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Riding with Dog

Posted By Kent Gallaway #195534, Tuesday, June 16, 2020

I looked forward to escaping a cold spring and left our home near Readstown, Wisconsin, on my BMW and towing my Kompact Kamper. The plan was to head south to North Carolina and visit an old friend, one of the few I have from grade school in California. I would go to Rock Island, Illinois, and start my trip picking up Kirk Olson, who I met at the Soldiers Grove Rally. I started talking with Kirk at the rally because he had this beautiful chocolate labradoodle, Moca.

As we got to know each other, I saw Kirk traveled with the dog while towing a trailer for his bike. Nothing unusual there. I loved the dog and when we went for a ride, he said he would take his dog along and I thought it would be interesting. The dog was ready and willing and they obviously had it down. Kirk lifted the dog (maybe 50 pounds, on the small size for that breed), and put Moca - snugly - in a woven fabric box attached to the back seat of his motorcycle.

Moca was looking forward to whatever Kirk had in mind. In the dog went, and Kirk attached a short lead to the dog as a safety precaution while assuring me it was never necessary. We were ready to go and I was amazed at the two of them. It was quite sight to see the dog looking around and ready for some sight-seeing. We had a good ride and that was the the first time I had ever seen a dog so comfortable on the back of a bike.

When I arrived at Kirk’s in Rock Island for this longer trip, I wasn’t thinking Moca would go with us with all the interstate we would be doing. I thought wrong! Moca was definitely going and would have been disappointed if we left him behind. We hit the road and I rode behind, looking on with amazement as Moca was the perfect passenger. What a sight it was watching Moca looking at all he could. Sometimes he would stick his head to the side looking for squirrels in town. Other times he would rest his chin on Kirk's shoulder to enjoy the parade of sights and sounds. I especially liked when he would look up over the rear trunk at me while blasting down the interstate to make sure I was still with them. When he got tired he would curl up in his cozy box.

Moca was as much a pleasure at our camp site as he was as a passenger. I eventually bonded with him, but he was definitely Kirk's dog. Moca hung on every move Kirk made and obeyed him to the letter. He would dismount after a ride and run around with his ball waiting for Kirk to throw it anywhere. He could have thrown it off a cliff and Moca would have gone after it. Water was not an issue, so we had fun watching him dive into the water and come up with the ball every time. When it came time for sleep, my Kompact Kamp had more than enough room for the three of us. Keeping Moca down at our feet wasn’t his preference and he would work his way up to our heads.

Moca did the Blue Ridge Parkway with us and was the perfect traveling companion on an unforgettable trip.

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I can't ride 55...

Posted By Matt Wank #217542, Sunday, March 15, 2020

...but I really want to. I consider 55 mph a sweet spot speed. You can be on a quiet, relaxing side road, taking in the scenery and stopping at will, while still making decent time to your destination. D.C. area motorways are essentially the opposite of that. They are either way too slow due to traffic, or way too fast and chaotic on the off-chance there isn't any. This lack of a speed sweet spot struck me on a recent day trip to Richmond, Virginia, for a college buddy's baby's first birthday. D.C. to Richmond requires the dreaded I-95, twice in one day in this case, taking the shortest route distance-wise. It was the weekend, but I-95 is notorious for traffic even outside rush hour for any number of reasons, including constant construction and routine accidents. So predictably miserable it is that another friend in the D.C. area drove his family down to Richmond the night before and stayed in a hotel. I chose a different mitigation technique, one that would incorporate a sweet spot.

Instead of all I-95, I planned departure and return routes that split each direction to half highway, half secondary roads. I could do all side roads and avoid I-95 altogether, but I had a work picnic in the early afternoon to get to, so that would have to wait until another trip when I had more time. The switch point in each direction would be Fredericksburg, Virginia. Hitting the road at 7 am on Sunday, I chose highway for the first stretch hoping it would be relatively quiet. Fortunately, that was correct, and I made it to Fredericksburg at a comfortable time and relatively relaxed pace. I popped into Agora Downtown Coffee Shop after riding around a few backroads for a quick cup of cold brew. At that time, the downtown area was tranquil, and I reflected on what appeared to be a decent amount of Civil War history to learn about the area. For another trip, when I had more time.

I continued as planned for the first switch onto Route 1, finding that 55 mph sweet spot. Even though I-95 wasn't too bad in the morning, Route 1 was still a breath of fresh air. I cruised along from small town to small town, occasionally hitting stoplights, which go from a hindrance to an opportunity when you view the journey as a priority. Once in Richmond, I meandered down the unique Monument Avenue, illegally parking for a photo, naturally. I then decided to hop over towards Belle Isle and catch more views, discovering the twisty section Riverside Drive between the Robert E. Lee and Boulevard Toll Bridges. If blocked off, you could have some real fun there, but it is very residential and narrow with runners, bicyclists, and some blind corners. Under open circumstances, I didn't push it. I crossed the James River back into downtown over the Boulevard Toll Bridge, worth the 30 cent toll for a unique, older style bridge with solid views.


Photo by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31996448.

After spending an hour celebrating with screaming children, cute games, and a classic cake smashing mess, I returned to I-95 for a first-half highway stint towards D.C. Now in the early afternoon, I was quickly reminded of why you avoid 95 by speeds of 80+ mph, sporadic drivers, gusty wind, semi-trucks, and pockets of slowdown traffic. I still made decent time to downtown Fredericksburg where I stopped again for coffee, this time at Hyperion Espresso. Instead of taking Route 1 north on this return switch, I followed the GPS through backroads towards the picnic in Northern Virginia. I passed through many small-town/classic Americana scenes. I saw a herd of John Deere tractors neatly organized, but would have to wait for another trip when I had more time. I saw a giant 1970s style roller skate as tall as a school bus, but would have to wait for another trip when I had more time. Civil War battlegrounds, scenic bridges and waterways, farmland with crops as far as the eye can see only disrupted by a small farmhouse, paintings of pigs, cows, and American flags - but I'd have to save stopping for another trip, when I had more time.

I arrived at the picnic happy that I was able to ride so much around a busy day, but reflective on how much I still missed due to time constraints. I still had to take a major highway for half of the trip and wasn't able to stop along the slower backroads. If there's one thing I've learned from my longer adventure trips, taking quiet roads over shorter distances allows more stops, more stops allow more experiences, and more experiences allow more joy in riding. It's unfortunate that even with a ride like this where I get off the highway and hit that sweet spot of 55 mph, my schedule is still too busy to enjoy fully. Right now, I still can't really drive 55. I guess the only way to make time is to find a sweet spot for early retirement, say, 55?


Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources, https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/historic-registers/127-0174/.

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Arizona Crossroads: Tuweep Overlook

Posted By Scott A Moseman #196924, Friday, February 14, 2020

When one thinks about the Grand Canyon, the heavily visited North or South Rims are what typically come to mind. But there’s another location less frequented that has similarly spectacular views: Tuweep Overlook. (Also known as the Toroweap Overlook by some.)

The Tuweep Wilderness is one of the most remote areas in the United States. It’s located in the Arizona Strip, an isolated region of northwestern Arizona along the North Rim of the western Grand Canyon.

The turn-off to the Tuweep Overlook is found between Colorado City and Fredonia, Ariz., along Hwy 389. (Pipe Spring National Monument is nearby.) Once you leave pavement, it’s a 70-mile ride south over an unpaved, sandy, muddy and bone-jarring road across the Great Basin Desert. The last four miles are filled with technical riding delight, even on a fully loaded GS.

Once you arrive at the Ranger Station, you must check in. During my visit, I had the pleasure to meet Stuart, the volunteer ranger working this section of the park. Stuart has been working here for more than 20 years and is a wealth of knowledge about the history and geology of the area. Tuweep Overlook is open from sunrise to sunset, with the gates closing a half hour after sunset. While there are some camping sites available, a Backcounty Permit must be obtained online prior to your visit as permits aren’t available at the ranger station.

Tuweep Overlook sits 3,000 feet above the Colorado River with the sheer drop to the river below offering a stunning view. Volcanic cinder cones and lava flows in this ancestral home of the Southern Paiute people make this area unique to this section of the Grand Canyon. Eight million years ago, molten lava erupted from hundreds of vents. Lava filled side canyons, flowed down the Grand Canyon and created huge dams across the Colorado River. Below the Overlook, on the Colorado, are the Class 10 rapids named Lava Falls. Ranked 4/10 of the world’s most notorious whitewater rapids, the thunderous roar of Lava Falls can be faintly heard from the Overlook.

Video not shot by author - just found on YouTube!

A visit to Tuweep Overlook offers the opportunity for an uncrowded, rustic and remote experience though access is challenging and demands skill at negotiating difficult roadways. Additional challenges include hot weather, monsoonal rains, summer lightning and during the winter, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. Whenever you go, be ready for quickly changing conditions. Services are non-existent—no water, gas, food, lodging or cell service. At all.

Tuweep Overlook was on my North America riding bucket list for some time, and I believe it’s well worth the effort to get there. If you plan on visiting, do your research and plan accordingly. You won’t be disappointed!

Tags:  Arizona  grand canyon  scenic 

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Young, Wild and Riding Free.

Posted By Natalie Ellis Barros #199011, Monday, May 11, 2015
  
"Young, Wild, and Riding Free"
Natalie Ellis Barros #199011

You might say it was a little allegorical that my first solo adventure on a motorcycle would be heading 600 or so miles down the “One” to pick up my college diploma. I was too cheap to pay $60 for it to be mailed, and I was in need of my first real ride, alone. So, closing one chapter of my life and riding straight into the next, I heaved myself and a bunch of gear onto the back of my beautiful GS and hit the road for Southern California.
   I know it’s not around the world or anything, but after three hours of mingling with the commuters headed to the Bay area and fighting for the carpool lane on the I-680, bending against the ocean breeze and squinting into the glare of the sun off the iridescent waters felt like a magical world all its own. The wind likes to try to knock you over on that section of the 101, and I wanted to go faster than the 70 mph speed limit because the road just sits there, open and clear for you with the sun smiling down, but the wind wanted nothing more than to throw this 23-year-old out on her first adventure ride off her poorly packed bike. It was in that moment, when all my muscles in my tiny body were tightened together in order to keep the bike up, occasionally having to punch the bags strapped up behind me to keep them from pulling me down, that I started crying. But the tears were not from some “girly” frustration and weakness, but out of pure happiness and the excited thrill of being alive that only motorcyclists can understand.
   I stopped in Monterey for a late lunch at a lovely little American diner just off Cannery Road. Ironically, I had some of the best fish tacos in my life. As soon as I took off my helmet, on came the stares and the questions. Being a strong advocate of ATGATT, I can appear pretty genderless with my helmet on, which can of course come in handy if I’m filling up the tank in a sketchy place. But once I expose my head covered in long feminine locks and features, the reactions of the on-lookers around me change and surprisingly almost always for the better.
   As a fit young woman, I’ve been objectified and harassed by men frequently. It seems that no matter what I’m wearing, be it sweat pants, dance clothes, cocktail dress, or parka, there’s always someone who feels the need to be crass or send their hungry eyes my way. But every man I’ve encountered while in my gear has treated me with the utmost respect and admiration, often asking me questions about my journey and my bike, but always encouraging my independent nature. In fact, it was usually the women who would either glare in disapproval, ask me why I was “inviting danger,” or simply refuse to acknowledge me. It seems more and more that it is women who put our gender in a box rather than men.
   Returning to my journey, the road was beautiful and warm as I headed down the coastal highway. The camping spot that I had planned on stopping at was full, so on down the road I continued. Soon, the sun was setting, and it was starting to get cold. I had passed Big Sur and was beginning to get worried about time. I had thrown around the idea of just stopping somewhere on the road and attempting to toss down my sleeping bag in some brush in the hopes of going unnoticed, but the idea of being awakened by a cop or worse in the dead of the night kept that idea as a last resort only.
   With the sun down for about an hour, I was exhausted and knew that I was entering the “danger zone” and not the Kenny Loggins one. The more I continued down the road the more dangerous I knew I became to myself and to others. “Cambria 6 miles” the road sign said, and I pulled off into what I thought was Cambria looking for some answers. My phone was almost dead. I had it in airplane mode to save energy and without it, I felt utterly lost. I didn’t remember seeing a campground on the map until SLO after Big Sur, and I was stuck in the cold in between. There were a few hotels, but this being my only night on the road before heading into to LA tomorrow, I refused to give in and stay in one. Not only was I a broke, recent college grad, but I knew that my trip would have been an utter failure. I rode all this way with all this crap on the back of my bike to prove to myself that I was independent and strong, to prove that I had grown from mom and dad’s little college girl into “adventure woman” ready to embrace the world with nothing but a F650GS and a tent, and I wasn’t just going to call it quits and pitch up in a hotel. Hell no! I took a deep breath, latched my helmet back on, straddled “Lady Godiva” once again and took off south. Sure enough, about a mile down the road, I found my deliverance from the winding One.
   “San Simeon State Park.” Apparently I hadn’t passed Cambria like I thought. That little, brown sign with the shiny triangle “tent” icon glowed in the night, and I breathed a solid breath of relief. I followed the dirt road on my trusty dual up the hill toward the inaptly named “primitive” camping. It was dark, but I found my way around to my spot. I pitched my tent and left the sill off because I wanted to “wake up with the sun” since my phone was dead and I had no alarm…terrible idea. Even though it wasn’t as cold as one might think it would be on the coast in November, it was still cold enough to wish I had put the sill over and wake up whenever my body wanted to. Nevertheless, it was a lovely night. I was freezing, but I had the luminescent full moon and howling coyotes for company. Sure, I was frightened; who knew what was out there waiting to prey on a woman alone with nothing but a bit of pepper spray and a pocket knife clung to her chest for defense?
   On my own, wherever the road would take me, on the most wonderful vehicle for adventure that humankind could’ve ever invented. This is what I had wanted out of life. So many of my friends and peers were struggling to figure out what they wanted in life, thrown into the “real world” and wishing they were back under the security blanket of student loans and grade point averages to define who they were. I didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the road.
   I woke up with the sun after sleeping but a handful of hours, packed up and hit the road. I passed Cambria with the sun in my eyes and saw Morro Bay for the first time shortly after that. I’ve grown up in California and have been up and down it a dozen of times, and yet I’m still finding places I never even knew existed. It was a quiet and fresh morning, and there sat Morro Rock, tall and magnificent, a soldier in parade position waiting at the ends of the Earth for me to pass her and salute.
   I stopped for breakfast in San Luis Obispo and discovered that it was about 7:30 a.m. I continued on along the coast to Santa Barbra and decided I’d take the 101 into LA to visit friends before heading to Newport Beach where my best friend was waiting to celebrate the weekend with me.
   By 2 p.m. Hollywood was already hell. I thought I hated driving there, but riding there with too much gear and splitting lanes and possibly denting a Maserati was even worse. Luckily, a good friend of mine lives a block away from the Chinese theater, so I parked the bike, locked up my gear at his place, and he and I took to the streets to laugh at the tourists, judge the hipsters, and admire the Art Deco that hides behind the glamour of modern Hollywood.
   I spent the weekend in Newport Beach visiting my old stomping ground and finally picked up my diploma from UC Irvine just before heading back up Highway One that next week. I had never gone up past Long Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway, so up I went with what seemed like a lot more courage and self-assurance than I had come down with. My gear never wavered, and I pissed off countless drivers stuck behind each other as I fearlessly scooted between them and past the vast and crowded city.
   I took my time on the way up, stopping at “points of historical interest” and points that at least I thought were interesting even if no one else did anymore. I visited some abandoned well, a tree that hung to the ground like an old woman, and the Inez mission that sits just past the way-too-adorable Solvang which I just couldn’t bear to stop at and take a photo of. I camped again on the way up, and this time I remembered to charge my phone longer so that I could throw up the sill. I hit the road early in the morning and got to see the elephant seals playing on the beach before the tourists swarmed them with camera lenses. My gas light went on, and I had to wait at the gas station in Ragged Point for the place to open and my phone to charge. At $5 a gallon, I was once again happy to be riding a motorcycle and not a gas-guzzler.
   When I took off again, it was just after 8 a.m. and the road was empty. I slowed down to keep pace with a Red-Tailed Hawk. At first, he almost crashed right into me, but then for about a mile he flew next to me! He was close enough that I could make out the sharp curve of his beak and the bright red of his tail feathers. I smiled from under my helmet, and when my companion finally took off and I went around a bend, I knew I could never feel more alive. I never believed in fate, but as I’m sure most of you reading this have felt, if there is such a thing then this is definitely my fate; this is what I was meant for. I startled a bobcat that scampered up the nearly vertical hill like a bullet, and I slipped past the ever-crowded Big Sur seemingly unnoticed.
   I stopped for lunch in Monterey yet again, and as I turned inland I sang at the top of my lungs. The beauty of the full-faced helmet is that you can still look like a bad-ass while screeching Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” at the top of your lungs. When I finally did arrive home I was more exhausted and more fulfilled than I had ever been in my entire life.
   Next stop, South America. Anyone down?

Tags:  BMW MOA  F650GS  generation  New 

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5 Riders, 1 Experience

Posted By Chris Hughes, Monday, May 11, 2015
Alpine Delight: The 2014 BMW MOA/Edelweiss Bike Travel Alpine Delight Tour
   
The very first Edelweiss tour in 1981 made its way through the Alps with five riders and two guides, including company founder Werner Wachter. Ever since then, Edelweiss has become a go-to solution for motorcycle riders of all stripes who share a common desire to see some of the most beautiful vistas and ride some of the most memorable roads all over the world.
   The 2014 BMW MOA Alpine Delight Tour explored some of the most picturesque and challenging roads in the world, taking in the Alps and Dolomite regions of Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Five MOA members got together over email to discuss the trip: Paul Bates #30139, Michael Diehl #89137, Chris Hughes #33373, Elaine Rourke # and Shane Whitney #192518.
   The ride began last August in the beautiful resort town of Seefeld, Austria. The group of riders rode through the green Bavarian hills of southern Germany, visiting one of King Ludwig’s amazing castles along the way. “The first riding day was easy,” said Chris, “and it gave everyone an opportunity to get acquainted with their motorcycle as well as the riding conditions we could expect for the rest of the week.”
   “The switchbacks were as awesome as we’d always heard,” added Elaine, continuing, “One mountain pass had 48 of them!” Several riders agreed that while the roads were narrow and some were subject to traffic, most of the time, there was little traffic, and that made the roads more inviting than intimidating. Paul attributed the lack of traffic to school being back in session and credited the preponderance of “Welcome Bikers” signs at every roadside restaurant, café and attraction for making him feel at home everywhere the tour went.
   “The Dolomites were the most stunning landscapes of the rides,” Chris said. Shane agreed, calling the Dolomites the absolute highlight of the tour. “The Dolomite passes were more challenging than the Alps,” Shane said, “and the views were more of a departure from what I see riding through the Adirondacks at home.  I enjoyed the total focus it takes to ride the passes at a faster pace. The feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day made me feel like I put in the work and I enjoyed the hell out of it.” Chris concurred, saying, “The unending beauty was a challenge to my senses – I didn’t know whether to keep riding or stop and admire the scenery.”
   Michael especially enjoyed Italy’s Passo di Stelvio, which features 36 switchbacks on the western side, the peak (third highest in the Alps) at 2,758 meters (9,048 feet), then 48 more switchbacks on the eastern slope. The 18-kilometer (11.2 miles) pass has numerous, mostly unlit, tunnels as well as sheer drop-offs and stone walls to greet the tour buses, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles that traverse its path. Following Stelvio, the tour wound through Glurns, a 13th century walled city that has remained virtually unchanged since its founding. Stelvio was the last pass of the tour, with the day’s ride ending back in the start city of Seefeld. Michael and Pam plan to view and review their hour-long GoPro video of the ride through Passo di Stelvio in the off-season to remind them of their time on the tour.
   Michael relied on his wife, Pam, to navigate and identify upcoming hazards, especially when riding through the tight switchbacks. Elaine has suggested that Edelweiss include GPS units, loaded with the tour routes, on each bike.  She said, “In some places the road signs were in German, Italian and a local dialect, which made it difficult to follow printed directions and maps. Having a working GPS on the bike would have added to my enjoyment of the trip.” She eagerly credited the Edelweiss staff, especially guide Michael Keller and Austria-based staffer Karin Gritsch, with making the tour such an easy, enjoyable experience.
   All the riders agreed that staying in the same hotel for two nights at one point in the tour was a real plus. “It cut down on packing and unpacking, said Elaine. “The stops gave us the opportunity to explore some quaint towns, like Seefeld, St. Ulrich and Livigno,” said Chris, adding that the rest days gave the MOA riders a chance to get better acquainted with each other as well. Shane liked the two-night stays as well, saying, “There were plenty of nice locations for several days’ worth of local riding, so the necessity to change locations everyday just wasn't there.”
   Elaine called the Alpine Delight Tour “the trip of a lifetime, a dream come true.” For Elaine and her husband, it was an adrenaline-pumping way to fight getting old as they celebrated their 25th anniversary and her 65th birthday. “Being from Florida,” she says, “the mountains provided a true departure from our usual motorcycle riding experiences.”
   Shane particularly enjoyed the ability to ride on his own or in a smaller group, and explore some of the off-route areas on his own and at his own pace. “I’m an adventure seeker,” he admits, “and that allowed for more adventure than with a group ride. I was very excited to ride through Switzerland and the Alps.”
   Paul reminisced about the weather, noting that Alpine weather in late September and early October is not unlike the eastern United States in that it brings clear vistas, clean roads and crisp temperatures. He noted that the Edelweiss bikes were all equipped with panniers and tank bags, giving enough day-to-day carrying capacity to bring along all the layers necessary to handle changing temperatures and the one brief rain shower they encountered.
   For more information about Edelweiss Bike Travel, see their website at www.edelweissbike.com.
   
   

Tags:  Alps  Dolomites 

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An Africa Adventure

Posted By Helge Pederson, 45007, Thursday, March 5, 2015
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It is all in your head. Alarms go off, warning you that you cannot do this. You fight back trying to convince yourself that you actually can ride to the top of Sani Pass. It might even feel like some kind of initiation to make it to the top of Lesotho. Everyone else has already shot ahead; who are you if you don’t make it?

As the tour leader, I try to balance pressure with reality. The day we entered Lesotho from South Africa, the main purpose of the ride was to conquer Sani Pass, hopefully without causing any accidents. Two riders listened carefully to my safety-first pep talk that morning and decided to take it easy, asking to ride with me. I would rather have been playing with the faster riders that most likely had reached the top while I was coaching these two riders to stay within their limits, but this is my job.

Read the full story of Helge Pederson's Africa Adventure in the January issue of the BMW Owners News or view the full size slideshow to to see the story in pictures.

 

 

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MOA Member Profile, Chris Lesser

Posted By Bill Wiegand, 180564, Thursday, March 5, 2015
Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2015

“Ride, Write, Win.” I still have the brochure advertising BMW’s 2001 “Great rides Contest.” When I first picked up that little pamphlet my junior year of college, I had just started looking at getting my first motorcycle for the sole purpose of taking a cross-country trip, This half-baked idea jelled somewhere between Easy Rider, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after college.

Read the full story of MOA member Chris Lesser in the February issue of the BMW Owners News or view the full size slideshow to to see the story in pictures.

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The Pyrenees by Motorcycle

Posted By David Olson, Wednesday, January 28, 2015

    Most journeys begin with some end, a destination, in mind. Unless you are a motorcyclist.  Then it is the journey, the small stops on the road, and the eventual let down: I have arrived. It is Tuesday, and I am almost on the way to Barcelona and the Pyrenees. I will meet my brother, John, and his wife Brenda, who will ride two up. Our roads, our lodgings are known thanks to my brother's planning. Yet remaining is the uncertainty of the next corner, the next village.

 

...

     

Early morning departure. In bed at 9 the night before, then sleep in fits and starts. Perhaps a tree has fallen on a power line in the northwest disrupting power in the southwest. I wake, check my watch...still six hours before I leave for the airport. Relieved? Somewhat, but even more tired. Finally, finally it is up and off. I actually arrive before TSA opens the security line. No photographs, no lasting memories yet, but my journey hasn't really started. I am in the aluminum sausage at 35,000 feet winging my way eastward into the Atlantic night.

   There is only the troubled sleep of a six foot body crammed into a small space. I read somewhere that one should sleep when the sun is down, sort of a circadian rhythm thing. I am a bat flying at night...not much rest. I arrive in Barcelona on schedule and the rendezvous with my brother and his wife at the Cafe di Fiore goes without a hitch. We even have all of our checked luggage. Life is good, but I am tired. Not so sure I can trick my body; it has been over 24 hours since I lay in a real bed.

   The Rambla: this is a bucket list item. The first time I walked the Rambla was in 1970 as a very fresh Navy lieutenant (JG). Now, these many years later, it is still the same. Thousands of people of all age and description. Ice cream vendors, sidewalk hawkers, the milieu making up the Rambla. Rediscover Los Caracoles, not quite right for us. Find a good restaurant and order Paella...wow.

   Off to see Gaudi's masterpiece cathedral. Still under construction!  Then to the beach. Lunch on the beach, this is really nice. We pick up our motorcycles, and we are armed and ready to go.

   It is Friday morning. Rested, fed, and ready to ride, I feel human. First, stop for gas, an amazing quest in the city, but we finally find one after doing a bunch of "izquierda y derecho."  We navigate out of the city. The GPS is a piece of work to be sure. Totally fearless, it leads to some unnecessary directions, but eventually we escape. Many miles, now in the foot hills of the Pyrenees. We are on the green and yellow roads, that is to say the ones built before the surveyor's transit. It is kilometer upon kilometer of unending turns. Intense rhythm reminiscent of slalom skiing. We arrive in Campdevanol, a really nice hotel with an accommodating staff.

   Campdevonal is in the Pyrenees foothills. It is a small village tangential to the N152. It is early afternoon, and we encounter a group of hale and hearty Swiss motorcyclists. It is tempting to knock back some of the local cerveza. My brother and I elect to take an afternoon excursion. We pull out the Michelin Zoom map, not the book store map, and look for a devious, serpentine, green road. Our search rewarded, we remount the BMW GS motorcycles and sally forth. An hour later, we return. Holy smoley, there are no straightaways, only varying degrees of turn radius. And this is only a preview of the remaining ten days. We drink our beer, well, beers. The Swiss are still there.

   Morning, the Catalonian sun has melted away into a gray sky. We are learning the basic rule of the Pyrenees: if you can't see the top of the mountain, it is raining; if you can see the top, it will rain. Not to worry, we have our all-weather riding gear and button up. North, then at Ribes de Freser we turn northwest toward Ax les Thermes, our next haven. Warm and sunny Spain is behind us now, yet, we can still see the tops of the mountains. Growing in height, we climb and descend on increasingly higher passes. Puigcerda: we enter France and join the N20. We climb on sweeping turns that tighten as we move upward until apexing at the Col de Puymorens on the N320. We are in the high alpine region so typical of European mountains. Only the traffic mars this ride and reminds us the "N" (national) routes marked in red mean traffic.

   Ax les Thermes is a popular tourist spot and part of the Tour de France route. It is also nestled in a narrow, pretty Alpine valley and has hot springs. Dropping our gear off at our lodging, we again elect to take the afternoon excursion. The leaden skies open into a steady drizzle. We find a small cafe and stop for lunch. The rain starts. Mount up, and off again. My mid-layer is getting moist. As it turns out, I have not fully secured my jacket. A good lesson. The ride is wet and twists through the deciduous forest. Fun, but we are glad to get back to Ax les Thermes and somewhere dry. We later go to the village and discover the local street market. It is another good day.

   New morning, same gray skies. We lope westward along the north side of the Pyrenees, stopping briefly in Massat. I love these small villages. We are the aliens observing the earth people living their lives. They don't mind, actually they are indifferent to us. We continue past St. Girons and on toward Bagneres de Luchon. We are in lands similar to the Appalachians. Time for a break, we stop for lunch in a nondescript village. Pulling into a gravel parking lot, we carefully align our 600 pound bikes on the slight grade. We discover Chez Jo.

   Chez Jo is the epitome of the village restaurant inn. An elegant middle-aged woman is stacking chairs on the outer deck. No need, it will rain today. She beckons us into the old house salon. It is lush in its warmth. Regional artifacts adorn the walls, a guitar in its rack awaits the virtuoso. I offer to play “House of the Rising Sun,” but John and Brenda discourage my art with a look of constrained horror. In a form of French, we communicate our desire, and our host leaves for the kitchen. An entree of country ham and cantaloupe slices arrives, then the main plate heaped with mutton and au gratin potatoes. Could this get better?  Well, the fresh blueberry pie removes any doubt. We are warm, fed, and dry. And it is raining again.

   Did I mention the wet? My riding gear stubbornly refuses to seal. Fortunately, my companions are doing better. It is only a couple of more hours to Bagneres de Luchon, and we arrive. The rain has let up, we have a dry room, and the sun comes out. It is beautiful. The town is the nexus of bicycling. From the valley floor we look up into the high meadows and peaks. Those are ski runs!  

   Today is a big day. We are doing the five classic cols of the Tour de France. The sun is shining, our machines are ready and packed. First one then the other, the low throb of the R1200GS "wasser boxer" disrupts the morning quiet. Brenda assumes her position on the rear pillion, and after the soft thunk as we drop into first gear, we ease the clutches and move out. Mild turns and slight climbs give way to the stair stepping turns and grades. It is a synchrony of clutch, shift, throttle, brake and on and on. The sweepers are behind us, and I must perfect synchrony. Too tall a gear, a missed shift, a sloppy throttle, and I stall. The road is narrow, single lane. Close margins. I approach a tight hair pin that climbs up and right, swing a little wide, and my head turns uphill--can't stare ahead. I am in the turn, second gear, RPM at 2200, rolling on throttle, a car coming downhill slows. I straighten from the turn, a little wide on the exit but ok. Roll on throttle, prepare for next hair pin left. The road is straightening. I note the encouraging phrases painted on the pavement. I like to think they are for me, but accept this is the aerie of bicycles and montaneros. Motorcycles allowed, barely tolerated. We approach the Col de Peyresourde, and I pass bicyclists climbing an incredible grade. Descend and climb again. I summit next to the sculpture of bicyclists at the Col de Aspin. John and Brenda arrive.

   Some photos, then the comfortable throaty rumble of our engines returns. I descend, but it is a little easier. We don't lose speed in turns on descents, but this poses a new hazard of swinging wide and exiting into oncoming traffic. And then there is the manure on the road. I am in a pastoral area. Sheep, horses and cows are common on the roadway, and they mark their passage. Today is dry but still a little spooky, and I have felt the lurch as tires lose traction. Oh, this is too funny: someone has painted an image of multiple spermatozoa swimming up the mountain. Anything to encourage the bicyclists. We stop for lunch at a small cafe in the alpine valley. Start engines, climb up, go down, turn, turn...we arrive in Arette, France.

   We ride to St. Jean de Luz in the morning. It is raining. The road is slick. In the turn, a sweeper, the tires lose traction, it is so fast. I am fighting to suppress my Survival Reactions described by Keith Code. I am still up and thankful of BMW engineering. I am driving even slower, with laser focus on all road signs cautioning "slippery road."  We reach St. Jean de Luz. We are halfway through our journey.

   My brother's friends, Catherine and Truman, greet us as we arrive at their apartment. They make room for us: warm hearth, bed, and company, followed by soome great food and conversation at a nearby restaurant. Encore, one more night following a day of local riding along the Atlantic coast. It is time to return to Barcelona. We drive southeast from St. Jean de Luz, then turn east at Olague. Rolling country and forests. It is the Basque country.

   It is time to leave the valley and begin our traverse across the southern Pyrenees foot hills. We roll out of a climbing sweeper at the top of a ridge. At the crest, a parking lot with a food cart. Odd, there are people hiking across the road. We slow, stop, and park the bikes. We are in the midst of modern day pilgrims trekking El Camino de Santiago. This is an ancient road whose origins lay in the Roman times. In the ninth century it was the path home for Santiago's body, returning from Jerusalem. An amicable Australian strikes up a conversation.

   Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on our journey. It is secular, there is no spiritual basis. Yet, those who ride understand, at some point on a long ride, one finds a center. The road, the machine, the soul merge in a symphony of peaceful solitude. When we stop, we share this harmony not so much in words but in a joie de vie. We are not trekkers or pilgrims on the ancient road, but I feel we share the same inner peace.

   Isaba. A small village in the Spanish Pyrenees and a center of hiking, kayaking, and randonee in the winter. The national road bisects the town and cobbled paths lead away to secret alleys. Our lodging is deep within the ancient streets, and it is improbably modern. It is quiet. A modern complex of resort condominiums is at the eastern periphery. We convince the owner to open his bar and settle outside for our cervezas. Soon we are joined by a group of presumably German motorcyclists. It seems when we open a bottle, motorcyclists gather. I must explore this mystery.

   We continue to twist our way eastward across the supine ridges leading to faraway peaks. The country is changing and reminds me of the New Mexican Gila wilderness. An incredible formation of reddish cliffs marks our gateway into Jaca. We have a great lunch and a stroll on the local rambla, resplendent with shops, people, and music, then move on to our night's lodging in Villanua. The day is still young, the sun is shining, and we need some more turns before calling it a day. So off to the summit at Candanchu, which is also a large ski area.

   A new day, we are blessed with sun. The Aragon sky is azure and pleasantly cool. Heading south on the N330, we intercept the N260. It is an incredible road of changing conditions, canyons, and, yes, more twisties. To the west of Ainsa, we enter a narrow valley enclosing a ghost town. We stop and look at Janovas, empty structures, a single lane bridge leading into it. Seems like something from a Hemingway novel. We continue.

   Beyond Ainsa, a return to twisting single lane roads. My brother cuts in on a switch back only to encounter a tour bus, which obligingly slows to let him pass. It is close, and the driver honks. Earlier, I have had my moment by not fully slowing for a 30 kmh limit only to swing wide on a blind curve. Memo to self: You can only push these things so far. We arrive in Forcat.

   Forcat is not a village, it is more like a group of farm houses alongside the main highway. A dog barks as we drive up the access road and park. A middle-aged woman, Alicia, greets us. My high school Spanish falters, but we introduce our selves. Her daughter, Lydia, saves me...she is fluent in English. It is a rural, like a bed and breakfast. Incredible find, how my brother found it remains a mystery. Dinner at 8:30, and the day is young. We explore the Parc de Pyrenees and discover a huge dam in the high Alpine valley. Only one more stop, La Seu D'Urgell awaits us with one way streets and street dancing. Food choices are limited, and we end up eating a gyro. It is the worst food of the trip.

   Off to Barcelona via the Caldi tunnel. Normally we would avoid long tunnels, but it is clearly the best route. We emerge at the south portal, and voila, a beautiful descent through a high valley. We near Barcelona, and before us are the saw tooth spires of Montserrat. Brenda takes over navigation, and we enter the park. It is a worthwhile excursion. After a short visit, we continue to Barcelona. We find the rental agency without a hitch. Our journey complete, we prepare for an early morning departure.

   I am back on the plane with the sun at my back. The unending day.  It feels as if this journey has yet to begin, but it is past. I am left with memories, photos, and an insatiable desire for the next journey. It is why I ride.

 

 

Tags:  Pyrenees 

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Desert Racing with a Difference

Posted By Ian Schmeisser, Monday, January 26, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

  Anyone who’s seen the movie On Any Sunday remembers the scene with a starting line in the California desert that’s hundreds of bikes wide, where everyone starts simultaneously to race madcap toward the “smoke bomb,” a pile of burning tires that indicates the start of the Barstow-to-Vegas race course, the grandaddy of American desert racing.

 

...

 

  Fast forward 40 years, past the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Desert Tortoise decision and wilderness designation on much of the desert itself, and you wind up with today’s “race,” the AMA District 37 LA-Barstow-to-Vegas. It’s the “most famous and longest two-day Dual Sport ride in the world.” The ride is now in its 30th year, and is a huge success for both desert racers and environmentalists.

  Starting in Palmdale, California, located in the high desert north of Los Angeles, riders start out in a controlled fashion, each choosing to follow their choice of “easy” (for large adventure bikes) or “hard” routes, for experienced riders only. The promoter said that on the hard route it was possible that the jugs could get ripped right off your “adventure” bike. Ha! There were a number of BMWs in the event, and most chose the sane option for this class of bike. But not Brian Englund, James Valentine and Landon Norman. Oh, no… they’re going to do the hard course on an R1200GS, an F800GS and a darned-near-new R1200 ADV LC. Nuts.

Art of the Possible

  Brian said it best: “Difficulty is a relative measurement, and I don’t need easy. I just need possible. For the ride itself, words cannot adequately describe the terrain for someone who hasn’t been there. Some of the horror stories are overblown, and some are true. It’s hard —sometimes almost insanely so — but the true challenge is the marathon aspect of the ride. Terrain that was simple at the outset is increasingly difficult eight plus hours later. The variety spans the spectrum from deep, soft sand on giant whoops, packed dirt, dirt with large rocks, loose large rocks, and rock and sand crap in Last Chance Canyon that is probably at the outer limits of the R1200GS’s capability.”

  One interesting development is a blend of Social Media, GPS, cellular data and satellite maps that made it possible for many other interested riders to follow the riders on the course. The event ran during the Thanksgiving weekend, giving MOA and GS Giant member Jeff Kurtz the ideal opportunity to follow and report on the ride from his warm bedroom in Indiana. Hundreds of others followed along online as they digested their turkey and stuffing leftovers, enjoying over a thousand posts by Jeff and others containing GPS locations on satellite imagery and even posts from the riders themselves, many showing their motorcycles in rather interesting positions. It was a tremendously entertaining show.

Oh-Dark-Thirty

  Tech inspection for the ride started at 6 a.m. sharp, so this clearly called for waking up at 2:03 am. Race day jitters… what are those? Brian posted, “Damn James and I with our military issue requirement to be early! We both fell victim to years of military conditioning, demanding that we show up early for first formation. Neither of us can turn it off. We’re hard-wired that way now.” The tech guys took one look at the BMWs and gave them only a cursory glance. OK, now *three* hours until the start… what are we going to do? Plenty of socializing, meeting and greeting ensued, calming the nerves and defining the strategy. Knowing each team members’ location during a ride is essential, so James, Landon and Brian installed “Real Time GPS Tracker” apps on their smartphones. They shared their usernames with Jeff so that he could capture images and post to the GS Giants Facebook group.

  An epic online thread ensued, with hundreds of posts and a whole bunch of friends discussing the action. The GPS images made it clear to see the hard sections… as the app (and their SPOT receivers) regularly uploaded location data. The closer together the data points, the slower the going for the riders. Red Rock Pass generated a huge blob of data points.

  Between images of location, terrain, and bikes on their side, shot and posted by the riders themselves, as well as all the messaging going on between them and all of the comments from the peanut gallery, everyone had a great time!

This Could Go On Forever

  It was truly an adventure. Falling. Fuel injection problems. Bent nerf bars. Fuel consumption rates. iTunes breakdowns. Flat tires. Broken windscreens. Lost. Dark. By 8 p.m.-ish the riders (except for Brian, who ran out of fuel) were in Barstow for the night, chowing down on the hotel buffet. As he waited for the sweeper who came four hours later, Brian sat in the cold, dark desert, sucking on his hydration bladder and munching on the half-Subway sandwich he saved from lunch. Grasping at any wisp of a cell phone signal, a quick text to James and Landon resulted in a reply containing a photo of their beer. Racing can be so cruel.

  Well, it really isn’t racing, but the open-desert hard course lived up to its reputation, and the pace was quite brisk. James and Brian struggled mightily with their 1200s and Landon did admirably with his F8. There were a number of other BMWs in the ride. MOA members Roger and Carla Norman (Landon’s mom and dad) rode the easy course. There was a sweet R80G/SPD, and a bevy of other beemers taking in the fun.

  The pictures really do tell the story here (especially the Vegas dancers at the finish line). This event is legendary adventure riding fun, but it really isn’t for beginners. However, there are opt-out sections to avoid the harder parts of the easy route, so it’s not all that bad. This was the first time the three had ridden together, and it was great fun seeing them become friends.

  Word is there’s a competition team forming within the GS Giants, and there are opportunities for racers as well as us old whitebeard adventurers to serve as their pit crew and other support services. Interested? Check out the latest news at www.gsgiants.com

 

 

Tags:  GS Giant 

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Escape to the Catskills with RnineT

Posted By John M. Flores, Thursday, January 22, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Outbound

"Let's go!" exclaims nineT.
"I can't."
"Come on!"
"Gotta work."
"Lame."
"I know."
"Tomorrow?"
"Maybe."

I never thought that I'd say this, but the New York City skyline looks great...in my mirror. The Gotham of my childhood dreams, the city that never lets me sleep is at once invigorating and exhausting. It doesn't help that work is crazy intense. "Work hard. Play hard," they say. It's a common refrain among my friends. Some unwind in the late nightclubs and bars of the city, others with meditation or a spa day. Me, I ride.

 

 

...

 

After a delayed start, we take the standard escape route through New Jersey and are soon in the wilds of Sussex County among rolling hills, winding roads, and pristine reservoirs. We are still so close to New York yet already so far away. Greenwood Lake's shore is crowded with cottages but it's nothing like the Apple.

Soon we're in Harriman State Park, a popular destination for day-trippers. Many head up to Bear Mountain for the scenic view, but we head east.

"Hey, watch it!" nineT exclaims.
"Woah!"
"You OK?"
"Yeah, sorry. I'm just distracted."
"That's not a good thing to be while you're riding."
"Yeah, you're right."
"What's going on with you?"
"Work."
"Of course."
"Actually, it's good news...I'm in line for a promotion."
"Cool!"
[flatly] "Thanks."
"You don't sound so happy."
"I...I...I am."
"Really?"
"....Yes. The promotion includes an office, more money, and more responsibility, but..."
"But what?"
"...but less time to ride."
Do you even like what you do?
"..."
"There's your answer right there."

We ride past West Point to the scenic overlook at Storm King where we watch the mighty Hudson River wind its way down to the city. Somewhere downriver is the source of my existential crisis. We head upriver, farther and farther away.

After lunch outdoors in Cornwall-On-Hudson at the Hudson Street Cafe, we wind our way up to Poughkeepsie to the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.

Over a mile long and over 200 feet above the Hudson River, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was built in 1888 to carry trains. But times change, and other bridges and the interstates were built, and manufacturing began to leave the region, reducing the need for the bridge. Eventually, the bridge was abandoned. Then something funny happened–where others saw scrap metal, some locals saw beauty and a connection to the region's industrial past. They saved the bridge and turned it into the pedestrian walkway that it is today.

"The view up here is spectacular. "
"Yeah isn't it? I feel like I'm flying," says nineT.
"It's a long way down though."
"There's a metaphor in there somewhere, Icarus."
"How'd I end up with such a philosophical motorcycle?"

We head to New Paltz and points beyond. Somewhere west of town we stumble upon a little-known gem. Years ago, a man cleared a small field in the woods and began collecting the massive root systems of giant redwood trees. He'd have them transported from California to this field where they are displayed like abstract organic wood sculpture. They are at once beautiful and exotic.

"Look at these roots! These trees must have been huge!"
"Have you seen the Redwoods?" asks nineT.
"No."
"What are you waiting for? They won't be around forever."
"Actually, they've been around for thousands of years..."
"...more to the point, you won't be around forever..."

We continue west, up over the ridge to a panoramic view of the Catskills, rolling hills stretching to the horizon and dotted with quirky towns, picturesque reservoirs, and quiet backroads zigging and zagging through a blanket of thick woods. We dive in headfirst and dance, hand working clutch, throttle and front brake, feet working shifter and rear brake in a fluid, mechanical choreography.
The thick woods give way to a broad expanse of water resting beneath a big sky. The Ashokan Reservoir is one of the largest reservoirs in the New York City water supply system, the water eventually making its way into the taps and fountains and bagels and pizzas of my adopted home. It seems like I can't escape the Big Apple.

With temperatures dropping as quickly as the sun, we make our way north and end up in the small town of Roxbury and our evening oasis, The Roxbury Motel, where each room is designed with a unique theme. The Shagadelic Room is inspired by Austin Powers, Tony's Dancefloor has a working disco ball over the bed, the Genie's Bottle makes you feel like you’re in a bottle, and more. It's like an adult funhouse motel. We celebrate a great day's riding with a martini and a fine dinner before retiring for the night.

"You asleep yet?" asks nineT.
"No."
"What's keeping you up?"
"My friends. They just don't get it."
"What?"
"This. Riding a motorcycle. Seeing the world."
"I wouldn't exactly call Roxbury, NY, the world."
"Yeah, but you know. I think I got the bug. My friends, on the other hand, they're going to do just what's expected of them; they're going to party in New York in their 20s, climb the career ladder, then get married in their 30s, have a kid or two, and then move out to the 'safety' of the suburbs and live the same life that they tried to escape."
"And what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, I guess...for them. But the closer I get to that path the more I think that it's not for me."
"And the more you feel like an alien in the big metropolis."
"Exactly."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Right now I'm going to try to sleep."

Rebound

We ride into a new morning, bracing against the overnight chill still hiding in valleys and basking on stretches already kissed by the sun. We stop at Bread & Breakfast and have coffee in an old caboose.

"Crazy to think that this was once an old caboose."
"This trip's been filled with stories of reinvention and renewal," notes nineT.
"It has?"
"Yup. They've been staring you right in the face...the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, the Redwood roots, and The Roxbury last night. Those two guys left behind their jobs in New York City, found an old building in a quiet Catskills town, and have followed their own drummer to create a unique motel and something uniquely theirs. Sound familiar?"
"But I'm too young to be reinvented, to young to be renewed!"
"That's what you think. You're no spring chicken anymore."

Refilled, we make a beeline for Pepacton Reservoir. NY30 shadows the reservoir like a contour line on a topographic map, sketching long, sweeping arcs into the earth. The road crosses a long, flat bridge over to the other side of the Reservoir about halfway down. We stop to admire the view.

"What are you doing?" asks nineT.
"I'm holding out my arms and looking towards the heaven for divine inspiration."
"You look like an idiot."
"It's not cinematic?"
"Not in the least."

We run the final length of NY30, following the southern shore of Pepacton. The road climbs, dips, and soars in a series of fast, third gear bends cut through the thick trees. We push the pace to the edge of what is safe and socially responsible, nineT roaring with delight at every corner exit, howling with glee at every redline. We barely see the reservoir but we know it's there. At this pace, nothing but our velocity and trajectory matter–not the city, not the job, not the stress, not the past, not the future. All that exists is the next apex and I feel alive. I feel free.

We stop for gas south of Downsville and afterwards take the pace down considerably as we explore the New York side of the Upper Delaware River along one-lane bridges and gravel, chip-sealed, and frost-heaved roads. I'm lost in my thoughts again as nineT patiently putters along.

We detour to the Roebling Bridge, crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. It's a bridge today but was originally an aqueduct carrying coal barges from Pennsylvania across the river and destined for the Hudson River Valley. Twenty years after designing this bridge, John A. Roebling went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge.

We make our way down NY97 to the famous Hawk's Nest, known as much these days for the way that the road clings precariously to the side of a mountain as it is for the fact that hawks nest here. It's a funky stretch of pavement that flicks left and right in rapid succession along the edge of the precipice. Speed is restricted, and that's just as well; it's a long way down to the Delaware River if you make a mistake.

"You would think that if you've seen one scenic overlook you've seen them all. But I never tire of these views."
"Me neither."
"What is it about them?"
"I don't know. Maybe they remind us how wondrous the world is?"
"Maybe they give us perspective?”
 "Where next?" asks nineT.
"We'll make our way down 97 to Port Jervis, and then hit some of the sweet county roads in New Jersey before heading back to the city."
"That's not what I meant."
"Huh?"
"Where next for you? You going to take the job?"
"I don't know. I've got some more thinking to do."

We cross back into New Jersey and savor the final miles of Sussex County along county roads that follow the contours of the land. We eventually join 80 for the final, boring, stressful  stretch. The interstates plunge headlong over/across/up whatever is in front of them but there's something missing in all of that startling efficiency. Something's disconnected. Something's not right. But they are symbols of our modern times and most stick to their straight and soulless paths.

The New York City skyline grows in my visor...

 

 

Tags:  Escape  Flores  New York  rninet 

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