The first time I ever got on a motorcycle it was as a passenger on Gregg’s bike. It was 1979 and we were in high school in Maine. Now we’re planning a year-long adventure. I’m calling it our Thin Line Ride – as in there’s a very thin line between doing something brave and doing something stupid. I’m not sure which this is. In late November 2015 my 2016 work plan was due and I had to explain to my boss why my 2016 work plan only went through August. I am leaving a great job that I’m good at and love to have an incredible adventure with my friend Gregg on our dirt bikes. Yup, we’re quitting our jobs, leaving our houses, and taking off for a year-long adventure on our dirt bikes! Does that make us brave or stupid? Tell us what you think.
84 total days on the road for me – Carmel is been out about a month longer
55 actual riding days
7470+- riding miles
Apparently, it’s been a while since we have updated the journal.
When last I wrote we were in Burton, TX and Carmel was sick. It turned out that she had Viral Bronchitis and was down for more than 10 days, and not well for longer than that. She is still not 100% because while she was in bed and coughing uncontrollably, she pulled a muscle around her ribs. This means that the everything from laughing to getting on and off her bike is quite painful.
We have been riding though.
After the funeral, and Carmel’s time in her sick bed in Burton, TX, we went back to ride in Louisiana. We took a southern route through Lake Charles, LA with a stop just before Christmas with some friends of Carmel’s in Lufkin, TX. One advantage of this particular family was that he is a Doctor and was able to get her chest x-rays to help diagnose her Bronchitis and get her meds to help her recover. We stayed a couple of days to visit and because the weather was cold and rainy, but headed to Sam Houston Jones State Park, in Lake Charles for Christmas Eve and an RV park in New Iberia, LA for Christmas day.
Sam Houston Jones State Park was a beautiful location, but it like many LA areas suffered some serious damage in hurricanes Rita and Katrina (among others, I am sure) and for whatever reason, much of the infrastructure has not been repaired. For our visit, the bathhouse was a “temporary” FEMA trailer some 12 years later and while mostly functional, was definitely showing signs of age… Probably the worst bathroom facilities short of the couple of National forest campgrounds that only had outhouses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful area that has a lot to offer, but I was very disappointed with the camping facilities. And it’s not like they were giving discounts for the run down facilities.
New Iberia, was a last minute route change. Carmel has an affinity for hot sauces. And knew that Tabasco sauce is produced in Avery Island, just south of New Iberia. It was Christmas day and as you might expect, not much was open. We did find a couple of gas stations open so that we could refuel and get some “travel food” but real groceries and such seemed out of the question. We were at just such a gas station when Carmel decided that a) she was tired (she was still feeling the effects of Bronchitis), b) that she wasn’t at all interested in staying in a hotel/motel, and c) getting on ANY highway to shorten the day – the original plan was to end up in Baton Rouge – was out of the question. All of these factors put New Iberia on the radar, and while “camping” was extremely limited she was able make a few phone calls to locate an RV park that would accept a tent and we headed there to end our day.
Almost immediately after getting the tent set up on our site for the night, one of the local park residents – no, really, she and her boyfriend lived in an older camper in the park as full time residents – came by and after the requisite, “Did you ride those motorcycles all the way from Maine?” conversation, they invited us over to their camper for Christmas dinner. These people obviously had far less then we, in general, but were so very generous. We were humbled by the simple offerings by these nearly homeless people. I don’t remember their names, and I feel badly about that, but I have sent plenty of good energy their way in thanks. The Universe knows who they are.
The next morning, we took a very short ride to Avery Island, the home of the Tabasco factory and farm – the Primary reason for going to New Iberia as a destination. They have a self guided “factory tour” on the premises. There is a little museum, as well as several stops in different parts of the manufacturing facility. It was interesting, but what I marveled at MOST was that “someone” had the thought that “Hey, we should charge people to walk around our place and we can tell them all the great things that we do to increase our brand awareness… Oh, and of course we should have a gift shop/company store so that we can sell them all SORT of stuff with the brand label on it”. After a couple hours of walking around the plant, we were back on the bikes and on our way to Grand Isle, LA.
If you have never been to Grand Isle, you really should make the trip. To be clear, it is not “on-the-way” to ANYWHERE. In fact, if you go past Grand Isle, you had better have a boat, as the only thing beyond Grand Isle in any direction except west is the Gulf of Mexico. It is an island (as the name might imply) and you travel over a 4 lane, VERY tall, very long (20 or 25 miles?) bridge over the Gulf to get there.
We stayed at the State park and it was very nice. They have 2 options for tenting, the “campground” and “the Beach”. The beach is much cheaper, but has zero amenities and as near as I can tell, you have to carry your stuff from the parking lot to the site and if there is an exceptional high tide, you could be floating as near as I can tell. We opted for the slightly more expensive ($25 I think) “campground” and took advantage of the electrical hook-ups to charge phones and helmet comms and such. Yes, there were Mosquitoes, but NOTHING like we had in the Everglades. Carmel did however spend much of the evening and morning in the tent avoiding the little blood suckers. Did I mention that she HATES Mosquitoes?
On 12/27/16 we left Grand Isle heading to New Orleans. Both Carmel and I have been to NOLA several times (Carmel might be said to have been there MANY times over the years), but we could not pass it by since we were in the area, so-to-speak. We had made contact with an AdvRider Inmate who lives just south of the city when we were in MS and thought that LA was next on our intended track, before we detoured to Bryan, TX for Tumu’s mothers funeral over a month earlier. We touched base with Ben once again and he (and his lovely wife) generously agreed to put us up for the night in the “Big Easy”.
Once at their place we did something almost unheard of. We cooked IN! Jen and I went to hunt and gather groceries and we created some “easily as good as restaurant quality” Patty-Melts for dinner and some local “king cake” for dessert – we never did get to the king cake as everyone was just too full from the burgers.
Ben is a fighter pilot for the LA National guard and had a day at the simulator the next day so he did not have to be to work early so we walked to the local donut place (District Donuts on Magazine if you are in the area and want to check it out) for coffee and some of their yummy creations. Flavors like Rootbeer float and Raspberry cream and Bacon donuts were on the menu. Gotta say, it was worth the walk!
Since the weather was looking good for a couple days and we had both done the NOLA visitor thing a few times, we opted to head north at that point. I had heard that there was some good riding in the Kisatchie National forest and to be quite honest, I needed to find me some dirt to ride. We had been over 6,000 miles thus far and PERHAPS 20 of it wasn’t paved. I created a 200 mile route up to Alexandria, LA and we hit the road again.
Kisatchie National forest is spread out and broken up into several areas. Alexandria is near one such area (south and east of the main parts of the National forest areas, encompassing most of the Kincaid reservoir). I had looked at my maps and I figured that we could spend at least a day or 3 in that part of the forest exploring and getting a little dirty. So that’s exactly what we did. Jill (my GPS) tracked us doing about 75 miles in the forest, not all of in on dirt, but a fair portion was. I got the mighty DR a little dirty and a little muddy and Carmel rattled a bolt out of her luggage rack AND her windscreen (AND nobody got hurt). I’m calling it a Win for the day!
I would have chosen to stay a day or two longer but on our way north we stopped at a Baton Rouge Honda dealership (Friendly Powersports, no really, that’s the name). We had worn the rear tires down to almost nothing over the last 6,000 or 7,000 miles and while they did not stock what we needed, they ordered them for us and we scheduled a Saturday “mount our new sneakers” appointment, so we had to get back for that. We found another very generous AdvRider Inmate just outside of Baton Rouge willing to host us and better yet, meet us at the dealership on Friday afternoon so we could drop the bikes off and they could be first in line on Saturday for the tire swap.
Jeff and his wife Melissa (and their 6 children, ages 11 years to 4 weeks!) were amazing. Jeff had set up his Pop-Up camper for us with Heat and Electric and the works. Coming from the little tent that we are traveling with, that thing was high living! We had only planned to spend a day or two or so with Jeff and family, but the local weather changed that plan. We didn’t leave till 3 days after the New Year! We had HEAVY thunderstorms, we had tornado watches, we had flood watches, we had high winds and cold (well, cold for Louisiana) temperatures. We stayed in the little pop-up camper and visited with Jeff, Melissa and the kids and waited for the weather to break. When it finally did, we headed south and west towards TX again.
We made stops in Palmetto Island State Park and Galveston Island State Park riding the scenic back roads of the Louisiana Bayous and the lowlands of TX. We took the Ferries in Cameron, TX and in Galveston before heading up here to Tomball, TX for a visit with a long-time friend of Carmel’s at the “Bates Motel”.
We have been here longer than expected because ANOTHER cold front came through the area and the temperature dropped from the mid-60’s to a low of 15 degrees while were have been here. Gina and her newly minted fiance have shown us so much love and generosity that “thank you”, doesn’t really seem to be enough. But I offer my thanks, none-the-less.
I think that tomorrow we will be able to get back on the bikes and point them towards the Texas Hill Country. I have never been there, but everyone who has says that it an amazing place to ride and I have enough route suggestions in the Junction, TX area to keep us there for a week or more! It might take a couple days of riding to actually get there but I am excited about the prospects.
It’s been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and write, but there is no internet here so it might be a while before this actually gets posted with pictures added. I’ll post this with the data package on my cell phone and hopefully edit it later when we have both time and wireless internet. Call it a rough outline of a post. I think that Carmel has said something about having an unfinished post on her computer that may also add to the background that I offer here as well.
We are in Burton, TX. As usual, Carmel has some very generous friends, who are giving us an apartment to use for our stay. We were in Canton, Mississippi when we got word that our mutual friend Tumu’s mother had just succumbed to cancer, so we made a quick change of direction – we thought we were going to head to Louisiana – to offer our support to him and attend the funeral. It’s only a couple of states west and we can always come back east to ride in Louisiana.
Since leaving Carmel’s family and friends in and around Sarasota, we went North and east to Winter Garden, FL to visit with my cousin Brad and his family and attend my Uncle Ed’s 70th birthday party. Ed, Brad, Garth (another cousin, Brad’s brother and Ed’s other son) are into dog racing so the party was in the clubhouse at the dog track near Orlando. I’ve spent plenty of time at horse racing tracks over the years. My Grandfather was a horse trainer and over the years my father and his brothers have all owned horses or been involved in harness racing, but this is the first time that I have been to a dog track. Of course there are differences, but also plenty of similarities. I was pretty much at home, and thrilled to be able to see my father’s side of the family. As they live so far away, you can imagine that we don’t get to see each other much.
We spent a few days visiting. Carmel got to play with the retired Greyhounds that live with Brad and his family and LOVED the puppies that might eventually be racing dogs at Uncle Ed’s farm. I can’t honestly say that I have a lifestyle that would permit pet ownership, but if I were to own a dog, the retired Greyhounds would have to be on the short list. They were very well socialized, no hair to speak of, and simply sweet to be around. If any of you are considering a new pet, I would encourage you to consider contacting a retired Greyhound adoption program. I can’t speak to the entire dog racing community, but the Bolton racing dogs were well cared for and a treat to be around.
From central Florida, we headed across the panhandle, through Alabama for a stop with another of Carmel’s “long-lost-friends” in Canton, MS. They own a historic Bed and Breakfast there and had offered us the B&B as a place to stop off. Melanie and Jim were fabulous hosts and since leaving Florida the temps went from near 80 during the day to near 50 and cooler. I hesitate to suggest that this is cold since the folks back home were getting plowable snow and obviously much colder temperatures, but having a luxurious place to stay for a few days was a wonderful treat.
We took a day trip over to the Battlefield memorial in Vicksburg and were thinking that we would be moving on to Louisiana when we got word of Tumu’s mothers passing. It took us about two seconds to decide to come over, and only took us a couple days riding to get over here to Central Texas where the funeral services were to be held, so having access to Alisan and John’s “annex” apartment for the past 3 days has been wonderful. It has also been convenient as Carmel has come down sick with something of a sinus infection and cough, so while I am writing this, she is doing her best to rest and recover. The idea of putting her helmet on her head today was unthinkable for her, the fact that it is currently raining and cool makes the choice to hang out here an easy one. If you have to be sick, having a warm and dry 2 bedroom apartment is FAR better being similarly sick in a tent. THANK YOU Alisan and John!
As I write this the weather forecast for the next couple of days is for 80’s tomorrow and 30’s for the following day. I will probably take advantage of the warm weather tomorrow to do oil changes and some other minor maintenance on the bikes and then wait to see how Carmel is feeling before making a decision on when and where we will head next. I am thinking that riding back to see Louisiana might be on tap, but it is winter in the northern hemisphere and Carmel is not excited about riding very far if it’s cold – apparent 50’s is cold after her time in Madagascar and Florida. We’ll just have to wait and see.
I don’t think I have personifcation tendencies but on occasion I do name things . My Tiger is named Margarita because she is lime green and I apparently spent too long living in Texas.
The KLX I named Verde-ita because she’s little and green.
I had a TomTom™ once and his name was, no big surprise, TomTom. When I bought my VW TDI I dubbed the built-in GPS FrauFrau.
I hadn’t given my Garmin a name but yesterday as Gregg and I were riding from Sarasota to Winter Park I suddenly had an epiphany. My GPS is always on mute and often times, even after a route Gregg has planned in BaseCamp™ and loaded onto my unit, will give very different directions than his. Granted he has OSM (OpenStreetMaps) and I have City Navigator® North America NT maps but still we find endless amusement in coming to an intersection and his GPS (named Jill) says left turn while mine is indicating we should turn right.
At one such intersection I announced that apparently (and I don’t mean to offend anyone) my unit was not only mute, but also dumb and stubborn because if we follow Gregg’s she often refuses to recalculate and will instead request – for miles – that we make a u-turn.
That’s when it dawned on me. She’s deaf, dumb, blind , mute, stubborn, and is insistent that things be done her way.
As I write this we are back to Fort Meyers after our trip to the Keys.
We left Atlanta on something of a bee-line for Sarasota, FL. The idea was to get to Carmel’s parents house before their arrival to open up the house and get it ready for them after their summer in Maine.
We knew that it was going to be a long, and cold run south so while we shun highway under most circumstances, when we had the opportunity to run down I-75 for a couple hours we took it. The same holds true for I-475 around Macon, GA but once we got on US 41 near Fort Valley we stayed on it pretty much all the way to Lake City, FL. Some good riding there! A bunch of small towns with few traffic lights, little to no law enforcement, and comfortable roads. Our goal was Osceola National Forest and the Ocean Pond Campground.
I have been to a lot of National Park campgrounds in our travels over the years and many of them have had more to offer the casual tourist, Ocean Pond Campground absolutely fit the bill for us for the night. It is a small campground, just inside the FL/GA boarder (the campground is on the southern border of the park, perhaps 40 or so miles west of Jacksonville, FL) and the maps suggest miles and miles of fire roads and dirt roads to explore if you have time – we did not. Ohhh. And it cost $8 for a tent site for the night! We arrived as the light was fading. I started a quick one-pot meal while Carmel set up the tent. We ate by headlamps and almost immediately slid into the sleeping bags. It had been a long day. Garmin tells me it was about 350 miles and about 10 hours of traveling overall.
From Ocean Pond to Sarasota was another 245 or so miles down US 441 through Ocala. The North Ocala area is very beautiful with a mix of horse farms and seemingly abandoned (or nearly so) ranches and trailers. It didn’t seem to matter that the homes seemed livable or not. People just seemed to leave them to the elements to be reclaimed by the trees and vines, while the farms next door were well kept with possibly manicured, lawns and fields. Of course Ocala seemed a typical semi-urban area except that many of the businesses seemed to focus on the farms, and farmers, in the surrounding communities rather than the suburbia fare that I am accustomed to seeing. Sure there were car and truck dealerships but there were plenty of farm-store and tractor places too.
Of course, coming into Bradenton and Sarasota, we were in the heart of what I would call urban living. Traffic lights are every couple hundred yards, and by the time we were in Sarasota itself, it was mostly every block. There is simply no apparent way to travel quickly or easily and when we got there traffic was quite heavy.
We got to Carmel’s parents’ house with relative ease, considering the traffic. We unlocked the house and unloaded the bikes before going around the corner local Publix to restock the larder and organize our own food for dinner before pitching the tent in the back yard because after being closed up for the summer the place simply needed to be “aired out” for a while. We also discovered that the seal between the toilet and the tank needed replacing! The first time Carmel flushed the toilet, about half the water from the tank came flooding out onto the floor. A quick trip to the local Lowe’s got me a $3 seal. Installing the seal was something more of a challenge though. The space around the toilet was so tight that I had to be a bit of a contortionist to get to the bolts holding the tank to the toilet, but once that was done it was an easy repair to add to the list of things that needed doing before they arrived.
While Carmel visited with her parents for a couple days, I visited with my friend Diane and her son Nathan before we rejoined and headed further south to Fort Meyers and a visit with our high school friend Marian and her husband Mark and then on to Key West.
“>Track to Key West and back
The route to Key West took us down US 41 through The Everglades. Carmel really wanted to stop in Everglades City and have Key Lime pie and conch fritters. It was almost on the way so it was added to the trip!
Just outside of Big Cypress National Preserve is the road down to Everglades City. It’s about 5 miles from US 41. The Rod and Gun Club, which is apparently famous for the conch fritters and pie that Carmel sought, is to the right of the rotary on the Barron River.
The Club is actually quite old and famous in its own right. It’s a neat old building with a nice outside dining area. The conch fritters are in fact quite good, but at $12 for a 6 fritter appetizer was a bit pricey. Carmel ordered some but was mortified to hear that they were out of Key Lime pie! How can they be out of Key Lime pie? It took a bit or researching, but Carmel can be tenacious. She found out that a local ice cream place “bought” their pies from the same supplier. We got some groceries and got the pies that we came all this way for! And it was good.
We took the access road back to US 41 and turned right into the Big Cypress National Preserve. Our plan was to get to Midway Campground inside the park. Midway is apparently called this because is is about midway between Everglade City and the east side of the preserve, which is just west of the Miami area. It’s a clean campground, but it has no showers or cell coverage. They do have alligators, and apparently bears and panthers. We got there early, checked in with the hosts, picked our site, and set up the hammocks for some much earned relaxation time. How Carmel found a cold BEER to help that process is beyond me. I was, however grateful that she was willing to share some of it!
The next day we finished the route towards Key West. The PLAN was to get a spot on Bahia Honda State Park. It was an easy ride and we got there by mid afternoon. We rolled up to the gate/ranger hut to inquire about a site. The ranger lady starts to tell us that they have just a single site left, and no, they can’t tell us which one, and no we can not go look at it. As Carmel and I look at each other somewhat quizzically, the point becomes moot. A voice from deep within the small ranger hut informs the woman that we have been negotiating with, and us by extension, that the last site has been sold over the phone. Who knew that camping over Thanksgiving was a thing?!? Now YOU do. The suggestion was made that we keep going south to Big Pine Key and to check out the Lodge/Fishing camp. It’s about 5 miles south said she.
We found it easily. Rolled up to the office and walked in to begin another round of “Do you have anything? How much can we get it for? Can you do it for anything less?” Well. Yes, we do have some tent sites left. About 6. They are $50/night without water or electrical hook-ups. And No, you can not get them for less (probably anywhere on the Keys, except for the State Parks),” were the responses. WAY more than we were expecting, and after a bit more researching later on, suggested that they were not too far from the truth.
The place was clean. It was well maintained as far as I could tell. They had a large bathhouse with hot showers and WiFi that reached to the tent sites! If this sounds pretty alright for the price, it kinda was if that was as far as it went. But it was also located mere feet from the Highway and the bridge from the Spanish Harbor Key just north of Big Pine. The cars and trucks NEVER stop. EVER. And the endangered Key Deer combined with the red-winged black birds made it impossible to keep things on your picnic table. They would assume it was food and tear into it, spreading it all over the ground for others to share.
We stayed there for two nights. The first night we went the 35 or so miles down to Key West and Duval Street. Duval Street is sort of the Key West equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or “The Old Port” in Portland, Maine. It’s a great place to people watch. We got there at sunset so I got some pics, of course, but mostly I watched. We had a great Cuban dinner from a place just behind Duval that we lucked into and still got back to the campground before 9.
The next day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we spent watching the sculptors at the “International Sand Sculpture” competition. Ok, we watched them shovel sand into the initial forms and pour water over them to begin the PROCESS of prepping the sand for sculpting. It was the first day and there was just no way that we could afford to stay till Saturday when the competition was due to be over. So we walked around some of the residential areas and found a corner sandwich shop – as memory serves, that was its actual name, “The Corner Sandwich Shop.” I had one of the best fried fish sandwiches that I have had in years and it was only about $7. We spent the last half of the day looking for trees for Carmel hang her hammock!
In the process of exploring the back road beach areas that we were told about we found a road on Sugarloaf Key simply called FL939B (the old State Road 4A) . It’s near the KOA if you are looking for it. It goes south about 2 or 3 miles and comes to a couple of “Road Closed” and “no motorized vehicle” signs. I walked in a ways and it was clear to me that others had ignored those signs, so we did too! Shhhh. Apparently, it used to be the OLD, old way down the island. It has certainly been a number of years since THAT was true. It is currently best described as a double track trail with some significant pot holes and even a few mud holes. And it went south for MILES. We probably went 4 or 5 miles in before turning around. At about 7 or 8 miles (on the map) there appears to be a creek that used to have a bridge crossing. It no longer exists. Key West was interesting in it’s own right, but for me personally, this little unexpected treasure put the biggest smile on my face for the week.
On Thanksgiving day we headed north again. I spent the early morning watching and taking pics of the sunrise. You will have to go to my photo gallery to see them all!
Leaving Big Pine Key behind and looking ahead over the bridge, almost in unison, we both say into the helmet comms, “THAT looks like rain.” We pulled over and take a few moments to don the rain gear and make things as weatherproof as possible. By the time we got our helmets back on the squall had begun. It was raining, and raining quite hard, for perhaps half an hour on the trip north, but didn’t fully stop raining until we got up to Key Largo. We stopped for fuel, and took a side trip to the local Wal-Mart-Superstore to gather materials for our Thanksgiving dinner.
The idea was to ride down into the Everglades National Park to the Flamingo Campground. This was a 40 mile one way ride into the southern most point of the Everglades. Matt, my son, and I had ridden down there several years before and I thought Carmel might like the ride down in. Bringing groceries with us was the only viable option, stopping at Wal-Mart on the day before Black-Friday, well… that was just part of the adventure, or so we told ourselves.
As I mentioned, the road to Flamingo is about 40 miles long. If you don’t have a National Park pass it will cost you $20 per bike to ride down there. It reminds me of what I imagine the African savannah might look like – except that under grasses here would be water rather than sand. When I mentioned this to Carmel, she agreed with my mental image except for one thing. She had just returned from South Africa and Madagascar. And nowhere in her travels did she see anything approaching the number or size of trees available in the Everglades, in Madagascar, and there were mountains everywhere she was in South Africa.
One of the highlights, no really, it’s one of the highest points in the Everglades apparently, is Rock Reef Pass. Elevation 3 feet. There is a sign. We took a picture as proof. Perhaps a mile or two later there is another, slightly higher area, where the Dwarf Cypress thrive. Elevation 4 feet.
Once you are at the end of the road, almost literally, there is a marina, a restaurant, and of course the campground. At our visit, the sites cost $20. I mentioned that I had been here before with my son several years ago. Nothing seemed to have changed except for one thing. The mosquitoes! Neither Matt or I have any memory of the blood sucking, dive bombing, apparently insatiably hungry mosquitoes. On this visit, they were memorable to say the least!
I am not a big fan of Mosquitoes. Carmel hates them. By the time I had gone back to the gate to accept and pay for the chosen site, she was already quite animated about their intensity! She had her bike unloaded and the tent half way set up before I could get back and get off my bike. She was IN the tent so quickly after that, that I never actually saw it happen. And there she stayed for MOST of the rest of our stay.
I unloaded my bike. She stayed in the tent. I set up a camp chair in the tent and worked on the days pics, she stayed in the tent. I organized the groceries and cooked dinner. She stayed in the tent. She came out to get her turkey dinner with potatoes, green beans, salad, and cranberry sauce. And went back into the tent. She took the dirty dishes to the bath house to wash them while I cleaned up the site for the night, and we BOTH went back into the tent. EVERY time we opened the zippers of the tent to enter or exit, there was a 10-15 minute “Mosquito Eradication” regime to minimize the beasties that came in during the seconds that the doors were opened. I want to tell you that I jest somewhat as I tell you this little story. And it is perhaps true that I exaggerate my own disregard for them, these tiny vampires, but they were certainly the worst that I have seen in many, MANY years. They bit through clothing, through our head-nets, and through the tent if you got too close to the sides of the tent.
We decided that breakfast would be had “in-town” rather than “in-camp.” We got up, donned our bug-proof (so-called because it was only mosquito resistant) clothing and exited the tent. We packed up and loaded the bikes and left the park as quickly and efficiently as possible and headed out of the park to escape the onslaught.
We did stop at the other camping area in this part of the park. It’s only about 10 miles in from the entrance of the park. It is called “Long Pine” campground, it has fewer sites, and on this day, it seemed to have FAR fewer mosquitoes, and we agreed that if we were ever to get down to this part of the world again, we would try this area before we went to Flamingo again. I think that Long Pine probably fills up much faster than the Flamingo campground so keep that in mind if you are coming down this way. I know that I have gone on a bit about the bugs on this visit. And while the flying pest were the significant feature of note on this visit, I should be fair and tell you that there were dozens, and dozens of people in the Flamingo campground walking around as if nothing was wrong. Others came prepared with screen tents to cover a sitting area or picnic tables. Many of the other visitors simply didn’t seem to notice. And except for the bugs noted on our visit to the park, it was a nice place with good facilities and great access to the waterways. Come prepared.
After breakfast, we set a route to get us to Marian and Mark’s house again, back in Fort Meyers. They were having a “Friends-giving” – kind of a second Thanksgiving celebration meal – the next day and we were invited. “Hell yeah we’ll come! We’ll be there before the end of day,” was all that was said, and off we went. And here we stayed for couple more days before setting off again for another stop at Carmel’s parents house. She has a few more chores she wants to do for them and I have ordered a few more parts for the DR (the speedo cable is still broken and really ought to be fixed).
Once all that gets done we will head north to visit with some of my father’s family for a couple days before heading west towards Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas which are high on our pre-planning highlight lists.
Fair Warning: This is almost 2,000 miles in one post. It’s a bit long.
My trip south has been mostly focused on work rather than the riding. The timing was based more on the need to get back to Greensboro, NC on October 31 rather than any cool places or people to see. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my best to visit some people that I seldom get to see and go places that seem interesting. Back in September, I spent 2 weeks in Greensboro with an artist friend setting up a show in the Guilford College library and art gallery before returning to Lowe’s to finish off my assignment there.
Fast forward to October 26th, 2016. I have had about a week between my last day at Lowe’s to finish prepping the bike, packing and repacking and repacking again, and generally doing what needed doing before leaving.
It’s 8 am. Time to blast off if I am going to meet my high school friend Lisa in Warwick, RI at the arranged place and time.
The bike is in the driveway warming up, bags are loaded, fuel tank is full. I have done my best to be sure that will have what I need for the foreseeable future but little or nothing extra – there simply isn’t extra room on the bike. The Temps are cool, it is fall in Maine after-all.
My riding gear consists of a thin base layer under my heated liner jacket which is under my mesh armored jacket, which is under my regular waterproof riding jacket (with most of the armor removed since it would be redundant with the armored mesh jacket and takes up HUGE amounts of packing space when I am not wearing the jacket). My Pants have a similar configuration sans the heated liner and the mesh pants, I own neither of these, so it’s base layer, lightweight cargo pants, riding boots with a thin pair of wool socks, all covered with my waterproof armored riding pants. I have 3 pair of gloves of different weights packed. Today I choose the middle weight. It’s cool but not cold.
I say good by to my mother at the door (she lives with me and will be taking care of my house while I am gone) and throttle out of the driveway with a bit of anxiety and a lot of excitement. Anxious about my preparation, about whether my 16 year old motorcycle will hold up to what I am about to ask of it and a host of usual things that I expect most people taking on something like this would be thinking about. Excited that, at long last, a trip that I have thought about since I was in grade school was finally cracking out of it’s metaphorical egg. Well, almost. I do have a couple of weeks worth of work and travel to get to Atlanta to meet Carmel, but at least now the waiting can be over. I am moving!
I am about 5 miles down the road and I get the feeling that I have forgotten something – something important. I start going over in my head the inventory of what I had intended to bring VS what I did bring. Then it hits me. My Camelbak isn’t on my back! I know I carried it out. I remember putting it on the back of bike while I zipped up my jacket. FRACK
I turn the bike around and start scanning the ground on the other side of the road. It’s red and not small. How hard can it be to find. It has my first aid kit and a couple of other (ok, maybe more than a couple) last minute things that I tossed in at the last minute. It is not small, but it also not to be found along my path as I retrace the route back to my house. I am wondering if someone came upon the bag after it fell and thought themselves lucky for my loss. I’m wondering how I would replace the hydration pac. I am wondering how much doing all this would set me back, both in time and money. I get back to my my starting point and still nothing. I am not thrilled with the prospects, but I go into the house to find another hydration pack at least. And there it is!
Apparently, it had fallen off the bike almost immediately after I left the driveway. My mother saw it fall and went out to retrieve it. She had also called me, but my cell phone was in a pocket and I didn’t notice the call. PHEW!
Crisis #1 overcome with hardly a scratch. Well, at least THAT is over. No more wondering what the FIRST problem was going to be. That may sound a bit pessimistic. This could not be further from the truth. I am an outdoor guide by profession. I was trained to ALWAYS be looking ahead and have at least one bail-out plan in case something goes sideways. Bad things do happen to good people occasionally. Once the trip prep is over and the clients arrive you can worry more about them and not as much about the potential problems BECAUSE you already have a plan to take care of them. I try to approach much in my world with that same type of preparation. Once you have the first problem under your belt, so to speak, you can just move forward with the trip.
I throw the pack on my back and clip the sternum strap and I am back on the road towards Rhode Island, my first planned stopping point for a visit with my high school friend Lisa.
I tried to plan my route with the basic rules of the trip in mind, but it is actually quite difficult to get out of Maine and to RI without using the interstate system, not without adding several hours to the trip. So I opted to the more-or-less straight route south. I say more-or-less because I opted to forgo the Maine portion of I95 and go through NH and pick it up further south. I used to complain about the “leaving/coming home tax” that the Maine turnpike authority charges, but there are actually quite a few tolls leaving NH as well! Who knew.
I get to where I am about an hour from Warwick, RI, my goal for the next couple of day, and stop for a short break. A quick text to Lisa to let her know my ETA returns an almost immediate response from her. She is not at home as planned. She has loaned her car to her son who needed it to go on an out of town job interview and he ran later than expected and he (and the car) was at his current place of work. She was now stuck at her work without transport. The question was asked, “could I come get her?”, of course I said yes, but all the while thinking how am I going to manage THIS?
I am riding a DR650. It CAN take a pillion. Lots of people do it. Sometimes quite long distances. These people are obviously much smaller than I! Plus I have a dry bag and other gear sitting on the seat where Lisa will soon need to find herself, but there is no way that I am going to leave her stranded at work. A quick change of my route and I am off to pick her up at the school where she works. We will figure it out.
I get to her school and pull into the parking lot and almost immediately I see Lisa. Her purse over her shoulder, a nice fall jacket, slacks and flats (I think that what the ladies call the comfortable, but light shoes that they often wear). Did I mention that it was now quite cold? Well it was. I had my “I’m a motorcycle ride from Maine” clothes on including my heated jacket and while I was not uncomfortable it was cold enough that dressed as she was, this was not going to be a fun half hour for Lisa.
I unloaded the seat, gave her a warm hat that I always carry on trips, and she climbed aboard, with shades of high school running through my mind – yes, we have know each other for a long time. I didn’t have a helmet for her so I was going to be extra careful, but I was going to get her home. It was only 10 miles after-all
Half an hour later we pull into her driveway. She immediately goes upstairs for a hot shower to warm back up. When she comes back down the stairs she is wearing her full winter regalia including a full length down coat. Apparently, we now have to drive the hour to Newport to a) get her car and b) pick up her daughter who is there at the dance studio rehearsing for the winter show of the Nutcracker. Well, it’s not like she didn’t know what she was in for. It takes only moments more and we are back on the bike headed back out to the highway.
As we are crossing the bridge into Newport I happen to look down at the voltmeter on my dash. Most people don’t bother with monitoring their charging system but the DR has a fairly small amount of extra electrical power and with all the charging systems for GPS, phone, and heated gear and grips I like to know that I am not over taxing the system. It’s now telling me that it isn’t charging at all! If you have ever had an older car and the alternator goes, you are not long before the vehicle won’t soon start and if you run the battery totally down, the vehicle stops moving all together. This is not a good thing! I start doing everything that I can to minimize the power consumption. Heated gear and grips are the first to go, cell phone charger is next. I have LED headlight and taillight so these use very little power, but they still consume some, but I certainly have no option to turn them off. I am doing all that I can.
We get to Newport. We get her car. We get a late dinner near the dance studio and we get her daughter and we get home. It’s 10pm. Periodically, throughout the night the bike starts charging for a few minutes but then goes back to running off the battery only again. I made it back to her house, but this will have to be addressed before I go any further. Crisis #2 is overcome It’s been a long day, but I know what I am doing tomorrow.
I wake up to a weather forecast for cool temps with the possibility for rain in the afternoon so I am up and dressed early and out in the driveway to troubleshoot and hopefully fix the charging system. Earlier in the spring, when we began planning for this trip, I started researching way to maximize the potential power output of the DR. Some people suggested swapping the Regulator/Rectifier with a more modern MOSFET unit from a Honda sport-bike (CBR600rr if I recall). It seemed a fairly easy modification so I got a used one on ebay and installed it on the bike with fairly few issues and it worked well. Upping the potential power output to the point where I had to run the high beam headlight to keep the output from overcharging the battery. Obviously, I needed some extensive testing to be confident in the long-term. I rode all summer and fall and all seemed fine, but when I was packing for the trip I made a point to put the old R/R in the spare parts list to bring. Thank goodness, and forethought, that I did! I disconnected the R/R and hooked up the old one and while putting out less power it was charging and stable. Crisis #3 in 24 hours, seems to have been overcome, and done before the rain comes in. I’m ok with this.
I spend a couple of days visiting with Lisa and her family (and riding shotgun on her multitude of errands and child pick-up and deliveries to this place or other). On Sunday, she has to do her Sunday school this, yes people I actually KNOW a Sunday school teacher, and most days I think that she might admit it. And I have to leave to get to MD, to meet my artist friend to strike the show that we had setup back in September. This will be the actual work part of this leg of the trip.
The first half of my trip to MD was cool, but not cold. At one point I actually thought that it might get warm before the day was over. It didn’t. In fact, just about the time I entered Pennsylvania it was raining. I mean REALLY raining. Thunderstorms with strong winds and lightning and rain so hard that for a long while traffic on the highway was going 35 mph or less were the norm. By the time I left PA most of the heavy rain was past, but it was still chilly – perhaps my wet clothing had something to do with that. My so-called waterproof gloves were certainly not, and in the downpour some rain had worked its way down my the neck of my jacket so most of my upper body was damp as well. I wasn’t cold thanks to the heated jacket but when I stopped to get fuel or take a break off the bike I could feel the cold. I got to Union Bridge, MD about an hour later than expected – not bad really considering the distance traveled and the weather – and pulled the bike into Jo’s garage that she had so thoughtfully cleaned out so that I had a place to park the bike – and began to slowly peel off the layers of wet riding gear. As I took off a layer Jo would find a new place to hang it to dry. There was gear hanging everywhere, but we figured that we had plenty of time for things to dry while we took the van to Greensboro to strike the show. Within a very short time the bike was put to bed, the wet gear was hanging and we were in Jo’s studio kitchen with hot soup and bread for dinner and a microwave HOT pad to warm my hands. Not sure which I enjoyed more.
The next 2 days were spent driving to Greensboro, striking the show and driving back to MD. It was a whirlwind of movement and activity. Several people commented on the speed at which this was accomplished. But it was done and once back in MD the time was spent cleaning up and storing the show components and repairing her bathroom ceiling. Trips to the dump, and other local errands filled out most of the days with a trip to the local movie theater. Jo has an affinity for handsome male actors and while she had no idea what the movie “Dr Strange” was about, it had to be seen. I had seen the trailers and knew something of the Dr Strange character so was certainly willing to see the movie, though for obviously different reasons. In case you are wondering, I would rate the movie 7.5 out of 10. I am sure that they stayed close to the story line of “the becoming of Dr Strange”, the purists would have their skins if they did not, but while the visuals were outstanding the movie seemed to not be able to figure out whether it wanted to be funny or serious (exactly how serious a movie about a comic book character can be I am not sure). It was largely a series of visually spectacular fight scenes linked by some background to explain the reason for the next fight scene. Sounds like a comic book to me. Don’t take it too seriously and I think that you will enjoy the ride.
Leaving MD for my friend Carl’s house was the next leg of the trip. The general plan was to get to the north end of the Blueridge Parkway and follow it south to its terminus before heading west. Garmin showed the route as something north of 900 miles, I planned on taking 3 days. I know that I could have done it quicker but what would be the fun in THAT? Day one was comfortable and I got to the BRP with relative ease. It was Sunday so traffic was light and the weather was cooperative. I had planned to stay at the Otter Creek campground and got there easily. Unfortunately, it had closed for the season about a week earlier. I THOUGHT about sneaking around the gate and stealth camping there anyhow but decided better of it. I was close enough to the Jefferson National Forest where dispersed camping is permitted so a quick left off the parkway, a right onto VA130 took me passed a couple of ATV recreation areas. It was close to dark so I pulled into the second ATV area I came to (Rattlesnake Recreation area) and rode up to the parking lot. There were a couple of pairs of trucks with trailers so I knew that there were still some people on the trails. I wandered around and checked out the facilities a bit before I heard the first of the 4 wheelers coming back to the trail head.
I had a nice conversation with Lannie as he, his wife (or girlfriend, we didn’t actually determine that), and friend loaded up the wheelers for the trip home after a day on the trails. Lannie is a Mine Safety expert and a long-time adventure rider. He has a DRZ400 at home and hopes to ride the TAT (Trans-America Trail) next year with his wife. He was a really good guy and gave me his business card and told me to call if I ran into trouble while in the area. The last of the trail riders came back to the trail head within minutes of Lannie pulling out of the parking lot and were gone soon after. I had the place to myself. I decided that I would try to spend the night here in the parking lot. It was gravel with crushed stone over it. Not exactly a soft surface but I was ready to set up for the night and Lannie had told me that the next town, some 15 miles down the road, had little or nothing to offer a traveler. I pulled the tarp out of my roll, tossed my ground cloth under and inflated my sleeping pad before tossing my sleeping bag on time top of that. I used the bike to tie off the top edge of the tarp and TRIED to stake out the bottom. The ground was so hard-packed that just wasn’t going to happen. I gathered some rocks to keep the bottom in place. I set up my camp chair grabbed my phone and a cliff-bar from my stash and settled in for a little bit of touching-base with people. ZERO cell coverage changed that plan but I figured that I could catch up on this journal. I spent a couple of hours creating the first installment of the trip and it seemed to have been saved on my phone so I figured that I would get ready to turn in. It was obviously full dark now and getting quite cold. I decided to forgo the getting undressed part and to sleep in my riding gear. I brought a 40 degree sleeping bag because it packed smaller that my warmer bags and I figured that with good planning we will be in largely warmer climates through most of the trip. It seemed a good compromise at the time. This night I doubted that it was going to be anything close to warm enough, I was right!
I don’t know what the actual time was when I crawled under the tarp, and to be honest I don’t think it matters. I was ready. Being a bit lazy, and not knowing if I might be rousted from the premises at some point during the night by the local authorities, I opted to use my Camelbak as my pillow for the night. I tell you this as a potential learning experience. IF you choose this option at any point in the future, take the bladder out of the pack. The pressure of your head on the bag can squeeze the water out of the nipple and soak half of your body and most of your gear! SOMEWHERE during the night I figured this out the hard way, making the rest of my night less than comfortable. Fortunately, I had elected to put my outermost riding jacket on the bike for the night and I could put that on over the rest of what I was wearing to keep the now wet clothing away from the cold of the night.
At about 0515 as I am thinking about getting up for the day. A huge noise starts to get closer and louder. I had gotten used to the trains that came through the area throughout the night. This was different. It was pitch dark but apparently it was the first day of hunting season for the black powder crowd and this was the first of many local hunters coming in and unloaded for his ride into the National Forest area to hunt. He was a good guy and very well informed about the area. He offered his surprise that I had been able to sleep here last night. Apparently, it is not permitted and the local constabulary often stop by to check that other are not breaking the rules – sorry guys, but I just assumed that the National Forests were fair game. He did give me a tip for a nearby place for breakfast and before I could repack my tarp and sleeping kit and head out, a large number of other trailers full of ATV’s had arrived and were unloaded. I take his advice for breakfast, meet some of the local timber cutters, have a good breakfast and hot coffee, and have my first opportunity to give a “ThinLineRide” sticker to a stranger as a thank you. While I went into the diners bathroom to clean up from breakfast and get ready for the day the guys that I was just conversing with paid my bill and had left. When I went to pay the bill the cashier informed me that my bill had been paid but the guys were regulars and would probably be back for lunch. I left a thank you sticker at the register with the cashier with a plea for her to make sure that it be given to them when they came back for lunch. Thank you nearly anonymous strangers (I never did get their names)!
The sun is mostly up as I fill the bike and head back to the BRP. It’s Monday now and while it is cold and foggy in the valleys it is warm-ish and clear on the parkway, but the traffic is noticeably heavier than yesterday. I’m making good time and after a stop on the parkway my next stop will be for fuel and that means I have to leave the BRP. At the next off-ramp I exit and within a few hundred feet there is a motel/diner but no visible gas stations. I ask and they tell me that there is in fact a gas station just 3 miles down the road. I can do that. So off I go. Looking for the reported gas stop. There IS a sign that confirms the information provided. I ride for several miles. Maybe 3, maybe more, I honestly wasn’t keeping track (good navigation on my part – not) but I hadn’t seen a gas station. I turned around, thinking that maybe the gas was down the left fork that I had passed a while back. Nope. But I did eventually come on a diner with gas pumps out front. WAY more than 3 miles from the parkway, but I counted it as a score. I filled the bike. I filled my belly. And while I waited for the meal to come I played with route ideas to get me back on route. Garmin and I came to a decision. Skip the rest of the BRP and take some very twisted roads over a couple of mountains directly to Asheville, NC. With my wet gear stuffed into my panniers and the weather suggesting that tonight was going to be as cold, or colder than last night, a see a hotel room in my future.
About 2 miles from the diner Garmin said to take a left to the first of the twisty roads. To my surprise and delight, this twisty road was also DIRT! The first real dirt that I have seen since before I left Maine! It was marbley and dusty and the bike moved around a lot and I had a smile on my face the whole time. The next segment was pavement up over the mountain but that too was a hoot. As I got close to Asheville Garmin says that I should ride up into the Pisgah National forest. Good enough for me. The national forest roads are often very interesting. She didn’t tell me that they the roads were also unpaved! We (Garmin Jill and I) went up and over 3 different heights of land with steep rises and tight switchbacks and loose gravel. All I could think about was a) Thank you Tumu for the training session before we left, and at least for today, b) Jill Loves Me!
I get to Asheville, NC and find the Motel6 that I had stayed at a couple of other times on other trips in past years. It was way more expensive than the National forest that was my original plan, but it was going to be warm AND had a hot shower. I check in, unload the bike and walk across the street to the Subway to collect dinner and go back to the room to eat, shower, look at route options to get to Carl and Heidi’s in TN and sleep – pretty much in that order and with limited delay.
I wake up Tuesday early. The original thinking was that I would leave early and take a very scenic route to TN. It was cold out. Nope. Let’s look at a plan B. Garmin and I have a quick meeting of minds and a shorter, but slightly less interesting route is laid out. There will be SOME highway and SOME back roads but a ride through the Smokey Mountain National park. This roads saves several hours of riding so I go back to sleep and wait for the sun to come up and warm things up a bit.
I get up again around 8. Load up the bike. Gear up and head out down the highway towards Cherokee, NC. Cherokee has the Indian Casino and reservation, but it also the gateway to the “Great Smokey Mountain National park”. I have been through Cherokee a couple of times in past years and it always bothers me what people do to an area in the name of tourism, but I get through town and out to the National park area. One of the first signs that I see there is a mobile road sign that tells travelers that there might be Elk in the fields and that you should not approach them. REALLY? Are people really that stupid that they would try to approach a giant wild beast????? I did see Elk in the field that runs along the road into the park. They appeared to be female – no antlers that I remember – and a good distance off the road, so no danger to me as I passed but there were a couple of cars parked on the side of the road with people in them, I assume taking pictures from the safety of their vehicles. I rode past without incident. The roads in the park a quite interesting and definitely worth riding but be be warned. On one end is Cherokee, and on the other end is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg make Cherokee look tame by comparison. The signs suggest that these areas are renowned as “family destinations” for vacations and recreation. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The big trouble was that traffic. It took most of an hour to travel the 15 miles between the park and my next turn near Sevierville, TN.
I get to Smyrna, TN, the home of Carl and Heidi just before dark. I would have gotten there earlier but somehow, at some point, Garmin Jill had been taking me to a location that was close to, but across town from their actual address. Apparently, there is a “Street” and a “Lane” of the same name. I went to the wrong one first. I fired up Google Maps and while it was starting to sprinkle slightly, I took the chance that the phone might get wet for the likelihood that I would actually get to their house. And the gamble paid off! Carl heard me coming and was waiting in the road to wave me in. Yee Ha! I’m in TN for a few days with some of the best people I know.
I’m here for a few days to work on the bike and visit, then off to Atlanta, GA on Saturday to Meet Carmel after her epic ride in Madagascar, and the official beginning of OUR trip together.
Both Carl and Heidi have real jobs and actually have to go to work so I have some time to catch up on some journal writing– the above pages were largely written in their living room – and I had to do a couple things to the bike while there. One thing that I had to do that was particularly concerning was to modify my carburetor fuel inlet. When I put the big Safari tank on the bike I knew that the vertical orientation of the fuel inlet was a potential problem, in that it caused the fuel line to loop up much higher that the lowest part of the tank. A bit of physics tells you that that this will prevent the fuel in the bottom of the tank from reaching the carb. This means that half the point of the huge tank was negated by this loop. I have heard stories of people turning the fuel inlet tube from its original vertical orientation to a horizontal orientation. This eliminates the loop in the fuel line, but because the fuel inlet tube is thin aluminum and is a tight compression fit into the carburetor, it is very possible to destroy the carburetor by bending the tube, or worse. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in TN, I had run out of fuel twice – on the main petcock inlet tube, so I still had my reserve tube – with what I thought was plenty of fuel in the tank. I had to do something.
Carl is a machinist by trade, and a good mechanic in his own right. When I asked him for his feedback he was skeptical that we could turn the carburetor inlet tube without breaking something. He looked around the internet for further guidance. He found the same things that I had found. It was a crap shoot. I had the tank off the bike. I had the fuel line off the inlet tube. We looked at the inlet tube. We looked some more and thought some more. It was really just a form of procrastination I think. We went to his parts bin and found a bolt that was similar in size to the inlet tube and slid it inside the inlet tube. The idea was that the bolt would keep us from crushing the inlet tube at least. No for the problem of leverage. The carb sits inside the frame of the bike, behind the engine and below the seat. The inlet tube is about 2 inches long and has a 90 degree bend in it as it exists the carburetor. Getting my hand in there and turning the fragile inlet tube with any leverage was out of the question. I had seen someone reach it with an adjustable wrench. I had heard of people putting the carb in a vise and turning the tube with a pipe wrench. A pipe wrench was just out of the question in my view. I experimented with the adjustable wrench without significant confidence inspiring results. 30 minutes later we had not made any significant progress with turning the inlet tube.
That is when I hit on an idea. I took a boxed end wrench that fit over the inlet tube. I grabbed a bit of rag to try to protect the outside of the inlet tube from the edges of the wrench and used another wrench on the open end of the wrench for leverage and slowly turned the inlet tube so that it was now horizontal. Nothing bent. Nothing broke and both Carl and I breathed a collective sigh of relief while I put things back together again. With the tank back on the next big test was filling the lines and the carb with fuel again. No leaks so far!
The next day was Friday, and I was set to leave TN on Saturday. Carl was going to take a half day off from work and he is to show me around his neighborhood, so to speak. We were to go for a rip on some of his favorite roads and trails. Heidi and I spent the morning on a scavenger hunt of sorts. Nintendo was having a limited release of an old-school game console. Carl and Annabelle (Carl and Heidi’s daughter) like to play video games. They wanted one badly. We went to 3 or 4 different stores mostly before they opened. They were already sold out! On the way home from the last one, we tried one more store. There was only one person standing in front of the doors. And a sign that they were allotted 5 units – I did say that this was a very limited release. We stood in line for about 10 minutes and the manager arrived and let Heidi and the others that had arrived in the mean time and sold all 5 units an hour before the store was set to open. SCORE!
Carl got home from work about 11:30am. We were ready to roll before noon. A quick ride east out of town and down some back roads and a couple of dirt roads to a wonderful little lunch spot that Carl knew. Then off for some more fun. He took me on paved roads, on dirt roads, on smooth paved roads with long sweeping turns and roads with tight turns and some with a combination of all the above. When we were done, the grins were ear to ear, it was almost dark and we had gone nearly 200 miles. What a hoot! Yes, I have the GPS track log, and no, I can’t share it with you – Carl swore me to secrecy. But trust me, if you know Carl, and can get down there, and convince him to share the ride with you. DO it! It’s worth the trip.
The night is short. I have had a fabulous time with some great friends, but it’s time to meet Carmel in Atlanta. She arrived day early from Madagascar and we had to get right to Sarasota to help her parents set up their Florida house for their winter arrival. If you take the highway, you can get from Carl’s house to Atlanta in 4 hours. Or so I’m told. I didn’t take the highway. I did it on back roads mostly, in 7, and had an amazing meal of home-made, backyard, smoked ribs. Yee-hah. Thank you Steve and Jenn. You are great hosts.
Carmel and I had one full day at Steve and Jenn’s place in Atlanta to pack, repack, consolidate gear, and reorganize for the rest of the foreseeable future. We are changing tactics from riding solo to riding as a team. This means that while we each have our own bikes and luggage and gear, but we can also combine some stuff – we don’t need a kitchen set for each of us, we can share, as an example. Before we are done, one LARGE box of gear and clothes is ready to be mailed back to Maine.
On November 14th, we set off south. Our first day riding together on this adventure. The original plan of easy days and a relaxing riding has modified just a bit. Carmel’s parents need a hand setting up their Florida house.
It is very challenging – mentally and humanitarianly. The extreme abject poverty is overwhelming. Hand shoveling dirt into bags that are then heaved up, one man at a time, in a sapphire mine for 8 hrs a day, in 95+ degrees, shirtless and barefoot for less than $2 (6000 ariary) a day. Much is done w a hammer and tired, bent, wobbly wheels, and back breaking muscle. Pushing impossibly heavy loads uphill on hand carts or carried atop women’s heads or perfectly balanced on rickety old bicycles.
Hand making bricks and heaving them one at a time onto trucks. 10 passenger vans packed w 25 people, rear doors open and people hanging out the back. Sometimes as tall as the van is it is again with luggage and baskets strapped and piled so tall that it is a miracle they are able to keep the vehicle upright on the mountainous switchbacks of the N7.
Paint must be expensive because the only time there have been lines on the roads are in no passing zones w a short strip of single solid line that is more often than not ignored.
And yet we are greeted smiles and waves by very curious kids daily.
Nearly was killed 5 times yesterday. Roads – the good ones – have 3-4 foot potholes every 6 feet. Riding is a combination of a mine field and video game. Pedestrians. Ox (zebu) carts. Bicycles. Pousse Pousse. Rickshaws. Pedicabs. Fucking huge trucks that would sooner run you over than give you 6 bloody inches. And Tiff said the roads were “good” w no construction. There were grading a long stretch of gravel that looked to be about two feet deep and would have been impossible on the bikes.
We were diverted to a foot path. I will never play poker with her, or believe another word that comes out of her mouth. Ever!
Have decided that the smell of Madagascar is burning garbage and smoke..if you aren’t an asmathic when you arrive – you will be when you leave. And yet it is an amazing place.
Decidedly the speed of Madagascar is slow, but steady – traffic, service, and the exception seems to be the barefoot pousse pousse drivers who seem to run. And the man running up the switchback w a rooster tucked under his arm!
Although I felt safe in the dark and pouring rain for 90 minutes while I waited for Lionel the mechanic after my Suzuki DR350 lost compression. I had noticed that it had a very very disturbing clunk when I started it each time that day. At lunch I told Tiffany because I don’t speak French and Lionel doesn’t speak English. She told me to tell Lionel that night. Note to self – need to be more assertive and make sure Tiff understands when I inform her of something. Like at 4 AM on the very first day as the bags were getting loaded into the van to head to the airport to fly south to Toliara to pick up the bikes. I told her that I’d only counted 9 bags (and there are 10 of us) going into van. I asked her if she wanted to count them she said, “Well you can if you’d like to.” I’d seen my bag and Caroline’s (my roommate for the ride). We get to the airport and sure enough – Tiff’s bag was missing. She called the hotel and asked them to find her bag and put it in a cab to the airport. The cab showed up … with the wrong bag. She called again and had to pay for yet another cab to make the 50 minute ride out to the airport with her bag. All could have been avoided had I insisted that not all the bags had made it into the van.
Unfortunately, however Sandra was jumped from behind in Tana in the market and someone tried to rip her gold and diamond earrings out. There were screw backs (huggies for her as she’s Australian) so she kept her earrings and had sore ears. Then Linda, they were together, had her backpack in front and someone slashed it. She wasn’t cut and didn’t lose anything. Then a few nights later at the very posh Satrana Lodge someone siphoned gas out of the DR. It was the only bike w a non-locking gas cap. I opted for the 7 km hike in Isola Park so Tiff took the DR on the off road ride through the park w Sue and Kate. Kate was riding the GS and as we all fuel up at the same time Tiff realized what must have happened when the DR needed more fuel than the GS. Bound to happen when gas is so expensive and we have such and they have so little.
Heartwrenching to be here. Eye opening. Disheartening. Inspiring to see just how little one needs to survive. And not just the chickens, dogs, or zebu. But the people. Barefoot or in flipflops, walking for miles and miles to school, get water, to market or to work.
When it rains – as it does every afternoon – the pavement turns into an ice rink from all the leaking oil and diesel. The dirt turns to red mud and is like riding in snot.
The road is deceiving and deceptive. Long stretches of good pavement and then potholes, diversions, construction, almost no on coming truck then huge tandem trailers swerving into your lane avoiding potholes in theirs and expecting you to get out of their way. Zebu carts, loose zebu, pedestrians, push carts, hand trolleys. And the villages and markets are clogged and insane with all of the above plus tuk-tuks, and fumes that make Chinese air quality seems pure. The soot, particulate matter, dust, trash, burning fields and garbage are caustic. Stinging eyes and lungs and staining clothes.
Seems if the hotel has water it doesn’t have electricity. If it has water and electricity it also has mosquitoes in the rooms and no muzzy coils. If it has outdoor showers, a pool, wifi, and electricity it also has a big leak in the thatched roof in the lobby. It is after all Africa and a third world country. And an eye-opening experience.
More later and the write up from South Africa will come later.
The flight from JFK to Amsterdam on Delta in Comfort+ was nice. A bit more leg room, upgraded entertainment and liquor. Still – 7 hrs is a long flight. We arrived 20 minutes early at 5:40 AM in Amsterdam for our four hour layover.
The KLM flight was delayed in boarding by nearly 90 minutes with NO explanation as to why the plane that had been sitting at the gate simply went away and an hour later another appeared. By the time we boarded and were settled we’d made friends with our seatmate. A woman named Erica, South African, who had lived in Vancouver for nearly 30 years. Eight years ago she and her husband moved back to the Cape Town area. Ilise and I were invited to be guests in her home for a few nights closer to the weekend. First reaction – WOW South African’s are super friendly.
By the time we landed in Cape Town it was nearly 11 PM and we’d been fed about four full meals during our almost 12 hour flight. We were tired and forked over the 70 rand for the four minute ride to the Road Lodge on the airport exit road.
We checked in. Brushed our teeth, showered, and crawled in bed. It felt soooo good to stretch out and finally get full horizontal.
After breakfast we packed up our bags and walked back to the airport car rental to pick up our Avis rental car. I guess I drew the short straw and I was selected to drive us to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. I had Gregg load the South Africa OSM maps on a very very old Garmin Nuvi. Plugged it in and headed out …remember to KEEP LEFT. Did I mention a five day rental came to less than $150 total?
Photos are taking 10 minutes each to load – so go look at: October 6 photo album to see photos from today.
I mastered the driving and within a few minutes we arrived at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Suggestion: don’t both with the 5 rand for the map. Ginger and Mark told us when we met with them that they’d gone from the gardens up the Skeleton Gorge to Smuts Track. Although we left our backpacks, snacks, and most of our water in the car we soon found ourselves on the trail to Skeleton Gorge … and up the gorge, and I mean literally – as in hiking up the waterfall which was convenient to fill Ilise’s press filter water bottle – up the gorge we went. Thousands of steps up later there were these steep ladders … up we went, which for me with my fear of heights is something – and then, there we were … on a white, deep sand dune thousands of feet above Cape Town, on Table Mountain at the reservoirs.
Rather than face going back down the slippery, stream and gorge, and the ladders we opted for the switchback thousands, and thousands of steps down the Nursery Ravine trail. Our knees held up and our legs started to get wobbly as we reached the bottom and the gardens.
Erica, our seat mate on the plane, had given us the name of one of her friends who runs a guest house. We asked at the information desk at the gardens if they could place a call for us as neither of us bought an international calling plan. Turns out that Long Cottage was fully booked. As we were looking at places to stay down toward Simon’s Bay a woman and her young son came to the information desk to purchase a park pass. She overhead us and piped up that one of her son’s schoolmate’s Mum’s ran an upscale guest house in Simon’s Town and she offered to ring Amanda to see if she had a room for the night. Amanda’s cell phone message indicated she was on holiday out of the country. But she didn’t give up … instead, she called the guest house, explained that she was Nikki, a friend of Amanda’s and she had two friends (literally she’d known us less than 1 minute at that point) who needed to place to stay for the night and was there an open room, at a discount, because Amanda’s child was in Thomas’s class at school. The guest house manager said she’d call Amanda on her cell phone and call Nikki right back. And a few minutes later we had a 1900 luxury suite at the Simon’s Town Guest House for 1200 rand! She jotted down the address and off we went.
Did I mention that my GPS doesn’t have street details? How hard would it be to find? And off we set for Simon’s Town, down the M4 we headed just before rush hour at about 4:30 PM.
We arrived in Simon’s Town and pulled over by the police station to ask a uniformed officer walking out for directions. He didn’t know Bennett Close, but offered to go inside and find out where it was and then take us there. Really? 5 PM the guy is obviously just getting off work. Sure enough. He comes back out, says to follow him and he gets into a police paddy wagon and leads us back north towards Fish Hoek. At some point it because obvious he doesn’t know exactly where it is. We stop and he asks someone. She doesn’t know where it is either. He persists. Finds it on his phone and says it’s 1.6 km away. He gets us really close and then reports his phone has died but it’s got to be one street above where we are. We thank him VERY much for all his help and he leaves. There are two young women walking about eight small dogs. They just moved in and don’t know where it is. We ask two older women walking five VERY large dogs. Yes! Just go one street up and follow the B & B signs.
Seriously – South Africans have GOT to be the MOST friendly and helpful, kind and gracious folks in the world.
We checked into the honeymoon suite, walked down the very steep hill for dinner at Dixie’s and are about ready to call it a night. I’m about to go soak in huge tub and sleep very well tonight.
I left Bob’s house in West Haven, CT on Tuesday, September 20th and rode through CT to NY. I got a kick out of riding down a road called “Poverty Hollow Road” and couldn’t help but laugh all the way to Cortlandt Manor, NY. Poverty Hollow Road had five or six enormous horse farms with three-day eventing and dressage courses in their front yards. Poverty Hollow – Connecticut style.
My ADV Rider friends Rayna and Aaron just purchased their first house. And I do mean just! As in they moved in not even a week earlier. Before they moved in Aaron and Rayna had commented on Facebook about a bourbon bacon monkey bread recipe and I suggested we make it while I was there but Rayna said they didn’t have a Bundt pan.
Who knew that the challenge of the day would be finding a place en route to their house to find a Bundt pan (required for the recipe) as a house warming gift.
I started looking in CT as the Yellow Pages used to say … by letting my fingers do the walking. I was planning the route and called a Kohls and TJ Maxx, couldn’t find a Williams-Sonoma, and reached a defunct number for a housewares place. I finally settled on a Wal-Mart in Monhegan Lake.
As I was taking off my hydration pack and fanny pack the guy getting into the car next to me just had to ask, “Where are you going and where did you come from?” He was the first stranger to get a Thin Line Sticker and immediately put it right on his windshield and offered me his blessing for a safe trip.
With Bundt pan stuck into the cargo net on the back I headed to see Rayna in the new house.
They had just moved up from Queens into a great big house with loads of room, a big yard, a pool, and a garage so all the bikes can be together now (except for the one Aaron keeps in Vegas). Squeaks … the 16 year old orange tabby kept me company. She looks like she could be Ozzy’s first cousin.
My friend Scott from college stopped by with two samples of his home brewed beers. He’ll be opening 6 Degrees of Separation Restaurant and Brewery in Ossining right on Main Street soon. Scott and I hadn’t seen each other since 1986. It was a great visit and nice to introduce Rayna and Aaron to his beers.
We made the bourbon bacon monkey bread with the a very heavy handed pour of Jack Daniels as Aaron had suggested. It baked while we ate dinner and we all dug into it right out of the oven. Absolutely a success and worth repeating. We pretty much devoured half of it and resisted eating all of it – it was THAT good.
The next morning a classmate from high school dropped by. Jody and I hadn’t seen each other since 1982 and it was terrific to catch up with her and introduce Rayna to someone she might be able to do things with.
I left Rayna at about 2 PM on September 21st rode via the Bear Mountain Bridge over to visit my 95 year old Uncle David and his caretaker Kathy. They fed me lunch and took me visit my mother’s family plot. My uncle also presented me with a very generous gift card for my journey. Thank you Uncle David.
I rode on to Branchville,NJ for a wonderful dinner with Sue expertly prepared on her Egg, and an overnight with Mocha and Pumpkin (Sue’s cats) keeping me company.
With Sue’s help I patched my mesh gloves, waterproofed my boots, and she gave me another set of summer weight gloves, a windscreen for my camp stove, and a solar light. She also offered the use of a set of BMW touring boots to use for the Madagascar ride so I don’t need to ship my heavy off-road boots up to NJ when I get to Atlanta. Thank you so much Sue!
On Thursday the 22nd Sue and I left her house early in the afternoon and rode to Malvern, PA to visit Jack and Lisa.
We stopped in Easton, PA for lunch – coincidentally Ronnie Stewart (whose wedding I’d just officiated at on September 17) lives in Easton and Jen, my Atlanta hostess lived in Easton as well. Last year on my ride to New Orleans after an overnight with Sue I’d met Jack and Lisa when Sue bought Jack’s GS1200 so it was fun to see them again.
Upon arriving in their driveway and dismounting and stepping away from the bike I saw out of the corner of my eye it go down. Overly loaded … gas pouring out all over their driveway I had to quickly release all the bags and then Jack, Sue, and I were finally about to right her. How’s that for an unceremonious “Thanks for hosting me” arrival?
Friday the 23rd I left Jack and Lisa’s and headed for Bethesda, MD for the weekend. I arrived at Gail and Eric’s in time for pizza Friday cooked on …you guessed it, another Egg.Eric made a white pizza and a pineapple onion one. Both were delicious. Saturday my friend Doreen came and picked me up at Gail’s and she and her husband Ben took me to Great Falls for National Public Lands Day (free admission) and then to the National Cathedral where we rode up the elevator with the bride and her flower girl.
Then Pat and Patty Garvey joined us for dinner at Doreen and Ben’s townhouse. Doreen and Pat I’d met when I worked for the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection – they were the EPA folks who oversaw the National Exchange Program. They’ve both since retired. Ben is also retired from EPA and Patty is also now retired after three decades as a flight attendant. It was a wonderful evening and I’m so fortunate to have been able to catch up with all of them.
Sunday the 24th my friend Moira from SEAmester and I were able to have dinner together and catch up. I headed out Monday the 26th for Warrenton, VA to stop at Red Truck Bakery for some pie. I was sorely disappointed to discover that they didn’t sell pie by the slice. I briefly considered buying an entire pie and sharing it with patrons who walked in ….but I thought $29 for an apple pie was highway robbery so I settled for a muffin and coffee on the house.
I continued on to Appomattox and a visit to the McLean House and Appomattox Court House where Lee and Grant signed the surrender documents for the surrender of the Confederate army of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. President Lincoln was assassinated just five days later on April 14, 1865.
McLean House where General Lee surrendered his Confederate Army to General Grant
The 27th I rode on to Statesville, NC to Chris and LittleDog’s house. I met Chris and LittleDog at the Westfest ADV Rally in Gunnison in August of 2015. LittleDog has logged 90,000 miles in his dog crate on the back of Chris’s motorcycle.
The 28th (my birthday) Chris, LittleDog, and I piled into the Fool Bus
and rode out to Whiskey Bend to check out the Garage Mahal, blast around, and for taco night. And a good reminder that dirt boots double as excellent snake boots. The dogs alerted us to a 2′ copperhead snake in the front yard. Note to self – also keep boots IN the tent in the south.
On the way we stopped at A Full Measure to pick up a birthday Key Lime pie.
The garage Mahal is a 35′ x 85’steel kit building and will be both his garage and his finished living area. With 300+ acres of woods, river, riding trails, and close to his brother Whisky Bend is a pretty amazing place. Can’t wait to return when it’s all finished – it’s really quite spectacular.
I looked at ADV Rider Tent Space and picked Pisgha Forest, NC and decided to contact Mr. Ray to see if he might be able to host me. Pisgah Forest looked to be about halfway between Statesville, NC and Mountain Motorsports Marietta where I needed to drop off the bike for service while I’m in South Africa and Madagascar.
Mr. Ray got right back to me. Turns out Ray and Katie and their daughter Laurel are former New England ADVers who were just at CroMag this year. They know Brad, Huck, Mike and Sue, Sean and Leah, and were awesome hosts. Ray works at Oskar Blues Brewery and I met them there for dinner after a ride that included stops at Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Murrays Mill, the site that was District 12 in The Hunger Games, and a nap on a new dock at Horse Shoe Bend. Ray even set up his tent and provided a Therm-A-Rest, sleeping bag, and pillow so all my gear stayed put and dry. It was a perfect 50 degree night in the tent.
On the morning of the 30th I left with a few of Ray’s Priscilla White Wit Wheat beers for Steve and headed for Atlanta. Did I mention that Ray is the cellar manager at Oskar Blues Brewery? It was a very chilly ride early in the morning through Pisgah Forest and up on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. In typical BRP fashion the shady sections were frosty and icy and the sunny sections were warm and delightful. I rode through Devil’s Courthouse (350′) and Pinnacle Ridge (750′) Tunnels. I was happy to have the grip heaters on 90% for the first two hours.
Because I told Steve that I expected to arrive in Marietta by 3 PM and I stopped at Chimney Rock I didn’t have time to stop at the Sasquatch Museum in Blue Ridge, GA. Definitely stopping in next time.
It was just about 3 when I pulled into the service bay at Mountain Motorsports on Cobb Parkway South. Casey, the Service Manager left early sick, but Doug took good care of me getting me all checked in while I unloaded the bike. They will change the fork oil, forks seals, replace front brake pads, do a valve check, adjust and lube the new chain for me, move the gear shifter out a hair as I seem to be gouging the crankcase with every shift. Wonder if I bent it a little on the drop in PA. Steve was there to greet me and we loaded up his vehicle with all my gear and headed to pick up Avy at aftercare.
Once again I found myself in a home with an Egg and pizza night! I’m certainly being well-fed by all my friends. Jen came home from work and we had a lovely evening visit together after I took a long shower and washed my hair. A load of laundry later and I was like a new woman.
Saturday didn’t start so well for Avy. She got sick but still wanted to go to her 9 AM soccer game. About 10 minutes into the game she got sick again on the field. Ut-oh. Home we went … and by noon Steve had also started to get sick. Jen and I ran out to run some errands. Shipped my riding gear north to Sue in NJ to bring to Madagascar so I don’t have to lug it all over South Africa with me, I got a flu shot at CVS on the last day of my State of Maine health insurance coverage, and Jen picked up some hand sanitizer, Gatorade, and Pedialyte to make frozen popiscles for her sick little girl and husband.
The good news is that it is now Sunday, October 2nd and both Steve and Avy have bounced back and Jen and I seem to have avoided getting sick. Phew! Can’t imagine leaving Atlanta on Tuesday at 7 AM and not getting to Cape Town until Wednesday night at 9 PM – puking all the way.
Who knew Steve was such a master of balloon art? Check this out!
It rained fairly hard overnight in Portsmouth on Sunday night but by 8 AM after I’d run to the post office to mail Ronnie and Brooke’s wedding license, signed by their witnesses, back to the Town Clerk in Waterboro it had stopped.
I borrowed Tyler’s vehicle for my morning errand while he got to work and adjusted the preload to accommodate all the weight of my gear. Thank you Ty. For this … and for the spring and summer work sessions – one in Maine and one in New Hampshire in which you did the welding to mount your unused Black Dog luggage rack, gave me the tool tubes, handed down your Gerbings heated gear and controller to me, mounted the Oxford heat grips, Cyclops H4 LED headlight bulb, and for hosting me last night.
I had protein powder shake with mixed berries, yogurt, and a bowl of granola and rode out of his driveway at 9:30.
Although overcast it wasn’t actually raining, but I’d put in both the thermal and rain liners in my jacket because I knew I’d be testing the waterproofness of the rain liners in my jacket and pants. When I pulled over to take a picture of the odometer roll over to 12,000 miles it hadn’t started to rain.
I was able to ride for a few hours with just a few minutes of drizzle. By the time I got to Willimantic, CT I’d been riding in the pouring rain for three or four hours. I mean hard rain – hard enough that my feet were like guppies swimming around in my boots.
I pulled into an open bay at Rose Brothers Garage and chatted with the guys for about 30 minutes while I munched on a Clif Bar and dried out a bit.
When I arrived at Bob’s house in West Haven, CT only my hands, feet and my butt were wet. Bob arrived home a few minutes after I’d unpacked the bike and let myself in. I knew he didn’t have a dryer so I realized through stuff into the dryer wasn’t going to be an option. I literally had to wring my socks out before I brought them into the house. Lo and behold … what’s that I see in Bob’s entryway? A freaking boot dryer! Woo-hoo dry boots for tomorrow’s ride to Rayna and Aaron ‘s new house in Cortlandt Manor, NY.
Bob and I and his 15 year old dog Gracie had a lovely walk along the beach and then went out for some of that famous New Haven pizza.
It was sometime after midnight, with my bike parked outside, that I realized it hadn’t yet started to rain, but there was a very good chance I’d need to be riding in the rain to Portsmouth. So I got up out of my childhood bed and went out barefoot to the bike in the driveway and in the moonlight started to wonder just WHERE I’d packed the rain liners for my mesh riding pants. Hmmm – were they in the right “easy access/most often used” bag? No! But I did find a pair of non-mesh gloves that I took out. Where they perhaps in the more difficult to access left pannier? No, it didn’t seems so. So …. then they’re in the top camping bag? Yes! Well that took 10 minutes and made me thankful that I’d thought to do it now, and not in the morning in the rain. Of course, the thought did cross my mind that by digging them out now I might be preventing the need for them at all. Maine forecasters have been calling for rain for weeks and it hasn’t ever really seemed to materialize.
Did I mention I went outside barefoot? That was a no-no as a kid. We always had to wear shoes outside. As I was about to crawl back into bed satisfied that my riding gear was set for the my ride to New Hampshire I thought, “I’d better look at my feet. Can’t be putting dirty feet into bed. My feet were absolutely black and filthy. So I had to go into the bathroom and wash my feet in the sink so they wouldn’t leave black/dirty marks at the foot of the bed on the white and yellow flowered sheets of my youth. Mom’s house, Mom’s rules … should have put on shoes before I went outside!
Sure enough – it’s 8:45 AM and although it did rain overnight I wonder if I’ll need rain liners today.
Betty Adams of the Central Maine newspapers interviewed me mid-week and in today’s Sunday paper there’s a nice article about Gregg and me, Tiffany and the Mapless in Madagascar ride.
I plan to have a leisurely visit this morning with my family before heading south to Portsmouth with Tyler and Kris. I need to have Tyler help me check the chain again. It’s new and new chains usually need to be tightened. But with all the weight on the bike it needed to be loosened before I started riding. Definitely need to have Tyler help me adjust the preload. Should be easy to do without having to unpack or unload the bike. Adjustment rings are at the top of the shock and in front of the side pane. Just need to loosen the top, locking ring, and tighten down the adjustment ring before snugging up the locking ring again. A hammer and a punch, or long old flat-head screwdriver should do it.