The Kindness of Strangers and Alien Lands

After leaving Bryce Canyon, and the Escalante River Basin, I headed northwest along the UT highway 12 to the 24.  Crazy terrain, and storms still chasing me.  I was heading for Moab, where I planned to spend a day hiking and exploring before heading for Colorado.  I am kicking myself for not taking more pictures along this ride.  My favorite place along the way was the Cathedral of the Damned (my name, no idea what it is actually called).  It’s a huge butte on the desert somewhere out there that as I approached it, looked more and more like the Duomo di Milano if it had been carved by the tortured souls straight out of one of Dantes dreams, and then heated until it melted like a giant candle.  Huge, imposing, red cliffs with crazy thunderheads towering up above it was the backdrop for my lunch.  Both cameras were dead at the time, but I doubt I could have gotten a photo that did this place justice anyway.  The lightning was my cue to get moving, up the 24 through Hanksville, and north up to I-70.  East for a few miles, and then south on the 191 into Moab UT.  

I splurged and had a good meal and a beer at Moab Brewery.  Great beers, great food.  A proper burger was definitely needed after nights of baked beans in a can.  I met a great old guy who had been a guide around this very touristy town for years, who told me about some free camping up the Colorado River just north of town.  He told me a back way to go, avoiding the crowded main street with its police and adventure tourists, so I headed out.  

A mile down the road though, the bike decided that it didn’t want to shift anymore.  Perhaps it was the long day, perhaps she just wanted a beer of her own, but the old girl put up a fight.  A bit of looking, and the problem was obvious:  the little linkage that connects the shift lever to the transmission had given up its cheap aluminum ghost.  I had been fiddling with it for no more than 5 minutes, when a guy pulled up and offered to help.  He ended up taking me back to his place, let me use his tools to weld up a part, and got me back on the road pretty quick.  I headed up the Colorado River to find a campground.  Of course, they were all packed.  I managed to meet a few college kids from Montana though, who let me pitch my tent on half of their site, and we spent the evening drinking more and solving the worlds problems around the campfire.  They were some seriously cool folks.  

I should break here to comment on the people I met on the way:  Everyone out west was very helpful, from the gas station attendants who tried to help with directions, to the campers, to random guides and guys who help out bearded, leather clad strangers on the side of the road.  This changed through Texas and farther east (aside from the lady at the South Carolina Tourism rest stop), and I am not sure why.  I felt a lot of fear from almost everyone along the way though, fear of crime (a lot of people asked if I was carrying a gun, or scared of being robbed), fear of economic collapse, immigrants, snakes, whatever.  That’s the biggest impression (aside from the rampant, morbid obesity) I have had on the trip, that fear had pervaded almost every aspect of peoples world.  Part of this is media based, lets face it, news these days isn’t very good, and the hype is nuts. And don’t get me started on the reality shows.  But part of it is that people choose this fear, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it has to do with social cohesion (something I have none of here), or maybe it is just the going group mentality.  Who knows. 

The next morning I woke up late and slightly hungover from the night before, and headed into Arches National Park.  Cheap (5 bucks), and a great drive.  The arches were cool, and so was the, well, rather phallic rock formations.

At a parking area for one of the arch hikes, I pulled up next to two older bikes, a couple of Honda cruisers. Old bike guys tend to have a lot to chat about, and these two guys were no exception.  Everyone along the way loved the old BMW (I never saw anything even remotely as old, or unique). They were young, riding from Texas to Washington, and they had a small film crew traveling with them documenting their trip.  We chatted about bikes, the trip, work, etc, and hiked up to one of the viewpoints and back.  Two very nice fellas, and I wish them well.  

Another aside:  probably 9 out of 10 bikes out there were new, sparkling, loud Harleys.  I have no idea why anyone would want to ride one of those things.  Not for me.  Saw a few new BMWs, and a couple of Moto Guzzi touring bikes, but almost everything else was a Harley, with the occasional sport bike close to the cities.  I have yet to understand why anyone would buy a motorcycle that is so obviously for it’s image, rather than its reliability, comfort, performance, etc.  To each his own I guess.

After driving and hiking around Moab, the weather again started acting up.  It was cold, windy, and looked like rain, so I abandoned my plan to camp in Canyonlands National Park, and decided to head for Colorado, aiming to hit Telluride and come down to Durango.  No luck, as it was snowing on the Continental Divide, and I had to backtrack 40 or so miles to get back on the road to Durango.  I got into Durango in near freezing temps, in the dark, and happy to spend 60 bucks on a hotel.  The next morning, the Harley shop was very helpful in getting me an overpriced but much needed mirror, which I had broken off the day before.  I might slag their bikes a bit, but hey, they have shops everywhere (probably needed to service their bikes).  I had parked on a deserted dirt road, watered a few bushes and had a cigarette, and while I am standing there with my pants and chaps all undone, I heard a crunch behind me.  The wind had blown the bike over, with the gas tank and handle bars pointing down the slope.  Not easy to get the thing upright, and there was definitely no help in sight.  Muscling that bike up was no easy task, and with the gas leaking out of the top of the tank, time was not on my side.  That ought to teach me to use the center stand….

It rained going over the high plain towards Farmington, NM, and hailed a bit later.  Yuck.  The weather got better after Albuquerque, and it was beautiful for the last 150 miles to Roswell NM.  

Roswell, was kind of disappointing. I hadn’t planned on going through there, but the weather east of the Rockies was pretty bad, so I decided on the spur of the moment to go south through Roswell, stay the night, and head the next day for San Antonio TX, where an old friend lives.  Didn’t find much of real interest in Roswell, just a lot of touristy type traps.  I am sure there is something good there, I just didn’t find it…

The next day, after a night of Alien Amber and cheap pizza, I got on the road.  Roswell to 100 miles outside San Antonio was nothing but oil fields.  The smell of oil was so strong, I kept thinking the  bike must surely be hemorrhaging oil all over the place, but no, it was just our rampant destruction and plunder of the land.  Ugly places, oily faces, and definitely not a place I care to revisit.  

I got lost in Odessa TX, managed to find my way out, and did the last few miles into San Antonio, all in all, a 580 mile day.  I was just happy to put the oil field devastation of west Texas behind me.  No worries though, I spend the next few days relaxing, sleeping an proper bed, and spending some time catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.  Not too bad. Thanks for the place to stay K!

A Small Break for the Gear

A few friends have asked what sort of gear I am using on the trip, so I thought I would do a separate post on the bike and gear.  




Bike:  1979 BMW R100, 980 cc, air cooled Boxer engine.  Pretty much stock, the only mods would be a new front brake reservoir, and removal of the air filter covers.  If you want the full specs, I am sure you can find that info yourself, I won’t bore everyone with horsepower and torque specs….


Marmot Ajax 2 person tent

Big Agnes Insulated Core inflatable sleeping mat

Lafuma Warm and Light 600 Down sleeping bag

Stove:  gas, Chinese made, no name brand. Bought in a hardware store in the Philippines.  Works great

Aerobie Aeropress coffee maker with Peets Columbian coffee

SOG Seal Pup Knife

Estwing Hatchet

Redhead softshell jacket

Arcteryx under layer, top and bottom

ArmyTex pullover

Aerostitch wind layer (not pictured)

Two T-shirts, 2 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of socks

12 oz flask


First Aid Kit

BMW Pro3 Rainsuit

Titanium cup 

Nalgene water bottle

Leatherman Wave

Lumix GX1 camera, Lumix LX5 camera


Riding Gear:

HJC C-16 helmet

D30 armor, back, shoulders, elbows, knees and hips

Scorpion Kevlar lined jeans with armor pockets

AlpineStars SP2 Gloves

River Road Jacket

leather chaps

Kaenon Kabine Sunglasses, amber lens

Ray-Ban Aviators, Black

Red Wing Pecos boots


Tourtech seat bag, tank bag, and original BMW panniers.  Believe it or not, I managed to get everything packed into the two panniers, with a bit of room to spare, with the only the first aid kit, hatchet, and tools in the Tourtech, and the camera, maps, and snacks in the tank bag.  On the way back, I will be even lighter…

Everything worked great for the first half of the trip, but the BMW rainsuit and the Marmot tent were real standouts.  The tent goes up super quick and easy, and comes down even faster.  Lots of room inside for one person and gear, and it will definitely fit two people, although probably snugly.  Perfect for weekend camping trips or festivals, and the second layer rain fly comes off easily leaving just the mosquito netting for those clear nights.  The rainsuit goes on easy, comes off easy, and is totally waterproof, even in a wicked downpour.  Well worth the money spent, and with the color, well, you’ll be visible in even the worst weather. 

The D30 armor and the Scorpion Jeans were also great purchases.  The jeans are not too heavy, and its very hard to see that you have any armor in them at all.  I wish they came in colors other than indigo blue, but hey, they are just jeans in the end.  

The riding leathers worked well, the River Road jacket vents well, and works great, even in hotter temperatures.  

If anyone wants more info on the gear, the bike, or anything else, just leave your question in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.  

Happy Riding!

Canyons and Moonscapes

Day 3. After making a great cup of coffee, I got back on the road.  I am carrying the Aeropress coffee press, and can highly recommend it.  Easy to use, and heating up a bit of water over the fire is no worries at all. Highly recommended. Heading south along OR SR 97, to CA SR 139, south towards Susanville, and across the border into Nevada.  I didn’t spend much time driving in Northern California, as I will be doing some of that on the return trip, and I was trying to shave a bit of time and outrun the weather (another thing I did quite a bit).  The northeastern corner of California was beautiful. really looking forward to seeing going back.

Nevada:  took route 50 all the way across.  It definitely has earned the name of “The Loneliest Road in America”.  I did drive roads with less traffic, but the sheer remoteness of the place was pretty crazy.  Especially alone on a bike, where you know that if something happens, it might be a good while before anyone comes along…..


I camped that night at Cave Lake State Park just outside Ely, NV.  High up, windy, and cool, but a beautiful, clear night to stargaze.  The campsite is located on a small ridge, with some decent tree cover to shield the wind.  Looks like there is some great hiking around the park, but sadly I needed to get on the road, as when I woke up, the clouds to the north were looking quite ominous.  I headed south on the 56, to the 319 across the Utah border, and down the 219 through some amazing country to St. George, UT.  I have some friends who have lived there or in the vicinity, and they always spoke so well about it.  Nice place, but, like a lot of places in the west, not a place I would want to live.  Too much desert, but great to see!

I drove through St. George after stopping for a disappointing taco, and headed on toward Zion National Park.  The place was packed, and I did it on a weekday, I would hate to see it on a holiday weekend!  Gorgeous place, and well worth the visit.  Amazing canyons, beautiful roads to drive on, and the park staff were great.  image

Next stop:  Bryce Canyon.  I managed to make the park before dark, but the campsites were full, so instead of going twelve miles back to boondock some BLM land, I paid the rather extortionate fee of 30 dollars to camp just outside the park.  The campsite was admittedly nice, hot showers, WiFi, etc, but still, overpriced.  I did get some great advice on places to camp around Moab from some of the staff there, and taking a hot shower was great.  I met some Swiss people in the campsite next to me, who were traveling around the world in their pickup truck, complete with a clever rooftop tent design.  I wish I had a photo to share.  They were great, shared a meal and a fire, and got to practice my rusty Swiss German! They had driven across Asia to Singapore, and shipped the truck to the south coast of Chile, and then drove all the way up.   A very cool adventure.

Bryce Canyon was great, much more expansive views than Zion, and much fewer people.  After a bit of hiking, I got back on the road, headed towards Moab.  Driving through Capitol Reef NP was by far the best bit, and the Escalante River Basin was stunning.  Now that I have seen Arches NP in Moab (where I really wanted to go), I wish I had camped around Capitol Reef and explored a bit there instead.  Much nicer, and absolutely deserted.  The changes in landscape were crazy.  I drove through a red walled canyon, very narrow, and it just sort of opened up into this insane moonscape of grey dust and dunes.  Amazing to see, glad I had enough gas to get through though, as staying out there would have been rather lonely….


Bryce Canyon, from one of the many viewpoints


Escalante River Basin.  Would have loved some more time here…


Honey Badger hates selfies.  But, I guess one is ok, as long as I look good.

On The Road, or the Bavarian Milk Wagon Sees the Sights

Hey All,

I know it has been a while, sorry about that.  I had a pretty crazy year, which necessitated a circling of the wagons, so to speak.  Thanks to some great friends, I got it all sorted out though.  Not to say that I have the meaning of life (it’s 42), just saying I have a better grasp on the thread.

Enough about that though.  I am on a bit of an adventure at the moment, and I thought it would be interesting to share a few of the highlights along the way. My plan was to get a motorcycle, and ride from Port Townsend WA on the Olympic Peninsula, to Atlanta GA to go to a friends wedding.  Then ride back.  Try and see as much as I could of this giant country that I barely know, and often cannot identify with.  It was going to be a big journey.

I landed in Seattle, WA, on April 24, my first time back in the States in four years, and it was just as shocking as it always is.  The size of everything: cars, houses, people, is huge.  I haven’t finished a plate of food yet, and the size of the small fountain drinks contains enough sugar to put a rhino into a diabetic coma.  And the selection of beers, well, it’s overwhelming.  I stood in front of a frosty wall of beer, stretching for what seemed like a mile of fluorescent-lit craft beer goodness on either side.  Not a bottle of Bud in sight.  Ah, Seattle.

I stayed with some amazing friends in Seattle for a few nights, we went out for one night of craft beer swilling, karaoke and Seattle fun.  We checked out some of the neighborhoods, with eagles soaring above trees that soar above quaint little houses.  We walked through great little parks, checked out the scenery, and ate some great food.  Looking forward to going back and spending some more time in Seattle for sure. Thanks B&R for a great time.

I made my way by ferry over to Port Townsend, where I had arranged with one of the most awesome people on the planet to borrow his bike for the trip.  That’s a seriously big favor.   I hung out with him and his fiance there in PT for a week, meeting a few of their friends (also great folks), and drinking yet more amazing beers.  


Alas, it was time to leave.  I knew I would be leaving a lovely comfy bubble of ale, giant dogs, great friends and general holiday making, but I came to ride, and ride I would.  I headed south of out PT on May 1, drove through a tiny section of Olympic National Park on the 101, and down in to Olympia, onto the interstate (no fun on an old bike) until I hit the Columbia river, where I  headed west on the north bank.  What a great road, with stunning views, but the big trucks coming at you all the time forces you to keep your eyes on the road.  It’s not so much the trucks, but wash of air coming off them.  Took a bit of getting used to.  It was a day of getting used to the bike a bit, feeling out the traffic patterns (not the same as driving in Asia!) and generally getting comfy.  I camped out the first night at Home Valley Park in WA after a paltry 277 miles on the road.  The views along the way were amazing, and I quickly realized I was never going to make it if I stopped to take pictures every time I saw something cool, so I tried to burn those images into my head as I rode.  


Guess I should say a bit about the bike.  It’s a 1979 BMW R100, everything pretty much stock.  It even has the original BMW hardcase panniers.  I added a seat bag, and a tank bag.  The tank bag held my camera, maps, a bit of food, sunglasses, etc.  The seat bag held my first aid kit, a few extra parts, a bottle of water, the hatchet, and a hat for those times when I got off to do a bit of hiking or sightseeing.  I managed to get all my extra clothes, food, tent and bedding into the panniers, with a bit of room to spare.  I have gradually shaved everything down, and I will be carrying much less on the way back.  I’ll do a separate post about the kit and such for those who are interested.  

Anyway, I woke early, packed the tent, and got on the road.  Destination?  Crater Lake.  Too bad for me, it was under snow (this became a bit of a ongoing issue), but the ride through The Dalles, OR, (named for its columnar basalt rocks carved by the river there) and onto OR SR 197.  The ride through the high country south toward Bend stunning, with clear views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson.  It was the first time I had been really alone in a while, and it was awesome.  Would have liked to have camped up there, but I needed to get some miles under my wheels if I wanted to make Birmingham by the 15th.  We were planning a bachelor’s party starting at the Barber Motorsports Museum, didn’t want to miss that!

Cruised to and through Bend, hoping  to hit Crater Lake.  I realized around 3 pm that I was out of luck, you could see the bottom of the mountain, but the top was buried in clouds.  I stayed just north of Klamath Falls, at Collier State Park.  Great campgrounds, well maintained and with good hot showers.  17 dollars a night for a tent seemed a bit steep, but that ended up being the going rate for most places along the way.  


I’ll write a separate post a bit later too about the ride through Nevada and southern Utah, as well as the last leg of the trip, getting to Atlanta and up to the Carolinas.  

Until then…

First World Problems

We all think we have problems.  The car won’t start, the internet is slow, can’t put gas in the Suburban, etc.  And in our worlds, these problems seem huge, since they are the only ones we really have.  I know, many families this year are facing foreclosure, homelessness, huge debt.  But whether we are riding high this Christmas, or worried about putting food on the table and foregoing presents, I think it worthy to really take a look at how and why we personally celebrate.  

I’ve noticed a few things this holiday season.  Lots of complaining about alternative celebrations.  “Oh, I can’t take my snot-nosed-corporately-labeled-below-average-progeny to see a nativity scene without baby Jesus being stuck behind a Festivus pole of beer cans!”  Oh, the horror!  Big deal you coifed monster, why not explain to your kids that America is awesome because you can celebrate Christmas, and some other guy can celebrate what ever he wants? Stop trying to distract everyone with your insipid banality.

War on Christmas.  You must be kidding me.  Christmas, like Easter, was appropriated by the Christians from a mix of pagan traditions hundreds of years ago, where they took a perfectly good week-long holiday of lawlessness and indulgence and turned it into a rather lame single day of bling, consumption, and guilt that they can claim as their own.  And now their descendants are mad that people might want to do something different.  Boo-hoo.   Be a Christian, celebrate it however you want.  Just don’t force everyone else to do it with you.  I know, that does kind of go against centuries of all of Christianity as a religion forcing itself on regular old pagans, but just try it. Break that trend of making everyone do it the way you do.  I have it on good authority that Jesus thinks you are just being petty with your endless wars on nothing anyway.  

Sadly, the only thing we have left of any decency on the holiday scene is Thanksgiving, and people have even managed to screw that up by spending the day after being thankful for everything they do have by going shopping and fighting over garbage they do not have, and do not need.  Lovely.  Probably only a matter of time before I hear some that some wingnut  (probably Rick Santorum) is trying to change Thanksgiving to celebrate the day Jesus tied his sandals.  You know, because just generally being thankful isn’t enough.  

Which brings me (somewhat meanderingly) back to my main point.  First World Problems.  Watch this video.  Hopefully it puts you in a good mood, ready to be thankful for what you have (and what some of you body-slammed some soccer mom in Wal-Mart to get a few weeks ago), and those around you.  Because in the end, Christmas isn’t about you.  It’s not about explaining Festivus to your kids.  It’s not about trees, lights, Jesus, Saturnalia, or egg-nog (although maybe it should be about egg-nog). 

Christmas is about coming together and being nice to each other.  Why do we need to be exclusive?  Muslims, Jews, Christians, Aryans, Pastafarians, voodoo priestesses.  Everybody get together, eat some food, and find some common ground.  Do that in whatever way you want.  And let others do it whatever way they want.  Try forgetting how you finally got healthcare, or how you hate that others can get healthcare.  Stop fighting over which political party is screwing us worse.  You remember that story from WWI?  You know, both sides putting down their guns, getting together and forgetting the war for just a day?  You only have to do it once a year. 

Maybe stop being so extravagant with your holiday spending too.  You know you are only throwing money at shitty corporations who are brainwashing you into believing you need that crap anyway.  Give that cash to someone who actually needs it.  I vote Christmas be renamed “Bring a Homeless Guy WHO IS NOT OF YOUR RELIGION to Dinner” Day. 

And what, might you ask, do I want for the holidays?  Nothing much really, a warm bed, a good roof.  Some food and close friends would be nice too.  And maybe Caribou Barbie’s career on a stick.  Kind of like a Palin-popsicle.  Someone go get me that.  Just wait til after Christmas though.  No sense spoiling the holidays for the Tea Party.   


(Source: questionall)

Anyone interested in Burma should check this article out.  This guy is dead on.

Love this video.