In a group of new introductions, Honda rolled out yet another adventure machine at the Osaka Motorcycle Show. Called the Africa Twin Adventure Sports Concept, this Africa Twin proposes to be a more adventure oriented and ready bike with a higher level of off road capability. The bike is still a concept at this time, but if the current Africa Twin and prototype CRF250 Rally are any indication, this up-rated Africa Twin just might make it to production.
Sporting a larger looking fuel tank, wide rear body panels that hint of perhaps more under seat fuel storage, a flat single piece seat, large, wide aluminum bashplate, bar risers, grippy billet platform footpegs, small frame, engine and rear brake protection bits, tubular luggage rack and upswept Termignoni exhaust,this version of the CRF1000L Africa Twin certainly looks the role of a much more sporty rally bike.
Missing in action are the bike’s turn signals, rear fender and mirrors, so it’s apparent that this bike is still a concept at this time. However, if a similarly equipped machine makes it into production, we are predicting that this bike will become more of an enduro model and a significant competitor to more off road worthy machines like the big KTM 1190. Time will tell.
Here are a few pictures to get your mouth-watering and your wallet burning.
Multiple websites are reporting that the long-awaited KTM 390 Adventure lightweight adventure bike is making steps towards production. It is being reported that according to import documents, KTM has imported two test mules into India for “R&D purposes” under the code name KT22. The 390 Adventure is purported to be based on the KTM Duke 390 and RC390. As such, the sites are saying that the 390 Adventure will be the recipient of some of the components from the street siblings above.
Some of the sites are quite detailed about the components and details of the 390 Adventure which potentially makes these reports subject to increased scrutiny. If they “know” these things, why don’t they affirmatively say that the bike has received the production nod from KTM? Nonetheless, they are reporting that the 390 Adventure will likely share the Duke/RC390 engine. If this is the case, we can expect a 373 cc single cylinder, fuel injected engine that makes 43 horsepower and approximately 26 ft/lbs of torque. This will not put the bike on similar power footing with the KTM 690 Enduro, but hopefully could add to the range capability of the machine. It will reportedly have a six speed gearbox with the engine tweeked for application to a light adventure bike.
It is also reported that the 390 Adventure will get heavier suspension with longer travel, higher ground clearance, disk brakes on both ends and more off road oriented tires. This definitely makes sense and would likely be necessary for the bike to be a success. It it is being reported that the 390 Adventure will come with luggage mounts, a larger windshield and bark busters. Lastly, there will be some styling changes (obviously) with redesigned lights, a more comfortable seat and a side mounted exhaust.
Given that the test mule “R&D” bikes have been imported to India, it makes sense that the bike may be produced in the Bajaj plant in Chakan. Time will tell…
As you already know, Kim and I do quite a bit of dual sport riding. When you get off the pavement, it’s nice to have a platform that permits you to move your weight around on the bike to assist your balance. It was with this thought in mind that I decided to try out ZipTy Racing’s KTM footpeg extension kit. Having ridden with them for a full season, I can say that these pegs have been an excellent addition.
Providing a wide and stable platform, it is now definitely easier to move around on the bike. In addition, the pegs are now so wide that weight transfers are a piece of cake. Not that weight transfer is that difficult, but having the extra length and width gives you the leverage to move the bike under your feet much more easily. I have found that I feel more planted on the bike and I am never struggling for good foot placement. Just about wherever I would want my feet to be, I can easily put them in the location I desire.
Although the platform is very wide, foot grip on the pegs has not been an issue. The pegs have deep cutouts between the base and teeth around the perimeter of the pegs allow dirt and mud to easily fall out. The inserts install very easily and securely and are available in four different colors: red, orange, black and silver.
All is not perfect however. The platform is very large so that when stopped, your foot placement on the ground is changed. You’ll notice that your feet are a little farther forward or back as you stand. If you place your feet in front of the pegs, care must be used when starting up again as the pegs have a tendency to contact your legs at the Achilles tendon. It’s not a huge issue provided you are careful. In addition, the pegs are so large that you definitely don’t want to use them in a competitive environment. Because of their size, dragging them at extreme lean is possible and you don’t want them hooking up with the ground when racing.
So overall, we really like these peg extenders. They provide a wide stable platform that makes riding more comfortable and easy. They are also at about $85, less expensive than other peg extensions or replacement pegs. If we had a rating system, we’d give these pegs a 4 stars out of five.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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!”
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.
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
The adventure riding market segment is indeed becoming a very crowded one. First KTM leaks the news of their new 1190 Adventure, then later formally announces it. BMW announces its new water cooled GS1200 and Honda announces that it is returning to Dakar with a CRF450 based rally bike. Phew! Is it hot in here or what?
Well apparently KTM doesn’t think its hot enough in the kitchen and has released these two videos of the 1190A in action to turn up the heat even more. So take a look-see and decide whether you need to turn on the air conditioning.
So BMW, what have you got up your sleeve to turn up the heat a bit?
New Hampshire’s winter snows make for fine skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, but not exceptionally good motorcycling. With autumn over and the real winter rapidly settling in, our motorcycling would be relegated to our anxious dreams awaiting the spring. It is always a funny feeling knowing that our thoughts would be similar in nature to those of the hibernating wild animals tucked away in their dens awaiting the new growth fresh berries with the coming thaw of spring. Each year, to both of us spring couldn’t come too soon.
But this year would be different. We were traveling to a place where at this time of year it would be warm and there would be no snow except very high in the mountains. It was time for me to bone up on my Spanish because this winter we were going to ride to the Fin del Mundo, or translated into English, to the “end of the earth”.
We were flying from Boston, Massachusetts into Santiago, Chile where the following day we’d hop a short flight to Pucon, Chile to start our riding adventure. Our route would ultimately take us from Pucon, Chile a ski resort with its own volcano to Ushuaia, Argentina at the very tip of South America. In fact, it’s the furthest south you can get on any land mass on the planet. Antarctica is composed entirely of ice, so it does not count.
So as the days of November increased, instead of padding around in small circles worrying that the NH snow would soon blanket the roads and trails ending riding for another season, we were actually quite spry, gathering all our riding gear and stashing it in our luggage for the flight to Chile. No sitting about for us this year, we were ready to ride!
So when the appointed day came in mid November, we boarded our flight in Boston and after a quick stop in Dallas for a bowl of some rather spicy chile and nachos, we once again boarded another plane, our destination once again Chile, this time the country, not the kind you eat. The flight was crowded, loud and the lavatory on the aircraft overflowed, but other than that, the flight was uneventful. Upon landing, we cleared customs and grabbed a cab to our hotel which was quite nice.
It was warm and sunny outside so we decided that since we only had an overnight in Santiago, we’d better make the best of it and we went for a walk to take in the sights and grab a quick lunch. It immediately became clear that Santiago was an alive and bustling city. Traffic moved chaotically, people walked on the sidewalks and went about their business, while others sat at the sidewalk cafe’s enjoying lunch, espresso or just good conversation.
But as we walked around, we found that we weren’t apparently all that far from home. As we rounded a corner, we came to none other than a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. Complete with a sign in Spanish that read “Energiza tu vida!” or Energize your life! Jeez, I didn’t know that Dunkin’ Donuts did that. I wonder what different stuff they put in the donuts in South America? We continued walking around for a couple of hours, bought dinner and returned to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s flight to Pucon where our journey to the end of the earth would start in earnest.
When we awoke the following morning the weather was excellent and after breakfast we headed to the airport for our hour long flight to Pucon. That flight was indeed uneventful and we arrived rested and ready to go. We were picked up by a van for the brief ride from the airport to our hotel. Immediately we began to see signs for the ski resort there as well as Pucon’s own volcano. Ultimately, we were dropped at another hotel at the edge of town with an excellent view of Pucon’s own volcano, Villarica. It is indeed a majestic peak, with smoke slowly but consistently puffing from its crest. Villarica is in fact an active volcano and a fairly active one at that. With all that molten roiling fury below, you can just imagine the strength and power that an eruption would unleash. It would be a disaster as the town of Pucon sits almost directly below the towering dragon that is Pucon.
Wiped out would the quaint town in which we now ate gigantic steaks and drank local beverages like Pisco Sours. Gone would be the vendors that sold their hand made wares and the restaurants that serviced all the visitors. There’d only be empty streets to show for all that man had accomplished in that area for years to come. But for now, we were content to watch the sun go down on Villarica and enjoy the increasingly bright and magnificent glow that was now emanating from its face and sides. So as the sun went down, it was time for some Chilean beef. We ordered steak and a platter arrived which could feed an army. One thing that Chilean and Argentine people do not do is skimp on the beef and when our beef arrived for inspection prior to being cooked, it looked as though 3/4th of a cow had been brought to the table for early dinner. In any event, we ended up scarfing down a gigantic meal for dinner and we were ultimately chauffeured back to the hotel for a bright and early start of the journey on the following morning.
We’ll tell you about the beginning of the real journey in the next part.
Seward’s spectacular ocean beauty and sea life had left us slack jawed with amazement. It seemed that each time we went to a new location in Alaska, there was another gorgeous scene ready to unfold directly in front of us. But this day, there was another reason for our slack jaws and now droopy pouts. Today, we were to head back to Anchorage to end our Alaskan and Canadian Yukon adventure.
We had seen so much and met so many wonderful people, that we were indeed quite sad to be beginning the end of our journey. So with really heavy hearts and quite furrowed brows, we packed the bikes and headed northwest towards Anchorage. I can honestly say that the pace was purposely slow and the bike to bike communications between Kim and I were at an all time low; each of us lost in our thoughts and remembrances of the journey we had just experienced.
As we made our way to Anchorage, we took a meandering route to extend our time a bit more. The roads slowly and quietly hissed under our tires, interrupted only by the crunch of gravel and slight wobble of handlebars as we made our way over several sections of road under construction. Each time I was almost immediately returned to the hundreds of miles of gravel we had just covered. Soaring mountains capped with snow, glaciers creaking, groaning and calving new icebergs into a churning sea, wild animals roaming free and unafraid of man, soaring birds and amazing scenery could have conspired to effortlessly lift me from the bike and forever transform me from an itinerant observer to a permanent part of the landscape. I’d just become another part of what is the amazing natural life force that is Alaska. And if it had, I would have welcomed it.
But Alaska did not reach out and grab either Kim or me and we rolled into Anchorage late in the evening, very tired and each upset that our adventure was over. We’d get up leisurely in the morning, grab breakfast and ride over to the shipping agent. There we would unload our gear from the bikes and pack it in our suitcases for the plane ride home. We’d grab a cab back to the hotel and the following afternoon, catch a flight back to Boston and then drive home to NH. The agent would then crate the bikes up and send them home to NH.
The following morning dawned with decent weather and we walked to the Golden Corral near the hotel for breakfast. Believe it or not, Kim loves Golden Corral. Really! She had a hearty breakfast and I enjoyed seeing her enjoy it so that brightened the morning a bit. Well I thought to myself, that’s going to be the highlight of the day.
We walked back to the hotel and jumped on the bikes for the ride over to the shipping agent. We offloaded the bikes and took a few moments to take stock of our situation. Our two little trusty steeds had indeed done an excellent job and performed admirably. Kim’s Suzuki DR650 and my KTM 640A never missed a beat in over 2,400 miles of pavement and gravel riding. To be precise, they covered 2,430.1 miles with over 900 (almost 1,000) of that being on gravel. They hauled a pretty heavy load including the riders, their riding gear, survival equipment and camping equipment.
Not once did they sputter, stall or break down. They carried us through torrential rains, deep mud, asteroid sized gravel and did not so much as cough. The were filthy, covered in dust, mud, and the Denali and Dempster Highway’s calcium chloride. If you are not familiar with it, calcium chloride, is sprayed on dirt roads as a dust preventative. It is slippery as snot when wet and almost impossible to remove once dried. In fact, years later, there’s still traces of it on Kim’s DR’s exhaust.
Nonetheless, these two trusty machines carried on without complaint. The least we could do was give them a quick wash before boxing them up for the long journey home. So we did. The cleansing process helped ameliorate some of my dour mood and washed away some of my angst. The physical contact with the machine and the slow rubbing, scrubbing and rinsing that was necessary to remove only the top layers of grime was like a balm to my raw feelings of having to leave; and in some way, I got the feeling that the bikes felt better too.
Rinsed and ready for crating, we rode the bikes back to the agents and got a taxi to the hotel. There we sat in the room wondering what to do with ourselves until the following afternoon. It was not more than twenty minutes when the phone rang. It was Tracy, the gent who sought us out in Dawson City and whose acquaintance we had made only as a result of a conversation we had with a couple we met in front of Mt. McKinley.
Tracy lived in Eagle River. a town just outside of Anchorage. He knew we were headed out of town the following day, but wondered if we would like to go for a ride with him and his wife MaryLee today. Damn! We had just dropped the bikes off at the shipping agents and they were probably already well on their way to being crated I told him. I think Tracy could hear the despair in my voice because he immediately said, “That’s not a problem, my brother Chuck has plenty of bikes and he can lend you both one!”
Well I don’t smile with my teeth showing much, but in this case Kim immediately knew something was up and asked what was making me smile so much. I told her and almost immediately her expression matched mine. Two Cheshire Cat grins coming right up! We immediately jumped into the rental car and drove to Tracy’s house. We got the nickel tour and headed over to his brother Chuck’s house. He had a fine collection of bikes. Chuck said, “Choose one.” Yikes! It was difficult to choose, but ultimately, I chose his R100RS PD and Kim chose his R/65GS. They were great machines.
Before we knew it we were off and riding as a group. We rode through beautiful mountain scenery and some awesome horse country in the Matanuska Valley. Then we headed over to Hatchers Pass where we took a brief ride into the pass but were forced to turn back due to poor road conditions. We then headed over to a most unusual Alaskan farm. What’s unusual about an Alaskan farm you may ask? Well how about if the farm grows musk oxen? They are indeed unusual creatures. Raised for their fur which is very warm, they are quite large, sound like tigers when they vocalize and can be quite aggressive when provoked. They were very interesting animals.
We spent an excellent day just wandering around Alaska and before we knew it, it was time to return the bikes to Chuck. Little did we know it, but he had one more surprise waiting for us. When he arrived he showed us his beautiful Ural sidecar rig and literally insisted that we take it for a ride. Who were we to argue? So we jumped on with me as the “driver” and Kim as the passenger. It was a blast for me. As for Kim, I don’t think she was as amused as I was. I had never piloted a sidecar rig and with changes in power, the bike changed direction somewhat. So as we made our way down the road, we also made away across the road. While I had the huge grin, Kim had the worried, I hope I survive fake smile on. But she is a trooper and came through with flying colors (and uninjured I might add).
More quickly that we could imagine, the riding day was over and we had to say goodbye to Tracy, MaryLee and Chuck. They had made our last full day in Alaska a wonderful day instead of a downer. We still cherish our friendship with Tracy and MaryLee to this day and even went on another trip with them which you’ll hear about in another article. After many goodbyes, we got into the rental and drove back to the hotel to catch some sleep and get ready for the next day’s flight.
When the following morning dawned, we had reconciled ourselves to the fact that we were leaving Alaska. We grabbed breakfast and Kim was once again in her glory at the Golden Corral. Tracy and MaryLee knew that I was a pilot and mentioned that there was a seaplane base and an aircraft museum next to the airport that we could visit if we wanted to kill some time before our flight home. So off we went and we watched seaplanes taking off and landing for a while. While I have several “ratings”, I do not have a seaplane rating and watching them only increased my desire to get one. Watching the bird get up on the sponsons and then break contact with the water was exciting as was watching them glide easily and smoothly onto the water’s surface, some more smoothly than others.
We then walked over to the museum and learned a bit about Alaskan aviation history and how much a role aviation plays in Alaska. Not only did they have historic displays, they also had static displays of various aircraft from fully restored and flying to in need of restoration and in pieces. It was all very interesting and a great way to spend the morning and early afternoon.
But before we knew it it was time to head to the international airport for the flight home. We had spent the morning with small aircraft which do the day to day job of ferrying everyday Alaskans and their goods from point to point. These aircraft are literally the lifeblood to many remote Alaskan communities. It was similar to our small bikes on our journey. They had carried us and our gear from point to point and provided us with the marvelous opportunity to observe some of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. We hope that someday we will be able to once again journey to Alaska and the Canadian Yukon and like Alaska’s small aircraft travel all over Alaska on our little motorcycles that can.
It was a lazy weekend day in more ways than one. The temperature outside was warm and the sun was in and out of the clouds. Not too sunny and hot and not too cold, it was just right. I too was lazy in more ways than one. It was about 10:30 AM and I was still in my sweats and a t-shirt padding around the house planning how I might round out the rest of the day doing nothing.
That plan however, was soon to go astray, to my good fortune. For coming up the road, first softly but then more insistent was the sound of single cylinder motorcycles heading up our gravel road. Hmmm… I wondered. Who was going to go play on the class four road at the end of my gravel road? There were lots of downed trees and mud, it would be quite a challenge to run that I thought to myself. But as I daydreamed about who might be taking on the challenge, the sound of the bikes became louder. Not just louder as in closer as they passed my house, but louder as in they were coming up my gravel driveway.
It must be Fredo I thought, and as I scurried to the windows at the side of the house, I found it was indeed Fredo and another friend Joe. Fredo on his KTM 250 XCF two stroke and Joe on his KTM 690E four stroke. Awesome was my first thought. So as I semi-ran down the stairs to greet them, my second thought was, I think I may be going for a ride today! And ride we did. It was great, I’ll tell you all about it shortly.
But first let me tell you about Fredo. If you’ve ever wanted a riding buddy, someone who you could ride with just to go out and have fun, it would be Fredo. That definition doesn’t extend just to the riding times either. On and off the bike, Fredo’s the kind of guy that just hanging with is a joy. Always with a smile and something good to say about everyone, Fredo is the epitome of the guy you want as your friend.
Oh, and Fredo can ride, FAST. Although he claims there are other guys much faster than him, Fredo is one speedy and accomplished muchacho. For example, I was at the KTM shop where we both bring our bikes for service. I was talking to one of the techs about how Fredo kicks my butt each time we ride in the woods and he quickly added, “Hey, I’m in my 30’s and I can’t keep up with him.” Well dear reader, I’m here to tell you that I’m in my 50s and I can’t even stay near him when he’s on the gas. The truth be told, when I’m quickly vanishing in his mirrors, he’s probably not really on the gas for him. But he’d never say so. Oh well…
But that brings me to the point of this little article. I’ve been riding with Fredo for about 3 years or so now. We’ve ridden some pretty cool terrain. We’ve done wide gravel roads, we’ve done single track woods, we’ve done mud, water crossings, rutted hills, ridden in snow, over rocks, leaves, you name it we’ve ridden it. In riding with Fredo, I’ve learned a lot. More than I would have learned riding by myself in many, many years.
Sometimes, it hasn’t been very easy and frankly, I’ve fallen off quite a few times trying to keep up. In fact, on this particular ride, I had my first inadvertent off trail excursion. Coming down a hill with the speed up (for me) trying to stay with Fredo and Joe, I somehow managed to lose the front end and off the trail and into the woods I went. It was one of those moments when you get religion real fast. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and I can now add another place. There are no atheists on careening motorcycles headed off trail into the trees.
Luckily, I did not have communion with any trees and the only injury I received was a severe bruise to my already battered ego. But once again Fredo came to my rescue. Noting that I was not in sight, he turned right around and found me off trail in the woods. He wouldn’t even let me ride out. Noting that I was pretty winded, he basically took my bike away from me and hand manipulated it back onto the trail which was no easy feat since I had gone down an embankment several feet.
What all of this leads me to is to tell you that you need not go a long distance to get adventure in your riding. The single track, woods riding, water crossings, mud, rutted hills, all the different and challenging terrain each present various forms of adventure. Take advantage of it when and where you can. This particular ride only lasted 3 or 4 hours but gave me a significant sense of adventure. It will do the same for you if you let it. Get out on some terrain that challenges you. Make it a bit of work and learn some new skills. You’ll be better off for it and with your new found skills, you’ll be able to conquer that kind of terrain when you go on that long “cross-country” adventure ride, or find yourself on terrain that you hadn’t expected. Bring a friend along who hopefully has better skills and learn together. It will be fun, you can count on it.
I would say you could ride with Fredo, but he already has enough of a challenge with me.
Ride2Adventure – Shrink the Planet, One Ride at a Time