Monday, November 17, 2014

7 Things to Know Before Crossing a Desert

     Whether it's the scenic views, the quiet roads, or simply the most direct route to your next destination, deserts provide a riding experience unlike any other. However, deserts are far from safe, and can be life threatening. Before including a desert in your next trip, there are a few things to understand about this harsh environment:

1. A successful trip through the desert should at no point leave you thirsty
     Battling the sun and 100+ degree weather will drain your body of fluids faster than your brain can detect. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, lightheadedness, and sleepiness. Pull over immediately if you feel any of these symptoms. You will be surprised how much you drink. By the time you actually feel thirsty, your body will be in the process of shutting down,

2. Avoid drinking... water?
     Water isn't the only thing your body loses in the heat. When you lose volumes of sweat, your body is also being starved of electrolytes. Electrolyte imbalance can be just as dangerous as dehydration, so remember to drink Gatorade or Powerade instead.

3. You will drink more water than you think
     I originally thought that two 16 ounce water bottles could hold enough gatorade to last me gas station to gas station. I was going through 72 ounces of water an hour; more than twice that amount. Make sure to pack extra bottles, or bring a camelback hydration system with you if possible.

4. You may or may not feel the heat
     It may seem counter intuitive that being hit with warmer-than-body winds on your motorcycle will cool you off. However, in order for your sweat to change from a liquid to a gas, it takes additional energy. Depending on your speed, this energy will either come from your body or the wind.

5. Try the Mojave Desert
     Cell phone service in the Mojave, like most deserts in the U.S., is very limited. However, most major highways in California have call boxes stationed every few miles. I-40 is no exception. If you break down there and there are no passing motorists, these call boxes may be your savior.

6. Try riding early in the morning or late in the evening.
     High temperatures peak between 11 am and 5 pm. Try to plan your trip around these hours if you are feeling safety conscious. Most motorcyclists ride before and after these hours, so based on the time of year, you may not be alone.

7. Passing motorcyclists know the dangers of the desert
     I pulled off to the side of the highway to take some pictures in the Mojave. Every motorcyclist that saw me slowed down before I gave them the "OK" signal. They know the dangers, and won't leave you out to dry.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Experience Owning a Moped

     I was about sixteen when I first started getting interested in motorcycles. I had just spent all of my money on a car, so I had no cash to spend on a motorcycle. I also wasn’t allowed to have one, since my dad told me they were dangerous. I did some research and found that I could purchase a bicycle engine kit for $200. It came with a gas tank, the motor, chain, and all attachments needed to convert a bicycle into a moped. Without much thought, I had made the purchase. I didn't even have a bicycle.
     My friend David notified me of a bicycle at my high school that had been abandoned. It had been locked to one of the bike racks for almost a year, and the tires were deflated and the chain was starting to rust away. We decided to do the right thing and breathe new life into this bicycle, so we brought it home.
     When the package arrived, I opened the box and immediately began working on attaching the engine to my bike. It was simple enough to put together, but getting the moped working was a different story. When the clutch worked, the carburetor flooded the engine. When the carburetor worked, the chain tensioner fell off. The parts were cheaply made, and nothing worked reliably.
     However, during the six months that I was able to have the moped (mostly) working, it was deadly. The clutch didn't work, so I had to start pedaling with the engine engaged. This also meant that I couldn't stop. This put me in a ditch a few times. The moped also had a habit of catching on fire.
     My moped days officially ended when I was riding, and the rear tire deflated and wrapped itself around the wheel spokes. I managed to cut the tire off using a Swiss army knife, but I still had to get home. I rode that moped without a rear tire, and drifted every turn. I was on one of the final stretches of road when the lack of grip on the pavement forced me off the side of the road at 20 mph. I was injured, but I still had to push the moped a few more miles back home. Never again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Pack for a Motorcycle Trip

     I read a ton of articles on how to pack for a motorcycle trip before going on my coast to coast expedition. The main issue I had was that these articles were particular to the rider, the kind of bike they had, and the type of trip(s) they were taking. I've taken a few smaller trips to places like St. Louis from my home in New Albany since that major journey, and I will attempt to clear up any confusion for new riders facing their first trip and keep information as basic as possible.


The Motorcycle

     A common misconception among new riders is the idea that they need a purpose built touring bike to go on a long distance trip. The only important requirements for a distance motorcycle are that it is reasonably comfortable, in great mechanical condition (also parts are easy to find), and preferably can take the highway. Having said that, each motorcycle has its own set of limitations. A 250cc Honda Rebel isn’t going to provide the same level of comfort or luggage space as a 1,800cc Honda Goldwing, yet both motorcycles are just as capable of crossing the United States.

To Camp or Not to Camp

     Camping provides many advantages to an adventure motorcyclist. It is cheaper, more fun, and gives the rider a more observable feeling of location change. It does have some drawbacks, however. It is much more difficult to sleep in a tent, and camping supplies take up precious space on a motorcycle.
     Hotels provide far more amenities than any campsite, but do not provide the same thrill that is experienced with camping. Hotels under the same brand feel exactly the same in each location, but campsites make one intimately aware of the change in geography.


     My entire journey was pressed because I had to make it home in time for school and my sister’s graduation. More time equals fewer miles each day, which in turn means less fatigue. With more time, one can also enjoy more sights along the way. There are other smaller but equally important advantages to having more time as well. I was forced to eat whatever I could find at gas stations because in many instances, I didn’t have the time to stop at a restaurant and eat real food. This became a major issue since the gas station diet lacks nutrients, which contributes to fatigue.

     For any motorcyclist who is constrained by time and travels over 200 miles a day, it is important that he observes various, simple techniques for warding off fatigue. Plenty of sleep is needed for obvious reasons, but frequent breaks are equally important. One can expect to take twice as long to reach a destination as his GPS indicates. This is simply the nature of riding a physically challenging vehicle where the rider is open to the elements. I knew when I needed a break because my backside would start to go numb.


     Having durable equipment is extremely important. Make sure your bags are waterproof, because it is more than likely that you will go through rain. Remember: don't take anything you can purchase later. There is no sense taking something you don't need hundreds of miles. Based on the type of bike you have and your budget, I have outlined equipment to consider before taking your trip.

Items marked with * can be bought at Their equipment is more expensive, but second to none.

Life support system

     I'm talking about basic equipment that you need during your long distance trip. Water, Food, GPS/maps, spare clothes and toiletries. This should account for the standard rider on a multi-week trip travelling non stop. Adjust according to your needs.


  • Two water bottles full of gatorade (16oz)
  • Some small snacks
  • 2 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 2 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of long johns
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Sweater to wear under jacket
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit


  • Camelback water bladder (50oz or more) + water tube*
  • Gatorade mix
  • Food for 1/2 a day
  • 3 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 4 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • Bathing suit
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Heated jacket (avoid battery operated ones, go for the warmer ones that run on your bike's battery)
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor, first aid kit)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit
  • 1.25 gallon auxiliary fuel tank (you'll be surprised how handy it is, as well as how safe you'll feel)


     If you choose to camp, which I would highly recommend you do, these are things you will need:


  • 1 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight (or phone flash)
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*


  • 2 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*
  • Auxiliary fuel doubles as lighter fluid
  • Compact air mattress*
     Avoid purchasing micro stoves, plates, cutlery, and any other camping food supplies if you plan to travel within the United States. I've never found them practical to use when high calorie fast food restaurants are so plentiful, even in remote areas.

Important Information on GPS Devices

     If you have a great sense of navigation and use maps, and can travel even when it gets dark and you can't read the map; more power to you. If you have a GPS device charging on your bike's battery, then what I'm about to tell you is extremely important. If you use a purpose built device like a Garmin, the maps are preloaded onto your device. This means as long as you have satellite coverage (which is pretty much everywhere), you will have directions. While it may seem space saving to use your smartphone instead, smartphones require a 3G signal to load the maps and satellite coverage to plot your location. Smartphones don't actually store the maps. This means that if you are in an area that has no 3G coverage, you won't be able to use the GPS function. If you are on a long trip, don't be surprised if you rack up extra data costs from using your smartphone as a GPS during your journey.

Other Important Tidbits

  • Don’t overexert yourself. Arriving late to your destination is better than not arriving at all. 
  • If at all possible, avoid using a backpack. I can think of nothing worse than being weighed down by a heavy backpack when riding hundreds of miles a day 
  • Staying hydrated and well fed is especially important. Most of the time when I got tired on my motorcycle, it was because I didn’t get enough to eat or drink. Overeating is also something to avoid. If one consumes too much food, his body will require more energy to process the food, which will take away from his energy available for riding. 
  • Talk to people. At the very least, people are happy to share life experiences with you that will keep you entertained. At most, you will learn something new which could help you on your journey (fellow motorcyclists can tell you touring trick, locals can tell you good places to eat). Also, if you are travelling alone, you are at the mercy of strangers if you are in a jam. 
  • Never, ever, ever, ignore a problem with your motorcycle. Get it fixed immediately. You don’t want to permanently damage your motorcycle or risk it becoming unreliable. 
  • Fellow motorcyclists will look out for you. If you have been riding motorcycles for a long time you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are also the easiest group of people to start conversations with because you associate with them. Sometimes they are even open to favors. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 23: Wytheville, VA - New Albany, OH. Friday, May 30, 2014

     I was up at 1:30am again. This was my last day on the road, and I was aching to get home. I also wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss my sister’s graduation party. I was pretty beat, but I had enough adrenaline still rushing through my body to keep me going.

     The Appalachian Mountains were bunny hills compared to the Rockies, but the roads were so foggy that my visibility was limited to about 40 feet. It was also very dark and rainy. I was going too fast for the conditions of the road; about 50 miles per hour. I almost ran off the road several times because I couldn’t even see the road lines. A semi-truck passed me going 70, and I figured that his multiple headlights were far better than my 42 year old single headlight, so I followed him at a distance.

     It was significantly safer going faster and following the truck. I knew when to prepare for a turn because I could see what the semi in front of me was doing. I followed him all the way out of the mountains.

     Miles passed, and I was so weighed down by my exhaustion that I didn’t notice many of the details of the day’s ride. I felt a sense of excitement when I passed into Ohio which woke me up a little, but it soon faded and I was feeling off again.

     I took the remainder of my journey mile by mile, and tried to keep myself excited about home to stay awake. When I reached the southern end of Columbus, my journey started to feel like it was speeding up. I was used to making small trips around Columbus before I left home, but now I was accustomed to travelling hundreds of miles a day through hard rain, mountains, and deserts. Before I really processed the fact that I made it to Columbus, I was already in New Albany.

     Liz gave a loud groan as I pulled into the driveway of my home. I got off my bike feeling only half alive, and pushed her into the garage. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment making it back home. I just felt overwhelmingly tired. I unloaded my clothes from the duffle and threw them immediately into the washing machine inside my house. I wasn’t taking any chances that I may have taken bed bugs with me from Macon. I didn’t think I had any, but I wasn’t going to risk it. I called my dad, my mom, and my sister, but my grandmother didn’t answer.

     I was so accustomed to living in a cramped tent, cabin, or hotel room that when I entered my house, it felt massive. I couldn’t conceive how I even lived in such a place. Why did we have a whole room dedicated to a TV? Why didn’t my bedroom have a door lock?

     I was just about to take a shower when I heard the doorbell ring. It was my grandmother. Apparently, my great uncle in Britain had been tracking my phone. At the moment I reached home, he called my grandmother, and she made her way to my house.

     We didn’t talk long before I told her I needed to get some rest. I took a three hour nap until my alarm woke me, and I went to my sister’s graduation party with my friend David. At this point, all the adrenaline that had been keeping me going finally subsided. I was left with a shell of a working body, and crashed harder than I ever have before. I was too tired to stay for any length of time, and it didn’t help that David kept telling me that I looked like I was stoned. I went home and looked at myself in my bathroom mirror. I really looked like shit. Then I crawled into bed, pulled up the covers, and passed out for sixteen hours straight.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 22: Beaufort, SC - Wytheville, VA. Thursday, May 29, 2014

     I was up and ready to go at about 3:00 in the morning. I figured that since I had travelled six hundred miles from Los Angeles to Holbrook that I could handle six hundred and fifty miles from Beaufort to New Albany.

     I left the hotel at about 4:00 when it was still dark. I made my way out of Beaufort and into Columbia just as the sun started to peek over the horizon. I wanted to stop for food so I took an exit ramp that took me into the city. The blue signs on the ramp were misleading, because I didn’t see any of the fast food restaurants displayed on the sign and wasted half an hour looking for them. Instead, I stopped at a BP and got gas and food. As I was paying, a man outside was taking pictures of my bike. We had a short conversation, and I got straight back on the highway.

     It was quite hot that day, so I didn’t wear any layers. The ride from Columbia to and through North Carolina was very enjoyable. The sun was out, and I was excited by the fact that I would be coming home that day.

     I had just crossed into Virginia when I decided to take a break at a nearby a rest stop. As I got off my bike and took a seat at one of the sheltered tables, I noticed to my disappointment that the flora was still very southern. The kinds of trees I saw were similar to those in eastern Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama. I was less than 400 miles away from home, but I felt like I was much farther because the landscape was still very different from Ohio.

     As I approached the Appalachian Mountains, it started to become cloudy. The weather couldn't make up its mind about whether to rain or not. It would start sprinkling, then stop, and then start again. Finally, it really started raining so I pulled off the highway and put on my leather jacket. As soon as I got back on the highway it stopped raining again.

     I made it to Wytheville before my I hit a brick wall. I didn't sleep too long the previous night, and it was finally coming back to haunt me. I knew I wouldn't be able to make the last 300 miles to Ohio, so I checked into at a nearby Hampton Inn. Then it started pouring.

     The concierge, like in Kansas City, told me I could move my bike under the canopy in front of the hotel. I went outside and moved it to the sidewalk. It was raining so hard that the two minutes I spent moving my bike, I had been drenched from head to toe.

     I took a shower and changed clothes because I was at my limit with being cold and wet on my trip. It was only 4:00, so I still had plenty of time to prepare for my last day on the road. I spent a couple hours updating my journal, and then I took a short nap. I woke up hungry, so I went to McDonald's for dinner. Luckily, it had stopped raining by the time I left the hotel.

     The McDonald's in Wytheville was memorable for one reason only: it had one of those casino gaming consoles at every table, but they were set to free play. While I was eating, I played a ported version of SameGame. I was pretty McHappy.

The latest in fast food entertainment 

     I was tired when I got back to the hotel, but for some reason I just couldn’t sleep. My mind was still running on pure adrenaline. I spent a good twenty minutes staring at my computer screen. I wasn’t writing or doing anything productive. I was just staring at my desktop while my mind wandered into la la land, like I was in a semi-conscious state without actually sleeping. I attempted to break out of that state by listening to music. I don’t even remember how long I was listening to tunes. It was like I had lost the ability to perceive time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 21: Beaufort, SC. Wednesday, May 28, 2014

     This day was a lazy day. Macon, Georgia was a true test to my spirit and love for the trip. Although that spirit never faded, I felt I needed to recharge before coming home.

     I was up late in the morning at about 10 am. I headed straight to the beach; shoes and helmet off again. This time at the beach, I fully submerged myself in the Atlantic. I was deep enough that I was able to pick up sand dollars off the ocean floor. I threw them like frisbees further from the beach.

     I also climbed the lighthouse. I am deathly afraid of heights, but I think this may have been the only time I made it to the top without being stunned by the height. My trip put me through so much; and I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.

The view of the beach from the lighthouse 

The Hunting Island Lighthouse 

     I went back to the hotel, piled up my laundry, and went to the vending machine room. There were no washing machines, so I went down the elevator and checked the first floor. Still no washing machines. I asked the concierge where the laundry room was, and she said the hotel didn’t have any. There was a laundromat within walking distance from the rear of the hotel, and told me to follow a path that would take me straight there.

     The laundromat was very close, and it only took a five minute walk to get there. I didn’t bring all my quarters, so I thought I could stuff one of the smaller machines with all my clothes. I could barely shut the washing machine door, and my clothes didn’t completely soak until it was already on the rinse cycle.

     The washing machine next to mine was running, and I saw the owner enter the laundromat after I had just started the wash cycle. Since both of us were just standing in front of the machines, I started a conversation with him.

     He had just moved to Beaufort, and he was in the process of building a house, so he didn’t have a way to do laundry. His wife wasn’t with him because she was still a few states away packing their stuff. Our conversation moved to his sons, who were in the military, and then he told me that he was also once in the military. He shared with me some of his experiences.

     He spent six months stationed in a town in northern Kazakhstan in the early 90s, and told me all the joys of the socialist government. The town was held together by mining, but no one was paid for any type of work. Instead, at the end of every year, the government would send the town equipment based on the amount of coal they mined. Actual currency was not involved, and was apparently only used by peasants.

     Then the country decided to form its own currency, the “Tenge”. Citizens were told to take all of their Russian rubles to a state bank, and they would be given in return exactly one hundred tenge. It didn’t matter how many rubles a citizen had: ten, one hundred, one hundred thousand. He would only be given one hundred tenge.

     The climate in northern Kazakhstan was very cold, so there was a coal burning plant seated in the middle of the town that heated and delivered steam to the nearby buildings. After the economy collapsed, there was no heat, no supplies, and no production. In fact, the only thing the town gift shop had for sale was a broken light switch, and it was kept in a locked container.

     I dropped my clean laundry off at the hotel, and went out for dinner. I had a particular place in mind. Almost every time my family and I went to Beaufort, we stopped at 11th Street Dockside. The restaurant was right on the water, and neighbored a shrimp boat dock.

11th Street Dockside seen from the dock 

     Like my father, I go to seafood restaurants to order a steak. I’m that guy. I don’t generally eat fish unless I catch it and gut it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust the way restaurants prepare fish, it’s just fish always tastes better when it’s my catch. The sirloin was delicious, and it was starting to get dark. I headed back to the hotel.

     I was in the middle of packing up my gear for the next day so I could save time on my leave. I noticed something sticking out of the back pocket of my wallet, and pulled it out. It was the business card of the adventure motorcyclist I met before passing into Albuquerque.

     His name was Andrew Pain, and his occupation was a journalist. There were five different ways to contact him listed on the card, and I checked his website. He wrote a lot of adventure touring books and had an active blog. As far as adventure tourers go, this guy was king.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 20: Macon, GA - Beaufort, SC. Tuesday, May 27, 2014

     As soon as the clock struck 9, I called Capital City Cycles and asked if they could fix my bike. They said that they had worked on older bikes with my kind of tension bolts before, but they always had issues with them. Then I tried calling D & A Cycles. The call kept dropping, but I finally managed to get ahold of them.

     The shop said that they could fix my bike, and that they would call me back a half an hour later. 26 minutes passed (not that I was counting), and they called me back. They said the tow truck was picking up two other bikes first, and that they would pick me up at 10:30.

     I had an hour to wait for the tow truck, so I had a chat with two middle aged men outside the hotel who were visibly uncomfortable with the location. As expected, they were forced to stay in the hotel because their vehicles had broken down nearby. No one stays in the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay by choice.

     The first man was crazy. He was the type of crazy where he had at one point lived a normal life, but then stress ripped him apart. He talked in a heavy Chicago accent. I could tell his memory was fried because he kept asking me how I managed to end up in Macon Georgia.

“So what brings you here?” 

“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     Fifteen minutes later:

“So how did you end up at this hotel?”
“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     Another fifteen minutes later:

“So really, why are you in Macon Georgia? It’s ok. You can tell me”.
“I’m on a cross country tour of the United States, and my bike broke down”.

     As the many conversations repeated themselves, they would always close with the following statement:

“Yeah, I’m originally from Chicago. I was there for 32 years and I did security work, but there were a lot of problems. I moved to Florida to live with my mother, but there were a lot of problems, so I moved to Kansas for five years... But there were a lot of problems”.

     From what I gathered, he had an old green chevy pickup truck that had a dead battery, and he couldn’t get it started. The closest, cheap place he could find was this dump of a hotel. He was also originally from Chicago.

     The second guy seemed much less nervous, maybe because he was a bit more sane. He talked like Boomhauer from the T.V. show King of the Hill. That is, he talked very quickly with very little sense. I could make out most of what he was saying though, and at least I was having different conversations with him. His late model Dodge Charger was having engine issues, but luckily, it was still under warranty. He just had to wait for a tow truck. He asked me if I had enough money to get home. I said I did. Both men told me that they had social security checks coming within a few days, so they weren’t going to be stuck in Macon for too much longer.

     At exactly 10:27, the tow truck arrived, my bike was fixed to the trailer, and we headed to D & A Cycles. I didn’t have to wait too long at the repair shop to get my motorcycle fixed. There were plenty of “gun on premises” signs which made me feel safer. At least none of the gang members from the hotel would be here. The shop owner informed me that I simply needed a new chain, and the sprockets were fine. I was soon on my way.

     The ride to Beaufort was short and sweet. It was just over 200 miles away and the weather was nice. I hated the Georgia roads that messed up my chain length in the first place, but once I was in South Carolina they became silky smooth.

     I was feeling very nostalgic once I reached Beaufort. My family used to have a summer home down there which I visited every summer. This was the place I learned to ride a bicycle, got my first scar, learned to fish and drive a boat. Beaufort was jammed packed full of old memories which I still carried with me.

     The last time I was here it was my 18th birthday. My three best friends and I were celebrating our graduation from high school and enjoying our time together before we went off to college. It was the last time I was in that house before my family sold it the next summer. It seemed only fitting that I finish the biggest accomplishment of my life in this small town, next to graduating high school. But I celebrated that down here too.

     I found a Hampton Inn in downtown Beaufort and got a room for two nights. I really needed to get myself in order, and catch up on food and sleep. I figured that if it took me two days to get from Beaufort to Columbus, I would arrive Friday morning. Friday evening I would make it to my sister’s graduation party. I dropped off my gear, and changed into a swimsuit and a short sleeve shirt. My clothes were dirty, but I would wash them when I got back. I really wanted to touch the water.

     I wasn’t going to make the same mistake touching the water with my boots like I did in California. I rode my bike half an hour to Hunting Island Beach without my boots and the only time on my trip I rode without a helmet. The breeze through my feet felt amazing. It was a sensation I had never experienced before. I made it to the state park and parked my motorcycle, and took the familiar path to the beach next to the lighthouse.

     The sense of accomplishment I experienced at that beach was even greater than the one I felt in San Francisco. Sure, San Francisco was the goal of my journey, but going coast to coast was an even larger undertaking. I finally got the satisfaction I had been looking for my entire journey.

Hunting Island Beach

     I wasn’t at the beach very long. I called my family to tell them I had officially made it coast to coast, and then left. I was going to come back to the beach the next day, so I would have plenty of time to enjoy the water. I made a quick stop at a Chic-fil-a after changing my clothes at the hotel. Chic-fil-a was my favorite fast food restaurant. The nuggets are fried in peanut oil and always tasted delicious. Chic-fil-a is also one of the few places that had waffle fries. I finished dinner quickly and headed back to the hotel for a night’s sleep.