Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wrap Up - Everything else

Wow, so where to start on this? I guess most of my write-up here will be comparing this trip to what I imagined doing this trip solo would have been. That's something I've been wanting to do forever, and have been planning in the back of my mind for the last decade at least. I do frequent solo trips locally, weekend, etc., and my solo traveling is quite different from this group dynamic of traveling.

Wayne kind of chastised me a bit during my write-ups because, in his words, they were great "this is what I did last summer" kind of posts without any really deep look at any behind the scenes shenanigans. I figured most of the people reading this would be more interested in the riding, the scenery and the bikes. Maybe yeah, maybe not. Normally I'm happy to peel the curtain back a bit and give everyone a look at the inner workings of... well, whatever. The sterility of some of the posts in the blog surprises even me, in hindsight. That's not usually like me.

Why is that?

I guess because, first and foremost, I was only one of six people in this and I was one of the invited members. Even though I'd been planning on doing a trip like this for the last decade or so, this wasn't my trip, so I guess I thought it would be best to do everything I could to help out, and to not rock any boats. I like to think I did my share of helping, planning and what-not during the year and a half leading up to this trip in which I was involved.

I took point on getting the bike-shipping stuff squared away, and even though Keith became the contact and payment coordinator, that part of the project was mine, or became mine, or I took it over... not sure and don't care. I was happy to do it. I contacted near on to two dozen shipping companies, freight forwarders, vehicle-specialists, large and small. Estimates, dates, details, etc., were all digested, collated, sorted and filtered, and eventually I narrowed it down to a few choices and presented them to the group, with my suggestions on which one to use. Surprisingly, most in the group were happy to go along with whatever decision was made, provided the costs could be contained. Turns out with HOG, AMA or AAA discounts, we got each bike shipped for around $570 per, a good solid hundred bucks or more less than I was expecting.

Keith definitely did the lion's share of the planning with regards to dates, logistics, route ideas, stopping points, people to meet along the way, daily mileage suggestions, keeping us all sane and focused, etc. He's a project manager at his day job, and keeping us all so organized was something he made look easy. Herding cats truly would have been easier, but he did a great job of making it look easy. Go, you, Keith! He also fronted a lot of the costs and, friends or not, that's always a risky chance to take. We all owe Keith more thanks than is easy to express. Maybe as a 'thank you' gift, we'll all stop talking about how hot his sister is.


Thank you, Keith. From all of us.

(and some day the whole "Keith's sister is really hot" story will be told - it's kind of funny)

Wayne, Adrian and Keith were the three guys originally who decided this trip would happen. They were all sitting in a bar one evening after taking the Lee Parks' Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic (a class that all of us on the trip has taken). I think it was Wayne who first voiced the idea and the three of them began the earliest planning.

I was invited by Keith and got to know the rest of the guys better over the next few months during rides, weekends, evenings out, etc. Turns out I gel pretty well with most of them. That really helped ease me in to being a more active participant in the planning and, most importantly, voicing my opinions on things that probably weren't great ideas or might be beyond the scope of the trip.

My original intent was to do a trip very much like this but doing it solo. I had always figured that, given the way I ride, the things I choose to stop and see and the fact that I get into "machine mode" and just ride, ride, ride when there's a destination and fleeting hours, I could do a trip like this in two work weeks, plus the three weekends around them. My plan was to beeline to Seattle - a 2-1/2 to 3-day ride - then head south along the coast to San Fran, then across the dessert, and into Utah, down in to Texas then across the South and back up through the Eastern mountains. At the time I knew people in Seattle, San Fran and Texas and they seemed like good places to put in for a day off of riding.

Had I done my original plan, I would have ridden, I guess, the 1, 101 and PCH mostly, and would have missed out on some of the in-country mountain-riding goodness that I experienced on this trip. The mix we did was better by far than what I was planning. But hey... there's something to be said for riding 4 or 5 days down the Pacific Coast. I envy those who live there and can ride that area when they please.

I also would have ended up being more within budget had I done this trip solo. I can definitely appreciate the nicer motels and hotels for their accommodations, but frankly, for dropping luggage in a room for 7-9 hours, grabbing a shower and getting back on the road, I'd have been perfectly happy with lower-end motels most of the time. Yes, I would have sprung for nicer places some times, especially on the days-off. I had even planned on camping some times; I bought a small simple 0ne-man tent (the family tent that sleeps 10 probably won't work well on a bike, ya think?) and would have been perfectly happy making room on the bike for that stuff. Turns out, everyone on the trip agreed that two-plus weeks on the road, everyone deserves a real bed and things like heat and air conditioning. Still... the challenge of "roughing it" a bit would have added to the character of the trip, I think.

Which brings to question the next thing.... what *was* the character of this trip? If you had asked me any time prior to the trip, what the plans were, my answer would have been something like, "Ride some great roads, see America, enjoy some Americana." I have since learned that riding across the country for two weeks with six very different people, you have three choices.
  • You can go places (which icnludes visiting people or being a tourist).
  • You can see things (which includes some of that 'Americana' I mentioned).
  • You can ride great roads.
The very best you can do, with six different people on the road for two weeks across this great and large country of ours, on any given day, is pick two of those.

Six people make everything... every meal stop, every fuel stop, every motel selection, every photo-op stop, every rest stop... you get the picture... longer, more complicated and more of a group-choice vote. Most of the time I was happy to roll with what the group decided, but there were a few times when I wanted to stop more and lots of times I wanted to stop less or for shorter periods of time. I would have been very happy to stop more frequently for pictures and meeting people, and very happy to make the fuel and food stops more in-n-out in nature. When I travel solo, my fuel stops are typically long enough to fuel up, walk a lap around the parking lot, make a quick pee stop and re-stock my water or Gatorade, maybe eat a banana. 10 minutes is a long fuel stop for me. 30 minutes was the average on the trip. Granted, some of the guys needed more of a break. I was definitely on one of the more comfortable bikes on the trip... on the planet... and I would have never rushed anyone along during those stops.

Oddly enough, early in the trip, I was one of the last to get ready to roll at most of the stops. Once I figured out the pacing of the stops, then I was able to get into the flow. But early on, I would fuel up, do whatever I needed, then be ready to roll. When I saw that everyone was taking a break, I'd peel off the gear, go and sit, make a phone call, get to talking, whatever, and would take my time getting geared back up to leave.

One day during the trip was pretty interesting. We stopped in Moab, Utah to Wayne and Adrian could get new tires on their bikes. Sport bike tires are softer for better grip, and some times that end up meaning less overall mileage per tire. It's the trade off we all live with. Everything I'd heard about riding in Utah, riding to the canyons, seeing the landscapes... and we were just passing through. Well, screw that. I peeled off from the group for the day to do my own thing, with the intent of meeting up in Durango, Colorado at the end of the day.

Adrian and Wayne both figured I was done with the group, and in the back of my mind, I probably did, too. But... everyone agreed to stick (mostly) together and everyone also agreed that people are going to want to do their own thing from time to time. This was a chance to put that to the test, for myself and for the group. I simply did NOT want to miss the opportunity to ride the Moab area. You know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare...? I'm a fast turtle when I ride alone. I plod along, doing my own thing, seeing and experiencing those things I choose to. I peeled off from the group at maybe 9am and went to ride CanyonLands National Park and The Arches National Park. I was back in Moab central in time for a quick lunch at the McDonalds's and a quick fuel stop, then on my way to Durango by way of Mesa Verde National Park.

The guys had all taken a wildly different route and had ridden some interesting roads elsewhere, but I was able to spend nearly three hours in Mesa Verde and enjoy everything the park offered (minus the walking tours of the ruins - By this point I was aware of how close to the edge my budget was), including walking with a coyote and sitting with the wild horses for about a half-hour. As I was leaving the park, the guys came rolling in. We talked for a few minutes and I agreed to meet then at the Best Western they had picked out in Durango. This was maybe 6pm or so and they did a cursory tour of the park for maybe an hour. I rolled on into Durango, found the motel they chose, and Wayne, Adrian and I eventually hooked up for pizza and beer at the Pizza Hut. I know they rode some intense roads that day, but me... I'm sticking by my story that I actually had the more enjoyable day. My second-favorite single day of the whole trip.

Later that evening, some of the guys were planning ahead on how to get home quickly. This is where I start to get a little irked and my general apathy for all things sets in. For most of us, this trip is something that may never happen again. For all of us, we had the support of our families, we had squirreled money away, we had planned, we had fine-tooth-combed over so much of what we could and would do... the idea of blasting home from Colorado just to get home fundamentally sickened and disappointed me. It was the evening in Durango when the switch in my head flipped and I officially quit caring about anyone else's wants or needs on this trip. I had grudgingly agreed to skip Tombstone. Likewise Roswell. I didn't do San Fran, including the Wharf and Alcatraz. I chose to stay with the group and I agreed to skip things.

Not any more. As Wayne told me several times, "This is your trip too, man." This was my trip, too.

Brian and Bob were the most vocal about wanting to bee-line home and they're big boys. I was happy to wish them good luck and send them along, but I was most definitely not interested in letting their home-sickness interrupt my trip. I would have been happy to split from the group on my own, rather than be the cranky voice of the group had everyone agreed to cut short and buzz home. Failing emergencies at home or completely running out of money or the bike dying, I was firm in my choice to see this out to the end. I thought everyone along on the trip had a pretty clear understanding of just how far away we were, how long we were taking and just how FAR we'd already come. Apparently not. I'm sorry some of the guys didn't enjoy this trip as much as I did, or specifically, didn't enjoy the time spent, the time it was taking and how far we'd come, but that to me seemed more of a choice than anything. Of course I missed home. Of course I wanted to be back in my own bed, saying goodnight to my kids and knowing my life was safe and simple at home. But seriously... fuck that, at least for a little while.

I was riding MY motorcycle across this BIG country and I was bound and determined to make the very best of every moment I could. That includes riding 100 miles of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. That includes some of the most desolate, out of the way places I've ever seen. That includes riding through the snow to see THE Grand Canyon. That includes stretching my fuel reserves farther than I thought possible finding the third closed-down town in Oklahoma and trying again another 20 miles up the road. That includes meeting people at diners and restaurants who were interested in our trip. That includes standing on the side of road with my broken-down bike wondering what to do next. That includes laughing a little at the guys getting all worked up over the time it was taking to get home. That includes the looks on the faces of people trying to figure out what Yuengling is. That includes riding in 110-degree heat and 30-degree cold. It includes photographing wildlife and the wild antics of my traveling buddies.

And that includes reaching that state where I just couldn't spend one more bit of energy caring about others' ability to have a good time. This was my trip, too. From then on, I was riding a solo trip, and if it happened to be with 1, 2, 3 or 5 other guys... so be it. But from then on, I was "riding my own ride" and taking whatever came my way and handling it my own way. Once I got myself into that mindset, I let everyone know that if anyone wanted to go on ahead, have fun, I'm riding from here to there, no route, no plan and I'll see you at the end. I begged off all Interstates from that point on and even though Northern Oklahoma was the most boring and desolate place I'd been, I was enjoying the experience for what it was, not as just another way to get to Point B.

On this trip, I spent 16 days just living in the moment. More so in the last 5 or 6 days than before, mostly because I'd just given up on worrying so much about my place in the group and others' enjoyment of the experiences. I stopped to take the pictures I wanted, I didn't stop or didn't take pictures when I didn't want to. And I had a great time for it.

So... I've been asked a lot, what would I change, or what will I do different next time? This group I went with, we're all friends and have all taken numerous day-trips and weekend trips to and fro', ranging from two people to these six and more. Knowing now what I know, and having experienced what I have, I would be far, far more vocal - perhaps to the point of being annoyingly insistent - that we all understand, when someone feels like peeling off for the day, or the rest of the trip - we're all big boys and can take care of ourselves. No guilt, no worries. In addition, I would have stuck by my guns about going to see the things *I* wanted to see and the places *I* wanted to go. Others come along, great. But don't bitch to me if you don't have a good time. Others don't want to come, great... see ya'll at the next meet point in a day, two, or more.

The ideal trip would be solo. The logistics and risk-management of a solo trip of this size and magnitude are pretty intimidating. Wayne had a nice idea suggesting three people could be nearly optimal for a trip like this. Two would be good, but in the case of there being real trouble, a third could run on ahead and get help. That makes a lot of sense. If the guys all planned this trip for next year, I would agree to go with all my points being made very vocally and very clearly, or I would join in to get the group rate on shipping, then meet them all at some central point every few days and go solo. Or I would suggest that the various sub-groups consider doing things that they like in common. Or... Or... Or...

I had a great time on this trip, I could have had a better time. But I have no *real* regrets. Just typical "hindsight is 20/20" stuff. And yes... I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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