Friday, March 20, 2015

First Motorcycle, First Adventure

Recently I gave a PowerPoint presentation to members of the Houston BMW Club, the topic,
First Motorcycle, First Adventure.

The year was 1969,  Panama City was not the modern metropolis of skyscrapers one sees today.

In fact, for me it was not even as modern as in this old postcard photo below. As I was living and working with the Embera' indians in the Darien jungle.

El Real de Santa Maria was a small village in the middle of the Darien. There I lived while working with the Embera' natives who populated the inner recesses of the jungle. 

Google "Darien Gap" if you want to learn more about this one remaining incomplete section of the Pan American Highway.  The Pan Am Highway is the longest motor-able road in the world, stretching from Prudhoe Bay Alaska to the southern most tip of South America, except for the "Gap".

Embera' children, like children everywhere, laugh, play and smile a lot.

A couple of the Embera' men who had a few too many "Chicha Fuerte" drinks.

The final year in Panama was spent assisting the Nobe Bugle natives in constructing a health center on their land high in the mountains of western Panama.

The site, Llano Ñopo,  was one of the few level pieces of land in the mountains. And only eight hours by horseback to the nearest town. 

In the mountains, the houses are built low to the ground with dirt floors. The high peaked roofs shed rain quickly and allowed smoke from the cooking fire to rise above the living area. 

The Nobe Bugle ladies sew colorful cha'cara bags using fibers from the wild pineapple plant as thread. Is a very strong durable fiber.  

As our two year tour with Peace Corps was coming to an end, two other volunteers and I agreed  instead of flying home, we would take the cash. Buy motorcycles and ride back to the States together.

 But life has its own design. In July 1969 was the 100 Hour War between El Salvador and Honduras over a soccer game. Airports were bombed, tanks rolled, shots were exchanged along the border.  6000 persons were killed. Then it was over. But the peace and tranquility in the area was still tenuous. 

The other guys decided to fly home in October. I had already purchased my new motorcycle and was learning how to ride it on my monthly visit to Panama City where it was stored. 

The health center was finally completed, a dedication ceremony was held in early December. 
Time to head home.

My first motorcycle, a Yamaha R3-C, 350cc, two stroke. No windshield. Everything I needed was in the two small knapsacks, plus a sleeping bag, a jungle hammock, a camera, rain slicker, gloves and a helmet.

I left Panama the day after Christmas 1969. 

 Once you west of David, the largest city in western Panama, the Pan American Highway turned to loose gravel until El Salvador.   Here is a section of the roadway in Costa Rica in 1969. 

Numerous rock slides closed the road. for an hour, or days. With large and small loose rock and slippery mud covering the roadway, it was not safe to try to cross. Can only wait until it is cleared. 

Once past one slide, another would appear a few miles on down the road. Maybe that's why I only averaged 140 miles a day.

The road was empty most of the ride north. When a large truck approached, I would pull over and stop, so as not to be pummeled by flying rocks and pebbles. 

The secret to safe inexpensive food when traveling, is to look for where all the trucks are parked.  Then go eat there. 

Crossing the border between Honduras and El Salvador was quiet, very quiet. No one raised their voice, no yelling, no pushing, too many young soldiers with their fingers on machine gun triggers, barricaded behind sandbags, waiting...... No photos were taken!

Of course, high on the list of places to visit, were some of the Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

In Huehuetenango, Guatemala stumbled across a farmer's market in full swing, colorful native dress, wide variety of produce for sale and hundreds of people buying and selling.

Some people are just tired.

The peanut vendor caught me snapping a photo of her wares.

After riding for twenty-five days, sleeping twenty nights under the stars, traveling 3500 miles and patching three flats tires, I rolled into Phoenix, Arizona under grey skies sporting snow flakes like dust.

Here is the final photo from the Darien jungle.

Lessons learned from that first adventure:

1. Overcoming fear is your biggest obstacle

2. Try something different, it's only new to you

3. More than what you see, it's who you meet

4. Keep the wheels turning, you'll get there

5. When going for a ride, take your passport

Ride safe, ya'll. See you on down the road.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Power of Three

In baseball, you get three strikes and you're out. 

In soccer, three goals by the same player, it's a hat trick.

A famous person dies, then another and the pundits start speculating on who will be the third?  Of course we all know that the first two are terms of the game and the third example is pure coincidence. Still, there seems to be a pattern of threes when it comes to my motorcycles.

For example, there were three BMW long distance motorcycles that came into and out of my life.

First, Captain America..
This little BMW F650 carried me to Alaska the first time. After the incident on the Haul Road push starting another bike, I made it to Prudhoe Bay and then down to Anchorage. There Captain America was sold in the land of the midnight sun. 

Looking for more power for long distance cruising, along came Blue Jeans. A beautiful BMW 1150GS was #2. Had everything except the additional ground clearance and a larger gas tank one needs for serious adventure riding.

So we said goodbye to Blue Jeans and picked up #3, Wind Rider. 

This workhorse of a big machine carried me to Alaska, Florida and finally Chile and Argentine. In Chile she was sold to someone who said they could repair her.

After the incident in Chile, three wheels replaced two wheels for riding. Since Urals are the only sidecar motorcycle manufacturer in the world, they must be looked at. Especially for someone like me who didn't know anything about sidecars. 

The first Ural was Big Red. A big, slow, lumbering Russian rig that about broke my big toe kick starting her.  Besides kick start, she had old fashion drum brakes.  Though we discovered that I really did enjoy piloting sidecars, but this was not the right rig. 

 Big Red is sitting atop my attempt at building a sidecar lift. Sidecar weight is not evenly balanced among the three wheels.  Lift was a total failure and waste of good lumber. 

Then came Ural #2, a Dam'it wannabe. Was an okay rig with an electric start and disc brakes, but did not inspire confidence. Just didn't think that she could make it to Alaska and back. 

From Atlanta, GA comes Ural #3, Dam'it. The best Ural I have owned.  This was a sidecar rig that I thought could go anywhere...  

So we did - Key West, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, visiting some 36 states in all.  When her extended warranty ran out, she went to a new home. 

With Dam'it gone and with the knowledge I gained concerning the care and feeding of sidecars, It's time to build a dual sport sidecar. Partly because I could not find one set up the way I wanted and needed for my next adventure. The bike of choice was narrowed down to either a Kawasaki KLR650 or a Suzuki DR650. Either bike would do what I wanted.  Now what could I find?

Back in 2010, I owned a 'Barbie Doll' colored KLR650 for a short period. Had a purple seat and disco light graphics. She didn't stay long.

Recently came KLR #2, which is on the lift in the garage right now. This burgundy bike came to me from the Valley of Texas, Harlingen.

As parts arrive, this nameless bike is coming back together. Painted the plastics a khaki color, the gas tank flat black and here,  installing new turn signals. 

While we wait on the rear luggage rack to arrive, the seat is being worked on. This bike is almost ready to be put on the market for sale........ What?    Yes!  

This is not the rig to hang a sidecar on. It's a good dual sport bike now that I have gone thru it top to bottom. But she is not the bike for the next adventure. So we will finish this one up, make sure it is running good and strong. Then post her for sale.

 Waiting in the wings...   is a big eyed beauty.

A Kawasaki KLR 650...  number THREE.

Was not looking for a different  KLR, but.... happened upon this low mileage 2011 beauty listed on eBay...  is in the Houston area....  only four days remaining on the auction... with no bids on it. So I started the ball rolling with an opening offer. Did not think it possible, but my opening bid was also the closing bid. No one else bid on the bike. 

The coincidence of threes shows itself again.

A quick shift of gears in the thinking.  The bike on my garage is a generation 1 KLR, this new bike is a generation 2 KLR. Some parts and pieces are interchangeable, others are not.  A fast call to the manufacturer of the sidecar chassis confirms the chassis they are making for me will fit either KLR.  Alright now, we can do this.

As soon as the new bike hits the garage, what do I do? Start stripping off parts and pieces off in order to service and prep it for our next adventure. But first we have to finish KLR #2 still on the lift before we tear into KLR #3.

This week KLR #2 will be finished and available. Hopefully by then the weather might be a little nicer and riders will be thinking about getting outdoors to ride. Cold winter months is when you buy a motorcycle. Warm sunny Spring time is when you sell.

Going through this process of threes, one learns more about the ins and outs of servicing, maintenance and abilities of each machine. Each will have its own issues, presenting its own unique challenges. All of which make for a more thorough and detailed education experience.

Ride safe and far,