Sunday, April 26, 2009

Newsflash: There is nothing interesting around Chicago.

As a sort of practice run before I leave for my long trip, I decided to take advantage of a few days of good weather for an overnight trip somewhere out west.

Given that this was only for one night, I didn’t bother with my seat bag for clothes, nor did I bring my big camera. Everything I needed for this fit pretty easily into the saddlebags, with the tent poles and sleeping pad strapped on top.

The downside of living in Chicago is that we’re surrounded by flatness for many miles in any direction, so you have to ride for a couple of hours just to find anything fun. South of Rockford I took highway 2 down the river, which tempted me with signs like this.

It was scenic, but I wouldn’t call it twisty.

I tried some side roads, which were fun, but fairly residential.

Around mid-day I got into Dixon, which has large parts of it that look like this.

Pretty sexy looking. Some urban exploring would have been fun, but not while wearing a neon yellow suit.

I grabbed some vital supplies at a grocery store (for some reason I'd forgotten to bring anything in the way of snackables) and headed west.

Now, I need to firmly state that Iowa sucks balls. Most of it looks like this:

With the help of my GPS, I was able to try and find some things that turned occasionally, but nothing twisty enough to actually be fun. Just slightly less monotonous.

I managed to find the only rainstorm in the area on a day that was forecast to be clear. My suit and gear is waterproof, but I hadn't brought the rain covers for my luggage. I hid in a gas station for a few minutes until the worst of it passed, although it did shower on and off for a while. For some reason mid-grade here is cheaper then regular. I'm guessing it has something to do with ethanol subsidies.

Later in the afternoon, I started looking for someplace to camp (without having to spend any money). I got off the minor highway that I was on, and that side road soon turned into this:

And then the gravel ran out, and it turned into this:

And then this

On a dirt or trail bike, that wouldn't have been a problem. On a 500lb+ cruiser? It was dicey. I was INCHES away from dumping the thing over a couple times I think the only thing that saved me was a childhood wasted doing stupid things on bicycles, and repeating the words of my MSF instructors in my head (KEEP YOUR EYES UP! DO NOT LOOK DOWN, IF YOU LOOK DOWN, YOU WILL GO DOWN)

After puttering around a bit, I settled on an area that I thought would be sufficiently out of the way and give me some sort of concealment. At that point, I decided to try and be cool and talk at the camera for a bit. I always envision myself sounding and looking cool and composed when I do these. Then I watch them and remember just how much of a dork I am.

At this point I wished I had my real camera, not just my point-and-shoot, as it didn't do that well trying to get a picture of my campsite in the very quickly dwindling light.

I'm not sure I'm sold on this tent yet. It was free from my dad, but it's freaking huge. I worry about being able to hide it that easily when I'm trying to camp in other locations that aren't as remote. On the other hand, the vestibule is great, and I suspect it will be really nice if I'm stuck someplace for a while due to horrible weather or something.

I packed everything up must faster then I thought I would, and after getting suited up, was gone by the time the sun peaked over the horizon. It was a VERY foggy morning. At many points it was way denser then this picture, it was impossible to keep my visor clear and at times even going 35mph felt WAY too vast, I couldn't see jack shit due to the fog.

Eventaully the sun burned it away, and I continued heading north through small towns.

I am SO mature. Srsly though, I don't know how they could call this a town, it was one street and didn't even have a stopsign. It did have a senic pull-off with a good veiw, though.

I eventually made it back to the Mississippi river, which provided some more interesting roads, and was fairly scenic.

At some point, I crossed into Wisconsin, and continued heading up the river. This is where things started to get fun. The terrain got more rugged, and the road builders seemed to have gotten much less agressive with blasting the road through hills, instead just making the road twist around them. Not REALLY agressive corners, but it was very pretty. Lot of other bikers on this road, too. Some other adventure-rider type people, but most of them were Harley guys in full pirate gear.

About this point is when I discovered the joy of the Wisconsin County Roads. They were darting back and forth from the river to Rt 27, in these ten mile long jaunts through valleys and serving rural farms. They were very lightly traveled (I rarely saw any other cars on them), and devilishly twisty. Most of them looked like this!

It was AWESOME. I'm not a skilled rider by any means, but I couldn't do most of these turns much faster then 40mph, and at some points was starting to scrape my heels on the ground (although on this bike, that doesn't mean a very aggressive turn, the pegs are set very low and wide). The roads would wind up vallys, and when they weren't hugging tight little corners, they were giving way to long, broad sweeping turns with great scenery.

By this time, though, I was pretty far north, and had to get back at a reasonable hour to Chicago. Sadly, this meant having to ride through central and southern Wisconsin. Which as most of us know, sucks even harder then Iowa.

At least they have some hippys making electricty, though

And I don't know why I found this sign so funny. I think it's the general 50s-tasticness of the guy.

That's all I've got for pictures, as the rest of the ride was just the horribleness that is the area that surrounds us. To make it worse, I was heading directly into a 30mph headwind the entire goddamn way. doing 45mph felt like doing 80. At that point, I was just booking it home as quickly as I could. I'd got on the bike at 6am that day, and didn't get off (except for gas stops) until 8pm. I did almost 650 miles, and my shoulders were feeling every bit of it.

So, thats that. The windshield was just delivered, and I need to figure out a way to mount this backrest I got off e-bay. There will be another ride sometime in the next couple of weeks to get it sorted, and I am still shooting to leave on May 9th for the big trip.

Peas out.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Protip: on a 1997 Yamaha Virago XV750; when you accidently turn the ignition key one click beyond the "lock" position, it turns the lights on but stil lets you remove the key! And then go have luch in a restraunt, to come out to a flat battery. Weeeeeeeeee!

AAA is on their way.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Plan

Or, how to bankrupt myself in just one summer!

View Larger Map

Chicago > Texas > Key West > NYC > Mt Washington > Nova Scotia > Alaska by way of the Northwest Territories > Coldfoot > Anchorage > Portland > Death Vally > Grand Canyon > Yellowstone > Burning Man > Chicago.

Four Months. 25,000 miles. 600 gallons of fuel, 6 oil changes, two sets of tires, and one tent.

And for this trip, this will be my only mode of transportation:

My 1997 Yamaha Virago XV750, which I bought last year.

That route on google maps is a very rough estimate; most of those markers are just to get a distance. I'll be spending as much time as I possibly can OFF the main roads, and will be heading up more through Appalachia rather then going so close to the east coast. Depending on local conditions, I might also take a run up to Labrador City as well, but I've heard conflicting information on the condition of that road.

So that figure of 20,000 miles according to Google will get stretched a good deal. The majority of the time will be on paved roads, although there'll be some gravel up in the Northwest Territories and on the US side of the Top Of The World Highway.

The vast majority of the time I'll be stealth camping if I can, or crashing on a couch here and there when I feel like living in the lap of luxury.

As for nerd-stuff, I'll be bringing along some sort of a netbook, or maybe an ultra portable laptop for blogging when I can. Along with my waterproof/ruggudized Olyumpus point-and-shoot, I'll also have my Canon 30D and a few lenses, probably my 70-200mm, 20mm, and 17-85mm. I wish I could bring along a good-quality camcorder, but my very limited budget doesn't allows for something like that.

So, yeah. That's my plan for the summer.

I'm shooting to leave on May 9th, but most of my plan is that I don't have a set plan; I want to get to those areas and see as much as I can, and be in Black Rock City by September 1st.

More details will follow in the next couple of weeks, I've still got a lot of preparing to do.