Saturday, November 22, 2014

Personal Experience as a Member of the Motorcycling Community


     Before I had a motorcycle, I secretly had a negative image of the motorcyclists. I believed that they were rebels without a cause, who only made problems for society. I thought that the sport bike riders sped on the highway, and that the Harley riders were criminals. I never let my prejudices affect the way I treated them in person, but these were the thoughts I kept to myself. After I bought my bike and started riding, I found that being part of the motorcycling community was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.

     Bikers are an extremely kind group of people. They would go out of their way to introduce themselves and have conversations with me. It didn't matter where I was or what I was doing; if they saw that I had a bike, they would talk to me. Even if I pulled up to the same stoplight with another motorcyclist, we would chat until the light turned green. This friendliness is even experienced while riding. It's considered almost rude not to acknowledge another passing motorcyclist without a simple hand gesture or head nod.

     The best part about this community is how inclusive it is. It doesn't matter who you are, your age, race, gender, economic background, or beliefs; everyone is treated equally. Other motorcyclists won't judge you for your bike. You'll get the same attention riding a brand new $30,000 Honda Goldwing as you will a beat up, $500 250cc starter bike. New riders are given special attention, since bikers want to set a good impression and encourage them to continue riding.

     Women from my experience talking to other riders are also given extra respect as riders. Traditionally, motorcycling has been seen as a male activity, but the times are quickly changing. When I inform other riders that my sister has a bike, they are impressed and excited. I am too. I'm happy that there are many strong and independent women out there who are going against the grain of society and changing cultural norms. It's doing a huge favor for the motorcycling community as well by making it more inclusive. Sure, there are the a few riders who are stuck in their old ways, but in general, motorcyclists see it as a good thing.

     Motorcycling has really changed my life in so many ways. It's not just the thrill of travelling, or the sense of freedom only achieved by riding. It's the people who form this community that make riding such a pleasure. It saddens me that there are many people out there who see motorcyclists the way I did long ago. My greatest hope is that one day, everyone will be able to share these experiences. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: RollBags



     Chances are, if you own an older or smaller motorcycle, your large volume luggage options are limited. These bikes aren't designed to tour even though they are perfectly capable machines, and that means that the luggage bags you do bring with you can only really be jerry rigged to your bike. You can't get those big suitcases like the ones that mount to the back of a sissy bar on a Harley. If you do need high volume luggage space, the best option is a rollbag.

     Oxford makes a fantastic rollbags available in multiple sizes. For a smaller or classic bike, the Aqua30 and Aqua50 bags are the way to go. They are extremely durable, and don't rip as you try to cram all your belongings inside. They are also waterproof, and protected my laptop and clothes against days of heavy rain without a single drop of water entering the bag. They can be mounted on your bike however you want with no additional accessories. The four included straps work well to hold the rollbag in place, although it is a good idea to check the tightness every time you stop.


Oxford Roll up jerry rigged to my bike

     When it comes to choosing between the 30 or 50 gallon bag, I would strongly recommend going with the larger Aqua50. The only difference in size between the two is the circumference of the bag, not the width. Since they are soft luggage, the compression straps on the outside of the bags will remove any unused space. In this respect, you might as well have the extra 20 gallons of space just in case you need it. The $15 difference in price is well worth it. Besides, you may need room for souvenirs!

Review: Travel Pillows

     You know the problem here. You just woke up at camp, and you're packing everything on your bike. There's one last item you need to stuff into your saddlebag, and it seems stubborn about fitting. No matter how hard you try, it seems like you just can't close and lock the luggage. That item is your pillow.
     Pillows in general are the epitome of wasted space. They have to be light, fluffy, and comfortable. For riding purposes, pillows also have to be very small. The following are alternatives to full size pillows rated by overall value:

1. Stuff Sack Pillows




     Probably the most nontechnical of the travel pillows, the stuff sack pillow is simply a waterproof bag that you throw your laundry into and close. It's absolutely genius. I say that because it is reliable but also small. It may not be the most comfortable alternative, but I've had a few decent nights of sleep using it.

Pros:

  • Reliable
  • Cheap
  • Extremely small

Cons:

  • Not very comfortable

2. Compressible Pillow




     Compressible pillows are essentially small pillows that roll up inside themselves to be even smaller. Even in their rolled up state, they take up way more space than seems necessary. They are still considerably smaller than a full size pillow, but I don't find them to be particularly comfortable. They feel like the courtesy pillows you get on an airplane, but worse.

Pros:

  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Not very comfortable
  • Bulky

3. Inflatable Pillows     




     I've found the inflatable pillow to be the most comfortable of all the pillows, and its small size is marvelous. Even the valves on the new models have very little resistance, assuring that you can blow one up with three or four full breaths late at night after an exhaustive day of riding. It has only one issue, and a major one at that. The plastic lining inside the pillow is way too thin, and mine popped on the third day of use. It wasn't defective. It just wasn't durable. For that reason, it is the lowest on the list.

Pros:

  • Moderately comfortable
  • Small

Cons:

  • Not durable

Review: Heated Jackets

     Heated jackets/liners are the greatest thing to come to motorcycle travelling since the saddlebag. Not only are they amazing at keeping you warm in the coldest riding conditions, but they also save space by replacing the many layers you would need to achieve a warmth even close to what heated jackets provide. Although expensive, they are almost a necessity on long rides, even when temperatures are as warm as 60 degrees.
     Choosing a heated jacket/liner is not an easy task. There are two kinds of heated jackets: those that run on your bike's battery, and those that have their own internal batteries. The following are heated jackets rated by overall value:

1. Heated Jacket Liners That Run on the Bike's Battery



     This is by far the best option. You never have to worry about running an internal battery dry, and they are extremely warm. They don't consume as much power from your bike as you would think. I was able to run my GPS, charge my phone, and keep my jacket liner at 100% power without draining the battery of my '73 CB750 with an aftermarket alternator. Additional equipment to increase the liner's functionality may increase the net cost, but it's well worth it.

Pros:

  • Very warm
  • Endless power when connected to bike
  • Consumes relatively little of your bike's battery

Cons:

  • Doesn't work when detached without additional equipment
  • You have to unplug it every time you get off your bike
  • Expensive external temperature controller recommended

2. Heated Jackets That Run on an Internal Battery



     Although heated jackets with an internal battery provide the ability to conveniently run off the bike in cold temperatures, they are not suitable for the needs of the motorcycle traveler. They do not get nearly as warm as those that run on your bike's battery, and the battery only lasts 2 hours at 100% power. They also can't charge while connected to the jacket, so you can either charge the battery or use it, but not both. It takes 3-4 hours to fully charge, so it takes twice as long to charge it than the time you can use it. It's great for watching football games on a snowy day, but not for long riding days with the wind continuously pounding your chest.

Pros:

  • Detatchable
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • Not very warm
  • Battery does not last long enough for a long ride

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.



Variables


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.



Time

     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.



Equipment

     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 REI.com. 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.


Basic:

  • 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

Recommended:


  • 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)

Camping

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


Basic:


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

Recommended:


  • 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.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 19: Macon, GA. Monday, May 26, 2014

     I went outside in the morning to get some fresh air and check that no one had stolen my bike overnight. Liz was still there, so I went to the gas station next door and bought some beef jerky. Then I went back into the hotel, locked my door, and prepared for a day of sitting in front of my computer. I would leave this room only one other time that day to stock up on more beef jerky. Beef jerky isn’t nutritious, but it was the closest thing I was going to have to a real meal.

I called my dad and described the hotel I was staying at. He laughed, which made me feel a bit better since he didn’t seem to be too concerned with my safety. I didn’t really give him all the details of the hotel until after I returned home, which completely changed his perspective. At the time, his reassuring words were all I needed.

     Before my trip, I had a serious addiction to the PC game Farming Simulator. It was a game that, you guessed it, simulated being a farmer. It was actually an extremely boring and repetitive game, but it was terribly addictive. The CD was already loaded in the tray of my laptop, and I pulled it up for the only time during my journey. 


     I made it just past the title screen before I felt a sharp anxiousness. It was the kind of anxiousness you feel the day before a big test, and you are still procrastinating. All this time I had kept myself busy; eating and drinking, sleeping, riding, and gas stops were the only part of the equation up until this point, with the exception of a few isolated hours during the previous day. I felt like I was wasting time, even though this was the only opportunity I had to truly relax. I still couldn’t do it. I had to be doing something productive, so I pulled up my online journal with the unreliable internet service and wrote as much about the trip as I could remember. It ended up being the smarter decision, because I wrote late into the night and was able to double the size of my journal. Writing didn’t really dissolve my fears over the situation that I was presented with or make time appear to move faster, but it did give me something to do while waiting to get out of that prison. It really was a prison. I was stuck in that room because I was overconfident with my lacking mechanical abilities, and now I was serving time for it. This analogy is only further proven by the felons that inhabited the hotel.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 18: Cartersville, GA - Macon, GA. Sunday, May 25, 2014

     I woke up extremely tired at about 5:30 in the morning. I couldn’t budge. Beaufort, South Carolina was only 350 miles away, so I figured the ride was short enough to tackle with a few extra hours. I just fell back asleep.

     I got up again at around 8:30. This time, I had just enough energy to crawl out of my broken tent and pack my bike. I went to the camp office to make sure my late registration was kosher. The manager told me that the tent spots were actually under renovations, and so I wasn’t going to be charged for the night. Sweet.


     Along my way, I pulled up next to an older motorcyclist who had a 1978 BMW r80/7. It was in great condition, but we didn’t talk too long before the light turned green.

     I was about 80 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia in Macon when my motorcycle started vibrating again. Georgia roads are the worst in the country. The vibration wasn’t too bad, but I felt it could still use some attention. I pulled off to a Shell station, and check my chain. The manual called for ¾” of slack, but I had about 1 ¼” of slack.

     I thought it would be a simple fix. I just needed to adjust the tension bolts on the back of the bike, except I should have had it on the center stand because there was too much load on the rear tire. As a result, when I went to tighten the chain (which I did too much) the wheel popped far back so the chain was under extreme pressure. The load was so strong that I bent the tension bolts as I was trying to turn them to get it back in working order. My bike wasn’t going anywhere.

     I searched up every motorcycle repair shop in Macon, but they were all closed on Sundays. Tomorrow was Memorial day, so nothing was going to be open for another two days. I painstakingly pushed my 500 pound bike with 75 pounds of gear under heavy chain pressure to the hotel next door and parked it near the entrance of the hotel. I couldn’t push it uphill to an open parking spot by myself since the pressure on the chain was just too great.

     I tried to buy a room for two nights at the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay. All of my information was in the system, but when I reached for my wallet, it was gone.

     I went back to the gas station, but it wasn’t in the parking lot. I asked the gas station attendant if anyone brought it in, and she said no. Finally, I saw a black rectangle in the street. I picked it up, and sure enough, I had my wallet back. I kicked myself for putting it on the seat of the bike instead of securing it in the tank bag.

     I paid for the two night stay and checked in to my room. It was dirty and in desperate need of a renovation. There were some holes in the wall. The grubby, old air conditioning unit struggled to keep the room cool. The sheets were stained and there were dead bugs in it. There was even a tube television. I haven’t seen one of those in a while. The carpet was also stained and dirty. The fire alarm had been removed and was on the desk. The bathroom was moldy and there were no towels of any sort. I wasn’t going to shower here.


The crappy room I lived in for two days 

Only the best at the Palm Tree Inn Extended Stay

     I’m sure at one point when the hotel was a Motel 6 that it was half decent, but now it was a mess. Cigarette butts lined the floor of the “nonsmoking” hotel. There was trash everywhere. I was thankful I couldn’t smell, but the air still made me dizzy.

     I brought out a dirty cart to my bike, unloaded my stuff, and brought everything in. The first thing I did was check on my computer to see that the hotel had Wifi. The concierge didn’t mention wifi, so I really hoped that I would have access to the internet. I was going to be here for a while.

     Nope, nope, nope. The hotel didn’t have Wifi, and I went through all of the hot spots in the area, but they were all secured. I tried to use my phone as a 3G hotspot for my computer, but I needed to purchase an extension from Verizon. Finally, I tried accessing my journal on my phone, but the file was too large to transfer through 3G. I really shouldn’t have uploaded the pictures until I was done.

     I made one last ditch effort to check the local hotspots again. I tried the Wifi of “Motel 6”, and to my surprise, MSN.com popped up on my open browser. Thank you, Motel 6, for living on after the hotel staff killed you long ago. Since I had so much time, I crawled in to bed and took a four hour nap. Like I said before, time is a luxury and I only eat and sleep just as much as I need to to function.

     Of course when I got up, I was really hungry. I walked about a mile and a half by the side of the road to a Longhorn’s Steakhouse. I ate a 16 ounce prime rib in no time, and then walked another mile and a half back to the hotel.

     I witnessed a drug deal just outside the motel on my way in. If there were as many mechanics here as there were drug dealers, I would have been in good shape. I wasn’t that lucky though. Since I had so much extra time, for the first time during my journey, I actually spent time relaxing. No racing the clock to the next campsite. No talking to strangers. No worrying; at least that’s what I told myself.

     I was a bit concerned when one of the patrons even asked what my colors were. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was asking what gang I belonged to. Apparently, there was a gang staying in this hotel a few rooms over. Whatever, I had no beef with them.

     I looked up online at the reviews for this hotel. They started to scare me, so I just closed my browser and pretended everything was fine. I was really scared though. I don’t think I had ever felt that unsafe in my life.

     I considered leaving, but I wouldn’t be able to push my bike up the hill to get it out of the parking lot. It was stuck here, and I wasn’t going to leave my motorcycle. I called my sister, because she usually helped me feel better. The conversation only made me feel worse, as my bike breaking down could mean that I miss her high school graduation party.

     At the very least, I found it easy to fall asleep. It had been a long and terrible day.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 17: Memphis, TN - Cartersville, GA. Saturday, May 24, 2014

     It was still dark when I was packing up my tent, and I was feeling kinda groggy. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I broke one of the tent poles. I was having a really rough morning. I didn’t care. I had dealt with way worse problems on my trip, and this was only a minor inconvenience. The sad thing was that it had only just paid for itself in savings versus a cabin, but I would have liked to have a cabin all the other times I used a tent. I should have bought the two person tent so I could actually sit up in it at the very least. Before long I was packed and ready to go to North Carolina.

     I only made it 50 miles northeast of Memphis when I changed my mind decided to stop in Birmingham, Alabama before reaching Atlanta, Georgia by the end of the day. I had never been to Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana, but Louisiana was too far south to include in the day’s trip and still reach the east coast on time.


     It took me about 4 hours to get to Birmingham, but I didn’t see anything interesting. It was really surprising; how uninteresting the city was, in a bizarre kind of way. It was a great looking city, but something seemed out of place.

     I was almost on my way back on the highway when it hit me: the streets were vacant. I have been to a lot of cities; LA, San Francisco, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis and other smaller towns and villages. Some were large and some were small but all of them had at least some traffic. Birmingham didn’t have any traffic. It was rare to see a car on the road. Maybe I was missing something.

All the streets of Birmingham were empty 

     Between Birmingham and Atlanta, the scenery reminded me of South Carolina. I couldn’t put it in exact words, but the trees, grass and just the feel of the environment was exactly like South Carolina, except without palm trees and water.


Alabama and Georgia scenery 

     I put in effort to see Atlanta before I reached Cartersville. I’m not sure why I did. By then I should have known that cities are just as exciting as the country unless I have a reason to be there. The most the city did for me was provide a place for me to take a picture as proof that I was there.


Atlanta: famous for providing places for people to take pictures of the city

     I was at the campsite fifteen minutes before closing time, but I found the office doors locked. I considered going to a hotel nearby, but I didn’t want to spend the money. I filled out a late registration form for a tent spot, dropped it in the registration box, and went to one of the few tent spots that weren’t reserved.

     Since I didn’t get the info packet from the office, I didn’t know what the Wifi password was. I really wanted to catch up on my journal, so I asked an older man who just outside the cabin next to my tent spot. He said they never told him what it was either. Since I had nothing better to do, I started a conversation with him. I was really glad I did.

     I told him about my trip, and he recalled memories of his time after he came back from the war in Vietnam. He and five friends bought motorcycles, and went on an 8 month trip around the entire United States. They saw absolutely everything the country had to offer, from the redwoods in California to the east coast and everything in between. When he wasn’t riding, he gambled and acquainted himself with every woman within reach. He told me the best times to gamble were Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Monday was when the casinos got their money back. I’m not a big gambler, but it was nice to know if I ever went to Vegas.

     Today, he was camping with his sons. He lived in Florida but had a sister who lived nearby. He had a lot of siblings growing up in New York, but none of them stayed there. One lived in Maine, another in Arkansas, one in Phoenix. He said he was going to go camping again because he hadn’t seen his sister in Colorado in a while. We wished each other good luck and I started a fire in what looked like a makeshift fire pit. None of the other tent spots had a fire pit, so I didn’t know if the previous camper just made one and left it or not. I didn’t care if I was allowed to start a fire. I could always say that the pit was there when I set up, so I had a pretty good excuse. I ended up seeing one of the campsite staff and got the Wifi password: “happycamping”. I updated my journal late into the night before setting up my broken tent.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 16: Sallisaw, OK - Memphis, TN. Friday, May 23, 2014

     I was shocked to see that it was bright outside when I got out of bed and opened the curtains of the cabin. I checked the time: 7:00 am. I was so used to being up earlier that it felt like most of the day was already gone. I wasted no time packing my motorcycle and was out of the campsite by 8.

     I only had about 300 miles to the next campsite on the Arkansas side of Memphis, so I wasn’t really that concerned about getting there on time. I did want to fit in my last oil change of the trip as well as a desperately needed wash for my motorcycle, since those things always take a lot of time.

     The weather that day was fantastic. It was just warm enough that I wouldn’t have to wear any layers including my leather jacket, but it was cool enough that I wasn’t spending much time pulled over by the side of the road for Gatorade breaks.

     I was hoping to see the city of Little Rock, but the interstate took me around it. It was just another city to me, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on too much. I pulled over at a rest stop and had a small chat with a truck driver. He said that he had finished the 72 ounce steak in Amarillo. The secret was to cut the steak up into tiny pieces to the point at which he could eat it with a spoon. That way the steak takes up less room in the stomach. I finished off a bottle of Gatorade and heading back on the road.

     I had had a lot of conversations with truck drivers, and my journey gave me a high respect for them. I knew what it felt like mile after mile in complete isolation, and only sparing time to eat and sleep. The road can really get to you after a while. It can make you crazy, and the only socialization that you get is short small talk with random strangers.

     About 50 miles before I reached Memphis, my motorcycle started rumbling terribly. It was vibrating so strongly that I didn’t think I would make it to Memphis. I knew it was the chain just because of the way the ride felt, and I was worried that by the time I reached a mechanic that my sprockets would be toast. Most shops don’t carry sprockets for a 1973 CB750, so if they were shredded, my trip was over. Even if they had to replace just the chain, I would need it readjusted 500 miles later.

     I went straight to a Honda dealership on the Tennessee side of Memphis. I had them do an oil change and tighten the chain. I waited anxiously for an hour and a half in the dealership lounge, but I had to calm myself down so I talked to another motorcyclist. He was a heavy, older man, who said he had a Honda VTX cruiser and was getting it serviced. Whenever the weather was good, he would take it down to Mississippi for a day.

     I told him about my journey, which he found amazing but somewhat hard to believe. Maybe it was the way I phrased it:

“I’m from Columbus, Ohio, but I made a quick stop in San Francisco before coming here to Memphis, Tennessee”.

     I told him I was just a teenager, and he said that they should make a documentary about me. I said I had a journal, which he thought was a great idea. Our conversation didn’t last too long before his bike’s oil change was done. At about the time that he left the dealership, a representative called for me.

“Your oil looks very good. It’s not sludgy or burnt, so your engine must be in very good shape. As for the chain, it was very loose, but we tightened it. Both the sprockets and chain look good.”

     I let out a major sigh of relief. Labor and parts set me back about a hundred dollars, but I was so glad that I would be back on the road.

     I went to the campsite, but not before stopping at a gas station and having a freak out moment where I thought I lost my credit card. I found that I had put it behind my driver’s license when I left the dealership, but I really didn’t need any more scares for the day. I ended up talking to an older gentleman for 15 minutes who had a custom motorcycle shop, and wanted a picture of my bike since he hadn’t seen one in a long time. He said if I ever wanted to deck out my motorcycle, I could bring it to his shop. After he took a few pictures, I headed out of the gas station parking lot.

     When I reached the campsite half an hour away, I bought a tent spot, unloaded my luggage, and headed straight back to a car wash next to the dealership where I had my bike serviced. I wasn’t worried that anyone would steal my stuff. There were other motorcyclists camping near my tent spot. I trusted that they would make sure no one took anything.

     Memphis had the most cops of any place I have ever seen. They were everywhere on the highway, and there were five parked across the street from the car wash. I even saw a guy being arrested as I was waiting for my motorcycle to cool.

     I couldn’t immediately wash my motorcycle because the engine was still too hot from riding on the highway. To pass the time, I sparked up a conversation with a guy who was detailing the wheels of his clean, late model, black Dodge Charger.

     He noticed my bike, and said that he used to ride a similar bike when he was little. His dad once bought a beat up old motorcycle and spent 3 weeks welding parts together to rebuild the frame and get the thing running. I said that there was a lot of money in building custom motorcycles, asked if his dad ever thought about it. He said that at one point his dad did own a custom shop, but he had several strokes that prevented him from continuing, and now he was living in Mississippi on social security checks.

     He said that he had a late model Honda VTX cruiser, but he didn’t ride it too often. People in Memphis have no regard for motorcyclists on the road, and it was kinda dangerous. I told him about my lane sharing experiences in LA, to which he told me I could do it in Memphis but it wasn’t legal. He asked if he could get a picture with my motorcycle because, like the gentleman at the gas station, it had been so long since he had seen one. He gave me his phone and I got a few good shots before giving it back to him. Before he left, he gave me a free salad coupon good at the Wendy’s nearby. He said he was a manager at a Wendy’s that was further than the one up the street, and if I went the extra distance and mentioned to the staff that he sent me, they would take care of me. I really appreciated the offer, but I was in the mood for some Memphis ribs. 


     I cleaned my bike, but not before getting a bill stuck in the wash vending machine and going around the corner to a laundromat for change so I could use the coin acceptor instead. My motorcycle looked fantastic after the wash, and I went to Leonard’s Pit BBQ.

The outside of Leonard’s Pit BBQ

     Leonard’s Pit BBQ looked pretty ordinary from the outside, but it all ends there. Inside the restaurant there was a 1940s or 50s era truck smack dab in the middle of the dining room, with 50s style decor on the walls.


The dining room of Leonard’s Pit BBQ 

     Memphis is known for its ribs, so I ordered a slab of dry ribs. As I was waiting, I saw two people stop and check out Liz, including a police officer. I don’t think any kind of Harley could attract as much attention as my bike did that day. When ribs arrived at my table, I found them to be even better than the ribs I had in Kansas City from Jack Stack BBQ. They were incredibly tender and spicy, but not overwhelming so. I don’t think I’ve ever downed a slab of ribs as quickly as I did at Leonard’s.

     I passed the police officer on the way to the restroom. I was still wearing my shorty gloves (the kind that only motorcyclists wear), so he knew the bike belonged to me. We had a short conversation about the bike. He couldn’t believe it was in such good shape for its age. He told me he had a Victory motorcycle, but not one of the big touring bikes with all the fairing. It was a stripped down, naked sportster. He also said he wasn’t a police officer. He was a security guard for the restaurant. The crime rate in Memphis was even worse than I thought. Even as I went back to my table, I saw the waitress with a security device, and she was about to reach for my wallet to put it behind the front counter. She told me that I clearly had never been to Memphis before. I won’t make that mistake again.


Even better ribs! 

I went back to the campsite just outside the city. To no surprise (even in Memphis), no one had touched my stuff. I set up my tent and got inside, but I struggled to fall asleep.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 15: Amarillo, TX - Sallisaw, OK. Thursday, May 22, 2014

     I woke up at 3:00 am feeling ready for the 400 mile journey to the campsite along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. I cleaned out my water bottles and packed up my motorcycle for the day’s trip. Yet only an hour into my ride, I was overcome with exhaustion.

     I thought for the longest time that my exhaustion was due to dehydration. That certainly was the case when i was crossing deserts, but I was now in the plains. I had been feeling very tired every day since I left Ohio. I was getting enough rest, so it couldn't be sleep deprivation. I was eating plenty of food, so it couldn’t be lack of energy, or so I thought.

     It wasn't until I pulled off the highway at an abandoned gas station and reached for a stick of beef jerky that I realized why I was getting so tired all the time. Beef jerky; Calories: 120. I scanned the nutrition facts label of my Gatorade bottle. Gatorade; Calories: 80. I had been eating a lot of food only to realize now that there was no energy content in anything I was eating. I was taking more breaks than I needed to and suffering exhaustion needlessly because I was eating the wrong foods.


One of the many abandoned gas stations in the west 

     Simple problems have simple solutions. I took my bike 10 miles up the highway to a gas station that wasn’t abandoned. I looked at the nutrition facts label of a few different foods when I came upon 250 calorie skittles. I grabbed a handful, paid, and munched down two of them.

     Within two hours, I was feeling on top of the world again, and better than most days on the road (except for the days I had a high calorie McDonald’s meal or a 72 ounce steak). The remaining 150 miles to camp was a breeze.

     The terrain changed in Oklahoma from the dry, desert looking atmosphere to the greener, tree covered, Ohio feel. It definitely felt more like home. The only unwelcome change was the bugs. There were no bugs in the west, but they were everywhere here. I didn’t care though. I was just glad to be somewhere that reminded me of home.

     I stopped in Oklahoma City. From the highway, it looked like the most average city in America. If I googled “City”, I’m sure the first result would be a picture of Oklahoma City.


Oklahoma City: The most spectacularly average city in the United States

     I stopped in a parking space downtown and checked my phone. I was craving a good burger, and found Bricktown Burgers just down the street. Bricktown Burgers was well decorated inside, with various vintage signs covering the walls. I approached the counter, ordered a burger, and waited until they called my name.

     The burger they handed to me was just like Oklahoma City itself. It looked very ordinary. But when I took my first bite, I was transported to a world of juicy and fatty heaven. This was no ordinary burger. It was handcrafted by artisans of the highest skill, and I had the privilege of experiencing the greatest burger of my entire 19 year old life. I finished the whole thing almost before I could even taste it. Maybe Oklahoma was the same way. Ordinary from the outside, but full of hidden treasure. I just wish I had the time to experience it.

     That burger fueled me to the KOA campsite in Sallisaw, but I almost left the campsite in anger. I was there early at about 4:00 and went into the office. The owner was talking to another guy for a whole ten minutes while I was just standing in front of the desk where he was standing. After he had finished, I said at least three times that I wanted to pay for some detergent with my cabin, which he forgot. Then the phone rang and he was talking on the phone while his daughter of about 8 years rang up my detergent. To finish it all off, he forgot to give me my cabin key. I made it to my motorcycle when I remembered seeing the keys on the counter. I went back in, took them, and left.

     At the very least, after the phone conversation was over and he was giving me the usual camp instructions, he said firewood was $5. Then he realized he had pretty much ignored me for the last ten minutes and said:

“I don’t normally do this, but you can use the cut down trees in the nature walk for free firewood”.

     Damn straight.


My small masterpiece 

     The rest of the night went by much smoother. I did my laundry, then went to McDonalds (because you can never get tired of McDonalds when all you eat is beef jerky, candy bars, and Gatorade), worked on my journal, and built a fire. I took my first shower since I was in LA. The showers weren’t the nicest I had ever seen, but it never felt so good to be clean. I didn’t even care that I had no towel.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 14: Grants, NM - Amarillo, TX. Wednesday, May 21, 2014

     Maybe it was because I overslept, or I ate too much. Maybe the road was finally getting to me. Whatever it was, this day felt like the worst day of the trip. I had about 10 hours of sleep, the most of any day so far (not counting the 5 hour nap I took the previous day). I also had the most to eat this day. I stopped at two McDonalds and also ate more bags of beef jerky than I can count. My biggest problem seemed to be that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

     Time was a luxury that I never had enough of. I thought at the beginning of my trip that I would have more downtime than I would know what to do with. That was why I brought my laptop. Now, if I wasn't on the road or sleeping, which usually took up the entire day, I could be doing laundry, showering, cleaning my bike, helmet, or water bottles, updating my journal, or a host of other things to prepare myself for the next day.

     On my way to Texas, I stopped at a gas station. That is, what was left of it.


Guess I’m not getting gas 

     Abandoned gas stations were common in the more western states of the U.S.A, but I had never seen one eaten by an inferno. I was really hoping to fill up on Gatorade because I was completely out, but the next gas station in an actual town nearby worked the same.

     Traffic in Albuquerque actually wasn’t too bad. I really didn’t know I was passing through the city until I was ascending the mountain just east of the city. The steep climb up the mountain didn’t last too long either, and it quickly flattened out. As expected, the higher altitude chilled the air, and I stopped at the same visitor’s center where I met the man from Wisconsin who travelled South America. I really wished I hadn’t lost his business card. I filled up my tank and continued through New Mexico.

     The desert in eastern New Mexico was warmer on the return than it was when I first crossed it. The first time I went through it, the temperature was fifty five degrees. Now it was a pleasant eighty degrees. I was still feeling inexplicably tired and down, though. I thought Amarillo was a really small town. Coming from the east on back roads, I only saw a small section of it. Coming from the west on the Interstate Highway, I could see the entire city. It really was a city, not a town. Medium sized office complexes, tons of restaurants and things to do; I missed it all the last time I was here. By the time I reached camp though, I was so tired from the ride that all I could do was go to sleep. It was rather windy, so I took another cabin.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 13: Holbrook, AZ - Grants, NM. Tuesday, May 20, 2014

     I didn’t really sleep the night before. Even after my strange rattlesnake experience, I forced myself up at 5:30 in the morning. I only had a few hours of sleep. It was just enough to get me going, but only for a while. I was riding on borrowed energy, and it was about to run out.

     I passed the same gas station where I bought the magnet for my gas tank, and bought another one in case I lost the first one, as well as a Route 66 mug. I like collecting mugs for some reason. I love coffee, and having lots of mugs is convenient. I didn’t have room to carry the mug on my bike because it was delicate, so I went across the street to the post office to ship my spare magnet, mug, and the rain jacket that I never used back home.

     I made it just over 150 miles to Grants, New Mexico before my body told me that it had reached its limit. My brain was absolutely fried. I couldn’t think, and I could hardly keep my eyes open and on the road. Grants was a one horse town, but it was nice that I didn’t to have to deal with traffic and the city of Albuquerque. I checked into a cabin at the local KOA, pulled the equipment into my cabin, and slept very deeply for 5 hours straight. I really needed the rest.

     It was 6:30 pm by the time I was up, and I was really hungry. I was craving BBQ, so I searched up the only BBQ restaurant in the town. When I got there, it looked like it had been closed down for years, so I went down the street to the burger joint “Badlands Burgers” and ate there.


“Badlands Burgers” where I had dinner

     The inside of the burger joint was empty, except for the owner and two of his kids. Since there weren’t any other customers and he noticed that I was alone, He decided to start a conversation with me that lasted through dinner.


The inside of “Badlands Burgers”

     We talked about the Pacific Coast Highway. I asked him if he had ever been on it. He said he went most of the way in his truck. He also used to live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has seen most of I-40. I probably should have asked him what brought him from a large city in North Carolina to a place like Grants, New Mexico, but the burger was so good that I got lost in it. We didn’t talk too much about my trip before I headed out; my sense of taste overwhelmed my sense of sound.

     Back at camp, I had just pulled out my laptop when an older, nicely dressed man smoking a cigar stopped and looked at my bike. He spoke in a deep German accent.

“Is this your motorcycle?”
“Yeah. I’m on my way cross country across the United States.”
“It’s interesting. I don’t see a lot of Americans going coast to coast”

     He was certainly right. The only American I met going coast to coast was the motorcyclist I met just outside of Kansas City. He continued:

“It’s great that you are doing this. Many things will happen to you in life; but no matter what, no one will be able to take this experience away from you. So what do you do for a living?”

“I worked at Kroger for 5 ½ years before I went on this trip. I’m a student”.
“What are you studying?”
“Business. I want to be a fund manager”.

“Ahh. I do a lot of that sort of thing. I’m looking at several companies now, but I think the market is going to fall soon. I might sell my stocks and go into commodities for the time being”.

     With that statement, a light bulb turned on in my mind.

“Well, wouldn’t that be a bad idea? Even if you were 100% sure the market was going to collapse, if you sold now and it took a year or two for the economy to follow, you would be losing capital gains and dividends in the process. When it finally does collapse, you don’t know if the stock prices will fall enough to offset capital gains taxes and brokerage fees you will incur from selling. I also wouldn’t go into commodities unless I was the producer of a commodity. Say I bought some diamonds in South Africa. What stops a diamond mine from flooding the market tomorrow and devaluing my holdings?”

     I think he opened up a little after I said that. Maybe it wasn’t something he was expecting a teenager in a leather jacket to say at a campsite in the middle of nowhere. We then had a long discussion about the global economy and the stupidity of derivatives and banks, as well as different investing strategies. I could tell this guy was pretty well off, and not just because he told me he downsized from a million dollar home to a $400,000 townhouse for extra investing money. He had the mind of a true value investor, and he had the knowledge to back it up. A commodities discussion took us into salmon fishing, and he told me that the sonar system Alaska uses to track the fish population is accurate to the hundreds. Fishing is regulated so there is just the right amount of fish along the coast to reproduce. I absolutely loved the conversation. I checked the reviews for “Badlands Burgers”. I wanted to know why the restaurant was so empty, as there is usually a very good reason. Nope. It was a very highly rated restaurant, and everyone seemed to have a good experience. The food, as I experienced myself, was fantastic. I was actually baffled that the restaurant wasn’t as busy as it should have been. Maybe it was just an off day for the restaurant.