Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Capricious Son and a Difficult Mother:The Story of Israel and Russia

Ah, Romania!
  I have spent the last weeks zigging and zagging through the countryside of Eastern Europe. I've seen plenty of interesting things but all the while I continue falling further behind in pursuit of my ultimate goal. After about a week in northern Romania I decided to head for Bucharest to take a more hands on approach at obtaining a Russian Visa. This two week long endeavor proved both costly and fruitless. Each of my three trips to the Russian Consulate seemed to achieve progress, however, in the end, they wanted just a bit too much and the agency I'd hired to assist me decided that they could no longer be of service.
  Poor U.S. foreign policy over the last couple of decades has ensured that an American attempting an overland Round the World trip be greeted by the impossible and the near impossible. Basically, there are two routes for an honest RTW. One passes through Russia (as well as Kazakhstan and Mongolia if you are so inclined) and one splits Iran, Afghanistan, and/or Pakistan into South Asia. Though I would love to have the option of the latter path, even those of only marginal sanity must cede to the fact that it is almost surely suicide. Therefore, as a cogent individual, I am relegated to using Russia in order to complete my trip around the world.
                                                         A Friendly Diversion
  I emerged from the doors of J'INFO TOURS in downtown Bucharest feeling deflated. The folks at the agency had several recommendations as to other options for my trip but anything other than a circumnavigation of our planet seemed a pithy consolation. Though I have fallen short of personal achievement as it relates to scholastic and monetary gain, when it comes to mobility I have proven a bit of a superman and this trip helps cement my purpose in life. Many of the traits that have been stumbling blocks to my integration, and success, within "civilized" American society have helped me overcome geographic barriers with a certain ease. Unfortunately, bureaucrats exist throughout the world (they are like bloody Kryptonite) and I must deal with the Russian variant in order to find my way back to the U.S.. Fortunately, as I helplessly watched my dreams slip from my fingers, friends offered perspective.
  Now there aren't too many East Tennesseans that can claim to have several close friends throughout Europe, much less one that a certain Washington County sessions court judge once proclaimed the worst criminal in his courtroom, but I do. It seems that my brand of assertiveness is more accepted in recently communist countries than in the land of the free. Lucky Me! And so it was that two of my very good friends from years gone by were attending a jazz festival in western Romania. The sheer statistical improbability of these two drastically diverse and unacquainted Romanians, which I knew from Tennessee, being among the roughly 2000 attendees at the same obscure festival high in the Carpathians was enough to bring me out of the doldrums and head west.
 Riding with Russians on the Transfagarasan
About 125 miles from Bucharest I encountered the Fagaras mountains. Reaching about 8400 feet, this is the highest range within the southern Carpathians. It is also home to one of the coolest roads on the planet, the Transfagarasan. Romania has proven to be a bit of a motorcycling Mecca and, as such, the Transfagarasan was my rug. A fine July morning witnessed no fewer than three cycles of plummets and ascents of the serpentine ribbon of asphalt and I was considering more when I encountered a group of Russians that invited me to join their party. Quickly, I clamped myself to the tail of the swiftest of the group. Our speeds charging down the mountain were more in line with the capabilities of the Honda sport bike I was chasing and it didn't take long to cook my brakes. Inevitably, I found myself alongside the road awaiting my dot4's return to a liquid state. Eventually my brake leaver regained resistance and our oddly diverse crew was once again mobile. After a brief, tentative, period the road flattened and our pace hastened. A great ride concluded with beers and a late lunch under the looming presence of Cetatea Poenari, one of the dozen or so "claimed" residences of Dracula . I was given contact information for the Black Bears motorcycle club in Moscow and I continued on to Garana, Romania.
                              Vlad and Cristian, Oddly Similar Yet Distinctly Different
   Allow me to preface this portion of my story by expressing my love and admiration for these guys. They are genuine to a fault and I am fortunate to be able to call them friends. With perfunctory explanations dispensed, let's roll back the years to 1995.

During lunch one of the Black Bears exclaimed, Snowden is in Russia and yet you are not.
   Shortly following my expulsion from Washington College Academy, and a 2 month stay at a juvenile correctional facility, I was set to reenter that cauldron of grief known as public school. David Crockett High to be specific. Opened in 1974 this poor excuse for a center of education has, as I imagine is common in many U.S. schools, continued in a precipitous plummet to, as of yet, unknown depths of despair. Fortunately, when Vlad joined my family for 6 months as a foreign exchange student, resource officers (cops) had yet to join the faculty of bureaucratic screws and my unique set of skills were somewhat insulated from authoritative reprisal.

Cristian to my right , Vlad to my left, and communist era project to the rear.
The classes at Crockett seemed to focus on things I did poorly, so I tuned out.  Unlike myself, Vlad proved an outstanding student and our lone common teacher was always singing his praises. She was somewhat less impressed with my litany of run-on sentences and overt obstinance. I managed to piss her off thoroughly on a couple of occasions. I am fairly certain that she regarded me as a complete idiot till my overachieving sister came through and validated my genes. I suppose that it is to her credit that I can recall her class at all, however. Most of my memories within the windowless walls of David Crockett High School were immediately relegated to trash bins in the far reaches of my mind. They were emptied long ago. I remember well my time with Vlad though. There was no getting around the fact that we both had an appreciation for all things fast. There were two folks at Crockett that knew what a McLaren F1 was and, as it just so happens, we were both staying under the same roof (Thanks for the subscription to Road and Track, Mom). At first we were free to blast around the back roads of East Tennessee, or wherever else we wanted to go, without tether. We always had fun. He had, and still has, a knack for making me laugh. Eventually though my parents decided that I was a liability and Vlad was off-limits. I was relegated to sneaking him the occasional beers to smuggle into my old room.  Perhaps their intuition was correct. He became a high ranking Romanian diplomat and I became a convict in search of freedom, a vagabond.  

  Ten years on, I again found myself expelled, this time from East Tennessee State University. For

A little finish sanding to break up the beer swilling.
whatever it's worth, my grades were quite good and I was coming off a semester of straight A's. However, a verbal bout with school officials over an inability to register for classes led to the police being called and a foot chase around campus. It turns out that I was a bit (or a hell of a lot) faster than the ETSU public safety officers on that day. They were less than impressed and criminal charges were levied. During my extended break from university I took up carpentry, a field which I possess natural talent, and drank a lot. It was during one of many nights at the Acoustic Coffeehouse that I first met Cristian. Brought to Johnson City to help implement SAP accounting software for General Shale, a local brick company, Cristian didn't require much sleep and we drank together almost every night. I was well known in town but not necessarily well liked and it was nice to have someone to shoot the shit with. Even loners need a friend or two. We laughed hard, and I didn't give a damn about anything other than hiking, motorcycles, and my dog Daisy. To be honest, it wasn't such a bad existence.
  The seven years that bring me current have seen change, both in regards to perspective and development. In addition to finally graduating from university (University of Tennessee Chattanooga., economics, w honors), I have also been examining the world, first hand, at a furious pace. With every new inch of space I see, my universe shrinks and my priorities shift. The mountain route I took to Garana was along a less developed trail but my Tenere was up to the task. Cool temperatures and light traffic more than compensated for the inconsistent road surface. It was an environment ripe for contemplation. Law School, or no Law School?

   I reached Garana midevening just after darkness had shrouded the Valley where the festival was in full swing. Cristian found me with 2 bottles of beer in his possession. Extending one in my direction he said. "It is German beer. Drink it. It is good". Seven years didn't seem like so long a time. I was led to a campsite and erected my tent. There was no Russian Stamp in my Passport but there was a smile on my face. The fact that I ever made it here defied great odds. Just give me some time. I'll get where I need to be.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Carutza, a Cat, and No Turning Back:The Road to a Romanian Farm

An extended stay in Berlin meant that we needed make a swift trip to Bacau, Romania in order to reach Hilary's flight back to London. We spent a night in Prague, where the locals were as unfriendly as they were aggressive, and continued on to Budapest, one of my favorite cities. Hungary, it is worth noting, has undergone sweeping changes within its government recently which have reduced diversity both politically and judicially, and I noticed something that may be of some relevance. Three years ago when motorcycling across Europe, I reached the communist era border complex, between Austria and Hungary, to find it completely abandoned and simply drove right through. This trip, however, I was a bit dismayed to find that it was once again operational, albeit at a reduced capacity from its Cold War peak. Though the police were not stopping every vehicle, each was carefully profiled prior to being waved through or pulled aside for further scrutiny. We were among the lucky ones.
Quite possibly my favorite piece of architecture, the Hungarian Parliament Building 
   It was my third trip to Budapest. My first encounter found me running around the streets and subway stations, unsupervised, with my buddy Jason in the summer of 93'. It was a watershed. Though at the age of 14 I already possessed a healthy obstinance, 3 days wandering the maze of Budapest helped to cement my independence. Some may say that it's been downhill since then, and indeed, the days following that golden summer have seen me expelled, arrested, beaten, and condemned more times than my mind can calculate, however, looking back, I must say, "it's pretty good being me". After all, I've been to Budapest!
  Although not my first trip to Budapest, there was a first. As I slept off a mild hangover from a late night on the town, Hilary was doing some wandering of her own. She returned to inform me that had gotten me a gift. And so it was, at 2PM,on the 19th of May, in a 5 star hotel, I had my first facial. It was quite nice!
6000 miles and she's still smiling. That's a riding partner I can deal with.
 The sprint from Budapest to Bacau revealed devolving infrastructure as well as odd and inefficient forms of transport. Not that I'm complaining. Romania is, in and of itself, moving along quite nicely (To be quite honest, I like the frontier atmosphere that still exists in many areas, though I doubt it will be around for much longer), however,  there is no mistaking it for Western Europe. But even with pot hole riddled roads, carutzas, and errant cattle we made it to the tiny international airport with a couple of hours to spare. This gave us opportunity to watch the Romanian Air Force scramble their ancient MiGs which, aside from proving their pilots very brave men, may one day be of great asset if there is a resurgence of the Ottoman Empire.
So, with Hilary's departure I was once again alone, heading north to a farm along the Ukrainian border.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Open Spaces and Fallen Walls: The Difference Between the Stasi and NSA

Edinburgh Castle circa 2010. The cheapest motorcycle trip across Europe ever.
After a wonderful week on the Isle of Man, Hilary and I set off for Scotland. Though I am very fond of Edinburgh, and would like to have stayed longer, an extremely tight schedule ensured that we simply pass through. As such, we settled for a Kurdish lunch just outside of the castle walls and continued on to the highlands. The primary order of business was to reach the Isle of Skye for some primitive camping.
     From the lush green meadows dotted with sheep to the rocky escapements towering over the shore, Skye is a visual treasure. It's a beautiful escape from civilization to serenity. Over the years it has been a favorite sanctuary of writers and wanted men alike, which makes it a perfect fit for me.  Access to the Isle was once a ferry only affair, however, nowadays there is a bridge connecting the mainland which, all things considered, is a bit unfortunate. Though I find man made barriers appalling (I have a history of disregarding them) natural ones are simply good fun. 
A very late sunset from the Isle of Skye
So, we opted for a ferry ride to the southern tip of the Isle and set off in search of castle ruins. The twisty single track roads that connected the villages were terrific fun, with grades which reached as much as 20 degrees. Eventually we located both ruins and a suitable campsite. That evening's sunset was spectacular with a vestige of light which lingered behind the opposing cliffs till well past midnight.
   The following morning brought with it the urge for a hike and we set off in search of a trail which might take us to higher elevation. Eventually we located such a path and began a quick assent. Ultimately, the beaten trail dwindled into meadow and, as often is the case, my hiking partner was left in the dust. As I contemplated a route to the top, I spied a lady in her mid to late 60's sporting two dogs and a walkie- talkie. I approached her and her dogs sprinted in my direction. Their initial protests quickly calmed following a brief introduction. The pooches now following me, I inquired of the lady the best route to the peak which loomed behind us, concerned about the fences we might encounter. "Oh, you need not worry", she responded, "hop over them, those are just for the livestock, you can go anywhere in Scotland that isn't obviously someone's back garden (yard)". Incidentally, hopping fences is a specialty of mine. I found
Perhaps I should publish a rider's guide, "Wheelies made easy"
4000 miles in the U.K., top to bottom and east to west. I'm just gettin' started!
it most appealing that there would be no one waiting to beat me when I did so. Ah, I could definitely live here.
  Once back to camp, our tent and supplies were packed securely within the panniers and we followed our noses north to John O'Groats. It seemed the logical direction, if only for posterity, and a 4,000 mile tour of the U.K., which began near Land's End, was capped in the company of fishing vessels. After a sprint south to Harwich
our 5th, and final, ferry ride took us to Holland and cars traveling in the correct direction.


A private viewing of JVE's Saint Barbara was the highlight of Amsterdam

Aside from a good day at the Rijksmuseum, and hanging with the cool cats at Scooter Zuid, I left Amsterdam feeling rather fleeced. The agglomeration of restaurants in the tourist area are pricey and, more troubling, serve food of very low quality. The tapas bar we first selected sparked my discontent. None of the food was good and when my halved, grilled, and mozzarella topped Jalapenos arrived whole, fried, and cream cheese injected, I asked the waiter where the mozzarella cheese was? He told me, straight faced, that the white substance dripping from the oily batter was mozzarella. We left in search of another place and found that the next locale was just as bad. Combined, almost 100 euro for perhaps 5 euro worth of lousy food and 4 beers. What a rip-off! We decided to shorten our stay in Amsterdam and made tracks for Berlin.
  Economically, Berlin, and former East Germany as a whole, still bear the scars left by the GDR. This isn't all bad though. Relatively high levels of unemployment, supported by typical German austerity, help to ensure that prices remain quite reasonable. We lucked into a fabulous room at the newly opened Winters Hotel, adjacent to "Checkpoint Charlie", just inside the East Side, which once overlooked the Kill Zone buffer for the Wall. The fabulous modern hotel room was quite easily the nicest I'd ever stayed in. Price? 90 Euro per night. Not too bad!
                                                            DIE MAUER

As I stated earlier, I find man made barriers silly and this sentiment was clearly shared by Berlin's distinctly youthful population. While on a river cruise around the city teenagers and twentyish year olds were seen littering the banks regardless of high grass, fences, or even perilous drops. They all had beer or wine and
I'm unsure of what this means but I think I like it.
Reminders of the past decorate a diverse Berlin.
smiles on their faces. Waves and happy exclamations came freely and often. I couldn't help but think that back in America cops would be cracking down on this sort of behavior and business at juvenile hall would be at a record high. They wouldn't be smiling then! Fortunately, the police in Berlin have priorities that are more in line with rationality and I must confess to thoroughly enjoying the kid's simple, if inebriated, celebrations. The city's rough edges weren't at all threatening, in fact, I found them refreshing. There weren't any serious attempts to circumvent reality and the glittering often shared scenery with the demure. Though purely conjecture, I'd like to think that this is due, in part, to a mutual understanding between classes. Ultimately, their goals aren't all that different. And though freedom hasn't brought a Mercedes to every driveway, destruction of the wall made everyone's lives more fruitful.

                          Interesting  Timing

 Just before our arrival in Berlin The Guardian, a Liberal UK newspaper, after receiving classified material from a intelligence whistle-blower, revealed to the world that the U.S. government has been illegally collecting the private information of its citizens (in addition to others). I found this somewhat ironic, as the state funded Stasi museum was housed next door to our hotel. The collection of once classified GDR documents and archaic spy tools made me laugh. What the Stasi wouldn't have given to have the U.S. government's current spy
Cheeky Berlin artists project their views onto the American Embassy
technology. They'd have been in authoritarian heaven. It seems that our nation is suffering from acute amnesia, in addition to a manipulative media. I remember well the celebrations of freedom at 10 years old, watching walls crumble as oppressive governments passed into history. These moments shaped my life and world view. Free thought, free speech, free assembly, free trade, and most importantly, free movement. The U.S. was helping to lead the way to a new level of international, civil, independence. Alas, my understanding has proven dated, if not outright misguided, and as I write this a wall is under construction along the southern border of the U.S. and the Government continues tightening its grip on citizens' lives.

                                            Scattered Reminders of Oppressed Lives

There is much to see in Berlin, however, this is its best time machine.
 In addition to portions of the wall left along the river, and the addmission-free Stasi Museum, there was also a terrific, semi permanent, exhibition close to the hotel which helps document the past. From the exterior, Die Mauer appears as a 40 foot tall cylinder in the heart of town, however, the interior uses a collection of old photographs and artistic fillings to recreate a full scale point perspective panorama of what it would have looked like at the location 25 years ago.

It has been said that "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it".  Fortunately, if somewhat perversely, wounds from the past are still fresh in Berlin and distrust of the powers that be are pervasive. It is no small coincidence that I felt more freedom here than anywhere in the United States. My, how the tables have turned. I reiterate the words of JFK, spoken in support of those trapped on the wrong side of The Wall, almost exactly fifty years ago, "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner".
                                                            Ich bin ein Berliner !
Who's watching you?


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mixed Fortune and No Speed Limit. Joy and Stress on the Isle of Man

Ballaugh Bridge in the early morning at about 55MPH

Birthplace of the Titanic
Following a picturesque trip up the west coast of Ireland we turned toward Belfast to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. Interestingly, our port of birth was adjacent to the point of assembly for the Titanic. The area was memorialized with a museum, the architecture of which mimicked the doomed vessel's bow. It gave a slightly ominous feel to the voyage, as the massive high speed sea-cat sped away from the Irish harbor.

                           The TT 

Since 1911 riders have taken to the famed 37.66 mile mountain circuit on the Isle of Man to test their bikes, as well as themselves, each participant pursuing the limit. In a world increasingly beset by rules and restrictions, the Isle of Man offers up its infrastructure for two weeks of loosely controlled chaos. This intoxicating taste of freedom isn't relegated to those with number plates adorning their machines. Members of the public with a burning desire to open throttles and eviscerate stretches of tarmac have areas of the TT course which are unrestricted havens of speed.
   I've wanted to take to the TT course since I'd first learned of the race when I was a teenager running from my hometown authorities. In those days I'd hoped to broach the course astride a racing machine but alas fate had other ideas. My Yamaha 660z Tenerer has about 47 horsepower and is better suited to hauling butt on dirt roads than paved. However, I was prepared to ride anything wheels and a spark if it came down to it. The most pressing issue facing us was our lack of local knowledge. The sum of which had been acquired from Speedvision broadcasts of the TT in the days prior to Fox's reign of NASCAR. I knew some of the corners, and what they looked like, otherwise we were flying in the dark. While perusing the fleet ferry I spied a group of likely looking lads and inquired about camping. The rest, as they say, is history.  
    We were led to free camping via the Sulby Straight Pub, just in time for Super Bike practice. It was difficult to believe that this quiet little guesthouse and bar would soon be assaulted by 200HP rocket-sleds. As the course marshals cleared traffic and set up a small barrier I found a tap and ordered a pint. The fist gaggle of bikes to pass sort of took me by surprise. I've seen plenty of fast in my life, however, this is as intimate as you can get without being the pilot. The second rider passed so closely I knew what he was thinking. He wasn't, he was reacting. The first taste of the TT came with a Guinness. I was hooked. Is this heaven? I pondered. Nope, it's the Isle of Man! 

Left to right. Top: Pete C, Malcom, Izzy, Hilary, Les, Diff, Lorrie   Bottom: Pete A, Colin(that's his happy face), Ian, Dave.  Not pictured: Lee, Mike, Dave, Rafael

After practice concluded we found the IoM common-ground campsite to await sunrise, and my first try at the unrestricted Mountain Section of the course.
 The morning that followed was moist so we waited a good bit before taking to the mountain. We were to follow Dave across the mountain to Douglas, reconvening with the others at the diciest venue on the Island, the Bushy's Tent. However, just
as we were pulling from the campsite my Tenere simply quit. Hilary continued on with Dave, and I pushed my bike half a mile to the nearest  mechanic. Unfortunately, this didn't look to be a simple fix and I was told to go to the Yamaha dealer in Douglas. On the upside, I finally got to go over the  mountain. On the downside, it happened whilst a passenger in a Citron recovery-van.  So close yet so far away. 

The news wasn't good. The folks at the Yamaha Shop were slammed and it would be two days before anyone could have a look at it. I walked from the Shop to the paddock to peruse the bikes and riders scurrying about while attempting to devise a plan. I concluded, after a lot of walking, that plans would have to wait. Did I mention I didn't have a phone? I needed to make it about 18 miles or so back to camp. Fortunately someone at a cafe overheard my plight and offered me a ride. Nice folks here on the Isle.
I walked from camp to the Ginger to drown my sorrows in a Guinness as I did some investigating as to the source of my bike's problems.
I found that there were several instances of shorts occurring due to faulty connections and cramped wiring . I told the guys back at camp and Ian, or Diff as he is better known on the Isle, offered to give a ride back over the mountain in the morning to have a look. 

After separating the wires but before stripping them
Upon arriving at the Yamaha shop we pulled the fuel tank to find a melted mess of wires. Crap, my trip was slipping into peril.
Diff's view was more up-beat than mine and he put his electrical engineering expertise to work as we made the necessary repairs. After stripping the wires and re-wrapping we reconnected the tank, cranked the starter for a "measured period", and finally, ignition. It sounded alright!
On the ride back to camp Diff stopped me and said he thought my rear wheel was bent. I couldn't feel it, ah, I thought, a problem for another day.
By this time the roads were about to close for racing and they wouldn't reopen till about 10pm so my ride would have to wait till the morrow.
  Since rain had stymied practice earlier in the week the first Superbike race was delayed until Sunday. This meant that the roads would be closing earlier than originally scheduled so I took to the mountain as soon as the dew settled. Having learned a shortcut off the mountain during my tow, I was able to ride it twice prior to the race. The Tenere performed admirably but 50 more horsepower would have been nice, 100 would have been even better. It was a somewhat humbling experience getting vaporized by all the sportbikes, however, it was still a great deal of fun. I hope you like the song that accompanies the video. It has been the anthem of the trip thus far.
  Of course racing is the star attraction and there is no shortage of top-notch viewing locations around the Island. From the tightest section at the Ramsey Hairpin where the bikes squirm and wheelie in their quest for traction to one of the most lurid straits in all of racing. The run down to Creg-ny-baa pits speed against gravity as a rise along the course is met by bikes traveling in excess of 170MPH. The riders do their best to avoid wheelies to little avail, and often their attempts to circumvent physics result in high speed wobbles.

The Superbike race was won by Michael Donlop, the first of four victories during the 2013 TT. Though a terrific week, he still has a long way to go in order equal his late uncle Joey's total of 26 TT victories. I hope to be on hand next year to see if he can add to his tally. It would make for a proper end to a Round The World motorcycle trip. Besides, the 6 days we spent on the IoM wasn't near enough and there were five days of racing left when we went to Ballaugh Bridge for an early morning photo op on the way to the ferry bound for the real world. I did my wheel no favors but ultimately the shot for this post's heading was taken on the fourth attempt.
One of many misses


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Long Road to Siberia

  As I sit in my hotel room on a dark, frigid, New Years Day in central Idaho, to begin drafting this post, it has been exactly one year since my struggle with thieving delinquents on a warm New Years evening in Chile. My recollection of those events remains strong, however, they also seem distant. After seeing the Dakar Rally slice through the Atacama to meet the Pacific, I returned to Chattanooga having missed the first week of spring classes. The ensuing eleven months were consumed with school, and there was little time for doing anything worth writing about. Fortunately, I graduated with my economics degree on December 15th, bringing a merciful end my undergraduate education.
  As many of you may already know, a sedentary life is not to my liking, and the complete monopolization of my time by studies has resulted in an accumulation of nervous angst. The moment I finished my last final I returned to the road, but not in the typical fashion.
    My R1150gs BMW had lots of storage space, getting me through Central and South America with more crap than I really needed, but it didn't come near to the capacity of my newest set of wheels. The long-wheelbase Sprinter van will pack 5 (perhaps 6) motorcycles, and in conjunction with a 16' trailer it is possible to move more than a dozen bikes. This, in addition to its commendable fuel economy, allows for a serious competitive advantage in the area of cross-country motorcycle shipping. The plan has been to crisscross the county delivering bikes in order to save money for a round the world motorcycle trip this spring. On a somewhat more tedious note, I also thought it a good opportunity to peruse law-schools and (feebly) attempt undertaking the litany of tasks related to law school applications. Blaaaaaaa!!!!!             
                                                                                     SCHOOL'S OUT
Some deliveries are nicer than others
   My Money and Banking final was on the 6th of December, and graduation the 15th, so I booked shipments which took me to Phoenix and back to Chattanooga to fill the gap. Though I didn't have much trailer capacity the little utility trailer that could provided an extra 2 spots. Not quite "utility maximization", but this trip was primarily exploratory. 5,000 miles over eight days is a bit of a sprint, however, everything was coming together with  time to spare until a hub failure on my aging trailer, as I passed through Shreveport, made things more interesting. Fortunately for my parents, who had made a 6000 mile trip from the land of gypsies and vampires to see me graduate, I was able to perform the necessary repairs in a Tractor Supply parking lot and got back to Chattanooga with enough time for a shower prior to donning my cap and gown.
  Following graduation, and lunch with the family, I was collecting bikes for another trip west. A Ducati Streetfighter in Chattanooga, A Triumph Tiger and Honda Blackbird in Atlanta, A KLR in Knoxville, and an RC-30 in Charlotte, were all picked-up within 36 hours of my graduation. By the time I dipped into Florida and made it to Dallas my van and its new 16' trailer were packed to, and perhaps even slightly beyond, capacity.

    Mid-evening on Christmas Eve, in southern Arizona, one of the tires on my new trailer blew, destroying the wheel in the process. Fortunately, the physical damage was relegated to the wheel and tire, but my schedule was shot. Daisy and I spent Christmas in a Chevron parking lot watching old movies on my laptop and feasting upon Lance crackers and gummy bears. After getting back underway I hit the coast and headed north. Upon arriving in northern California it was one snow storm after another.

Though my van has no shortage of commendable attributes, in the area of adverse weather traction, it is found wanting. Between its lack of positive traction (only one of the rear wheels is pulling) and the burden of a laden trailer, many mountain passes were broached in an abysmally slow fashion. It took three days to cross Montana (Three days!!. Shit, I've crossed continents in that amount of time). The perverse bit is the fact that I love driving in the snow. I've always thought it a privilege, being left alone on an unspoiled road, headlights shining through a barrage of falling flakes. However, following snow, often coupled with Blizzard conditions , in California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, I was no longer finding it so novel.
                                               A FULL CIRCLE
This is what -3F looks like
 I eventually emerged from the icy northwest and quickly made my way to Florida, and a more abideable climate. Upon stopping in southern Florida, along Alligator Alley, for a break from the wheel, I found Daisy wading in the water having a drink. I cautioned her against the prehistoric predators, of which she was oblivious, and commanded her out of the marsh. As it turns out, I was correct in doing so. About 200' from where Daisy was taking a dip there were two gators hanging out at the edge of the water. It was the first time in my life I'd ever met any of these fellows.

  After a month on the road, I'd covered about 15,000 miles, using over 1,000 gallons of Diesel to deliver 28 bikes. I was weary and in need of a break.  I booked a hotel on a beach in Sarasota, but was somewhat perturbed to find that I'd done so during what they call RED TIDE. This is generated by a proliferation of allege which gives the water a red hue. In and of itself,  this isn't so bad, however, the allege also depletes oxygen from the water, suffocating most everything in its wake. The thousands of decaying fish which greeted my arrival to the island's powdery shores offered up an increasingly offensive odor, but given the stress of the previous couple of days I didn't really care. However annoying the clutter of putrid fish was it was relatively innocuous in comparison to my recent interaction with that most nettlesome of citrus scourges, the Florida Yankee.        

    "Whea da fuck's my choppa? I'm loosin' my fuckin' mind ova hea'. Whea da fuck you at?!!!"  This little tirade came close on the heels of a pickup which had pushed my patience, as well as my matrix reasoning, to their limits. Finding a place for a disabled 800 pound cruiser with flat tires, and the widest crash-bars I've ever seen, meant either removing the bars or rearranging my trailer. The owner was convinced that taking the bars off would cause the bike to fall apart. So, after moving five bikes over the span of two hours, I was back on the road, tired, grimy, and ill prepared for a bludgeoning. I had spoken with John, who I'd begun to refer to as Chopper, just prior to the aforementioned stop. At that point I was still four hours from Key Largo, Chopper John's surrogate home. Even without the arduously long stop I'd have still been about two hours away when I received the call which had prompted me to hang up and excrete a mildly-cathartic yawp. Until this point I'd dealt with CJ's barrage of calls in a commendable fashion, and his Fuckity, Fuck, Fuck statements had been responded to as affably as possible. Now, though, I was seeing red. My buddy Arie had the misfortune of calling me as I melted down in the Florida twilight. I had become animated and irrational, but as I delineated plans of dumping the phallic scooter, of crimson and chrome, over the marshy bank of the Okeechobee, a call chimed interrupting my rantings. I left my conversation with Arie mid-sentence, uttering only "ahhh, let me talk to this son of a bitch". I answered firmly and there was a brief silence followed by stammering which shifted into a statement, "ehhhh, sorry fa bustin' ya, balls. My girlfriend told me I was bein' a jerk". I immediately calmed, however, I still wanted this delivery behind me. So as CJ urged me to stop and get sleep, I conveyed my desire to persevere, a notion supported by the hope to avoid abysmal daytime traffic in and around Miami. Upon arriving in Key Largo, at the witching hour of midnight, I was taken aback by the ramshackle nature of Copper J's abode. It was a cockroach infested cracker-box at best, standing in stark contrast to the houses of my average customer, CJ couldn't afford my $650 fee much less a $30,000 Penis augmentation. Perhaps it is unfair, but I find impoverished assholes more agreeable than wealthy ones and I genuinely felt, and still feel, bad for John, his hopes and dreams riding on an absurdly styled hunk of metal. Is this the American dream?; I wondered to myself as I approached CJ's Venezuelan styled rat trap to knock on the door.
  John emerged from the front door shaking his head as he smiled with a weary face. He was short and wiry. A quick observation of his features revealed a distinctly blue collar flavor. Extremely calloused hands supported leathery skin in its assertion that this was a working man. Though CJ's hard life made it difficult to calculate, I guessed that we were of similar age. His smile remained present as he shook my hand and light-heartedly said, " I could fuckin' kill you". I lowered the trailer's ramp and John's face brightened, immediately shedding five years worth of deterioration, and somewhere within his rough exterior The Halleluiah Choirs hit full crescendo. I'd opened a portal to a whole new world and we immediately began freeing the beast from its tethers. Any way you cut it, transporting a chopper is an arduous affair. But the mild winter evening over-watched a beautifully brief jettisoning, and John cranked the engine in celebration. Biased and jaded as I may be, the notes which emerged from the chopper's pipes were nice indeed. John said "dis makes it all wethwhile" as he fed his toy a wrist full of petrol. Key Largo's late night silence was overcome by a supercharged roar that brought a grin to my face. I helped CJ push his 12' long bike to back of the house, carefully avoiding the arrant Budweiser cans. He paid me, said thank you, and I was off. The first of five trips, out, up, and around the U.S. was complete.
                                                           Time to Get Serious
       That Night in icy Idaho where I began drafting this post seems a distant memory from where I sit finishing it up. The weather in the U.K. is still on the chilly side and the threat of rain seems ever-present, but my round the world trip is well, and truly, underway. I think that it's worth pointing out that the mileage covered over the months spanning my graduation and departing flight to London could have seen me around the world twice. However, I've reverted to Two Wheels, and my Future, remains, as ever, Uncertain.
When someone offers you the last of their Micky's, You take it!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Latin American Videos

I am finishing up a brand new post to explain what's on tap for the coming months, however, it isn't quite finished. So, for those of you just beginning to follow I decided to post a couple of my favorite videos from my last trip as some of them are difficult to find. I think that the one above, shot on the salt flats of Bolivia, is likely my favorite.
A taste of old Mexico
No cab money, no problem
The closest death came (it's at the end).
Saving $300/a rookie mistake.