Sunday, December 22, 2013

You don't wake up in places like this without making some sacrifices...

Dual-sport camping high above Point Mugu
Note: This is not an exciting adventure motorcycling blog entry. This is a blog entry about life as a traveler. Nearly every day is exciting for one reason or another, 99% of the time we’re thrilled with how we’re living our lives, the opportunities we encounter or make and we wouldn’t trade what we’re doing and how we’re doing it for anything in the world. (No really, we play a game sometimes on long stretches of highway where we ask one another: “Would you give up traveling permanently if: _________” Fill in the blank: someone offered to give you an estate, free of cost, you could step into your dream job, tomorrow, etc. 

But there are times when we are affronted with the sacrifices we have made and are making in order to live the way we do. And it gets difficult. We get a little somber. A little emotional. And it’s part of this traveling life that I wanted to share with you. Last week was one of those times for us. 

After the Long Beach motorcycle show, Roel indulged my desire to catch up with my dearest friends who happen to live in the LA area, who I haven’t seen for over two years. 

"Barreling Down" w/ Erica in the Barossa
Vintage Beer Olympics Organizers
Erica and I met working wine harvest in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. We were housemates and bonded over a mutual fear of spiders and a love of wine and cheese. She is a phenomenal wine sales rep and recently
Christmas (window) shopping w/ Lauree & Co.
achieved an all-time high score at the Louis Latour seminar blind tasting in Burgundy. Lauree has flaming pink hair, the most incredible vintage couture treasure-filled closet and works for a non-profit that provides homeless women with the tools and resources to get back on their feet. We met while sailing around the world on a ship during a college semester “abroad.” Rujuta, and I are the same exact
Graduation Day '06 (Rocking my toomanybeerslastnight smile)
height: 5’ 3 1/4” and we were assigned single dorm rooms next to one another our freshmen year of college at The George Washington University in DC. We were best friends from the start, lived together for the next 3 years and naturally our friendship has evolved into more of a sisterhood. She is in the home stretch of a Child Neurology Fellowship at UCLA and hence is nearly impossible to see during daylight hours. 

Over the course of the week, I managed to spend time with
these amazing women. It was wonderful: we share the kind of friendships where we can not see or speak to one another for far too long, but when we’re together it’s like nothing has changed. It was also slightly bittersweet. Though we’ve kept in touch via Facebook, e-mail and Skype, it’s not the same as being able to laugh together in the same room or work out life’s little challenges over a cup of tea or bottle of wine. It really reminded me of what I miss out on while on the road - good girlfriends are one of life’s most precious treasures. 

The last time I got to break bread with these lovelies... LA , November, 2011
Since we’d had to leave Northern California without stopping in San Francisco in order to make it to Long Beach, we were planning to return to Northern California immediately following the bike show. However, at a gas stop about 3 hours north of the city, I received word that Rujuta’s grandfather had passed away. So we turned around and committed to spending a few more days in the area in order to be there for Rujuta and her family, who I consider my own.

We toured around the South coast a bit more finding a truly
Catching up on some reading
amazing campsite near Point Mugu. Dual-sport bike access only. We savored the sunset. Watched the moon rise over the ocean as we ate our noodles for dinner. We enjoyed our first sleep-in in 3 months, and lingered in the tent, enjoying the view we opened the fly to the following morning. It is one of those places that will be cached in my memory and I will likely long to return to in the future. 
The view from our tent that morning
We headed to Acton, CA to meet up with Brian who we had met in Bishop, CA. His 18 year old son, Adam, regaled us with tales of his work in the field of st/unt car mechanics. He had most recently been on set for the filming of the next Fast and the Furious release, prior to the death of main character, Paul Walker.

We spent an evening with a friend of mine from highschool, reminiscing about the old days back in Vermont. We visited a friend of my Dad’s in Laguna Beach and spent time with his wonderful family. One of the children gave us small “jewels” that she had blessed to protect us on our journey and then proceeded to sprinkle fairy dust on our front tires to keep our bikes safe, as well. We really miss the simple joy of spending time with children and without exposure to families and children, we often forget that we’re now in our 30’s… Biological clock? Tick tock. Whaaat???

1923 BMW R32

We visited the Irv Seaver BWM dealership in Anaheim one afternoon. Their passion for motorcycling had really
impressed us at the Long Beach show. (They had said: We
don’t care what you’re riding, we just love what you’re d
oing!) They have a drool-worthy showroom and an impressive museum of vintage BMWs that have been restored to mint condition… Including a 1923 BMW R32 with the serial number: 041… The worlds earliest known example. The seat is a beautiful honey-colored leather which nicely matches the WOODEN brakes!

The day of Rujuta’s grandfathers funeral arrived. To say the least, it was an intense day. The outpouring of sorrow and grief, mixed with the joyous celebration of a family coming together to honor the life of a man who has touched many, left us raw and facing the reality of losing family of our own, both in the past and future. I have already missed the funeral of my own grandfather, as I had just arrived in Australia when he passed. Sometimes it would be nicer to be closer to our families. Roel has not yet met his first nephew. I missed out on being there for my brother as he navigated the end of high school and beginning college.

Though we had stayed in LA for a bit longer for a sad reason, it was a period of much-needed relaxation and soul-nourishing time spent with friends and loved ones, new and old. And it was great cause for reflection. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Urban Camping and the Long Beach Bike Show

Our Malibu Beach Coffee Spot
With one riding day left to make it to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show, we rode in the direction of Long Beach for as long as our fingers, toes and eyelids could manage… Eventually stopping in a small town just off of the highway, tucking into a Denny’s to get warm, and “stealth camping” in a nearby park that evening. The extremely cold temperature made it difficult to make the most of the 5 hours we had until the sun was due to rise and we would need to be on our way. (Just as Roel emerged from the tent at 6am, a park ranger drove by, putting a little extra kick in our step: we packed up the tent in record time.)

We had heard about this motorcycle show only a week before and had made the decision to cut short our time in Northern California in order to attend. Not only is it always good to meet other bikers and expand our biker network, but a number of our favorite companies were going to be exhibiting… Twisted Throttle, Scorpion, Touratech… not to mention Honda. And since we’ve heard rumors of Honda bringing the Africa Twin out again in 2014, AND bringing it to the USA, we thought Honda might be interested in utilizing our bikes/stories in some way.  

It was a longggg day of riding (about 350mi on bikes that don’t happily exceed 65mph/105kmh), and we had to stop several times just to warm up. During one of those times, I noticed that Roel’s front tire had a bald spot. So along with stopping to get warm, we stopped to look for tires, the entire way… and we came up completely empty handed upon arrival in LA County. 

Our plan had been to stay with friends of mine in the LA area the night before the show, but since we didn’t quite make it before it had gotten dark and we didn’t want to battle the 5 hours of rush-hour traffic to get South of LA, we set out to find a place to pitch our tent just North of the city. Having spent a decent amount of time in Southern California in my former life as a meeting planner, I thought that Roel and I would really have difficulty finding places to camp in the area. However, after enjoying a final warm-up at a Starbucks along Highway 101 (thanks to Judy and David), we rode into the Santa Monica mountains. After only minutes of looking, we pulled off the road and headed up a short dirt track to a plateau completely hidden from the road below. 

Camping in the Santa Monica Mountains, hidden from the rush hour traffic below 
The “where to sleep” problem had been solved, but the “where to shower” one was still on the table… until, on the way to Long Beach the next morning, we passed through Malibu and noticed all of the lovely little surf beaches… with surf showers… 

Surf Showers... not warm, but free and widely available in SoCal
Never mind it was 42f/5c degrees and the surf showers are cold. I got it done. And was rewarded by a nice French Press coffee, courtesy of Roel, to warm me up afterwards. 

There were only a handful of bikes in the parking lot of the Long Beach Expo Center when we arrived, as the show hadn’t yet opened to the public, but our bikes still got a lot of attention; before even entering the Expo, we had made several new friends. I had reached out to the Motorcycle Show organizers earlier in the week, in hopes of being connected with Honda in advance. While they couldn’t assist us with that, they kindly comped exhibitor passes for us so that we could enter the show before the public and speak with Honda, etc, beforehand. We headed into the exhibit hall to have a peak at all of the cool custom bikes, new models from the main motorcycle companies and peruse the selection of gear and apparel in the hall. 

Sizing up the Gibbs Quadski and getting ideas for the Darien Gap ;) 
We checked out the awesome booth that Twisted Throttle had set up, with Wolfman Luggage, every super powerful driving light you could imagine fitting on a bike to see and be seen, and a nicely kitted out touring bike. I met my apparel idol, Gear Chic, Joanne Donn, in person (previously, we had a very helpful Skype session where she helped me decide on my awesome Macna riding suit from Twisted Throttle); she will soon be making the move to Revzilla in chilly Philly, where they’ll be lucky to have her and hopefully will feature her in all of the women’s apparel reviews ;). I visited Touratech to check out their fuel bottles; my tank is smaller than Roel’s so it’s always been slightly annoying that we only have to stop for me to fill up and now that my fuel pump is
On the "must have list" for the Darien Gap!
gonzo, I’ve been in the market for a little more spare fuel as the 1 liter MSR just isn’t cutting it. Matt, at Touratech, who happens to be a former Transalp owner, and wanted to help me out, promised me the fuel can from the floor at the end of the show. And then we headed for the Honda Booth.

The pinnacle of our purpose for attending the show. A meeting that Roel had been looking forward to for months, since hearing about the new Africa Twin. 

So we approached the salesmen in the booth, and Roel introduced himself and then began to explain, who he was, how he’s been traveling around the world for four and a half years on a Honda Africa Twin and just as he asked if they would be interested in using his bike to create "booth buzz", the only “salesman” in the Honda booth wearing an entirely black getup, cut him off, folded his arms, looked the other way and said “we’re not interested.” Roel tried again, explaining that he had heard that they were going to be introducing the new Africa Twin soon — “Not interested.” Roel: Oh. Er… well, I heard that Honda would be introducing it in America for the first t — “NOT interested.” 

The “salesmen” seated to the left and right of the gnome in black, looked at us with eyes wide, shrinking back so that they wouldn’t be seen, and shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads, also completely perplexed and horrified by the rude reaction of their colleague. 

Roel, stunned and quite upset, stalked off. I was a bit slower to get the message and couldn’t believe what I had just seen/heard.  I was flabbergasted. The Ogre still had his arms crossed over his chest, nose held high, chin jutting out… I uttered, “But I thought Honda was supposed to be “the power of dreams”” trying to remind him of his company’s motto. 

This caught his attention a bit. Apparently I had reminded him of something he had forgotten. But he just shook his head as if to shake me off and block me out. I looked from one salesmen to the next, seated around him, each of them as stunned as I, but not willing to stand up to someone who was obviously (by some fluke) a senior salesman (or perhaps the owner of the local dealership?). I walked away. 

It’s not like we expected Honda to roll out the red carpet for us, or anything like that, but to be treated like the scum of the earth and dismissed without so much as a “thanks, but no thanks” was preposterous. After making such an effort to get to this show and have this conversation with Honda, we felt completely deflated. Crushed. Disillusioned. 

We wandered around the show for a little longer and decided to have a quick bite next to the bikes, rather than pay concession prices in the Expo Hall. As we munched on carrots, bikes and bikers gathered in the lot preparing to enter the show. Again, the bikes were surrounded by motorcycle enthusiasts, we passed another hour chatting away to excited bikers and our spirits were lifted. 
Making friends in the parking lot
We returned to the expo hall to have one more look around before leaving, and as we made our way to the back of the hall, one of the Honda salesmen, who had witnessed the exchange between us and the Ogre, spotted us from the Honda booth and raced over to catch up with us. He apologized profusely for how we had been treated and tried to explain that Honda won’t be bringing the Africa Twin into the USA and so the adventure riding world just isn’t interesting from their sales perspective. While we appreciated the gesture, it probably would have been more effective from a  sales standpoint for someone to take the Ogre aside and gently explain a few things to him…

As a brand ambassador of a major corporation, competing in an industry that relies upon excess income in a tough economy, can you really afford not be interested in a story that speaks to the durability, reliability and dream-making-reality of your brand?  

And yes, every biker has a dream… it doesn’t matter if it’s a dream to ride the world, or to escape the doldrums of daily life for a few hours on the open road… if your sales team can’t recognize the synonymity of these two dreams, and the value of leveraging one to produce sales related to the other, then perhaps you need to learn to think outside of the box, Mr. Ogre. 

More simply, and what bothers me the most, how can you treat a visitor to our country in this way and furthermore, how is it logical to treat potential future customers with such disregard and condescension?  

This unfortunate encounter with Honda USA doesn’t change the way we feel about Honda as an international brand. We have had many positive experiences with Honda dealerships across Canada and the USA. We still love our bikes. We believe the Honda brand still stands for durability and reliability.  All we can hope for is that our future experiences with Honda will reaffirm that they are the power sport producer that is “The Power of Dreams.”

Fortunately for Roel and I, we made other wonderful friends in the parking lot and expo hall. Like Triumph and BMW of Anaheim, who were particularly enthusiastic about and supportive of our journey, (BMW even said “we don’t care what you’re riding, we just love what you’re doing); Touratech gave me a new fuel can, Gear Chic introduced me to some
Racer Gloves USA
sweet new gloves at Racer Gloves USA and Twisted Throttle, an awesome New England based company, offered to help us sort out some more rubber to get us on our way around the world : ) As always, the good far outweighs the bad and we’ve been really touched and encouraged as supportive e-mails, Facebook messages and posts have come through from people we met at the show or who noted our web address on the bikes in the parking lot. We’ve had more offers for ridealongs, lodging and dinner than we could possibly have time to take people up on, but knowing they’re there is a wonderful feeling, so many thanks to those of you who have reached out to us!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Swapping land for air and finally returning to the sea, 13,079mi later!

13,079mi/21,049km, 109 days, 3 rear tires and many, many new friends later we've made it to the West Coast!! Jenner, CA, to be specific. 
We rode up a nice gravel road to Jeremy’s cabin hidden in a Calistoga canyon. With the lights burning brightly from his cozy home, he threw open the door and welcomed us in.
Jeremy and his trusty Land Rover
Jeremy is a fellow overland traveler and has been around the world two plus times in his trusty old Land Rover. The next five (yes FIVE) hours flew by as Jeremy regaled us with stories about his world travels. Between Jeremy having successfully crossed the Darien Gap(an area of lush and challenging swampland that separates Panama and Colombia) twice (which is a dream of Roel’s for our travels next year through Central and South America) and his anthropological interests and bush pilot career (anthro was one of my majors and I spent much of my youth in the back of my Dad’s plane as he gave flight lessons,
Pouring over maps of the Darien Gap
before he began informally training me at age 16), the connection with Jeremy was invigorating… It was like finding a long lost friend, or someone who speaks the same language in a sea of foreigners. We couldn’t get enough of his stories about his experiences and adventures and both of us had trouble sleeping that night because we felt so inspired by this man that we wanted to get on the road right away and head South, East, anywhere. 

The next morning we enjoyed more stories over coffee. After hearing about my most recent (terrifying) “lesson” with the bush pilot in Australia who has gained infamy in the aeronautical industry for his YouTube posts featuring girls vomiting in the backseat of his plane as he performs surprise
stunts in his non-stunt airplane, Jeremy had offered to bring us up in his Maude and give me a “nice” lesson. Roel and I both love flying so we decided to abandon our wine tasting plans for the day and head up with Jeremy. The day was fine
and it was easy to find smooth air. Jeremy very adeptly explained the basics of aeronautics, and instructed me how to operate his plane along with him, before giving me instructions to execute on my own. It was a fun and easy hour, that really helped to rebuild my confidence in the air, and it was a great way to see the vineyards of Napa Valley. 
Calistoga Vineyards
Later that day, we met a friend of Jeremy's who owned a Rokon (quite the go-anywhere-do-anything beast), shared a home-cooked meal with new friends (such a luxury) and then Jeremy and Roel spent hours pouring over maps of the Darien Gap and discussing tactics for our journey through the jungle. 

The Rokon: a 2wd Motorcycle or Motortractor?

From Calistoga, we headed for the coast as we had plans to meet the winemaker of one of my favorite wineries later in the week and with a cold front descending, we anticipated that it would be warmer on the coast. Though we found a beautiful place to camp 
and celebrate our arrival at the Pacific
ocean, we were verrrrry wrong about the temperature… We awoke the next morning to even more frost on the tent than usual. 

The sun rising over the beach we camped next to along the Pacific Coast Highway
We rode the famed Pacific Coast Highway to Flowers Winery, tucked away in the hills of Cazadero, and were given an awesome tour of their winery and their biodynamic vineyards. From there, we made our way to Petaluma, stopping along the way for a quick taste at Joseph Phelps winery.

Upon arrival at Lindsey’s home in Petaluma, we took him up on his offer to shower and have a rest, finally warming up after a very chilly night and day on the bikes. We met up with Paul and the four of us headed off to the Oakland Motorcycle Club. 
The Oakland Motorcycle Club
We didn’t quite know what to expect, but meeting other bikers is always nice and it’s great to get recommendations for curvy, picturesque roads to travel. There were about 35 bikers gathered at the club house, a nicely decked out hall where the 3rd oldest Motorcycle Club in the USA holds it’s weekly meetings. The meeting began with very rigid order, with members, who all wear orange Oakland Motorcycle Club jackets, calling out their attendance: “Colors,” (if they’re wearing their jackets) “Colors and bike,” (if they rode to the meeting) “Colors and dog” (if they had brought their dog along that evening). Eventually, Roel and I were introduced and Roel took the floor to talk about his/our travels a bit. When Roel finished speaking, hands shot up with questions and before he returned to his seat there was a really rousing round of applause and the club decided to take up a “collection” to help support our ride. So the OMC is now an official MTTR sponsor : ) We spent the next hour chatting with club members who were incredibly supportive and encouraging. People offered us places to stay, to ride with us in the area and be contacts for the future. 

Not everyone understands what it’s like to travel overland on a motorcycle, and not everyone can understand why we would want to do such a thing. But EVERYONE has a dream, and the people we have met during this portion of our journey, including those in the Napa/San Francisco area, really just reinforce the notion that people are good everywhere and will help you out however they can. Whether it be with route advice, a warm place to sleep, a hot shower, a home cooked meal or a friendly wave from a passing car on the highway that warms our hearts when we can’t feel our fingertips.

With our spirits buoyed beyond what we could have anticipated, we rode off into the night, accompanied for a few miles by new OMC friends. We didn’t get too far before it got too cold to carry on, but we got beyond the reaches of San Francisco traffic, which would allow us to make it to Southern California in time for the Long Beach Motorcycle Show. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Considering some new roots in Napa

Mono Lake
Racing the fall of darkness, we made quick work of getting to Reno, only making one brief, leg-stretcher stop at Mono Lake along the way. Despite our determination, darkness teamed up with rush-hour traffic and the sun had long disappeared below the horizon by the time we made it to Reno.

As a little girl, I had spent a lot of time with my Mom’s friend, Paul. He wore a red foam clown nose, often, and took me to see amazing shows in NYC, where he was a police officer for many years. I haven’t seen Paul in almost 10 years since he moved to Reno, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to catch up with him and his wife Lena.
Thanksgiving Prep
With the weather looking clear for days ahead, we knew we would be able to settle in and spend a few days with them, including Thanksgiving, without having to worry about making it over the mountain pass into California. 

Being Russian, Lena treated us to her dessert speciality: sorbet with mint and.. you guessed it… VODKA! Paul whipped up an amazing Thanksgiving feast for Roel and I, imparting some of his recipe secrets as we chopped, diced, stuffed and table set, like good little sous chefs. Being in a home with people who really are like family to me, was a very special way to spend Thanksgiving and I was extra grateful that Roel’s first Thanksgiving was made so special. 
Lake Tahoe
We rode through the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, thinking we would find a place to camp in the Folsom, California area as Roel had seen that there was a State Park there… Except that we won’t pay $35 to sleep on an uneven, excuse for a patch of grass! How is it even logical to charge that much for camping!? We continued on until we found a wildlife preserve that didn’t say “no camping” and had a convenient little clearing right next to the parking lot. It was our first night camping in moderately warm temperatures (it didn’t drop below freezing overnight) and it was wonderful.

We were out bright and early the next morning, on our way to Napa Valley and just as excited as small children on Christmas morning. During our time working in wineries in Australia, we have grown accustomed to tasting through various regions on a regular basis and have obviously been “deprived” of this favored hobby of ours during the last few months. (Sorry, South Dakota.) 

The Hess Collection: Roel: "Now THIS is art!"
Armed with a list of recommendations from friends who worked, visited or grew up in Napa, we set out to make our way through as many tastings as we could pack into the days ahead of us. (For those of you who are concerned about us riding while tasting, we are extremely cautious about this.
The Hess Collection
We do in fact spit out every taste (although, I think a sip or two of reserve Cabernet may have made it down my throat), we hydrate before, during and after each tasting and we snack throughout the day.) We stopped off at Hess, as much for the wine as to view their incredible collection of art. Next up was Cliff Lede, where we had a

really wonderful tasting experience. Their "Bordeaux" blend smelled so good, I wanted to be able to wear it like a perfume. And then we checked out the Mondavi Christmas Extravaganza, where the carolers made up for the disappointing wine. I suppose you can’t expect much with event like this… oh well. 

That night we were quite stressed about finding a place to camp as California appears to be fairly well-gated, fenced off and locked-down. But eventually we found a road to a park in the hills and pulled off into a cluster of trees just outside of the closed gate. It didn’t say “no camping” : )
But our reprieve from chilly camping temperatures seemed to have ended. We got up early the next morning in case there would be a ranger coming to unlock the park gate and fortuitously, we were just pulling away on the bikes when a homeowner who apparently lived up the hill from the park came down the road on his morning walk. 
Our morning walk
We checked out the town of Calistoga figuring we could find a warm place to have coffee and pass some time with free wifi until our lunch date with a girlfriend I had worked with at Two Hands Wines in the Barossa Valley, Australia. The Calistoga Roastery fit the bill perfectly and we sat ourselves at the end of a long table with a good view of the bikes. 

Before long, a group of rather interesting people began to gather around the table. A lawyer, viticulturist, a doctor, and eventually another overlander… Jeremy has been around the world 2x+ in his Land Rover and is now awaiting his next adventure in the hills of Calistoga! These gentlemen and some of their lady friends, get together on a daily basis at the Table of Knowledge and swap stories. They even have a fantastic calendar that they’ve put together which hangs on the wall next to “their” table. We had indeed found a special place and some special people. While Roel was absorbing some knowledge, I went outside to chat to some gentlemen riders who were checking out our bikes. Paul and Lindsey were from Petaluma and not only did Lindsey offer that we could stay at his home if we needed a warm bed and a shower, but they asked if we would be willing to come talk with their Motorcycle Club on Wednesday. We exchanged contact information and they went off on their way to enjoy the last warm riding day to be had according to the forecast. 

As we left the Calistoga Roastery, Jeremy offered that we could come camp at his place that evening and we promised to see him later. 

We had a nice brunch with my friend Chelsea, and then we rode off in search of our next exciting tasting experience. We rode up a beautiful road to Pride Mountain, where we hoped to taste some of their award winning, high-ranked Cabernet. After 20 minutes of hair-pin turns going up into the mountains, we
Pride Mountain
arrive at Pride Mountain’s gate, which said that tasting was only available on appointment. Given that we didn’t have mobile reception, we decided to ride on and see if Pride Mountain could make time for us… And they did! David led us through their caves where they store barrels and barrels of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and so forth. We enjoyed expressive and concentrated tastes from several barrels before being led back into the tasting room to enjoy a taste of their finished products. It is not always obvious as per how some wines come about a high rating from the gurus in the industry, but in the case of Pride Mountain, it certainly was.

The caves of Pride Mountain

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Death Valley and Displacement

Death Valley

After three rainy days in Las Vegas, the last of which caused a record 90 traffic accidents, the sun finally made it’s much anticipated return and we said goodbye to our host, Michael and his dad. Since my rear Dunlop tire was looking a little worse for the wear (after 5,000ish miles) we stopped at the Motorcycle Tire Center, picked up a new Shinko Explorer 705 and figured we’d take them up on the free change service, since we were eager to get on the road. 

Having made a couple of other stops along the way out of town (Sephora being one of them - a girl on the road needs her dry shampoo, after all), the sun was already on it’s way down. By the time we entered Death Valley, it was very dark, (no moon, nothing) so we headed straight for the free campground, selected one of the last available sites and set up camp on the rocky terrain. It was rather windy, but fortunately not too cold, given that we were only at 2,000ft above sea level. We had a simple dinner of rice and Thai curry soup; 5 1/2 months in we have gotten pretty lazy, forgoing our plastic bowls and eating straight out of the Uncle Ben’s plastic packages that we’ve boiled the rice in. Sorry Mom. We stayed outside for a while to star gaze, reveling in the majestic outdoors. 
Death Valley
We woke the next morning, applauding the sun’s repeat performance as it kissed the snow-dusted mountaintops that surrounded our campsite. The “plan” was to get on the road early and make a good bit of distance, until a few of our fellow campers came by, asking about the bikes and our travels. Since they’d traveled through the area before, we took our time and tried to absorb as much travel advice as they could offer. One woman, from my parents generation (i.e., former hippy - this is meant with utmost respect), was trying to convince us to travel to a desert oasis she and her
Getting travel advice from local experts
husband were married at and now spend Thanksgiving at every year… There are palm trees, grassy lawns, natural hot springs and the best Turkey Day potluck you’ve ever had. And it was free. It must be too good to be true. Though this possibility sounded rather nice (who doesn’t like the sound of a desert oasis?), all of the three somewhat
treacherous dirt tracks leading to this spot had recently been closed due to snowfall. This lovely woman kept trying to tell us that we should at least try to get there and if the road was too bad, we could always turn back, but it was NOT to be missed. Fortunately for us, her husband helped make our decision an easy one when he approached and was like “oh yea, it’s the best place EVER - it’s even clothing-optional!!!” He went on to tell us, “we soaked in the tub naked, got out and got married naked, and then got back in the tub naked. But don’t worry, they clean the tubs every day.” Too good to be true, indeed. HA!

At 10am, we rode off with recommended roads, campsites, hot springs (clothing required) and even a hand-drawn, noted and illustrated map. 

The road through Death Valley kept climbing up through the mountains, and as we rose it got colder and colder and prettier and prettier as snow covered more and more of our surrounds. When we reached the peak, the view before us opened to an expansive valley of brown and grey, with sweeping areas covered in red grass, here and there. The road wound around and down until we rode along the flats for a bit, before ascending once again up it’s winding path. At the top, there was a sign for a lookout, and to the right of where all of the tourists in caravans and cars had parked, was a fun looking dirt track… Yes, please… 
Death Valley
We rode up along this track, giving attention to the fair amount of loose gravel, some reasonably large potholes and mini-boulders but we both gasped when we
came over a small hill and took in the incredible view of the valley we had just ridden through and the mountains we had camped on the other side of the night before. 

From Death Valley we headed North in the direction of Bishop, anticipating that we would ride on for a few hours after our McDonald’s wifi-stop. However, once Roel saw the weather report saying that it would be well-below freezing overnight, we decided to try to stay near Bishop rather than taking our chances with black ice on the road. Another McDonald’s wifi-user overheard our dilemma of where to find the warmest free place to camp and approached us with an awesome offer… he was in town visiting his in-laws, but also to work on a buddy’s recently purchased home that he would be renovating. Since the house wasn’t being used, we were welcome to stay there for the evening. Seriously, we meet the best people at McDonald’s.

We followed Brian to a simple home just a few blocks from the main street. He showed us in, turned on the hot water heater and the kerosine stove, and told us to make ourselves at home. We were on top of the world - only minutes before, we were worried about finding a place to stay reasonably warm overnight as the temperature was going to drop drastically. Our meal was going to be a very basic one and our bath was hopefully going to take place in a hot spring in the morning (which it still might, but you can’t get your head wet in hot springs, usually, due to bacteria). Completely elated, we followed Brian on a tour through the home… As the house was just purchased and the owner lives in LA full-time, there was hardly any furniture and minimal appliances, etc. But there were a couple of bowls of cat food in the utility room, which we found a bit odd. 

Brian gave us his contact information for when we get into the LA area and bid us a good night and safe travels. Before leaving he mentioned that we might see the previous owner walking through the carport and into the utility room… Apparently the house had been a foreclosure sale, but the previous owner’s cats still lived in the backyard and so she still comes to feed them here. Oh. 

I ignored a waved of mixed emotions, and focused on my excitement to stock up on supplies with which to make a healthy, fresh meal. However, at the local supermarket, we did laps around the aisles, over and over again. We had been so excited to have a kitchen to prepare dinner in, but once we got to the supermarket, were were at a total loss as per what to make. Nothing appealed to either of us. And every meal idea we came up with was something we could easily prepare on the road, so we scrapped it. We eventually settled on my chili recipe, which would also be possible to prepare on the road but takes a long time to cook…. so chili it was. 

Returning to the house, we both noticed the safety railing on the outside, making it easier for an elderly person to mount the steps. As we sat eating our dinner later, our mood deflated significantly, the previously mixed emotions, settling on somber. Though we were extremely grateful to be here in this cozy little house, we were only here because some elderly woman, who loves animals, was unable to make her mortgage payments. And who knows where she is now, other than near enough to return frequently to feed her cats. We wondered what happened that caused her to lose her home. Did she raise a family here? Was she widowed? Did she lose her job? It’s particularly affronting when your good fortune is a direct result of someone else’s misfortune. I hope that wherever she is, she is warm and safe tonight. I am certainly grateful to be so blessed. 

Postscript: The following morning, as we were letting the bikes warm up in the driveway of the little house, an early 80s model Oldsmobile pulled up next to the house. A thin elderly woman, with perfectly curled white hair, in a pink sweatshirt and faded jeans stepped out of the car. She asked if we were friends of Bret (the new owner of the house). When I replied that we were actually acquaintances of Brian, Bret’s friend who would be doing some work on the house, her eyes filled with tears. Shoot. With a shaky voice, she asked what work was going to be done. I tried to get her mind off of her home being remodeled and asked if she needed help feeding the cats. Her reply was that she had already done it, but had gone through the neighbors yard. I assumed she was trying to keep it a secret that she was entering the house to feed the cats and suggested that she just come in the front. No, she enters through the neighbors yard because as often as she comes to care for her 18 year old cats, she comes to check on the 97 year old man who used to be her neighbor and who “doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore.” My heart felt flattened. I couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs. My stomach felt hollow. And as I failed to find something comforting to say, she let out a shuddery sigh, wiped at her face with the back of her hand and said “I just need to get over this.” Moments later, my helmet cheek pads were soaking wet. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Coming out on top in Vegas

After the long road from St. George to Las Vegas wound through a canyon and over a hill there was nothing but a straight line of tar with small casino’s every so many miles to warm us up for the gambling capital of the world. Two hours later a yellow brown low hanging cloud formed before us. At first we thought it was a dust cloud in the desert but with sky scrapers becoming visible minutes later, we realised it was smog. As the skyline of Las Vegas became clearer, the lights of the casino’s beaconed from the “The Strip”. After all the movies and stories about Vegas I was ready for a lot of craziness.

Riding through “The Strip” was like riding through a Theme Park. It started of with a giant sphynx and a pyramid and then right after there was a fairytail castle. Next, a miniature
version of New York City appeared and the highlights of Paris took us to the famous fountains of the Bellagio, where the water was graciously “dancing” to the tune of the Titanic sound track... it was like whatching a live ballet. Luckily the traffic lights allowed us to enjoy the show for a while from the comfort of our bikes before traveling to Piazza San Marco in Venice. I realized I was truely enjoying myself. A lot of effort was put into creating this special atmosphere. 

We rode out of town to meet up with Michael, our host for the night. It was busy on the road and everyone was in a hurry. We were warned for the Vegas traffic and it lived up to the warning! It was like being on a race circuit with cars coming from everywere at different speeds. When we got in a traffic jam, it got even worse. Welcome back to city life! We missed the winding mountain roads and the fresh air, already. The recklessness continued and the crashed cars, dotting the side of the road were not having the same effect on all the drivers as they had on us. We rode close together and moved through the traffic as one, cautiously, the communication devices once more being well worth the money we had paid for them. 

We made it out of the madness and were welcomed by Michael and his father Chris. The Bikes where treated to a nice spot in the garage with 5 other motorbikes. After getting to know our hosts and enjoying a nice Thai meal, we crashed on our mats and fell asleep. 
Red Rock Canyon National Park
The next day, we met up with Annemieke, who we met in Moab, and went for a nice bike ride through Red Rock Canyon National Park. The weather had changed and it rained all morning taking much of the joy out of riding. Azure’s bike was not appreciating the rain and decided to call it a day. With only 160 miles on one tank of petrol it should not be running out of gas. There was still gas in the tank but it did not get it to the engine. After adding 2 liters of fuel we got her bike to work again, concluding that the fuel pump membrane must be worn. Another little repair for the to do list. We only just made it to the gas station when the bike gave up again. 

Hoover Dam
The girls decided to hit Vegas but I really wanted to see the Hoover Dam since we were here.
We split up and I made a quick run to the impressive dam where it briefly stopped raining. It was remarkable how many Chevrolet Camaro’s were riding around here. The Transformers movie, filmed at the dam, must have been a big succes for Chevy. I was escorted out by a “Bumblebee” convertible.

Back on the Strip, I got a quick glimpse of Vegas by night before checking into the Luxor. We decided that to experience the real Las Vegas, we had to spend the night there and since it was very cheap to stay in a hotel, we did. The first Hotel in 6 Months! We spend the night running around all the Casino’s, not spending a dollar and trying to see all the free shows. We had a great time but were exausted when we finally walked back into the sphinx that was guarding the entrance of the Luxor Hotel.
PC: Annemieke @
The next day we enjoyed the luxuries of the Hotel and Azure managed to get us a late check out. In an effort to save money, I had bought some bagels for breakfast from a local grocery store. Since the hotel wants you to spend your money in their restaurants, they don't supply any coffee-maker or toaster so I had to get creative. The bathroom was equipped with a hairdryer and there was a steel champagne cooler in the room.
The two together made the perfect toaster and Azure wondered what on earth I was doing with a hairdryer for 5 minutes, until a nicely toasted bagel with cream cheese was served to her in bed.

We checked out and walked around for a bit more before setting off to Michael's once more. The weather would be bad for a couple of days and he nicely suggested that we stay with him until the rain subsided. That evening we went to his sister, Trina's, to have dinner. 

One of my best friends asked me recently how we can travel for such a long time not being with family and friends. I did
Checking the wiring of the TransAlp
not have the answer at that point but I think it is the traveling experience that makes it possible. You start seeing the world through your own eyes and not through the eyes of the media, always reporting about the negative events on this beautiful planet. Traveling shows you that people all over the world are amazing and meeting these people is what makes our travels. These people become our friends, for however brief the period we spend with them, or as in this case, our family. Michaels family made us feel like part of the family and we had a great evening enjoying a delicious meal.

\We are so thankful for all the people we meet on our travels and sadly we can not stay in touch with everyone but while riding our bikes we often think back and remember the time spend with our family and friends around the world. It is not places like Las Vegas that make our journey. It is the people we meet who welcome us into their lives. These people make it possible for us to make this journey around the world, away from our family and friends back home.