Sunday, November 8, 2015

Day 4: Oklahoma to Home

Riding home after an adventure on the trail is typically a depressing, pavement-pounding affair. Today though, may have been our best day.

We turned nearly every half mile as we zigzagged northeast from Great Plains Salt Lake back to Kansas City.

We took back roads, stumbled across a Kansas Trials riding competition, and there learned how to get back home ADV style. We discovered Teeter Rock and found unexpected great riding trails in Kansas, which we didn't know was even possible.

From Emporia we finally hopped on the pavement and sped home through 45° cold. We are thankful to be home, safe, bikes still running, and with a couple millimeters of tire tread to spare.


In short, the Oklahoma TAT is a different kind of ADV trail, but one we realized that we are glad we didn't miss.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Day 3: Mid Oklahoma TAT

We started the day off with a rush when on our way out of camp, I decided to take an exploratory route through the grass to a road the the map said was there. Well it wasn't, and we found ourselves stuck on a boulder-ridden embankment that we couldn't go back up, facing a lake that we surely didn't want to go IN. You'll have to tune back in later and watch the video to see how we got out. But alas, we did. And we had a grand day riding through the Oklahoma beauty. It's a different kind of trail, but it's been a blast. Tonight it's cold, and will be mid-30's by morning. Then we head home.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Day 2: Eastern Oklahoma

We started our day out like we meant business, with a full breakfast at Boomerang Diner in Tahlequah, OK. The "small" breakfast did not disappoint with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and biscuit & gravy. Mmm! I knew right then that it was going to be a great day.

The rest of the day did not disappoint, either. Despite our late start and big breakfast pushing our TAT arrival to nearly 11:00 AM, we wore ourselves out over 150 miles of trail.

The roads swapped back and forth between packed dirt and gravel of all sorts and colors. There was nothing of significant riding challenge, but I wouldn't call it boring. Much of the joy of this ride is just the beauty of it. Rolling hills and turning leaves made Oklahoma feel like Vermont. A different time of year, with the heat beating down, and I can see how this section of the trail could be dull. The interesting riding is definitely spaced out further by some long, straight gravel roads. Anyway, I'm still enjoying myself.

The daylight doesn't last long in November, so we stopped for camp in late afternoon. I think our secluded, lakeside campsite might be the best we've had. It clearly used to be a campground, but seems to now be unmaintained. Just finding the roads in was an adventure challenge, and we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the lake, trees for hammocks, and just the stars and armadillos for company. 

Day 1: KC to Tallequah

We made it a hour and a half into our ride when Joey announced his clutch cable went out. This could be a big problem, but Joey and I both have secondary clutch cables in place on the bike for this very scenario. We pulled over so he could take a couple minutes to switch the cables. Except it turned out that was NOT the problem. In short, we spent the next hour and a half pulling apart the bike to inspect the clutch plates, only to end up discovering his cable, though intact, came out of adjustment. 30 seconds with some pliers fixed the real problem. But we learned a lot. For one, our handpicked set of just a few tools turned out to be enough to get pretty deep into the engine in a Chinese restaurant's parking lot.

For riding in November, towards a thunderstorm, we've had it amazing. The thermometer showed 64 degrees our whole ride, and somehow we completely missed the rain. I told Joey that the clutch issue was actually divine appointment so we'd miss the rain storm like we did. He's not convinced yet, but he will be.

So we made it to our free campsite, dry, by 11pm. We setup camp without rain or cold. And the stars look AMAZING. 

We are just 5 miles north of the trail. Rest up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TAT 4 - Oklahoma

"Love the TAT. Miss it already. Some more thoughts and pics to come."

That's how I ended the last trip entry. It seems I'm not so good at following up... but here we are, prepping to leave again. Tomorrow we return to the Trans-America Trail (TAT), for part 4. We ride straight south from KC, and turn right into Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma is the forum-described "boring" part of the TAT. You can read ride report after report of adventurers who choose to skip the trail through OK and take the highway from Arkansas to Colorado. The three of us have gone 'round a few times arguing about what to do. We aren't obsessive about riding every inch of the trail, but the options we faced were skipping Oklahoma and hauling our bikes to the Mountains next year... or squeezing in another short TAT ride this fall and STILL heading to the mountains next year. So fall is here, and to that trail we go. It wasn't easy finding some time for a second trip in 2015. I think we've rescheduled four times, and now we're riding in November--adventuresome, but less than ideal.

Since the spring...

Joey's Honda XR suffered a piston explosiatastrophe, and he's replaced, resurfaced, and rebuilt all those complicated metal parts that go somewhere under the seat. Just last weekend he finished the carb and says she's running better than ever.

Danny's Suzuki DR had an oil leak... if you can call it that. I think he spent $2 on some gasket and, you know, took something important off, gave it a new gasket, put it back on... and now it's good.

My Kawasaki KLR on the other hand, developed a real oil leak. And while Joey rebuilt his engine and Danny scraped off a 20 year old cam chain tensioner gasket... I put a cup under my bike.

Plastic cup, on right, to collect dripping oil
Anyway, the cup is starting to fill a bit. So I added some oil to my bike last night. Good to go!

Also since spring, we've been playing a game of musical motorcycle luggage. In May, we each took different approaches for our luggage:

  • Danny: Nelson Riggs soft dry saddle bags - $50 Used on Amazon
  • Joey: Dry bags with custom straps for mounting - $60 for all parts
  • Nic: Wolfman Expedition Dry Bags - $180 Used from ADV inmate
There's a longer, really boring story about how Danny and I both ordered newly released DrySpec dry saddle bags several months before the trip, and then the bag manufacturing became so far delayed that Danny cancelled his order and I ordered Wolfmans at the last minute... and then two days into our trip the DrySpec bags shipped to my house. Anyway, after getting back from the trip, we decided the Wolfmans were the best, and Danny's bags were falling apart. So this happened:
  • Danny: Returned bags to Amazon for failure to perform well
  • Joey: Bought Nic's Wolfman's at a $10 discount (you're welcome, pal), sold custom bags
  • Nic: Opened the box of new DrySpec D20's sitting in the garage ($110 out of pocket)
Only problem here? Danny doesn't have any luggage. Then sometime over the summer he surprised us with his UPS tracking number of brand new Mosko Moto Scout Panniers. I won't say here how much they cost, to avoid Danny's embarrassment. I'll just say that they did cost less than $451. And so far they seem amazing. Time and the trail will tell us which bags are to be most desired.

And that brings us to tonight. Three running motorcycles, packed (overpacked in my case), ready to haul us through a rain storm (tomorrow) and across the Oklahoma plains. And here are three not-very-good pictures of it:

Danny's Suzuki DR 650

Joey's Honda XR 650

Nic's Kawasaki KLR 650

Monday, May 25, 2015

All done

We made it back to KC safely after a morning ride through Mark Twain National Forest, and then a lot of highway 50. 

Love the TAT. Miss it already. Some more thoughts and pics to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

TAT 3 - Day 4: The Real Mississippi

After several days of adventure riding, we started referring to any paved road as a highway. When switching from packed dirt to something even like a two-lane road without lines and crumbling shoulders, the leader would announce "looks like we are hopping on a highway" over the intercoms.

We were riding on just such a "highway" in Mississippi, complaining about how little adventury miles the state had to offer on our trail. That's when she (Mrs. Ippy) overheard us and punched us right in the face.

I told the crew to turn around, we had missed a turn off of our road that the trail map showed. I was surprised, as I hadn't seen it. We road back for a few thousand feet... and missed it again? The map is a little out of date, but roads don't just disappear. After turning once more we found it. A sliver of a gap in the wooded trees to our right, and a trail of mud to follow. Off we went down a stretch of maybe a mile that took us two hours to complete.

There was mud pit after mud pit (deep mud).

We even had to hatchet vines and trees out of our way on a point to be able to get through this Missippi jungle. At one point Danny caught a vine in the helmet and practically pulled him off the bike, which fell sideways, into 12" of muddy water. Below you can't see him literally pouring out his boots after.

Then all of a sudden Joey's XR 650 didn't want to run any more. It just stopped. We spent an hour trying to start it. Joey drained the carbs. We pushed it back up the trail 3 times and tried to roll start it. We even changed the spark plug on the trail. And yes, we prayed. All that in 90° heat, and infinite humidity. But it still didn't start. Then we noticed it. The carb had come slightly loose from the manifold. 

Pushed it back in, and it fired right up. A few sighs of relief later and we were on our way. 

Around 2pm we had to say our goodbyes to the trail and the taunts of Mississippi, and turned home. 

Hotel beds will rest us tonight for a long day of the REAL highway tomorrow, which wil take us back to KC.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

TAT 3 - Day 3

We made it to Mississippi! We aren't too far across the river, but we found good camping at Sardis Lake, and we are exhausted. The trail is harder in Western Arkansas than Eastern Arkansas, and both were probably harder than Mississippi so far (though we are barely into it). Each day, though, has had it's share of challenges that keep us standing on the pegs.

Besides the riding, it's been fun just seeing the ecosystems change as we go. The dirt we ride on has been changing colors, and at any given moment we'll be in the middle of a forest, racing over sandy farm roads, or even spinning our tires in muddy slush. And meeting people at every stop is also interesting. The accents have been getting thicker with each stop. Eavesdropping on some of the campers next door proves they are often impossible to understand.

I'd say we are exhausted. We have to start thinking about when to turn toward home and how to get there, but we can't give up tackling a few more miles of the trail. So tomorrow we'll do both. Get just a LITTLE bit further before turning sorta-around. Danny still has to get to Tennesse to cross that state off his list. And of course Joey and I need to eat BBQ or fried chicken in Memphis. Then we'll ride West while tryint to avoid highways.

Photos won't upload tonight. And it's hot. 85 degrees or so in my tent. I hear the bull frogs croaking now that it's night. A pleasant break from the zacatas scremaing during the day.

Friday, May 22, 2015

TAT 3 Day 2

When you're driving a car on the interstate (which we lovingly call the super slab) you can cover 500 or 600 miles in a day over 8 hours.  We are riding about 200 miles per day, over 10 hours, and moving eastward at less than 100 miles each day. That means we're averaging about 25 mph (including some breaks). And it's amazing.

The trail has so far been excellent. It surprised us when we hit the hardest part we've ridden within the first 30 minutes of hopping on, back south of Fayetteville. That section (Warloop Rd) set an expectation of difficulty that has been lessening each mile we ride. Today in fact had quite a bit of pavement and gravel in between the fun parts. But the fun parts included 18" deep river crossings, tree-canopied packed mud roads, and beautiful Arkansas mountaintop views.

Finding a campsite for the night was the biggest challenge. When we left for this trip we didn't know how far we could get each day. So we decided to do the very thing I hate: "just wing it." We're riding all day and finding a campsite wherever we can once we get tired. Yesterday was brilliant. We rode until we couldn't and camped in a clearing we found at 5pm that was 50 feet from the trail, in the Ozark National Forest. See our little tents in the back?

Tonight, though, was tougher. We ended the day in Beebe, AR. It's big enough that we couldn't find a place to camp or a paid campground anywhere near the trail. We drove back and forth for an hour, exhausted, looking for anything, to no avail. After getting stuck and unstuck in some mud, with no prospects... what did we do? Prayed for a place to sleep and rode back into town for some Arkansas BBQ. Then through a happenstance encounter and a kind eavesdropper, we were sent to a fishing lake, just out of town, with plenty of free campsites available (really???). 

So here we are, lakeside: fully fed, warm, next to a dying fire made from wood that a stranger brought over, since he knew we couldn't haul any with us. Everything we need and more. It's good. All that and still no broken legs.

Tomorrow we hope to make it to Mississippi.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TAT 3 Day 1

The Super 8 parking lot we came from this morning seems like a year ago. 

Since then we've had to turn back from a washed out road,

Gone around the river that stopped us last year,

Had a slice of the best pie in the world,

And slowly, steadily, built a campfire.

The riding was great today. The sun was out, the trail was challenging, and no broken legs (thanks God, keep it coming).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ready or not, here we come

I'm packed. Pfew.

I don't know at what point the dream of spend-a-week-on-the-trail-without-a-care-in-the-world turns into replace-every-loose-part-on-my-motorcycle and try-to-squeeze-everything-a-man-needs-to-live-into-three-bags. But for the last couple days I've been leaving right at that crossroad.

While Joey continues to encourage me, assuring me that I'll find a way to make it all fit and it won't be too heavy, I'll have everything I need... Danny ever-so-sweetly texts me things like "I'm trying as hard as I can to fill my bags. Impossible!!!" Thanks, bro.
And while my bike feels like it can barely move under it's own power, Danny said on his test ride he "didn't even know there was added weight." Not sure what I'm doing wrong. I know I've done this before... And I know cut out about 30 pounds of gear since last time... Maybe I don't need to bring the 30 lb. dumbbell? I mean, I can probably get a good workout on the trail with just the 25 and 15 pounders, yeah?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The TAT. Part 3

We're going to the TAT. Again. Just for a refresher, the Trans-America Trail (TAT) is a collection of backroads and trails that run from Tennessee, all the way to Oregon. We've seen a joy-to-ride section of it in Arkansas. But apparently, not enough of it to get our fill.

It was on the drive home last year that we started planning our trip back. We spent the drive researching bikes, picking our perfect machines, and discussing how to trick our wives into letting us take a week off in 2015 so we could do it all again. And so... here we are (thanks, wives)!

Danny grabbed a Suzuki DR 650 as soon as he found one he could afford. Joey bought a Honda XR 650 in Colorado and waited months to find a way to get it delivered to KC. And I came up with a different bike I intended to buy about every single day, but in the end I couldn't abandon my Kawasaki KLR 650. It didn't take long at all for the three of us to find a good "proving ground" in KC to practice getting stuck in the mud (over, and over...). Then the gear started to arrive (thanks and ebay). Then there was a mad rush of motorcycle maintenance and modifications and unnecessary upgrades (you'll see pics of my auxiliary lights). Now we're a couple days away and nearly all packed up. Ok, so Danny and Joey have been packed up. I've barely started... but averaging that out makes us nearly there.

Dear Lord, give us great weather. And also no broken legs. Amen.