Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Next Big Thing

Originally posted June, 2015

Yeah, yeah.  Same old story; same old whine..."I need a muse. I need an adventure".  Other than my family, the greatest joy in my life is motorcycling.  Whether it's throwing a leg over the seat for an impromptu ride to just hang out Stokers Ice House or a fully planned-out road trip with complex GPS routing and other logistics, staring over the front wheel and looking at the road ahead stirs my soul.  These days, most people know me as Shrug, a long-road rider who is equally long-winded and overly verbose in his descriptions of the events than comprise his road trips.  If the shoe fits...

I've Been Everywhere, Man!
Arkansas 2001

Before the Alaskapade and my mom's trip, I had taken a few short road trips on my 2006 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide, but nothing worth writing about.  Few who know me now know that I used to to be an avid dirt rider and even then I had a different nickname; "Spodekill".  Spodekill was a play on the words Spode and Roadkill.  Some non-riding people know the term "Spode" as a type of fine pottery.  In my world, Spode was a term for a goofball dirt bike rider with a  predisposition for glorious style.  How the term "Spode" made its way into motorcycling is beyond me.  Perhaps it's because fine pottery is so easily breakable and quite honestly, in my racing days, so was I. Spodely events were typically preceded by shouts of "Hey, watch this..." to other riders and bystanders.  Believe me when I say I had more than my share of them.

Tonya with Elyssa, Roxy, & snacks!
My wife, sons, and I spent the better part of the boys' early teen years riding and racing dirt bikes at various events in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  Actually, Tonya pretty much just watched and provided support from her four-wheeler.  These weekends were the ones that really bound our family together.  We were really into the dirt bike scene and spent most weekends camped out somewhere with friends and riding the trails.  We even attended national gatherings called SpodeFests in 1998 in Texas, 1999 in South Carolina, and in Colorado in 2000.  Spodefests were to our dirt bike world fifteen years ago what Shark Week is to me today.  Hundreds of riders would come form all over the country to meet the other riders with whom they had communicated on various Internet forums. Also in 2000, the boys and I all won state championships for our respective classes in the Texas State Championship Enduro Circuit.  My boys were tough and fearless and they always made me proud.

As time passed, the boys' interest in riding gave way to their interest in cars, girls, school team sports, girls, and girls.  I had slowed down, but still enjoyed sport riding over racing. During my Spodekill years, I broke so many bones that Evel Knievel sent me get well cards and as I grew older, the recovery time for my bones to heal grew longer.  My lingering aches and pains were a constant reminder that I was not getting any younger.  Also, I was getting back into playing the drums and the band I co-founded, Code Blue, was gaining traction in the Dallas area blues scene.  I learned quickly that broken bones are not conducive to keeping time behind the drums and  I even played one gig loaded up on pain killers with a cast on my right arm.  There's a video somewhere of Tonya feeding me pain killers while I'm playing Jail House Rock.  No one accused me of rushing the tempo that night.  But I digress.

The combination of riding without family participation, aching bones and joints, and increasing band activities led me away from riding dirt bikes altogether.  I had convinced myself that racing and even dirt riding just for sport was a younger man's game.  My sole connection to the sport was, and is today, working as a safety flag crew member on the track at the annual AMA Supercross races at Texas Stadium and now at AT&T/Cowboys Stadium.  As odd as it seems, I found it safer to ride my Harley on the streets and highways among the crazy cagers than my dirt bikes in the woods among other like-minded motorcyclists.

States I've RIDDEN To, Not Just Visited
In the years since I quit riding dirt bikes, I've taken countless road trips across the United States and Canada on my Harley and in doing so, have made lifelong friends and created indelible memories.  I have ridden damn near all of the scenic roads in the US while traversing 47 of the 50 states.  I can't ride to Hawaii and have yet to find a reason to ride to Michigan or Minnesota, so I suspect those states on my map will stay white.  I don't mind repeating states and always enjoy my annual ride to meet my fellow Harley-Davidson Road Glide owners at each year's Shark Week event.

In years past, I've ridden to Shark Week events in Iowa, Utah, Maine, and the 2015 Shark Week V event in Texas.  Part of the thrill of shark Week is getting to ride the distance to get there.  Since Shark Week V was held in Texas, all I had was a leisurely lunch ride to Kerrville.  I had a blast, but I have to admit that I felt a bit shortchanged and envious of those who had the opportunity to ride real miles to attend.  In the end, it worked out for the best because I cut my trip short and get home to attend the funeral of a close friend's son.  I could always ride back there, but I could never get back the opportunity to be there for a friend.  Again I digress.

When it comes to touring, I suffer from "been there, done that" syndrome.  I suppose I could be convinced to go back to Alaska.  Lord knows the roads are in better shape now than they were on my way up in 2011. But, I prefer to ride somewhere new and my ultimate adventure would be a ride from my home in Texas to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina.  I'm confident that I could earn and save the money to afford it and I could probably even swing the vacation time for a trip like that.  The only obstacle I can't overcome is Mexico.  Every year, innocent (albeit naive) adventure-seeking riders are kidnapped and/or killed as they make their way through Mexico.  It's sad that such a culturally rich country has been usurped by drug cartels and modern day banditos, but it is what it is and I can't do anything about it.  When I plan my road trips, I carefully consider the risks and find ways to mitigate them to the greatest extent possible.  At this point, I'm convinced that I could easier calculate the final digit to the right of the decimal point in Pi than I could find a way to safely pass through Mexico.  I suppose I need to either find another dream trip or start riding back to some of my previous destinations.

"Linus" - The Great Pumpkin
Although I quit riding dirt bikes, I kept my prize possession - a 2001 KTM-520MXC.  Back in its day, this was the ultimate race bike with 12" of suspension travel, electric start, disc brakes, and a 520cc liquid cooled 4-stroke engine that could climb the side of a barn as fast or as slow as I wanted.  This bike was so cool I envied myself for having it.  After a near death multiple bone-breaking experience in some of the toughest terrain in Texas, I decided to hang up my helmet and get off the dirt.  Still, I could never bring myself to sell the KTM.  I had maintained my motorcycle endorsement on my drivers license, so I installed a kit with head/tail lights, blinkers, DOT tires, and a horn to make Linus street legal.  How ironic is it that I found riding the streets of the Dallas area safer than riding in the dirt.  Nevertheless, riding through town reminded me of how much I missed riding and before I knew it, I owned the Harley-Davidson Wide Glide I described earlier.  Once I got back into street riding, Linus sat unridden and seemingly unloved for years.  In 2010, I traded the Wide Glide for a the touring Road Glide I have today and have been packing on the miles ever since.

2014 rolled around and after Shark Week IV in Maine, I once again found myself suffering from Armstrong's Syndrome and asking myself "now what?"  Maine and the upper east coast were the last of the United States for me to ride.  While on my Maine trip, I listened to an audiobook edition of "Ghost Rider" an autobiographical account of Neil Peart's (drummer for the band Rush) attempt at putting his life back together after the deaths of his daughter and his wife.  Ghost Rider detailed how Peart rode his BMW GS adventure bike all over North America and Europe writing letters and postcards to friends and family as he slowly rebuilt his sanity.  Peart lamented that he had not yet had the chance to ride Australia and commented that the best Oz has to offer is in the dirt; the Outback.  I thought to myself, man, I used to tear it up in the dirt (my own flesh notwithstanding).  While I have no interest in going to Europe, I have always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand.  While sitting at one my hotel rooms on my way back from Maine, I did a little Internet research and discovered something wonderful.  Even though Mexico is only a ten hour ride from my home, getting through it is out or reach for safety reasons.  On the other hand, Australia is a twenty hour flight, but much safer and with a little planning could be firmly within my grasp.  Make that a lot of planning, but even then travel time and distance notwithstanding, Oz is more doable than Argentina via Mexico.  I finished my ride back home and quietly started planning my next adventure.

With the exception of few people, I've kept this one to myself for the last ten months, telling few as I discretely sorted through the details and logistics to put it together.  I'm not the type to profess my plans unless I can commit to realizing them.  I made that mistake when I haphazardly planned a return trip to Alaska.  When I considered the time, expense, and effort to get there, I came to the decision that I had been there/done that and frankly, just lost interest.  So, I've thought this one out thoroughly before publicly stating my intentions.  I can earn the funds and bank the vacation time from IBM.  I suppose a family emergency or an unforeseen career change between now and next June could get in the way, but those possibilities didn't stop me from planning the Alaskapade.  I'll apply the Pygmalion principal and bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The physical conditioning requirements and financial cost of a trip to Australia are significantly  higher than for the Alaskapade.  Since I cooked this idea up last August, I tried seven ways to Sunday to find the means to make the trip in 2015, but it just isn't financially possible, nor can I sufficiently condition myself in time.  Just flying to Oz is an expensive and time consuming proposition.  Transporting Linus (my KTM) is not financially feasible, so I'll need to rent a bike over there.  I suppose I'll need food and fuel too.  Better mull that one over.  I still have camping gear I bought for the Alaskapade, so I at least have a place to sleep.  So much to consider...

The logistics are complex and the Australian continent is a huge expanse of desert, vegetation, rivers, and creeks but the challenge is awesome!  It's time to stop whining.  I think have my next adventure and maybe I even have a muse.  Stay tuned, because the gears in my head are turning and I'll have a great deal to say here as I plan the trip and then even more as I embark on it.  The trip needs a name.  Maybe I'll figure that out by the next entry.  I'm open to suggestions, so email me if you have an idea.

Update:  The trip has a name.  The trip has its own blog site.  Click the image below to catch up.
The Wizard of AUS