Reflections on Traveling

August 28, 2017

Traveling has a long term, if not permanent, effect on your life. Your views of the world and its’ people change; your views of yourself and those around you change; your focus on what is important and what is less important change. I recently re-encountered a quote attributed to Mark Twain that brought back to mind many of my encounters along my route across four continents:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I’ve been back in the States for just over a year now. The urge to travel is still strong, and my long-range plan is built completely around getting back on the road. And I am making strong headway in that direction.

After spending most of a year in Central America, South America, and Africa, perhaps one of the strongest images I acquired was seeing how people with virtually nothing lived happily. Many of these people lived in small, one-room huts or shacks, without running water or electricity. Their jobs were not attached to some Fortune 500 company, but rather in day-to-day living, whether farming, taking what they grew to market, finding food and water, or otherwise providing for their families. These people in general were happier than any that I met in cities. They had less stress, no imagined timetable, no made-up cultural rules or dress code. No outside media screaming stories of inflated importance at them 24/7 that had no actual impact on their immediate lives.

A simple life.

I simplified my life in many ways before leaving on my trip. I sold much of what I owned, including a house, car, and other belongings I had acquired over years that I attached false importance to. I eliminated bills, payments, unnecessary mail and emails. Six months into my ride, I had settled into a very relaxed existence, living mostly in a tent with enough bedding, clothes and cooking supplies to be comfortable, and a means of transportation that could take me to the next village or country. Even though everything I had with me fit on a motorcycle, I still had a lot more material goods than most of the people I met along the way.

It was around Central America that I began to understand that you can be happy with very little, and make more of what you have. I noticed that people who lived in a very small home with a large family made good use of outdoor space. They lived outdoors, often cooked outdoors, worked outdoors, and only slept or sometimes ate inside the house. I made a note to myself for my return: Outdoor space is cheap. Live more simply. Stay downsized. Don’t let the “stuff” take over your life again.

Africa again reminded me of this. Simple houses. Outdoor living. Hard working, yes. But happy people.

When I returned last year, I had a firm goal: build a small(er) house as a base to return to while traveling; a place to re-charge every now and then, or to plan the next stage of travel. Continue to live a simple life. Continue to spend less and save more in order to get back on the road sooner.

In the past, while living in the US, when I would stop to buy gas for my car or truck I would inevitably walk into the convenience store and buy a candy bar and a soda. For no reason. Just because it was there. I learned that in other less-developed countries, gas stations are just that. There is no store attached to it. You buy gas. Period. This was a great way to eat better, and save money. And “fix” one of my bad habits.

In the past, I would eat out many times a week, often at rather expensive restaurants, but even fast food drained my budget. I would buy concert tickets, or tickets to a play on a whim, just because it sounded interesting. Now, I stay focused on the long-term goal of traveling full time. (Note that I, like many others, used to refer to this as “my dream”. I no longer do that, because I have proven to myself that it is fully achievable.)

You might think I am living a boring life, or “wasting” the present because I’m not enjoying myself. You’d be wrong. It’s amazing how many free things there are to do if you just look around. Free concerts. Free movies. Free food events. Free sporting events. I’m still enjoying life, maybe even more, because I’m around people who don’t judge others by how much they spend.

A year into non-traveling, my house is almost finished. Soon I will be saving more money, happily working toward my return to the road. Still living a much simpler life than I had before. Still focused on what is important to me, and not the material “stuff” that weighs us down. Happier. Less stressed. Okay, more stressed than when everything you own is on a 250cc motorcycle and you’re living in a tent in Namibia. But much less stressed than I used to be.

Another quote that I’ve seen often is attributed to St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those that don’t travel read only one page.”

I truly believe that travel can and will change a person’s view of the world and other cultures. I am living proof. And I can’t wait to get back out there and experience more of the world.

Sensory Overload: Austria to Switzerland

July 2, 2016

My mind is having trouble making sense of what I am seeing. I’m nearing the top of the Arlberg Pass in Austria. It’s been raining steadily on the climb up and it’s also getting cold. I’m in a long tunnel, and thankful for the reprieve from the rain.

The tunnel bends, and as I exit the curve, ahead of me is a puffy, bright blue blob. It looks like someone put a blue light bulb in a large ball of cotton and stuffed it in the end of the tunnel. The tunnel’s edges are fuzzy, not defined. It’s hard to tell where the road goes, but the cotton ball is approaching fast. Suddenly I’m at it, and I realize that it’s dense fog. So dense I can barely see the front fender of my motorcycle. I can’t see the road at all, but I know I’m out of the tunnel and on top of a mountain, with drops on each side and little or no guardrails. If I look straight down, I can see the white stripe on the side of the road, but it fades into the fog within just a few feet ahead of me. I’m traveling about 50 kph (30mph), and I’m hesitant to slow down because I know from the tunnel that there are cars behind me. But I have to, because I can’t see where to go. 

I flash my brake light hoping that will help, and begin to slowly lose speed. I can make out headlights behind me, or at least a bright spot, and I’m hoping he can see my tail light. 

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a guy on a bicycle in front of me, and he’s headed the opposite direction, up the hill. I can see him for all of about two seconds before he disappears into the fog again.  This is crazy, but there’s no place to safely pull over. If I cross the white stripe, I risk riding off the road and/or off the mountain. I don’t think there’s a shoulder, and if there is, it’s not much safer to stop there than in the middle of the lane. 

Within a couple of miles I’ve lost some elevation and the fog is lifting. I’m back to just rain, which before seemed bad, but now is welcome. 

The rain continues on and off all afternoon, sometimes heavy, which prevents me from taking many photos. Even so, the scenery and the roads are beautiful. I’ve entered the alps in Tirol, in western Austria, and headed for Switzerland.

That tower is the top of the Olympic ski-jump in Innsbruck. It’s right in town, with a beautiful view from there overlooking the city.


I cross through Liechtenstein and into Switzerland, staying off the motorways and on back roads. The road marked T16 up to the village of Wattwil is beautiful; billiard-table smooth, with fantastic sweeping curves. I consider turning around and riding back down, just so I can ride this stretch of road again.

Yep, it’s a country. With a total area of only 62 square miles, it has the third highest GDP per person in the world, and one of the lowest unemployment rates at 1.5%.

As I near Lucerne, I decide that camping tonight is not going to be much fun, since it’s still raining and everything is very wet, including me. I decide to search for a hotel and quickly find a place with a nice view of a lake from my window. 

I missed the 125th anniversary by one day.


Looking out the window of my room this morning. The rain stopped, and the sun is out. I had to carry all of my wet gear down and lay it in the parking lot to dry for a couple of hours.


Everywhere around me looks like this. Beautiful.


There used to be a dairy advertisement in California that said something like, “Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California.” I’m willing to bet these cows would argue that point. Except maybe in winter. These cows probably dream of California in winter.

Social Status Among the Homeless? Perspectives on Tent Envy

June 20, 2016

It’s funny how perspective changes with time. In the past eleven months, my perspective of what I need to live comfortably continues to change. 

When I decided to do this trip, I sold my 3,000 square foot, 3 bedroom house and my 5,000 square foot shop, along with most of my “stuff”. The remainder went into storage. I moved into a 900 square foot one bedroom apartment for the last six months. It was a serious downsizing, but it was comfortable. 

In July 2015, I left Texas. I brought along a 2-man MSR “Hubba Hubba” tent. I told people “I don’t know why they call it ‘Two Man’. There’s no way two men could fit in there.” But it was a great size for just me and a bit of my gear at night. In addition to my sleeping mat and sleeping bag, I usually keep my jacket, pants, helmet, laptop, and a few clothes in the tent with me at night; I use the jacket rolled up under the head of the mattress for a little elevation so I can sit and type or read. The rest sits to my side, comfortably. I’ve also got a small “attic” net that I can keep my camera, phone, head torch, and a few snacks in for easy access. I love my tent. It has become my home, and it’s very comfortable. But in some ways, it seems a bit excessive now, in the same way the house was before.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed solo motorcyclists on both extreme ends of the camping spectrum: a guy on a Triumph that I met in Durness, Scotland, had a queen-size inflatable bed (one of those that is about a foot thick) in his tent, and the tent itself had a separate “living room” that he could park his motorcycle in and still sit in a chair in the same space. On the other end, Allan, my neighbor on the Isle of Man, showed up on a KTM 690 from Aberdeen, Scotland with a one-man MSR tent that was definitely less than half the size of mine, yet it had lots of room inside for him and his gear. For the first time, I began to look at Allan’s tent as a more appropriate alternative for my needs. I was considering downsizing again. 

I’ve spent the past couple of days in a campground north of London. This whole “perspective” thing came to mind again because as I sat in my nice chair next to my “house”, I looked across to a tent that two women were staying in. 

Tent McMansion?

My initial thought was “What do they do with all of that space?” It seemed as large as my apartment. In my mind, I started placing furniture in it, realizing that it was more space than I could fill, or needed. It has a fully enclosed porch, for God’s sake. Then again, it is England. Camping in the rain would be much more comfortable with a porch to sit on in the rain.

I’m sure to them, or to many people who go camping for a weekend or a long holiday, that tent is “roughing it” or at least “primitive camping in comfort”. I looked at it as if I was considering moving across town to a nicer subdivision. 

But in reality, there is no social status assigned to size of tent like there tends to be with the size of your house. People buy tents based more on personal needs, and less on a need to impress the neighbors at the campground.

When I began my travels, the tent was a means of “sleeping cheap”, and some level of discomfort was expected. Now, I look forward to my tent; it is a known quantity, unlike many of the hotels and hostels that are more expensive. I’ve learned the correct air pressure for my mattress and my pillow to allow a good night’s sleep. I can quickly set everything up, and I know where every piece of gear goes. 

I recently, after ten months, splurged and bought a cooking pan and a spatula. Up until now, my entire kitchen cooking system consisted of a titanium mug and set of utensils. I would boil pasta in the mug, drain the water, add the sauce, heat it, eat it, then wash the mug and make coffee in it. For months I had told myself that the pan would take up valuable space that I didn’t have. Then one day I realized that the pan was just slightly larger diameter than my rolled sleeping mat, so when placed in my duffel bag at the end of the mat, it only took up about a quarter inch of space (the thickness of the pan material). Now I’m cooking eggs and bacon, sausage, meatballs, chicken, you name it. 

I now have a pan, and I’m STILL making pasta!

In one year, my entire lifestyle has changed dramatically, and I think it’s for the better. I’m living with less stress. I have everything I need. I’m living cheaper than I was when I was just sitting at home — no mortgage, no utility bills, no homeowners insurance, no car payment — and I’m experiencing the world in the process. Of course, it would be nice to have an income, and to not watch my bank account shrinking every month, but with proper planning, I can slow that to a trickle as well. Or I can work for a while, and save a lot more, now that I know I can live a much more simple lifestyle and still be comfortable. 

Maybe even upgrade to a new tent. 


Monster/No Monster

June 2, 2016

John o’ Groats is not a town. It is simply a tourist attraction. There is a signpost here, a couple of gift shops, a tourist information center and a few other buildings. Having watched “Long Way Down” a long time ago, I knew of John o’ Groats from that show, but had somehow missed the fact that there is nothing actually here.  It also turns out that it isn’t the northern-most point on the mainland UK; nearby Dunnet Head holds that claim. However, it is apparently the longest distance from Land’s End, which is the southern-most tip of the mainland UK. Seems to me they had to stretch to come up with something to draw the tourists.

View from my campsite outside Durness.


Further north of Durness on the way to John o’ Groats.


John o’ Groats.

I would have liked to go further north into the Orkney Islands, but I’m limited on time due to my booked ferry crossing to Isle of Man on June 7. 

The weather in the far North is severely overcast but not raining, and very cold. I’ve had the heated grips on 75% heat for a couple of days now, so I continue south down the east coast of Scotland to Dornoch Firth, where I make my first truly bad camping decision.

On occasion I’ve been staying in Caravan Parks rather than wild camping. Usually this is because there is hot water, showers, flush toilets, and sometimes a camp kitchen which allows me to cook without using my stove, saving gas. 

“Caravan Parks” here are typically a large lawn, with nothing else, save for possibly electrical hookups. Not a tree. Or a BBQ grill. Or a fire pit. Or anything else. Most visitors are in cars pulling travel trailers (“caravans”), or motorhomes, or VW vans. This week, there’s been a number of motorcyclists as well.

Tonight, I am introduced to a new term: “static caravan”, which is known in the U.S. as a mobile home. Thus, the “caravan park” I chose to camp at is primarily a mobile home park, with a large lawn full of electrical connections for the people who show up in trailers, motorhomes, and tents. For those of us who don’t need an electrical hookup — correction, for me, since I am the only one apparently who doesn’t want to pay for an electrical connection — there’s a separate area against the dunes with no facilities. In fact, the nearest showers and toilet are on the other side of the Great Lawn. For this I am charged fifteen pounds, a bit more than $21.  I could have driven outside of the caravan park, and camped in the dunes for free, and had a better experience.

The next morning I head towards Loch Ness, and the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. Just before I get a good view of the lake, Dunrobin Castle comes into view.

Dunrobin Castle

Just down the road, I get my first good view of Loch Ness. I had no idea it was so huge. I had always pictured a small quiet lake in my mind. This thing is huge. The signs at the roadside park give a couple of interesting facts:

  1. There is more fresh water in Loch Ness than in all the lakes in England and Wales combined.
  2. You could fit every single living person on earth in Loch Ness fully submerged and have room left over. (Kind of a creepy statistic if you ask me.)

The lake is 23 miles long, and very deep, reaching 230 meters (755 feet) in depth. As I stand looking at the lake, I notice a single “wake”, which looks kind of like a large, long rope of water, even though there is no boat anywhere in sight. The reflection of sunlight off this single rolling wake gives it a dark, odd look. I can understand why people see things in this lake. 

A bit too long for a serpent, and kinda flat, but oddly interesting considering there was nothing around to make it.



It’s a big lake, er, Loch.

At the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, I am surprised at the theme. The center is in a former castle/hotel. and is well done. The presentations are in a chronological order, moving room to room and showing a video presentation in each room. But it’s the “disproving” approach that surprises me. The exhibition takes the claims, photos, and other information about the lake monster, and systematically aims to disprove each one, concluding that there is no monster and everyone is mistaken in what they have seen. 

I personally don’t tend to take a stance one way or the other, and it surprises me that a place famous for its’ monster has put so much effort into proving it doesn’t exist. Still, I enjoyed the hall, and the information presented, including the WW II plane that was discovered in the lake while using sonar to search for large marine life, and the attempt at the world speed record on the water that ended badly when the then-world land speed record holder was killed after reaching 200mph on Loch Ness. 

Tanzania and The CNN Effect

May 12, 2016

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m going to go through it again, because I keep having similar experiences and it bears repeating.

The United States media tends to focus on shock headlines. I guess that sells news, and ads for them. They run stories about how dangerous certain countries or places are, and the U.S. government issues Travel Advisories against travel to nearly every country in the world based on these dangers, real or perceived. 

The example most everyone in the U.S. is familiar with is Mexico. I would guess that the majority of people in the United States believe that Mexico is dangerous, and that if visiting Mexico, the chance of being killed by a cartel or drug gang is high. 

So, is Mexico dangerous? I tend to use this comparison: a month or so ago, over thirty people in Chicago were shot in one weekend. I didn’t read anything in the U.S. news that advised the rest of the world not to travel to the entire United States because of this. So why does the U.S. media paint an entire country as “dangerous” with a broad brush because of something that happens in one city, or one state, or province? Is it dangerous to travel to the southside of Chicago at night? Probably. Is it dangerous to travel to East Los Angeles at night? I wouldn’t do it. Does that mean I shouldn’t visit San Diego? It has no direct correlation, and you’ll never hear the U.S. media make such a ridiculous, over-broad statement about their own country. And Mexico should be the same. Yes, there are places that are less safe than others. A little common sense goes a long way. 

This applies to other countries as well, of course. Since I began my journey last year, I have noticed an ongoing and continuous routine: in each country I visit, I am told by the locals that the country I just came from is dangerous, and the country I am headed to is dangerous, but the country I am presently in is perfectly safe. Whether this is due to political propaganda, or previous border disputes, or other factors, I can’t say. But it is consistent. 

And it happened again here in Tanzania. In Malawi, I was warned that Tanzania was much poorer, more corrupt, and more dangerous. And maybe it is. But that’s not been my experience. Perhaps it’s my common sense approach of staying out of what might be bad areas, but overall I’ve met a good number of people in Tanzania, and have had nothing but friendly encounters and never felt threatened or that I might be a victim of theft. I’ve been told by Tanzanians that this is the safest country in East Africa. Yet its’ bordering residents would tell you otherwise, for some reason.

At Meserani Oasis Lodge and Camp near Arusha, the owner went out of her way to call around and find a tour to Ngorongoro Crater for me (one that I could afford; there are lots of Crater Tours, but they can be quite expensive. She was able to get me on a tour with a group, cutting the price by more than half). She verified the tour details, and even waited with me for the driver to arrive on the morning of the tour. She didn’t make a cent for the time she spent to help me.

The lodge doesn’t have wifi, but her son-in-law brought me his personal wifi dongle and allowed me to use it to check my email, going to the trouble of buying a new prepaid card for it to give me enough data to do what I needed to do, and helping me set it up on my laptop. 

All along the roads, people wave as I pass by, or wave back when I wave to them. Most of them are smiling big when they see me ride by.

Sure, there are hawkers at the tourist locations that line up to try to sell you everything from jewelry to artwork, and they can be pushy and insistent. But in general I found Tanzania to be a friendly and welcoming place, even with a bit of a language barrier. 

Not everyone in this picture is trying to sell things to tourists and locals. The two men on the right are Masai warriors, and just passing through.

I’m really curious to hear what Kenya has to say about Tanzania when I get there. 

A Little Work Before I Go

March 31, 2016

It’s almost time to begin my trek into real Africa. Before heading north into Namibia, I put a new set of Pirelli MT21 knobbies on the bike. This will be the third set of these tires that I’ve used on this trip (and the fifth set of tires overall), and I really like them. I’ve been surprised at how well they work on the pavement, for full knobbies, even in rain. And I’m able to get about 10,000 kilometers, or just over 6,000 miles out of a set.

This morning as I was packing up to head to the shop for the tires, I noticed another break in my pannier racks. Exactly the same place as the broken rack on the left side, which I discovered in Cochrane, Chile and had welded in Gobernador Gregores, Argentina. Only this time it was the right side. Fortunately, the local Yamaha dealer, Helderberg Yamaha, knew of a welder nearby, and MCR Specialised Welding was quick to help me out.

New tires installed; panniers, top rack, Rotopax gas & water cans removed. This is the first time in many months that I’ve ridden the bike without all of the weight on the rear, and I was surprised at just how light and fun it felt.


Rear rack in the shop, having its’ arms welded back on.


Due to the location of the re-located turn signals (necessary in order to open the panniers), the exhaust blows directly onto the bottom of the right rear turn signal, and before long melted a hole in it.


The guys at MCR Welding put an extended and angled tip on my exhaust to route the hot gas away from the turn signal. The flasher still works, so I’ll patch it up and keep using it for now.


Chris at Helderberg Yamaha was a huge help. He found the tires I wanted, ordered them for me, and had them ready when I returned from Plettenberg Bay. The shop mounted and balanced the tires quickly and pointed me towards the welding shop just a few blocks away. Great service all around.


A couple more days in Cape Town, then it’s off on the real adventure.

They Never Forget…

March 29, 2016

Plettenberg Bay, or “Plett” as the locals call it, and the surrounding area is a place I could spend a lot more time. Like a month or so. At least. From the beautiful lush coast landscape, including hiking trails and National Parks that run along the beach, to the extensive wildlife, including the Birds of Eden Bird Sanctuary (the second largest aviary in the world; so big it doesn’t really feel like you are in any type of enclosure), a Wolf Sanctuary, a Lion Sanctuary, an Elephant Sanctuary, a Leopard Sanctuary, and more. There’s also the adventure sports here: the Bouji?? Bungy Bridge (highest bungy bridge in the world), paragliding, kite surfing, shark diving, kayaking, surfing, etc. 

World’s highest bungee bridge at just over 700 feet. Uh, maybe next time. Or not.

I will definitely return to Plett. I am feeling guilty that I don’t have enough time to see and do everything I want to experience here. But unfortunately I’ve created a bit of a schedule for myself that I am going to have to somewhat stick to. I don’t have a hard-and-fast daily schedule, but I have a limited amount of time to cover this continent and the next, while staying within the preferable weather window. 

Given all of the choices in the Plettenberg/Natures Valley area, it was hard to decide what to do. But then as I was riding down the road, I saw this guy in the field with an elephant…

So I rode up and said, “Hi. Can I walk with your elephant?” And he said, “Sure.”

The elephant just grabbed my hand with her trunk, and we walked along like that….


Ok, so maybe it wasn’t quite like that. I stopped at the Elephant Sanctuary, where not only did I get to walk trunk-in-hand with the elephants, but I learned a tremendous amount about elephants. For example, one big difference between an Indian Elephant and an African Elephant is the size of their ears. African elephants have larger ears. They use their ears as radiators and fans for body temperature control. The larger ears have more blood flowing through them to help cool it, and they flap their ears to help stay cool. They also roll around in the mud as a natural sunblock.


That’s a big ear.


Did you know elephants only have four teeth: all molars, for chewing. But they go through six sets of these teeth in a lifetime.





Also, elephants’ front feet are larger and round, because they carry more weight on their front feet than the rear.

Two of the elephants I met at the sanctuary had lost the tip of their trunks. Normally an elephant has a couple of projections at the tip of its’ trunk that it uses like fingers to grab and pull grass up to eat. The two elephants that had lost this part of their trunks (the handlers at the sanctuary thought it had probably happened in a snare trap) had learned to use their feet to kick at the ground and tear the grass up before eating it.

After leaving the elephant sanctuary, I headed inland, over the Outeniqua Pass towards Oudtshoorn (“Ostrich Capitol of the World”) and the Klein Karoo, or Little Karoo.  Once through the pass, the scenery quickly changed from the lush green coastal landscape to arid semi-desert. At Oudtshoorn I turned back west on Route 62, which is South Africa’s version of our Route 66, and much of it looks like Route 66 through New Mexico or Arizona: red rock bluffs, high desert scrub, and a long two-lane highway. 

I stopped in the tiny town of Calitzdorp for the night. This town is apparently famous for its’ Port wines, though I didn’t see nearly as many vineyards in this section as I did near Franschhoek or even later along Route 62. Of the approximately 4,500 residents, nearly 95 percent speak Afrikaans as a first language; only three percent speak English as a first language

I camped at the Station Inn campground, where Cheryl and Michael have converted the old Calitzdorp railroad stop into a campground and pub. 

I entered the coordinates for Calitzdorp into my GPS and then rode until I saw the pin.


Yes, the trolley cars function, and you can take one and go to the end of the property on it.


I was the only one at the campground this night.


Across the tracks from the old ticket office is an old warehouse that Cheryl and Michael have turned into a pub and party hall.

I was the only camper, though several locals showed up to play darts at the pub, and I spent some time talking with the owners about my travels, their travels (Michael has a BMW 650), and other travelers who have come through. 

The next morning I continued northwest on Route 62, and once again the winds picked up, causing me to fight for lane position again.

By the time I reached N2 (the main highway to Cape Town), I was exhausted and my back, shoulders and neck were aching from straining to hold the bike on course. I had one more pass to cross before I would hopefully be out of the strong winds and back on the Cape Town side of the weather. Near the top of this pass is the Hugenot Tunnel, a 4 km long tunnel through the mountain. 

Just before the Hugenot Tunnel

As I had hoped, the wind on the other side of the tunnel was just a slight breeze and things returned to a more relaxed ride, even though the pace was still much faster than I would have liked. 

On into Cape Town for the night, with some bike maintenance planned for tomorrow…

The Garden Route

March 28, 2016

As I finished packing to leave the Backpacker Hostel in Agulhas, a gentleman approached me and asked some of the usual questions: where was I headed, where did I come from (which typically starts a much longer conversation when they realize that i rode 35,000 kilometers on a 250 to get here). Within a few minutes, his family joined him; it’s often the “I sold my house, my car, and most of my belongings before leaving on this trip” that gets the wife interested. Suddenly, it’s not just about motorcycles any more. Once again, South African kindness prevailed, and before leaving, Mrs. Charda gave me a slip of paper with their phone numbers on it and asked me to call them when I returned to Cape Town and she would cook an Indian dinner for me. 

The Charda family.

Nearly the entire day was spent on major highways, which I hate. But the N2 highway is the coast road along this section of the Garden Route, so I had no real choice. The speed limit here is 120 kph (about 74 mph) in many places, and that’s faster than the XT likes to go. I felt bad pushing it at 100 kph for any extended period, but with all of the Easter traffic returning home today, I had to get out of the way. This is the first time of my entire trip that I’ve felt I was going slower than the majority of the traffic, and it’s an indication that I’m not on the roads I want or like to be on. In South Africa, it’s common to pull onto the shoulder to let faster traffic pass (much like in Texas), and here nearly every car that passed me, including a police car, turned their flashers on for two or three flashes after passing as a “thank you”. 

Speaking of road customs, I hadn’t really considered it until today, but motorcyclists here have a bit of a difficulty with being friendly. In the States, it’s very common for two bikers to “wave” at each other when they pass on the highway. This is done by extending the left hand out to the side and down slightly. In South Africa, that doesn’t work so well, since you’re on the opposite side of the road and the “wave” is on the wrong side. Of course, you can’t just take your right hand off the throttle to wave (unless you have cruise control, which is a small percentage of bikers). In France and Italy, when I would pass other bikes, they would hang a foot off the peg as a means of waving without removing a hand from the bars. Here in South Africa, they do this “head nod” thing: they kind of flop their head to the right side, like waving your head instead of your hand. It looks odd at first, but I caught on after a while. 

After a relatively long (450 km) day on the highway, I arrived at Natures Valley National Park, just outside of Plettenberg Bay. It’s a fairly small camping area, but nice, filled with trees, and baboons apparently.

Sign posted on the door to the kitchen area at the campground.


Yep. Definitely not in Kansas…

I didn’t see any, but I heard some odd noises during the night. My food stays locked in the panniers while camping here, just in case. 

How To Turn A 4,300 Mile Trip Into 13,200 Miles

March 19, 2016

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Cape Town, South Africa. Direct, it’s a bit over four thousand miles. Not bad. That would be about eight hours on a plane. If there was a plane from Buenos Aires to Cape Town. But there isn’t. For me, or for the bike. South African Airways used to fly between these two cities, but no longer does. Which means that instead of eight hours to cover 4,300 miles, it now takes 37 hours and just over 13,000 miles to travel between South America and South Africa.

I left Buenos Aires at 9:30pm on Thursday night. Eighteen hours later (and seven hours of time zone changes), I landed in Dubai, UAE, at 10:30pm Friday night. I’ve traveled to Japan many times from the United States, but this was the first time I had been served dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner again on a flight.

I had a nine and a half hour layover in Dubai, and the airline provided me with a free hotel room near the airport to get some proper sleep before continuing on in the morning. I was a bit disappointed to be there only at night, and not get to experience this incredible city in the daylight. But I was also exhausted from being on a plane for so long, and was ready for a bed.

Dubai at night

Arriving in Dubai Friday night.


The hotel apparently functions solely as a stopover for Emirates Airlines. When I checked in, they already knew my schedule, and had already set up a 5am wake-up call, and informed me that check-out was at 6am (how’s that for efficiency?). By 6:30am I was back at the airport and about to board my nine hour flight to Cape Town.

By the time I arrived in Cape Town Saturday afternoon, I had been served six meals and watched ten movies, including:

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • The Big Short
  • The Martian
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Amy
  • Truth
  • The Program
  • The Legend of Barney Thompson
  • Trumbo
  • The Intern

You’ve probably never heard of more than half of these movies. I hadn’t either. But I have to say, they were all good. Some were good for helping me catch up on my sleep. Others, like Barney Thompson, were just plain strange.

As of this writing, the bike hasn’t left Buenos Aires yet. It will fly to London, then change planes and head to Cape Town, and should arrive here Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m on foot (well, foot and a half, actually; my ankle swelled up tremendously from all of the plane time, but I’m still walking fairly well), so I plan to do some walking today, and head to the shopping area to acquire some things that I couldn’t fly with, such as gas canisters for my camp stove.

Swollen ankle

27 hours in economy coach seating is not good for the ankle.

The area I’m staying in reminds me a lot of Southern California, and in particular Orange County. The neighborhood, the weather, and the landscape looks and feels a lot like it.

Since I’m restricted to short distances for a few more days, I probably won’t post much until the bike arrives, unless something interesting happens between now and then. Otherwise, I plan to catch up on my reading and rest until then.

You Can’t Fix Stupid, But Fortunately You Can Find Ways Around It

March 16, 2016

Never let it be said that I am not capable of doing some really stupid stuff. Yesterday is just my latest shining example.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was supposed to be “shipping day”: the day I took the bike to the airport and delivered it to the shipper. I had a 10:30am appointment at the cargo terminal. It takes just under an hour to get to the airport from where I am staying in Palermo, and I needed to get just a little gas before heading that way so I wouldn’t run out (the bike is supposed to have less than two liters of fuel in it when it goes on the plane).

I made sure the bike was sorted, packed and ready to go the night before. Tuesday morning I left about 9am, and rode a block to the gas station where I bought exactly two liters of fuel, figuring I would burn about a liter on the way to the airport.

After getting fuel, I pushed the bike off to the side, out of the way, and pulled out my waterproof zip-lock pouch with all of my documents in it. I looked at the information from the shipping broker, DakarMotos, which had the GPS coordinates of the cargo area on it, and entered the coordinates into the Maps.Me app on my phone. The route came up, I slid the pouch into my tank bag, put my gloves on, and set off for the airport.

About two miles up the road, I stopped at a stoplight. A cab pulled up behind me, honking furiously. I looked back, and the cab driver was pointing behind him and yelling something at me, but with all of the traffic noise I couldn’t hear him. I assumed I must have run a red light or cut him off in traffic, so I simply waved at him and when the light turned green, I took off.

About a half mile later, I looked down and noticed my tank bag was open. And my document pouch was gone. Massive panic immediately took over. The pouch contained the original title to my bike, my Argentina temporary import certificate, my Argentina reciprocity fee document, the shipping paperwork for the bike, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even remember.

I spun an illegal U-turn in the middle of an eight lane busy avenue and started splitting lanes as fast as I could to get back to where the cab driver had been honking at me. I rode in the gutter, between cars, around trucks and buses. When I got back to the street where the cab driver waved me down, I rode slowly up and down the street all the way back to the gas station, several times, looking for my documents. I kept thinking someone would see me and yell at me, waving my documents. No such luck.

Dejected, I went back to the apartment, and set off on foot to walk the entire route. I spent another two hours walking both sides of the street, looking on cars, in windows of buildings, in trash cans, everywhere I could think, with no success. Eventually, I began to accept that my documents were gone, and I was stuck in Argentina. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get a replacement title from the US, and a new temporary import document from the Argentina Customs offices, or if that was even possible. Fortunately, I had two pieces of good news: first, I had the original Texas registration for the bike in a different pouch at the apartment, and I thought I might be able to use it in lieu of the title at Customs. Second, Sandra and Javier at DakarMotos had photocopies of my temporary import certificate, which I hoped would make it easier to get a replacement original.

I contacted Sandra, and after a long discussion with the airport Customs officials, she suggested I file a report with the local police, and get an affidavit from them advising that I had lost the documents. So after a couple of hours at the police station, and the help of Sandra’s daughter-in-law acting as translator, I walked out with the affidavit.

Meanwhile, my brother in Texas was working on getting a certified copy of my title from the Texas DMV. I was somewhat shocked to learn that I could send him an email and he could take it to the DMV and they would give him a copy of my title. For all the difficulties I usually suffer at the DMV, this seemed way too easy. Perhaps they felt sorry for me? Nah, it’s still the DMV.

I went to bed with the bike still in the garage…it should have been on a plane or at least in the cargo area at the airport. I couldn’t help but think of all the things that had to be addressed now: besides documents, there was local logistics (I had to be out of the apartment by Friday morning, as new renters were moving in, and now I had two large roller bags with all my stuff packed in them that wouldn’t fit on the bike); travel logistics (I was going to miss my flight Thursday night, and I wouldn’t arrive in Cape Town when I was supposed to, so my hotel reservation needed to be changed or canceled); and bike logistics (what if I exceeded my time limit in Argentina waiting on documents? I had no document to allow me to exit the country with the bike and then return to start the clock over).

It’s amazing how quickly the stress level can rise after months of virtually no stress. Eventually I took a deep breath, sat down and made my “to do” list, and got to work.

Sandra and Javier are experts at shipping bikes into and out of Argentina, and I was not the first person they had dealt with who for one reason or another didn’t have a full set of documents. After exchanging a few texts, Sandra agreed (for a small “Stupidity Fee”) to meet me at the airport Wednesday morning with the remaining copies of my documents that she had, along with the registration and police affidavit that I had, to see if we could convince Customs to accept what we had and allow me to ship the bike.

After four hours, and another hand-written statement explaining what had happened, I was allowed to take the bike into the freight warehouse and put it on the pallet. Things were once again moving forward!

Before putting the bike on the pallet, I rolled it onto a freight scale. The fully loaded bike, with everything except my camping gear, weighs 174.5 kg, or 384 pounds. For reference, an unloaded BMW 1200GS weighs 260kg, or 573 pounds dry, and a stock KLR650 with no luggage weighs just more than my fully loaded bike, at 176 kg claimed dry weight.

Bike going onto the pallet…


It’s definitely getting real now. This is the first shipment for the bike with the exception of the Stahlratte; I’ve ridden it everywhere until now. It’s a lot farther to ride home from Africa than from Argentina.

And finally some good news: since my bike is considerably smaller than the typical 1200cc adventure bike, the shipping cost turned out to be 20% less than I was originally quoted. So even with the Stupidity Fee it turned out to be less than I had budgeted.

One more day in South America, then a very long flight to South Africa.