So It Begins….

June 10, 2015

Well, I guess this makes it official. Sort of. This crazy idea I’ve had for the last 30 years of riding a motorcycle around the world is actually moving forward. I’m not sure exactly how or why now, but as a wise person once said, “If not now, when?”

The idea of a Round The World motorcycle adventure first lodged in my brain while in college, when I took my first long distance motorcycle trip, in the summer of 1981, on a Yamaha Seca 550, from Texas to Canada and back. The day-to-day feeling of freedom and lack of commitment (other than having to get home before running out of money and before school started again) was exhilarating. Not long after that, the real world took hold, and work commitments limited my motorcycle tours to a couple of weeks a year at the most. But the idea of riding off into the sunset was always there.

So a little over a year ago, I decided that I wasn’t getting any younger, and if I was ever going to do this, it probably needed to happen sooner rather than later. Many things in my life pushed me toward this realization, but one of the final “awakenings” was when a friend of mine who is older yet in very good physical shape (and still racing off-road motorcycles at age 67) told me that he felt a trip such as I was discussing was beyond his limitations at his age. I’ve always respected Tom and admired his outlook and his riding skills. So this was a bit of an “eye-opener” for me. Suddenly I started thinking, “What if I wait too late? What if I can’t physically do this trip that I’ve dreamed of all my life?”

Priorities began to be re-examined. Yes, I could continue to earn a nice living working at the job I’d held for the last 26 years. Retirement would be a possibility at least if I continued to contribute to the idea of retirement for another dozen or so years. But of course, there’s no guarantee that I would even be around at age 65 for that “gold watch” and pat on the back. No guarantee that I would be employed, no guarantee that I would even be breathing.

It’s funny how when you’re in your teens, 30 seems old. When you turn 30, people kid you that you’re “old”. At 40, they joke that you’re “over the hill”. When I was 45, I felt physically and mentally like I was 25. I never had that feeling of “getting old” until I hit 50. Then it hit hard like stepping in front of a truck. Suddenly I got injured more easily. My body didn’t heal as fast as it used to. My eyesight finally started getting worse (hey, I made it a lot longer than most of my friends before buying the Walgreen’s reading glasses).

At the beginning of 2014, I decided to start a major downsizing, selling off my motorcycles, car, house, and just about everything else. My only debt was my mortgage, but it was a big one, and if I could eliminate that monthly expense, then there was little preventing me from actually taking off.

I started reading blogs of people who were currently riding around the world, or across the Americas. I bought the Horizons Unlimited video series on adventure touring, and while the whole set is very informative, it was the people presenting the information that stood out: these were, for the most part, just normal couples, or single riders, who had decided to find a way to make this lifestyle work. They weren’t independently wealthy. They weren’t backed by major sponsors. They were living on a budget, spending their savings and/or working when necessary, and seeing the world. This was more reassurance that it could be done.

I joined the Austin, Texas HU Community, and shortly after received an email from Paul from Australia, who was traveling through Texas on his way to Mexico and points South. Paul visited for a couple of days and shared maps, plans, budgets and stories. A couple of weeks later, Glen and Leeanne, also from Australia, showed up on their way across the US. I felt like a grade school kid, full of questions and wanting to learn all I could from their experiences. I gained a lot of information on packing, bike setup, and more. Sure, I could’ve learned all of this myself on the road, but why not start the trip with the right stuff (and not way too much extra, unneeded stuff)? Visiting with other travelers has certainly made planning smoother.

Last August I rode the Super Tenere to Nakusp, BC for the Horizons Unlimited Travellers Meeting, to meet other like-minded Overlanders, and spent a few weeks doing a “shakedown” of gear. Along the way, I rode with my friend Tom to the Northwestern US as part of his RideAbout65 travels. Last month, I took two trips to the mountains of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on the XT250 to shakedown a revised, slimmer set of gear.

So here I am, in deep. The house is sold, and I’m living in a one bedroom apartment, on basically what I will be taking with me. Counting down the days. The bike for the trip has changed over the last year…downsized as well, in a big way. The first part of the route is roughed out. Immunizations are done. Travel Health Insurance is researched and about to be purchased.

I’ve dreamed about this trip for more than 30 years. In the last year, as the trip became a reality, it has morphed several times. In some ways I’m running from ghosts. In some ways, I’m trying to prevent this from becoming a “guilt trip”. It was never intended to be any of those things. The past has a way of following us.

For me, it’s always been about experiencing other cultures, from the inside. Seeing and feeling things that can’t be experienced in the United States. Learning to appreciate the differences — and similarities — between us. Pushing myself to accept what comes on a daily basis, and maintain a positive outlook regardless of the hardships.

After all, if it isn’t difficult at times, it’s just a vacation and not an adventure.

Finishing Up: The bike

June 12, 2015

Each morning I’ve been working on the bike in the early hours before work, while it’s still a little cooler. I have a single car garage at my apartment, and it faces west. So it’s much cooler in the morning than in the late afternoon/evening.  Working with only a small set of hand tools and on the ground (no lift, no bench, etc) isn’t what I’ve been used to the last few years, but it’s good practice for the next year. At least it’s clean concrete and not dirt or mud!

It seems like there’s a never-ending list of things to do, but suddenly the list is much shorter and I feel like I’m close to finishing up the bike. Over the last several days I’ve:

  • Mounted new tires
  • Installed a stiffer rear spring (this bike is designed for a lighter rider without all the stuff I’m carrying)
  • Greased the steering head bearings, rear suspension pivot bearings, and swingarm bushings
  • Mounted a new front fender (the original low front fender tends to pack up with mud in really muddy conditions, and in fact I tore it off in Mexico in the mud)
  • Installed a larger, louder horn (I’m not a big fan of using the horn, but “when in Rome…”)
  • Installed heated grips (yes, it gets cold in South America, even in the summer — there’s a lot of high elevation)
  • Installed a new set of Holan Nomada II panniers. I have this brand on my Super Tenere as well, and really like them.
  • Installed a new mounting cradle for my Garmin GPS. The previous one failed in Mexico.

Over the next few days, I’ll re-pack the bike using my checklist and make sure I haven’t missed anything.



More Research, Less Gear?

June 20, 2015

Last night I attended a small class at REI in Austin that covered camp stoves and water filters and purifiers. It was hands-on, and the 6 of us who attended were able to assemble, fire up and boil water on about eight different stoves, as well as try out several water filters and purifiers.

I’ve been using an MSR Whisperlite stove for several years, and chose it mainly for the ability to use unleaded gasoline in it. This allows me to always have fuel for my stove in the bike, and not have to worry about finding fuel canisters or white gas in remote places.

After trying the different stoves last night, I was almost convinced to switch to a JetBoil or a SnowPeak GigaPower (wow, it’s small but works great!), but I’m still concerned about finding fuel canisters, and how long one canister of fuel will last. I’m on a small bike, with limited space, so carrying more cans isn’t easy. With my Whisperlite, one fuel bottle is all I ever have to carry, and it fits in a bicycle bottle cage on the rear of the pannier. So I’ve talked myself back into keeping the Whisperlite for now.

The water filters and purifiers were another topic of interest. I have a Steripen purifier, but no filtration system. Based on what I learned last night, unless I’m pumping water from muck, I think I’ll be okay with this setup for my intended purposes. The Steripen has its limitations, but I’ll deal with it.

I also met another attendee at the class who had just returned from five months in India, Nepal and Thailand. It was great to chat with him and learn a little more (and confirm that I’m headed to the right places).

With the very reasonable cost of lodging in Mexico, Central and South America, it’s been tough to commit to carrying all of my camping gear for this part of the trip. I could lose 20 pounds of gear and a large bag by staying in hotels, hostals, AirBnB, etc exclusively and not camping. But part of my goal for this trip is to keep the overall costs down, so the camping gear comes along. For now….

The Waiting

July 3, 2015

I’ve heard it a million times….”Life is what happens while you’re making plans”.

Life changes. Plans change. Things don’t always turn out the way you expect, or hope, or want. In any case, due to a number of things, my departure has been pushed back a bit. The bike is done. The logistics are done. The paperwork is done. Still planning to get out of here this month, but I have a few more things that need to get done before hitting the road.

I’m down to living on an air mattress and a chair. My desk is now my lap and the kitchen counter. My dining table is now my lap and the kitchen counter. My workbench is now my lap and the kitchen counter. Soon the kitchen counter will be gone…

Saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones

July 13, 2015

I spent the better part of last week in California at work. It was a somewhat difficult and emotional week, between meeting with HR to arrange for my “voluntary termination”, and saying goodbye to a lot of people I’ve come to know well over the past 27 years. It’s not the last time I’ll see most of them, but it may well be the last time I see them for a year. Being the workaholic that I’ve been, these are my friends and family. I’ll miss them.

On a good note, it definitely felt like serious progress and commitment to moving forward with departure. I have an “exit interview” to conduct with my employer on July 23rd, and the next day is my last. So as of now, it’s looking like somewhere between July 25th and July 27th for the actual departure date. My travel health insurance starts July 15th, and my employer health insurance ends July 31st, so I need to get out of the U.S.

On an even better note, I’ve wanted to team up with a charity of some kind during this trip, and I found what I was looking for. I’m currently working with the organization to develop a plan, and will pass along more details very soon.

I spent the past weekend saying more goodbyes. Old friends drove to Austin from out of state for a farewell dinner. It was great to see Will, and to meet his fiancee Ashley. They’re awesome people with an unbelievably great attitude and a bright future ahead of them. After Chickensh*t Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon, I had to take them to Gourdough’s Public House for “donuts”. If you’ve never had a dessert donut at Gourdough’s, you owe it to yourself to experience this place if you’re ever in Austin.

More goodbyes this coming weekend.

Not long now…

Riding with Lloyd

July 13, 2015

Lloyd Bass with his RayBan sunglasses, ca 1980

Panama Canal

My former father-in-law, Lloyd Bass, was an incredible man. Immensely humble, always smiling and joking, ready to help anyone, anywhere, any time on a moment’s notice. People as down-to-earth and solidly good as Lloyd are extremely rare.

Lloyd and his wife Jean loved to travel. Even after he suffered a stroke which left him with limited use of his right side. he refused to slow down. They continued to travel the U.S. and abroad. Like most, we look back at the photos of our parents from years ago, and many are of their vacations and trips. In these photos, Lloyd inevitably was smiling that big grin of his, and often wearing his RayBan sunglasses.

Lloyd passed away in December of 2005. Lloyd and Jean’s daughter, Ann, who has remained my best friend, recently gave me Lloyd’s RayBans, and told me that Lloyd would have loved to travel to the places I will go on this trip. So in memory of a great man, Lloyd will be riding along with me in spirit, and his RayBan sunglasses will make one more trip around the world.

Lloyd Rides Again

New Sticker for The Ride

July 16, 2015

I decided to have some stickers made that I could pass out along the way. Sort of a calling card so those I meet can follow along as well if they choose to do so. Clarke and Campbell at Bumperactive in Austin did a great job with these, including several different aspects of the trip. I hope to pick them up Monday and get them on the bike.

Enjoying Austin one last time

July 21, 2015

Last weekend was my last chance to enjoy Austin for a while. A friend flew in for the weekend and we had a pretty full weekend of fun, starting with indoor skydiving at IFly.

Joe’s 1st flight: awesome body control!

Then we headed to the ACL Live at the Moody Theater to see Buddy Guy. At 78 years old, Mr. Guy puts on a fantastic show. His opening act for a while now has been Quinn Sullivan, and if you haven’t heard of Quinn, Google him or check him out on YouTube. And don’t lose sight of the fact that this kid is still only 16 years old!

Sitting outside the Moody Theater before watching Buddy Guy play in Austin. It occurred to me while sitting there that this would be the last time I would wear jeans for at least a year, as I’m not packing any with me.

All of that, another trip to Gourdough’s, and tubing on the river made for a nice time. But I’m back to final preparations for departure now. And of course now that I’m ready to go, the temps have hit the mid to upper 90s. Oh well… it only takes two days to get into the mountains of northern Mexico and it will be back to the 70s soon.

Because Two Wheels Aren’t Enough

July 22, 2015

I wanted to get involved with helping less fortunate kids in some of the places I’ll pass through, so when I ran across Free Wheelchair Mission, it sounded like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

This organization arranges the manufacture and supply of thousands of low-cost wheelchairs for those who couldn’t otherwise afford a chair, and works with distribution partners in areas all over the world to get the chairs to those in need. To date, they’ve supplied almost 900,000 wheelchairs in over 90 countries, but there are many millions of people who still need wheelchairs. The cost of one of their chairs is only $77.91. If you can afford to donate any amount to Free Wheelchair Mission in support of my ride around the world, I strongly encourage you to do so. I’m hoping that in addition to bringing awareness to this great cause, I will be able to contribute my time and hands-on skills somewhere along the way.

I’ve created a fundraising page with a goal to raise enough money for 250 wheelchairs by the time my trip around the globe is over. Help me get started today.


Go Time

July 27, 2015

I’ve been planning this trip for a year. Really planning. I’ve been thinking about it for most of my life, but for the past year I’ve been taking notes, researching places, prices, shipping, etc.

Leaving came quickly. I was surprised actually at how, even though I had been moving everything into storage, the morning of departure suddenly came rushing at me.

The bike was prepped. I was ready. Or so I thought. I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to say goodbye to loved ones, friends, co-workers. It was suddenly very real. I had quit my job, sold most everything I owned, and now it was here: time to actually do what I had told everyone I was going to do.

There was no fanfare. Nobody came to see me off on Monday morning. I got up from the floor of my apartment, where I had been sleeping on my camp mat and sleeping bag for the last few days, packed away the last few things, put on my gear, got on the bike, and rode away. Quietly. Sadly. It’s a feeling I can’t describe.

And the 100 degree heat didn’t help. Neither did the brutal headwind. My little 250 was struggling. Yes, it was hot, and I rode just under 300 miles Monday from San Marcos, Texas to McAllen, on the Mexican border. I knew that I just had to ride Monday and Tuesday and once into Mexico it would get cooler. For those of you who think it just gets hotter as you go south into Mexico, there are actually some large mountains in Mexico. And that’s exactly where I was headed.

Spent Monday night in Mission, Texas in a Motel 6. I remember as a kid that they were called Motel 6 because they were six dollars a night. So how come they aren’t called Motel 60 now? Hoping I don’t pay anywhere near that for a night’s stay for a long time to come.