Laundry Time (viewer discretion advised)

Today I’m going to share a little insight into my life on the road, so you at home can really live this adventure with me.

bathtubAs I am sure you can imagine, all this riding in the hot weather can make one’s clothes a bit whiffy.  And then, of course, there’s the Schweddy balls.  Trying to be minimalist in my packing I didn’t bring a wardrobe of clothes to change into.  Instead I brought a couple of pairs of everything and decided that I would wash them by hand along the way.  For example, I have a couple of pairs of ExOfficio briefs that can be washed by hand and dry in a couple of hours. 

While in Hailey, ID, I had gone through all my clean clothes again, and so it was time to do the wash.  Fortunately the hotel room had a bath tub, so I filled it up and went to town, scrubbing my dirty clothes with the shower gel that they had thoughtfully provided for just this purpose.

tactical clothes lineOnce soaped and rinsed I gave them a good wringing to dry them off the best I could.  The next step was to construct a clothes line.  I took my handy length of para cord (see, those tactical bracelets are good for something – you know who you are) and made an impromptu tactical clothes line next to the air conditioner.  After hanging everything up I turned on the AC to suck the moisture out of the room and Bob’s your uncle.  By the time I woke up in the morning everything was clean and dry.

The problem with washing your socks using the hotel soap is that when they dry they’re stiffer than a Catholic priest at choir practice, so they take a good bashing before they are flaccid enough to penetrate.  Other than that it all turns out very well, and now my clothes smell of Irish Mist or whatever the exotic flavour of soap is that I used.

And that, my friends, is laundry time…

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Salt Lake City, Ut – Antelope Island, UT

KTM at AntelopeAntelope Island is just a hop, skip and a jump along the 15 from Salt Lake City, so the journey there was a breeze.  When I was checking in at the toll booth at the beginning of the 8 mile long causeway the lady told me that the gates were closed from 10pm to 6am, so I was going to be trapped on the island for the night.

SunfowerDon’t let the smell on the causeway fool you.  The foul stench of whatever is rotting in the shallows disappears once you get onto the island.  As I was cruising around to the camp spot I passed a beach with a diner – well that was dinner sorted then.   When I rolled into the camp spot there was a couple sat at the picnic table, which was covered by a tin sun shade, their mini-van parked in the parking spot.  I hopped off to talk to them and they were just there admiring the view.  Steve was a Harley man himself, but he gave the KTM a once-over and exclaimed that it was “dynamite”.  I told them I was just going to pitch my tent and then pop down the cafe for dinner, so there was no need for them to shuffle on.  Steve told me that it’d be warm enough to just jump in my sleeping bag without the tent, so I took note and then took off for a burger.

Sadly the cafe closed early on Sunday, so no burger for me.  When I got back to the camp site Steve and his missus had left.  I pulled my new sleeping bag out, and grabbed my roll mat, pillow and the tarp (to put on the ground to stop the roll mat from getting a puncture).  I then set about making what promised to be a hearty Shepard’s Pie boil in the bag meal.  As I was eating the sun was going down, so I jogged off to the edge of the water to take some photos.

Antelope ReflectionThe lake is pretty much glass smooth, so there were some great reflections.  I hope that I captured them well in the photos I took.  The sunset was really smashing, and serene.  Once the sun had nearly gone down I headed back to the camp site and packed everything up except the sleeping gear so that I could make a quick getaway in the morning and piled the bike gear on the picnic table.  I took my clothes and shoes off and piled them neatly next to the sleeping bag, along with my headlamp and lay down for the night.

Antelope SunsetThe island camp spot is about 10 miles from the nearest town, so there’s not really any ambient light pollution.  The night sky was absolutely clear, so I could see all the stars and the Milky Way.  As I lay looking up I saw a shooting star.  And then another.  Now I was on the look-out for them, and all in all I saw a total of nine before I went to sleep.  The best one had a big trail behind it as it went.  I don’t know if there was a meteor shower or something, but they were going in all different directions and from different points of origin, so maybe I was just lucky.  I’m not telling you what I wished for.  So there I was, naked, cozy in my sleeping bag under the stars when I drifted off to sleep.

I was woken up by violent a wind driving rain at me horizontally.  This wasn’t ideal.  I decided that my best bet was to put the sleeping bag up on the picnic table, under the shade and see if that helped.  I leapt out of the sleeping bag and as soon as my weight was off it, the roll mat started blowing away.  Here I was, stark bollock naked, running after the mat, while clutching my sleeping bag, pillow and tarp so that I didn’t loose them too.  I’m sure it was quite a sight.  Fortunately it was dark and everyone else appeared to be fast asleep in their tents. 

I managed to grab the mat and tried to get everything on the table.  The tarp was getting caught in the wind. So was the mat.  It was like wrestling an angry alligator.  Meanwhile the wind was still blowing rain at me.  Eventually I got everything situated on the table when I remembered that my clothes were still on the floor.  Oh, crap!  Off I went again.  Now I was really awake.  I could see the sun was starting to come up, so I decided to stuff everything in the duffel bag, get dressed in my bike gear and go. (to be continued…)

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Green River, UT – Salt Lake City, UT

Canyonlands 1When I was young I used to read the Lone Ranger comic books.  I don’t remember them very well, but I I do remember the scenery; towering walls of rock looming over the characters.  Today I went to Canyonlands National Park and I experienced those towering walls for myself.  The road in has a glorious pair of 20mph hairpins.  On the way in I took them gingerly, but on the way out I gave it some stick and it was a lot of fun.  To get the photo of the hairpin I had to stand on the edge of the cliff, as close to the precipice as I felt comfortable.  I wondered if I fell wether the tourist bus coming down the road would think I was a base jumper because of my motorcycle gear and camelback.  They would have been quite disappointed in the show when my ‘chute didn’t open.

Green River OverlookIn contrast to yesterday at Arches, where it was really hot and sunny, the visit to Canyonlands was made under a grey sky.  I actually liked a little reprieve from the sun for a change.  Once in the park, you stop at the first viewpoint, and voila, there’s a stunning view of canyons, stretching for miles in front of you.  To get the best shot it is necessary to clamber around a really steep precipice.  Again, I hoped not to fall, in my clunky motorbike boots, and was successful in negotiating the traverse.  There are several overlooks in the 34 miles of park loop.  Rather than spoil them with a description, I’ve included a couple of photos for you.

The ride up the 15, over the mountains between Green River and Salt Lake City was really great.  It’s all long, 85mph sweepers of two-lane highway.  There aren’t any photos because I was having so much fun I didn’t care to stop and take any. Needless to say, my journey was fairly quick and it wasn’t long before I was at my destination; REI Salt Lake City.   

I don’t know if REI SLC do a better job of stocking, or if REI SF just has a swarm of customers who decimate the shelves, but the SLC branch had a new duffel, sleeping bag and Pro Bars just sitting there, waiting for me to replenish my fire damaged equipment.  While in there one of the REI staff spotted my Tech 8s and asked me what I was riding.  It turns out he had a KTM 950 Adventure and bought all his stuff from KTM Twins.  He was really interested to hear that I get my 990 serviced downstairs from the web shop and wanted to know all about it.  The motorcycle world is a small world.

After swapping all my gear from the old duffel to the new one in the REI car park and disposing of the old duffel responsibly I headed to downtown to spend the night in a luxurious hotel bed.  There’s nothing much to report about my SLC experience, other than Lex, the doorman, was really helpful – finding a great spot for my bike next to the hotel owner’s car in the basement parking lot.  For some reason my parking fee was credited back to me, I think Lex did that too.

While in town I went to the cinema to watch Elysium.  I know, I know.  Ewan and Charlie would have visited a Mormon orphanage, or ridden around in a horse-drawn carriage or some shit.  Me, I chose the air-conditioned cinema and a matinee (which was $6, by the way – find me one for that in SF).  I found the film to be quite moving.  There was something about the class disparity and overcoming oppression that rang a bell with me.   Another thing that struck me was that their vehicle budget was higher than the last Fast Five flick.  They had themselves a real GT-R as well as a Bugatti and a space station.  I was dead impressed.

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Green River, UT – Arches National Park, UT

Green River CampgroundI haven’t mentioned it by name yet, but the Tamarick Restaurant sure is the place to eat in Green River. It’s there or Ray’s (who only serves burgers).  Last night I walked there for dinner so that I could have a glass of wine with my meal.  They have an “Outlaw” red that apparently the cowboys used to drink out of tin cups by the fire at night.  Well that sounded appropriate to me, so I had me a couple of glasses with my bison burger.  My hosts at the Tamarick (because gracious hosts they have been) seem to be ok with me hanging out and reading or writing as well as charging my devices, and for this I have been very grateful.  It meant that this morning I was able to locate a KTM dealer in Boise and book and oil-change and order a new front tire to replace the wobbly one that is driving me a little nuts (to be honest).

I picked a good spot to use as a base camp for my forays into Arches and Canyonlands.  GR is only about 40 miles ride to each one.  However, the road construction was a little frustrating this morning – about 10 miles of gravel at 40mph (which is the speed where my front tire wobbles the most).  Never mind, it was over fairly quickly and I was soon at Arches.  I was very happy with the National Parks annual pass that I  picked up at Bryce Canyon.  $80 for all the parks for a year – that’s a bargain and it made getting in a snap.  

For some reason I decided to listen to my ipod (I was going to say “walkman” and then wondered how many people would know what one of those is?) as I rode around the park, much to the amusement, I am sure, of the people driving around me, watching me up on the pegs, bouncing around as I went along.  The first song that came on was “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin.  I thought that would be an ironic song to snuff it to on my bike, though fortunately it didn’t happen.

OK, I have to ask.  Why are you still reading this?  If you haven’t realized it already, you should be putting down your internets device, and booking a trip to Southern Utah to go exploring.  Seriously.  Certainly my descriptions aren’t going to do it the justice that it deserves.  In a moment I’m going to try and describe Arches National Park, but I’m wasting my time really.  It can’t be described.  It’s like vanilla ice cream or good sex, you have to be there to know what it’s really like.  Forget the Helen Keller cotton wool for cloulds malarky.  Take a week out of your life and travel out here.  You’ll thank yourself for it.  

The CathedralSo, you drive from the canyon road that descends into Moab up a series of switch-backs to reach the floor of the park.  Each turn reveals a liitle more.  An outcropping here, a large red wall there.  It’s quite spectacular the way it’s set up.  The drive through the park took me about 3 1/2 hours all told.  Again, I’ve included a couple of photos that I hope give you the general idea.  The walk to Delicate Arch, which is the one you see in all the pictures, was a mile long hike iin the desert that I wasn’t prepared to partake in wearing my AStrars and touring trousers. You’ll have to make do with the 20x magnification shot from the car park (thanks Jenn for helping me pick the camera, you saved me quite the walk).  

Delicate ArchWhile getting my clobber back on I noticed another GS pull up (haven’t seen another 990 yet, by the way), so I wandered over and introduced myself.  Ricardo, the intrepid explorer, had ridden from Florida to Alasksa (what is it about GSs and Alaska, anyway?) and was on his way back down again.  His wife had told him to be home in 5 days, or she was changing the locks.  He was telling me he wanted to explore the mountain passes in Colorado.  I wonder what the outcome of that dilema will be?  Anyway, Ricardo is a photographer, and you can check out his talent at www.ricardoserpa.com.

After the park I dipped into Moab for a quick bite.  As I was getting back into my gear I got hit with a couple of big, juicy rain drops from the thunder clouds that had been building all day.  That was my que, and I was off back to GR.  As I got on I70 I could see the rain falling from the clouds to my left and the wind was blowing them my way.  Not a big deal, I thought.  Well, not until I saw the lightning striking the desert floor from the clouds.  At that point I became painfully aware that I was sitting a good couple of feet taller than all the traffic around me, and that if lightning was going to strike, I was the perfect target. Not wanted to get turned into a kebab on wheels I turned the speed up a notch ang got a shift on back to camp.  

RefugeI arrived just in the nick of time.  I’d just removed my boots and grabbed my writing implement when it started raining cats and dogs.  So, my dear readers, you’re getting this from inside my tent, with the splattering of huge rain drops accompanying the clattering of my keyboard.  Tomorrow I’m off to Canyonlands, the last stop down here at the bottom half of Utah.  I am, however, thinking that it would be great to come back here one day in a convertible and do the hikes I’ve been avoiding.

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Otter Creek, UT – Green River, UT

Hwy 24I wasn’t lucky enough to escape the storm.  It raged through the night. The wind pulled out my tent pegs.  The lightning lit up everything.  The thunder was thunderous.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

When I woke in the morning the sky was clear and the road was fresh. I set out to Green River State Park, which is to be my home base for the next couple of days while I visit Arches and Canyonlands.

Capitol 1The handy temperature guage at the gas station told me it was 51 degrees out as I rode over the peak and down into Capitol Reef State Park.  Again, I don’t think I have the words to describe how amazing the views are as you ride through these magnificent rock formations.  Hopefully the couple of photos I took do it some justice.

Capitol 2Hwy 24 through the park and out to Hwy 70 is a fantastic ride of fast sweepers that follow the river for a while and then head out in to open country.  The ride was fun and fast, seeing me in Green River much earlier than I expected.  

Unfortunately, the road is a little bumpy and the bumping around saw my duffel fall into my exhaust pipe, which in turn caught my sleeping bag on fire.  Too bad really, as I’m camping for the next 3 nights before I can get up to Salt Lake City to get a replacement bag.  As I got here early I spent the remainder of the day publishing a few words and pictures, so that folks back home would know what’s going on…Burned

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Panguitch, UT – Otter Creek State Park, UT

Red CanyonMy destination this morning was Bryce Canyon, another NP on my list to visit.  It was a short journey from Panguitch.  To get there you have to pass though Red Canyon, which has amazing deep orange rock formations on either side.  If you happen to visit Bryce from a different direction then I highly recommend popping by here on your way out.  

Bryce CanyonOnce in Bryce Canyon you follow a nicely paved road along the rim of the canyon to various over-look points.  The first one is Sunrise Point.  If you follow the overlooks in consecutive order then this would be your first real-life glimpse of the canyon, and I have to tell you, it’s amazing!  The rock spires are many different shades of orange and yellow and they fill your view.  Its a lot to take in all at once.  Hopefully the pictures do it some justice.

As I pulled out from one of my stops I noticed in my mirror another adventure bike.  We both stopped at the last overlook in the park and I wandered over to introduce myself.  The couple on the bike, Brian and Jenny, were from High Wycombe, which is not too far from where I grew up.  They had their BMW 1200 GSA shipped from the UK to Ancorage, AK.  When I met them they were on week ten of their year-long trip.  They are planning to ride to Argentina, then have their bike shipped to South Africa and ride around there a bit.  You can check out their adventures at www.kelstan.com.

Hwy 22The ride along the 22 from Bryce Canyon is deserted and beautiful. It follows a river that has dug a gorge through the rock. Either side is swathed with fields filled with flowers and grasses. As I rode I spotted a young buck running gracefully across the field, not seeming to be in too much of a hurry, but going just fast enough to get away from me.

Otter CreekEveryone in Otter Creek drives ATVs.  I wasn’t sure what the tow parallel tracks by the side of the road where until I witnessed a steady stream of ATVs go back and forth while I was setting up my tent.  I suppose its cheaper than owning a car, if all you’re doing is going fishing for trout for your dinner.  I wonder why we can’t do that in cities.  If you’re only popping down the shop for a carton of milk, or going to see your mates, an ATV around town would be much more fuel efficient than a car, and easier to park.  It’d be like 4-wheeled scooters.  One step down from a Smart car.

Writing under stormcloudsThe mind can play tricks on you, you know.  If you are reading a sentence and there are letters missing from a word you’re familiar with then the brain will put the letters back for you.  Under most circumstances this is useful.  Tonight I didn’t agree.  I’m certain when I was at REI a few weeks ago that the dried meal I had picked up said Bacon and Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.  Just as I am sure the girl who checked me into the camp site was sure that the cafe in the nearby village closed at 6pm, when I discovered at 5:25pm when I went for dinner that they had closed at 5pm.  I trundled back to the campsite to have my first camping meal of the trip to find that my delisious, meaty potatoes were a ruse.  I’d been tricked.  The packet read read “Baco Mashed…”  What the fuck is Baco?  That sounded to me like something that you would have cleaned your oven with in the 50s.  Oh, well.   Too late now.  Baco it  was.  So I sat at the campsite, hot choc and bacon imposter for dinner, updating my journal to the ominous ovetures of a thunderstorm rolling in, that I hoped I would escape.

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St George, UT – Panguitch, UT

ZionLeaving the city of St George I headed for Zion National Park.  When I got there I did a quick change in the car park, out of my motorcross boots and riding gear and into some walking clothes, and I’m glad I did.  It was boiling hot!   The park is actually set up quite well, with an air-conditioned coach that takes you through the canyon, stopping at trailheads for all the major sights.  It’s a good way to plan what you want to see while getting to take it all in.  I decided to keep the hiking to a minimum, because I didn’t want ot be riding later while suffering from dehydration.  The first hike was a gruelling 1/4 mile to the lodge for lunch.  Fortunately noone else was up to the challenge and I had the trail to myself.  It was rather nice.  After a swift bison burger and coke I had the coach drop me off at the trail that runs along the river for a mile or so, back to the visitor’s center. Once again, I was pretty much the only person walking, so it felt like the place was deserted.   I’m not going to try and describe the park. Hopefully the pictures do it justice. I would recommend going there some day, it’s quite stunning.

Leaving ZionAfter my jaunt in the park I took the road East,which takes you through a series of switch-backs up the hill.  The views of the canyon are great – I highly recommend this drive.  However, you do end up in a mile-long dark tunnel as you exit the park, so if you’re clostrophobic you may want to turn around at this point.  If you’re brave enough to make it through the tunnel (which I am surprised the Top Gear chaps haven’t exploited with some exotic sounding engines yet) then the scenery on the other side is absolutely spectacular.  The rock formations are all different shades of reds and oranges and they are all scarred and striped.  The rocks are scattered with small connifers.  Its really hard to concentrate on the road, the spectacle is so disctracting.

Hwy 143I had read somwhere (on the internet, so it must be true) that highway 143 across the mountain was suppsed to be quite a wonderful ride.  Coincidentally I had planned this as the ‘long way round” to my stop for the night.  The road didn’t dissapoint at all.  It rose from the heat of the desery, up several thousand feet.  I rode through a rain shower, along twisty, scenic roads with views of the green hills for as far as I could see.  It was such a contrast from the arid canyon earlier that day.

Hwy 143 ViewAfter checking into the Bates motel (well that’s what it seemed like) I had an aweful dinner at the Flying M.  The one saving grace about this dinner is that I learned a new phrase that I’m eager to put to use.  The book I’m reading is by a lively chap from England.  The phrase that perked me up was “Happier than a dog with a long neck and two dicks”.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get to use that one, but I’ll fit it in somewhere!

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Rachel, NV – St George, UT

The Little A Le InnThe next morning I had a decision to make.  Should I go back and look for my lost camera?  To do this would be hard because it was 120 miles from the gas station in Ash Springs to the spot where I lost the camera and a further 50 miles from there to the gas station back in Tonopah.  This meant that riding back and forth to look for the camera wasn’t an option.  I’d get one pass along the 20 mile stretch of highway from the 375 sign to where I know I last had my camera before having to drive 30 miles for gas and then go back to look again.  The camera had the first two days-worth of photos on it, and I didn’t want to lose the memories.  It also had my planning photos, with all my gear laid out.  I’d have to do that all over again if I wasn’t able to find the missing bit of kit.  So, that was it then – back into the desert I would go.

I set off to Ash Springs, where I bought two 1 gallon fuel cans.  Each can would give me an additional 40 miles or so to travel, and I reckoned that with the extra fuel I would be able to do a single pass up and then back again from the junction of 375 and then head off towards Utah.  

I headed back along 375, which again I had to myself.  When I reached 80 miles I emptied the fuel cans into the bike.  RefuellingThere was still a little left, so I hung onto that for later.  At the junction of 375 I stood up on the pegs and rode back the way I had come at 15 miles an hour, dilligently searching the road and the sides of the road for my small black camera case.  It’s hard work riding that slowly in the desert – there’s no longer a breeze to cool you down.  I figured it would take me a little over an hour each way, if I didn’t find the camera sooner.  The sad thing is that the camera case looked exacty like every chunk of tire that was ever deposited by the side of the road, so on many occasions I’d get excited that I’d found the camera and leap off the bike, only to find another chunk of rubber.  I made my way to the last place where I remember taking a picture, where I got off and wandered around for a while searching the ground.  Then I got back up on the pegs and made my way back along the side of the highway, waving cars by as they approached from behind at four times my speed.  After a long search the camera wasn’t found.  It’s a shame.  I don’t care about the camera but I can’t re-create the photos I had taken thus far.  

It made me realize how important it was for me to take pictures, so I decided to buy another before heading to the wonders of Southern Utah.   I followed the advice of the chap at breakfast who had told me there was a WalMart in a town in Utah called St George where I could pick up a new one.  I had looked at the map over breakfast and reckoned I could get there by nightfall.  

The trusty GPS said that the nearest fuel was either at Tonopah (which was back-tracking 50 miles), Ash Springs (which was about 120 miles away) or Ely, which was about 116 miles.  According to my calculations I had about 120 miles of range before I was pushing, so Ely it was – especially as it was East, which is where I was heading.

The 6 to Ely goes through some quite impressive landscape, but other than that its nothing remarkable. My fuel light came on as I rolled up to the traffic light opposite the Shell station, which was rather handy.  I filled up the bike then stuffed my face at the local Mexican restaurant.  It was about 6pm and I had another couple of hours of light left. I was faced with the choice of camping locally or heading to St George, some 330 miles south-east through the desert.  I tooled up to the local state park, where the campsites were all first-come, first served.  Given the late hour all the sites were taken.  And I wasted 40 miles of gas looking.  I went back to Ely, filled up and bit the bullet – St George here I come.

45 minutes or so outside of Ely I started to get really tired.  It wasnt’ surprising given the slow, hot riding in the desert earlier that day.  I started seeking out places to stop by the side of the road, but it was all flat grazing land.  If I stopped somewhere I’d stick out like an orange and white sore thumb.  Just as the light was starting to fade I saw a pull-off that appeared to go up a small hill into a clump of scrub.  I whipped the bike around and drove off the road, a little interpid about my lack of off-road ability and fearing falling off the bike and being trapped like a turtle with no-one for miles around.  I needent have worried – I made it up the hill just fine.  Roadside CampingThe road looped around and the bushes provided the perfect protection from the road.  I popped the bike on it’s stand and scrambled down the hill to make sure that I couldn’t be seen.  Once that was confirmed I went back up, layed down my tarp, roll-mat and sleeping bag.  I grabbed my knife and headlamp and prepared for a night outside, under the desert stars.  

That night only a handful of cars passed me by.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I could see all the stars.  I even saw my first low-orbt satellite.  No alien spaceships though.

The following morning I was woken early by the howling of what I’m guessing was a pack of coyotes.  The sun was just starting to light the sky and I figured that was a good a time as any to get moving.  It didn’t take long to pack up and get back on the road, where I was immediately thankful for my heated grips, warming my hands against the cold morning desert air.

Cathedral ParkAs I left the desert and headed over the hills into Utah I passed by a place called Cathedral Park.  This little roadside stop is a teaser to what you will see when you get into Utah if you follow the road.  I stopped here briefly, leaving my bike idling in the empty car park as I explored the deserted attraction.  Will this be what its like if there’s an apocolypse?  Those that are left being able to wander around our national treasures all by themselves?  I liked it.  Not that I’m wishing the apocolypse on anyone.  But it did encourage me to get up early more often.

Snow ParkOn the hill down into the city of St George you pass the Snow Cliffs State Park.  I turned around to have a look but it was $6 to get in and I couldn’t be bothered to get off the bike to get my wallet out.  After all, I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.  I’m sure it’s a lovely place.

I finally arrived in St George and was grateful to spot a breakfast restaurant as soon as I rolled into town.  Five minutes later I was sitting at a table, drinking hot tea and anticipating the delicious omlette I’d ordered.    And they had wifi.  Perfect!  I decided to book a hotel in town for the night, get settled in and then go camera shopping.

The hotel were gracious enough to let me check in early.  The air-conditioned room was heavenly.  So was the shower, which doubled as a laundromat as I washed my clothes with the soap while I was in there. 

A quick trip to best-buy and a call to my friend Jenn, who knows her cameras, had me in the posseson of s shiny new Canon point-and-shoot, a spare battery and the brightest, most conspicuous camera case I could find.  

Although sleeping under the stars in the desert had been both beautiful and romantic, not knowing where I was going to sleep had been rather stressful.  I decided that I would take advantage of the air-coonditoned room and the wifi and spend some time planning the next couple of weeks of my journey.  I stayed an extra night, and used the time to book hotels and camp-sites that made traveling to the sites on my map easier.  That way I could concentrate on seeing the sites, rather than stressing about not having somewhere to sleep.  Originally I thought I could just wing it, but once on the road I realized that some certainty made it easier for me. 

I also decided that I wanted to share more of my trip with my girlfriend Victoria, who was presently slaving away at her office back in California.  I called her up and asked if she could come out to meet me in Oregon to ride out to Crater lake.  As luck would have it she didn’t have any plans that weekend, so I booked her a flight and she found us a camp-site.  So now I’ll see her in a couple of weeks, rather than in the middle of September, which was the original plan.

On the second night, while I was having dinner at the counter of the local diner, the chap sat next to me struck up a conversation.  He was a trucker by trade, but both his liver and kidneys were shot and dialisys (sp) had hiim at home most of the time.  He’d leased his rig out to some other chap to drive, and that was his source of income.  He seemed quite sad not to be able to travel and encouraged me to stay on the road as long as possible.  The following morning my adventures would begin again.  Right after the free breakfast.

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San Francisco, CA – Rachel, NV

This was it!  The bike was all packed.  I was ready for the off.  Sam took a couple of photos of me riding down the street, which I though woud be a fitting first photo for my trip and then I was headed to my first stop, to visit my friends Jen and Jason in Sparks, NV.  I rolled onto 280 and as soon as I got to 101 to get across the Bay Bridge traffic came to a stand-still.  I felt that the bike was too wide to filter through what looked like narrow gaps in the traffic, so I inched along in the heat, frustrated by the congestion.  In a way though, it was good.  It reminded me why I was taking this tip in the first place – to explore the open road, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and to enoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness.  In the end it took me nearly an hour to leave the city – it was almost as if San Francisco didn’t want to see me go and was making a last-ditched effort to keep me there. 

As I approached Sacramento I hit rush-hour on the freeway.  It was hot and slow.  I plucked up the courage to filter with my wide luggage, and found that is wasn’t that bad after-all.  Huh!  I’ll show you traffic.    After battling rush-hour for a while I stopped at In ‘n Out in Sacramento, thinking that this would be the last time that I would see the California-based chain for a while.  My animal-style burger was good!

The rest of the journey into Sparks was un-eventful.  I stopped at Donner Lake to take my first scenic pictures.  The ride down the mountain into Sparks was a thrillingly steep and fast descent.  When I rolled into town Jen and Jason were waiting patiently for me and whisked me off for dinner and a beer.  It was good to catch up and I was grateful to have a planned stop, a warm sofa and shower for the first night of my trip.

The next day I decided to take the bike to Reno KTM to have the front tire looked at, becasue it had been wobbling something terrible at about 40mph.  I called right at 9am to explain my problem and they were happy to squeeze me in as soon as I could get there.  I arrived and they rolled the bike in and set to work.  A short while later they returned to tell my that the tire was propperly beaded, the wheel was true and that they had tried to re-balance it, but that  it was still a bit wobbly. Their conclusion was that the tire was out-of-round.  I decided to stick with it and after a very reasonable bill I was out of there.

Back at Jen and Jason’s I didn’t really have a plan.  After-all, wasn’t that the point?  However, I wasn’t sure where I would be spending the night, so I took a look at my map of destinations and guessed that I could make it to the Extraterrestrial Highway by nightfall.  I took a quick look on the Internet and discovered that there was a hotel half-way along called the Little A Le Inn.  Perfect!  A quick phone call confirmed a bed for the night and I set off into the desert to look for UFOs.

The journey towards Area 51 taked you along highway 50, which is called The Lonliest Highway, and for good reason.  There isn’t much going on.  I’ve only got about a 180 mile range on the bike.  When I left Sparks I didn’t think fuel woudl be a problem – I figured that I could just check the GPS when fuel was getting low, find a gas-station nearby and fill up.  Welll, on the 50, it isn’t that easy.  When my fuel started running low I checked for a gas station and the closest one appeared to be in Austin, which was well beyond the range of my tank.  I was a little concerned that I’d be out of fuel at the side of the highway and I started to regret leaving the syphon tube at home in the garage.  As I was wondering what I would do I spotted a little cafe in the middle of nowhere, that had a magical GAS sign.  I pulled up and there was a big fuel tank sitting on the ground with a handle and one of those old analog rotating dials that clicks around for pennies, 10 pennies, dollars, etc.  I wandered into the cafe and the lady told me to pump my gas and then come back in to pay her the amount I read on the dial.  It was all very trusting and old-fashioned.  The walls of the cafe were covered in photos of fighter jets and I’m guessing it was the local hang-out for the pilots of the nearby top-gun school.  The gas was only 87.  I’m sure it didn’t do any harm.  The gas in Mexico has to be worse, and I know people who ride their 990 there.

A jaunt up the hill with my full gas-tanks found me in Austin.  I stopped and filled up again (just in case) and had a quick bite in the local cafe before heading down the valley to the last gas station before I headed into the desert.  The valley was desolate – this is the first part of my journey where I had the road to myself.  There wasn’t a car in either direction for as far as I could see.  It was quite refreshing!  On the other side of the valley I filled up at Tonopah and headed off into the deserted wilderness of Area 51.

Extraterrestrial HighwayAs I rode along the highway the sun was setting.  I stopped every few minutes to whip out my handy camera and take another snapshot of spectacular colours over the rocky outcrops.  Eventually I came to the junction of 375 – The Extraterrestrial Highway.  It was very exciting to come to the first pin on my map.  I stopped the bike to take a picture of the road sign, but to my horror, my camera wasn’t in the side pocket of my camelbak, from where I had been pulling it all day.  I must not have zipped the pocket back up correctly so it had fallen out.  Fortunately I was able to take a quick picture with my phone because it was getting dark and I was getting tired but I still had about another 80 miles to ride to get to the hotel.

Riding the 375 as the sun went down was amazing.  There is no ambient light in the desert.  I saw the headlights of a car coming towards me from the other direction.  It took about 15 minutes of me watching the lights before we passed each other.  That was the only other car I saw before I got to the Hotel.

AlienThe Little A Le Inn is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert.  Nestled in the little town of Rachel, its the only thing out there.  The next closest place is Ash Springs, which is another 45 miles down the road (those of you doing the math are realising that I’m going to be running on fumes when I get there to fill up).  I knew that the kitchen closed and 9 and the bar at 10.  I had been racing to get there in time for a meal, but unfortunately I got there at about 9:05.  Fully prepared to chow down on a meal-bar for the ngiht I was really pleased and surprised that the chef said he’d make me what-ever I wanted before he closed the kitchen down.  I was very grateful for my turkey wrap and Coronas that night, I can tell you!

After my dinner I took my beer outside with me and joined the small crowd of locals and a couple of travelers on the porch.  What transpired felt to me like the script from the X-Files.  There was one chap that had stopped in Rachel for one night while on a road-trip on 2007 and he was still there.  He had been told to go there by a Shamen in New Mexico to repay a debt and he’s still working on it.  One fella had been abducted by aliens since he was about 12.  He said that he wasn’t supposed to remember the abductions, and that the “Greys” that were abducting him were very confused, so they called in the “Whites”.  He remembers asking the Whites why they were abucting him and they told him they were interested in his brain.  He doesn’t remember any more abductions after that, but he thinks that’s becasue the Whites figured out how to make him forget.  There were discussions about remote reading,  experimental aircraft doing 90 degree turns at near mach 1 speed over the desert, invisibility technology and I’m sure more that I have forgotten about.   Needless to say, I slept soundly that night, and my arse didn’t hurt in the morning, so as far as I know I wasn’t abducted myself!

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Charge!

It’s great having a bike to ride around town.  There is one problem though.  Riding around town means not riding far enough to charge the battery.  I discovered that rather quickly when I turned the key and pressed the magic start button and nothing happened.  Fortunately my driveway slopes downhill and I was able to “bump-start” the KTM but I decided that I’d find a more elegant solution than having to do that every morning.

The quick, cheap and easy solution was to buy a Battery Tender Junior.  This handy little device has 4 stages of operation to make sure that your battery is charged properly and then stays charged.  The first stage is a safety check, checking that there is good DC continuity and checks the voltage.  The second stage is the bulk charge stage, which charges up the battery to about 75%.  The third stage is the absorption stage, which is the clever part that optimizes the battery for peak performance.  “Absorption charge ends when the battery charging current drops below the optimum recharge threshold or the absorption timer expires.”  Stage four is the maintenance stage, where the battery is charged at a very low amperage until it reaches maximum capacity and then kept at full charge without over-charging.

The charger comes with a handy fused pigtail that attaches to the battery and has a quick-connect to the charger.  Installing the pigtail was surprisingly easy.

Battery Tender Wiring

The battery on the KTM is located underneath the fuel tank at the front of the bike. To give myself more room I lifted the fuel tank. Remove the seat and then undo the single bolt that holds the tank in place and then it can be lifted up and out of the way.

The pigtail comes with a clearly marked red positive connector.  Match that one the the positive connector on the battery and the other connector to the negative connector on the battery.

Battery Tender Plug

I tucked the wiring into the existing wiring harness and traced the clutch like up through the handlebars, with the connector right up by the instrument cluster, where it will be easy to get to.  A couple of strategically placed zip ties hold the pigtail in place to make sure that it doesn’t stray and get caught up in the steering yolk when I’m riding.

Now I can plug the Duke in when I get home and know that it’s fighting fit and ready to go when I leave for work in the morning.  Problem solved.

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