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Yermo's 2016 Trans-Am Trail Trip

'Wednesday August 10th, 2016 10:00'
This adventure is over.

I originally started writing during my 2010 Alaska trip. I would tell people where I was going, "Alaska". And how I was going there, "On an 18 year old street bike with street tires." I would then tell them about the Dalton Highway and it's unpredictable largely unpaved 424 miles. All my guy friends responded similarly, "Cool. Let me know how it was when you get back." In contrast, virtually every single female friend I had at the time responded, once I told them about the Dalton, "YOU'RE DOING WHAT?!? YOU'RE GOING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED! You have to send me an email or a text message every day to let me know you're ok!" I promised that I would each and every time. Once it got to be about 20 women, most of them new mothers who have never been on a motorcycle, I mentioned to one that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with all these messages every day. "Why don't you write a blog?" she asked. "That way we can all stalk you and when the updates stop we'll know more or less where you bit it." 

This made sense to me. As I embarked on that journey, now six years ago, I tried to think of what to write. I had no experience doing anything like this. "Dammit Jim, I'm a programmer, not a writer." I asked myself the question, "What is it about this thing that I am doing on this motorcycle that a new mother who has never been on a motorcycle would find interesting?" Certainly not tire wear, oil consumption, mileage or any of the other typical things that motorcyclists focus on. This turned into the question,  "What is it about this experience that I, because I have been doing it for so long, take for granted?"

This provided me a framework from which to write. I was writing for these non-motorcycling new mothers who were convinced I was going to bite it. It caused me to look at every detail of what I was doing, thinking, and experiencing and see it with new eyes, with beginner eyes. 

But now, six years later, I embark on a different trip for similar reasons. Reset. Away. To take a pause from myself and maybe find a lost perspective that I only ever seem to find Out There. But now, in this new context with 20+K followers on Facebook many of whom are professionals in the motorsports industry and much harder core and capable than I am, it's not as clear who to write for or what story to tell. Because so many had expressed interest in riding the TAT, my thought initially had been to try to write a kind of "guide to the Trans America Trail" for them. There isn't a lot of good information out there on what riding this route is like. There are some youtube videos of sections that look rough. There are some articles and even a DVD, but nothing is comprehensive. But describing the trail is much like trying to take photographs of it because the route thus far has been so similar. "Gravel, dirt, rocks, hills, switchbacks, cliffs, trees, pavement, rinse, repeat." The sections meld together and I can no longer remember the finer differences between them and one could largely describe what this riding has been like in a couple of paragraphs. "Much much easier than anticipated, but tiring. Appropriate for advanced beginner level riders who have ridden on gravel and dirt."  

But I still have a number who are concerned about my demise, hence the reason for the Spot. I still have quite a number of non-riders who follow me and some have sent messages saying how much they're looking forward to reading about the philosopher motorcyclist's travels again. They certainly are not interested in how well the Mefo Explorer tires I have are working out or the other motorcycling minutiae about dualsporting.

So I came up with a thought which may make things a bit easier. Over the last too long, I've been attempting to build a mapping system for motorcyclists to share routes, stories, and experiences. It's not ready for prime time but it's slowly getting there. Hopefully, at this point, it works for more people than not. 

So what I am going to try to do is document conditions on the trail in maps, not here in the blog. I'll include tracks, notes, and photos but not Sam's routes. (GPS routes, rollcharts, and maps can be purchased from Sam at http://transamtrail.com.) The maps of my ride I'll target at riders who might want to ride the TAT someday. (If you just want to look at the set of maps and skip the blog you can view them here: http://miles-by-motorcycle.com/136/maps). I'll add comments where applicable. If you have questions you can register for the site here and post comments directly to things on the map or to blog articles here. (If it doesn't work please do let me know.) 

I'll try to write the blog the way I've done in the past and save you endless photos of corners with gravel in them. Maybe that will work better. At the end of the trip (we'll see how far I get) maybe I can put together a 'Yermo's Guide to the Riding the TAT" article if anyone's interested.

As some have pointed out, I've been sounding like I'm not doing that well. Truth be told the first four days have been much much more tiring than I would have guessed. Nothing has been difficult or even challenging. The roads are overwhelmingly easy. I can see that this is greatly dependent upon weather, though. However, it's a different style of riding and it requires a different level of attention. It wears me out so much quicker than road riding does. After 150 miles on these gravel and dirt roads I feel like the equivalent of 800 street miles. It's also exercising muscles I didn't know I had.

The seat has also caused me much more pain than I would have expected and I should have stopped to address that some time ago, but I often let the thought of a task become much larger in my mind than the task itself, even if the end result is an improved situation. I remember riding into Deadhorse, Alaska when it was 25 degF out with a strong wind. I didn't stop to put on my electric vest because I didn't want to deal with the momentary painful cold of putting it on so instead I was moderately cold for hours. Thus it has been with making the bike seat more tolerable. I originally bought the Saddlemen seat because I had such good luck with the one they made for my Beloved Blue Oil Burner, a '92 BMW K100RS. It features a layered gel design that is the best seat I've used by far. I thought that the seats they make for dualsports like my DR650 would be comparable. I had been a little concerned about how narrow the seat was but I figured since it was a Saddlemen seat it would be ok. I was so confident about this I even contemplated not packing my AirHawk but decided to bring it with me just in case.

An AirHawk is a seat cover with an air bladder that you inflate and strap on your seat as a kind of cushion. It evens out the pressure you put on your rear and generally makes riding on uncomfortable seats much more tolerable.

The "problem", which is not a problem at all, is that on the Suzuki the seat is bolted fixed to the bike. All removing it entails is pulling off two dirty side covers and then undoing two difficult to thread bolts. For some reason that I cannot explain, this task seemed onerous possibly a sign of how low energy I've been of late. 

In the relatively early morning, reminding myself that a task is often easier once you get started, I went outside, pulled out my tool roll, and began to undo the covers.

Photo (12315))
Tool Roll


The seat doesn't quite line up 100% so getting the bolts to thread back in takes some fiddling and pressure, but all went back together in short order. Hours and hours of pain for fear of minutes of work. 

"Take the time." I reminded myself.

I wasn't convinced that it would make that much of a difference in this particular context but something needed to be done. Even the day after a ride sitting on anythng was so painful that I was beginning to fear that the pain was indicative of real injury.  

Photo (12316))


I put everything back and packed up the bike and rolled down the street to a diner. The seat still hurt. As I rolled up, an older gentleman was sitting outside and started talking to me. "I think you're gonna get wet today!" he said with a wry grin.  "I used to race dirt track and ride all over up in them har hills, but I'm too old now." he said. 

A young rough looking woman walked out of the diner and, looking at the bike, said to the old man, "There's no way I'm ever getting on one of those. I'm too scared." as she lit a cigarette and took a big drag. The smoke lingered as she exhaled.

Inside, I sat down and ordered an omelette as I often do in the mornings on a road trip. I asked if they had any fruit. The waitress looked at me quizzically as if she was pondering a question she had not been asked before. "I don't think so." I then remembered that I had ventured into the Land That Fruit and Vegetables Forgot.

I sat, painfully, and pondered the day sipping my brown colored water. My mind was largely blank which for me is unusual. The thoughts that normally occupy my consciousness were somehow missing. Disconnected. It's like I've been less than me for a very long time.

I paid my tab and then headed down the street to an autoparts store hoping to find some loctite and maybe some race wire or similar. Loctite is a fluid you put on bolts that, once it hardens, prevents them from coming back out again. It comes in multiple grades depending on how strongly you don't want the bolt to come out. Given the number of bolts that have been falling off the bike my thought is to apply loctite to anything I take off. Bare wire, which I should have brought with me, could be used to wrap something about the exhaust where the heat shield fell off. One experienced rider on Facebook suggested a beer can could provide a makeshift solution. Unfortunately, while they did have loctite they did not have any bare wire. 

I loaded the current route into the GPS and headed off to explore the next section of the TAT. The last section had ended with a lot of pavement. This next section started out also on pavement. At this rate, I suspect there's going to be more pavement on this route across the country than I expected. 

At one point, I saw a turtle on an empty road and immediately turned around the help the little guy to the shoulder but I was saddened to see he had already been hit and was dead. 


I hadn't noticed the previous day that I had come down from the mountains and was now in a relatively wide valley. It seemed like everything slows down. The streams barely seem to move.


The miles ticked along without me noticing. I realized after some time that the airhawk was making quite a difference. I didn't need to switch positions every few seconds and was more able to meld into the ride. Eventually, I started to see hills.

Photo (12322))


But as I approached the route took a long turn to the left and I was left on pavement for an extended section. The miles ticked off and I continued not to notice. At one point, I passed a sign I did not expect.


I tend not to notice details but I was pretty sure I had not crossed into Middle Earth. 

While it was still overwhelmingly pavement, there were beautful vistas to behold.

Photo (12324))


Eventually, I did find myself on gravel roads again for a time. 


My progress slowed as I usuallly only to around 20mph or less on these roads. Turns and surface changes are unpredictable. What looks like a good long straight stretch can turn into a downhill deep gravel covered switchback at a moments notice. Caution is warranted.

I was soon back on pavement. I found myself thinking about differences. 

"You don't sound like you're having fun." one mentioned. "Maybe you should turn around and go home." another said.

My road trips have been very different. I suspect if I had written about my first long road trips they would have sounded much the same. Pain. Discomfort. Fiddling. Errors. Regret. As a teenager, I rode up to Saranac Lake on the Honda Sabre V65 I had at the time, a large top heavy bike without a fairing that leaves you to fight the wind yourself. It had gotten quite cold and half way to my destination it started to rain dramatically. I had no rain suit. I had no cold weather gear. I was miserable. Eventually, a muscle under my right shoulderblade cramped up so bad it started to feel like it was bleeding. That muscle never recovered. 

I could have stopped riding at that point. But I didn't. I learned, made more mistakes along the way, and slowly grew into a style of riding that worked me. Over time and a few hundred thousands of miles, I have road travel down to muscle memory. I have figured out how to manage my fatigue and lack of energy. I have grown into something resembling a sport touring street rider.

"Then maybe you should just do that." I can hear the voices say. "It would be easier."

I needed to leave and I've learned that when I don't listen to some of the more constructive "intuitions" or "voices" I do so at my own peril. I need reset. I need "different". I've had the thought, no, feeling that there is something to be learned out here on this "trail" doing something quite different than I've ever done before. As we get older, we tend to specialize and once we know what it feels like to be good at something we tend to shy away from doing anything that might shed us in an incompetent light. Fear of judgement of the other, even when the other is just a voice in our head feeling embarrassed hoping no one will "see". But there in lies a danger because we lose sight of our "beginner's mind". We get used to having answers. We get type cast in our own minds. "I am a sport touring rider, not a dual sport rider." And in that we start to make excuses. "I'm just too old." so many say. Or have I not put in the effort to adapt? And once you start to say you are too old, your possibilities narrow and you further adapt solely to the familiar.  

And I agree that I am mal-adapted to this ride. And that is, the whole point.

I knew when I embarked on this little journey that I would be surprised by the unexpected. I have ridden a couple thousand miles of gravel and dirt roads over the years so I thought I should be able to handle the technical aspects of riding on these surfaces. The roads and trails have been almost disappointingly easy. What has completely surprised me is how tiring this kind of riding is day in and day out. But slowly it gets easier.

As is the case with all change, there's a painful period involved. We are not machines. We are not static "things". I like to say we are not "beings" but instead of "processes" that adapt and grow. With change comes pain. But, hopefully, it's temporary and I'll learn to slowly adapt and grow into a different kind of rider. And hopefully, a different kind of person. 

The same has been true of all the big changes I've made in my life. When I figured out starch, sugar, and lactose was making me ill because I apparently have a defective immune system that hates me, I cut them out of my diet. What I rarely talk about was how downright painful that change was. But that's past tense pain so I rarely think about it and focus primarily on the benefits. It's good to have all my innards. Back then, before the diet, I was so bad off even riding on the street for short distances was so painful that I would usually opt just not to do it. Friends would see me pass out as soon as we reached our destination. Post diet everything changed. 

There are also those who have done this ride and rides like it before. And like me when speaking to road riders, they have endless advice to offer in an attempt to save me some pain and mishaps. I listen and carefully consider all of it. I've even gotten the occasional implied "I told you so." when predictable problems arise. But here in lies another thought. I have to make many of these mistakes myself. I have to figure out a way to do this that works for me, even if that means just doing it slowly because my body just isn't as robust as I would like it to be. And here, being the beginner on the learning side, instead of the teacher which I have been for so many years now, I see clearly a flaw that I have been making.  

When I see someone struggling with something I know something about, my first uncontrollable impulse is to jump in and help. I want to jump in and save them the pain I went through. In some rare cases it's warranted and, if I want to be charitable, some would say I've done a bit of good in the world. But in most cases my help turns out to be burdensome. If I had let people do things for me, if I had only ever gone on guided tours and done the tourist thing, if I had never ventured out into the rain on my own or faced the consequences of some of the mishaps along the way, I would not be in the position to help and advise that I am. 

It's a difficult thing to know you can help, to know you can make their lives easier but to hold yourself back and do less, not more. This is a terribly difficult lesson for me having adapted to too many years in a world where not helping meant imminent disaster. I have great empathy for soldiers returning from too many years at war no longer adapted to a peacetime life. They still perceive enemies and IED's at every corner. 

I taught my last girlfriend how to ride a motorcycle. I set the DR up with a lowered seat beause I hoped she would enjoy it and had visions of riding with her despite the fact that I enjoyed having her as a passenger so much. In parts she did enjoy riding. It felt good to see her do something she didn't think she could, which was and continues to be a recurring theme for her. But I tried too hard to save her from the fall. It should have been obvious to me how important she was to me, but it wasn't. I was trying to save her from the fall to save myself from the pain of watching her fall and my fear took much of the fun out of it for her. 

That story has repeated itself in countless ways in all areas of my life and contributes to the reason why my life is the way it is. 

"Here. I know things. I can help. Here let me help you. Let me save you the pain. Really. I'm good at these things. Let me do this for you." 

But without the pain, without the effort, without the struggle, there is less if any growth. And people need to grow. It's only human.

I see that now despite the fact that I still knee-jerk overhelping at every turn when I see someone I care about in need. But much like coming into a corner too fast, it's not "don't panic". It's more "realize you are panicking /quicker/ and correct /quicker/."  Identify the feeling. Feel it. Watch it. Learn to pause. Eventually, you adapt and grow to no longer panic at things that would have terrified you before.

And so it is with me as I grow into these gravel roads and many aspects of my life as I try to rebuild myself.

I had been concerned about rain. I didn't know what to expect having never been caught in any kind of real rain on dirt roads before. It turned out to be no issue. There's a bit less traction. As a matter of fact, it's the pavement portions that are more dangerous as I would come across mud and debris washed across the road. On the trail, it was much less so.

I got good and soaked but it didn't bother me although it did get dramatically cooler.  

Owing to the fact that there was so much pavement, I made pretty good time and was in Jasper well before nightfall. Things continue to fail. My little laminar lip screen just isn't holding on so I'll have to remove it today. Bugs here we come.

Given that there was serious rain in the forecast for the next two days I thought I would take a rest day and see if I could make some progress fixing some bugs on the site. I was feeling pretty good despite the long day. The airhawk helped more than I realized and I think I'm starting to adapt. It's getting easier. 

I slept fitfully and when I awoke I felt like I had aged 100 years. Every joint, muscle, and fiber in my body ached so a rest day was in order. "When hungry eat. When tired, sleep."

It's now Sunday, Day 11. It's been raining heavily all morning. I geared up, checked out, and am sitting in the lobby typing. The rain is supposed to pass soon and then I'll head back out and see if I can learn to adapt some more.

Let's see if this works. I've made some changes so if you're interested you should be able to click on the map below and get a larger version that you can zoom into and click on photos. The photos are a bit small now but I'll correct that soon once I get a chance. If it fails horribly and you have a comment please let me know. I've only tested it on Chrome so far. 

Trip Day 10 TAT Day 4 - A lot of Pavement


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