I hadn't ridden a motorcycle before 2003. I had thought about it a lot, but actively resisted the temptation. I wish I had given in sooner. Learning to ride at age 46 made me feel like I was in a mid-life crisis, but I was in good shape and had always been physically able and a quick learner. I had always enjoyed traveling, too. So, I took up the sport with gusto.
I rode all over Colorado, on streets and off, and I enjoyed riding the dirt trails and roads more than I thought I would. I met and rode with a lot of new people and just had a blast in that first couple of years. I was totally hooked right away. It was like SCUBA diving; tried it once and that was all it took. I've put a lot of miles on the Valkyrie, riding locally and across Western states. Did 800 miles on a whim one morning after working a night shift. Easy bike to cruise on. The KLR has been ridden (and crashed) all over the Colorado mountains.
In 2005 I started reading and chatting with people (mostly online, at first) about their Central and South America experiences. The Horizons Unlimited meetings seemed a great source of direct contact with experienced motorcycle travelers, so I resolved to attend the next HU meet in Colorado. That turned out to be in summer, 2006, at their Western USA HU meet in Leadville, CO. Although it rained on us almost constantly, the travelers' presentations were wonderful and the discussions about riding around the world were inspiring. We got in some good riding, too.
At that HU meeting, there was a Scotsman who was currently on a round-the-world (RTW) ride, and had detoured slightly to Colorado just to give his presentation to us. He was hilarious, cursed more than I would have expected from a school teacher, and had some great photos. His ST1100 had a hard time crossing Russia, but fared pretty well elsewhere.
Also at that HU meeting was a guy from New York who had shipped his Harley Davidson to Europe, then he rode it to the Middle East to see what all the fuss was about. Really. He had no greater plan than to see if Arabs really hated Americans, as the U.S. media made it seem. I thought that it was incredible to wander across continents with little or no planning. As it turns out, lots of people do that, and the whole idea of it really attracted me.
Many others at that HU meet had ridden RTW, and some were currently on long rides. Grant Johnson (site owner of Horizons Unlimited) and his wife had ridden RTW for 10 years. Chris and Erin Ratay, from Boulder, CO, had spent four years riding RTW. Since then, I've met a few other couples who have spent years riding RTW. Some ride for much of the year then go home for a while, while others just keep riding constantly, stopping when and where (and for however long) suited their fancy. There is some financial aspect to all this, to be sure, but I learned that some people are living on their motorcycles more cheaply than they had been living while owning a home. And some had jobs they could contribute to while on the road, as long as they could get on the internet. Some earned money along the way by taking odd jobs, doing speaking engagements, writing books, etc. It can be done more easily than I had imagined. More HU meetings and other rallies just intensified the urge to ride off into the sunset.
Other high profile motorcycle adventures were getting my attention, too. In 2006-2007, the Long Way Round trip by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman had made the general public aware of RTW riding, although the celebrity of a high profile actor was a bit of a distraction to the ride itself. Glen Heggsted had gained some media attention from his kidnapping experience in Colombia in 2001, but he had survived it and was still riding RTW. I had a chance to meet Glen at the ADVRider West Fest meeting in Sipapu, NM, in 2007. I was impressed by his philosophical attitude about the ordeal, and I enjoyed his wandering spirit. National Geographic had just recently produced a very limited docu-drama of Glen's capture, and it has aired in 2008 already. Look for it (an episode of Locked up Abroad), but keep in mind that it is a minimal account. It's best to read Glen's book, Two Wheels Through Terror. Glen had started his fateful ride on a Kawasaki KLR650 (although the NG docu-drama shows him on a BMW), obtained another KLR after his release, and finished the ride on a BMW. The KLR was the bike I was already planning on taking RTW.
I had a chance to inspect Greg Frazier's KLR in Silverton, Colorado, at the HU meeting in 2007. He had ridden this bike around the world, and I really liked some of the modifications he had done to it. Nice seat adaptation (from a Goldwing, I think).
I had rebuilt my first KLR650 for RTW travel in 2004.
In 2007, I had to get another (lightly used 2005 model) KLR, since I had abused the first one so much in the few years that followed that rebuild work. See the "Bike Selection" menu item for more on my KLR650 choice.
There was plenty of time, it seemed, to casually plan a RTW ride. I studied maps, made and revised dozens of lists of things to take along, made contact on various web sites with people in countries where I expected to be passing through. I learned about health concerns in some parts of the world and planned inoculations and medicines to take along.
Although I'm sure it would have been fine to just jump out there and ride around the earth, I became more conservative with my first big ride plan. I knew that many inexperienced riders had done it, and few had major problems. My experience in the military and in my working career had served to make me very comfortable in almost any situation, so it wasn't the foreign aspect of a RTW journey that put me off, but rather it was wanting something more defined to start off with. "Just keep going" is attractive as a ride plan, but it was a tad fuzzy.
I had learned about the Prudhoe Bay-Ushuaia ride from various sources. It is an increasingly common ride for world riders, and I have talked now with several riders who have done it. Prudhoe Bay, at Deadhorse, Alaska, is as far north as you can go--about 70o north latitude. Well, actually, Nordkapp, Finland, is about one degree latitude farther north, but it's on an island and a ferry will take you and your bike there. Ushuaia is the southernmost city on Earth. There are settlements and outposts further south, and there's Antarctica, but no city is further south. Ushuaia is at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina--about 56o south latitude. So they are, essentially, as far north and south as you can ride. The ride was therefore defined.
I retired in February, 2008, and I had time to plan ahead for it. I had intended to do the whole ride solo, knowing that I would meet and ride sections with other riders along the way. My buddy, Don, was retiring soon after me, and he had grown attracted to the ride idea, but he wouldn't be ready for Alaska yet. So, I determined to ride to Prudhoe Bay and back solo, taking almost six weeks to do so. I will be in Moab, Utah, at a rider rally at the end of May, 2008, and will head for Alaska from there. My intent is to be back in Colorado for the next HU meeting, July 10-13, 2008, so that is my return date. Along the way to Alaska, I'll aim for the Dust to Dawson (D2D) rider gathering in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada, on June 19-20, 2008. After Prudhoe Bay, I'll wander around Alaska as time and weather permit, but I'd like to get down through Denali, Anchorage, Valdez, Haines, and Skagway on the way back home. The exact route there and back is undecided. It'll be what it is.
After I return (and we work on Don's KLR over the coming summer) we will head for Ushuaia at the end of September, wanting only to be there before the end of the year. We might wander around a bit more on the return trip. Our wives will fly down to meet us somewhere at some point, probably in Buenas Aires, Argentina.
There is still much to do before leaving, and the time it takes to do everything is surprising. This web site for instance has grown from what was originally intended (see my brief blog entry about making this website). I had enough friends, co-workers, and family members who wanted to see ride reports and photos that an online journal or web site was the only practical way to manage it. Before it was even uploaded to my web server, it had grown to its current state, serving as far more than one ride report.
There were other things to learn and get done. I started casually studying Spanish. I had learned some through work, but not enough. I need to know more about GPS usage and how to incorporate GPS tracks into the web site so that others could keep up. I want to learn more about Skype, for making international phone calls with an internet connection. I bought an unlocked GSM cell phone that has wi-fi capability, just so I could make calls whenever I find a wireless hot spot. I have recently acquired some equipment that I am not yet familiar with. The SPoT satellite messenger is a type of personal locator that can send "check-in" and help messages from anywhere (theoretically). It was either that or a satellite phone for a lot more $$$, but one or the other was necessary to keep Laurie from stressing out. I have no idea how to use the SPoT yet; haven't registered it or even turned it on yet. I still have a lot of music I want to convert to digital format for my mp3 player. (I like listening to music sometimes when I ride, and my helmet is set up with internal speakers for 2-way communication and music.) Converting the music is fairly easy, but many songs need some editing or volume equalization, and that is very time consuming. I gave up on converting vinyl records to mp3, they take a lot longer. Also, I have a lot of documents that I need to make copies of (paper and digital) and get some of them laminated.
Oh, and the bike is currently (as I write this) up on a lift and largely disassembled, mid-way through an electrical re-wiring job.
Um, and I need to get the bike title changed over (never got around to that...) and get it registered. Simple things, you know?
And I've got two weeks to get it all done. Fun.
It's overkill, of course. Many riders just put their wallet in their pocket and ride. I know that everything will work out fine, but I had the time to plan a lot of things ahead of time, and to include lots of items to make the ride more enjoyable and hopefully reduce problems along the way.
I'll be traveling with a laptop computer (the one I'm writing on now), and will keep the ride report and photos updated as I go. I hope. I have a lot of academic understanding of the ride, but no experience, so I'll learn as I go.
Everything is flexible, except for the goal of completing the Prudhoe Bay-to-Ushuaia connection within the calendar year. I've already had the stickers and post cards printed! "Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia in 2008."
Sounds like a plan.
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