The Naked Truth About World Travel

While we wait for the world to open up a bit, I thought I would reflect on some lessons learned from my last Round-The-World ride. These are thoughts and themes that are common to travelers, but may be new to those who are just beginning to think about a long trek.

Today I’m going to discuss the upside and downside to solo travel, at least from my perspective and experience, along with the realities of this type of trip versus what you may see, hear, or read.

Solo Travel

Solo travel is very different from traveling with a companion or a group. It has pros and cons.

  • You have total freedom. You are not tied to someone else’s time frame or schedule. You can go or stay wherever you want whenever you want, for as long as you want.
  • You are much more approachable. When locals see you alone, they are very curious about why, where you have come from, how far and how long you have traveled, and they aren’t afraid to approach you to ask. They don’t feel like they are interfering, as they often do if you are together with others.


  • It can get lonely. Especially if/when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language and can’t understand the signs. Just finding a place to eat or buy food can be difficult. For some, this isolation can lead to depression, or worse. It’s important to be aware of these feelings, and make adjustments before it affects your happiness. It may require making an extra effort to find people to hang with, whether ex-pats, fellow travelers, or friendly locals that speak your language.
  • You may see extraordinary things that you wish you could share with others then and there, rather than only through Instagram, Facebook, or a blog. That sudden “haha, look at that!” feeling that you haven’t had for months. Intrepid UK bicycle tourer Anna McNuff, in her book “50 Shades of the USA: One Woman’s 11,000 mile cycling adventure through eveery state of America”, put it best as she stood alone looking out at Niagara Falls:
    “This was one of the few times on the journey when it felt like a shame to be experiencing the views alone. I didn’t feel that I could accost a stranger and explode into excited chatter about how fabulous a sight of natural wonder it was, so I had to keep all those emotions to myself. All that joy, all that amazement. Surrounded by people sharing the sight together, I noted how their joy seemed to be doubled when shared.”

One sometimes overlooked aspect to solo travel by motorcycle is safety and security. I met many women traveling in pairs (both by motorcycle, and backpacking). Teaming up with another person, even for short distances, can add some sense of security and relaxation, as you get to share experiences. It also has a significant advantage in a couple of specific situations: border crossings and shopping. In certain countries, the process of stamping yourself and your vehicle into a country may require you to leave your bike (and all of your belongings) in a potentially sketchy place (that in itself describes many border areas) in order to enter an office. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, and you may not be able to park the bike where you can keep an eye on it. Having another traveler present to stay with the bikes and gear while one person does the paperwork can definitely ease your mind. Granted, in some cases, it will be necessary for the other person to enter the office to complete their paperwork, so it will take longer, but speed shouldn’t be the driving factor at border crossings. These situations are one reason I chose to use lockable hard panniers on my bike(s) for travel in developing countries, where theft can be problematic. I’ve heard too many stories of people returning to their bike only to find their soft pannier cut open and their gear long gone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of soft luggage, especially when traveling in safer places.

Having said that, I have to admit that at many borders I crossed — especially in certain parts of Africa and Central America where I had a pre-conceived idea of problems — people were curious, but very respectful, and did not bother my gear. However, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security.

When the Going Gets Rough

When you read travel blogs, books, or watch a show or a movie about travel, it almost never shows the complete picture. People don’t want to watch the negative or down sides of travel. They want to be entertained. So occasionally on a show like “Long Way Round” they will show a breakdown or an accident. At the most, it lasts about two to three minutes on the show. Now, keep in mind that those guys had a large support crew following them, and their focus was to make entertainment. In the real world, for the average person, a breakdown can last days, weeks, or even months, if you are in Mongolia or Chad and need a specialized part. The first days of this can be exciting and upbeat, but it can go downhill if you don’t maintain a positive outlook or plan. In most cases, these instances make for some great tales after the fact, and although it’s hard at the time, it’s better if you can remind yourself of the great “adventure” story you’ll have once you are out of whatever situation you find yourself in.

There are thousands of stories about bodging (inelegant temporary repairs). I’m one of those guys that others tend to refer to as a “McGyver” type, because I can usually find a way to fix something using the least likely but available objects. I will always remember one of my first introductions to round-the-world motorcycle travel, around 1986, when a Danish couple stopped into a motorcycle shop I was working at in South Texas. They had been most of the way around the world already on their 1978 Yamaha XS750, and he told a story of breaking down in remote west Africa. He ended up removing a door hinge from a small hut in the village they were in, and fashioning an internal transmission part from it. That story has always remained in the back of my mind when something goes wrong: “if he could make transmission parts from a door hinge, you can certainly fix this!”

Not Just the Physical Toll of Travel

The old adage of “Fail to plan, Plan to fail” also is true if you don’t consider your mental health on a trip like this. I had read enough and heard enough before leaving on my trip, that I knew burnout was real and would happen if I didn’t plan ahead of it. So before I ever left, I did two things:

First, I made an agreement with myself that I would not travel for more than four days a week. That gave me three days a week to slow down and relax. On those days that I was moving, I tried not to cover more than 150 to 180 miles a day. I wasn’t always successful, but I set that limit as my goal. That may sound like a snail’s pace if you are used to Interstate Highways and averaging 65 to 70 miles per hour, but once you leave the US, you can only average around 35 mph in the places worth seeing.

There is a popular term in general aviation called “get-there-itis”, which leads pilots to make bad decisions that end badly. Rushing on a long journey can not only be dangerous, it can be physically and mentally exhausting, thereby taking a lot of the fun out of what is supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. Obviously not everyone who sets off on a world journey has an unlimited amount of time; some are simply using their vacation time off work, and thus are more pressed to keep moving. My advice would be to shorten your journey rather than push your limits, so you can slow down, see more, and enjoy it.

The second thing I did before I left in 2015 was to book a month off of my tour and buy a plane ticket home about six months into my travels. That month off was crucial for emotionally and mentally recharging. I have seen many people start off on the trip of their dreams only to get overwhelmed by the cultural differences, and/or burned out and return home early.

Okay. Since I have spent the past few posts on my soap box and talking about travel in general, rather than doing it, it’s time to get this road trip started!

Plan C. Or was it D?

I’ve lost track of all the different scenarios we had gone over depending on if and when various countries opened up. I suppose I could go back and re-read what I’ve already written, but instead I’ll just wing it. We have a semi-plan in place, and it’s starting off a bit different than we originally intended (obviously). We were supposed to be leaving on the first leg of our RTW ride right now, which would have seen us ride to Toronto, fly us and the bike to Dublin, and spend the rest of this year and part of next in Europe before continuing east through Asia. Every day it is sounding more and more like Europe will open this summer, but logistically, for us, it is less likely that we will make it this year, because while Europe may open to American tourists, shipping the motorcycle requires additional coordination and agreements, and not everyone is thrilled with the idea of foreigners showing up in their little villages just yet. We aren’t just tourists, going to Paris and staying in the city. We are travelers. So we’ll go when everyone is ready.

So….Plan C, or D, or whatever: I’m heading east on the little XT250; the same little bike I rode most of the way around the world five years ago. I’m riding to North Carolina, mostly on backroads, and then turn around and ride the Trans America Trail from Cape Hatteras to Oklahoma. For those who aren’t familiar, there are various versions of a mostly-unpaved route across the US, and the one I am riding begins in North Carolina and ends in Oregon. However, it’s a bit early in the season to do the Rocky Mountain passes, and besides, we have other plans for June. I will finish the western half of the Trail later. For the next three weeks, I’ll be riding solo on the 250. Diana will be driving a paved route, and will meet up with me at the end of each day heading west.

Weather permitting, we’re hoping to make it back to the Texas Hill Country before the end of May. And then reload and shift to Plan E.

Now, finally, we are rolling. It feels good to be back on the road.

Get Outta Texas

Although I am a Native Texan, having been born near the Red River, I spent a good portion of my early years in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles County, California. Each summer my parents would pile us into the family car (and later the family pickup truck) for a trip back to Texas to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other assorted kinfolk. It was on one of these trips that I recall my parents laughing at a Dairy Queen sign somewhere in West Texas that read “The sun has riz, The sun has set, and here we are in Texas yet”.

That is to say, Texas is a big place, and even in a car on the interstate it takes a while to get across Texas. Interstate 10 from the New Mexico border near El Paso, to the Louisiana border near Orange, is nearly 900 miles across. I live smack in the middle of Texas, so getting out of Texas is an undertaking in itself. I’ve often remarked to friends that when I drive from home to Los Angeles, when I get to El Paso, I am nearly half way there, but still in Texas.

Presently I am not in a car, and I do all I can to avoid interstates, whether I’m on a 250 or a 1200. Getting there quickly is rarely the objective when you are distance touring on a motorcycle. And getting there quickly is never the objective when you do it on a 250cc motorcycle.

I was aiming for Hunstville State Park for a first night’s stop, as it is sort of the gateway to East Texas on my route, and a beautiful place to camp. Unfortunately for me, the pandemic has created a high demand for campsites, as more and more families are buying RVs and spending time outdoors. The state park was booked, but I remembered a little campground in the Sam Houston National Forest near where we used to ride dirt bikes decades ago. I googled it, and the first thing that popped up was an advisory that the bridge was closed until further notice. However, it seems they forgot to explain that the campground was before the bridge, so apparently many people think the campground is not accessible. Which made for a great night’s stay in a quiet, half-full campground in the forest.

It’s been nearly five years since I headed out on a long trip on my 250 with a full load. It will take several days, or longer, to fall into the comfort and pace of life on the road, but it didn’t take long to get comfortable at my first campsite.

Fun with Locals

I gotta get this new Klim riding gear broken in. I mean, it’s comfortable already, but it’s new, and shiny. It needs to look a little less flashy. And it will, in time.

I was standing in line at the soda dispenser in a convenience store in a tiny Texas town, when I noticed the two high school boys in front of me taking their time filling their drinks, and whispering to each other and chuckling, obviously at the old man in the strange, shiny gray and black suit and the matte black helmet with the front flipped up, standing in line behind them. Finally they turned around, and one of them asked me “Did you fly a jet here?” They could barely contain their giggles.

I had to think quick. I came up with a foreign accent, which in all honesty, came out of my mouth sounding like a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Lucky Charms leprechaun. I don’t do accents.

“Ho! Ho! Nee nee, I’m ridin’ a wee mootorbike.” They looked a bit confused. The other one asked “Where are you from?”

“Soot Afrika. Und I rode here. I rode across Africa, Europe, Asia, und, now I am HERE!”

They weren’t sure how to handle that. They walked away. I finished filling my drink bottle, went to the counter and paid, and then walked back out to my bike. They were standing there looking at it, with all the stickers from Africa, South America, and Europe all over the panniers. Then one of them pointed to the Texas license tag and said “Why do you have a Texas license plate? “

I just smiled, and switching back to my normal Texas twang. asked “Who’s the bigger smartass now?”

Later in the day, as I stopped for a break, I was approached by a gentleman who seemed genuinely excited to see me. “Can I look at your bike?” he asked. “Of course” I replied, although I felt required to add the obvious “It’s just a 250.”.

“No no” he said, “It’s fantastic!”. It turns out Andrew used to be part of a family-owned motorcycle dealership in this part of deep-East Texas. More surprisingly, in addition to Suzuki, they carried MV Agusta, Ducati, and Royal Enfield. He was very knowledgeable, and at the same time just a good, down-to-earth guy. We talked about Monsters, Himalayas, and California Specials. And he also pointed me down the road to a great hamburger.

As I’ve said all along, traveling solo makes you more accessible to people. Like Andrew. What a great guy. I’m glad he took the time to wander over and have a chat.

By the end of the day I was in Alexandria, Louisiana, after a significant detour due to me missing a digit while entering the coordinates for my destination that morning. Ah, the dangers of relying on a GPS without paying attention to the big picture. The weather is chasing me, and it looks like I may have about another day or less before it catches me. So I’ll be up early in the morning and on the road again.

Head East

The sandy, pine forests of East Texas and Louisiana begin to give way as I cross into Natchez, Mississippi. There are still pines, but they are now joined by dogwoods, redbuds and oaks, among others. The scenery is definitely changing. I’m sticking to the back roads on my little 250, maintaining about 60mph where the speed limit is posted at 65. The bike is happy at that speed, and so am I. More time to enjoy the scenery.

Diana meets up with me in Georgia, and the weather catches up with us the next day. Not only does it rain all day, but the muggy 80 degree weather of the past few days is replaced with temperatures in the upper 40s. I layer up, but the chill is enough that I’m happy to have a hotel room in Fayetteville, North Carolina. We have arrived just in time for the Colonial Pipeline hack. The Carolinas, but especially North Carolina, is in a panic. Lines at gas stations are long, and many stations have run out of fuel. (Of course none of them would have if people wouldn’t panic and fill their cars up for no reason; within two days the pipeline is operating again and things are returning to normal). At one station in Washington, NC I wait for over an hour to buy my one-and-a-half gallons of fuel. During my wait, I get to watch a fight break out between a woman and a man who apparently was trying to cut in line. The police arrive, an ambulance arrives, the lines get longer. The stupidity over fuel, which is actually fairly easy to find, gets worse.

We make it to Frisco, at the very bottom of Cape Hatteras on Thursday evening, where we set up camp for two nights. It’s a beautiful campground, and apparently many people have canceled their reservations because of the “fuel crisis”, leaving a nice, quiet seashore and campground to maybe a dozen of us.

Campground information flyer for Frisco Campground at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Note that the flyer says “There are no shade trees.”

Our campsite at Frisco Campground. Yes, there are many pine trees, but I guess the rest are very large bushes? Plenty of shade here. Amazing that this is just steps from the beach.”

A short boardwalk leads from our campsite through the dunes to the beach.”

The next morning we visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. This is an amazing place. It is so simply but well laid out that you feel like you are there on December 17, 1903 when Orville and Wilbur made their first four powered flights. It is humbling to think that within 25 years people would be flying aircraft across the Atlantic and only 65 years after that first flight we would land a man on the moon.

A stone marker stands where the Wrights launched their first powered flight.”

Because it was sand, and the airplane had skids and no wheels, the Wrights built a sixty foot long wooden rail, topped with steel. Then they built a small dolly with bicycle hubs for rollers, and set the plane on that. They tied the rear of the plane to a stake, and the two men each spun a propeller to start the engine. Once it was running, Orville climbed aboard and the plane was released while Wilbur ran alongside, helping to balance it. It was airborne in forty feet. There are four additional stone markers in the distance, each indicating the length and duration of the four flights that morning.”

The large monument atop Big Kill Devil Hill, where the Wrights launched their gliders.”

Looking out from the monument toward the field. You can also see reproductions of the hangar and the workshop, as well as the museum that houses an accurate reproduction of the Wright Flyer.”

Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up: We were standing on the south side of the monument atop Kill Devil Hill (the photo above looking over the field is on the north side), and overheard four women talking. One said “I wonder where they actually flew the plane?” Another responded, “I think it was right here”, pointing south toward the town of Nags Head, “but this hill wasn’t here, it was flat then.” We just looked at each other, dumbfounded. These four had to pay to get into the park, then walk past the museum, past the hangar and workshop, past the stone monuments and the launch rail, then climb Kill Devil Hill. All along that route are markers describing what took place here between 1901 and 1903.

In the morning, I will catch the ferry to Ocracoke Island, on to Cedar Island and back to mainland North Carolina, beginning my westward trek on the “Trans America Trail” (really more of a “Trans America Route” at this point, as little or none of it is actually a trail). Diana will backtrack and meet up with me somewhere along tomorrow’s route.

Head West

After two days on Cape Hatteras, it’s time to start west. Diana will drive back the way she came, which is sixty miles back up the Cape before crossing several bridges to the mainland. I have a short 5 mile ride to the Hatteras Ferry which will take me to Ocracoke, where I will catch a larger, longer ferry to Cedar Island and onwards across North Carolina on the Trans America Trail.

The first ferry is free and first-come, first-serve. The second ferry only runs three times a day, and requires a reservation. I have a reservation on the 1pm ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island. I have to check in about an hour earlier, so I need to be there by noon. To be safe, I decide to try to get on the 9am ferry from Frisco to Ocracoke. Since it’s first-come, I decide to arrive by 8am. As I pull up, they are loading the 8am ferry (it runs every hour or so). Then it sits, fully loaded. Cars arrive and line up for the 9am ferry, but the 8am ferry is still here.

It turns out that there is a large fishing tournament here today, and six of the boats in the tournament have managed to follow each other aground in the Sound, blocking the inlet for the ferries. So we are all stuck at the moment.

Eventually they are able to clear the path, and the ferries depart. On this ferry, motorcycles board last. On the Ocracoke-to-Cedar Island ferry, they board the motorcycles first.

Cedar Island Ferry crossing. Two hours, 15 minutes. In the middle of open water, the ferry slows and begins performing S-turns. Apparently the Sound is that shallow in many places.”

After spending most of the day waiting for, and riding ferries, I arrive in Maysville at White Oak Campground. Tomorrow will hopefully be my first day of more unpaved roads than pavement.

Trans America Trail Route: Eastern US Portion

I spent nine days, from May 15 to May 24, riding the first 1800 miles of the Trans America Trail. I rode what is referred to as the “Blue Route”, which is defined as the “original TAT route”, although the portion east of Tellico Plains, Tennessee has been added since the original route was created.

It took me about the first seven of those nine days to come to terms with the fact that this is a route made up of a combination of paved back roads, small highways, and county-maintained gravel roads, which apparently are what is referred to as “off-road”. The majority of the route is very scenic, especially through the Smoky Mountains and the Ozarks. But the far majority of this route can be ridden on a Harley RoadKing (albeit at a slower pace).

The problem is not with the route, but rather with my perception. I blame myself for this confusion. I am not a social media person. I don’t subscribe to a bunch of forums, or heavily discuss or plan my ride ahead of time. I do this on purpose because I learned from riding around the world that researching a route is a fine line: the less you do, the bigger the chance that you might miss something of interest along the way. The more you do, the more it feels like “been there, done that” when you finally arrive. Several times on my round-the-world ride, I arrived at a beautiful place only to think “Yep, it looks just like it did online.”

In this case, my lack of research caused me a bit of confusion over the “trail” portion of this ride. As background, I have spent almost half a century riding and racing motorcycles, and trail riding in Southern California, Colorado, Idaho, etc. My personal idea of a good day of trail riding is similar to what is referred to these days as Extreme Enduro or Hard Enduro.

So after the first three or four days, I kept asking “When does the trail start?”

And yes, I am aware that the route gets more challenging further west, which I intend to experience as time allows.

For reference, here’s a breakdown of the “original route” as I saw it:

North Carolina: 98% paved roads; 2% county maintained gravel roads and/or Forest Service roads
Tennessee: 70% paved roads; 30% county gravel roads
Mississippi: 60% paved roads; 40% gravel roads
Arkansas: 50% paved roads; 50% county gravel roads and/or Forest Service roads

The majority of this route can be done in a passenger car without much trouble. The exceptions are primarily several places where a bridge is closed, which can be ridden around or across on a bike, whereas you would have to detour in a car.

I probably came upon five or six of these “Bridge Out” situations. Typically there was a way across or around.

So now that I’ve whined, I’ll throw in a little recap of what I saw and enjoyed, and a couple of quick stories.

The North Carolina route seems to have been primarily created so that you can say you rode “coast-to-coast”. I had never been to the Outer Banks, so it was worth the trip. But all the way back across North Carolina is flat and paved. Eventually you get to the Smoky Mountains (and the Blue Ridge Parkway). The scenery is great, and the gravel forest road is great.

Forest road heading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina.

Our campsite at Badin Lake Campground. I had several people say “Oh, your wife has to follow you to carry all that stuff”. Nope. As you’ve seen in my RTW trip, and as you’ll see in the next leg of our travels, we carry “all that stuff” (except the cooler) on the bike.

The Two Sides of Blindly Following GPS Routes

I had multiple experiences on this trip where the GPS took me places that I probably didn’t want to go had I known where I was going, or took me to a road that no longer existed (the route I purchased on an SD card in order to do this ride was created in 2015 or 2016). This lead to both good and bad experiences. Here’s a couple:

The Down Side of Blindly Following GPS Routes

The scenery on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Smoky Mountain National Park is beautiful, but here’s my first horror story:

Cades Cove Scenic Loop. If you haven’t heard of it, google it. Or google “Cades Cove traffic”. This eleven mile long, one lane, one-way loop is jammed bumper-to-bumper with tourists in cars, creeping along at two to five miles per hour, but mostly two. Even the National Park Service’s website advises that it can take between two and four hours to drive the eleven miles. Every few miles, there might be a bear in a meadow, at which point everyone stops completely. Here’s the catch: the route follows the Cades Cove Loop about half way around, then turns off on a side road. Unfortunately, I took a “short cut” after the first hour on the Loop and missed the turnoff road, so I had to start the loop over. So after another couple of hours of walking my motorcycle, I arrived at the turnoff, only to find out it is closed for repairs. So after five hours of going in circles, I exited the park and took a detour to the top of the Tail of the Dragon (318 curves in 11 miles), thereby making up for my previous hours of sitting in traffic. I arrived at the Two Wheel Inn in Robbinsville, NC right at dark.

The Two Wheel Inn in Robbinsville, NC. Very specifically caters to motorcyclists. Just inside the door to your room is a garage door opener on the wall, which opens the motorcycle-sized garage door next to your room. There should be more of these places. Highly recommended.

The next morning, the route took me across the Cherohala Skyway (more beautiful mountain vistas), to Tellico Plains, Tennessee. I did a quick tire change there, as my knobby tires were getting a little worn (a thousand or so miles at home before leaving, 1600 miles from home to Cape Hatteras, and another 800 or so to here, nearly all on pavement).

A good indication of a great motorcycle road: “High Incident Corridor”. Cherohala Skyway.

The Exxon Station in Tellico Plains has a nice motorcycle picnic and rest area behind it. This was the perfect place to have lunch and change tires.

The Upside of Blindly Following GPS Routes

Sometimes following the GPS can get you lost. And sometimes that turns out to be worth it. Here’s an example:

After riding several miles of gravel-paved levees in northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas, the levee dropped me off into a little town called Clarendon (population 1487). Clarendon sits on the east bank of the White River, and a large levee separates the river from the town. My GPS took me into town, down several residential streets, to the levee, where the route said to go straight. Straight across the White River. Large levee in front of me. No road. No bridge. But the route went straight into what looks like a large lake. I found a road up onto the levee and looked around. There was definitely no road across the water here. I could see a railroad bridge across the river to the south, so I dropped back down onto River Road which parallels the levee, and headed south. At a stop sign, a PT Cruiser pulled up to my left. The driver gave me a big thumbs-up, and I waved back. I rode through the intersection and about another half mile down the road, then pulled over. I could see the railroad bridge above me, and in the distance a large highway overpass. It was clear that River Road was not going to connect to either of these.

The PT Cruiser pulled up next to me, and the driver rolled the passenger side window down. He asked, “Are you really riding around the world on that?”

I was a bit surprised, and caught myself in a bit of a racist thought. First, that in Eastern Arkansas, in a small very rural farm town, here was a Black man, with no southern drawl, who clearly had read my message in Spanish on the back of my bike (my Rotopax gas can I am carrying has “Montando en todo del mundo” written on it in Sharpie). Although to be honest, I would have been surprised by a white person in this area having caught the Spanish on my bike as well. So I guess it wasn’t racist as much as judgmental of the local population.

“Yes. Well, I have. Now I’m just riding from North Carolina back to Texas.”

“Wow. That is so cool.”

He wore a work shirt that had “Roland” on it. “Are you lost?”, he asked.

“Well, my GPS is telling me to go across the river back there in town, but obviously there’s no bridge.”

He shook his head and laughed. “They blew that bridge up quite a while back.”

That caught me off guard. I hadn’t even seen an indication that there had ever been a road there. (Later that night I looked at Google Maps, and even they still show the Highway 79 bridge crossing the river in town, but if you look at the satellite image, there is no bridge).

We talked for several more minutes. At one point, he asked “Do you know anything about California?”

“A little”, I replied.

“I’m from San Pedro”, he said, using the Southern California pronunciation of “Pee-dro” rather than “Pay-dro”.

I laughed. “Dude, you are probably the only person in a thousand miles that knows it’s “Peedro” and not “Paydro”. I grew up in Torrance”. He laughed and we fist-bumped.

He talked about all the surfing spots he used to hang out at, and I noticed then that he had surf stickers and scuba stickers across the back window of his car. He truly seemed out of place in Arkansas. I’m pretty sure he saw me as being as out-of-place in Clarendon as I saw him.

I wish now that I had taken a photo of us there, but we were blocking the road (okay, there wasn’t a lot of traffic), and neither of us ever got out of/off our vehicles. But that five minutes with Roland in Clarendon made my day.

The flat, sprawling farmland eventually began to morph into rolling hills and everything got very green as I entered the Ozark Mountains. As far as riding goes, even though these were still county roads, this was the highlight of the Eastern half of the TAT. I spent more time on dirt and gravel and less time on pavement, and even had a bear run across the road in front of me on a ridge.

County Road 5671 in the Ozarks. This was the closest thing to a trail I had ridden in 1800 miles. Nice dirt with just a little gravel. Great scenery. A bear ran across the road in front of me at one point. Still a maintained County Road.

Now that I’ve “checked that square”, as my buddy Tom would say, I can regroup and begin the next leg of the journey. Diana and I are back home for a few days, sorting the gear and re-packing. The blog posts should pick up pace as we head out next week, two-up on the larger bike.

Pit Stop…And They’re Off! (Or: Get Outta Texas II)

After a quick three-day pit stop at home to change bikes and sort, wash, and load gear, we left home yesterday on the 700 Tenere headed northwest.

Sorry for the poor quality photo…we were in a hurry to get on the road!

This is our first long-term tour on the 700, so we’re still somewhat sorting through our kit. We thought we had it sorted, but then decided to add a larger bag on top of the right pannier to carry food. But, as George Carlin said, “Stuff expands to fill available space”. So of course the bag is half full of non-food stuff already.

Our first night’s stop was Lubbock, to meet with Laura, a childhood friend of Diana’s, her husband Kevin and their family. We had a great time visiting with them, as Diana and Laura got to reminisce while Kevin and I talked motorcycles, airplanes, and podcasts (he’s given me some ideas for the future). They were kind enough to put us up for the evening, which we were especially grateful for due to the large storms that came through during the night.

In the morning, we loaded up in light rain and left a flooded Lubbock. There was standing water across many roads, including Highway 82 heading out of town, where the water was up to the bottom of the footpegs through one muddy crossing.

The rain let up and we danced with the rain clouds until Tatum, New Mexico, when the sky turned black and it really came down. We found an old abandoned gas station awning and took shelter for an hour or so until the worst of it passed, then moved on westward. We had originally planned to stop in Ruidoso at a campground for the night, but with all the rain, we decided to change direction at Roswell and head for Albuquerque. We had a strong crosswind for most of the day, but stayed dry until just before ABQ, when the skies opened up once again. We gladly took a hotel room for the night. We had planned to hotel in Farmington tomorrow night, but since we made extra distance today and are in a hotel, we will compensate our budget by looking for a camp site tomorrow night a little further north.

Visiting Walter and Jesse’s Haunts

We were latecomers, but hardcore Breaking Bad fans. So it wouldn’t be right to ride through Albuquerque without visiting a few of the film locations from the show. I drew up a loop that covered seven of the sites in about an hour. But first, we had to get some coffee…

Although Walter White blew up the building housing Tuco’s headquarters in the show, the building has mysteriously survived, and is the home of Java Joe’s, which not only serves some great coffee but some delicious breakfasts.

While sitting in front having coffee, the MethLab Bounder motorhome drove by.

After all these years, people are still doing tours in a Bounder motorhome just like Walt & Jesse’s.

A few blocks down the street from Tuco’s is Jesse Pinkman’s aunt’s house, where he lived and hosted parties:

There is a two car garage where the Bounder motorhome sat in Jesse’s driveway, but otherwise the house looks the same (although much cleaner and greener now that meth-heads aren’t living in it).

Around the corner from Jesse’s is the Dog House, which made several appearances in the show, particularly in the opening.

Then it was a few miles south to Los Pollos Hermanos.

The place still looks the same, although the actual name is back on the building. You can even sit in Walt’s booth.

Then it was a run up north to the Laundry Facility

It’s actually a commercial laundry facility. But I’m pretty sure there’s no meth lab in the basement.

A bit further east is Walt & Skyler’s car wash.

It’s a Mister Car Wash these days.

And last but certainly not least is the White residence.

I’m sure the production company didn’t pay these people enough to use their home, and the owners had no idea that years later 400 people a month would still be taking photos in front of their house. They had to put up a fence and several “No Trespassing” signs to keep people out. And they put a metal roof on the place…probably so the pizzas would slide off the garage roof easier.

After a morning of roaming Albuquerque, and laughing at ourselves and all the others that we kept bumping into taking photos of these landmarks, we headed north towards Colorado. At one point on the highway, we saw a wildlife crossing that made us turn around and go back.

Typical wildlife crossing warning

Apparently this location is so frequently used by wildlife that there is a crosswalk painted across the road, and lights flash when the animals are crossing. I thought to myself, “They must have cameras that sense when there is wildlife crossing, and the lights flash”. But no, it’s a much more simple system:

They actually have “Push to cross” buttons on each end of the crosswalk. There are some smart wildlife in this part of the country!

We had planned to wild camp near Mancos, Colorado, but stumbled on a nice campground that had a few remaining spots just a few miles before our destination.

Natural Bridges

For those who don’t know me well, I’m a bit of a hermit. I enjoy traveling, but absolutely hate crowds; especially the American kind (loud, obnoxious, entitled, etc). In this vein, the thought of going to Zion National Park — and other parks in Utah — has been stressing me out. As much as I want to hike The Narrows, I don’t really want to listen to two thousand other people oooh and aaah and generally tell their life stories loudly while I hike.

So when we discovered Natural Bridges National Monument, it seemed like the right direction: small park, smaller crowds, and still some good hikes and sights.

There are three large arches or natural bridges in the park that you can hike to the bottom and back. There’s also a campground. The campground is first-come, and only has 13 spots, so we left Mancos with the intent of getting to the campground early afternoon and hopefully there would be an open spot. If not, our backup plan was wild camping on BLM land just outside the park.

We arrived around 1:30pm, and found there were three spots still open. So we set up and relaxed for the rest of the day, while we watched the parade of motorhomes drive through looking for an empty place to park. Even though the campground is at 6,500 feet elevation, it was 87 degrees in the afternoon, and the sun was blazing.

The next morning we hiked to the bottom of the canyon to Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge, and also hiked out to the rim to look across to Horsecollar Ruins, the remains of an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling.

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world; only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger.

The trail to the canyon bottom is the steepest in the park. A staircase and three wooden ladders aid in the descent.

What goes down must come up…the elevation and the heat gave us a good workout.

Hard to see in this photo (nearly impossible actually), but there are cave-dwelling ruins at the lowest level on the opposite canyon wall here.

Kachina Bridge as seen from above.

The Kachina Bridge is the youngest of the three.

Just to the left of Kachina is a “Knickpoint” pour-off into a small pond. When it floods here, a muddy red waterfall plunges into the pool below.

On our approximately four mile hike, we met an average of two people per mile. Quite a difference to what I expect Zion to look like.

On our second night in the campground, it was nearly empty. We couldn’t figure out why on a Wednesday night it was packed and had an overflow of people who were too late for a spot, while on Thursday night practically nobody showed up.

At the campground we met a German woman from Seattle traveling in a Honda Element, who gave us some great tips on Azerbaijan and Czech Republic, and just before leaving we met two women from Seattle and San Jose doing a two week tour on a Ducati Scrambler and a Honda. It’s great to see these others (especially women) traveling solo or together on adventures.

Tomorrow will be a hot one: It will be close to 100 degrees as we head south into Arizona before heading north again back into Utah.

Moki Dugway

We left Natural Bridges National Monument, and just a short ride down the road, we turned south on Utah State Route 261, a nice two lane road that eventually turns to dirt. And then turns to stunning.

The Moki Dugway was built in 1958 to transport uranium ore from Fry Canyon to a processing mill in Mexican Hat, Utah.

The term “dugway” refers to a road that is cut into the side of a cliff or hillside. The road here descends at an 11% grade, and has several switchbacks. It overlooks the Valley of the Gods, and in the distance, Monument Valley.

The road has even been listed in the Top 10 most dangerous roads in America, although I would argue that any freeway in Southern California or Houston can be more dangerous. Then again, it’s only as dangerous as the operator(s).

We dropped down the Moki Dugway and into Mexican Hat, then across to Page, Arizona before heading back into Utah and to Kanab. The meter on the bike briefly showed an ambient air temperature of 100 degrees. I decided that our new Klim gear was quite comfortable up to about 84 degrees, even when just standing around, but at 100, with all the vents open, it was warm. Okay, hot when standing still. But still quite bearable when moving 65mph.

We had planned to camp at an RV park in town where I stayed in 2018 with our Polish friends Marcin and Ella, but when we arrived, the manager informed me that they didn’t really have those places available for tents any longer. And sure enough, the nice grass, shrubbery and trees were mostly gone in that area, and it looked blazing hot. When I mentioned that we might just try to find a hotel, he offered that we could “stay in the basement” for just a little more than a tent site. The basement turned out to be just a small room with a bed, but it was clean, and most importantly cool. Sure, we had to walk to the RV Park toilets and showers, but it was closer to our budget than the tourist-hotspot hotels in town.

That’s the stairs down to our room to the right of the bike, in the basement of the office at the Hitchin’ Post RV Park in Kanab. Nice and cool, good wifi, reasonable, very nice hosts.

Some hiking in the morning, another night in the basement, then we will move a little north for a couple of nights before settling into a small cabin for four days.