Grits

 

Awoke and packed. I’m getting better at the packing thing but so far have lost the only pair of cycling shorts that doesn’t gangle my man gangles and my specs and sunglasses which are probably being worn by an interesting camp man in a Jersey beach. Meandering through the Alabama mountains in the morning presents low level clouds and mountains. Titty bars too!

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The Blue Plate breakfast joint was recommended to me by the lovely American-Indian man that runs the convenience store/gas station/pizza joint that his parents bought a while back. It’s fascinating that someone with a Biotech Masters and a keen interest in the world can give it up to sell vape batteries to meth heads.

Breakfast at the blue plate was interesting in that I learned that:

Grits=Porridge

Bisckit=Scone

Ryan saw Ginko and went out to take in the details probably thinking “my 1200 Suzuki Bandit looks way better without all this crap all over it! Nice bloke.

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The breakfast recommendation couldn’t have been better because I put the address into the Zumo and it took a few minutes to get to 1 Tranquillity Base, the NASA Rocket and Space Centre.

I did my now customary cruise by to check out the most Rockstar Parking spot and asked a guy in a golf cart by the Blackbird where would be best. He told me where the security was and I bumped Ginko up onto some grass, in front of the CEO’s car. I was sure someone would appear and a lovely security guy burst out. He rode a Fireblade but desperately wanted an Africa Twin. He said his legs were too short but I’m sure he could have got away with the low seat setting, there’s also a low seat option. From the interaction I was awarded a board members spot. Nice.

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The space place left me a bit sad. The American government have really given up. Space Camp, the movie was filmed there in the 80’s and at the time I wanted so badly to go. The camp is closed and the exhibits are tired. It seems that the Smithsonian is really pandering to the large groups of kids that propel themselves through the gates, past the exhibitions of incredible old technology to the rides in the back. There also seems to be a slightly dark influence of the military. I suppose they have to fill the army somehow.

I asked the girl who sold me a sticker for my helmet where I could buy the Camera that Anne had researched and recommended and toward the big box stores I headed. It was hot. Really really hot and despite a valiant effort by the chap in Target and searching by dude in Best Buy the only thing we could find was a TS25 not the LUMIX TS5 I was after.

I fuelled up, bought a gallon of water and a cup of ice from a very frosty Indian lady topped half over myself and put the rest in my backpack.

Muscle Shoals was next and boy was it hot. See the Netflix film. I met the studio manager and bought a sticker from the girl in the blissfully air conditioned office.

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Next freak out was the realisation that I was an hour behind meeting The TAT Saint to pick up tyres and oil. It was the difference in time zone that did it, so Ginko was wrong and the phone was right. I got to Lakeside Motors to meet the gang and see their amazing store. Even if you are in the state I would recommend visiting because they have some truly amazing old bikes in there.
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Off to dinner we then went, with the legendary Sam Correro and back to take the wheels off Ginko and camp for the night in The Saint’s garden. We really needed the wheels to be balanced so decided to leave it ’till Wednesday to mount and balance them at the Lakeview Motors. This gave The Saint, Sam and I the opportunity to go out and eat Catfish, which I have to say tastes nothing like the disgusting mud flavoured slime that we would catch in the farm dams of my Zimbabwean childhood. It was really good.

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After a breakfast of The Saint’s excellent biscuits and sausage in the truck on the way to Lakeview we spoke to the head wrench and I realised I had forgotten the heavy duty tube that I wanted to put in the back wheel. I was having slight problems fitting the things massive girth in my pannier pockets and thought it better actually in the wheel preventing punctures. The lovely owner of Lakeview lent me a sporty little 230cc on which I flipflop and shorts’d back to The Saint’s man cave and back, stopping for the most entertaining refuel at the gas station on the way.

By the way… If you are ever in the area you must make an effort to pop into Lakeview Motors In Corinth, Duane had the most incredible bike collection in a special area that is a fair proportion of the already massive floor space. Everyone there is incredibly friendly and they have some old bikes that you would give body parts for, like possibly my most lusted after Honda, the RVF 750.

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After lunch Sam very kindly dropped me off at The Saint’s where I mounted the Shinko 804/5 knobbly equipped wheels (the rear is a massive pain in the hole to get on) then changed the oil. We figured it’s better to do it now so it lasts to the end of the #TransAmericaTrail.

Now. The TOTAL BASTARD that did the first service on my bike can rot in hell. It took me a long… Long…long time to do the oil change because:

a) SOMEONE didn’t put lube on the filter gasket
b) SOMEONE also used some kind of heavy duty tool to tighten the oil filter

Despite The Saint’s fully equipped workshop with filter removers and filter mashers and straps and all sorts of relevant tools I had to revert to Zimbabwe bush mechanics and DRIVE A F**KING SCREWDRIVER THROUGH MY BRAND NEW BIKE. Okay I’m being a bit dramatic, but when it’s 40°C and near 100% humidity and you have been shirtlessly struggling for ages it’s pretty rude to have to resort to that. I know it’s only a disposable part, but still. If I hadn’t had practice doing this on shitty old cars in the past I could have hit the thread and screwed the engine. I had to put my full weight on the pierced part to get the thing off. Grrrrr.

I also had to change the DCT clutch filter, which is yellow when it’s new. The Saint put my mind at rest a bit about the newfangled gearbox because, unbeknownst to me, Honda have been using it in their ATVs for a while now. If you can tow tractors with a 1000cc DCT equipped ATV then I think I should be okay!

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Once that was done I scooted over to Sam’s place and the gent of gents made a delicious dinner (watch out ladies) and got me drunk on a deliciously sweet Rose. We did map things, played with phones and computers, I had an incredibly refreshing shower and talked to Anne over FaceTime, which brought me great joy. I miss her immensely and wish she was here to experience all these lovely genuine and incredibly hospitable people.

Sam Correro, the godfather and creator of the #TransAmericaTrail spends his life doing a great many things on and around the trail to ensure it is a great adventure. The man works tirelessly on routes and information which I now realise, after meeting him, that he’s a humble bloke who deserves all the support he can get. He is doing America proud in the best way and should be recognised as such.
He would probably deny what I just said, but get behind the man and you will see for yourself. In fact you may have the chance to do so if his home move goes through… Watch this space

So I loaded up my roll chart, got advice from the man himself and am about to head off to start the real trail. Excited and very nervous. Wish me luck!

Alabama Ho ?

imageI should have been suspicious of the price, I mean, it’s a lovely place to stop and camp but my golly was it noisy. It wasn’t really plain to me that the highway was close enough for the exhaust brakes of passing trucks to intrude into dreams past the earplugs because I had just ridden the most awesome road ever. Totally forgot about the highway.  It was otherwise peaceful and I met one of the transitional residents whilst I was packing up the million things that need to go in and on poor Ginko. This lady had a dog bigger than me and looked to be, seriously, knocking on a hundred. I asked if she was in a RV and she replied “yeah… A really big one!”  Her husband had had several strokes so “I do all the driving; we’ve just come from visiting in Vermont. Going back to Florida now.”
She left in a vehicle which is honestly bigger than our apartment, towing a full sized SUV. It may be a RV thing but they also played a weird jingle over external speakers as they left.

But now I’m here in Alabama, the only camper in the whole Cathedral Caverns State Park. The overseer of which presented as the stereotype Alabama trailer dweller but ended up being far from it. He’s been about in the movie business and the evil serpent thing in Minsters Inc and The baddie from the first of the newer Sherlock Holmes films were named after him. Randal Blackstone? I’m so bad with names but it seems rude to write them down.

Before here I was remotely encouraged to visit Chattanooga and very glad for it. What an interesting little town. I actually meandered into the Choo Choo by mistake and they were confused as to why I wasn’t _eating_ there. Weird. I just circled and went to a much more interesting part of town. The road out of there towards Alabama is also pretty darn great; mountains., huge levies and perfect Tarmac.

But what about the bike! I hear you ask. She is incredible. Roll on performance is stunning.  That’s the moment you go to pass a truck and it indicates. Roll the throttle and she’s away like the clappers. A local Sheriff noticed too and was so curious he stopped me and demanded cash. That or I go down to the courthouse. I was tempted just for the craic but resisted.

So continue I did at a very legal speed until my ass told me to turn off. Through majestic Alabama hills I went, past small holdings with goats and into the deserted campground at the caves.

Cathedral Caverns State Park Campground, Woodville, Alabama 35776 – 637 Cave Road

 

To read the next exciting instalment click here – Alabama to Mississippi – Grits

Stuck

I hadn’t thought I’d get stuck quite so quickly but, like an idiot, I tried to ride onto the beach to get Ginko as far East as I could.

The morning was spent attaching all the luggage and basically trying to stay with Anne as long as I could. This involved last minute wardrobe changes, working out where my umbrella goes and my better half stuffing items I deemed unnecessary (but were very much so) into various crevices on Ginko. All this really should have been done the day before, which would have probably worsened my predicament.

The ride down was pretty uneventful, except my bank not thinking that making many $10 fuel purchases and one large cash withdrawal was a legitimate thing to do, so they stopped my card. Bastards. How about calling me first; eh?

Every time I stop people comment; “nice bike, where you headed?”. When I tell them “Oregon, via Tennessee, off-road” I get many reactions, mostly disbelief and teeth sucking. Brave has been said, but at this juncture I’d say stupid, hence getting stuck in quicksand on the first day.

So I finally get to the beach in New Jersey, ask the lovely garbage crew if I can go into their yard, a sneaky beach entrance I found on Google Earth, and merryily piont Ginko toward the dark waves.
Now, earlier I’d met this fascinating camp stoner dude who chatted whilst I donned the Gimp Suit. He didn’t seem to mind the ever increasing downpour, asked quizzically and meandered off. I took this as my cue and happily headed toward sandy doom. It was way too late to even get a photo but I’d co e that far and needed to get to the sea.

AAAAND…stuck. Road tyres are not at all the best thing for riding on sand. This sand was quicksand. Left for more than 10 seconds Ginko would sink, tyre deep.

It took my 150lbs an hour to get her 500lbs out, then another two hours to find somewhere to stay. Everywhere was full. I hung around long enough to nab the room of a woman who’s card didn’t work, but her friend appeared in a very short time so I scored!

Day two was way better. I must have covered 600 miles and came to a lovely, if a bit fauna et traffica noisy campsite.
The roads to get here in Salem, Virginia are the best I have ever driven. Including the Alps. Hopefully the GoPro videos will show the incredible roller coaster cambered 2nd gear corners and dappled sun over cartoon like undulations through countryside that seemed, to me, a mixture of my Zimbabwean childhood and Kentish upbringing.

So many thanks to Andrew for the pep talk and of course Anne who is being so much more than a partner should be.

 

Click here to read the next instalment –  Virginia to Alabama – Alabama Ho?

 

First Days. What’s the plan?

As my leave date is fast approaching the plan gelled. Kind of motivated by tyre changes I have elected to take three days to ride to Corinth, Mississippi via a stop to see the sea in New Jersey and overnight somewhere near Washington DC, then on to Knoxville, Tennessee where I’ll dabble in the dirt on the way to Corinth. The weather will dictate how much dirt I partake in because on mainly street tyres things get bad fast if the weather is not playing nice. So to sum up:

Day 1: Saturday – Montreal > West of Washington DC
Day 2: Sunday – DC > Knoxville, TN
Day 3: Monday – Knoxville, TN > Corinth, MS

The significance of Corinth is that Sam Correro lives there. He’s the dude that fathered the Trans America Trail and I have cajoled him into bringing me some extra maps. It also seems a convenient place to get enough milage from my current tyres and swap them out for knobblies. In ordering the replacement knobs I happened to be exposed to that famous southern hospitality simply by picking up the phone!

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Africa Twin – Opinion

There is a weird process that you go through with a brand new bike which is very similar do you want to go through with a second hand bike but slightly different because it’s an unproven quantity.
Well, a couple of days ago I took Ginko, my Africa Twin, out on what I would consider to be her first real ride and I was mightily impressed. You might be thinking ‘oh, he’s been waiting ages for this bloody thing, of course he’s going to love it’.

No. I was expecting some kind of slightly more refined thumper that does everything kinda okay, but what I got is something that is pretty darn incredible for 95% of people who will throw their leg over it. I know a few people who can ride a sports bike until it’s pegs are ground to dust and a lot of people who can whip a 40ft motorcross double and I’m not talking about them. They’re the very ends of the bell curve who need a precision tool but for pretty much everyone else, this bike will rule every scenario.

On Deck

Uncovering her, turning round, and rolling off the deck into the garden, I wiggle past the gate into the alley and click the key. The dash lights up displays CRF (just in case you forgot you were riding Hondas primo off road tool). At this point I always get a little thrill from the fuel pump making that weeeeezt noise, then something slightly more unusual happens. The bike clunks the gearbox into neutral. Then I pause and press the other end of the engine kill switch and she’s instantly alive and at a slow idle. With a flick of the throttle an aural treat in the form of a deep v-twin growl meets you. Also odd because the engine has no letters in its configuration.
Once aboard, the stand up you press the gear selector twice, to engage sport2, and the gearbox responds with the normal clunk you’d get from a conventional bike and it very gently rocks forward. With a positive throttle input you are quickly away and bumbling along in second gear before you have even noticed the cats ambling with heads cocked to the weird intrusion on their battlefield. At the end of the alley a slight rise meets the road with a blind view to the pavement. Here you don’t even think as the bike senses your trepidation and slightly firmly engages first gear and you slow to an uphill stop. It’s useful, I think, to point out the subtle nuances of the bike’s brain. I suspect the Honda engineers spent months, years even, not on the blindingly quick headline “it shifts like a formula one car” but rather the delicate situations like gently slowing down uphill and pulling out from an alley with nursery school murals enlivening the walls.

I flip my dark visor down and firmly grab some throttle, sweeping confidently into the yellow morning light. This process, I quickly learned, needs to be positive because with such a tall bike you don’t want the gearbox to be at all hesitant and bleed off power.
Montreal, I’ve said before, has some of the worst paved roads of any city I have traveled over. Yeah, I’ve lived in Switzerland but I’m talking more on the third world end of the scale of pavement. This in itself would be the perfect excuse to own a bike with competition level off-road suspension, but for me it’s just a welcome symptom of the situation. In another world I would have bought a Panagali or a VFR and I’m sure glad I didn’t. Like any vehicle here it would just get ruined.
Through the empty 6am streets there is just that blissful smug feeling of being awake to appreciate the quiet as the bike gently moves from light to light. The real thing I miss, to be honest is being able to make vroom vroom noises with the throttle. I tried when I got the bike, by selecting neutral whilst rolling to a stop, but she (the bike) just made me look like a 16 year old trying to wheelie a 50cc scooter. The gearbox really doesn’t want you to be in neutral whilst moving.

When I bore of bumbling from light to light I press the little manual bottom and, instead entertain myself with the deeply satisfying noises of the two 500cc pistons on overrun. To non car nerds that’s when you decelerate whilst in gear, that very low noise trucks make when slowing down. Satisfying.

Accelerate press + button, press – button; irritate everyone.

Highway

Then comes the magic part of owning any bike past 20HP. Onramps! The Africa Twin has a lot of torque, the advantage of having two large pistons, which one can make full use of on the lead up to a highway. Unless you have owned a bike, or a very fast car, you’ll not know the pleasure of passing motorway speed traffic in such a short distance. The great thing is, with the silicone brained gearbox, you just pin the throttle and the bike decides how many gears to drop then you’re away. At quite some speed.

The rest of the highway experience is fairly conventional. Comfortable, fast overtakes and the ability to cruise at an easy 150km/h (or just under a hundred for you metrically challenged out there). There is some buzz through the bars compared to my VFR800 and the ‘screen is juuuust a tad low for my 5’11” (in cubans) frame. This means adopting a cruiser style slouch for long stints to prevent head buffeting from turbulence. I’m yet to see what fuel consumption really is because of random usage (read: Jason using way too much throttle at very inefficient times) and, of course, the tightness of a new engine.

Dirt


DirtyThis, I suppose,  I will have a lot to say about in a month’s time but for now all I can tell you is that the bike feels very light when on the pegs, compared to when hefting it around with the engine off. On her second day I decided to forego the usual preening that happens with a new possession and just give her the dirt. I found a gravel road and gave her the beans, covering the poor thing in a layer of fine dust. The traction control really doesn’t like being on III when on the loose and makes the engine sound like a stuttering oaf trying to say ‘dominos’. The weirdest thing is seeing the ‘Navigation Tower’ (the bit with the instruments and screen on it) yawing back and forth as the rear wheel slews around  and the front wheel points where you’re going. After that I ventured out onto some ATV trails and got very muddy. The stock tyres are really quite scary when in the gloop and you really remember you’re aboard a 220kg 1000cc bike when it lunges to the side and you try and dab it upright. In doing this one also encounters the passenger footrests; with your calf muscle. The things stick out a huge amount and now I have a large bruise on my leg. I would have taken them off, except they provide a very good sticky outtie bit at the back for the foregone topple.

IMG_7922Sand is a similar story to the mud. On Scotch Road, about 30min West of Montreal there is a great sandy playground. I powered into it, got on an off-camber part and stopped. Then tried to continue and the tyres refused to provide any traction so I did what any self respecting nerd would do and got off to take a photo.

Twisties

Now exiting a pretty rough road on to one of the finest pieces of twisty back road around here is a weird experience on this machine. One moment you’re whooping through dirt troughs and sliding around gravel corners and the next you seem to be on some kind of street carving monster with such fantastic power delivery that the grin never ceases. I know a lot of people complain about the suspension on the road, but to me it provides the perfect platform for rough back roads. I’m never scared about bottoming the suspension on a fast corner and being high-sided off. That in combination with the DCT gearbox thrusting you out of corners and downshifting aggressively for thight bends as you brake makes for a special back-roads carver. I doubt if a litre sports bike would gain much ground.

Computer

ComputerOne thing I’m really not used to is having such an advanced computer on the bike. It basically has an odometer and two trip computers. The trips are connected to separate MPG readers that show the MPG over the period of the current trip until you reset it. I am keeping one as a kind of fuel meter at the moment and the other for more specific trip related stuff, when I have a specific destination that is. Both these are re-setable by holding the ‘SET’ button clustered in the myriad buttons on the left. I have found that, on occasion, I have been randomly flashing people with the lights rather than cycling up the computer’s functions because the buttons for the high beam are very closely located.

There is also a curious countdown odometer Honda call ‘subtraction trip’ which is a bit of a pain to set. presumably it is a service countdown?

The ‘SET’ function cycles through the clock, weird countdown odometer, whether you want an immobiliser light flashing, units (km/h, mph etc) and really irritatingly. the brightness of the display. I like it to match the GPS so tend to fiddle with this whilst riding. To do that you have to press the ‘SET’ and ‘DOWN’ buttons simultaneously, which is possible but a chore.

Conclusion (for now)

Returning home to the alley I scrape open the rear gate and ride Ginko up the 10″ step to the deck. Sometimes it feels like I’m going to go right through the window into the kitchen but she settles, I kick the stand down rest her for the night.

It’s a great, great bike. I put her cover on whilst thinking I wish I had the income to treat her as a raucous plaything that I could ride like I stole. But I paid what is, to me, an awful lot of money so it will take a bit of time until the responsibility of that massive purchase tarnishes enough for me to treat her like the beast she really is. We’ll see on the TAT?

 

Garmin Installation

Garmin 696LM
GPS mounted

The problem with motorbikes is you can’t really drink a latte whilst driving with your knees and texting with the other hand. This general problem is exacerbated by the issue of navigation. It’s all very well sticking your phone in some cheap cradle and jabbing at it between glances up at the irritating cyclist chicane in a car but on a motorcycle you have gloves on and, of course, that $10 mount that keeps falling off the windscreen would be fatal to your device on a motorbike.

Of course Touratech make an amazing solution. Think of a motorbike problem and the inventive Germans have already come up with a shining (stainless steel) doodad that does the job perfectly. Fine for the empty nesters with a savings plan and a house load of cash but I’m not really prepared to spend the same amount of cash on a bracket as the actual magic compass.

In steps my great mate Adam. The man who can make art of marshmallow sticks and hew a very convincing Dread Pirate Roberts sword from some scrap aluminium. In the usual ‘men standing around motorcycle drinking beer’ moment Adam figures a solution and the next day a custom Honda Africa Twin Garmin 695LM bracket is on Ginko, after a little light hacksawing of screws. I just

Custom Mounting Bracket
Adam’s Custom Mounting Bracket

hope that sword isn’t a couple of inches shy of some aluminium! The great thing about the solution is the GPS is pretty much on the same plane as the bike instruments, not jutting out like some giant technological carbuncle or, as Garmin would have, attached to my non-existent clutch lever hovering in the air on a RAM mount.

The other great problem was the bloody massive nest of cables that is on the back of the Garmin mount. I reckon the target market must be those massive Harleys with the HUUUUGE fairings because there was literally two meters of wire and connectors for speakers, microphone, power and a USB connection for the XM radio receiver that I intended to keep. All that was neatly entombed in a rubbery casket at the end of this massive cable. Out came the scalpel and hacking away at the block I went, eventually separating all the tiny hand soldered joints contained within. That was quite some job, but I wasn’t in the humour to re-join all those cables and I wanted to keep the USB length because I planned on putting the XM antenna on the back of Ginko, away from the GPS, so really needed that extra cable length. All the other cables I beheaded because I don’t plan on blasting Purple Rain from my Harley’s external speakers for the world to enjoy. Why do they do that?

I wanted to wire the GPS and the USB socket up to the original accessories socket behind the front fairing. This meant buying a special connector from the excellently named Eastern Beaver in Japan and disrobing Ginko of her front plastics. After which I jammed everything in there and hope like hell that none of the fuses blow because getting the fairing back on is some kind of Japanese logic puzzle that I don’t really want to have a go at in the middle of the desert!

It all seems to work well, but in retrospect I wouldn’t get the Oxford USB socket for the Africa Twin because the cap is a pain in the ass to remove and it really is not at all waterproof when the cap is off. In fact it will probably fill up with water and short out the whole proceedings, leaving me to fend off banjo wielding pig fetishists.

 

 

 

Africa Twin – It Came!

You know when you’re just into your work on a Monday morning? You’ve looked at all the crappy email and stupid Facebook posts then work tasks and juuuust started past the procrastination? Yeah, I was there and my phone rings. Well.. last week my friend Pierre pranked me on the phone by trying to make out he was the dealership and the bike was here. But this time it was the dealer.

Bike Start
The goofy look you get when you first start your new bike

The work I needed to do seemed to take a solar cycle, then I got hold of my boots, jacket and helmet and headed to the bank for the giant cheque; walking down the street like a vagrant in flip-flops trying to hold a really awkward, heavy leather jacket over one arm and a backpack, boots in a crappy plastic bag and a helmet in the other.

The bank queue was…  … have you seen the situation in Zimbabwe with lines for US Dollars going from the town to the bush? Then I stumble out the bank clutching all this crap and try to hail a cab. I hate taxis. Nearly as much as waiting to pay at restaurants. For some reason the whole interaction really irritates me. Uber is so much of a better service.

BoxI get to Excel Moto was shown the giant box, introduced to the charming, professional, charismatic and incredibly tolerant of idiot customers who want their toys, Franklyn, the chief wrench. Why do they call them ‘techs’ in the ‘States? They aren’t ‘technicians’ they are mechanics. I have to apologise to poor Frank because I asked him about himself then got totally distracted when we approached the box and started ignoring him!

 

The video serves the story, but the TL:DR is:

Opened box, removed frame, forklifted bike to workshop, lifted bike with winch on ceiling, fitted front fender and wheel, fitted screen, laughed about ridiculously small tool set, fitted stupidly difficult to install battery, filled with fuel and started. With glee.

I handed the cheque over, did the paperwork and Ali l asked me if there was anything I didn’t know about the bike as that was normally the point where he would brief customers about the bike. The man knew by then what a total nerd he was dealing with. A nerd who had already read a scanned version of the manual online. I slung my gear on, pushed Ginko out, fired her up and wobbled off whilst trying to work out what the computer was doing with the clutch.

Next time on Jason’s fascinating world of motorbike adventures; a ride!IMG_7775

Wild Meanderings on Wheels