Leaving for my trip ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be. Jeez, really, 18 months on the road! Are you mad??
As always, if you prefer not reading my dribble, here’s the cliff notes video (about 11 minutes):
Well beyond being completely exhausted from countless trip preparations, including weeks of 12 hour days attending to the million details of getting out of the house, I had to say goodbye to my love and puppy. It was a cool, grey day, which aided in creating a bias toward the bitterness of saying goodbye over the sweetness of finally setting off. I also recall being very nervous that something unforeseen would happen in the final hours that would delay or cause me to cancel my trip, which only added to my uneasiness. But, I finally put the key in the moto, it came to life, and I rolled out. I was finally off!!
I planned my trip so that the first few weeks I would meander around Virginia and North Carolina, visiting with family and friends. Primarily, I did this to see family and friends, but I also wanted a little cushion in time before heading north where the threat of snow and ice still peppered the forecasts.
My first stop was close by to say farewells to my coworkers. I was very thankful for their encouragement and interest during my trip preparations.
The U. S. Coast Guard is a great outfit, full of wonderful people, and I was happy to have had the opportunity to help them wherever I could over the last nine years.
Leaving there, my next stop was the Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting in Appomattox, Virginia for a long weekend. It was at this meeting a year ago where the idea for my trip was born. I know there are lots of rallies out there, but I wouldn’t really call this a rally.
The central theme of HU meetings is overlanding, and the people who attend have either taken epic or cool trips, or are interested in doing so. The four-day weekend is filled with a mix of presentations about adventures completed or in progress, and seminar-type demonstrations and discussions covering the gamut of adventure motorcycling from packing to changing a tire on the road.
The best part, for me, was meeting and chatting and learning first-hand from others, about their motivations, and about their challenges and triumphs. I met several folks that I am planning to see again down the road.
While at the meeting, I visited the McClean House in Appomattox. What is that? Well, that where the surrender that ended the Civil War was signed. Huh? If you’re like me, I thought the surrender was signed in the Appomattox Court House. Nope.
However, the surrender was signed in the village of Appomattox Courthouse. Back in the 1800s, towns or villages were often named by their prominent feature, in this case Appomattox Court House was in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, but the surrender actually was signed in the McClean House in the village. Mind. Blown.
The big difference I noted after leaving this meeting was I wasn’t returning home. My moto is now my home, I had to remind myself. This brought up all kinds of strange feelings, like, wow, am I really doing this? Can I do this? For 18 months??? I was nervous again.
Heading south, I was to pass through Mt. Airy, NC so decided to visit my Navy Officer Candidate School roommate, Van, and his wife, Jenny. Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since I was commissioned in the Navy, but seeing him was like having seen him yesterday. Van retired from the Navy, too, and is now a farmer!!
For you TV aficionados, Mt. Airy was highlighted in the Andy Griffith series as Mayberry, and there are signs of the show all over the place. Turns out, the show remains part of the tourism in Mt. Airy. I made sure to stop by Pilot Mountain on my way out of town (or Mt. Pilot!).
I then headed to Mother’s house in NC and spent a few days there visiting her. She was excited for me, but mostly she expressed her fears for my safety in all those “dangerous” countries. It is precisely this sort of dogma that I want to talk about during my trip. Personally, I think with good planning and some homework, you can travel safely. I also think the world is full of thriving, striving people who are no different than us in the U. S., and that any problem one can point to in another country happens right here in the U. S., too. We, through the habits of our lives in the U. S., have figured out how to deal with those problems here. It’s figuring “it” out as I go along that is THE adventure in my mind.
So, after calming her fears a bit, and enjoying my Mom’s amazing cooking, I headed into the Smokies for a night of camping before meeting up with an old grade school chum, Keith.
My Mom can cook!!
My friend chose the Casino in Cherokee as our meeting place, a place where he is treated like visiting royalty (and by association, me, too!). I made it plain that I had no intention of gambling any of my travel money, so Keith gifted me $500 that the casino had given him! Something about “priming the pump” for the high rollers amongst us, haha. Well, it took me no time at all to lose that money, and I did so without even a tinge of guilt, nor any inclination whatsoever to reach into my own wallet. We had a good time, eating and drinking to our hearts content (all on the casino, of course), and enjoyed just hanging out watching Keith win, and win, and win. Lucky bastard!
Next up I met my good friend Ricky from back home, who rode out to Maggie Valley, North Carolina, for a weekend of riding around some amazing roads, including roads with some cool names: Tail of the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway, and the Rattler.
I had ridden the Dragon several times, but this was my first riding the Rattlesnake. Turns out, the Rattler is far better in my opinion than the Dragon, longer and more twisties, so if you’re up that way make sure to check it out.
When I said farewells to Ricky after a great weekend, I had planned to visit a friend in Black Mountain, near Asheville, who had offered up free accommodations. When my schedule shifted, it turns out she’d be diving in Roatan during my stopover, but she still insisted I take her up on her offer for a couch at her house. This is where I met David, her beau.
David’s a really cool guy with an amazing life philosophy that roughly equates to simply living your life and not worrying about anything or how anyone else is living theirs. To be 69 (can you believe that?), his daily meditation appears to be paying off! We took a hike to some nearby falls, which was a good diversion from the long days of riding the previous few days.
That night, David made dinner, which included Dolmas – seasoned rice wrapped in grape leaves and soaked in olive oil. Wow, these things were delicious!
I spent the next few days camping in Lake Norman State Park just north of Charlotte. I really needed some alone time as the trip so far had my head spinning.
It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered as I relaxed and did some hiking. I also did some beer drinking, which is a big no-no in NC State Parks.
I was given a gentle warning from one of the rangers and then was paranoid for the next day… I did see a critter or two hanging about, though, and we exchanged WTF looks.
The next few days I holed up at my Brother’s house in Indian Trail, just east of Charlotte. Turned out to be a pretty good family gathering, so we smoked up some ribs and brisket.
I’d developed this routine of going through my stuff and ferreting out those things I simply did not need. In the end, after four or five iterations, I’d easily dumped about 25 pounds. Mainly, a huge bike lock chain, disk lock, tripod (swapped for smaller one), and too many clothes. The savings in weight was noticeable and the space I saved made packing and unpacking up a hell of lot easier. There’ll likely be more of these dumping scenarios.
Before leaving Charlotte, Neale Bayley contacted me via my blog and wanted to meet. Neale, among other things, is an adventurer and writer, and does organized moto tours to such places as Peru. He also runs an orphanage down in Peru that he visits often. Check him how at nalebayleyrides.com.
With just a couple of stops left on the family and friends tour, I left Charlotte and headed to Luray, Virginia to meet up with a friend from work with the Coast Guard. His hospitality and the beauty of the Luray are unmatched. A very hard working culture, with a pride to match, makes the area feel somewhat surreal. Everything is clean and in order and the family is the epicenter of the world.
Afterward, I left Luray heading toward to a new friend’s house in Delaware, someone who contacted me via my blog and said he was taking a similar trip about the same time (minus the Canada and Alaska part). The day was one long slog, raining when I left and just kept raining the whole day. I eventually gave up after 5 hours and scooted into a passing hotel, thankful to be dry and warm.
The next day, I finished what I set out to do the day before, and make my way to Patrick’s.
Turns out we booked the Darien Gap crossing on the Stahlratte in November for the same date! Well, I just had to meet this guy to put a face with a name. Patrick has a KLR fully kitted out and ready to go – he leaves in October. We swapped notes for hours on what stuff and routes to take, our expectations for each of our trips, what we’d like to see and do, how we’d like to travel, etc. Turns out we were a pretty good match and I look forward to seeing him again in Panama. Patrick also had built out a custom Beemer Café, which I thought was stunning! Patrick treated me to an awesome dinner in town, then we returned to his house, chatting away the evening about adventure travel. It was a good visit.
So, thus ended the 21-day family and friends tour through my home states. Next, I am heading northward for the real adventure and I have my sight set on Newfoundland!
My lessons after three weeks on the road:
- You will NOT need to carry as much you think. Now, I am not at some extreme minimalist, and the R1200GS can carry a lot. But, the improvements in handling you get with less load is noticeable, and the routine of unpacking and packing is SO much easier when you have less stuff. Keeping track of all your stuff as you explode into a hotel room and then repacking the next day is the number one concern you will have, so the less you have, the better.
- Planning stops with family and friends is one thing. But, once that tether runs out, you are on your own to find places to sleep. I prefer camping, but sometimes after a long day of riding, I really want a nice, cheap motel to relax and shower in. I’ve found that planning days out in advance challenging, as one good day of rain will slow you down and then you risk missing a reservation. I’ll get there eventually when I am brave enough to just ride until I am tired and find a place behind some bushes, but I am not there yet. I also found times when I wished I could hang out a day longer, but because the anal engineer in planned out the next day somewhere else, I had to move on. I have to work on this.
- I am WAY over budget so far, which was supposed to be just $50/day. Even though I spent roughly half the time on the road camping, even that is more expensive than I like. Camping runs $25-30 a night, then you throw in that day’s gas, some beer, some food, and if you want a fire, wood, then you’re quickly at $60-65. And the days that I do stay in a hotel, the total is over $100/day. Oooof! Then again, I knew I’d be over my budget in the U. S. and Canada, but not this much over! I know down the road as I travel south from Mexico, things will get cheaper, but I really need to be careful here in the beginning. I also need to get west where I can wild camp more often – too many fences in the east.
- In most places I’ve camped I had no connection to the world. I do have a DeLorme, so I can send and receive text messages if I need to, but not spending hours on the web has been, well, quite refreshing. Logging into Facebook every hour or every four days turns out to be the exact same stream of stuff.
More lessons to come I am sure.