll tell you how the trip went to Tennessee and the beginning of the ride in the next chapter.

Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 1

One of the mainstays of R2ADV is to suggest that by riding motorcycles all over the planet, you have the opportunity to meet new and interesting people, share and learn a bit about each other.  Well such is the genesis of our story to traverse of the Trans American Trail, better known as the TAT.  This journey to cross most of America actually began at a lodge in Alaska near Mt. McKinley.  We had made a quick stop for a bite to each and as we were walking back to our bikes, it was there that we met a couple who we had a wonderful conversation with. 

They had seen the New Hampshire license plates on our loaded bikes in the parking lot and wanted to talk about how our journey had been.  We chatted for about half an hour and told them that we often blogged about our trips if he wanted to see more.  They were excited and the man of the couple said, “We have a friend that rides motorcycles and he would love to meet talk to you.  Do you mind if we give him your email address?”  We said that we’d be happy to correspond with this new to be friend and the couple took our email address and left. 

In case you don’t know it, if you’d like to see any of these pictures in full size, simply click on one and you will be taken to a full size gallery where you can page by each picture you’d like to view.

A couple of days later, sure enough I received an email from Tracy, the person the couple had mentioned.  He said that he lived in Alaska and he would like to meet if we had the time.  We responded that we would be happy to meet and that one of our stops would be for an adventure riders gathering in Dawson City in the Canadian Yukon.  Tracy said that he might be going as well and he’d try to find us there.

To make a very fun story short (you can read all about it in our ride story: Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins found elsewhere on this site) We met Tracy as we literally first got off our bikes in Dawson City.   We had stopped at the visitor center to use the facilities and as we dismounted, a man approached us and said, “Are you Kim and Mike?”  Tracy had found us and we had found him.  We spent 2 days in Dawson City and then a full day with both Tracy and his wife MaryLee in their home town in Alaska, and we had a great time!  We had made a great friendship that continues to this day.

Tracy and I continued to correspond to each other and tried to figure out ways that we could get together and ride.  When the TAT ride was agreed upon as a mutual ride, we both set out to make preparations for our ride across much of America.  Tracy and MaryLee would actually start from Toledo, Ohio and we would be starting from Jellico, Tennessee.  The two couples would meet in Jellico and start our TAT ride from there.   We picked early June to start our journey thinking that we would beat much of the well known midwest heat.  Boy were we about to get a lesson in heat.  But we’ll tell you much more about that later. 

Making preparations for our trip consisted of a lot fun intertwined with moments of frustration and anger.  We had decided to go “light” and take our two identical model KTM 250 XCF-w bikes upgraded for long distance travel.  The thought was, if some of the terrain became difficult is much easier to manage a lightweight bike.  In those instances where the terrain might cause a fall, we thought it much easier to pick up 250 pounds than 400 plus pounds. 

So I set off to obtain the proper equipment and modify the bikes for the long ride ahead.  Kim and I already had the majority of the gear necessary, we just needed some of the equipment that would be appropriate for a long distance journey on lightweight bikes intended for brief jaunts in the woods or single track, not on a 2,500 to 3,000 mile journey. 

First to be purchased were the storage containers and for that we purchased some excellent Giant Loop saddlebag type panniers.  I also installed some brush guards/hand protectors and sent the stock seats out to James Renazco at Renazco Racing to have them re-fitted for longer distances than the mostly stand up, sit down on occasion stock seats.

I also installed a couple of sturdier bash plates and road safety equipment such as mirror and horn so that we would be 50 state legal on those occasions where we were on public ways.  To complete our retrofitting ensemble, I installed a couple of fender tool kits with tools and extra tubes and a GPS.  Oh and Mr. Cotton, my mascot for most of our adventure rides jumped aboard as well and securely tied himself to the handlebars to keep an eye on me.

There, I thought we were ready to go.  But about a week before the trip, one of my friends asked a fairly simple question.  “What are you two going to do between fuel stops?  I’ve heard it can be more than 200 miles between gas stations.”  Drat!  I thought I had thought about everything and this simple, but unbelievably important item had completely slipped my mind.  Our little KTMs, although fuel sippers, had small fuel tanks and there was no way they would make it 200 miles between fill ups.

Thus began the quest to develop a standby fuel storage system for our two wheeled transportation.  KTM did not make anything and even the aftermarket had nothing to fit the little KTMs.  Double drat!  So I went about my way to quickly find a portable fuel container to put on the bikes with less than a week before blast off.  My head was spinning.  There was little time for mail order and we needed whatever solution fitted on the bike and ready to go in less than a week.

I rooted through bike magazines and websites and all sorts of places where I thought I might find small fuel containers.  Ultimately, I found a small plastic unbreakable 1.5 gallon fuel container with mount from an all terrain vehicle supplier.  It was pretty much that or nothing for a factory engineered fix.  I placed a rush order and got two of the containers and mounts.  They arrived two days before we were set to leave and they needed to be installed in a way they were not originally intended to be.  Yikes.  Oh yeah, did I mention we both had day jobs to take care of as well?

I’ll tell you more about the install and the beginning of our journey in the next chapter.

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 16)

After only a few minutes but for what at the time seemed like hours, we reached the crest of the mountain.  Snow continued to fall but still did not accumulate on the surface of the road.  We were quite thankful that as we descended, the snow turned rain and the temperature turned from freezing to merely uncomfortably cold.  But we did count our blessings as a motorcycle trip down a snow-covered twisting mountain road would have been foolish endeavor.

We continued down the mountain in rain and by the time we reached its base, we were ready for some fuel, a respite from the weather and a dry warm place.  Onward we traveled in the rain on good paved road until we reached the crossroads town of Tolhuin.  There at a four corners stop was a gas station and even a mini-mart of sorts.  Bravo!  Time for a break.

We quickly parked up the bikes, bought some fuel and headed directly to the mini-mart.  Inside were all the accoutrements that you’d normally find in such a place.  Maps, oil, a small assortment of dry groceries, trinkets for bored traveling children and soft drinks.  As we marched around the place in our dripping rainsuits, Kim strolled over to the cooler to look for a Coke.  Ultimately she did find it, but she also found a can of liquid refreshment the likes of which we’d never seen.

In a slim white and pink can decorated with a big pink heart, there it was.  Our first sighting of can of; “Mr. Love”!  Advertised as pheromone enhanced, it was supposedly an aphrodisiac drink.  Wow, and to think, I wasted all that energy courting and being nice to Kim all these years.  All this time, the answer was actually in a can near the tip of South America.  The things you learn on a trip to the end of the world!  Although we didn’t purchase any of the drink, it did make for a good picture and we snapped several as the amused (or not so amused) attendant watched.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

We drank our drinks, dried off and warmed ourselves up in the free warmth of the mini-mart.  But it was time to get moving and after about a 30 minute stop, we got back on the bikes and making our way towards the southernmost city in the world; Ushuaia.  Luck was with us and the rain gods decided to have some pity on our souls and ceased unleashing their moist and chilly droplets onto us.  As we rode on, pavement started to dry.  Our spirits began to rise as the rain ceased; it was a perfect antithesis.  For as the falling droplets diminished, our spirits rose to meet and eventually surpass the cold and misery that had been deposited on us.  We were almost there; Ushuaia.  And it was only a couple of hours ride away.

Before we knew it, the road was completely dry and took on a smooth flowing and curving demeanor.  It wandered through forests and along streams that meandered beside the mountains which had guided the rushing water along its current path.  Shots of sunlight occasionally burst from the clouds above, seeming like nature’s own camera, taking flash pictures of motorcyclists wending their way southward.

And then the realization hit me.  We were almost there and nearing the end of our journey.  This had been a wonderful trip.  One that I will never forget.  I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to have made this ride, but the joys, challenges and excitement were nearing their conclusion.

So it was at this time that I had an experience that I had never had before.  Simultaneously, I was overjoyed but also sad to be near the point of tears.  Exultation ran through me as I knew that we had made this trip, enjoyed it, its sometimes challenges and all the people we had met to its fullest.  But at the same time I was extremely sad.  I felt as though I was experiencing a personal loss.  The loss of the continuing journey and the loss of all the first time experiences we had encountered.  It was a very strange emotion and not one that I’ll ever forget.

I suppose that many “travelers” experience this feeling at the end of their journey.  But it was the first time for me and I can tell you that the feeling was as intense as many other firsts you will experience in your life.  This feeling I would wager, is the kind of feeling that keeps “adventure motorcyclists” or any other kind of traveler, wanting more.

So as we rode the final few miles to Ushuia, it was very quiet on the comms between Kim and I.  I think we were both experiencing the joy and sorrow of completing what was such a wonderful journey together.  I would have it no other way, since for me sharing these experiences especially with someone you love, is something that can never be matched.

Emotions in check, I now sprinted on the twisty road towards Ushuaia.  Before we knew it we were there.  Approaching a stop sign at the end of the woods stood a 15 foot tall stone and wooden sign.  At its side large letters proclaimed the location’s name.  Hand carved in the wood and painted gold was the word “Ushuaia”.  Additional boards jutted from the side of the masonry and rock exclaiming in hand carved letters  “Bienvenidos A La Ciudad Mas Austral Del Mundo”; “Welcome to the Most Southerly City in the World”.  We had made it.

It was time for some pictures and a celebration of sorts so we parked our bikes and set out to take some souvenir photos.  Now I was elated.  We had made it and enjoyed every minute.  There we were standing in front of the evidence.  There was nothing more than joy.  No sorrow could be found, it was just pure joy.  Pictures taken and hugs made, it was time to get to our hotel in the city.  We had little time before we would fly home and we wanted to take the time to see what Ushuaia had to offer and of course, ride to the end of the furthest south road on the planet.  We’ll take you there in the next chapter.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 15)

Due to the strong currents the captain had to keep the ferry’s engines running. The current was indeed swift and strong and the ferry continued to try to wash itself ashore. But with excellent seamanship the captain jockeyed the ferry so that it remained at a 90° angle to the landing. Soon all the other traffic had offloaded in it was our turn to ride right onto the ferry.  Luckily for us, as motorcyclists we took up little space on deck and we were the first to board with a few cars and abundance of tractor trailer rigs following behind.

It was cold and windy and as the ferry lurched left and right with each new tractor trailer rig, we decided to go inside try to warm up a bit.  A very narrow passageway led to a cramped cabin area, but it was an escape from the strong winds and the spray of the cold ocean waters. We sat side-by-side in the narrow compartment stamping our feet trying to get warm. Still chilled to the bone, we overheard somebody talking in the compartment saying there was something outside to see. We had no clue what was out there, but what the heck, how many times would we be crossing the Straits of Magellan?  Not knowing what awaited, we wandered outside to have a look.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

At first we saw nothing.  Jeez, here we were standing in the wind and cold spray for what?  But then, someone pointed at the water and I caught a glimpse of something.  At first it was a darkish blur gliding through the water alongside the ferry.  It looked like the reflection of a cloud on the surface of the water, but it was moving with amazing speed and zigzagging through the water.

Suddenly it breached; more like leapt from the froth of the wake of the ferry.  A small black and white dolphin accompanied by two more friends.  We would later find out that they were Commerson’s dolphins, and these guys were one of about 3,400 in the Straits of Magellan.  They continued to follow us for about 10 minutes leaping from the water in graceful fluid arcs.  They were the best ambassadors to the land of fire that we could have ever wished for.

About twenty minutes later we were nearing the coast of Tierra del Fuego; The Land of Fire.   The wind, the overcast and the increasing rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm to reach our destination.  Before we knew it, the belly of the ferry was scraping on the shore of the land that just weeks ago seemed just a distant dream.  Yet we had made it and we were here.  We were very, very excited.

As we rolled off the damp and slick ferry ramp, I was a bit overwhelmed.  It was dank and dreary, but I was elated.  We had come a long way, over thousands of miles on gravel and through high wind, and there in front of me suspended from a large sign were the words in Spanish, Bienvenido a Tierra del Fuego; “Welcome To Tierra Del Fuego”.  We had made it and we only had a bit over a day’s ride to reach the very tip of the South American continent.  In fact, the most southern habitable place on the planet excluding those small scientific camps in Antarctica.

After about 15 minutes on pavement, we once again returned to the gravel.  The rain began to intensify and we still had a few more hours to ride before reaching our hotel for the evening.   Our route took out through the small coastal town of Rio Grande.  The rain, wind and cold were beginning to take their toll and we decided that we should stop somewhere to eat and warm-up.

We roamed around the town a bit and found a small local shop selling roasted chickens and 2 foot long sandwiches.  The shop itself was tiny. It was nothing to talk about and full of smoke from the chicken roasting in a brick hearth inside.  Still to us, it looked like a haven of gigantic proportions.  It was a take out only place, but we asked the owners if we could sit down on our little foldable portable chairs and eat in their tiny little rectangle that was warm and dry.  They were more than happy to let us and as we squatted in their shop, we ate hot empanadas and slowly dried among the sizzling chicken and baking dough.

After stuffing ourselves on empanadas, we were somewhat dry and feeling much warmer than when we arrived.  We thanked our hosts and got back onto the bikes in the drizzle and wind.  As we exited Rio Grande, we rolled past a memorial to the Malvinas War (Falklands War).  A single, easily 4o year old jet fighter stood perched on a pole in a small park.  It was a symbol of pride for the Argentines and a remembrance of lives lost in that war.   As we passed the still bird held aloft not by the air under its wings, but by a rusting piece of steel, it was a bit of a solemn reminder for two riders that the world doesn’t always get along.

Not long after passing the memorial, we were once again back on pavement and heading over mountains that loomed ahead.  The weather continued to deteriorate and the heavy clouds began to descend quickly.  From these clouds, tendrils of virga appeared as fingers reaching for the earth, hoping for a handhold lest they be torn apart on the jagged mountain peaks.  As we climbed on the mountain roads, it was unclear whether the clouds were descending upon us or we were climbing to them or a combination of both.  But as we climbed, the visibility continued to drop and then…  it began to snow.

Large wet heavy flakes drifted towards the pavement and impaled themselves on us as we rode onward.  Our visors quickly began to frost up with ice forming around the edges.  Still the snow was not yet accumulating on the pavement and we were quite thankful for that.  We thought it best to ride on and hoped that we would soon be descending into warmer temperatures so that the white wet flakes would soon return to their 100 percent liquid form.  With increasing anticipation, we rode onward knowing that we would shortly start our descent from the mountain.  We’ll tell you about the ride down the mountain in the next chapter.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Experiences Never Die

I’ve gotten to thinking lately about how lucky I’ve been to have discovered two wheeled transportation.  Even more so, having discovered two wheels powered by an engine.

I can still remember my first pedal bike very clearly.  Those early experiences, spent on two wheels molded a desire for adventure and adventuring.  That machine, powered by the force of muscle and the breath of a young boy, was in reality powered by the imagination of a young mind, imagining and longing for adventure.

As I rode that 20″ framed machine, a pair of young legs thrust its rider toward unseen and previously imagined horizons.  Two wheels became the means to cover great distances at great speed.  I can still remember the rush of the air by my face and the wind tousling my then full head of hair.  Just the thought of being able to cover what appeared to be vast distances at what was then great speed, gave growth to a longing sense of adventure to new places and adventures yet untaken.

As the years passed, older and not necessarily much wiser, motorized two wheel transportation came within my reach.  Motorized two wheel transportation, to a budding adventurer, young or old represents a waiting magic carpet.  Often attractive in looks, slim, sleek and comfortable, freshly cleaned tassels (farkles) glittering, it awaits those who would simply climb aboard and enjoy the ride to the next adventure.

For those that do take that magical leap, the world and a world of experiences await.  The only barrier, the willingness to take off on the journey and an open mind with which to experience the world.  Should the rider climb on, grab the tassels, and consent to set the journey in motion, the experiences of the world await.  Both good and bad.

Whether those experiences are good or bad will be decided by the magic carpet rider.  Only that person, the one who has the intimate experiences, can pass judgement on them.  For those who truly savor an adventure, the good and the bad are what make up the adventure.  These experiences combine to provide a soup for the soul.  A tablespoon of fun, a cup of local hospitality and perhaps a dash of mechanical difficulty all combine to flavor the pot with a rich and hearty flavor.  Such adventurers know that a soup made of only a single fine ingredient will never match the taste of one made with many different standard ingredients.

So that brings me back to the title of this little article.  On any adventure, is it worth it to risk good and bad experiences, with the bad potentially outweighing the good?  At the end of the journey, will the adventurer be any better or worse for having taken the adventure?  Let’s examine this a bit and see what we can come up with.

Let me give you a real world scenario.  My father had frontal lobe dementia, a disease sort of like Alzheimer’s, that first robbed him of his memory, and ultimately his life.  A brilliant scientist, as the dementia took hold, his memory was severely reduced and he was a mere shell of the experiences he encountered and the education he obtained.  So was it worth it for him to work hard, get two undergraduate and two post-graduate degrees, have a family, raise children, and risk all the hardships that raising a family can bring.  The simple answer, of course it was!  My father lived a full life and enjoyed his family and his interactions with others despite some of the hardships that came with it.

With the passing of my father, did his experiences die?  No, they were had, felt and responded to by him and others.  These experiences molded him into the person he would later become.  Without them, he and indeed the world itself, would be different.  Both he and the people he met had changed, no matter how slightly, by their interactions.

So the same might be said of that would be adventurer thinking about jumping on that two wheeled motorized magic carpet.  Is it worth it to take that magical leap onto two wheels and commence your journey of new life experiences to new places and new people?  There could be difficult times during the journey…  For those that wish to experience the world and those in it, the answer is a clear; yes!

Although we all will eventually die, the experiences we have had, together with the interactions with those we have met, will live on in those people and their children.  So by riding the magic carpet, we will have made the world and ourselves, a little richer and better at each waypoint of the journey.

So jump on your magic carpet and take off on that journey!

Ride2Adventure – Shrink The Planet One Ride At A Time

Because It’s There!

Why?  That’s the old question asked of mountain climbers by risk averse earth bound mortals who can’t fathom why anyone would risk life and limb to climb a mountain.  The well known and sometimes quoted response… “Because it’s there!” attributed to British mountain climber George Herbert Leigh Mallory seems to be a somewhat enigmatic response.  Was he really saying that the only reason that he attempted to climb Everest was because it was in front of him?  Hmmm…..

One of my acquaintances recently asked a similar question having seen parts of the Dakar Rally, arguably one of the most challenging, exhausting and perhaps most dangerous sanctioned racing competitions on the planet, especially on a motorcycle. Why would someone, particularly a privateer with no corporate sponsorship and no real financial motivation, enter such a competition?

A clearly dangerous activity, racing the Dakar on a motorcycle is one hugely intrepid undertaking.  Towering mountains, vast deserts, blistering heat, high speeds on rough terrain and long days in the saddle are merely part of the challenge that is Dakar.   Numerous competitors have lost their lives over the years and not just from solo falls, but from collisions with other competitors, getting lost, days long sand storms, dehydration, and some would even say, sheer exhaustion.  Some days you ride over one hundred miles just to get to the start of the day’s race.  Stages (timed sections of the race) can be so long that by the time many competitors make it to the bivouac at the end of the day, they barely have enough time to eat some food, service the bike and take care of bodily functions before the start of the next day’s stage.  Sleep is a commodity that is often in very short supply making this grueling, physical two week feat all the more difficult.

So once again, people may ask, why do they do it?

I’ve never been a Dakar competitor so I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the men and women who take on this challenge and pay huge sums of money to do so, risk it all for a competition that many people don’t even know exist. I know that I’ll never ride the Dakar and probably will never have half the skill necessary to undertake such a racing adventure, but being a so-so rider always trying to improve, I think I may have an inkling of what drives a privateer to enter the Dakar.

The Dakar is a gigantic ever changing and shifting monster.  High as the mountains, covered in deep sand and jagged rock, it breathes its hot windy breath like fire onto all who would try to take it on.  Its call is a mesmerizing one for those who hear it, at first a chant, but increasingly becoming more of a taunt.  “You can’t beat me and you know it.  You can’t beat me and you know it.  You can’t beat me and you know it.”

To those who hear the chant and taunt, the Dakar is an affront to their abilities.  Some people come equipped with an excess of drive; drive to excel, succeed, and overcome challenges that many others might find overwhelming.  To them, the Dakar monster represents an irrepressible challenge, the triple dog dare of dares.  It’s one they just can’t turn away from.  The Dakar confronts them and thus the monster must be slayed.

Thus they risk financial hardship and potentially financial ruin, trying to prepare a Dakar ready and worthy effort.  Then there’s the physical training necessary to undertake to ensure the requisite fitness to endure such a travail and maximum opportunity to reach the monster.  Finally, there’s the task of slaying the monster.  If you are able to financially and physically make it to the Dakar, you have reached a major milestone, but you just begun your journey.  The monster awaits.

Over two weeks, you will engage and fight the monster.  Some days you may feel like you are winning, but most you will feel battered and lucky to be alive.  The monster is that tough.  It will fight you long and hard, with all of its elemental power raining down on you trying to force you to fail or quit.  If you are lucky, you will do battle for the full two weeks with this unrelenting force of nature few can overcome.  But, if you have worked hard enough, if you have trained hard enough, if you have tried hard enough and lastly if you are brave enough, the monster can be tamed, temporarily at least.

Your reward will be your own knowledge that you, using your own skills, strength, stamina and bravery have beaten an “unbeatable” beast.  The ultimate recognition that using your own abilities and wits, you overcame and conquered an insurmountable challenge.  This time.  And for those who have heard the chanting and taunting of the beast and emerged victorious, the question will be, “Was one victory enough?” For this beast never truly dies, it just goes back to where it came from and waits for you or others to try to beat it again.  For those who failed, the chant and taunt becomes louder and fiercer.  Only the truly daunting will attempt another attack on the beast.

So why would anyone with a sense of riding and racing adventure risk it all to ride the Dakar?  The answer is simple, “Because it’s there!”

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 14)

Another Patagonian morning dawned cold and overcast.  Once again, we dashed for the luxury of the hot water showers.  Warmed and cleaned, we were anxious to commence the final leg of our journey to the End of the World at Tierra del Fuego.  We ate a quick breakfast and returned to our tents to put on our gear, clean our dusty helmets and get back on the gravel.  We would certainly miss Torres del Paine, but the end of the earth was now calling more loudly than ever.

Back on the gravel, we continued to experience towering mountain views and twisty mountain roads.  Riding up and over mountain passes and down steep roads, we felt like we had become one with the surrounding landscape.  In fact, in some areas, we literally became one with the surroundings.  Recent road construction had chopped huge chunks out of the surrounding granite.  Walls of rock surrounded us on both sides, while chunks recently rendered from the earth lay at the road’s edge and sometimes in the road itself.  Looking up at roughly hewn rock walls at both sides of the road, we made our way through the earth towards Tierra del Fuego.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Along the way, we had the opportunity to cross beautiful rivers of multi-hued blues on wooden bridges.  Of significant length, the bridges were in good repair but consisted mainly of trestles lined with rows of wood and then overlayed with unsecured planks for two tire tracks.

Before long, it seemed like we had changed continents.  Large flat green plains dotted with trees and giant rock outcroppings covered in roots and vines made us feel like we had somehow made it to the plains of South Africa.   Wire and wooden fences designed either to keep animals in or people out, or both lined the gravel roadway and served as a frame to the beautiful scenes.

We rode across what seemed like African prairies while an ocassional large bird soared overhead on unseen currents of rising air.  Circling and gliding surveying all below and perhaps looking for a mid day meal.  Had the temperatures been 50 degrees more than the 50 degrees fahrenheit it was, I would have sworn we were somehow transported to Africa.

We continued on the good gravel on an undulating course.  As we motored along we came upon some giant rocky outcroppings.  We had to stop to check this out.  Standing just at the side of the road was a gigantic wall of rock.  Seemingly rising out of the ground for no reason, it looked like a giant anvil surrounded by some trees and covered with brush.  Nothing around it was so grand in size it just seemed so out of place and so random in what had been fairly open riding.

I asked Kim to get off her bike and stand near to the rock tower and the enormity of the rock was clear.  Kim was barely discernible as she stood by the roadside.  In fact, if you look at the picture in this selection, you will see her standing at the right side of the road standing beside her bike looking up at the rock.  You can barely make her out on the right side of the road.  It was truly impressive for a single rock.

Back on the bikes again, we made our way towards the little town of Puerto Natales on the coast of Chile.  It was a pretty ride sometimes along the cost as we meandered into town and back onto pavement.  But it was what happened in town that was about to make the day a little more interesting.   We had stopped at a little diner in town for lunch for a quick little meal.  As we left the restaurant, a man stood outside and explained that he was a newspaper reporter.  He had seen us ride into town (there’s more to this story) and he’d like to talk about our journey for the paper.  After a brief discussion, we were on our way southward once more and we found that the next day, a brief article was published about us in the local newspaper.

Back on the pavement we paralleled the coast for a while and passed a few small towns which had been abandoned.  The buildings were still in pretty good shape, but to townspeople had apparently moved on in search of something better.  It was a bit of a strange feeling seeing all these buildings, it good condition, and not a soul around.  Not far from he abandoned town, we came across an even more unusual scene.  Just outside of the last town we passed not even totally out of the water, lay the hulls of two ships.

One, lay mostly beached, its hull mainly intact and its but the stern of the ship had mostly rusted away and had nearly departed the remainder of the hull.  The other, laying on its left side had been reduced to its ribs and spars, the skeletal remains of a once seaworthy craft.  We decided the sight deserved some closer attention so we stopped and took a walk around both ships.  The more intact one was interesting, but the one that had been reduced to its skeletal remains brought about some terrific opportunities for pictures.

We walked around and through the ship’s hull taking pictures from different vantage points.  Once fully inside, you got the feeling that you were indeed inside the belly of some beast.  Ribs surrounding you and diminishing in size as it made its way to the sea.  With a little imagination, you could envision yourself in the story of Jonah trapped inside a whale.  This time, a whale with iron ribs which were slowly melting with time.  It was quite a little short term adventure.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to dawdle around the wrecks since we still had to make it to our ferry for the trip across the Strait of Magellan.  So we hopped back on the bikes and continued our way southward.  A couple of hours later, we came across another quite interesting sight.  In the middle of nowhere, we came across what appeared to be some aluminum poles with some circular twisted tubes of metal at the top.  There were several of the poles all in a row and they were on both sides of the road.

Of course we had to stop and check out the poles and find out what they meant.  When we got closer we found that the poles and the metal at the top of the poles were designed as art and as an homage to the wind circling the globe.  What that perspective, the poles easily started to make sense and the artistic viewpoint was readily seen.  There was another learning experience for me as well.

On one of the poles was a plaque that indeed said the posts were an homage to the wind.  However, there was also a globe inscribe on the plaque and Antarctica was on the top!  Since we were in the southern hemisphere and the wind was from the south, the orientation of the globe for this artist was the opposite of what we were used to.

Each of these little stops was eating into our time and we really needed to be making time towards the ferry.  Back on the bikes we straight lined it to the ferry and made it in plenty of time.  Phew!  As we pulled up to the ferry station, we had a little time to look around.  There it was in front of us, the Straights of Magellan!  Choppy waters awaited us but the ferry had not yet arrived.  We looked for the dock, but none was to be found.  This ferry was to arrive, pull up to the asphalt that ran to the ocean and drop a ramp to allow us to embark and other vehicles to disembark.

After about an hour of waiting, the ferry came into view.  There was quite a strong current and the ferry had to crab heavily in order to run itself aground at close to a 90 degree angle.  Seconds after it landed, the ramp came down revealing a heavily loaded ferry with several tractor trailer rigs and many cars waiting to unload.  However, it was clear that the loading and unloading had been done many times before and it wasn’t long before it was our turn to board the ferry for the crossing of the straits and landfall at Tierra del Fuego where we’ll take you in part 15.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 13) Video Shots

So you’ve seen a lot of pictures and read quite a bit of our story in the Ride To The End of The World – Fin del Mundo.  But sometimes, words and pictures take a back seat to being there.  Here are a few video shots that bring you on our ride to Torres del Paine’, hopefully putting you on the bike with us.

We had stopped at a rather remote border crossing at the Argentina/Chile Border.  The wind was way up and non-stop, in fact, it was so up, that the border guards stopped what they were doing, came out of the border facility with their cameras just to waive us through and wish us luck on our ride.  What an experience!

Wind at the Argentinian Border from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

You must also remember the moments I spoke about in Part 11 where my attention was divided by the beautiful mountains, winding road, pristine blue lakes and grazing guanacos.  Well let me take you there for a few seconds to see for yourself.

A Great View At Torres del Paine with Guanacos from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

Thanks for riding with us!

Mike and Kim

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 12)

With the morning sun came a beautiful blue sky and chilling winds and a weak and mostly ineffective sun.  It was outright cold.  Kim and I wiped the chill from our faces which had been sticking out of the blankets all night and sprinted for the hot showers.  Running only as a chilled American can across the freezing and wind swept Patagonian landscape, we scurried to showers and nearly dove in head first.  Thankfully, the water was hot and it was not long before we were warmed up and ready to head back to our tent to put on warm clothes, eat breakfast and start the day.

Nicely warmed up, fed and wrapped in appropriate clothing, we started towards the Mirador Condor trail.  The sun had done some work and the temperature had risen into the 40s so it was a pleasant walk to the trailhead.  From the road, we could see holes in the sides of some of the mountains where the condors were nesting.  The opportunity to see the Andes Condors as well as the view from 2ooo meters spurred us on to make the climb to the top.

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The first part of the trail was through forested hills with tree branches blocking out most of the sun.  We could hear the birds chirping above us alerting others to our arrival in their neck of the woods.  As we wended our way to the top, we stopped to take a few pictures of the things that surrounded us.  Brightly colored flowers adorned the rising dirt paths as we made our way higher into the mountains.  Flowers and berries splashed with reds and purple dazzled our eyes while small birds flitted from one tree to the next.

I watched a small bird bringing a green worm to its family members as it nervously flitted from branch to branch, concerned about the welfare of his/her family as well as the dinner he/she had just brought home.  Luckily I was able to catch a few pictures of him/her as it jumped back and forth, eyeing us nervously.  We didn’t want to scare him/her too much, so we walked away letting it bring its dinner to its family assured that we were not there to interrupt their afternoon dining plans.

After about 30 minutes of walking in the forest, the path took us into the open and we found that we had already climbed fairly high from where we had started.  Below us we could see the Lago Pehoe’ campground and absolutely breathtaking views of Lago Pehoe’ and the surrounding mountains.  My words will do the sight no justice, you just have to see them yourself to believe it.  The pictures you will see here, really don’t come close to the absolute stark beauty of the scene.

I am learning that as I travel the world, each time I think I have seen the most spectacular sight that will never be surpassed, all I have to do is travel a few more miles and open my eyes to that which surrounds me.  It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that may be true.  But having seen what I have so far in my journeys on a motorcycle, this beholder can only wonder how many more superlatives, how many amazing visions are left for one person to see in a lifetime.  For what I have seen during our motorcycle journeys, certainly could fill the lifetime of visions for many less fortunate than me.  For that, I am extremely grateful.

It was not much longer that we spotted our first black speck circling in the sky.  It’s wings were outstretched as it lazily floated on the currents of air rising from the surrounding mountains.  Tiny movements of its wings steered course corrections and it seemed like forever before it started to come closer to where we were.  It was too far away to be sure what kind of bird it was and since it was very high, we had no background reference to tell how large the bird was.

We patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) waited for the bird to get close enough to ascertain what it was.  As it got closer we could indeed make ut the fact that it was a very large bird.   Black with a white ring around its neck, it seemed in no particular rush to go anywhere.  Perhaps it was looking for its dinner, but it just soared and sailed on the currents rising from the mountainsides.  Soon another bird came into view and then a third.

Now there was some action as the three birds started to swoop up and down and dart amongst each other.  By now we could clearly see the white ring around their necks.  These were indeed Andes Condors and they had decided to put on a show for us.  Circling and sometimes diving, the birds put on an aerial show that was a delight.  We stood and watched them for about half an hour, but it appeared that the weather was beginning to deteriorate and we decided it was best to return to our camp.

With more than a little regret, we made our way down the mountain, through the little forest and back to our campground.  It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so what were we going to do for the rest of the day?  Well the campground had a playground for kids and we were feeling rather like giddy adolescents, so we hit the little playground area and took turns on the see-saw.  It is with deep regret that I must show you the photographic evidence of such foolishness, but I must tell you, we had fun!

After what seemed like hours in the playground which was probably more like 20 minutes, we returned to our tent for a quick nap and an late call for dinner so we could watch the sun setting on the Torres del Paine mountains.  As the sun dropped lower on the horizon, the mountains came alive.  Individual faces of the mountainside turned molten gold as the sun sank.  The intensity of the gold increased until suddenly, the sun dipped below the horizon and the faces of the mountains turned to grey again.  What an amazing show!

After dinner, we returned to our tents for another night of blanketed but cold sleep.  Tomorrow we would be heading to Tierra del Fuego (the land of fire) in earnest.  We’ll take you there in part 13.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 11)

The gravel was a welcomed friend, a not so old acquaintance with whom we were about to re-rekindle that solid friendship from days recently passed.  Having the gravel under our wheels increased the excitement and intensity of the ride.   Along with the relentless and chilling Patagonian winds, we once again felt like we were “adventurers” heading into unknown territory.

We rode for a few hours on the plains of Chile to rising winds and rising terrain.  The wind was chilled and the air crystal clear.  Even though we could not yet see them, we could tell we were approaching tall mountains and the cold air that flowed among them.  Still, it was an enjoyable experience and only made us more anxious to see what lay ahead.

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We had seen peeks and glimpses of the spectacular mountain range in the distance and even stopped to take a few “tourist” like pictures when we had a clear view of certain sections.   We posed and smiled, with and without our bikes like we were the first people to have discovered this marvelous sight.  In retrospect, it might have been a bit silly, but we were really enjoying ourselves and the preview of the beauty that is Torres del Paine.

After a few hours of riding, we came upon the entrance of the Torres Del Paine National Park and paid a fee to enter. It was not much, but it would be worth every peso that we paid.  The gravel roads winded their way around and over mountain passes, exposing beautiful views of Torres del Paine.  It was not long after we entered the park that we first sighted our first herd of guanacos.

What the heck is a guanaco I can hear you thinking.  Well they are llama like animals and they are to be found throughout Torres del Paine.  Sometimes solo, but most often in small herds, they graze casually beside the roads and on the mountainsides, quite happy to watch you as you watch them.  It was quite exciting to see so many of these animals in their natural habitat and not be fearful of man.  It seemed that with each bend we rounded, or each crest we reached, there was at least one guanaco lazily grazing nearby.  It was a marvelous experience.

But this experience was only the beginning.  For as we passed each guanaco, we also rode closer to to the Torres del Paine mountain range.  Soon a competition for our attention began.  Our attention was divided between the twisting gravel mountain road, lazy guanacos grazing at the roadside and our view of the approaching Torres del Paine mountains.  As we rode closer, towering mountain spires conspired to steal our attention from the road and place it firmly on their granite majesty.

The closer we got, the more we were amazed by the scene.  But then we got another treat.  As we neared Torres del Paine’s towering spires, mother nature decided to up the ante with lakes as blue as any we had ever seen.  They were sprinkled all along the road providing the perfect frame to Torres del Paine.

Transfixed as we were by all the surrounding sights, we soon came upon our stop for the next three days.  The Lago Pehoe’ campground.  We’ve camped in a lot of places, but we must say that the views nearby Lago Pehoe’ were unsurpassed by any other place we’ve ever visited.  Just over the trees of the campground stood the Torres del Paine mountain range fronted by the multi-hued blue Lake Pehoe’.

It was not long before we arrived at Lake Pehoe’ Camping campground.  We rode in and found our “camping” spot.  Once again, it was excellent.  Our digs for the two nights of camping were to be “permanent” metal framed geodesic dome tents set off the ground on large wooden platforms.  This was as far from primitive camping as you can get.  Inside the tents were two bunk beds with equipped with a mattress and a blanket.   We even had a flushing toilet facility and showers and a sit down restaurant outside.  Wow, was this terrific!

There were not many people in the campground so we essentially had the place to ourselves for the first day.  It was already a quite chilly day, and the clear skies bode for a cold night.  But with these amazing surroundings, we were happy as can be to be in such an awe inspiring area.    We decided to go for a walk along the gravel road to take in some more scenery and get a better look at Lake Pehoe’; it was well worth it.

We wandered the road staring at the mountains and gawking at the lake.  They seemed to compliment each other so well that as I snapped each picture, I didn’t think it could get any better, but every few minutes we walked brought a different angle or scene to see.  It was unbelievable, but the views and scenery were in fact getting better.

I turned the camera on some trees and flowers for a change and even they seemed spectacular in these surroundings.  How could this be?  Were our senses just heightened by our surroundings or was there in fact just more beauty around each and every corner?  I had no answer for this question, but I happily kept snapping pictures and enjoying the amazing walk we started.

By the time we returned to the campground, other travelers had arrived in their machines.  This time they were not on bikes, but were in elaborate 4 wheel drive vehicles and they were on a 147 day circumnavigation of six South American countries.  Mostly from Germany, they had already covered Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina and had Brazil and Uruguay yet to cover.  We chatted a bit and then went on our way to dinner.

After a good dinner, it was time for bedtime and we turned in for the night.  It was quite cold, but we were secure in our tent and we bundled up as best as we could.  It was still an enjoyable night.

The following morning we decided to take another walk, this time up into the mountains a bit.  Our goal was to see the famous Andes Condors.  So we headed over to the Mirador Condor Trail where we will take you in Part 12.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 10)

We glided over the paved narrow two lane following the contours of the fjord.  The mountains rose even higher around us and the peaks were covered in a gleaming white snow.  The brightly shining sun bounced from mountain top to the water’s surface and back creating a spectacular sparkle.  Sunglasses were indeed necessary as we wended our way closer to the Perito Moreno glacier.

We stopped at a little toll booth at the entrance to the park and paid a small fee to see what would be yet another marvel on this trip.  Just a few more miles down this winding and now forested road, lay an icy giant, silent and seemingly unmoving, yet amazingly powerful.

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At road’s end, we found ourselves in a fairly large parking lot complete with a few tour busses and hundreds of cars.  A couple of well maintained and new buildings sat to our left, providing places to eat and relax at what is one of Argentina’s natural treasures.  There were several walking paths and we randomly chose one that split the two buildings.

Soon we were on an elevated and grated walking trail above the surface of the ground, heading along the water and then…  There it was, the first close up sight of the Perito Moreno glacier.  Just the far end was in bright sun and the remainder was in shadow, but the size and the power of the glacier could not be hidden.

Giant spires of ice rose from the face of the glacier like the pikes of an advancing ice army.  As we got closer, the shadows could no longer hide the spires and they became clearer and larger.  The immensity of this frozen monolith was as apparent as its ability to act as an irresistible force of nature.  As the sun navigated its way in and out of the clouds, the ice sparkled, and the snow changed from dark grey to gleaming white, changed merely by the passing of clouds and will of the wind.  Nature could indeed paint pictures using its own natural pallete.

We lazily walked our way closer towards this awesome sight on the elevated metal corrugated carpet, eyes riveted to the ice and snow.  Just when we thought we’d seen it all, almost right in front of us, a grey fox rambled by us, not so much in a rush to hide from us, but more interested in finding a tasty morsel to dine upon.  We were truly getting the whole show today.

As close as we could get to the glacier on our man made walkway, it was nothing compared to the up close and personal look we would get from the giant sized catamaran that would take us to within 100 feet of the glacier.  As the time for departure approached, we eagerly boarded in anticipation of catching the aura of the glacier.

We were not disappointed as we slowly cruised out to the glacier.  It was far better to slowly cruise out to it.  The mountains framed the glacier perfectly and the passing clouds provided a cottony backdrop.  Never had white taken on some many different shades.  White ice, white snow and white clouds were all different shades of white and they were perfectly offset by the black of the rocky mountains and grey blue of the sea and the sky.

After about ten minutes of cruising, we reached the glacier.  For a brief period of time, the giant catamaran turned off the engines and the glacier came alive.  At times, we could hear the ice creak and groan as if it were restless and yearning to move faster.  A cool and sometimes downright cold wind flowed from the top of the glacier and spilled over the edge like a waterfall of cooled air.   Jackets were zipped and hats securely fastened in response to the glacier’s cold heartbeat of air.

So while we stood and stared in awe, we heard a gigantic crack like a single clap of thunder and a then a slight rumble.  About 500 yards away, a large chunk of ice had wrested itself free of the glacier’s face and plummeted to the water below.  We saw but did not hear the gigantic splash made by the ice and the waves generated by the bus sized chunk of ice now floating before us.  It was an awesome sight.  We were on a nature overdose and loving every moment of it.

But like all good things, our time at the glacier passed so very quickly.  Soon it would be time to start our ride back to our little hotel in El Calefate for the night.  As we walked back to the bikes, we marveled at how much we had seen in such a short period of time and how much we had enjoyed ourselves already.  But still, we had a two hour ride back through gorgeous country to the hotel to look forward to.  Not bad, not too bad at all.

After what seemed to be a very quick night’s sleep, we were back on the road early and covering some significant miles on mountainous yet smooth pavement.  We swooped around corners and leapt over the tops of the mountains and dove down their backs.  Four hours of pavement passed almost instantaneously.

But almost as suddenly as the road had been smooth and mountainous, we entered the plains again and were back on gravel.  As much as we had enjoyed the pavement, it was good to be back on the gravel and heading into some remote areas again.  As the mountains began to fade, the wind began to increase and once again we found ourselves crabbing into a steady wind with our 2 wheeled craft.

But we would not be too long without our friends the mountains, for we were headed to Torres del Paine and the most impressively beautiful mountain sunsets we have ever seen.  We’ll take you there in Part 11.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 8)

Having sneaked our way into El Chalten in the midst of a snow and rain storm, we had been quite pleased to make it to our comfy little hotel snuggled in the back of this hiking and trekking town.  The rooms were small and spartan, but they were indeed warm and inviting and we took off our cold and damp riding gear and put on some nice dry warm clothes.  It just felt good to be out of the wet and wind.

We hung around our little hotel catching glimpses out the back picture window of the hotel of what was supposed to be beautiful mountain scenery.  But rushing clouds and quick bursts of sun only served to tease us with a quick sighting of a sheer rock wall or shining ice, which would almost immediately become engulfed in a roiling mass of heavy wet cloud.  If these gringos wanted to see the mountain scenery, they were going to have to be patient.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

It began to get a little later in the evening so we decided to stroll into town as the days wind started to diminish as did the rays of the sun.  Whether it was it the setting sun taking pity on us or the spirits that surround El Chalten, something seemed to want to take pity on us and the rain and snow stopped as quickly as it had started and the clouds raced away to parts unknown.  For as we walked out of our place of respite and looked behind us, two towering behemoths came into view.  Pointed and sharp as only newly minted mountains can be, they pointed skyward, appearing to rend the clouds from the sky.  Then a third smaller pike came into view, these rock monoliths were not to be ignored, they wanted their presence known.

They had made their points.  We stood there slack jawed, clicking pictures at alarming tourist rates.  It was a conundrum of sorts.  I wanted to take pictures to have memories, but I didn’t want to experience the sight solely through the limited view of a camera lens.  I must have looked pretty foolish, camera up, camera down, camera up, camera down. The net result, fuzzy pictures and an even fuzzier remembrance of the exciting scene.  Next time I’ll have to choose.

Ultimately, we were able to tear ourselves away from the scene and do a little strolling, get some dinner and even a little shopping done in town.  Kim got some fun things and even I got something that you’ll see later (shade your eyes and hide small children).  We chatted with the shop keepers as best we could and even a couple of locals.  Overall we had a pretty nice late afternoon in El Chalten but we were pretty tired from the day of riding in the weather so after filling ourselves with empanadas, we headed back to the hotel for a good nights rest.

When we awoke the following morning the sun was out but the wind was again up.  However, we weren’t going to let that stop us from investigating the rest of El Chalten.  We’d heard that as well as being a climbing and hiking center, El Chalten also had a reputation for being a bit of a hippie throw back town.  This we had to see.

So we started out after breakfast and just started walking around the small mostly dirt streets.  Houses were in varying condition from very good to not very good, but everyone in the town seemed to be in good spirits and even though the town did not seem affluent by any stretch of the imagination, people seemed to take pride in what they owned and they tried to make their places look nice.  Some folks were very creative in their decoration.

Hand painted tiles were fitted into the sides of buildings leaving a rather beautiful adornment to what would otherwise be a very plain house.  Another had used stencils to make “cave paintings” on the side of their house.  There was just a great deal of creativity amongst the townspeople.  But we would find even more later in the day.

As we walked to the back of the town, we found a staircase that led up to the top of a plateau.  You could see that it led up, but you couldn’t ultimately see where it was leading to.  So curiosity obviously not under control, we marched our way up the stairs to the top of the plateau and found…  another town!

Yes, there was another little town within the town of El Chalten.  It had a glorious view of the town below as well as the surrounding mountains.  It was breathtaking.  But there was more to come.  This town was just being built and many of the houses had yet to be completed.  Some were actively under construction while others seemed to be waiting for their next phase to commence.

But what was really cool about this little town within a town was that each street had its own ambassador waiting to greet you as you entered.  Hand crafted from whatever was available, there were statutes of birds, bicyclists, guitar players, skiers, and whatever the towns people felt would be a nice welcome to their little street.  It was great to see that the residents of this little town had taken the time to build a little more charm, a warm welcome for themselves and everyone who came to visit them.  It was great!

There was also another ambassador of sorts.  An Old English sheepdog that had a habit of sneaking around following Kim wherever we went, but never got close enough for her to pet.  He must have been the shy type.  But he did indeed turn up in several pictures, pictures that I didn’t know he was in when I was taking them.  He was sort of like a Where’s Waldo dog!

We enjoyed ourselves immensely up on the little plateau taking pictures and strolling the streets with Waldo.  Ultimately we had to head back to the hotel because the wind was still up and it was getting chilly.  So back down the stairs we went and we spied a couple of the locals chatting in local clothing.  I just loved the look of their local garments.  It make me aware of the fact that I was in Argentina where there are still Gauchos!  Awesome.

As we made our way back to the hotel, we were thankful for all that we were able to see and do in El Chalten.  We’d enjoyed every minute we’d been there, and tomorrow, rain (or snow) or shine or heavy wind, we were headed off to El Calafate where we’ll take you in Part 10.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 7)

We awoke to more bright sunshine and the ever present strong and gusty winds.  But it was another beautiful day and we were soon loaded up and ready to head back out onto the rippio of Routa 40 towards El Chalten.  It was to be rippio for a large portion of the day and once near El Chalten, we would once again be on pavement for a while.  Wow pavement, smooth, wide and potentially with road markings defining left and right lanes.  At first I thought it would be a pleasant change, but then something odd hit me.  I had become so accustomed to riding the rippio, with all its undulations, bumps, holes, random rocks, asteroid and pea sized gravel, sometimes very loose and very deep, sand, and unknown hazards, that I actually felt I was going to miss it.  A lot!

Where was the adventure in pavement riding?   Anyone could ride pavement!  I suddenly didn’t want the rippio to end; ever!  It seemed too sedate and boring in such an exciting and adventurous environment, it was truly going to be a let down once we reached it; or so I thought.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

With the push of the bike’s starter button the unwanted thoughts of the potentially smooth pavement ahead were ignited and expelled from my mind.  The engines twin cylinder song sang sweet rhythmic melodies, raising my spirit with each rise and descent in the note of the engine.  And as the wheels turned, the sound of crunching gravel beneath my tires crushed any concerns of boredom into nothingness, just like the Patagonian winds dispersed the dust of the rippio behind my bike.

Once on Routa 40, we rode many miles in two tire track ruts surrounded somewhat deep gravel.  The road was straight as an arrow, as far as the eye could see, with scraggy brush extending to both sides of the horizon.  First it was brown and as we headed south, it became greener and greener.  It was easy going, but it was a bit mesmerizing and if we weren’t careful, we could find ourselves wandering out of the tire tracks and in the deeper gravel.  That itself wasn’t really bad, but the wind was well and truly up which made recovery from the gravel all the more difficult.

We also had to keep our wits about us due to wild and unfenced animals.  Cows and bulls roam free on the plains, as well as other plains animals like horses, sheep, foxes and rabbits.   Sometimes they stay put at the side of the road and sometimes they bolt out right in front of you.  Extra caution is necessary as you approach a heard or even a single stray animal.  You really don’t know what they are going to do and help is pretty far away if something were to happen.

After about 5 hours of riding, we came upon a large lake.  It was a sight to see, for we had been on open plains for days and had not seen a large body of water for quite some time.  It was quite beautiful and we had to stop to take some pictures.  We were getting a bit goofy since we were happy to see the lake, know that we were nearing El Chalten, our destination for the day, and that we were reaching pavement for the first time in days.  It was just a strange brew of feelings poured into a single cocktail which we had apparently gulped down on empty stomachs.  We were silly happy but we knew we were going to be somewhat sad once we got back on the pavement.

About an hour later, there it was; the pavement.   It was indeed smooth, wide and it did indeed have excellent road markings.  Oh crud, where’s the adventure in that?  As a bit of an offset, the plains began to rise and turn into mountains.  Green scrub turned into hills which turned into rock.  Ultimately, the closer we got to El Chalten, the more we were surrounded by towering mountains; mountains with glaciers even.  The thought of seeing the glaciers raised my spirits, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  We stopped a couple of times to take some pictures but now the clouds were descending and the clouds had obscured some of the mountains from sight.  Bummer!  We did catch occasional glimpses of the end of a glacier, but nothing spectacular.

As we got closer to El Chalten, the temperature started to drop rapidly.  In fact, it sort of started to plummet.  The clouds that had started to lower, now appeared to be racing for the ground.  Ice pellets were being flung from the cloud’s bottom and we knew we had to make a run for El Chalten before it really began to snow in earnest.  We picked up the speed a bit and rolled on by a large lake complete with icebergs freely floating about.  However, with the weather rapidly worsening, the only thing to do was to take a one handed snapshot from the handlebar of the bikes as we motored on past hoping to make it to El Chelten before the road coated with snow and ice.

It was becoming darker and the road was now wet.  We were trying to beat the weather but it wasn’t clear who would win this race.  Helmets down on the tank to beat the freezing snow/rain mixture, we made our way towards El Chalten.  Cold, wet, and wind blown, we made it into town with minutes to spare.  The wind started to really gust and we hightailed it to our little hotel.  We quickly unloaded our bikes in the wind and snow and made our way into the warm hotel.  It was a great feeling to be out of the wind and snow/rain.

So as I peeled off my riding gear I thought to myself, maybe it wasn’t so bad riding pavement on the last part of the day, for surely we wouldn’t have made it into town before the real snow and wind hit had we been on the rippio all day.  So there it was, we could have adventure on pavement!  I should have known better!  With that thought, I was stoked, for tomorrow was a non-riding day and we would be exploring the hiking/climbing town of El Chalten where we’ll take you in part 8.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 6)

We overnighted in Perito Moreno in a drab little hotel room with bars over the one tiny window.  It was dark and dingy, but it was warm and dry so we had no complaints.  Striking out fairly early in the morning, we were soon out of the town limits and back on the gravel of Routa 40.  The sun was brightly shining in a bright blue sky with some puffy white clouds.  The road surface was fairly firm with some loose gravel strewn about, but overall it was easy going.  The wind was up once again with a steady 30+ MPH wind blowing from a single direction.  The upside was that the constant dust that had been our companion earlier was now destined to blow directly to the side out of whomever followed.  It was a nice break from eating dust.  However, necks soon became tired and sore from holding a crab against the wind.  So it was a tradeoff of sorts, dust for neck ache.  Hmm… which was better?

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

The gravel seemed endless.  While the scenery was beautiful, there were long stretches of straight, unrestricted view plains that ran until they were blocked by surrounding mountains.  Sight planes disappeared in a “V” in front of us as the seemingly endless gravel road continued unabated and without a twist or turn.  Every once in a while, we would reach the mountains that had previously been long in the foreground but were now immediately in front of us.  This gave us the opportunity to lean the bikes a bike and twist the throttles.  Kim especially took the opportunity to wick it up a bit, her confidence growing after riding in the wind for a couple of days.

Sooner than we knew it, we had made it through that mountain’s passes and were back on the plains gravel with fields of grasses surrounding us, wind blowing and miles of straight gravel road in front of us.  So straight in fact that as we made our way toward Tres Lagos (Three Lakes) we came upon a sign that directed us towards three different towns, 16, 246, and 345 kilometers away.  The thing was, they were arrowed all straight ahead.  Guess that road was really going to be straight for a while eh?

Covering such distances with only your thoughts and the wide open spaces gives you time to think.  Think about the beauty that surrounds you, about how lucky you are to have this wonderful circumstance that you are able to travel the world and see things like this unhindered and unfettered by day to day tribulations.  It really makes you humble.  Over the comms, I told Kim how I was feeling and we decided to take a few minutes to stop and just soak it all in.

There we were, somewhere in the middle of Argentina with nothing around us for miles and miles but open fields surrounded by mountains, blue skies and fluffy white clouds.  Frankly, it was a wonderful few moments in time.  It was like we were on our own little planet and we were so thankful to be there.  But it was quite strange, we didn’t feel like we needed to keep it for ourselves, we felt like we needed to share it with everyone, hence the couple of pictures you see in the gallery here.  You’ll know which ones I’m talking about when you see them.

After about twenty minutes of awe, gawking and picture taking, we got back on the bikes for the final leg of our ride to the Estancia La Angostura, a working ranch (estancia).  We hit several zones of construction which made the going a bit slow in places but was not difficult.  But it did bring to mind that Routa 4o is changing and that the gravel will soon turn to pavement.  So if you would like to ride Routa 40 in its gravel state, do it soon, because change is coming (for the better of the people of Argentina).

Another two hours on the rippio and we found a small sign announcing our arrival but the estancia was nowhere to be seen.  All that was nearby was a gravel and sand two track leading off Routa 40.  Since there were no other signs and Routa 40 continued on straight ahead for miles, we followed the little gravel two track for about two miles and there it sat, the Estancia La Angostura.  Surrounded by cypress like trees and wrapped in bushy like vegetation it was a haven from the continuous winds.  Once inside the surrounding trees and bushes, the wind was almost non-existent.

The estancia itself did indeed look like a ranch house.  A long plain white washed building with no-nonsense windows, you could see it was made for work and not for style.  Still, it had a natural beauty as it blended into its surroundings and seemed to be perfectly in place with all that surrounded it.

Inside it was even better.  The tools and necessities of ranch life adorned the walls and tables.  An old coffee grinder here, a saddle there, a set of bolo balls hung from the walls as well as a well worn and abused revolver.  Each was capable of telling a story of its life on the plains of Argentina and the work that it had done in making the Estancia La Angostura successful.

We walked around a bit and were shown to our room.  It was a modest bunk room with little adornment.  However, the people had done their best to make it cheery and leave their marks.  Although the walls were bare, without even sheet rock to cover the walls studs, the insulation’s batting had been decorated with multiple handprints.  The handprints were in different colors and were all over the wall.  It made for a very nice personal touch and gave you the feeling that folks who had done hard work lived in the room and you were now their honored guests.  It was quite comforting.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner.  Once again it was to be an asado of lamb and sausage.  We walked to the dining hall where in the corner, an entire lamb was skewered and slowly cooking.  We sat waiting for dinner to cook chatting with friends and drinking some wine when the owners came in with their pet dog and their other pet; a lamb!  It was a strange feeling seeing your lamb dinner cooking on a skewer and then the owners come in with their pet lamb!  But this one was special, it had been abandoned by its mother and had become their house pet.  It would never see the skewer!

We had a marvelous dinner and soon were off to bed for the next days ride to El Chalten the climbers paradise, where well take you in Part 7.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 5)

Having enjoyed hugely comfortable digs for a couple of days we were ready to make our way toward Esquel.   We’d be traversing some mountain roads, but it was to be easy going with smooth pavement all the way.  But we did have some nice twisties and a few nice stops with overlooks.  We could tell that we were truly enjoying the trip since we were bypassing the opportunity to stop and take pictures at some pretty beautiful spots.  It’s just that there were so many opportunities to see them, we had to force ourselves from becoming jaded to all that we were seeing and were still to see.

We breezed along the mountain roads swooping and gliding, powering up steep inclines and gliding down the backs.  There was great joy in twisting the throttles and rolling the bikes side to side.  Magic.  Our bikes and our bodies flowed with the earth and easily followed its contours.  It was as if the mountain had a giant magnet under its road and our bikes were magnetically bonded to the earth as were we to the bikes.  We passed beautiful valleys hemmed in by great mountains and made few stops along the way.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Because of this, our first stint of the day on the bikes was fairly long, we had lost track of the time.  One such stop was for lunch.  We often packed power bars and some fruit in our top boxes for an easy and quick snack.  Kim remembered that she had stored a banana in her top box and was ready to eat it for her lunch’s dessert.  But we’d done quite a bit of riding that day and the sun was beating down on us and the bikes.  In addition, the banana had worked its way to the bottom of Kim’s top box where it had been bouncing about with all her other gear for most of the day.  When she opened her top box and searched for her banana, she found on the bottom, a fine banana and dust puree a mixture.  Eww!!!

So we cleaned up her top box and got to the business of eating lunch and taking a few pictures.  There were some local flowers that we took a few photos of and before we knew it, we were back on the road.  Once again there were few pictures taken as we zoomed our way to Esquel.

It was a fairly long day in the saddle but time really did zoom by.  In fact, before we knew it, the sun was getting low on the horizon by the time we reached the border of Esquel.  We were fairly tired by the time we reached our motel which was like a little hacienda at the outskirts of town.  Complete with wooden rail fences and a central square area in the interior it was a great place to stop and catch 40 winks before we once again got back onto the rippio (gravel) on the famous Routa (Route) 40.

The following morning dawned nearly overcast, the few breaks overhead letting the sun’s warmth through occasionally.  Our spirits however were on high since today we were going to ride the rippio of Routa 40, famous for making its way southward to Ushuia and also for the Patagonian winds that blow.  We were about to find out what both were like on the first day our journey over its length.

Shortly after leaving Esquel, we made our way onto Routa 40 and the rippio.  The towns gave way to large open plains of tall grasses.  Some were populated with cattle and horses while others were empty and open for as far as the eye could see.   About an hour into the ride, we spied a splash of color, pink color, not too far off the road.  Two pink flamingos, not lawn ornaments, but the real things, stood as a pair, wading in a marshy area.  I said to Kim over the intercom, that we weren’t in the States any more and there was the proof.

Shortly after we passed the flamingos, the wind began to pick up.  Lightly at first, but then more steadily until it became intense.  Severe is the word that comes to mind.  A consistent 30 – 40 MPH wind that gusted even higher making the riding quite challenging.  We would get accustomed to the steady wind leaning the bikes and our bodies into the wind causing the bike to take on a significant lean just in order to ride straight.  A gusting of wind would require even more lean just to stay on course.  Complicating things even more was when the gust would stop, we’d have to quickly take out the lean or risk falling off.  It was quite an interesting and tiring riding situation.  But after riding a few hours in these conditions we were becoming accustomed to it and riding became more easily to us.

About half way into the riding day, we came upon our first of many Gauchito Gil shrines.  We would come to find that these shrines were all over Routa 40 and were filled with drinks, money, cigarettes, gifts, prayers and requests for help.  The shrines in memory of Gaucho Gil and if you are interested, you can learn a bit about it here:

Gauchito Gil

We stopped at several shrines and took some pictures and also took the time to get a measure of the wind.  It’s difficult to explain the Patagonian winds.  They’re really something you have to experience for yourself.  Here’s a bit of a taste of how insistent they really are…

Roadside Patagonia Winds from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

Back on the road, we made our way towards the town of Perito Moreno and our stop for the evening.  We came upon this rather interesting sculpture.  At first we couldn’t make out what it was, but when we referred to the drawing at its base, it became clear what it was.  It was pretty cool now that we knew what to look for and we enjoyed finding it in the middle of what was pretty open and deserted spaces.  After another couple of hours on the road, in the distance, we could make out Perito Moreno.  Tomorrow we’d be heading for a working estancia (ranch) out on the plains with no communications to the outside world.  It was a marvelous place and we’ll tell you all about it in Part 6.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 4)

We rolled into Bariloche in quickly gathering darkness.  Up a paved road past some houses and a barking dog who chased us for a short distance.  Not to long thereafter, we found the sign for the hostel we were to call home for the next two nights.  The road into the hostel was dirt and lazily curved and climbed the hostel grounds.  We finally came to the place where we were told to leave our bikes which was not level and had deep random holes surrounded by tree roots.  Kim attempted to dismount her bike  in the dark and for the first time on this many thousand mile trip, dropped her bike.  She was bumming big time since she rarely drops her machine.  But it turns out that as she pulled up, there was earth below her right foot, but nothing below her left but a significant eight inch drop and a tree root.  She semi fell and hopped off her bike and emerged only with a damaged ego.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

By now it was fully dark and we were unloading our night’s gear from the bikes.  We walked down the hill to the room where we would be staying.  The owner unlocked the door for us turned on the light and wished us a good night.  As we walked inside, we found a very nice apartment!  We were not expecting anything like this, it was indeed a small house and we were inhabiting the entire downstairs.  We had a bedroom, kitchen, livingroom, bathroom and even a nice porch.  We were psyched!  We couldn’t see the outside surroundings, but the inside was certainly nice.

In the center of the hostel yard was a dining area where were to be served a home cooked asado dinner by the hostel’s owners who happened to be South African expatriates.  Dinner time was not too far off and we sat down with several of our friends for a nice home cooked asado accompanied by some nice Argentinian Malbec.  Mmmm…. it was good.  Good food, good company, good stories and good wine.  What a great way to top off the evening and a great day.  Before we knew it, it was almost midnight and we wearily dragged ourselves back to our little apartment.  Tuckered out from a long days ride, terrific food and perhaps a bit too much Malbec, we were really ready for the sack.  We just dropped into bed and were almost immediately sound asleep.

The following morning dawned bright and sunny and we were anxious to see what was outside our little apartment.  We were not disappointed.  We did indeed have a nice little house surrounded by trees and shrubs with other small houses nicely situated not too far away.  There was even a little man made reflecting pond with flowing water.

After a quick breakfast, we got onto our bikes and rode out into the surrounding countryside.  We came into the town of Llao Llao and rode around its beautiful lake and some of the surrounding mountains.  There was a small turnoff at one particularly beautiful overlook and there were several school buses with children ages from about 10 to 15.  They giggled and ran and played at the roads edge and took pictures of each other at the not so significant drop off overlooking the lake and the mountains behind.  It was a time for all to enjoy what nature was offering and the kids were keen on doing their best to enjoy it.  We milled around with them and soon we had integrated into their little group.  They were a bit curious about our Aerostiches, but they did offer to take our picture as we did for them.

Soon their teachers called for them to get back on the busses and we were almost alone at the roadside overlook.  The view was all the more exquisite in the peace in quite that now enveloped us.  We lolligagged around a bit longer and soaked it all in until it too was time for us to be on our way.  It was lunch time and we found a small out of the way restaurant and enjoyed a nice slow Argentinian lunch.  This trip was clearly becoming a journey of contentment.  With all the mountains in the area you might imagine that there would be ski resorts around and indeed there were.  The resort had an almost European feel with chair lifts operating and out-door places to eat and view the mountain scenery.

With some more riding, we headed back a little early into Bariloche itself for a quick look at the town and to pick up some supplies for dinner that night.   We bought that staple of travelers everywhere, pasta, and of course, some more Malbec to go with it.  Some cheese and crackers and we had a complete and ready to go dinner that was quick and could be made with little fuss and few ingredients.   As we got to the check out, I struggled a bit with my Spanish, but I was able to pay the correct amount (I think) and we left to return to the hostel.

Before dinner, we did a bit of cleaning and attempted to clean off some of the dust from the road.  There was plenty of it and it took us a good hour to get everything fairly spic and span.  By the time we had finished it was dinner time and we embarked on the journey to make our pasta dinner.  We had most everything we needed.  A deep pot, a colander, a smaller pot for some sauce, some spoons for stirring and a couple of forks.  But what we didn’t have were any pot holders.  Dang it!  But Kim being the resourceful soul that she is, simply said, no worries and broke out her riding gloves and we were immediately provided with two insulated pot holders.  Bravo!

Ultimately, we were able to get the pasta served, our cheese, crackers and wine ready and sat down at the table next to the outdoor porch.  We looked outside and to our dismay saw we had an interloper.  A good sized bird perhaps about a foot tall, waited on the rail of the porch looking for some handouts.  He cawed at us and jumped around on the rail.  When I opened the sliding door to the porch he would fly off, only to return.  I wanted to leave him/her some pasta, but he/she would always fly away.  Hmm… come to think of it, perhaps it wasn’t the pasta he/she wasn’t interested in, could it have been the Malbec?

I’ll never know what was on his/her mind, because he/she didn’t come back after about the fourth attempt.  So we were left to eat our dinner in peace and have a nice quiet evening.  Tomorrow we would head to Esquel and the beginning of the famous Ruta 40 and the infamous and fierce Patagonian winds.  We knew they could be strong, but we’d really underestimated their ferocity.  We’ll tell you all about it in Part 5.

Ride2Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time