Tag Archives: travel tips

Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean Motorcycle Journey: Gear and Cost

Someone recently asked me what they’d need to bring on a trip like the one I’m on now, and the cost. The only real requirement of a motorcycle trip is a motorcycle! That said, here’s a list of the things I’ve taken along on this current journey across Australia. Continue reading Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean Motorcycle Journey: Gear and Cost

The Wayward Roll 101: How to Adventure Motorcycle Travel in Latin America

 

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Step 1. With only 10 days to prepare and no planning whatsoever, fly to South America and buy a tiny motorcycle commonly referred to as a “pizza” bike. Ignore those who tell you a 125cc motorcycle will barely get you to the shops.

Step 2: Also ignore the fact that you have no knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and dad isn’t around to come pick you and your motorcycle up when stranded. You’ll learn on the road.

Step 3: When leaving the motorcycle shop where you just picked up your new pizza bike, try not to get crushed by semis, bus drivers on cellphones, or taxis. Use your horn liberally, at every intersection and while passing most other vehicles, especially those trying to merge into you even though they obviously see you.

Step 4: Cruise at top speed (45mph) and realize why people suggested a larger bike. Throw caution to the wind and proceed, racing fellow 125cc’ers up large hills in 1st gear. Earn bonus points by pretending to peddle a bicycle.

Step 5: When you see oncoming traffic in your lane, assume they’ll run you over. Why? Because they’ll run you over.

Step 6: At a four way intersection; remember that the larger car will always win. Or a taxi. Always give way to a taxi. Better yet, steer clear of taxis altogether.

Step 7: Upon getting chased by a pack of savage street dogs of all shapes and sizes, avoid riding into the ditch in fright. Aim for the jaw and give good sharp kicks. If sharp kicks don’t do the trick, stop moving. Unlike a zombie horde, once you stop, the dogs generally lose interest.

Step 8: Don’t assume the guy who asks if you can give him a ride on your tank is kidding. He’s not kidding.

Step 9: When approaching a police check-point, slow down slightly and then blow past with a smile and a wave. On the off-chance they actually stop you, say “oh, me?” and pretend you don’t speak the language. And if you really don’t speak the language, try to speak it, and it’ll be even funnier.

Step 10: When lost, avoid asking for directions unless you’re prepared for 20 minutes of “male explanation mode”, only to find out the man really doesn’t know the way and has no idea where you both are on the map he’s just taken out of your hands. Nod your head politely and keep going.

Step 11: If you must ride through a larger city, act like a Dakar rider, ignore street signs and one ways, pop curbs, and lane split. And most importantly, don’t stop for pedestrians unless you want to get rear ended and honked at! It’s all part of the daily grind. Just don’t forget Step 4.

Step 12: Welcome to Latin America. You’re now on Latin Time. Don’t stress if someone is an hour late, the poopy toilet won’t flush, the gas station is out of gas or the electricity is down. “In 20 minutes” means an hour, and “tomorrow” means next week.

Step 13: When choosing a hotel, don’t settle for anything with less than a couple of stairs at the main entrance, or you’ll take the fun out of the experience. Riding your bike up/down the stairs and through the lobby, livingroom or diningrom is no big deal in these parts.

Step 14: Never, ever go into a gas station bathroom (or any bathroom) expecting to find toilet paper, soap or an “automatic” toilet. 9 out of 10 times you will be very disappointed. When the toilet won’t flush, get a pitcher of water and dump it in. Or ride away quickly and never return.

Step 16: Relax! You’re not in Kansas anymore. Enjoy the ride (through fancy lobbies), the change of scenery, and your newfound respect for American bathrooms.

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: Notes from a meticulous traveler on the nuances of adventure motorcycling

 

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Only two more weeks before Tom heads away for the cold rivers of Canada. In a great turn of events, two friends will be coming to join me for one week each, back to back, to accompany me from Lima to Quito. Then, I’m on my own. Tom wrote these words of wisdom in an email, and with his permission, I just had to share:

Getting excited and nervous about your trip yet? Or too busy to think about it?

Since I’m passing the baton on to you, I thought I should suggest a few things I’d like to have had figured out before I started. Sorry if all this is obvious… but took me a while to nut out. I realise you’ll only be on the road a week, but you might find some of it useful.

gear: I believe El’s already sent you a packing list, so I won’t go into too much detail on gear. Minimalism! I thought I was packing light and ended up sending a bunch of stuff north. Interrogate every item. Every gram and cubic centimetre counts on these little bikes.
But you’ll need two sets of cool/casual (cotton or thin synthetic) next-to-skin clothes, both of which you should be comfortable wearing with or without your armoured gear. After extensive research and testing, the best routine is to wash one set at the end of each day – if you have access to a shower, just step into the shower with them on and go from there! The earlier you can get them wrung and drying the better. Then step into your second set, wear them through the evening and for the next day of riding. Repeat. You get filthy on the bike in the heat, and always having clean clothes in your pack is a real morale-booster. Duh, right? This was all news to me.

In addition to the above you’ll want warm layers of course, but they should be layers that can be warn together at the same time and under your moto jacket, pants, and helmet (otherwise it’s wasted space / weight). Plus a lightweight raincoat for when you’d rather not lug your moto jacket on foot.

Bring liners for your moto gear, if you have ’em, although unless the cold is extreme it’s easier to leave the liners out and just use your regular clothes for insulation (so you don’t have to mess around inserting and removing the liners).
suburn– Sunburn points in full moto gear are are neck, nose, cheeks and lips – one fair gringo to another. Make sunscreen / chapstick your morning routine!

luggage – Looks like you’ll have this big red ‘drybag’ (45 L), plus your daypack to strap to the bike. The red bag is sticky with glue from useless duct tape that El tried to patch the holes with (I cut away the dregs of the tape yesterday). I suggest bringing a liner to make it really waterproof – you could use a garbage bag, which will last about 10 minutes, or one of those thin lightweight ‘drybags’ that feel like raincoat material. I suggest the latter, depending on your budget. One for your backpack too.

There is a right way and a wrong way to strap the drybag to the bike (I lay awake thinking about these details). The opening should be facing away from the kickstand, on the ‘high side’, so that if you need to access the bag, your stuff doesn’t come tumbling onto the road.

Anything that can be damaged or crushed by a strap should not go in the red drybag… because it will get damaged or crushed. Use the red bag for camping stuff and your uber-warm gear that you don’t ordinarily need. Use your (waterproof – lined) backpack for quick-access valuables, electronics, toiletries, water, headlamp, and your set of clean clothes. That way, if you’re not camping, you can just detach your backpack and you have everything you need to stay in a hostel / hotel and you don’t have to mess around with the big red bag at all (except maybe moving it for security). Wallet and passport should be sewn into your skin.

Always tie up the loose ends of the straps so they can’t dangle into your wheel or obscure your brake light.

As for the bag you’re bringing your checked luggage in, bring something disposable or extremely lightweight that you can squash down. I brought a light duffel but it annoyed me so much that I sent it away. I’ll be buying some ghetto-duffel to transfer my stuff into when I leave.

the bike – The Honda Storm is a little hero. I can’t believe how it’s stood up to the punishment I’ve put it through. But it is only a 125 street bike, and El seems to think we’re on Dakar out here. So you gotta take care of it. Last oil change was today at 8,500km. Chain should ideally be cleaned and lubed every morning, or at least every other day. If you hear a rasping sound when you’re moving the bike around with the engine off, it’s parched! The chain should also be tightened every few days. The chains down here don’t have o-rings, so they stretch like crazy and keep stretching. You’ll need to adjust the fuel intake for high altitude and adjust the idle accordingly (the bike should idle at 1,500rpm when warm). Tire pressure is 28 front and 32 rear. Redundant! Last (and only) full service was in Mendoza, forever ago. That’s about all I know about bikes. Keep your visor clean!

traffic – Welcome to a whole new world. No rules. Speed, momentum, and mass have right of way. Double lines mean nothing. Drivers will pass you on double lines, on blind corners, on crests, it’s madness. Just assume they’re all in a coma with their pedal to the metal. The idea of a motorcycle occupying an entire lane is foreign here. They’ll cut past you in what you thought was ‘your’ lane. They’ll brush by and honk in a festive spirit while you’re suffering a cardiac arrest. Coming in the opposite direction, they’ll pass a slower vehicle and hover in your lane far longer than is reasonable, coming dead at you, and occasionally run you off the road completely. What to do? Be as aware of what’s behind you as what’s in front of you, always leave a margin for error and stupidity, be visible. I bought a fluoro vest that I’ll leave with the bike, so you can choose between style and visibility.
Where possible, avoid riding directly behind Elisa. You can’t see potholes or dogs or anything on the road until it’s right under your front wheel. On the highway, I like to ride in the left tireline (with Elisa ahead, in the right tireline). That way you can see what’s ahead, and drivers behind and in front can see that they’re approaching two motorbikes instead of one. It also means that passing drivers are forced to take a wider berth around Elisa (but watch out for yourself, check you side mirror every few seconds and move to the right tireline when you see the passing vehicle begin to go around you).
dirt roads – The looser and deeper, the more difficult to maintain control. Scan the road surface as far ahead as possible, look for bad patches – a change of colour or texture, and set up for it well in advance (ie slow down, downshift and be ready to accelerate through it, go around it, or stop before it). I had virtually no off-road experience before this trip. My reflex was to hit the brakes when I hit loose gravel or sand, but this is bad, bad, bad! It’s incredible I stayed upright during that initial phase (I had many close calls). Here’s the golden rule: deceleration has a de-stabilising effect, acceleration has a stabilising effect. Slow down before you hit the loose sand / gravel, and then accelerate through it, keeping your eyes ahead. If you suddenly feel the bike wobbling around on an unanticipated patch of sand, your reaction should be throttle rather than brake. It took me a while to get the hang of this, it’s very counter-intuitive to me. But it really works.Sand is the worst. If it’s too deep or long to safely ride through, don’t be ashamed to get into 1st gear and do the flintsones. Otherwise, keep your weight heavy on the footpegs and accelerate decisively.
Remember that you can steer with your footpegs. Very effective on dirt, when turning your handlebars doesn’t always have the desired effect. I had no idea!
wind – Wind is the worst. When it’s strong and gusting, it can blow you all over the road, into the other lane, towards a low cliff-edge barrier that might save your bike but will allow you to go sailing over. Lean into the wind, keep the revs up, downshift for power. I find that the faster you go, the less the wind affects you, but of course the consequences are higher. I think the worst of the wind is behind us in Patagonia (we had gusts of 80km/hour). But if it happens, and you’re half as scared as I was, pull over. El doesn’t notice gale-force winds and will simply press on until she’s airborne and spiralling into the clouds. Then she’ll ask why you’ve pulled over.
fun – believe it or not, navigating the above somehow amounts to abnormal amounts of fun. Be safe and enjoy!
Okay. Way more than I intended to write.

See more funny adventure travelogues at PaperTrailTramp.

 

 

And what will I do when he’s gone? Who will guard my lane, and pick up my blown over motorcycle? Who will require us to eat in every little shack along the road, snacking our way across South America? Who will be my body guard and comedian?

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Travel Wisely: Financial Hints from Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags vs. the Pennypacker Duo

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I was recently on a forum reading about budgeting for a motorcycle trip and was shocked at the figures people were suggesting as necessary. One asked if $240/day was enough for two people to travel the States, and another answered that $300 seemed more realistic. Most of us would agree that $300 a day is a ton of money. If you can’t afford that kind of spending, it’s important to realize that you can still adventure on much, much less.

*Note that these characters are my “alter egos”. One voice still reflexively says “spend, spend, spend- don’t think, just spend!”, and the other voice suggests spending what’s in my budget, but not over, and still enjoying the same quality of experiences. Before discovering a more frugal lifestyle, I was Mrs. Moneybags and digging myself into a financial pit… Instead of buying a BMW motorcycle I couldn’t afford  (which I would have enjoyed much more!), it was a Jeep Grand Cherokee that caused me great financial woes…

Two hypothetical couples are about to embark on a motorcycle trip around the Pacific Northwest. One couple believes it’s necessary to spend hundreds of dollars a day (on credit) to have a nice vacation, and the second couple is saving for early retirement and wants to minimize spending they view as wasteful (spending that doesn’t increase their happiness or fulfillment).

Here are their stories:

Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags pack up their beautiful BMW motorcycle and hit the open road. Even though they can’t afford it, they have lots of other fancy things, so they think it’s normal to sit on $24,000 dollars of equipment and farkles* that they’re still paying for on credit. The. Moneybags don’t like to think about how much they spend, and prefer to focus on the experience (confusing a high price tag with a better experience), and really let loose during their two weeks of vacation a year. They work hard to pay off their credit card bills, mortgage, SUV, and shopping habit, so they really deserve a nice vacation. Besides, two people can’t ride together on anything less than a 1200 cc engine, right??IMG_4290

One motorcycle traveling 250 miles a day only uses about $20 bucks a day in gas in the States, if you estimate 45 miles to the gallon for a big bike and gas costing around $3.50/gallon. Breakfast at a country diner is a minimum of $25 for Mr. and Mrs. Bags. Sandwiches and bottled water at a roadside café cost $30, and dinner, with booze, costs $60. They buy a few postcards, a couple lattes and a snack along the way, shoveling out another $20. They stay at the first hotel or B&B they find every night and pay an average of $100 without thought. They can’t afford this lifestyle, but do it anyway.

Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags have succeeded in paying more than $250 bucks due of their automatic spending reflex, and because it didn’t really occur to them that they could spend less and maintain the same degree of happiness and adventure. In a week, they’ve spent $1,785. In two weeks, they’ve spent $3,570. It’s been fun, but they’re starting to feel unhealthy and sluggish from all the restaurant outings, and stressed about the bill they’re racking up. The fitted leather pants Mr. and Mrs. Bags bought for the trip (costing $450 each), no longer fit, and they’re going to join a gym for $75 each per month when they get home. Upon returning home, they also have to pay their housesitter $250 bucks for watering their plants and bringing in the mail. They really want something more in life, but they’re unaware of how to achieve it, and continue to dig themselves into a financial pit trying to find some escape and reprieve from the daily grind.

The Pennypackers do the same exact trip, with a few tweaks. They ride an older motorcycle still in good shape, which they bought for under $4,000, and which doubles as the daily commuter (the Mrs. rides her bicycle to work). It’s a 650cc, with plenty of power for both of them if they pack light. They do own some expensive protective gear, but it’s gear that will last many years and is adventure-worthy, not just for looks. They also have a fixed gas cost of about $20/day. They pack cutlery, a thermos, a camp stove and a couple important cooking staples like butter and salt, so they can make their own breakfast (using eggs and bread they buy at a store the evening before). They make sure to fill up their thermos with excellent coffee for the road (the smart adventurers even carry a little Italian percolator!). Breakfast ingredients cost them $6 bucks. They stop at a bakery and have a picnic with eggs hardboiled from breakfast, bread, cheese, tomatoes and fruit, costing another $10, and enjoy their homebrew coffee. They make sure to fill up their water bottles along the way. They buy chocolate bars for a snack, costing another $4. These two bring a tent, and camp at State Parks for only $12-25 a night. Other nights they plan Couchsurfing for free, prearranging it with hosts. Occasionally they spend $50 on a hotel, or even more if they think the cost is really worth the experience (they still like some luxuries, of course). For dinner they usually make roasted potatoes and veggies in the open fire, with toasted baguettes and hummus or some other delicious variation. For dessert they make s’mores and enjoy the cool evening air and stars. It’s very romantic. This meal costs them $20, including a $3 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s for good measure.

These two have spent only $60-$85 that day total in a relatively expensive country, $600 a week, and $1,200 in two weeks. Since they rented out their house for $500/week to tourists for the two weeks they were away, the vacation almost paid for itself. They’re fit and healthy, having hiked in the State Parks they camped in. Their wallets are flush with the money they saved by their healthy habits, but they had just as much fun, if not more, than those leather-clad Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags they saw shelling out $13 dollars per sandwich at the tourist trap down the road.

The Pennypackers know how to cut out the wasteful spending (the spending on things that doesn’t actually make them happier), but never feel deprived. They are debt free, on the road to early retirement, and are already planning their next big adventure. Are you?

 

*Term used in the touring community for something that has function and sparkle, hence “farkle”. Often a big waste of money and totally unnecessary.

**Seinfield reference :)

El Camino de Santiago: a packing guide

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The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) is one of the most important and loved pilgrimages in the world. It has its flaws and critics though, and it’s important to plan well in advance if you’re not already an experienced hiker or walker, or if you’re out of shape.

The Camino’s main route takes you 500 miles over the Pyrenees mountains from France and into Spain, via Roncesvalles. It continues due West for weeks, taking you through some of the most arid regions of Spain and beyond. Although much of it is flat, there are occasional steep sections, such as when entering into Galicia. The trail is often not sheltered from the sun, and will often follow roads with heavy traffic and many miles of concrete. Continue reading El Camino de Santiago: a packing guide