lessons from the road

Bienvenidos a Panamá

It has been one year since I crossed the final border of Central America into its southern most country… Panamá.  I stayed a total of 2 nights there with most of the daylight hours spent rushing along the Pan American Highway in order to catch a boat.

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Poll – – Which photo organizing and/or editing software do you use?

A recent conversation with a friend about digital workflow prompted this question as there seems to be more options than I give credit to. After having worked in the pro photo industry for so many years, I am a little biased.

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ODE to Oscar… my KLR685…

I couldn’t let it go without paying honor to a motorcycle I have shared so many years with, even if it is just a KLR. That’s saying something since I have never done this for any ex-boyfriend. I wanted to show and explain a little bit of the process and development over the last 3 years – 8 months and 46,579 miles as both Oscar and I progressed.

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Overland Expo… a homecoming, a reunion, and a reminder to keep it simple.

I was greeted with great big hugs as I found my campmates at OX13. It was a reunion with my moto family – the crew that makes up the Adventure trio ( a never forgotten cheerleader Sandy, strong Terry, and bright-eyed Jack; a warm welcome by the energetic smiles of Nicole and wisdom of Paul; and so many other familiar faces known and yet to be introduced.

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A moment of silence in Peru

Last shot for this G11

I had to stop. My camera slipped out of my hands at 40mph. Luckily, I was already slowing down, wanting to take a picture of the Andean mountain peaks. The clunk of my G11 echoes through my helmet as it crashes onto the asphalt. I turn my KLR around in time to watch a bus nearly miss it. I pick up the dented remains and parked my bike on the side of the road. I had wanted to stop, but being in a hurry to make the 280-mile day to Lima, I was trying to do to many things at once. I retrieve my other camera from a protected case and head out to the fields that so intrigued me. The morning had already been high with emotions, I walk out into the valley, with nothing around but silence. My knees gave way to touch the earth below, and there was nothing left to hold it back. I cried. Not a quiet cry, but a guttural sob, with tears like the clouds promised above. Today I hurt… not just the ache from riding so many days, but the way in which a heart weeps.

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Letting loose in the dirt: a day at MotoVentures

The idea was to throw around some light dirt bikes, ones we weren’t afraid to fall off of nor were hard to pick up.  Here we could learn the proper stance, then apply it to our larger, heavier dual sports. Basically, we wanted to learn a new body language for riding in the dirt.  What I learned was that I was taught some bad habits from other riders, which made more proficient maneuvering difficult.  I had to override what I knew and start on the basics to get that solid foundation I never built correctly.

We lucked out and it was only two of us with Gary LaPlante, the instructor at MotoVentures.  It had rained the night before so the dirt was still moist and had lots of traction.  The perfect setting for a closed course and ability to practice prescribed maneuvers.  We set out on new Yamahas, a WR250F for me and a WR450F for my partner.  He worked with us individually, requesting repetition or progressing as seen capable.  My riding partner proved worthy of much more advanced skills, where as I had a hard time trusting myself in pushing the limits of even the basics:  Counterbalancing… key.  Throttle… ok.  Picking lines… ugh!.  Sand…forget it.  At least the bike was light to pick up all those times.

It may seem like I am being hard on myself, but the bottom line is that I had fun challenging myself and would go back for a second round if I had more time before my departure. I know in my head what I should be doing, now just to get my body to do it.  What Gary prescribed for me: to let loose a little more. Given the approaching amount of seat time (or really peg time) in my near future, I’m sure I will have many occasions to practice.

Besides, when the day ends like this… how could it be bad…

The Darien Gap: a learning curve

When I was first entertaining the idea of riding my motorcycle all the way down to the tip, I was asked, “What are you going to do about the Darien Gap?”  (It’s funny to think of how little I knew when I set out to take on this adventure.)  The Darien Gap is the only missing link of the Pan-American Highway… that means there is no constructed road, between Panama and Columbia, only jungle.  I had no idea what it was let alone how to get across.

This is where my learning curve begins.

Option 1: Air-freight the moto and fly. (cha-ching)

Option 2: Take a boat. (also cha-ching, but way more fun)

So I opted for the boat.  There are many boats that take passengers, but there are only two that will passage motorcycles as well:  (there were three, but Fritz the Cat sank this summer – moms and dads – please don’t worry.)   a new boat Independence and the tried and true Stahlratte.   It is a three-day journey from San Blas, Panama to Cartegena, Colombia including a brief tour of the islands and its surrounding crystal blue waters.  I have heard wonderful things about Stahlratte and decided to ask for passage with them.

There should be a sign warning tight curves ahead…

I had this idea in my head to spend Christmas in Colombia.  It had a nice ring to it.  I figured two months was plenty of time to ride through Mexico and Central America, about 4,000 miles.  (Perspective check: I did twice the miles in the same amount of time last summer to AK and back.)

Upon further research, the Stahlratte’s last voyage of 2012 departs Panama on Dec. 8th and does not resume service until Jan 14th giving the crew time off to celebrate the holidays. And when I called about it, there was one spot left. I contacted the other boat, but still have not heard back from them.

Here is where my learning curve took a sharp turn and I had to figure it out how to lean into it quickly.

With my original departure date in mind, that would now give me 5 weeks to ride, well, 4 really because of a week in Antigua to learn Spanish (see next post.)  So I had a minor freak out that morning wondering how I was going to manage it since I don’t have a month to spare in Panama if I realistically need to make it down to the tip (about 13,000 miles) by April 2013 because temperatures start dropping by then.

My dilemma… can I leave earlier than Nov. 3? Can I accelerate my preparation with the idea of being ready to leave after the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Cambria, CA on Oct. 21st ? (yes, only two weeks away!)

By default of limited options, it seems like the most logical progression to accept what is laid out before me…  I reserved the last passage on the Stahlratte.

A tortoise saves the day.

The miles read 238 on my odometer.  I was getting decent mileage despite the fast freeway miles of the morning.  I turned onto hwy 79 toward San Jacinto.  Only 12 miles until I get to the shop.  Easy.  I figured I could test when I hit reserve as research for the trip.  My mind wandered to preparing for last summer’s trip to AK, wondering if I really could have made the 250mi stint along the Dalton highway between Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay where there are no gas stations.  I never made it out that far to actually try, but I always thought I could make it.

I pass a gas station and continue.  Less than a mile up the divided highway that runs through nothing but golden hills, I sputter.  I reach down with a gloved had and flip the switch to reserve and the bike coughs to life again. With a ½ gallon in the reserve and an average about 50mpg, I figured I had 25 miles left in the tank and all I needed was 11.

Well, the molecules decided to play in the air today, dancing in the heat, instead of resting at the bottom of the tank where they could be utilized.  Had the morning temperatures not already been in the 90’s, the molecules might have obeyed.  I turned left at the light, heading into more populated territory.  First gas station I see, I am pulling into, I remind myself. I sputtered again, a familiar feeling just 10 miles ago.  Fuck.  There is no reserve for the reserve switch. The bike coasts to a stop. The Odometer read 248. Fuck. I can see a gas station half a mile up the flat road, so I start to push the bike.

A dark green Jeep Wrangler pulls up beside me moments later. “Out of gas?” a man with tanned skin and straight black hair asks.


He gives a friendly smile, “where are you from and where are you headed?”

“Los Angeles and about 2 miles from here,” I reply.

“Well, I should be chivalrous and get you a gallon of gas.”

“That’s Ok,” I tell him, “It’s not too far.  I can push.”

“It’s not just because you are a girl, it’s really hot out.  Stay here, I’ll be back.”  And off the Jeep went to procure the precious liquid that will revive my moto.

I can’t believe I did this, I scold myself.  I was already running a little late to get to the shop by 10am, at this point, I will be surprised if I make it there by 11.  Why of all days did I decide to run this experiment now?

The man in the green Jeep returns with a container of gas and I smile and laugh (mostly at myself) and can’t thank him enough.

“It’s my good deed for the day,” he grins, “ and tell them the Native American came to the rescue.”  And so I am.  (So, thank you Duffy a.k.a. the Tortoise – how fitting to the occasion it is – for helping me out yesterday!)

He asked me what I was doing, so I disclosed my plans to journey south.  We speak briefly about travel and photography and then start setting out to be on our way.

“Well, I hope you find yourself.”  I thought it was an odd but insightful thing for him to say.  I guess I have it written all over that I am on the search for something, but even I have yet to know what that is.

We take pictures to mark this moment in time and say our goodbyes.  With a push of the start button, the engine roars back to life, I pull in the clutch, shift into first and carry on with the rest of the day.



The trail of the wandering Wickershams

It was a Tuesday, the sun was playing behind the hills, not ready to set, but no longer shining bright on us.  We pulled into a nearly empty campsite and shook out our hands and legs, finally giving rest to the bikes after miles of vibrating beneath us.  As I rushed off to the restroom, I noticed the only other occupants at the campsite were also two motorcyclists. Even though the bikes were the lower profile of a cruiser, they were too small to be Harley’s.

I walked over to an enthusiastic couple who were riding 250cc metric cruisers and happen to be world travelers.  They are happily retired and only started riding two years ago. Already they have 27,000 miles under their belts – the majority ridden in the past 9 weeks touring Western US and up through Jasper National Park in Canada; and about 7,000 on little 125cc motos they bought in Thailand and toured around.  They decided to try out two wheels and a motor after traveling the world for 3-1/2 years on a tandem bicycle, including all the way to the tip of South America.  Talk about bad-asses!  This couple gets big cheers from me for their adventures!



10 days… 1522 miles of bugs, dust and grime… and barely breaking in a Klim suit.

Some companies know how to do it right.  Klim (as in climb) gear is one of them.  A small family operated company out of Idaho, they seem know what people like when it comes to adventure gear: waterproof, breathable and durable.

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