Sharing Interests to Prompt Self-directed Writing

The idea of genuine communication and showing students teachers as people rather than representatives of the education system has appeared several times on the PLN lately.  Consequently, transitioning from summer to the school year has me overlapping my writing subjects.  This was originally published on Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries


I’m back in the classroom again and teaching English for the first time in more than a year.  I took a senior essentials English class mainly because few people want to teach it (teachers like to teach people like themselves – in this case academically focused English students), and it fit my schedule.  Essentials English is just as it sounds.  These are weak English students who are getting what they need to graduate and get out into the workplace, they aren’t post-secondary bound and tend to find school pointless.

The trick with students this bullied and indifferent to the school system is getting them to read and write at all.  Rather than drag them into a text book or make them watch the department copy of Dead Poets Society in order to prompt some writing, I thought I’d introduce them to my insanity.  In a week where we’re all getting to know each other it helps if students see what you’re into.  Showing your hobbies and interests is a good way to have them become familiar with you and relax a bit.  If they get excited about the idea of planning a trip and it prompts them to write, it’s a many birds with one stone situation.

With some support, students quickly got into planning a trip.  28 days, unlimited budget!

The plan was pretty straightforward: you’ve got four weeks (28 days) starting next Monday.  Assume you’ve got an unlimited budget for a road trip (gotta travel on the ground).  Where would you go?  What would you do?  On the second day I gave them some pointers on Google Maps and some planning tools like a calendar and how to make notes online and they were off.  At the moment it looks like I’ve got pages of writing from students who generally don’t.  The research they’ve been doing also lets me diagnose their reading level.

Needless to say, I bravely volunteered to present first.  It doesn’t feel like homework when you enjoy doing it, and mine was obviously going to be a motorcycle trip.  I probably could have gone more bonkers on bike choice, but I have a sentimental attachment and some practical necessities that prompted my choice (all explained in the presentation).  Rather than go for the South American adventure, I decided to focus on The States, which has tons to offer, especially if you aren’t sweating the budget.

Norman Reedus’ RIDE gave me an idea of where I’d like to go, the question was, could I get to the locations in the show and back home in 28 days?

Here’s what I’m presenting:

 

I presented this to the class two days before it was due.  Seeing an example helps and gave me a chance to explain my own process in putting together the trip (deciding on a vehicle, breaking the trip into sections, etc).  Many of them had collected data but were having trouble formulating it into a written project or verbal presentation (their choice).

 

That photo I doctored of a VFR800 a couple of years ago came in handy!

Another side benefit of something like this rather than a boiler plate reading and writing diagnostic is that is gives students a lot of control over the direction of their writing, which means I get to learn what they’re into, which helps me remember who each person is as well as offering me relevant subjects I can insert into future projects.

I’m hoping they surprise themselves with the results.  If I catch some of them in the future staring wistfully at Google Maps instead of playing pointless FLASH games I’ll know that they’ve been bitten by the travel bug too!

It’s a lot to try and pull off in 28 days, but when the budget is unlimited, I want more miles! Literacy weak students often have trouble with basic digital tools – they were all screen grabbing Google Map images by the end of the first day though.  This’ll help in all sorts of classes.
Into the Rockies ASAP, then down the coast, across the mountains again, and then up the Appalachians home.
Multiple destinations on Google Maps is a simple enough process if you know how.  Everyone does now.

 

Yellowstone!  Riding over a mega-volcano. No one in the class realized we lived so close to this impending disaster.  It led to an impromptu Geography lesson.

 

Death Valley and across the South West to the Twisted Sisters on the way to the Big Easy.
Back north in the Smokey Mountains and Appalachians.
I was thinking maybe an H2R or RC213 in a trailer, but then that meant driving a truck and trailer all over the place.
Better to be on two wheels all the time, and on the descendant of my first bike crush.

Students were very curious about my choices.  How you travel says a lot about you.
 NOTE:  at the end of the course more than half the class chose this project as a summative five minute presentation, and they all exceeded the time, media and planning requirements on it.  Who said English projects couldn’t be enjoyable and engaging?

Lobo Loco: The Birds & The Bees Rally

 
You couldn’t possibly hit them all,
so route selection is key.

It’s a sleepy, summer, Saturday morning in Elmira.  The few locals that are already up are walking dogs and taking it slow, but the clock has just ticked over to 8am and we’ve begun our first long distance motorcycle rally.  We fill up, get a receipt showing our start time and place and text to the rally lead that we’ve started.  We rode over to Elmira to start because this is a target rich environment with over 1500 points on tap.

How did we get here?  My buddy Jeff met Wolfe Bonham, the creator of this rally, at Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure and they became friends on Facebook.  When Wolfe announced the rally on there Jeff asked if I wanted to give it a go and a rally team was born!  A week before the event you get a rally book pdf emailed to you with various locations in it.  You’ve only got eight hours to connect as many dots as you can and it would be impossible to hit all of them, so you’ve got to be crafty and find the best route from where you are to where the rally ends in Brantford.

 

The theme of this rally was birds and bees, so locations had some kind of connection to that idea and included everything from apiaries to bird statues.  Since neither of us enjoy urban riding on hot summer days, we plotted a route that would take us cross country and out to the shores of Huron before looping back around to Brantford.  Being new, we were afraid we’d bite off more than we could chew; we did anyway despite reducing our route goals half a dozen times.

The morning clipped along as we knocked out 1600 points in Elmira before 8:30am and were in Lucan by mid-morning.  Things started to go sideways when we had to navigate miles of sandy cottage roads before eventually getting to Kettle Point on Lake Huron.  Turning around from there at noon we were getting tired and the sun was relentless.  One of our key goals was to try and get to a bee beard happening at Clovermead Adventure Farm near Aylmer.  This only had a twenty minute window and was worth big bonus points.  We caught a few more locations before hopping on the 401 and pushing to Clovermead, making it (thanks to a very helpful gate keeper) in the nick of time.  Our cunning plan was to use the 401 as a pressure valve if we ran out of time, and it was already doing the job.

 

The bee beard was brilliant, as was Clovermead in general.  A rally like this shows you all sorts of local spots you’d otherwise have no idea about.  I was thinking about this as we got out to the bikes only to be told by Google maps that we were an hour away from the finish line with an hour to go!  Perhaps the bee beard was a trap!  We’d been tired but adrenaline kicked in again, the race to the finish was on!  We got back to the 401 and flew on down the 403 elated that we’d made the bee beard bonus but anxious about getting to the finish.  The traffic light coming off the highway felt like it was red for an hour!  We pulled into King’s Buffet parking lot, already full of motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, at 3:56pm; that’s tight!

Staggering into the dimness of the restaurant I felt sun-blind.  We drank lots of water while we wrote out a clean copy of our rally sheet that had to show times and odometer readings for each stop along with a photograph showing us and our rally flags in each location.  A rally volunteer then checked off each photo making sure that it fulfilled the criteria.  Most people hadn’t eaten during the day so the all you can eat buffet went down well while we handed in scores and had our photos checked.

 

Our goal was to not embarrass ourselves at our first rally so we were hoping for a mid-pack result.  When the numbers finally came in we were 17th & 18th out of 34 finishers.  To top it off Jeff won most miles covered and I won the most bee related points trophy (thanks bee beard!).

 

The camaraderie of the riders is infectious at the end of an event like this.  There are no class distinctions between types of bikes and this rally had everything from big Harleys and the latest BMW adventure bikes to a 200cc Yamaha TW200 (which he took over the Burlington Skyway!).  Tales of daring do were shared and the overall feel was one of a celebration. Everyone there felt like they’d achieved something difficult and there was a real glow to the competitors, though that might have been sunburn.  

 

Everyone cheered and clapped as trophies went out for everything from the person who got most lost to the top scorers.  Riders were awarded for smallest bike, 2-up and most efficient route as well as a raft of other prizes.  The top riders scored almost double the points we did, showing real navigation and riding mojo.  Afterwards lots of handshakes and names were exchanged and a lot of new friends were made.  Revitalized after a big buffet dinner and all that good cheer, Jeff and I saddled up and waved to everyone as we  rode into a welcome evening rain.  I was only an hour away from home, but Jeff, after already riding almost 600kms, was going to put another 200kms on going to his cottage in Kincardine; that guy’s a machine!

 

Wolfe Bonham, the creator of this rally, is keen to put on more.  As he said in the introduction to the inaugural Birds & Bees Rally, if you’re interested in doing more than just riding to a coffee shop and would like to discover new and interesting locations, long distance rallying might be just what you’re looking for. I, for one, prefer to ride with purpose, and this certainly gives you one.  You can make this as hard or as easy as you’d like and the sense of satisfaction you get at the end is infectious.  We’re already aiming for a possible October Hallowe’en themed ride that’s in the works, maybe with a slightly shorter route this time.  Hope to see you there!

Think this sounds like a good time? Keep October 15th open, there is another!


The rally website: http://lobolocorallies.ca

Want to sign up for October?  It’s happening again in the spring!

 
Photos From the Rally (anything with a rally flag in it was actually used for the rally)…
Our first stop 500 feet down the road from the gas station we filled up at.
By 4pm we were over 500kms covered, but we also went further than anyone else.
I had no idea this was on the way to Stratford.  I intend to go back and have lunch!
Ya gotta hit a lotta apiaries to win top bee keeper!
How to hold a rally flag down at a windy big bird on the Avon in Stratford – no swans out yet though, so no swan bonus 🙁
A welcome sign to a town starting with B!  100 points!  The grass was all trampled down around the sign, we weren’t the first.
The closest I got to a bee beard.
Another spot I’d like to return to.  Some prime objects d’art for the garage in there!
The last stop before our final highway bombing run to the Brantford finish line.
One of only a couple of stops that were biological rather than rally targets.  Jeff’s Super10 and my Tiger were flawless.
The difference between these patches and others you might see is that these patches denote
hardcore motorcycling skills over astonishing distances and times.
The good cheer was infectious after the rally.  It didn’t matter what you rode, only that you rode it.
Wolfe Bonham, the author of the inaugural Lobo Loco Birds & Bees Long Distance Rally.
Jeff never says no to free gas!  We plotted the longest route, but we spent very little time looking at traffic lights.
Iron horses of many colours – you’ll find everything from the RTW adventure bike to big cruisers and tiny nakeds on a long distance rally.
He’s been everywhere man, he’s been everywhere.
After riding hundreds of kilometres during the rally, everyone saddled up for the last ride home (or to a hotel – a number of riders travelled up from The States to participate, including one who did an 800 mile ride the day before to get there!).
From tiny Yamaha WT200s and KTM 390s to 1600+cc cruisers… there is no ‘right bike’ for a long distance rally.
We all rode off into the twilight as rain started to fall lightly between lightning strikes.  A suitably dramatic finish to an epic day.
We bit off more than we can chew, but still made it in with four whole minutes to spare!
It now has pride of place next to the wine rack, and has left me looking forward to future rallies.
 

 

The Inaugural Lobo Loco Birds & Bees Summer Rally Final Results
Jeff does more burn outs than me, so he got longest route.

 

We were aiming for mid-pack.  It doesn’t get more mid-pack than 17/18 out of 34 finishers.


https://goo.gl/maps/b2y9jWfa3oN2

https://goo.gl/photos/zYV2dJz5aViRUK298
https://rides.jasonjonas.com/riderList.php?rcid=0&id=438
http://wolfe35.wixsite.com/lobolocorallies/results

To One Thousand Islands

Things fell together just right for a ride out to the 1000 Islands in Eastern Ontario.  My lovely wife had a conference in Ottawa, so we spent the weekend before where Lake Ontario empties into the St Lawrence Seaway.

This meant, for the first time, I had a support vehicle!   The panniers and top-box all went in the back of the car and I got to ride light and solo.  It also meant I had a vehicle that could take pictures of me riding.


About 460kms across Southern Ontario.

I’d dialed back the rear suspension for a single rider, so the Tiger was more compliant.  The weather was, as it has been for weeks, sunny and very hot.  It wasn’t so bad in the morning, but by noon it was sweat-box hot.

We dodged around the GTA, not trusting the crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded roads and distracted yet aggressive drivers.  Traffic was light and moving well north of the city on a summer, Saturday morning.  We stopped briefly in Schomberg at Main Street Powersports for a quick stretch and look around what may be one of the most eclectic motorcycle shops in Ontario before pushing on into the heat.   Bypassing Newmarket, we found mostly empty roads as we wound our way down to Uxbridge where we stopped for a second breakfast/early lunch at Urban Pantry (having a foodie and professional researcher driving your support vehicle has big benefits!).


Every time I got off the bike it was that much hotter suiting up again.  It was just past noon when we finished lunch and the air temperature was in the mid-thirties with humidity pushing it well into the forties.  It was just bearable in motion so we quickly got moving.  Pushing down to the 401 meant more traffic, but once on the highway we made quick time and the hot wind was better than stagnant air at traffic lights.

My support vehicle pulled off at Port Hope where we discovered a lovely, old downtown during a hydration stop.  I thought it would be nice to take the old King’s Highway (Lakeshore Road) along to Prince Edward County where we were going to check out some wineries and Sandbanks Provincial Park.  At first this seemed like a bad idea as we were constantly stopped at traffic lights through never ending box store/strip malls in Coburg, but soon enough we left the last remnants of the GTA behind and found ourselves on a winding old highway that kept Lake Ontario in sight to our right.


Crossing the Murray Canal Bridge, we entered Prince Edward County, which immediately impresses with a relaxed island vibe.  Following wine and arts tour signs we meandered across the island
 enjoying light traffic and a stop at Sandbanks Winery, which not only had some wines on hand that you can’t get through retail, but also appeared to be where all the pretty girls go to drink on a Saturday.  The bachelorette party looked to be well along at two in the afternoon.  They jumped into a shuttle and were driven to the next winery, which was about five hundred feet down the road.  They must have looked like a train wreck the next morning.

We rode into the afternoon, stopping at The Duke of Wellington Pub for a much needed cool down and hydration.  The view off the deck into the harbour was lovely, as was being out of the relentless sun for a while.


It was a short ride to Sandbanks Park, but getting in was tricky.   After waiting in line for ten minutes I pulled up with the car and said I’d just park in the same spot as the car since were all here as a group, but the kid at the gate didn’t know what to do about that and spent ten minutes calling people to ask what he should do… while I stood there on the bike on 50°C tarmac.  He finally told us we had to pay two full vehicle admissions.  It’s things like this that make motorcycling in Ontario that much harder than it needs to be.  We’re not the same as cars or the massive SUVs most people like to drive around in, we don’t require the same space or resources, but rather than honour that Ontario seems to do everything it can to ignore it.

The park itself was nice and the dunes that make it famous looked like something out of the Caribbean.  We stuck around for a couple of hours and even went for a swim to cool off.  If you walk down the beach a bit the crowds let up and it’s possible to find some quiet space to relax.

Back on the road with sand in my everywhere and sweating freely, I was starting to feel this ride.  Into the lengthening shadows we went, pushing across the length of Prince Edward County toward Kingston.  I felt like I was in a sandwich press, the setting sun and the tarmac both pressing in the heat.


A welcome break came at the Glenora Ferry, which takes you from Prince Edward back to the mainland for free and runs every fifteen minutes in the summer.  It’s only a ten minute crossing, but it’s a pretty one with beautiful views up and down the straights.

The line up was a welcome fifteen minute break from the saddle that gave me time to change into some cooler jeans.  Once on the ferry you can wander around and see the sights.  Before you know it you’re firing up the bike ready to go again.  If you have to get to Kingston from Prince Edward County in the summer, go the Glenora way!

The temperature finally began to abate as I rode away from the ferry.  Shadows got even longer and the bugs began to thwack off my helmet.  We dodged and weaved across southern Lennox County, eventually finding our way onto the 401 just outside of Kingston.

A stop for gas had the Tiger using 19.7 litres to travel 412kms.  That’s 4.78l/100kms or 49.2 miles per gallon on everything from urban stop and go to fast highway riding.  Considering it’s expected to get about 40mpg, I’m really happy with those numbers.

It might have been dehydration and heat stroke, but the final
ride into the 1000 Islands was pretty magical!

After a stop for dinner in Kingston we got back on the highway for the final forty-five minutes to Gananoque and our hotel in the Thousand Islands.  The sun was well down and the air temperature had dropped.  Stars filled the sky and heat boiled out of the sun baked pavement.  Tucked in behind the windshield as I thundered down the dark highway, it felt as though I was riding through VanGogh’s Starry Night.  We pulled in to the Glen House Resort just past 10pm.  I immediately took a cold shower and flaked out on the bed.

Tree shade just outside of Newmarket
Downtown Port Hope, lovely!
Next to Lake Ontario in Sandbanks Provincial Park, where bikes pay the same parking costs as six thousand pound SUVs.
Making long shadows as the sun sets in Lennox County.

Launching an Odyssey & Circumnavigating Huron

Jeff, the motorcycle Jedi, is crossing Canada with his lovely wife on a Honda Goldwing.  They leave shortly and we get to tag along on the first day!  We’ll accompany them to Massey, Ontario and over to The Sault the next morning.  They then continue up over Superior on their pan-Canadian odyssey while we cut south over the border into Northern Michigan and hug the shore of Lake Huron before popping back into Southern Ontario in Sarnia.


While Jeff and MA are heading west for days on end, we’ll be wandering through Hemmingway’s Michigan before arriving back home.  This’ll give me my second great lake circumnavigation (or maybe my first real great lake because Georgian Bay is a bay).

https://goo.gl/maps/UTLra6j7ZEL2

Daily Schedule:
day 1- The Mohawk Inn, Massey ON
day 2- The Breakers Resort, St Ignace, MI
day 3- Bay Valley Resort & Conf Ctr, Bay City
day 4- Home

Mileages:
Elora to Massey, ON:       496kms
Massey to St Ignace, MI:   296kms
St Ignace to Bay City, MI: 381kms
Bay City to Elora, ON:     395kms

http://explorersedge.ca/

Riding the twisty roads of Northern Ontario
The quiet shores of Huron in Northern Michigan…

To A Thousand Islands & Back

We’re looking at a few days in The Thousand Islands at the end of Lake Ontario before my wife goes to a conference and my son and I head home.  Fortunately, between here and there lie some of the best riding roads in Ontario.  I finally get a chance to Ride the Highlands!

The ride out is going to be an avoid the GTA at all costs exercise (like most things are).  Other than getting pinched in Newmarket, it should be a straight shot across the top of population.  Port Perry is nice and once I’m past Peterborough, Highway 7 is a winding ride into Canadian Shield.

Where I drop off Highway 7 at Mountain Grove and cut down to the godforsaken 401 looks like a roller coaster of a road.  A quick blast (no such thing any more) down the 401 should finish the trip at Gananoque where I’ll meet up with the family and we’ll hang out for a couple of days.




The Ride Back is an even greater attempt to avoid the GTA, but this time with a find the twisty roads vibe.  Using ridethehighlands.ca I linked together a series of suggested roads to get my son and I back to South Western Ontario in the lest efficient but most pleasurable manner possible.

We meander north west from the east end of Lake Ontario before finally cutting south around the end of Georgian Bay.

If we leave Tuesday morning, we’ll overnight somewhere around Haliburton before finishing up the ride on Wednesday.



All told it should be about 1300kms of riding some of Ontario’s best roads.

LINKS
http://explorersedge.ca/ride-edge-check-2016-top-touring-roads-explorers-edge/
http://ridethehighlands.ca

30 Hours

Elora to Creemore to Owen Sound to Lion’s Head to Oliphant and back home again in about 30 hours.  We started out as three and expanded up to seven at one point before finishing with the original three again.  It’s amazing how much you can get done in a day…

Photos and video done on a Ricoh Theta 360° camera and my Samsung S5 smartphone.

Through the wind fields – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA


Elora Ontario on the bridge on 2 wheels #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA




On the dock of Big Bay https://goo.gl/maps/eoWBzaD5FFN2 #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Stills from the 360° camera…

Some other shots from the smartphone…





Dash to Ushuaia

The hardest financial part about a long trip is being out of work.  It’s not just costing you for the trip, it’s probably costing you even more for not being at work, but I got lucky in that department.  From the beginning of July until the end of August I’m off, and with the semester winding down all I can think about is how I’d best use that time.  With the paycheque covered, could I get to Ushuaia in the time I have off?

600km days in North America seem reasonable, and I wouldn’t want to lollygag around where I live anyway.  The point of this trip would be to go far in a relatively short time.  Moving through The States quickly also means not coughing up for first world accommodation any more than I have to.  600km days would wrap up the North American bit in five days.

Mexico is where it starts to get interesting, and it’s also fairly straightforward, though it gets dodgier the further south you go.  Travelling the length of Mexico means just over two thousand kilometres of riding.  At a reduced 400kms/day (more in the north, less in the south), I’d be at the border to Guatemala in another five days.   The urge to photograph would increase exponentially as I got into cultures and geographies I’ve never experienced before, so more time wouldn’t be wasted.

Central America is, by many accounts, the slowest part of riding down the Americas.  From the southern border of Mexico to the Colon ferry terminal in Panama is only 2300kms, but in that time you cross six international borders that aren’t exactly state of the art.  At a further reduced average of 200kms per day, it would be a twelve day ride crossing those borders, mountains and rain forests to Panama.  Thanks to the one certain way of getting around the Gap closing down, those twelve days through Central America needn’t be rushed.

Crossing the Darien Gap looked like it was solved with a brilliant ferry service to Cartagena, Columbia, but the service appears to have stopped.  There are other options, but run much less regularly and are more expensive.  The best seems to be the Stahlratte, which will take motorbike and rider to and from Panama to Cartagena in quite nice circumstances for about the price of your typical Canadian airline ticket.  The scheduled trips for 2016 pose problems though.

The Pan-American Highway portion of the ride is 10.300kms, and involves four international border crossings (five if you count the second Chilean crossing in Tierra del Fuego).  At 500km average days I’d be looking at 21 days of travel to get down the spine of South America to the end of the world.

It’s another three thousand kilometers back up Argentina to Bueno Aires in order to drop off the bikes for shipping back to Canada.  That’d be another six days at 600kms/day back to the big city and the flight home.

The Darien Gap poses problems because it throws the schedule off.  With the ferry not running it’s either a chartered boat (expensive, timing not great) or air freight (expensive but timely).  The schedule below is using the Stahlratte’s 2016 schedule:


… but even with those slack days before the trip over the Darien Gap, it still just fits into a summer off.  Air freight over the gap is also an option that could shift those six days in waiting in Panama to the push down South America.

Shipping back from Buenos Aires looks possible but unclear.  The most likely connection would be overseas from B.A. to NYC, probably getting the bikes back towards the end of October.  A weekend flight to NYC, picking up the bikes and riding home would be the final bit of this epic journey.

That guy already looks like he’s on his
way to Ushuaia !
He builds entire luggage systems,
knows his way around a firing range,
and brews beer, and that bike is up
for it!

To make it even more plausible I’d tap a couple of buddies who happen to have bikes totally capable of making this trip.

Jeff’s Super Ténéré and Graeme’s V-Strom would both be more than ready to join the Tiger on a trip south, and both riders have the kind of skills and experience that would allow them to carry me so that I barely had to do anything!  Jeff has been riding bikes since biblical times and Graeme has years of riding experience plus a long stint in the military, so he can read maps and everything!  I could wander around taking photos of butterflies and videoing bikes winding through the Atacama while these two made sure we were moving in the right direction.  Having a couple of capable, experienced riders on this burn south would help keep it on schedule.

Adventure motorcycling bits are wicked expensive!

I’d take Austin’s advice in Mondo Sahara and change all the wearable bits (tires, chains, fluids, etc) prior to leaving, but otherwise the bikes would be as they are.  A Triumph, Yamaha & Suzuki tumbling down the Americas over a brief summer.  If we’re not getting manufacturer support (unless all three band together in an alliance against the unholy absolutism of celebrity BMW adventure motorcycling!), maybe we can chase down some support gear.

We could do a lot worse than an assisted walk through the Twisted Throttle adventure catalogue.  They’d do popular Japanese bikes like the V-Strom and Super10, but they also offer a lot of kit for my older Triumph.


The last weeks of school get pretty manic.  Daydreaming of massive rides that last all summer is a survival mechanism.



Links & Maps

Info on the Bueno Aires to North
America transport is thin on the
ground- we might have to ride
home from NYC!



Elora, Ontario to Colon Ferry Terminal Panama.  7040kms

Crossing the Darien Gap:  Drive the Americas.  Ferry service stopped.

 
Cartagena to Ushuai back to Buenos Aires.  13,363kms  (20,403kms total)
 
Colon Ferry terminal to Cartagena; $360US with a cabin – 18 hour crossing

A summer tumbling down the Americas (timeline)

Air Canada’s bike shipping: a bit dodgy.  But freight options exist.

HU: shipping your bike

Boxing a bike

Very Superstitious: Riding The Superstition Mountains of Arizona

Arizona roads are magical.

I’m getting suspicious as I ride out of Scottsdale into the desert and see signs saying I’m entering Phoenix.  My son and I are riding in December, not something we usually achieve in Canada.  Our rental is a Kawasaki Concours14 from AZride.com.  We pull over into a gas station to pick up some water we needed anyway then turn around and start heading the right way.  I’m dataless and gpsless and we’re heading deep into the mountains a couple of days after Christmas.

Soon enough we’re out of the urban sprawl of Phoenix and feeling the cool desert breeze as we head north on Highway 87 through scattered saguaro cactus.  I have that realization I often get when I haven’t been in the saddle in a while: wow, do I love riding a motorbike!  The vulnerability, the sensory overload and the speed conspire to make a rush of adrenaline that opens you up to this overwhelming experience even more.  I’ve tried many things, some of them not particularly good for me, but nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than disappearing down the road on two wheels.

Once clear of traffic lights I immediately get lost in the winding corners and elevation changes of the Bush Highway.  The bike is leaning left and right, feeling weightless under me and eager to spring forward at the twist of the throttle.  My twenty year old Concours at home under a blanket in the garage does a good job with a thousand ccs, this newer fourteen-hundred cc machine is a revelation, even two up.

 

The Ride:  350+kms through the Superstition Mountains
A couple of weeks after our ride our
route was buried in a foot of snow.

We leave the traffic lights of the city behind and immediately find ourselves amongst ranches and desert aficionados hauling everything from ATVs and Dakar looking off-roaders to boats and bicycles.  It’s the end of December but it’s still 16°C on the digital dash and people are making use of their time off after Christmas. 

The Bush Highway turns back toward the sprawl, so after crossing Usurer’s Pass we drop down to Highway 60 in Apache Junction having bypassed miles of Mesan strip malls.   Highway 60 is empty and arrow straight.  What would you do on a 160 horsepower bike you’ve never ridden before?  I do it.  In what feels like moments we’re leaving the desert floor behind us and climbing into the Superstition Mountains.  I feel like I’m sitting on a Saturn V in a full stage one burn.

The ride into the Superstition Mountains is elevating.

We’re both wearing fleeces and leathers and it was comfortable on the warm desert floor, however the mountains ahead are looking mighty foreboding.  We started our ride in Scottsdale at just over a thousand feet above sea level, but the road to Globe is going to take us up to almost five thousand feet and we can feel the temperature plunging as we climb.

I’ve wanted to ride this road to Globe since driving it in a miserly Nissan rental car years before.  It’s twenty five miles of being on the side of your tires.  You’re only upright as you’re switching sides.  The temperature drops and snow begins to appear in shady patches on the side of the road.  We surge ever upward in a cocoon of still air.  The Concours’ fairing is keeping the worst of it at bay while that mighty engine makes short work of any moving chicanes in front of us.  Would I like to ride this road on a sport bike?  Sure, but the big Kawi makes it easy to enjoy two up with luggage.

As is the way with winding roads I get to the end of them in a trance, and always earlier than I think I should.  By this point we’re both cold regardless of what we’re wearing and fairings.  The outside temperature in Globe is 4°C.  We jump off the bike at the Copper Bistro and stamp some feeling back into our legs.  Walking into the restaurant we’re met with the incredulous stares of the locals.

“Kinda cold to be out on a bike, ain’t it?”
“We’re Canadian.”
“Ahh…”
The old timer at the bar gives us a look like he understands why we’re out but still pities us for doing it.  We can’t help being what we are.

Do not mess with the Globe popo.

We warm up to a damn fine burgers and fries.  Max likes the splotches of copper made into art on the wall.  Globe is home to one of the biggest copper mines in America and the locals have that toughness that you see in people who don’t sit at a desk for a living.  The Globe Police department comes in for lunch, men with no necks who look like they stay in shape by managing the miners on Friday nights.  You wouldn’t want to mess with these guys.

Warmed up, we’re back on the bike and filling up before ducking out of Globe on the 188 into the Tonto Basin, a two thousand foot drop down from where we had lunch.  In warmer weather the 188 is busy with boat haulers heading to the lake behind the Roosevelt dam, but today the road is ours.

Roosevelt Dam, a nice stop and the beginning of the rather
bananas Apache Trail – an astonishing road but not the sort
of thing
 you’d want to two up on a Concours.

We wind down into the Basin and see the big saguaro cactus return.  The temperature is back into double digits and we’re at our ease following the twisties on an empty road.  We meet the odd bundled up motorcyclist coming the other way and get the universal wave, but otherwise it’s wonderfully quiet.

We pull into Roosevelt Dam for a stretch and a drink of water before following 188 to its end at Highway 87.  Our animal sighting luck kicks in at this point.  As we’re kitting up to leave the dam a bald eagle flies over it and down the Salt River looking a scene out of a movie.



By this point it’s mid-afternoon and we’re both wind blown, dehydrated and a bit achy from the swings in temperature, and I’ve got the trickiest part of the ride coming up.  I’ve driven the 87 in a car and know what’s coming.  We pull up to make sure our ATGATT is airtight and for me to get my head on straight for a high speed decent on a fast two lane highway down the side of a mountain range.

Have a stretch and get your head on straight for the ride back
to Phoenix.  The locals don’t take this road slowly.

The first time I drove the 87 toward Phoenix from Payson I was astonished to see large trucks towing full sized boats blow past me at better than eighty miles an hour.  This road moves and none of it is straight.  Some of the corners feel like they last forever and they all generally lead straight into another corner.  For a guy from Southern Ontario, home of boring, straight roads, this isn’t business as usual.

The Concours surges down the highway and I drop into the flow of traffic.  Leaning into corners for up to thirty seconds at a time has me concentrating on perfect arcs and not being happy with the results.  How often do you get to describe high speed arcs for an hour at a time?  I’m feeling rusty, frustrated and want to find a way to smooth out my mid-corner corrections.  Fortunately I’d been reading Total Control by Lee Parks on Kindle and found his advice about one handed steering to be the solution to my broken corners.

Total Control by Lee Parks – it’s exhaustive in its description of motorcycle physics.  I wouldn’t call it light reading,
but that one bit on steering input made me a better rider instantly.

Lee’s advice is to only push on the inside handlebar when in a corner.  This causes the bike to counter steer deeper into the corner with very little effort and much finer control from the rider.  I wouldn’t normally get much of a chance to play with this on Southern Ontario roads but Arizona was made for this sort of thing!  That one piece of advice got me down the 87 with significantly fewer sore muscles.  By the time I was getting to the bottom of the Superstition Mountains I’d had many long corners to test and refine my technique and my arcs were more precise and less meandering as a result.

The Concours is back in the lot next to this ridiculous thing.
I’d take two wheels over anything else any day.

We roll back into Scottsdale afternoon traffic like two cowboys who have just time travelled back from the Old West.  The suddenly onslaught of traffic is a bit overwhelming.  After a last fill up (the gas station attendant has a starry eyed look at the bike) we return the Concours to AZrides and get checked out in a matter of seconds.

The rush hour drive home in the rental SUV is tedious and slow, but that blast in the mountains cleared out the cobwebs.  The ZG1400 made an interesting comparison with my ZG1000.  I found the newer bike a comfortable and agile machine, but the whining of electronics didn’t thrill me, and the tightness of the foot controls were awkward.  Because this is someone else’s bike they made choices (like ridiculously high risers) that I wouldn’t have.  None of these things spoiled the ride, and the biblical power of the ZG1400 motor is something that needs to be felt to be believed.  This taste of ZG1400 makes me wonder how I’d fettle my own.  Thoughts of a ZG1400 swirl in my mind as I roll along with the commuters into the setting sun.

Check out this piece as published in Motorcycle Mojo.


ZG1400s for sale (they aren’t $800 like my old ZG1000 was)…
2008 with 100k on it:  $8600 (really?)
2008 with 63k on it:   $7850
2008 with 13k on it:   $8900 
2009 with 72k on it:   $7000
2013 with 8k on it:    $13,000
2015 with <1k on it:   $13,500
new 2016:              $18,000

Photos from the helmet cam.  It was supposed to be video but I didn’t set it up right.  I guess I’ll have to go back and do it again.  I’m most sorry you can’t hear the sound of a ZG1400 engine singing in the tunnel…

The Bush Highway


The tunnel out of Superior – the Concours’ engine was a spine tingling howl!


The road to Globe


The never straight 87 back to Scottsdale – 3300 feet down to the desert floor, none of it straight… at 80mph.


 
Dropping down into the Tonto Basin


188 into the Roosevelt Dam
The Apache Trail a couple of days later in the rental car…
Back of the Roosevelt Dam before tackling the Apache Trail.
Roosevelt Dam
Sunset on the Apache Trail
Maybe on a dual sport or adventure bike?  Not on a Concours.  Apache Trail is a couple of hours of hair raising corners with no crash barriers, washboard gravel  and thousand foot drops.  A brilliant road, if you’re brave enough!



Ride Maps

The actual trip:

 
The original plan:

A bit less: the Superstition loop with a jaunt up to the interesting bit of Hwy 60 – though mileage wise this is pretty close to the full monty below. it doesn’t include AZride’s Bushy bypass…


Getting to the twisty bits (hitting the interesting bit of 60 before coming back):


The full monty: what I would have aimed for solo

Motorcycle Reading: Lois on the Loose

I just finished Lois Pryce’s first travel book, Lois on the Loose.  Unlike many of these find-yourself-on-a-long-bike-ride books apparently written by people with a lot of time on their hands and no financial demands, Lois gives a real world account of the necessary evils of working in a job that anaesthetizes you.  You know where she’s coming from and why she leaves.
 
You’re on board with her once she gets going.  On the road Lois is an honest, witty writer who never leaves you waiting for the next moment.  Her prose is tight and well edited… you’ll fly through this book, but it never lacks for detail or continuity.  Ashuaia feels like the galactically distant goal that it is throughout.
.
 
From shockingly rude Canadians to wonderfully supportive Guatemalans, this book makes you question all the prejudices we have about foreign lands (as well as the one I happen to live in).  Lois is amazingly fearless and committed to her journey.  You can’t help but admire her for her bravery.
 
If you enjoy travel writing you’ll love this book.  If you enjoy motorbikes you’ll love it even more.  When things go sideways past Titicaca I was riveted, reading until way past my bed time.  You will too!
 
   
Fortunately I’ve still got Red Tape & White Knuckles to look forward to over the holidays.
“On April 30th 2003 I left my job at the BBC and my cosy houseboat in London to motorcycle the length of the Americas on my Yamaha XT225 Serow. My route took me 20,000 miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina, the most southerly place in the world that can be reached by road. The book of this journey, Lois on the Loose is available in the UK, USA and has also been translated into German, Dutch and Italian.”