Saturday, May 31, 2008

Carne Asada and Totopos

The best barbecue in all of Mexico.

We turned around to eat at this food stand because the food smelled so good as we passed. It's called "Comedor Miriam," and it's about as rustic as they come, with chickens running around, a dirt floor and a giant tree growing out of the middle of the kitchen. The meat was incredible, served with beans, roast veggies, avocado, fresh cheese, salsa fresca and totopos, a cross between a crispy tortilla and a cracker.

The heat coming from the coals in the bottom of the oven was intense.

The totopos are prepared similar to Indian naan bread, thrown against the inside of a round glazed oven cast in concrete. The little holes poked in them are to keep them from exploding.

Closeup of the glazed oven and the totopes cooking.

It's very popular place, with lots of truck drivers and locals stopping as they travel along the coastal road between Oaxaca and Chiapas. The man that was eating before us told me that he travels for work and it's the best food stand for miles in any direction.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Traditional Oaxacan Butcher

Calf standing in front of a traditional open-air butcher in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Guy radioed "check out the butcher on the left" as we passed and I did a fast u-turn when I saw the calf standing in front of fresh meat. After making small talk with the people, I pointed at the calf standing and asked "does he know he's next?" The woman in charge laughed and said "¡Soy su mamá! - I'm his mother, he's got a long life ahead of him!" He was rejected by his mother at birth, so she bottle-feeds him and keeps him nearby.

There's nothing hidden or mechanized in the processing of meat in rural Mexico.

Once the people saw that I wasn't grossed out or judgmental, they relaxed and started asking questions about the U.S., including how cows are butchered - in some ways the same, in some very different! They showed me their tools, explained the different parts, and demonstrated bottle-feeding the calf. They were very proud to continue a long local tradition.

A beautiful little girl in Oaxaca very proud of her baby chick.

This little girl got in the act, hamming it up for the camera, proudly showing her toys and possessions, including this baby chick. Like just about everywhere else in rural Mexico, everyone was incredibly open, kind and warm.

Bombed Out Beach Town

A typical street in Cuyutlán, in Colima, Mexico.

We ended up in Cuyutlán because it was starting to getting late and we needed to get off the road. An expat American living there called it a "faded beach town." That's putting it mildly: it's so badly maintained that some buildings and streets looked like they've been carpet bombed.

In some places the decay was so bad that it was almost beautiful.

Entire sections of streets have fallen apart and not been repaired. There are piles of trash drifting in the breeze, street lamps fallen or with wires hanging out, and literally everything crumbling. Nobody seems to care or even notice the mess.

Thousands of beach chairs lined up in Cuyutlán, and not a single person using them.

On the beach there were thousands of chairs in front of every hotel and not a single person sitting in even one of them. So strange. I can't quite figure out what's going on, but I wouldn't want to go back to find out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Guerrero indigenous laborer on a donkey.

I slammed my brakes on as soon as I saw this man riding on his donkey on the outskirts of Pinotepa Nacional, in the Mexican state of Guerrero. I asked his permission for a photo, and at first he said no, asking "porque quiere? (why do you want it?)" I talked with him for a while and finally he agreed to pose when I told him my friends and family are interested in the people of Mexico.

It's more than a little uncomfortable at times to be on an BMW motorcycle, taking photos with an expensive camera of people that make only a few dollars a day. We couldn't possibly lead more different lives, but the barriers just melted away when I talked with him, showing respect for him and interest in his way of life.

Mexico on Fire

There are fires dotting the Mexican landscape.

There are fires all along the coast of Mexico, along roadsides and in fields. I accidentally rode through a sheet of fire that was whipped up by the wind - I told Guy "no need to shave today, all the exposed hairs on my body are singed off." Old cars and trucks add their clouds of blue-black exhaust to the mix. Guy has had a terrible cough for a week and we both have big nasty boogers at the end of each day. Yuck.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


The sky and clouds would change every few minutes

This little pueblo at the end of dirt and then sand roads was a beautiful and peaceful place to rest for an evening after a couple of long days of riding. Both of us almost dropped our motorcycles in the deep sand in front of the hotel, but it was well worth it.

Last glow of sunset on the beach at Huatabampito

Eat Like a Local

Shrimp al Mojo de Ajo in Jalisco

I've been told "don't eat from stands, don't eat uncooked lettuce or veggies, eat only fruit that's not been peeled or cut by someone else, etc." Screw that, we're eating! We pulled up to taco stands and shanty-looking cafes and got meals that would put expensive restaurants back home to shame. We've also had a chance to eat a few local specialties:

Camarones Secas, kind of like shrimp jerky

Camarones Secas, shrimp dried in brine that you eat with a garlic dipping sauce. They taste kind of like shrimp jerky - absolutely delicious.

Jalisco mangos with salt, lime and chili

Mangos with chili, lime and salt. I loved it but Guy said it didn't sit well on his stomach.

Coronita - like a Corona beer, only smaller

No, Guy didn't shrink his beer: those are Coronitas, which are just Coronas, only smaller.

The best burrito I've had in years.

Burrito de Camarones, prepared with sauteed onions, vegetables and chilies, folded into a tortilla, then grilled.

Guy has had a plate of shrimp al mojo de ajo at almost every meal. The price is usually somewhere between 40 and 80 pesos, or about 4-8 dollars, including drinks.

The Beemer

a BMW R1150GS in its element

I bought a well-used BMW R1150GS motorcycle about six months ago and christened her "Claudia." It's designed for this kind of trip: tall for extra ground clearance, crash guards for the inevitable drop, built-in luggage cases, and tires and suspension that can handle dirt and gravel roads. The first owner took her all the way from California to the southern tip of South America. So far she's worked great, although the front shock is leaking oil and might be a problem soon... we'll get it checked out in Guatemala.

¡Latin America!

Finding shade in the searing hot Sonoran desert

I'm riding through Mexico and the Central American countries for the next month, turning around at the Panama Canal and heading back to California using a different route. I've been planning this trip with my friend Guy for over a year, and after a couple of delays and near cancellations, we're on the road and in Mexico.

The first couple of days were long and fast, getting to the border, then getting across the Sonoran desert. We're now in the state of Jalisco, which is hot, humid and starting to feel tropical.

Tortelleria in a small town north of Puerto Vallarta

Sunday, June 03, 2007

There's no one out here

Nothing but birds living in this abandoned farmhouse in North Dakota.

I used county roads to ride northwest from Fargo across North Dakota, and it's the first time in a while that I've been spooked by the lack of people. It's empty out there. There are many abandoned farmhouses and barns, but every field was planted with some type of grain. Someone is farming the land, but they sure aren't living on it.

North Dakota grain fields and trees.

Rural depopulation has been happening for generations, but it's scary to see that it's happened to this degree. I was worried I'd run out of gas between stations, but that's a minor problem. What happens if you live out here and need medical help?

Cold snap

I've heard people say "cold snap," but I never really understood what it meant until I rode through Minnesota. We stopped in Minneapolis, which was sunny and warm, then headed northwest toward Fargo. About halfway there we rode into some dark clouds and the temperature dropped 35 degrees in about a minute. I was doing fine until I stopped and took off my helmet and gloves (for some reason) and just about froze solid. My teeth were chattering within seconds.

We bought electric jackets before leaving, which did nothing but take up space in the saddlebags through the heat of Mexico and the southern states. We were happy to have them in Minnesota - we would have been blocks of ice without them. Once we got rolling again I just couldn't fully warm back up, even with my jacket on maximum heat, so we stopped in Fergus Falls for the night. I'll take a hot shower now, please!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Midwest movie tour

You know we had to stop in Wabasha!

Elena and I are both huge fans of the movie "Grumpy Old Men," so when I noticed Wabasha was right across the Mississippi river from our route, we decided to take a little side trip. I crossed the bridge, took a couple of wrong turns out of town and from the back seat came a pitch-perfect Walter Matthau impression: "you SCHMUCK!"

Unfortunately, the only part of the movie actually filmed in town was the steeple. The houses and other scenes were filmed all over the region. Oh well - it was still fun to see, and it's actually a beautiful little town along the river.

Wisconsin dairyland

There are thousands of dairy farms just like this, around every corner.

Almost as soon as we rode into Wisconsin, the landscape changed from flat cornfields to short, steep hills and dairy farms. When I was planning the route the evening before, Ed told me that this area is unglaciated land - it was never scraped flat by the glaciers. All the farms I saw were very small operations, with a collection of buildings and a few small fields with maybe 20-50 cows. Riding through Chaseburg, a town near the Mississippi river, we saw a Amish farmer and his son riding a buggy through town. It's nice to see that family farms and old traditions are surviving intact in some parts of the country.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Can we give these two Darwin Awards in advance?

Illinois is one of the few states with no helmet law, and just about everyone rides with no safety gear at all. No gloves, boots or leathers, but I guess if you don't care enough to cover your head, why care about your hands, feet or skin?

Young, brave and stupid.

The ones that disturb me are guys like this. Young, riding a brand new sportbike (if you look closely, it still has temporary tags) that costs nearly ten thousand dollars, and no one is responsible enough to make him spend $100 on a basic helmet so he'll survive the inevitable crash.

Family and friends

Haley and I riding to her softball game.

We spent almost a week staying with family and friends, relaxing, hiking and just enjoying not being on the bike. We rode from southern Alabama almost straight North, staying several days with my sister's family, then continuing through Tennessee and Kentucky before stopping in Illinois to visit friends.

Haley and Ethan, my niece and nephew, are both talented musicians. I used my laptop to record them playing bluegrass with their father... keep in mind Ethan is eight years old and has just recently started playing the violin!

Roanoke, Illinois grain towers at dusk.

We rode north through Tennessee trying to use small roads, but it was impossible, and I gave up and got on the interstate. I did the same thing in 2004 trying to head southwest through the state. Either I have terrible luck or Tennessee roads are disjointed, clogged with sprawl, and too short. You might have to take six different roads to get ten miles. Western Kentucky was a little better, and as soon as we crossed into Illinois, the square grid of midwest farm roads took over and we headed toward Roanoke on the small roads I prefer.

Only one small section of Ed and Lynn's garden.

We just met Ed and Lynn, but they welcomed us into their beautiful home and spoiled us rotten with gourmet meals and a jacuzzi to relax our muscles. Thank you!

Ed's delicious bruschetta.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The French Quarter

New Orleans balconies by night.

New Orleans French Quarter balconies by night....

New Orleans balconies by day.

...and by day.

Disneyland or the French Quarter?

The nightlife is great fun, but daytime in the tourist areas is far too much like Disneyland, complete with rides and tacky souvenirs. I did really enjoy some of the sarcastic Katrina t-shirts for sale: there's "N.O.P.D. - Not Our Problem Dude" and "F.E.M.A. - Fix Everything My Ass." I'll also definitely purchase the Times Picayune's Katrina photography book - what I saw browsing in the store was very powerful.

Beignets from Cafe du Monde piled high with powdered sugar.

The highlight of the city had to be Cafe du Monde. It's the only tourist attraction that lived up to the hype. The cafe au lait and beignets were excellent. And yes, there really are beignets underneath all that powdered sugar!

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Gulf Coast

It would be paradise if it wasn't surrounded by so much destruction.

It's been almost two years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed much of the Gulf Coast, and there are still many areas that look like disaster zones. There is a lot of rebuilding, and it typically looks like this: a bare foundation from the old house, a trailer for temporary living quarters, and a new home being built on stilts right next to the old one.

Safe from (most) floods, but I'm sure the Weather Channel is popular here.

There are many homes and businesses that aren't being rebuilt, however. I can't count how many thousands of empty foundations I saw... just front steps leading to nothing.

This kind of abandoned destruction is common for hundreds of miles of the Gulf Coast.

It seems crazy to rebuild in the same spot, knowing that a bad hurricane season would start the cycle all over again, but I can definitely understand the allure of the area. The wildlife in the area is like nothing I've seen before. We came across these odd birds in a mangrove forest... after looking them up, I believe they are Roseate Spoonbills.

At first I thought these were pink flamingos, but the spoon bill is very distinctive. We saw thirty or so in each tree.

A turtle sunning itself under the tree where I stopped to take a nap (too many bugs biting, so I took a photo and kept going).

Elena thought it was a turtle statuette when she first saw it.

And finally, a picture of Elena and I after I took a half hour nap on the beach and woke up ready to ride another few hours.

It was nice to have miles of beach to ourselves.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


If it's in Houston, chances are it's got the Bush name on it.

Everything in Houston is named after a Bush family member. The airport, roads, buildings, streets... even the dog park is named after Millie Bush. But as with just about everything we saw in Houston, the park was beautiful, clean and well-maintained.

Bret playing catch with Lucy, the fastest, most beautiful mutt in the world.

We stayed with our friends Bret and Aimee, and they gave us the grand tour of Houston, showing us the best sights and restaurants around town, then treating us to an Astros game on our last night. Thanks guys!

The Astros beat the Giants, 2 to 1.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nice motel for motorcycles

Open the door in the morning and the hotel staff has left stuff to clean the bikes.

The Desert Air Motel in Sanderson, Texas, treats motorcyclists very well. There are motorcycle magazines in the rooms and nice chairs on the porch to admire the sunset while you read them. When I came out in the morning, there were "Biker Buckets" waiting for me and Andy, the guy next door on the BMW RT 1200. The bucket contained lots of clean rags, spray and wipe polish/wax, and Windex, and there was a hose if you really want to do the job well. The FJR left sparkling... thanks!

Clean rags, Meguiar's Spray and Wipe and Windex, plus a hose nearby if you want to do the job well.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Border and Big Bend

Yamaha FJR1300 heading toward the Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

We crossed the border at Ojinaga into Presidio, Texas. On the ride through the last 50 miles of Mexico, we lingered, taking extra photos and sighing. Mexico is great, and it was hard to leave. Presidio isn't bad, but immediately we missed Mexico. Where are all the people? Who turned the colors off? What's this white bread and sugar? You call these tortillas?

The next morning we rode along the Rio Grande into Big Bend National Park. The first few miles were about what I expected: high desert, which is always beautiful, but not much out there. Then the mountains came into view, and I understood immediately why it's a national park.

Looking toward the Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Inside the Chisos Mountain Basin might be the most beautiful place I've ever seen in my life. There are all the desert plants: cacti, yucca, creosote and ocotillo, plus typical mountain trees like Douglas fir, Aspen and Cypress, all set in a bowl-shaped mountain range.

We were stopped at four or five Border Patrol checkpoints on the roads in from the border. They're all very polite, but extremely thorough, checking with mirrors under cars and looking through car interiors. A few days earlier I had been talking to Cesar from Guaymas about his travels on "el otro lado" (the U.S., literally "the other side") so the checkpoints were a chance to talk to a Border Patrolman doing all he can to keep guys like Cesar out.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Creel and the Tarahumara

Tarahumara girl Nola carrying her brother Reyo.

This is Nola, a Tarahumara girl, carrying her younger brother Reyo. I bought a small basket from her, similar to the one Reyo is holding, for 15 pesos. I'm glad that the Tarahumara have preserved a lot of their traditions, but I can't help but wonder if Nola would be better off in school. It's Friday morning and I can hear carefree kids playing at the schoolhouse, while Nola has the responsibility to care for her brother and provide for her family.

Tarahumara woman and girls preparing reeds for weaving into baskets.

The Copper Canyon, actually a series of six immense canyons, is where almost all of the Tarahumara live. We took the "Chepe" train from Creel to Divisadero, then hiked along the excellent ridge trail. We were told by the conductor that the views from the train past Divisadero are much better, but it was as far as we could go in an out-and-back day trip. If I had a dual-sport motorcycle, I'd ride the dirt tracks down into the canyon, but the FJR can barely handle a gravel road.

Copper Canyon as seen from the Divisadero viewpoint.

Back in Creel, there was a Mother's Day fiesta and concert, with what looked like the entire town in attendance. There were prizes for the mothers, great live Norteño music and dancing. Only the women and children danced, and a couple of elderly men later on. There's a definite macho cowboy culture here in Chihuahua state. I was never treated unfriendly, but the men were aloof, with none of the wide grins and back-slapping openness I experienced in Baja or Sonora. The contrast between the proud cowboys and shy natives is striking. I can't think of anywhere else in the world I've been where kids from the same age group are so completely different.

Three young cowboys in Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Sea of Cortez

Jaime, a fisherman from Santa Rosalia, our guide to the Sea of Cortez wildlife.

We were in Santa Rosalia for the ferry to Guaymas, on the Mexican mainland. Right out of the port we saw dolphins, jumping one after the other. Jaime, a fisherman on his way to see his brother in Guaymas, was an excellent guide, pointing out manta rays, flying fish and even whales! It's very late in the year for whales, but we saw at least 15, some only a line of spouts on the horizon, but a few passing very close to the ferry. Here's two that came very close.

Whales migrating out of the Sea of Cortez, as seen from the ferry from Santa Rosalia to Guaymas.

The ferry was very slow, so slow that sometimes it felt like we had stopped. The trip takes ten or so hours, so I napped, talked with the other passengers, and, when I was very bored, took photographs of the boat's wake.

Boat wake, taken when I was very bored.

Lighthouse and cacti at the entrace to the Guaymas port.

Beautiful lighting hides quite a bit of heavy industry and a military fleet.

Guaymas is a beautiful port and a not so beautiful city. The drivers were the most aggressive I've ever seen, not giving an inch. If I rode even slightly to one side of my lane, I'd have a smoke-belching bus or truck pull right next to me, shoving me between the lanes. Not fun, and a shock after the clean air, beauty and tranquility of the ferry ride.

This was one of the worst cities to drive through.

Santa Rosalia

Bizarre coastal formations on the road into Santa Rosalia.

We got into Santa Rosalia in the afternoon after a leisurely ride from Guerrero Negro. The town doesn't look like much on the way in, with lots of dust and abandoned mining equipment, but up close it's got a lot of charm and history. The town is built around a square and a church designed by Gustav Eiffel.

Walking through the town Monday evening, we saw people going to a church service, teens doing dance practice, a basketball game in the gym, kids playing everywhere, people sitting on benches smiling and talking. It felt wonderful to be in such a friendly, familial place, and made us realize how sterile and lonely the atmosphere can be in U.S. cities.

Grilled fish and a beer... can't get better than that.

The dinner we had in the restaurant next to the Hotel Real was incredibly good and criminally cheap. We paid about $12 for two grilled fish dinners, complete with sides and tortillas, plus two Pacifico beers for me and an orange soda for Elena.

By the way, this is probably the last food shot I'll post. I managed to pick up some kind of stomach bug and I have been pretty much on a Gatorade diet for the last 24 hours.

San Ignacio Taco Stand

Taco stand in San Ignacio.

We stopped in San Ignacio for lunch, and managed to find the best fish tacos I've ever tasted. We turned off Highway 1 toward Laguna San Ignacio, the famous whale birthing area. The whales have already migrated north for the year, but we still wanted to see the area, and we were in no rush. I passed a couple of restaurants and when I saw the taco stand I told Elena "this looks like the place." It was the perfect little spot, with wide shady palm fronds, a cool breeze off the lagoon and wonderful food.

Simple and good food for very little money.


Cacti with one of the 'Tres Virgines' mountains in the background

I've seen more shapes, sizes and varieties of cactus these last few days than I knew existed. There are thick forests of them for miles and miles along the roads. At first I stopped and took several photos every hour or so, but after the millionth cactus plant, they all start blending together.

Amazing that a succulent flower like this can survive in the harsh desert environment.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The loudest hotel room ever

We're in Ensenada on Cinco de Mayo, so I expected noise, but this is ridiculous. It's past midnight, there's an ear-splitting advertisement playing on loop from a car across the street with huge horn-shaped loudspeakers strapped to its roof. It's been there since this afternoon, playing the same 15 second loop over and over for hours.

The people in the room next door are playing a Mexican variety show at top volume. There's an American couple fighting in a room down the hall, screaming at each other, which we can hear clearly through the paper-thin walls and doors. Several car alarms are going off every minute or two. Cars are revving and honking on the road. Sirens are screaming. ¡Ay, caramba!

How NOT to cross the border

Huge Jesus statue along Highway 1B near Playas de Rosarita, Baja.

I managed to completely screw up the border crossing. I parked the FJR in a lot near the "items to declare" area, and went looking for the place to buy tourist cards and a temporary vehicle import permit. I was given directions "two blocks down," out of the border area and into Tijuana. Elena and I decided to leave the FJR in the lot and go get the paperwork on foot - big mistake!

The paperwork was easy, and we walked back to where the bike was parked, but there was no way to get back. The parking lot was on the U.S. side of the border! We ended up walking over the bridge, walking with thousands of other people in the line for immigration back to the United States, then crossing back over the bridge on the U.S. side to the bike and finally into Mexico. Leave it to me to do three border crossings instead of one.

And that wasn't the end of the excitement. South of Tijuana on the toll road to Ensenada we saw a huge group of police in the opposite lane chasing a red pickup truck. It was a high-speed freeway chase! The truck tried getting away in the dirt along the road, then veered back on the road, bouncing everywhere, almost right at us. I hit the gas to get ahead of the impact just as he ran into the center divider, smashing the truck to a stop. There were about 15-20 police trucks and cars all around him instantly, and we just kept going... welcome to Mexico!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mexico here we come

After a long break, I'm going back on the road tomorrow, riding counter-clockwise across northern Mexico and the southern U.S., then looping back through the midwest and mountain states. The Mexico portion is only about one fourth of the trip, but it's taking up all my time. I've been reading up on vehicle permits, tourist cards, insurance requirements and ferry schedules.

Spring 2007 route.

This time I'll be riding with Elena, her first truly long ride on the back seat (although she has been to Colorado and back with me, so she's not really a rookie). The last big decision is whether to carry camping equipment. I love to camp, and it seems like a crime to cross the Rockies without a tent, but I still can't quite fit everything in. We're going to try to pack everything on the bike tonight, so we'll know soon enough.

One more day of work and preparation, then a short ride to Santa Barbara Friday night for a last goodbye party with friends, then over the border just in time for Cinco de Mayo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Arizona and New Mexico

Elena taking photos from the back seat.
Elena has been taking photos from the back seat for the last day and a half, and a lot of her shots really capture what it feels like to be riding. That's Pete up ahead.

Coronado Trail high mountain plateau.
We were up over 9000 feet elevation going over some of the mountain passes. This is near the top of Coronado Trail on State Road 180. It was such a cool relief from the scorching heat below.

The coolest horse I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.
There's a meadow behind the hotel in Springerville, Arizona with cows and a few horses. This must be the world's most laid-back horse. He got a good rubdown and muzzle-scratching from all of us, and I'm going to see if I can find a few carrots or apples for him this morning.

Now this is a great road

A road so good I wanted to do it again, even though it was blast-furnace hot.
This is State Road 78, which connects SR 191 with SR 180 across the New Mexico - Arizona border. Click the photo for a big panorama.

Monday, June 20, 2005


It's so open that anything under 80 feels likes walking speed. Unfortunately, the speed limits are still the same.
This photo is close to the mental image I get when I hear the word "desert." Baking hot, high speed, radar traps, and roadside collections so funky you think you're hallucinating in the heat. After I took a few photos, the highway patrolman came over to chat. I wanted to know about his radar equipment, and he asked me about my trip. It was a funny conversation between two friendly adversaries.

He's in a world of pain if he makes a mistake.
We passed a terrible wreck yesterday morning, what looked like a head-on impact between a car and a motorcycle. One of them must have drifted over the centerline, and there were bits and pieces of both vehicles all over the road. It wouldn't have mattered in that wreck, but nobody in Arizona seems to wear helmets or gloves, let alone a set of leathers. This guy wasn't even wearing a shirt. He's not giving himself much of a chance to make a mistake, and he's riding a fast bike.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rockies Redux

Ten days exploring the southwest, with a pit stop in Montrose, Colorado.
The last time I rode through the Rocky Mountains, I was surprised by just how big they are. They're on the same scale as the Alps I've seen in Switzerland and France. I promised myself I'd go back and explore some of the areas I missed. Well, I'm heading back... in two days I leave on a ten day ride through the southwest to Montrose, Colorado.

This time Elena is riding on the back seat, I'm riding with a group, and the destination is the annual National Meet. The ride was organized by GTS_Rider, a Los Angeles-based rider known for organizing epic "mutual destination" tours. Mutual destination means we end up in the same place at night, but you can ride as fast or slow as you please, alone or with other riders. I'm happiest by myself on an empty road, so we'll see how this works out.

If you're here to read about my trip around the United States and Canada last Fall, you can click here. It's in chronological order there, so it's a bit easier to read from start to finish.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The open road

Nobody around, no real destination, just an open road and plenty of gas.
This photo illustrates the part of my trip that I miss the most. I visited many national parks, cities, and small towns, but the majority of the time was spent riding on small roads like this. There's not many people around, not much to see, no real destination... just lots of open road and plenty of time to think.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Rainy day photos

Notice the food wrappers?
Camping in the rain in Minnesota. Bringing all this stuff into the tent is what earned me an introduction to a bear the next night.

I know it's a lake, but it sure looks like an ocean.
Lake Superior, taken from the north shore in Ontario.

OK - time to head south!
Somewhere in the middle of Ontario. The sign says "Arctic Watershed - from here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean."

One has saddlebags, the other has a squid.
Two guys on identical VFRs in Vermont. This was taken right before I met Tropical Storm Ivan, formerly known as Hurricane Ivan.

Friday, October 22, 2004

A few more photos

Another pretty valley and huge mountain in Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

As pretty as Yellowstone, but with more evidence of human activity (ranching, electrical poles, etc).
Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wyoming

This is a fun, fun road.
Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wyoming

The FJR at Devil's Tower.
Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Second press

A few photos I missed or skipped the first time...

Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake, Oregon.
Crater Lake, Oregon

One of countless rivers in the area around Stanley, Idaho.
Southeast of Stanley, Idaho

The Tetons are astonishingly beautiful. Photos do not do them justice.
Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The actual route

A big clockwise loop.

When I planned the route back in July, I wrote "this will be scaled down." Wrong. I rode it almost exactly as planned, except for the last week or so. Instead of going down to New Orleans, I spent more time in southern Colorado and Utah. I actually rode a lot farther than I expected... I was thinking of about 7000 miles total and instead I rode nearly 10,000!

Here are some numbers out of my journal:
30 days
9,910 miles
221 gallons of gas
2 rear tires
1 front tire
1 big scary bear


I am not a crook, officer, no matter what your radar says.

The last day of riding was from Las Vegas across Death Valley, then from Bakersfield out to the coast and home. The last road into town goes through a huge valley before the coastal mountains, and I had to stop and enjoy the sunset in the middle of it (and strike a Nixon exit pose).

I actually got home last weekend, but I was immediately sucked back into normal life. I was so relaxed when I got back! Vacations are like massages for my mind - when I get back I want to see how long they'll last. About a week, it seems, then I'm back to getting tense over silly little things.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Death Valley and the Mojave

I've seen plenty of ravens scavenging, but this is the first time I've seen a coyote so close to humans.

The beggars - a coyote and a raven in Death Valley. No matter how many signs they put up, people still feed them.

A lonely cloud in the desert.

Sometimes the road gives you a little visual treat.

This is the only plant bigger than a shrub that can survive in the Mojave Desert.

Joshua Trees west of Death Valley.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Germans on Harleys

What's scarier: European tourists driving rented RVs or Eureopean tourists riding rented Harleys?

I played leapfrog all day with a group of Germans riding rented Harleys, from Escalante, Utah all the way to Las Vegas. I saw them leave a little after dawn, and again when I stopped at a restaurant about an hour down the road. It was a tiny little place, totally packed, with three women working including the cook. I told the waitress, "I'm by myself - is it going to be a long time to get breakfast?" She told me that she would put my order at the top since I was alone, and sat me at a table - great! While waiting in line for coffee (at a tiny one pot machine, being refilled and then emptied every minute), an angry German told me, "vee haf been vaiting for haf an hour, vis nossing to drink, nossing to eat!" Well, next time make sure your tour guide calls ahead! When my food was brought out a minute or two later, I just avoided eye contact... and left a large tip on the way out. Advantage: lone wolf.

I spoke to a few of them at a couple of stops, and they were actually very nice people, if a little too caught up in the Easy Rider mythology. Most of them weren't wearing helmets and several of them were wearing leather jackets with American flags and "U.S.A." stenciled in huge letters on the back. I passed them at their stops and they passed me when I stopped. They must have forgiven me for cutting in the breakfast line, because by the end of the day, when I passed them on the interstate going toward Las Vegas, I got a wave, thumbs up and a honk from almost every one of them.

More red rocks

These are called hoodoos.

I stayed in Escalante Friday night and headed west toward Bryce Canyon and Zion Saturday morning. Visiting so many national parks in a row is interesting. It's a mixture of sublime natural beauty and the world's worst traffic jam. I've never seen such bad driving, probably because the parks assemble the perfect storm of technical roads, monstrous vehicles, geriatric and/or foreign drivers, road construction and distractingly beautiful scenery. You go around a corner and you don't know if you'll have a immense valley or an immense RV right in front of you.

The road between Bryce Canyon and Zion has beautiful wide open spaces and perfect roads.

The image below is my first attempt at stitching several photos into a panorama. Click here for a very large image.

This valley is immense, in both height of the mountains and length of the canyon.

The roads, rocks, hills, mountains... everything is red.

Red roads with big black tar snakes.

The evening news in Utah

Besides the free stacks of Book of Mormon at the entrance of many businesses, it's easy to forget that Utah's population is predominantly Mormon. Until you turn on the news, anyway. There were long news features on the selection process for “apostles being called” and “tabernacle trivia” for the kids between commercial breaks. The anchors used the phrase “The Church,” an expression I'd only heard used by Catholics. To be fair, there was a big religious convention in Salt Lake City this past weekend, so what I saw might not have been normal. I just chalked it up to another different world that I got to see.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Rain at Capitol Reef

Imagine a road through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and you'll be close to this place. A fun road on a motorcycle, even when wet.

Capitol Reef National Park is the neglected stepchild between Arches and Canyonlands to the east and Bryce Canyon and Zion to the west. Everyone just passes through it, including me. It's a shame, since it's such an interesting place, but I was running out of daylight and their campground was full.

I call this photo

There were so many breaks in the clouds that I thought I could just break through without putting on the rain gear, but no luck. There was always another cloud behind. I've gone through so much water this past week that I feel like I've swum half the distance. The good thing is that I'm learning how to ride well in the rain again, a skill I lost when I stopped commuting on a motorcycle.

The view from the top.


I think this is my favorite photo from my whole trip (so far).

I did some hiking in Arches National Park, for longer than I had planned, but it was gorgeous and it felt good to exercise. There are a lot of tourists here, which takes some getting used to after the isolation I've had all through the south.

These are the Windows, as seen from Turret Arch.

Delicate Arch is probably one of the most-photographed places on earth, so here's my addition to the collection. The hike is not easy, but it's worth it. I rode out to the street viewpoint after hiking back - it's too far away to see much of anything. Up close the arch is massive and so perfectly balanced and proportioned it's just breathtaking.

Add my photo to the millions.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mesa Verde cliff houses

The history of the Anasazi people that built cliff houses is fascinating. They shifted from nomadic gatherers to agriculture relatively recently.

If you build your house on a cliff, I guess you're not allowed to come home drunk.

A closer look.

My visit to Mesa Verde National Park was cut short by a lightning, thunder and hail storm. The lightning wasn't anything like the weak flashes we get in California - it was huge spider webs of electricity that seemed to stay in the sky forever. I knew that every time I came to the edge of a cloud, I was going to get pelted with hail. I would scrunch up my shoulders to protect my neck and just yell "ow Ouch OWWW!" when it hit my hands. I should have sprung for rain gloves with knuckle armor. I got some crazy looks from people when I passed, so I would scream "yaaaaaaaaahhhoooooo!" just to confirm their belief that I was totally off my rocker.

Aiming for the gravel

This photo doesn't do it justice.

I named this photo

I somehow missed the turnoff to go west toward Utah, and ended up heading south. The San Juan Mountains and the Million Dollar Highway (named for the gold ore used in the original pavement) were both so spectacular that I decided to keep going. Red Mountain Pass is the first of three, and I made it over that one with just light snow flurries and slushy roads. Motorcyclists hate when there’s gravel on the road, but this was the first time I’ve aimed FOR the gravel – it was either that or slippery road surface.

I was so happy I made it over. Too bad the worst was to come!

It's snowing up ahead!

The weather got progressively worse and by the time I got to Coal Bank Pass, the sky was black and the clouds had that cloud-to-ground mist that means they’re seriously dumping water. The snow hit hard and fast, sticking to the road in a layer of an inch or two. I probably should have turned around, but I knew it would get better soon: I was two miles from the summit, on the north side of the mountain and I could see light through the clouds. So I just stuck my feet out like pontoons to catch the bike if it started to fall over, stuck my chin out and went for it. I rode in a mini-van’s tire tracks, and I met the people at a gas station in Durango, at the bottom of the mountain. They said, “We were watching you - we’ve never seen anything like that before!” I told them, “I’ve never done anything like that before, and I don’t mind if I never do it again!” I would have felt much more comfortable if they had spread more gravel on the road…

This is not a fun motorcycling environment.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

I have to choose whether to enjoy riding the curves or watching the scenery, because it's too distracting to do both.

I've never seen color like this in a landscape. It reminds me of a calico cat. It rained on and off all day, and I even got a few snowflakes going over Monarch Pass. The mountains here are huge, on the same scale as the Alps. It's raining this morning, so I think I will skip the mountains south of here and head for Utah. I don't want to get snowed in!

Trees so intensely yellow, they almost look fake.

Kind Kansas

Flat as a pancake.

I rode across Kansas in one long day, 550 miles and about twelve hours of riding. That includes many stops for food, photos or just because I wanted a break. The people I met were not very talkative, but they were very kind to me. For example, the waitress in a diner west of Pratt didn't charge me for my apple pie a la mode and coffee because (she thought) she took too long getting it to me. This is with one waitress and a very busy restaurant full of locals! Even the police were kind. I was pulled over for the second time on this trip, but the Kansas State Trooper let me off with a written warning. I was on Highway 50 west, passing a slow car, and he clocked me at 84 m.p.h. I told him, honestly, that I had been riding about 74 m.p.h. all day (using the "nine over you're fine, ten over you're mine" guideline), and he believed me. This guy couldn't have been any more opposite the uptight lady cop in Ontario. Those were just two random encounters, but they gave me a good feeling about the people of Kansas. And yes, there are endless fields of... no, not corn! I think it's canola, and it has a beautiful red-orange flower that makes the fields look like paintings.

Monday, September 27, 2004

My camping mojo is gone

I'm in Star City, Arkansas now. There's a state park, and the campsite there was my backup in case I didn't make it to Hot Springs before dark. I was tucked in for the night, ignoring the possums scurrying around outside, but then what I thought was a rat went right past the edge of the tent (and my head). I hissed at it to make it run away, and it stuck it's tail up. Uh oh - skunk! It sprayed, but to my relief it waited until it was in an empty campsite two or three over. If it had left then, I would have gone to sleep, but it kept running back and forth really fast with it's tail up. I took the hint, and I spent the night in a Super 8 hotel.

Mississippi backroads

There are hundreds of tiny churches like this on what seems like every corner.

I rode through western Alabama and across Mississippi yesterday. The biggest city I went through was Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis), because I stayed on backroads as much as possible. There's a lot of cotton fields and churches, including some that look like the cover for a blues album. The cotton fields stunk from a chemical that is used to kill off the plant so that the cotton can be harvested. It smells something like burning plastic for hundreds of miles.

Cotton fields forever.

This was the first place I've ridden where the kids would point and run after me. It scared me the first time, then I got used to it, even expected it when I went through very small towns on very small roads. Everyone I talked to was very friendly but a little incredulous when I told them how far I've ridden.

The price is right.

I saw the aftermath of an ugly-looking wreck between a motorcyclist and a Volvo, and I didn't stop to look further. There are a lot of dangerous roads through here. People drive 60-80 m.p.h. on narrow roads with driveways and sudden intersections. I don't know how many times I was surprised by a stoplight because it blended in with the clutter of signs on the edge of a town. Yes, mom, I'm riding very carefully!