I’ve Seen Glaciers, and I’ve Seen Rain

August 29 – Sept 4, 2021

If you’ve been reading along from the beginning (way back in 2015), you may have noticed that I occasionally title my blog posts with a twisted hint of a song lyric. Like this one, thanks to the 1970 James Taylor hit. This is usually caused by having way too much time on my hands while riding along, thinking about my next blog post. I kind of like it though, so I think I’ll try to work in more song references.

It’s been more than ten days since we’ve had enough wifi to post anything, so once again, it’s time to catch up.

We left Denali and headed to Anchorage, basing there for two nights. This allowed us to do a couple of things: the first morning we headed further south to Seward, and boarded another ship for a tour of the Kenai Fjords and glaciers. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, after spending so much time in the rain. In Seward it was in the low 60s and clear blue skies. The seas were calm, allowing our captain to take us to places he said he could only go a couple of times a year.

Peeking through an arch in Chiswell Island towards Kenai Fjords National Park. This is one of those places the tour rarely gets to go because the weather and seas were perfect today.

There are more than 35 named glaciers in Kenai Fjords, and their source, the Harding Ice Fields, covers more than 700 square miles. This is Holgate Glacier. To get an idea of the size of it, compare this photo with the close-up below, then look back at the lower right corner of the glacier in this photo. That’s where the boat is.

Closeup of the lower right corner area of the previous photo, showing the large tour boat. For perspective.

Harbor seal hanging out on an iceberg just off the Holgate Glacier.

We returned to Anchorage that evening, and the next morning we took another set of PCR tests to allow us back into Canada. We weren’t sure if we could find a lab closer to the border, since there isn’t much along that route (Tok, the closest town to the border crossing, is 90 miles away and has a population of about 1300). We had to time our tests so that we would arrive at the border within the required 72-hour window, yet we were headed to Valdez for a couple of days first, and Valdez is still 350 miies from the border.

After receiving our negative COVID results, we left Anchorage and headed for Valdez. There is no direct route. “As the crow flies”, it’s only 75 miles between the two towns, but by road it’s 300 miles. We got lucky and had decent weather almost the entire way, only catching the rain as we approached Valdez. Then it rained nearly the entire time we were there.

Matanuska Glacier, between Anchorage and Glennallen.

Worthington Glacier, near Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway.

Horsetail Falls, in Keystone Canyon, just outside of Valdez.

Bridal Veil Falls, Keystone Canyon. Whoever names waterfalls needs to be more creative. These are about the fifth “Horsetail” and “Bridal Veil” falls we’ve visited.

The ride through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon into Valdez is very scenic, but there isn’t much in the town itself. There are boat tours out to the glaciers from here as well, and we saw a number of tour buses in town. One bus load of Korean tourists were staying at our hotel. I was curious how it was that a busload of Korean tourists could get into Alaska, since supposedly the US was still closed to foreign tourists. So I asked. It turns out they may be Korean (originally), and speaking Korean, but they live in Los Angeles.

I spent one afternoon removing the skid plate from the bike and scraping more Dalton Highway mud out (probably ten pounds worth). Between that and removing the mud on the rear wheel, I was able to reduce the vibration that I was feeling. While cleaning the bike, a couple of BMWs rode up. Jens and Kelly are from Lake Tahoe, and rode their BMWs up to tour Alaska; their last Alaska tour was on bicycles! We talked for a while before they returned to their campsite on the eastern edge of town.

The next morning we left Valdez in the rain, heading back the way we came and on towards the border. We had discussed spending the night in Tok, as our 72 hour PCR test window would allow us until around 11am the next morning to cross. But it was still fairly early in the afternoon when we reached Tok, and we decided to go ahead and cross the border, and stay in Beaver Creek, an even smaller town on the Yukon, Canada side. As we were getting gas in Tok, Jens and Kelly rode up. They had reached the same conclusion, so we decided to cross and meet up in Beaver Creek.

When we got to the border, there was actually a line of cars waiting to cross (mostly RVs and a couple of 18 wheelers) We were about twelve vehicles back, and it ended up taking about an hour to get through. As we sat in line talking with Jens and Kelly, a couple from Pennsylvania in an RV got out and walked back and started talking with Jens about his BMW GS. Jens said, “you look familiar. Do I know you? Did you ride an older BMW R80GS in Baja a few years ago, and broke down?”

Sure enough, they had ridden together in Mexico. Even in a place as big as Alaska, it’s still a small world.

After crossing into Canada (much easier and friendlier this time), we stopped for fuel and lodging at the 1202 Inn (named, as most things here are, for the milepost on the Alaska highway where it is located). Jens and Kelly chose to pitch their tent (for around US$10 for a campsite with a picnic table and electricity). We decided to splurge and get the “budget room” at US$40. All I can say is the bed was comfortable and the sheets seemed to be freshly laundered. The rest of the room hadn’t been cleaned, repaired, or updated since it was built some 50 or more years ago. It was a little creepy, but it slept just fine. Although the tent probably would have been just as good for thirty dollars less.

We had a great conversation with Jens and Kelly about their travels through Vietnam on two small Honda XR150s, and we introduced them to house sitting (which, by the way, we have three more sits confirmed over the next month, which will thankfully help lower the overall lodging expenses).

The next morning we said our goodbyes. Jens and Kelly headed for Whitehorse, as they planned to continue home via the Alaskan Highway. We turned off at Haines Junction, and once again re-entered the United Staes just north of Haines, Alaska. We thought we were done with the mud for a while, but it turned out there was eight miles of highway missing just before Haines.

The only polar bear we saw, and I’m okay with that. Outside our budget room at the 1202 Inn in Beaver Creek, Yukon. I told Kelly and Jens that our room reminded me of my grandmother’s house…about a decade after it was abandoned and just before they tore it down. Just kidding. They never tore her house down. This one is higher up on the “must raze” list.

With Jens and Kelly. We’re hoping to meet up with them again somewhere down the road.

Twenty five miles north of Haines, Alaska, just after crossing back into Alaska from Canada. These phone booths were just randomly sitting on the side of the road. I walked up and looked inside, and it’s complete with a notepad and a coffee cup full of pens. People have been signing in. I’m surprised it wasn’t covered with traveler stickers, but then again, I forgot to leave one of ours.

Near the Last Call phone booth was this tree with mileage signs on it, and a couple more phones.

We spent the night at the Salmon Run Campground outside of Haines. We were the only guests aside from some family members of the owners. Sadly, they explained that in the past year, they had taken in $1100 total due to the pandemic. Haines is one of those places that is hard to get to when you can’t drive through Canada.

Haines, Alaska.

Just north of the Salmon Run Campground is Chilkoot Lake. The last half mile or so of the road up to the lake is beautiful, and is a popular place to watch the bears.

We had the entire next day to relax, as we were boarding the 7:45pm ferry in Haines. This gave us some time to catch up on some things, and interview for yet another house sit in the Austin area for when we return (which we just found out we got!). I can highly recommend the Rusty Compass Coffee Shop in Haines. Great coffee, and free wi-fi.

Although we were in Alaska only a total of about three weeks, we hit a number of the high spots. There is certainly a lot more to see, and I already regret not making it to Kennicott-McCarthy. That’s at the top of my list for the next Alaska trip, along with the Bald Eagle preserve on the way into Haines.

It’s a long ride to Alaska, but there’s a lot to see on the way there, so we might as well do it again some time in the future. Or we could just be tourists, and fly there I guess.


Four Days on a Ferry Boat

September 4-8, 2021

The 1982 Split Enz song was “Six Months In A Leaky Boat”, and that’s the song I can’t get out of my head as we ride off the ferry in Bellingham, Washington. It’s only been three and a half days, and as far as I know, it wasn’t leaking. It was a long four days though. I guess I’m just not cut out to be a cruise ship tourist. I know this wasn’t a cruise, and I’m sure a large part of the attraction for many cruise participants is the buffet. No buffet here. Meals are served on a regular schedule, and a limited menu, and they cost extra. In fact, even a room costs extra; you don’t have to have a room to ride the ferry for four days from Alaska to Washington. You can’t stay in your car, or your RV, but you don’t have to have a room. Patience is a good thing to have, and it’s probably best if you’re not someone like me, that wants to be constantly in motion. I never took up golf for the same reason: too slow. Motorcycle racing? Yes, please. Skydiving? Sure. Ferry = low/no adrenaline ride, at least until the open ocean gets things rocking.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Alaska Marine Highway between points in Alaska and south, here’s a very short version of how it works:

Pedestrians (backpackers, bicyclists, etc) board first. Most, if not all, of these people do not have rooms on the ship. They make their way as fast as they possibly can to the upper rear deck of the ship. Here there is a large covered area with chaise lounges and heat lamps on the ceiling. They throw their backpacks on a chair, and that is their claimed living area for the next four days. Those that arrive too late for a chair pitch their tents on the open deck.

This is what the aft upper deck looks like after the backpackers board. I can’t blame them. The price of a cabin is about as bad as the price of a room at Deadhorse.

Motorcycles board next. You must tie your motorcycle down, and you must provide your own tie-downs. Oops, I forgot about that. I carried straps on my 250 lst time for just this purpose. This time I have to improvise, and I end up using the bungee straps from our camping bag. They’re not really tie-downs, but they seem to do the trick.

Cars, RVs, large commercial vehicles, etc load next. Those carrying pets are not allowed to take them above the vehicle deck. The animals must ride in the cars the entire four days. Owners are permitted to go down to their vehicles once every six hours or so to let their dogs out of the car to do their business on the vehicle deck. Every dog I ever had would have chewed the seats completely out of the car by the second day out of sheer boredom or nervousness.

The ferry makes several stops along the way. We stopped in Juneau from midnight to 3am, in Sitka, and in Ketchikan for a couple of hours each. You are allowed to go ashore during this time, but we chose to stay on board, as between the odd hours and the short time limit, it didn’t seem worth it.

The first time I took this ferry (from Skagway to Bellingham in 2004), I didn’t get a cabin. And being on a motorcycle, we were too late to claim lounge chairs under the heat lamps. We set up the tent, but ended up lashing it to the railing because the wind was so strong (and there’s no place to drive stakes into the deck, obviously). After one day I put the tent away and ended up sleeping on any available chair or couch inside the lounge areas when possible. Seventeen years later, we spent the outrageous extra amount for a cabin, and spent most of our time there, sleeping. The cabin is about five feet by twelve feet, but that includes the two bunks and the bathroom. So there isn’t really any place to sit other than the bunk. Other than the fact that there is a door on the bathroom, it doesn’t look much different than the typical prison cell.

The views are worth taking the ferry. It’s the same views as a cruise ship, without the buffet. Some of the passages are so narrow you’d swear there’s no way a ship this size could fit through there. More than once I thought we were headed for the beach but we turned at the last instant.

As a devout hermit, I fell in love with this place. Their own private island, just large enough for the house and enough trees to block the view from land. But not from the ferries and cruise ships. Yeah, that would be a deal breaker for me, I guess. But you can’t beat their view looking out when there aren’t any ships in the way.

Hard to see here, but this is a photo of the live track from the ship’s bridge, showing part of our route, through the Peril Strait (apt name). See the green ship in the circle? That’s us. Wedged between land and about to make a couple of very sharp S-turns.

I believe everyone who travels long term needs one or two personal extravagances. Ours are the AeroPress coffee press and a deck of Phase 10 cards. This has turned into an almost nightly ritual at the campsite, and two games a day on the ferry.

Leaving the Matanuska ferry in Bellingham, Washington after three and a half days. We departed Haines, Alaska on Saturday at 7:45pm and landed in Washington at 8am Wednesday.

For the price of the ferry ride (without meals), we could air freight the motorcycle to Europe, and buy two coach class air tickets, and be riding in Europe within a couple of days. I had regrets several times during that four days, wishing we had saved the expense and just ridden back through Canada with Kelly and Jens. But today as we sit in Idaho, we’ve heard that Kelly and Jens are stuck in northern BC due to weather (which was my main concern and reason for taking the ferry). So I guess it was a trade-off of sorts.

At least we didn’t spend six months on a leaky boat. It just seemed like six months.

Fun Trivia Fact: Split Enz’ song was banned in 1982 by the BBC because Britain was in the middle of the Falklands War, and the BBC thought a song about leaky boats during their naval war was inappropriate. Never mind that the song has nothing to do with the Navy, the war, etc.

Back in the Lower 48 and Headed East. Well, South, and West, then East

September 8-11, 2021

We rode off the Alaskan ferry and headed south, back to Coupeville and boarded yet one last ferry across to Port Townsend. After a quick visit at a local coffee shop with my niece, we rode across the top of the Olympic Peninsula, through Forks (famous for a number of things, including the filming location of the Twilight series, and more recently the now infamous attack of a family on their bus in a case of mistaken identity), and on to the Hoh Rainforest. The Hoh is one of my all-time favorite places. It has an other-worldly feel to it, and is so green and so dense that noise is almost completely muted. As we rode the nine miles from the highway to the visitor center, I couldn’t help but hum the Star Wars theme, and I could envision Ewoks on Speeder Bikes racing us through the trees.

Hoh Rainforest.

Unfortunately, but as we had known all along, the campground was full and there had been no cancellations for the day, so we turned around and rode the nine miles back to the highway, and continued south to Ocean City, Washington, where we stayed in a small cabin (hut?) a block from the beach.

Our “cabin” for the night at the Screamin’ Eagle RV Park in Ocean City, Washington.

The inside of the cabin is nothing fancy. There is a mattress in the loft, but we chose to just lay our camping mats and sleeping bags out on the floor downstairs. There was a small electric heater that was very much appreciated once the sun went down.

It was a one block walk to the beach.

In the morning, we continued a bit further south to Astoria, Oregon before turning east and following the Columbia River to The Dalles, eventually making camp at Maryhill State Park for the night.

In the morning, we awoke to rain on the tent. We packed up and rode in rain the entire day, arriving in Meridian, Idaho that afternoon. It was once again time to change tires on the bike, and we had arranged for tires to be shipped to a hotel next door to a motorcycle shop. The next day I pulled the wheels from the bike, but unlike last time, I let someone else mount the tires. By noon we were back on the road and headed the back way via the Peaks and Craters Scenic Byway to Idaho Falls. We passed through Craters of the Moon lava field before stopping at Atomic City, the home of Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (“EBR-1”), the world’s first electricity-generating nuclear power plant.

Unfortunately the museum is only open through Labor Day, so we didn’t get to go inside.

This is as close as we could get to EBR-1.

These two huge reactor cooling units were in the parking lot.

We were curious about who made the decision that the best place to build nuclear reactors was next to a giant lava field…obvious evidence that the ground here could be highly unstable.

We spent the night at a nice city park (Tourist Park) in Idaho Falls, for $15 a night. As we pulled in, we were approached by a gentleman who said “If all of the sites are taken, you’re welcome to pitch your tent in my site.” He was traveling in a pickup and had a similar sized tent. We circled the park, and found one remaining site. I later walked over and introduced myself, and found out that Michael was traveling similar to us, living out of his Ford truck. He had done quite a bit of world travel, and was interested in traveling by motorcycle. We shared travel experiences before I headed back to our camp.

Not long after dinner, two motorcycles rolled into the campground. Thinking of Michael’s generous offer, I flagged them down and offered space in our site for their tent. Ron and Kevin were from Phoenix and were headed back home after traveling through Montana.

It was good to meet several like-minded travelers and share experiences. We were glad to finally be through Idaho for the last time and headed further east to new places.

Key to The Highway

September 12-13, 2021

Okay, stick with me here. This song reference is a bit harder to actually tie in, but it stuck in my mind, so here we go.

We had a short day, riding from Idaho Falls to West Yellowstone, actually stopping just short of West Yellowstone at a KOA campground. This gave us a little time to relax, and the weather was a beautiful 66 degrees.

We awoke to 27 degrees. It was a bit chilly in the tent, but another nice day and it quickly warmed up into the 50s again. The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park is one of the busiest, and looked a bit like entering Disney World. There were four or five lanes of traffic extending back into town, and it took a while to get into the park. We had both been to “The ‘Stone” more than once in the past, and Yellowstone wasn’t actually on our “to see” list. We were simply cutting through the northwest corner of Yellowstone to head across the Beartooth Highway.

This guy was walking down the road alone, into a construction zone filled with stopped cars (and one motorcycle). He walked between cars, crossed the road, and walked up behind us, then decided to cross right behind us, literally within a few inches.

A little further down the road was this herd. They were crossing the road in front of us, slowly.

This guy was huge. He was walking along the side of the road, right next to us, while we sat in traffic.

Outside of the north entrance to Yellowstone is Highway 212, also known in part as the Beartooth Highway. It is a fantastic, twisty climb up to Beartooth Pass, at an elevation of 10,947 feet.

View from Beartooth Pass of the portion of Beartooth Highway we just came up. Fun road. Cold at the top (10.947 feet elevation, 48 degrees F).

The actual Beartooth in the distance.

Looking down at the road down the east side of Beartooth Pass. Another great ride into Red Lodge, Montana.

We crossed Beartooth Pass and continued to Greybull, Wyoming for the night. We found a nice campsite in Greybull, and enjoyed the local A&W Root Beer stand across the street for dinner.

So here’s the song tie-in: Key to the Highway (Beartooth Highway, in this case) was recorded by Blues pianist Charlie Segar in 1940, and covered by many different bands since, including the Rolling Stones (as close as I could come to Yellowstone with the Highway). Thus, the Stones and the Highway.

Phew. That was too much work.

Next up: Another musical connection, this time from a movie.

Close Encounter

September 14, 2021

From Greybull, Wyoming, we were headed towards the Black Hills of South Dakota. But we stopped a bit short of Deadwood at the Devils Tower. This large rock butte is probably most famous from the 1977 Stephen Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The campground below the base of the tower shows the movie every evening in an outdoor theater that faces the tower, so you can see it on film and you can see it IRL just above the screen at the same time.

The real Devils Tower, not the mashed potato one.

View from our campsite at night, while waiting for the UFO.

These prairie dogs were all alongside the road. They were larger than the Arctic Ground Squirrels that we saw in Denali, which makes them more like a 4-topping pizza, I guess.

I began to wonder, what is it with America’s obsession with the devil and rockpiles? We have the Devils Tower, and the Devils Postpile. Both are in beautiful areas often referred to as “God’s Country”. So what’s up with this?

The 1267 foot tall butte is known by many names, but most locals (Lakota) refer to it as Bear Lodge, and there are many local legends about its’ formation. Many have to do with a giant Grizzly bear chasing little girls. One explanation as to its’ satanic name is that during an expedition in the 1800s, an interpreter for Colonel Richard Irving Dodge misinterpreted the Lakota word for Bear as meaning “Bad God”. Thus Devils Tower.

Devils Tower is America’s first National Monument, having been established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Spielberg’s movie forever casts Devils Tower in a different role. Now the campground has a miniature golf course with aliens standing watch, and there are “UFO Parking Only” signs.

UFO Parking Only.

By the way, the music for Close Encounters was composed by the same person who wrote the music for Star Wars and Jaws, and with whom I share a last name: John Williams.

In the next two days, we will play “Speed Tourist” and visit multiple tourist attractions…something we fairly rarely do.

Speed Touring

September 15, 2021

I flash back to that scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold is trying to get the family back in the car quickly at the Grand Canyon. His wife says “Don’t you want to look at the Grand Canyon?” and he turns, faces it, nods a couple of times and says “Okay, let’s go.”

Unlike my prior travels, we have sort of settled into a tourist’s checklist of things to see in this area. There are so many things in such a small area that it almost becomes “Speed Touring”. Because we have upcoming commitments, we have two days in which to see a half dozen or so national landmarks, parks, and monuments.

We have intentionally planned this route for a month later than originally thought. Had we not been allowed to enter Canada and gone on to Alaska at the beginning of August, we would have ended up here during that time, which is also the same time of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an event I have worked hard to avoid over the years. Now, as we ride through the Black Hills, there are Harley Davidsons here and there, but nowhere near the quantity, volume or obnoxiousness of that August time frame.

We ride through the Black Hills to Custer, SD, stopping at the Crazy Horse Memorial, before continuing to Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop, and then on to Mt. Rushmore. These are all places we learned about in school, and are familiar with, but have never visited before now.

Crazy Horse Memorial, just north of Custer, SD. A work in progress. We learned quite a bit about the Lakota people in our short visit here.

Custer State Park has an 18 mile long Wildlife Loop, that unfortunately was closed at the nine mile point. We rode 8.9 of those nine miles without seeing any wildlife, but at the turnaround point we were treated to a huge bison herd.

In the herd were these three donkeys. They are descendants of the original pack animals that were used to transport visitors from Sylvan Lake Lodge up to the summit of Black Elk Peak a hundred years ago. And while we saw signs for hundreds of miles through all the parks asking visitors not to feed the wildlife, apparently it is common for people to bring these “begging burros” snacks.

Thankfully the bison haven’t taken up the begging habit.

The walk out to the viewing point at Mount Rushmore includes flags and information on all of the US states and territories.

Two of our favorite fun facts learned at Mount Rushmore: Jefferson’s original face had to be blasted off of the mountain. It was originally to the left of Washington, but after starting to blast away and carve, it was determined that there wasn’t enough good granite to put it there. You can still see the blasted area where it once was. And the pupils of the eyes stick out 20 inches. This, along with polishing the surface of the pupils, gives the eyes a more lifelike appearance.

By the end of the day, we are surprised at the amount of scenery and history we have viewed, and we are only half way through this Speed Tour Loop. We find a place to wild camp a few miles down a dirt road near the National Grasslands, and have one of the best nights’ sleep of the trip.

One of the quietest, cheapest, best night’s sleep of the trip was in perfect weather conditions in South Dakota.

Although this is part of the National Grasslands, it happens to be an Off Highway Vehicle park. When we arrived, several people on dirt bikes were just loading up to leave. It was tempting to take the panniers off the 700 and do some hill climbs, but we still had a long ride ahead of us.

Speed Touring, Part Deux

September 16, 2021

After a good night’s sleep, we pack up without making breakfast or coffee, because we are headed to a place that has five cent coffee.

This place is kind of a cultural icon, in a “See Rock City” kind of way, and is known throughout the US. The story behind it is pretty inspiring, especially in a town of 800 people.

From Wall, we head south to the Badlands.

Badlands National Park. Both the local natives and French Explorers in the 1800s referred to this place as “Bad Land”, and the name stuck.

Reminded us a lot of Bryce Canyon in Utah.

On the way out of Badlands National Park we see three things that catch our attention: The first is a place on the west side of the road that has a big billboard proclaiming “Feed the Prairie Dogs!” This is a bit of a shocker, since we’ve been hammered with signs for days saying “Don’t Feed the Wildlife”. And sure enough, out in an open field, there are people squatting down, hand-feeding wild prairie dogs, and petting them. Two thoughts come to me:

    1. I wonder how many people get bit every day?
    2. Why hasn’t every prairie dog within a hundred miles moved here?

    The second thing we see on the side of the road is this:

    I’m old enough to remember the AMF days of Harley Davidson, when they had real quality control issues. Back then it was fairly common to see both t-shirts and bumper stickers that said “If Harley Davidson built an airplane, would you fly in it?” Well, here’s the helicopter version. (Okay, it’s not really a H-D helicopter. It just has a big bar-and-shield on the side in hopes of getting the Sturgis crowd to pay for a ride.)

    And the third is this:

    These goats were standing in a large, almost perfect circle in a field. We have had many theories since seeing this as to how and why.

    Although it requires a bit of backtracking, I’ve been wanting to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site for a while. The visitor center is on the Interstate just north of Badlands. After viewing a very informative movie there, we ride another seventeen miles back towards Wall to view the Delta-09 missile silo. You can’t enter the silo, but they have replaced the top hatch with a glass dome that allows a view into the silo, which contains what I assume is a mockup of a Minuteman Missile. Or at least a deactivated one.

    Even Cold War Missile Operators have a sense of humor.

    The Delta-09 missile silo near Wall, South Dakota. There are still many active nuclear warheads in the area, and now that we have seen what the silo looks like from ground level, we actually recognize several more of them as we pass by on our way south through Nebraska.

    Looking down into the silo at a Minuteman Missile.

    After doubling back, we pass through Badlands National Park again and head south to Wounded Knee. The memorial here is not the official US government type, and if it were, would no doubt tell a different version of history. As a kid, I remember being told about the “Battle of Wounded Knee”. However, since that time it has been, um, clarified that it wasn’t a battle as much as a massacre of local people by the US government.

    At the end of the day, we camp at Chadron State Park in Nebraska. We have had two full days of Speed Touring, and are now on our way towards Texas.

It’s Not Just About The Places We Go

Over the years, we’ve seen some beautiful places during our travels. Some because of natural beauty, and others because of the local culture. The more miles we acquire, the more we come to appreciate not just the places, but the people we meet along the way.

I have a lot of special memories of people I met throughout my year on the road in 2015-16. From Judith, the “Swiss Girl” that rode her DRZ400 all the way from Alaska to Santiago, Chile (and is even leading all-women rides in Nepal), to the stranded local motorcyclist on the side of a dirt road in Colombia who allowed me to repair his flat tire, to Mama Margaret in Tanzania (and her daughter Patricia, who lives not far from us, and has since become our good friend), to the guy at a roadside cafe in Namibia who unwittingly gave me one of my best stories due to my own ignorance.

This trip has been a lot of the same kind of memories. I was convinced that people would be less inclined to approach a traveling couple than a solo traveler. In some instances, it seems that has held true. In fact, what I’ve found is that I can use Diana as a “carrot” to start conversations. This usually happens when she is left standing by the bike, in all her gear, while I go inside a store or other place. I think the attraction of a solo female traveler is strong, and whether it’s that people see her that way when I’m missing, or if they’re just hesitant because of my “Grumpy Duck” face, it seems to work. Often, I’m in the store paying for gas or filling our drink bottles, and over our helmet intercoms I hear her respond to someone who has approached. In other instances, people see us getting on the bike, and they can’t believe there is actually room for her amongst all the bags, so they stop to watch and often comment.

We’ve met a lot of great people in the past four months, even if it’s just a short conversation in a parking lot. From Jimmy in Lizella, Georgia, who recently bought a Versys 650 and wants to travel, to Andrew in East Texas; the Montana bicyclist in northern California on his way to San Francisco (and the Washington bicyclist in Astoria, Oregon on his way to San Diego); the “mailman” in Idaho (Tom and Erin will know who and what I am referring to here — a story left untold on these pages); our friend Dave’s wife AnneMarie in Alaska whom we met for the first time on this trip, and her son Joshua & daughter-in-law Kayla and their friends with whom we shared a dinner, and introduced us to new podcasts; Michael at the Tourist Park campground in Idaho Falls who saw us pull in and, believing that there were no spaces left, offered to share his (turns out there was one space left, so we took it, then shared stories with Michael), and later that same night, Kevin and Ron, who arrived even later on their bikes, and since there were no spaces left, we shared ours with them. And Tony Adams, the bicyclist pulling his house, who has traveled this way for 21 years and covered much of the US.

We ran across Tony Adams on the side of the road outside of Hugo, Colorado, and offered our gallon of water to fill his bottles. He is an amazing guy.

Then there are the homeowners we’ve met on our housesitting gigs. And too many more great people than we can mention here. Along the way, some people see the Texas license plate and are just curious about where we’ve been and where we are going. Others want to share their travel stories. Some want to learn more about how to travel like we do, so they invite us to dinner, or to their homes.

So while we will always make a list of places we want to see when we begin planning each leg of our journey, it’s really the people along the way that create the strongest impressions and memories. Because of them, we can’t wait to hit the road again.


September 23, 2021

This leg of our travels ended up being a bit shorter than we had originally intended. We arrived home about three weeks early. Well, not quite home…we have a housesitter taking care of our home and cats, and our original agreement was through October 15th. Therefore, we are housesitting for others in the Austin area for a few more weeks. So close…

The Numbers

Number of days on the road: 138
Total miles covered: 22,448
Number of states and provinces visited: 26
Average: 163 mi/day
Number of nights camped: 44
Number of nights free: 57
Number of nights in hotels: 37

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Our housesitting gigs helped defray the cost of hotel rooms, which we usually only took when it was raining, near freezing, or necessary due to some other commitment. We typically set a rule for ourselves that one hotel room a week is our limit; we exceeded that this trip.

Likewise, we broke our other “rules” on this trip as well:
Rule #1: Don’t travel more than 250 miles a day.
While we averaged 160 miles per day, due to all of the days we didn’t move (or spent on a ferry), we exceeded 250 miles on 33 different days.
Rule #2: Don’t travel more than 4 days a week.
This rule forces us to slow down, spend more time in places, and see more. It doesn’t mean we have to ride for four days and then sit somewhere for three. They don’t have to be consecutive days. While we actually did average out to only four days a week over the entire trip, we actually spent several weeks with only one day a week off, but then countered it with nearly a week off here and there.

We did do fairly well with Rule #3: Don’t ride at night. We only got caught on the road after dark twice. That’s still two too many though.

I had the advantage of spending a year on the road six years ago. This was Diana’s first long trip, and the longest she has ever been away from home, her kids and grandkids, and our cats. It was a good learning experience for both of us, in terms of learning her limits on daily mileage in the saddle, temperature limitations (both hot and cold), and how long she can go without beginning to experience burnout. These are all lessons we will take with us on the next leg, and we will strive to stick to our above rules as well.

Due to COVID, we spent the past four and a half months mostly in the US, with the exception of six days in Canada. Since we were in the States. we were more familiar with many of the places we went, and we ended up turning this ride into more of a “vacation” type trip instead of the nomad “traveler” lifestyle we seek. Also, having other commitments in the US created an artificial “end-date” that made it feel more like a vacation, and a bit more rushed. This is something we’ve already discussed between us, but will continue to work on. In order to fully experience other cultures and locales, we need to be able to immerse ourselves in them. This will require some adjustments to our travel style, and probably a few new “rules”.

Now it’s time to do some heavy duty cleaning and prep on the bike and gear, and begin charting our route for the Spring. Fingers crossed, we’ll finally be able to ship the bike to Europe by then and get rolling.