End of Journey! Los Angeles, CA, September 3rd

I’ve made it!

After taking the bike apart in the Holiday Inn parking lot, and getting some weird looks from the staff there, I ruled out loose spark plugs as a cause of the noise. The folks over at www.triumphrat.net gave me a couple of suggestions, spark plugs being one of them. Unfortunately I had to take the seat and tank off the bike to check the plugs, but at least they weren’t at fault. The other likely culprit for this kind of noise was a dry speedometer cable, so I checked that and found that the cable was loose where it enters the speedo. I tightened it and was unable to reproduce the noise! Either that was the problem, or it only occurs at operating temps. Emboldened by this discovery, I set off towards LA, stopping at a bike shop in Barstow to buy some chain lubricant – this could be used on the speedo cable if the problem resurfaced.

The remainder of the trip was without incident, although I was shocked to see the miasma of smog hanging over the San Bernardino valley as I wound down into it. The smog was so dense at 11 am that I couldn’t see any buildings from my high vantage point even when still an hour outside of LA. It literally appeared as a brown cloud bank with a sharp upper boundary obscuring the entire valley. Also once into this area I started to smell the ocean again which was a comforting thing even under the slight reek of smog.

Driving further down into the LA area, the smog continued, although once in it it was not as visible. That’s a pretty scary thought.

Finally, around noon I pulled into UCLA and found my apartment complex. After a couple of hours locating the after hours staff, and then them locating the proper paperwork, I was checked into my apartment! Things like mail and parking and student ID will have to wait until Tuesday, but I was at my new home.

Here are some pix for the curious. The first four are the exterior of Weyburn Terrace, the fifth is the courtyard of my building, and the last is the interior of my little space.

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I’m glad to be finally stopped, and need a couple days to rest and integrate all the thoughts I’ve had while driving cross country, and then I’ll post some of my observations and things that I’ve learned about myself and the landscape between Boston and LA. For now, I’m off to find a U-Haul and IKEA so I can put some basic furniture in my bare place.

Thanks to everyone who provided support and encouragement along the way – I love you all and couldn’t have undertaken this uprooting and reinvention of my life without knowing you are behind me.

Holbrook, AZ to Barstow, CA, September 2nd

I had decided the night before that I didn’t want to attempt the 550 miles to LA all at once today, since leaving early for a full day of riding would have put me in the Mojave Desert smack dab in the middle of the hottest part of the day. So instead I spent a leisurely morning with Lillith and Jonathan, consumed some of J’s amazing cooking (concocted soley of their home-grown eggs and veggies) and got a tour of their property. (Side note – they don’t actually live in Holbrook, but I don’t know the name of the town!)

Aside from the dome, they have built a wonderful foundation for self-sufficient living, including a solar powered well and electrical system for the house, outbuildings for rabbits, chickens, and soon alpaca, as well as providing space and care for the menagerie of cats, dogs, and the aforementioned livestock. Seeing all the work they have done over the past few years towards living in a self sufficient community setting was awe inspiring. And while I didn’t get to see my friends Patrick and Mel who also live there, the fact that A&J were expanding their microcommunity to include others was just as awe inspiring as all the work they have done to the physical property.

Here are some pix of the property, as well as the family Avalon:

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Around noon it was time for me to resume my trip, but I was nearly out of gas. Jonathan summoned up some fuel from his farm stores, and I now had enough bike juice to head back north and west without having to backtrack east (to the closer town) in search of fuel. This was just one more exceptionally considerate and nurturing touch that is typical of the Avalons.

Thus armed with at least 50 miles of mobility, I decided to drive back north through the Petrified Forest, to see what it was like in the dry daytime. I won’t bore you with any more words – to the pictures!

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The last picture is a special request for my friend Steven’s daughter Olivia. She wanted to make sure I was being safe, and wearing my helmet when I was riding. Throughout the Petrified Forest I was riding with my camera around my neck, and stopping to snap quick pictures whenever the mood struck. On a whim I angled one mirror at me and pointed the camera at it while riding (slowly, on a straight road) and captured proof that yes, I do indeed wear a helmet all the time (even in a 90 degree desert!)

Having now see the PF in the daytime, it was time to get some westward miles under my belt. I drove along US-40 for a few hours until I crossed the border into California, in a town called Needles. I considered staying in Needles for the night, but since it was rapidly approaching dusk, and I had 145 miles of Mojave Desert ahead of me, I decided to do it before stopping and get the benefit of the cooler night travel.

All went well for the first 100 miles or so, until I stopped for gas in the middle of the desert. That was when I noticed a weird clicking sound coming out of the front end of the bike when I was driving at low speeds. It wasn’t the engine, or at least nothing integral to combustion, as twisting the throttle didn’t do anything to the sound, but traveling slowly around the gas station parking lot produced short, sharp, squeaks. I didn’t know what it was, and had no way of identifying it, and I was at least 50 miles from a town of any size. Since the sound wasn’t affecting handling, braking, electricals, cooling, or the engine, I had no choice but to continue. I made it to Barstow, CA and checked into a Holiday Inn Express. Funny that the one in CA was $95 a night, while the one in MO was only $50. I did some internet sleuthing and was able to rule out a few more causes for the weird noise, but at the moment I’m in Barstow with no idea how serious this problem is. Luckily I only have 150 miles left to go before I’m at my new home, and there are 2 Triumph dealers between here and there. From what I can gather between triumph websites and my shop manual, this might be a fork problem (annoying but not dangerous) or a valve problem (ditto).

I’m going to call the dealers in the morning and get opinions on this problem and either drive the bike to a dealer, drive the bike to my apartment in LA and make an appointment for service ASAP, or rent a pickup truck and carry the bike the rest of the way. Either way, she has carried me exceptionally well for over 3400 miles so far, although I’m not unhappy that the trip is almost done.

For now, it’s almost 2am PST, so I’m off to bed!

Montrose, CO to Holbrook, AZ, September 1st

Okay, I said the Rockies were tricky… the Million Dollar Highway was ten times as challenging.

I started off in Montrose and headed south on 550, planning on being in Durango in a couple of hours. It was only 100 miles, so…

Boy was I off in my estimate. After passing through some interesting countryside that was a mixture of high peaks, rivers and lots of green, I started to climb mountains again.

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By the time I reached Ouray I knew I was in for it. The elevations of this part of Colorado approached that of the Rockies, but the turns were tighter, the roads were narrower, and there were no guard rails. 3 hours later I emerged on the other side of the San Juan Mountains completely exhausted and exhilarated from the trip up, over, and down.

Here are some visuals:

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I was running a bit late at this point, as I wanted to visit my friends Lillith and Jonathan at their farm south of the Petrified Forest and be there in time for dinner, so I called and checked in with Lillith when I reached Cortez, CO.

From Cortez, CO, I headed down route 160, through Four Corners.

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I got a bit of a chuckle calling my friend Tracey from Four Corners:
Tracy: Hi! Where are you!
Me: I’m in New Mexico… now I’m in Arizona… nope, now Utah. Okay, now Colorado…..

You get the point. Here is a visual aid:

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After this I headed south into the Arizona desert, leaving 160 at Mexican Water and heading due south on highway 191. This runs through Navajo reservation land and down the eastern side of the painted forest. I saw some beautiful, if bleak, countryside over the next couple of hours.

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Finally, I reached US-40. Jonathan and Lillith live south of 40 by about 40 miles, so I was going to have to go either east or west and then backtrack a couple of dozen miles. But wait! I had a great idea – I’d just cut through the Petrified Forest, and come out on route 180 about 20 miles from their driveway. From the map it appeared that the road through the Petrified Forest ran straight south and would save me many miles.

I took route 40 west about 30 miles and got off at the part exit, entering at about 6pm. The park closes at 7pm, and it was a bit grey and threatening rain, so the park was pretty deserted. I paid my $5 and headed south, but didn’t stop to take any pictures at this point. I soon realized that the road that looked to be 10 miles of shortcut on a map was really about 25 miles of winding road that led through a prehistoric landscape. After about 5 miles of this, the storm broke, and I had to pull over and put on my rain gear. The next 50 minutes were spent using every twisty and turny riding skill I’d developed the past few days as lighting crashed around me, high winds buffeted me and the bike around the narrow roads, and light rain swept at me in every direction as I rode through the prehistoric landscape.

Finally, I made it to route 180, and turned east towards my destination for the night. The wind nearly stopped at this point, which was great, but the rain redoubled in ferocity, and I was soon riding through heavy rain. Eventually I found the driveway, and slid my bike down a mile or so of slippery Arizona mud and gravel. When I got to their house, Jonathan and Lillith had been dealing with a mini-crisis. They live in a geodesic dome, and hailstorms of the previous week had punctured some roof windows, leaving L&J to find a flood in their home when they came back from some errands. They had it under control and patched by the time I arrived, so after catching up for a bit and drying various things off we all collapsed into sleep for the night.

Quinter, KS to Montrose, CO, August 31st

Whew… 650 miles today. I went from KS to western CO the long way, sort of. Starting out this morning in Quinter, I hopped on route 70 for about half an hour. My plan had been to cross over into CO and then take 24 to Colorado Springs, but once on 70 I was faced with 40-50 mile an hour winds blowing north to south across the highway. I had to duck down behind my fly screen and pitch the bike at about a 20 degree angle just to go in a straight line. This got pretty exhausting, so when I had the option to take route 40 in Monument, KS I did, figuring that heading southwest would be easier than due west. It was, but only a wee bit, and I fought the wind for another hour, crossing over into Colorado. Just past Kit Carson the wind began to pick up again, and I drove through a couple of dust storms created by dry prairie fields combined with the wind. I continued west, and began to see lightning strikes and heavy clouds off to my right (the north).

I stopped for gas, and put on all my leathers (I had been wearing a vented jacket) including my heavy jacket and chaps, as well as a thermal hiking shirt under the jacket. The temperature had dropped steadily as I headed west, and was now no more than 60 degrees. With a full tank and relatively warmer, I started west again.

The clouds continued to gather, but I seemed to be about to pass by without actually hitting the storm. Then I looked up and saw an errand arm of the clouds directly overhead. With this came some light raindrops; nothing worth stopping for (and there aren’t any bridges to stop under anyway!) I figured I’d keep going as long as the rain stayed light. At least the high winds throwing drops of water around killed the dust, and seemed to drive away the swarms of bugs that insisted on plastering themselves on my bike and helmet’s faceshield.

Then the hail started. At first I though an especially large bug had hit my windshield, leaving a white splatter a couple of inches across. This would have been a first, since most bugs seem to be bright (as in neon) yellow inside. Why is that? I quickly figured out it was hail when centimeter sized balls started to pelt me in earnest. Even through doublethick chaps and heavy carhartts those suckers hurt, and the sound of them bouncing off my helmet was pretty wild. I crouched back down behind my flyscreen and kept going. There wasn’t any place to stop, and at least I was going in one direction with no twists and a constant speed, so the rain/hail wasn’t going to impair safety (for those of you who don’t ride motorcycles, a bike can handle almost any conditions if it’s not asked to change speed or direction). My stubbornness was rewarded; after only about 10 minutes of this I emerged from both the hail and the drizzle, and within another 20 minutes I was back under sunny skies. By this point I was well into CO, and had planned on cutting west on route 94 to Colorado Springs. I took the turn, and immediately saw a sign that said “No Services Next 70 Miles”. Damn, I only had about 50 miles of gas left in my tank. I turned around and got back on 40, and took it up to Limon, CO where I caught route 24 back down to Colorado Springs. Somewhat of a zig-zag, and I probably added around 50 miles by doing this, but at least I was in Col Spgs (that’s how the smaller signs show it).

Once there, things started to warm up, and I was revitalized after a rest stop, so I hopped back on 24, to follow it up over the Rockies. The next 3 hours were some of the most difficult and exhilarating riding I’ve ever done, as I climbed thousands of feet up through winding turns. For the bikers out there, you know the frission of almost fear as you hit one tight turn after another, being forced to concentrate on planning and executing lots of flicks left and right on mountain roads. Now combine that with soaring peaks and sheer drops all around and you will begin to get an idea of what crossing the Rockies is like.

I stopped after the first set of peaks in Florissant, at an elevation of around 10K feet. At this point I was starting to get a wee bit altitude sick, which meant shortness of breath, a headache, and some general mild dizziness. I ate some lunch and practiced slow, relaxed, and deep breathing and the symptoms faded so I could continue. I though that the highest point was behind me, as the next hour was spent crossing high plains of winding but mostly flat country given over to huge tracts of ranchland.

This is pretty typical of those areas:

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Towards the end of this high plains section the elevation dropped down to about 6K feet, and I felt just fine.

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After the high plains, however, the elevation started to climb again, and soon I was in a second set of peaks craggier than the first and with tighter switchbacks. I hung in there and after another hour I made it to the Continental Divide.

Whooo!!! 11K feet and change.

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The altitude sickness came back a bit, but not nearly as bad as the first time, so I pressed on, figuring that downhill would be easier.

Was I ever wrong.

I spend the next couple of hours winding down a 7% slope of tight turns and amazing scenery. I didn’t take any pictures here, as I was concerned about not driving off a cliff, and wanted to get down the damn mountains, already. Finally, as I neared Buena Vista I hit a relatively lower altitude, and figured I was out of the bulk of the Rockies. Of course, now I was heading into another storm, but as luck would have it I turned south on route 285 just as I hit the edge of the storm, and quickly left it behind with only a few sprinkles.

This was taken looking back at the storm after I passed down and out of the bulk of the mountains:

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The next hour or two was spent traveling down the rest of the way to Montrose, which involved some pretty amazing curves and scenery again, but by this time I was a pro at mountain roads and enjoyed it immensely.

Check out the pictures of the Blue Mesa Resevoir. I was traveling along it for a while during this stretch.

This row is looking East, South, West, and North

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Further along I stopped to look at some amazing rock formations – these are loaded as larger pictures to give you a better idea. Don’t click on them unless you want to load some large files 🙂

This is looking North from Hwy 50, across the water:

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Through all of this driving I’ve become somewhat itchy to actually get to Los Angeles, so I’ve decided to follow my original route of Montrose to the Petrified Forest, stopping there to see Lillith and Jonathan, but I am not going to stop at all the places along the way. Even then I’ll be on the road for 7 or 8 days, and I just don’t want to deal with the 2 or 3 additional days it would take to see the sights between here and Jonathan and Lillith’s. I figure that I’ll be living in the southwest now, so I can always take a week and come back up this direction.

Well, tomorrow I’m off heading down through Four Corners and through the Petrified Forest to visit some Animated Humans.

Mexico, MO to Quinter, KS, August 30th

I thought Kansas would be more flat. The western half of the state was rolling hills with a lot of character, striated layers of sandstone and sedimentary rock where blasting exposed the interior. The ride down to route 70 and to Kansas City was uneventful, and the only traffic I experienced was mild congestion around the twisty highway right around KC itself. Beyond that were the rolling hills with 70 gradually climbing in elevation.

Once past the midpoint of Kansas things flattened out, and I began to see the acres and acres of farmland I expected. I drove by lots of americana including signs for the OZ museum and many signs touting things like “live 6-legged calf!” and “200 pound spider!” I didn’t stop, and probably won’t bother to see the “60 pound world’s largest prairie-dog” tomorrow when I pass that, either.

Traffic was light after KC, and became nearly nonexistent as my bike ate up the miles west. I ended up doing about 530 miles before stopping in Quinter about 100 miles from the CO border. I rented a cheap (but really nice!!) motel room in Quintas to rest up for the leg into Colorado.

About 100 miles past the CO border I’ll be leaving route 70 behind and dropping to a smaller highway. I’ll follow route 24 to Colorado Springs and then Montrose. Since my next goal is Montrose instead of Denver, I’m going to bypass 70 from Limon, CO on.

I believe Montrose is about 600 miles from Quintas, though I don’t have internet at the moment, so I cannot look it up 🙂 I might do the whole distance tomorrow, but if 24 is a slower route then that will not happen, and I’ll stop somewhere in CO before reaching Montrose and the Million Dollar Highway. Perhaps Buena Vista? Or maybe I’ll camp tomorrow night in the Pike National Forest.

I’m ahead of schedule, and need to find a laundromat too, so perhaps I’ll find a cafe with internet next to a laundromat 🙂

That’s all for now!

Michigan Pix

A couple of pictures my uncle Wally took while I was in Alma visiting.

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Soon after I arrived; this is my aunt Gwyneth.

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Also Gwyneth – she is checking out a neurofeedback system I brought with me. Yup, I’m a brain geek.
Actually, both Gwyn and Wally are neuroscientists who teach at Alma College in Michigan, so it’s not too weird that she was checking this out.

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I think this was taken in the morning, after I was all packed up to leave. Bleared-eyed look to the contrary, I was reasonably well rested and had been stuffed full of aunt Gwyn’s great chow the night before. It was a real treat to see them, and Michigan is interesting country – lots of midwest-type farmland but with trees 🙂

Alma, Michigan to Mexico, Missouri, August 29th

Another long day – although this one was surprisingly easy.

I went a total of 625 miles today, starting from Alma, MI and driving down by Chicago to route 80, west and then south, eventually getting off the highway in IL and doing about 100 miles of IL and Missouri along “highway” 54, which is a 2 lane road passing through rolling farmlands.

This was some of the most beautiful riding I’ve done yet this trip, out of my approximately 1600 miles so far.

Along 54 I crossed the Mississippi river, and took some pictures:

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views to the north (left) and south (right) of the Mississippi River

Once in Missouri the rolling farmlands continued, and I took some more pictures:

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these were taken along US HWY 54, Vandalia, MO

I stopped in Mexico, MO for the night, although I could have probably done another couple of hundred miles. That being said, the Holiday Inn bed and hot shower were greatly appreciated! Also, if I had kept driving into the night then Tuesday would have been a wash, as I would have slept in, and late afternoon driving into the sun is no fun.

So, almost to Route 70 and only 750 miles to Colorado Springs before I start winding my way down through Four Corners.

After doing some tech support for people in FL on tuesday morning, I’m just about to head out again at 9am. Kansas, here I come!

Niagara Falls, Ontario to Alma, Michigan, August 28th

Just a short post for now – it’s late 🙂

I had a great time on my first full day of traveling alone. I headed west from the Falls though Ontario – a couple of hundred miles of beautiful rolling farmland, then over the bridge back into the USA and up to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Alma, Michigan. Didn’t get asked for an ID returning to the US either.

To bed now – leaving for Springfield, IL tomorrow!

Chesterfield, MA to Niagara Falls, Ontario, August 27th

Whew. First full day of driving is behind us. Sean and I handled it like a pro – right around 400 miles once adding in the meanderings that took us down Rt 9, through Dalton and Pittsfield, and then across into Canaan, NY. The bikes handled great, we learned of the importance of earplugs (badly seated earplugs and and hour of loud wind made my ears ring for about half an hour) and eventually we crossed the border into Canada. The border guard wanted to know where I was born, where the bike was registered, the plate number, how long I was going to be in Cananda, etc., but never asked me for any ID. Maybe she felt bad because I didn’t know my plate number and had to get off to look.

Sean, who was 2 vehicles behind me, was asked the same questions, but did have to show his license. He didn’t know his plate number either, but just pulled forward a few feet so the border guard could look for herself.

Here is proof that we actually made it to Canada.

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We spent half an hour oohing and aahing over the falls, but the touristy-ness was kinda boring, so after grabbing dinner (halfway good burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe) we went to find a place to sleep. Leaving the cafe we found it was raining, so getting a dry spot to sleep was key at this point.

We had been warned by an info booth staffer in a plaza on Route 90 that the motel prices on the Canadian side of the falls were outrageous, so Sean and I drove out of the tourist trap in search of a divey motel. A few blocks from the falls we found this lovely place – $45 a night for a 10×10 room with 2 beds, that didn’t smell too bad once we closed the bathroom door. Here is Sean in repose, resigning himself to the teeny tiny room.

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This pic is taken from outside the door to the room.

As it turns out one of my bike bags isn’t waterproof – so the motel room is now hung with lots of things to dry.
I must say, it does improve the room!

Tomorrow – to Michigan.