Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

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Well, the curtain has fallen, the ride’s over; I’m home.

Time for a few final reflections . . .


It’s been a trip driven by fear, worry and wonder. A ride like this isn’t always fun; if you just want fun, go to Disneyland. Don’t go to parts unknown on a motorcycle. These trips are full of expected and unexpected challenges, and also full of unexpected joys. Everyday is a learning experience, as everyday in all our lives ought to be. Right?

If I live long enough to start forgetting this trip, the one thing I want this blog to help me remember are the people. There’s no doubt that the best part was meeting people and keeping in touch with people who were sincerely interested in my progress (or lack thereof). Seeing places new to me and revisiting familiar riding venues was a gift, but it’s the people that count. From the family I spent some time with in a Guatemalan street stand to the isolated people who helped a stupid lost Gringo find gas, almost to a person, be they rich or poverty stricken, the people were helpful, trustworthy and friendly.

A few have asked if I’d do this again. My quick answer is yes, in a second I’d do it again. My more reasoned response is, no. I’d never do the same ride again because I’ve learned enough to redo things that worked and not to redo things that didn’t work. Put the “no” and “yes” together, and I’m left with a definite maybe.

While riding solo through third-world situations was never part of the plan, it did amplify the learning. However, I’d never put myself in that situation again. I’m not wealthy enough, I’m “of an age” and I’m certainly not skilled enough to be exposed to that type of financial cost and physical danger – on purpose.

That said, it’s even more foolish to ride with other people without explicit contingency plans that accommodate shifting realities. During this experience, I talked with much more experienced adventure riders than myself and learned from their stories. Clearly, committing to an extended ride with other people is a complex business; to do it successfully takes a lot more work than twisting a throttle. But, done correctly, riding with other people is the way to go . . . by far. In fact, other people have already made contact with me who want to do similar rides. Let’s talk!

During the last months I’ve learned things. Mostly, the ride has put into bold relief the difference between first-world problems and third-world problems. For example, finding a bank to withdraw money for a hotel in Central America is a first-world problem. Finding a bank to borrow or beg for enough money to buy food for your family? That’s a third-world problem. Using a motorcycle for adventure is a first-world challenge; using a motorcycle for daily survival is a third-world challenge.

Sure, we have third-world problems in North America and even here, in beautiful Prince Edward Island. There are also first-world problems in Mexico and Central America, but anyone reading this has the intelligence to theoretically know the difference. However, being exposed first hand to that difference can change how the world is experienced. To be frank, I was much more naïve than I thought, and I’m still not sure how to wrap my head around a few new memories.

It’s possible to see vulnerability as an opportunity to exploit for personal gain; it’s also possible to see it as problem that must be remedied in favor of the vulnerable. It’s no easy task for me to acknowledge where I fit in this divide or on the capitalist spectrum. In this, I remain morally muddled and consciously confused. Perhaps my muddle is also a first-world problem? I don’t know, but I will look to other people, wiser than myself, to help me navigate through this confusion. One thing I do know, to do something that helps will be much more of a challenge than riding a motorcycle through third-world countries.

To end, I want to say “thanks” to the people who commented on this blog, the many more who sent me words of encouragement via email, Skype and generally supported and forgave my efforts to try something a tad different from the norm. I failed to reach Panama, but I did succeed in reaching out and finding new perspectives. Above all, I’m grateful for the new ways of understanding that this ride has provided.

To Glenda, who could have stopped this from happening but did the opposite – forever, thank-you.

 

 

From freeze, to furnace, to freeze again . . .

For a few reasons I haven’t been posting on the blog. Mostly, I’ve been doing a lot of riding, not A to B traveling, just exploring and extensively riding The Great Smoky Mountains. For fun, to practice skills, and to soak up what this miracle of a place has to offer. There’s no way to unpack all the local places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met During my two weeks here, but I’ll run through a few.


Talk of miracles, I was heading out on a mountain run and decided to breakfast in a little cafe in Tellico Plains. There, I met Rick Stevens, a world class adventure rider who lives at the very tail of The Tail of the Dragon. He’s been riding here since before the Deals Gap place even existed. Rick and his wife Roxanne (both riders) have a nice house on over fifty acres of mountain half way up a steep incline. Turned out he also has a little cottage he calls Dragon’s End further up a steep but cemented path. Out of the blue, he offered me the cottage and that’s where I stayed for the duration of my stay in Tennessee. What a gift!

The cottage is on top of Rick’s fifty acre mountain estate, it over looks a beautiful river that starts at Rick’s doorstep and eventually flows into other rivers and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s stunning. I’ll never be able to thank Rick and he wife Roxanne enough for letting me stay in their cottage.


Another fellow I met in Tellico Plains is called Rocket Rex; born Greg Schwark, but known to many bikers in the USA as Rocket Rex. I met him on day and he held me spellbound for two hours. He’s a master mechanic and motorcycle historian. I’ve never met anyone that knows more about the history of modern motorcycles. Anyway, turns out Rick and Rocket are friends, so after I moved into the cottage we went to his shop to see his huge new warehouse full of pristine bikes. He even owns John Wayne’s pickup truck. Crazy. I also rode withhim and Rick all day on Sunday . . . but that’s another story!

This is Rocket holding court; he is relentless in sharing motorcycle stories!


This is Rocket unloading one of Rick’s bikes to work on. In the background is his Corvette, a rare model with an engine built by Lotus. Every bike in these pictures are Rocket’s – each one a classic in its own right.

I did make it to Two Wheels of Suches, but only to grease my nostalgia. It was closed during the week, but a fellow named Skip let me in. I could feel his love for the place, his absolute dedication to breathing life into what used to be known as Two Wheels Only. When I return, it won’t be for the sticks and mortar, it will be because of people like him.

I must add. I was sitting there alone on the porch soaking in memories when a fellow biker pulled in. He said he’d been riding there and in the area for over twenty years. I mentioned to him that after a couple of months in Mexico and Central America, I was more apprehensive about the Georgia police hitting me up for bogus speeding tickets than I had ever been in those third world countries.

In his deep southern accent he told me the funniest “gettin’ a ticket for speeding” story I’ve ever heard. It went on for about twenty minutes and he had me laughing so hard I peed my pants. I actually hurt myself it was so funny, I almost begged him to stop talking, but he wouldn’t; near killed me he was so funny.

And, that’s why it’s so important to keep places like Two Wheels open. Even when the place is closed during the week, it’s possible to meet someone on the porch that opens doors to something bigger than ourselves.

Here’s a few more pictures of my two weeks in The Smoky Mts. Great times . . .

So that’s it folks! I plan to freeze my butt off and try to get back to PEI this week, I’ll post one more to wrap this off. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cautionary Tail, of The Dragon

Like many bikers from this planet, the initial draw to the Smokey Mountains is to ride The Tail of the Dragon. That eleven mile stretch of road is unique, fascinating and the characters it attracts? Well, it’s worthy of a good documentary. However, after a few times around the Deals Gap campfire telling biker lies and comparing road stories, it soon becomes as clear as making a corner that the area surrounding The Dragon has much more to offer than one road.

Don’t get me wrong, The Dragon is a road worthy of riding. The first dozen times I rode it I was completely out of my depth. I went too fast, I went too slow, I had no sense of line, rhythm or even what I wanted out of the road. Sort of like my life.

In truth, I was driven by fear that the road wanted me more than I wanted it: on the pavement, in the ditch, or over the side of the mountain. Now that I’ve ridden the road more than a hundred times I have learned of its gifts and demands; its costs and benefits. And its dangers, many of which don’t come from the pavement.

If anyone is foolish enough to believe the The Tail of the Dragon is easy to ride well, they really shouldn’t be riding The Tail of the Dragon. Or a motorcycle.

Sure, any idiot can ride it a few times and not crash – hell, I did. But to ride it well? Not so easy. I can honestly say I’m a half-decent rider, I can touch the foot pegs down, hit the apex, snick over and exit under power. But, of the hundred plus times I’ve ridden that demonic road, I’ve probably ridden it well three, four times. Maybe once. And, when I say well, I don’t mean fast or slow or even safely, I mean becoming the the road like it’s a part of me. At least a part of me I like.

Which is not to say there were times that pieces of the bikes I’ve ridden on that road shouldn’t have ended up on The Tree of Shame. While it’s beyond this post to unpack the inglorious stories that lead to the dubious honor of being hung on that tree, I’m just glad I haven’t ended up there. Yet.

But, as a motorcycle destination, there are few if any places to compare. Perhaps not so much for The Dragon itself, but for the roads that surround it.

It isn’t hard to spend weeks, even years exploring the roads in the area. Be good to yourself; if you have any bike-blood flowing in your veins, don’t wait until it’s too late to ride The Smokey Mts, The Dragon, The Devil’s Triangle, Route 28, The Cherohala Skyway The Shenandoha Skyway, The Blue Ridge Parkway, or any of the hundreds of roads, trails and gravel paths that lead to places every biker should explore . . . at least once.

Today, I ride The Dragon. Again. I’m frightened. Can’t wait . . .

 

 

 

 

Back Into The Mystic …

I'm back in familiar territory, The Blue Ridge Mountains. Here's how I got here. Hey, it's easy!

I've been coming here in the Spring, with friends and by myself, almost every year for the past dozen years, for more than a dozen reasons. The main reason is to ride the roads, they're spectacular. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, the air is clear, crisp and clean, and if done correctly it's possible to melt into the lifestyle. If I could break living into three four month locations a year, the Smoky Mts. would be the location where I'd spend the months we call Spring. And here I am now, filled with gratitude.
This is the first time I've approached the area from the south; usually I ride from cold to cool to warm. This time it's been from hot, to warm to cool. In any case, it's green. Or at least greening; the leaves are just appearing, the grass smells cut, and the flowers are opening.
Another thing that attracts me to the area, besides the brilliance of some of the people I've met, is its history. One historical incident that's worthy of attention is the expulsion of The Cherokee Nation. While the story of humankind is littered with stories of genocide, I know of no other that's more poignant and relevant to our present situation. Our, being all of us in the midst of so much legislative angst.
I can't think of another situation where the victims, in this case the Cherokee, did their utmost to assimilate themselves into the dominant culture. What explains a nation of people trying to fit in being so throughly and immorally and illegally rejected? If we don't try to understand this, how can we understand anything?

Being interested but ignorant about the history of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee people, especially the Cherokee, I once naively rode part of what's known as The Trail of Tears. I was by myself; or, so I thought. In a very remote part of that trail, I became so lost even the flora seemed carnivorous.

Then, a strange thing happened. I don't want to unpack that experience here, but should we ever meet in silence, and should you still be interested, I made an agreement with God to share that experience. The short story? God was willing and the Creek didn't rise, so I stumbled my way out of the woods.

And, here I am . . . it ain't pretty, but at the moment, it's all I need.

 

Memories Beside The Road

As New Orleans became a memory Mississippi became a surprise. Since I was following the coastal roads I ended up in Gulfport. I was surprised at the multitude of million dollar summer homes, the expansive beaches and the efforts people are putting into preparing for the next Katrina. Aside from the Katrina part, it’s just not what I expected to see in Mississippi.

 

After running the coast, I decided to work my way up north. For the rest of this trip, I have a few rules. First, no toll roads or interstates; on a motorcycle they’re the source of brain-death. Since I was riding close to the famous Route 11, I figured that I’d follow that road and take even less traveled roads when they looked interesting. Really, it’s hard to go wrong riding the back roads of the southern USA. From the endless narrow causeways that give ride to the bulbous gnarly rooted trees of the swamps to the small towns where people know everybody’s name. Well, not mine.

An example of one of the many finds along route 11 is the 1884 Cafe in Kewanee, you can read about it here: The Simons-Wright Company. I pulled in for breakfast but was treated to a taste of southern hospitality and history; anyone could spend hours sifting through the artifacts. They once sold caskets and shoes upstairs, their motto was, “We’ve got ya coming and going.”

This lady owned and worked the store until she was 93, it wasn’t hard to feel her presence. Now, the next generations are working hard to keep it all alive.

As for me, it’s up and across the beautiful backroads of Alabama, next stop is Tennessee . . . hope to stay there for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOLA LA Land

I had a few long days of Texas behind me, so riding from Lafayette to New Orleans was easy by design. I headed toward the most interesting places I could find which meant going into Bayou country and following river roads. Suffice it to say the area has a certain je ne sais quoi. The air is different here, swampy of course, but also salty, earthy and thick. It was certainly welcome after the thin dry and brittle Texas winds.

Meandering along the Bayou I stumbled upon an alligator farm. Didn’t know alligator farms existed so I pulled over up and spent an hour or so talking to the people who run the place. One thing I can say is that they know a heck of a lot about alligators. Since I knew nothing before I dropped in, I left with a hour or so worth of knowledge. Compared to the owners two generations and personal forty plus years of experience, the best I can say is that I now have a glimpse of what I don’t know. About alligators. Strange, scary and wonderful beasts they are.

 

One thing that stuck with me is that they are born asexual. What eventually determines gender are the environmental conditions during the first part of their life, temperature being a primary determinant. In fact, when raised from an incubator, the farmer can induce the gender by controlling the temperature of the incubator. In this I’m not sure what is more strange, the alligators or the humans.

I have to admit that I had certain apprehensions about Louisiana, especially New Orleans. My prejudice of that city resides in the opinion that it may have collapsed under the weight of its own marketing; an over dependency on tourism can do that sometimes.

However, after I unpacked my gear, I hopped on a trolley. Then, like every other camera carrying kook, I headed directly for the French Quarter; laissez les bons temps rouler. Sure, it’s a bit Disney, but so what?

 

 

One thing that is great about NOLA, aside from the fact that it’s fun calling it NOLA, is the public transportation system. For a maximum of three dollars a day a person can get to almost any part of the city. So, it’s Big and Easy to get out of the French Quarter to really feast on what the larger city has to offer. Well, given the time I was there, I had more like a nibble, but I hope to be back.

Nice comfortable shoes . . .

But for now, aside from the fact that Louisiana will be in my rear view mirror, I have no idea where or what’s next. All I know is that it’s time to rock and road . . . yikes, that was bad. Sorry.