I succumbed to the YOLO. I think the itch went from one of those “groinal that I’m going to scratch through my pocket and hope no one sees” to unbutton flys and make like grating cheese” when I went for a ride with a friend on his KTM 390, (me on the Ducati) just after COVID hit. Our tarmac ended and turned to dirt. It really bothered me that I couldn’t have that lovely drifty feeling that transitioning from tarmac to dirt gives you. Instead we awkwardly scooted 180 in the road whilst being iced with dirt by speedy pickups.
Of course the beloved Africa Twin was top of the pops for knobbles. What more could one want? I mean, if you’re reading this you’ll know that I have spent almost too much time aboard the Japanese African and regard it as the ultimate tool to cross a continent both ways. Then that niggle starts. Weight. I’m not going to be zigging then zagging across this massive land mass like before. I need fun. Bursts of fun and something that could do a distance.
Aah the hunt. Back to the hunt.
Since I bought Ginko, my beloved Africa Twin, there have been two iterations of the species. The first was a basic mutation with a little refresh and an ‘Adventure Sport’, then the 2020 version showed its head and increased the engine size and a load of other changes, including Apple Car Play. This both super turned me on and off at the same time. The bike got bigger and more complicated. DARN. I wanted smaller and less complicated.
Yamaha Tenere T700. They’re onto a winner with that thing. It’s light, sleek, simple and looks like a super cool Paris Dakar rally raid weapon. By all accounts it looks like the most sensible choice. The press really like it and it’s priced right. So right, in fact, that they nearly sold out in British Columbia. But round the corner something with kinda evil eyes and bulging pecs was looking. Looking and beckoning.
After asking a dealer near me about the T7 his allocation was out and he said “I bet you just walked straight past that 790 out there?” I did. All those KTMs look the same to me; anyway the headlight is weird. And that started it. The obsessive reading and watching. Work has been mental and my mental break has been research. Nerdy research. Youtube, forums, Instagram, Reddit, hell… even Facebook. I was in deep.
So here it is. My brand new 2020 KTM 790 Adventure R (yet to be christened, Hedy is in the running).
So, wossitlike?? Well. The difference is like a well worn pair of dress shoes versus a pair of fell running shoes, or Chinos versus those new jeans that are like wearing jogging pants. It’s sprightly and lithe. When I dropped Anne off after we came back from the dealer I went off for a quick scoot around the neighborhood and ended up airing off two dropped kerbs and railing a grass bank. Naughty. Fun. Involved and sprightly. I haven’t even run it in yet.
Bikers often stop and look at Ginko, most think she’s a BMW but often they look at the graphic on the side and exclaim ‘oooh… an African Twin, how’d you like it?’
‘It’s the best bike in the world’ I exclaim back, in a calm tone.
The thing is, most people who own bikes have this weird loyalty to their bike. I think they need to justify the pain of motorcycle ownership and their particular choice. I chose Ginko for a very specific reason. I needed a bike to ride a thousand miles on road then five thousand off road and another couple of thousand back.
I’ve owned and ridden sports bikes, dirt bikes and adventure bikes and the Africa Twin checks all those boxes. On the road you can cruise at 100mph and have plenty spare, then dart onto a track and be crawling up a 60° rock slope at less than walking speed. It’ll keep up with a sports bike in the twisties and plough through sand and mud. In town it’s quiet and sedate with a subtle thrum which turns people with ‘how big is it?’ They’re always surprised when you tell them.
On the dirt the traction control is magic. Leaning into a dusty corner you only need pin the throttle and she’ll perform the perfect powerslide which is often the only way of aiming to the corner without coming to an awkward stop. With the peach of an engine you can achieve things you would have thought impossible. It’s a tractor and a drag racer in one. Magic. How the engineers managed to map the fueling, cam timing and ignition to make it that flexible I don’t know? A large, low, bow of humbling gratitude to them.
And the suspension?? Ohh. That feeling when you bite into a fresh eclair. It’s incredible what the suspension has had to deal with. I honestly had no idea until I was in Idaho, riding an awful trail through the Craters of the Moon national park; a windy, desolate wasteland of volcanic rock and extremely rutted tracks. I looked down at my shadow and saw the front wheel doing extreme duty, following the terrain like a stalking cat at warp speed. In the Rockies I was leading Adam along a fast undulating dirt road and crested a small rise to see a four foot wide trench. My natural reaction of decades old mountain biking is coast over on the rear wheel (manual) but instead I grabbed some throttle and unweighted the front wheel. The suspension took the brunt and we came out unscathed. Incredible for a 500+lb machine with full luggage, fuel and water aboard. Maybe this is why Adam dubbed it “..like a Japanese War Horse”; a samurai wouldn’t look out of place on it.
Being a completely average male human (I have sample sized everything) is useful in the ergonomics department. I can stand on the pegs and hover there for hours or sit and be about as comfortable as a tank of fuel lasts. The screen was a major point of annoyance. On the way down to the southern states my head was being buffeted in a major way. Imagine a pair of irritating children, one on each side of your head slapping your helmet in succession. It gets old quickly. The screen also delivered air directly into my face which wasn’t helpful. Luckily Matt in Arkansas solved that problem with a makeshift modification using a brand new chainsaw shield that he butchered. I also added some Sugru to the bottom of the screen because I thought the steel GPS and screen mount would eventually succumb to fatigue stress. It helped a bit, but if you plan on any extended dirt riding with a GPS where it was designed to go then a strengthened screen/GPS mount would be a must. The only other complaint I have is the passenger footrests which have bruised the back of my legs because they stick out at a right angle, but the flip side is they act as rear crash bars.
I gave quite a few people rides. I wanted them, mainly, to experience the incredible gearbox. Most think of it as a car automatic but it’s clearly not after a few hours of riding. The novelty soon wears off and you begin to trust when and where it shifts. It was a complete boon on the super tight switchbacks in the rockies where I often chose the steeper rock line to the outside looser one. The clutch did an unreal job of keeping me trucking, often at sub-walking speeds.
There are five modes:
Drive – on the road it feels like an ancient single cylinder. Chugging is the only way of describing the feeling and sound. Most bikers would want to shift so the engine revs a bit freer, but it has so much torque that you can just throttle around anything. When I was riding long stretches with Adam I could stay in 6th for hours and chug along next to him with astonishing fuel economy
Sport I – Like drive with a little more pep, I used this on most of the Colorado passes and through the Oregon back trails. With the G button it was like riding a slightly more modern 650cc single.
Sport II – For roads where you need power after the apex and really great engine braking this is my preferred. The bike would magically shift down when it sensed an upcoming corner and hold a gear for the next flip flop of a tight ‘s’ bend.
Sport III – If there is some idiot in a sports car who wants to try his luck then hard shifts and neck snapping thrust is at your disposal. I don’t select this much because there is so much torque available low down and the revs aren’t really that nessecary. It makes the bike sound cool on overrun too… If you happen to pass some Harley riders.
A/M – A little button on the right hand bar selects manual mode for mountain bike like shifting. Hit the button and the bike won’t shift, even into the rev limiter. The only real place I found this useful was in deep sand or mud where the rear wheel needed to spin to maintain forward momentum. Even in this mode the bike would shift down automatically to prevent you stalling.
The clutch engagement is aways spot on when you are in a normal situation but on tight u-turns on dirt it’s a bit of a pain in the ass to be honest. I dropped it once when it was very late and I was a bit buzzed. That very subtle clutch drag you do on a tight turn is impossible to judge, even after seven and a half thousand miles. Also when I was really disturbed (like after the whole ‘oil exploding out of the front of the engine due to an idiot Honda tech’ debacle, I actually still try and grab the invisible clutch lever.
My only real bugbear is the electronics. I would often start and stop the engine on very technical terrain to enjoy the silence, have a wee or chat to jeep drivers. When you turn the key again the dash lights up and the bike acts like a forgetful narcoleptic. All the settings disappear and you are left with full traction control, drive mode, ABS on and gravel mode off. It’s actually dangerous sometimes because trying to climb a steep stony switchback in default could end with the bike going nowhere and you falling to a horrible stony death. So the routine of switching on, drive to sport I, traction control to I, ABS off and gravel mode on became a regular chore. Very boring.
With this comes the side stand cutout. You can’t engage a gear without raising the stand. Now you’re thinking ‘Jason, that’s stupid, why would you want to do that?’ Well; say, theoretically, you’ve dropped your bike in deep Arkansas sand and you are desperate not to have to pick it up again because it took all your remaining strength to pick it up… theoretically. You really want to walk next to the bike with the stand down so you can motor it along and lean it down when the bike gets away from you. Not possible. By the way this also, theoretically, can happen in New Jersey quicksand…. and Mississippi mud.
Hopefully some clever person will come up with a solution to this problem because, in the end, it’s just software and then we will have the perfect bike.
After over 10 thousand miles on a single trip my opinion is firmly cemented. It would take a lot to surpass this bike, so much so that I am even thinking I’m not worthy of it. I hate to think that Ginko will be sitting in a garage over winter then on my deck in milder weather waiting and waiting for her next big adventure when all I have to offer is a quick blat down a dirt road. She yearns for adventure.
Moving away from the 3 step ranch was difficult. It’s beautiful, there is great food and it’s very serene. Being on the road is kinda the opposite, except for the scenery, but off and at ‘em we were, confident in Adam’s plumbing work on Dr Zeleaky and the lovely fresh tyres that I had installed.
Aaaaand we’re off… through the undulating hills of Eastern Utah in the cool morning. Dr Zeleaky was smoking, what I thought, was the smoke of a fresh fiddle when we stopped to put our rain gear on just past La Sal. Adam took a cursory look and spearing ensued.
The whole exercise to reduce kinks in the DRZ’s guts had an awful side effect; the plastic catch tank was resting on the exhaust and now had a hole burnt clean through. Adam, now as adept as a F1 pit mechanic, whipped the thing out and we set about with gasket sealant and gaffer tape in an attempt to patch the scar made oh-so difficult because it was covered in oil, like the whole bike.
Off again we went climbing heights again, through forest and up into damp cloud. Not the terrain we imagined for Utah, but a great relief from the 42ºC (108ºF) of yesterday’s foray into Moab scavenging for parts. Even the workers at the recycling centre were complaining about the heat whilst they sucked on popsicles and sorted card and metal, overlooked by an Angelina Jolie era Tomb Raider cardboard cutout. Like everyone we met they were all too glad to help and untangled an old power supply from the pile for the fan inside.
Peaking Mt Peale and Mt Mellenthin we descended to an incredible view of Moab and it’s Warner Bros matte painting like canyon backdrop. There is no doubt that the cartoons we watched as kids came from the mind of someone who spent quite some time in Utah. The overlook was spectacular, so much so that I almost want to deny you a photo because the justice the photo brings is kangaroo court. This trip has been full of moments like this, with the sad realization that the vistas can never be shared, only experienced at the time. Photos are a cruel court in which to judge the expletive generating scenes that I experienced daily.
The other great advantage of being line-of-sight with a major town is cell phone signal. So I call Anne and jibberishly attempt to describe what we are seeing and Adam calls Rocky Mountain ATV, the Amazon.com of the motorbike world, to see if we can replace the melted blob duct tape ball that was his catch tank. Of course they have it and weirdly Adam has a credit of exactly the amount in his account there, having bought pretty much everything he was wearing and riding from the same shop.
Through Moab we at at Milts, my Moab favourite for it’s simplicity, busy collage age staff and genuine history. The place gets a lick of paint but thats about it. The formica top to the bar must have seen hundreds of thousands of burgers and ‘shakes crossing it since the fuzzy black and white photos from the ‘50s – its great. We bumped into a couple of English lads there who paid to come and teach American kids to play football for the summer. Seems a bit of a scam that; they should be paid, not the other way round. A dash up the highway for a couple of miles, then left into the real desert of sand and red rock, climbing up and up to a precarious view down to the canyon, then down to the plateau. It’s hard to ride in this desert. There are rocks sticking up treating to puncture Ginko’s new boots and nasty sand to test my fortitude. I’d love to be on a light enduro machine here and blast across it at warp speed but I need to get all my water, food, fuel and supplies across in one piece.
At one point we had to rely on traditional map skills of Northings and Westings to work out where we were. GPS gets you so far, but the desert is pretty featureless and there are a lot of snaking canyons of which we were in the wrong branch.
More desert, sand dust and sun brought us back to the Highway and then the old highway, dangerous for it’s huge potholes going North to Green River and more rain. We chickened out and took a motel, washed clothes, ate crap and slept to continue across the desert the next day where we encountered the most incredible of canyons. If you are ever in the area look up the CR332 and drive the road North-West. The scale of the scenery is astonishing.
The TAT heads in the direction of Salt Lake City, which is where Rocky Mountain ATV is based so we decide to head there, first climbing and descending South Tent Mountain to Ephraim where we had what San Franscisco resident Adam described as ‘the best burrito I have ever had’ at a little Mexican place in town. It was great, but we needed to ride to Nephi and the cheesy carbohydrate volleyball in our stomachs caused some narcoleptic episodes.
Adam’s favourite was the freeway. We needed to make time for all the stops and that meant him riding what is akin to an angry lawnmower a long way up the freeway to Payson near Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain ATV. Of particular seared in olfactory memory was a truck that overtook us. The DRZ is geared at a speed juuuuust below which these Semi-Trucks are comfortable, so we end up being slowly overtaken by a succession of interesting, dull and in this case gag-reflex inducing stench that crept past us until we were still in it’s wake with the rig miles away in front. It must have had desert baked animal bodies, off offel or maybe liposuction fat in it. Memorable it sure was; that truck driver can not be popular.
Arriving at Rocky Mountain ATV we park on the pavement outside and the dirt savvy customers exiting the little shop glued onto the massive warehouse clock Ginko and I get the now familiar questions about the rarest of beasts, the Africa Twin. Adam decides not to sully the clean cement and parks away from the shop, walking in to be greeted by tempting bits and bobs on sale. We got chatting with Mattie who is a guru with the Rocky Mountain ATV website, quickly pulling up the most random of bits. Adam got his weird plastic black box, some extra Roc Straps to replace those that Dr Zeleaky had eaten and I bought a mirror smoke visor for my craigslist helmet. we chatted and as we were leaving someone in the clouds opened a tap and the sky filled with water. We were a bit stuck because we really needed to fix the Dr and we asked Payton, the supervisor if there was a covered area where we could pull the Suzuki apart. To our surprise he opened one of the loading ramps and we were ensconced by a billion dollars of motorcycle parts taking the world’s grimiest DRZ apart on their clean floor. That warehouse is massive, so big that the only thing limiting its expansion is the Interstate. thew staff were super cool and interested in what we were doing. It was amazing to look up from the dirty Dr and say “umm… have you got one of these?” holding up some destroyed part for someone to come back with a selection for us to choose.
When we’d installed the wretched black box and some other bits (causing a nasty gash in Adam’s hand) it was closing time and we got the local knowledge about where to camp. Dave came out in his helmet and jacket so I asked about his ride… something I have wanted to try since Anne and I lived in Bangkok, a Honda Grom. The antithesis of Ginko, it’s a tiny but classy fun machine with a clutch, upside down forks and great brakes. We swapped had a scoot round the loading area then set off chasing Dave in the direction of the valley we would be camping in.
Setting up tents in the trees we chatted to the camp neighbours and had a walk wound the lake in the woods overlooking the town, ate some food and tried to start a fire. Our direct neighbours were a pastor and his family of eight children who were out for the day. I suspect they must have noticed us trying to light the damp wood hurriedly left by the previous occupants escaping the downpour, because the kids bought us a succession of campfire lighting tools, starters and eventually Dad bought over the heart of their own fire on a metal skillet. Not only that but marshmallows and sticks, so we had a raging fire and pudding.
In the morning we were given even more hospitality from another Dad and kids cooking pancakes on a griddle. We got a fantastic fresh cooked pancake breakfast and were on our way. We looped round to Eureka and Vernon where we battled huge heat and big winds, north to Tooele and then the Salt flats where we fulfilled a life’s ambition and took to the salt… then ran away because the stuff was wet and stick to your bike like alien blood cement, eating through steel with abandon.
Having cheap Mexican in the Bonneville salt flats cantina we studied maps and decided to cut the TAT where it goes into Idaho. There is a curious loop that runs way East then North to Idaho which we concluded could be short-cut. Whilst doing so a dude interrupted us saying he was on the TAT in his Jeep and his friend’s Land Rover. He told us that GPS’ were ‘a good idea and that we should be using them’ and that ‘…there are these fuel containers called RotoPax, you’ll need some of those too.’ Errr.. okay dude. I think we’re okay for now, but thanks for the useful information?!
Nervous of the lack of fuel for the next section we had bought gallon containers and filled our bags with water. Local knowledge was scarce of information about the roads north. Would we be okay? Find out next time on JasonWD.com!
The Colorado passes are a ride of a lifetime. In a jeep it must be spectacular, trundling up unthinkably steep rocks and looking over the edge to a certain doom. In a bike it is terrifying. On Ginko the switchbacks are about as tight a corner as you would normally do, except there is also loose rock and extreme steepness. Doing down I disabled the ABS on the rear wheel and slewed the back like a storm anchor on a ship. One corner was so loose it was impossible to stop the weighty war horse (as Adam calls her) so we skidded and slid down the loose rock sideways until we were inches from the edge.
I’ll have to look at a map, but we rode quite a few passes and camped in between at a national forest campsite, setting our tents up military style in the teaming rain when a little, mildly officious, lady approaches us for the $14 fee to camp. In our rush to find a spot we didn’t realise there was a massive trailer behind the trees with a generator running to power the huge TV we could see through the tinted window. I don’t understand why these people come all the was to the beautiful countryside and sit in humming air conditioning watching soaps through the satellite receiver placed on the picnic table. It seems I did a bit of killing along the way too…
It’s a different experience I suppose. I’m sitting under the cover of a rodeo arena in my sleeping bag listening to coyotes howl over whatever they caught for breakfast. The sun is just ebbing over the mountains to the east. More of that later.
Our last pass ended with a really fun ride through the tree line and mud whoops, snaking down to a pair of dudes arguing over a map. Their fresh bright orange KTM Adventures parked patiently and packed to the neighs, they sat and discussed how best to tackle the passes. Adam has a better memory for names so explained our route which at first they thought impossible, at one point gesturing to my bike and exclaiming ‘On that?! You guys are the real deal!’.
I told them how great Ginko was to ride and convinced them to have a go. Returning Mike said “I’m getting rid of that piece of shit KTM and getting myself one of these as soon as I can. This thing is amazing!”
Quite the reaction from someone who just bought a new bike!
Mike and Mark
When we reached Salida (sa lie da) adam’s bike was still building up huge pressure in the oil tank. He would have to stop and release the cap to relieve the engine for fear of a gasket of hose blowing off somewhere.
Farther up the trail we came across two guys on KLR 650s. Scott suggested we visit Dustin in town. What a magic geezer. He stood in the rain pulling hoses and finding the culprit.
Opting for a motel we rolled the strip in Salida and discovered our pet friendly room would be $170! I desperately needed sleep and Adam needed a place to strip his bike so we went for it. There was a rodeo in town and even the Internet couldn’t help us.
Another pass and rolling tree lined roads through undulating forest put us through Silverton for lunch then up up up back into the forest and a campsite overlooking an incredible valley. We were really in the middle of nowhere cooking my last Quebec bought rehydrated Shepherds pie, then hanging all out food in a tree to prevent bears getting it.
That night was my first experience of coyotes. They were right outside the tents making this weird yap/howl/screech. I should have put earplugs in because there wasn’t the best sleep to be had at over 10,000ft it was cold too.
The states have very different characters because after the woods came miles and miles of nasty gravel toward Utah. I had to stop and reduce my tyre pressures which made a remarkable difference in the ease at which Ginko carved the deep stuff, but increased puncture paranoia from the ‘sticky outy rocks’ we warn each other about over the radio.
On the plains a house came into view so we took a look. It was a dust bowl era house that looked as if it would collapse at a gust. Cecil turned up in his truck and confirmed our theory then gave us the best local knowledge. A canyon not oft visited but as spectacular as the Grand was promised. We had our doubts but were gobsmacked when we saw it. As usual, the pictures don’t really do it justice.
Onward! To the Hideaway we went, crossing to Utah, washing the bikes and arriving to a note at 3 step that said ‘come in and make yourself at home’.
When Scott and Julia arrived we were given a cabin and shown to the Livery where my new tyres were waiting. The thousands of miles from The Saint’s house had taken their toll on the poor Shinko 804/805 combo and they really needed retirement to get me to Victoria, BC.
It’s a good thing Scott’s 3step Hideaway workshop has a concrete filled barrel because getting those huge tyres off and on is a mother f**king b**ch ass pain in the hole.
Adam also had DR Zeleaky (her new name) apart in a constant struggle with the oil hoses.
Scott needed to hunt for a bag his previous guests lost and offered to take us along in the ATV. What a cool and incredibly capable vehicle! We followed a dry river bed deep in sand then crossed back into Colorado via a very Zimbabwean fence. As a kid it was my task to jump from the bed of a pickup and drag these barbed wire fences away from the path of the truck. The bag, containing an expensive helmet, was just beyond, having being flung from the race prepared ATV that was no doubt skipping over the gnarly terrain faster than the average highway family sedan speed.
We loved being at 3step and wanted to relax there, but Adam needed to replace his hoses and possibly get a fan rigged up to his radiators. We awoke from our cabin to a delicious huge breakfast and headed to Moab on Ginko and her new tyres. It’s odd that town is a hundred mile round trip, but we arrived in a 42°C Moab and scouted for parts. No luck with the fans: we were looking for computer fans to bodge onto the radiator of the DRZ, but a bloke in the NAPA suggested we get a mister bottle (the kind your gran uses on her geraniums), so we got one of those too. The motorbike shops were surprisingly bad, at least compared to the bicycle shops I went to in my past Moab visit.
A lovely steak dinner and more bike fettling followed with Scott’s angelic presence reassuring us with all our idiotic wrenching. The man knows his bikes but won’t interfere unless you really need him. He’s a top bloke who should be supported in every way. Go to 3 Step, you’ll enjoy the place no matter what.
We left and back to the TAT. Aaaannnnnnd… DR ZELEAKY STIKES AGAIN!
We stopped to put our rain gear on and Adam discovered that his exhaust was burning a hole in the oil catch tank.
Eating fine food and recounting stories to Mitch and Rhys, cousin Adam and Carolyn’s great friends, seemed like a surreal parallel life from living in a tent and getting covered in dust every day.
I visited the enormous REI and picked up a pair of discounted travel shoes because I lost another pair of flip flops from the agressive bounce of the dirt, and a mesh sack to put my drying clothes in on the outside of the panniers. I was secretly hoping to pick up a travel chair but they are a bit too much cash and a bit big. I also spotted a phone holder in the bicycle section for $25 that looks just like the $250 Touratech one. Bargain. I had been using an ill fitting pouch with a clear cover that was cooking my phone. It was no fun waiting in the heat for my phone to cool down whilst in Oklahoma. Remember the pics on the plains? They were the result of pouring water from my CamelBak over my phone to revive it.
In my luxurious slumber I was thinking about helmets too. The problem is that riding by myself is dandy with my lovely Shoei, but as soon as you are following someone dust becomes an issue and you need goggles. I had been looking at a Bell Adventure helmet but, despite the amazing value, the extra cost had prevented me from picking one up. The gods must have been looking down on my because on searching the motorcycle section of Craigslist Denver for ‘adventure’ up pops the perfect example at a price that QVC watchers would be dialing for.
Joe the Jeep gets me the slightly farther distance than I thought and Ralph explains that his other half doesn’t really use it. The helmet is perfect and as we chat I realise Ralph lives in his amazingly well equipped Mercedes Sprinter Van. Being an aerospace engineer he has completely decked it out for comfortable and stealthy living, including a hydraulic lift on the back for his bike. It’s weird because Anne spotted one in Valle Bras du Nord and said it would be cool to do that. What is fate telling us?
It was a great pleasure to sit on the front porch with Uncle Peter and give my perspective of the magical farm he had in Zimbabwe. We spent a lot of time there as a family and it is a big part of my makeup. He also had some great insights about the family that I never knew; like my terrifyingly posh great grandmother thinking my grandfather was a failure whilst sitting having tea in the garden of his beautiful mansion in Salisbury (Harare).
I picked Adam B up from Denver International and the next day we spent making the Whitehead’s garage look like a mechanised refugee camp by spreading the contents of our panniers across the floor. The theme of the next part of the trip was set by Adam disassembling his bike and fiddling with the carburettor to adjust for the altitude and fitting a longer stand that required more hardware.
By the time we sent some stuff home (my helmet and the maps I had already used) and farted about it was much later than we really wanted but said our goodbyes to the incredibly patient and thoughtful Whiteheads and we’re off into the setting sun.
The cardinal rule of adventure travel is: Don’t travel at night. We cruised Denver’s southern edge and Adam had a problem. His rear tyre was loosing pressure. We stopped, checked, stopped, checked the came across a bar. Cowboys and food. Real cowboy dancing with his lady and real cowboy drinking a beer at the bar; stools with horse saddles and two English blokes dressed like astronauts.
Back on the incredible but darkroom black twisty road I dropped Ginko simply turning round and we called the night. The crash bars that I had imported from SW-Motech in Germany were worth their weight because the hard dirt road would have destroyed my radiators. Through the darkness we hoped we’d find a little spot to kip and rounded a corner to see what looked like a Mexican tent festival in one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites. Pickups and communal tents with drunk Hispanics loudly talking about romantic entanglements with hot nieces.
We needed sleep and set up camp sharpish in a spare spot to be woken by wood chopping at 2am and more loudness so at 5am we broke camp and headed off into the mountains. Down the beautiful snaking Tarmac and into more arid climbs Adam’s Suzuki started spitting oil. We stopped and for the second time his petrol tank was off and we were in the back of a filling station hiding from the heat with a bike in bits. We secured a hose and fiddled more then were off up the dirt.
This may get dull, but Colorado has some truly stunning scenery. We rode up through forests, cattle plains and incredible valleys then up to our first pass. I didn’t really know what to expect from a pass but there was some pretty extreme riding for someone on a 225kg machine with full luggage. At one section Adam warned me that he had stopped before a rock garden but I had to push through and Ginko did her best and powered through the baby head rocks and boulders to eventually crest the summit and down the other side to Salida. By now Adam’s DRZ 400 was spewing oil again and we found the workshop of Dustin who was recommended to us by some blokes on the trail riding KLRs. Despite not knowing us from Adam (see what I did there??) Dustin dropped what he was doing and delved into the problem, pulling hoses off and going to his computer to look at parts diagrams. In the rain of the car park Dustin worked out that the breather tubes were blocked and needed attention so Adam and I decided a motel was the best choice and he set about fixing the problem under the canopy of our pet friendly room.
Excellent pizza was had in the cute little mountain town of Salida that night and we retired to arise and start all over again, but this day would be the most epic. The passes in Colorado take you over the high peaks in a way we never ever expected. There are very steep rocks to climb and loose rocky switchbacks on extremely exposed ledges. Epic is an over-used word but it really fitted this day. I think we crested four passes and descended loose corners and ledges with extreme sketchiness whilst trying to avoid the jeep traffic of the devotees that make the pilgrimage to trundle up the magnificent mountains.
Coming down to a clearing I thought I saw a mirage. Ginko was standing in on a flat spot with some blokes around her. No it wasn’t Ginko, I was riding her, it was another Africa twin! Then behind I saw another one! Weirdly there were now three of these unicorns in the same place. We got chatting to the owner of the red one who actually works for Honda and bought his at full retail because they are so hard to get hold of. Rely and Ann were fantastically enthusastic about our travels and have offered to replace my shameful KTM umbrella with a nice Honda one. I just need to work out where to get them to send it! Only after chatting for a while did I realise that we were at the continental divide so Anne snapped a pic of us and we set off down a lovely smooth road to file up at Sargent at the bottom of the pass.
On one descent I needed to make way for a Jeep, stupid descision, and moved up onto an off camber loose cutting where my front tyre couldn’t quite take the load and I lost her. We soon righted her and we’re back to the challenge.
Sitting chatting at the store in Sargents a dude pulls up on a bike, the kind you peddle. He looks like he is coming to work, riding a cheap hybrid and wearing leather slip ons. This dude, Chris is the real deal. He makes me feel like a total fraud all dressed up in my adventure pyjamas because he has cycled from Huston, Texas headed to Washington state. Adam and I adopted our Cycle Surgery past and lubed his chain and checked over his bike then gave him the candy bar he requested and huge props for his efforts.
After Sargents we climbed a wide road up to a farm on the hill and saw encroaching lightning and rain so donned the gimp suit and Adam his oh-so-cool Belstaff jacket. We were both extremely worried about getting hit by lightning and made a navigation error. Actually the road moved. The maps and GPS told us to go up a two track technical little farm road and turn up a wash that was impossible.
So, to set the scene: it’s raining we’re lost and we are scared of being killed by lightning so we have a wee. Adam then asks if my camelback was under my gimp suit and I freak out because it’s lost. Backtracking to the farm where we put the gear on, down the technically hard track the bag is not there. The cute cat is. Making a plan Adam heads back up the difficult track and I go down to Sargents to see if I left it there.
I’m freaking out because my whole being is in that bag and it would be a disaster to the trip if I lost it. Against Adams wise advice I speed down the road and meet a pickup who flags me down and I slew to a stop in a cloud of dirt. The true gent of a man, Blake, had seen it and picked it up. He had to go through it to see who owned it and took the initiative to look at the inreach to see where we were going. I owe this bloke a lot.
Next time on our travels.. Generators, cinnamon and coyotes.
Saying the words “I’m riding across the USA” is a pretty easy action. Anyone can do it. “Yeah, I’m riding coast to coast”. It’s when you get to states like Oklahoma that the scale slaps you in the face and you end up cheating.
I really love riding on dirt. My mentor cousin in my post school banishing to work on the farm, and my gold standard of manliness, Mark Impey once said of me lusting after a sports motorbike “you’ll get bored of that thing very quickly because you love disappearing down dirt tracks”.
Well in Oklahoma there is a massive amount of ground to cover and it’s all perfect mile by mile squares. The trail goes a while, turns left 90°, goes for a while, turns right 90°… You get the picture. The Saint said ‘skip 2 days of Oklahoma and I did. Kinda.
So on to Boise City I go at a very sensible speed because I’m worried about wearing my knoblies. I head. North and wait for the interstate. A dashed line goes past on the rolling map on the GPS and I turn left (west).
So the. I realise I’m in yet another state and I’ve really diverted from the #TransAmericaTrail. We’re in Kansas now Ginko. At the next turn I turn left (it really is that easy to navigate over these distances) and a town appears. Cute, very ‘cowboy film’ with a wide Main Street, shops of caring and random sorts. Uniquely for me it has red brick streets. Not just the main drag (actually that’s just boring Tarmac) but the little side streets.
I decide to head west a bit farther and see a little burger joint with horses. My brain assumes they are fake, then Anne came to mind percussively: Eat Jason. Horses. and I slammed on the brakes for a quick ‘U’ turn.
Off with the helmet and peer at the smelly beasts tied to the ageing Coca-Cola sign of the burger place. I pull the screen door and quickly learn the knack to opening the sagging wooden one. In the relative darkness are men who work for a living. They all stare at me as I wrestle the portal into this most local of lunch spots.
I order a $4 cheese burger and follow the riders out to their horses to quiz them.
A reporter then appears and must have thought I was a much better story than his father in law getting up to equestrian mischief and our interview devolves into a chat. Apparently there USA town where the yellow brick roads. Follow the follow the follow the follow the, follow the red brick road mustn’t have had quite the same ring!
I then bump into more locals, Jake and Farmer. Yes Farmer is his name. I had to check that too; total character. Whilst Farmer was writing me a Karma Card on his lottery numbers notes Jake was interested in the route.
I said my goodbyes and headed off again at my tyre saving highway speed.
I had gone 40 miles when, with feet up on the crash bars in total cruiser position I see flashing from behind. More cops? I stop and Jake comes bounding toward me. “You might need these.” My precious #TransAmericaTrail maps in their map pocket had fallen off the back of my pannier beaver tail. I must have forgotten to clip the thing in place. Jake and Farmer chased me for 40miles out of their way to return my maps. Amaze.
A single lane road with vast landscape either side was my company for the next 4 hours. The sky reminded me of science fiction landscapes where the grain silos are given scale of distance by the haze in front.
I get the chance to chat to Anne over my helmet Bluetooth system and then an hour later I’m in a Boise City motel room doing the disrobe, bath, wash clothes dance.
The town is the last outpost of Oklahoma with nothing to draw anyone but railway workers, local farmers and some oil men. It’s pretty remote so 6AM breakfast sees the train of retired farmers cycle through the cute little cafe for their morning Joe, the chirpy proprietor attending to them without even asking. I purposely sit at a longer table and break the ice with a particularly frosty old dude. Wow he was hard work to warm up but eventually I told him where I came from and he said “Northern or Southern Rhodesia”. That was a surprise. It seems that his church had sent some missionaries our way before I was born and Southern Rhodesia became just Rhodesia and the Zimbabwe.
As the regulars rolled through in a succession of smaller and massive pickups I got chatting to a very bright eyed bloke who was keenly interested in the maps, the bike and where I had been. We talked vehicles and Terrell offered to show me his Mutt Jeep in a ‘shop across from the cafe. He’d been in the service and, like my Dad with his Land Rovers, had developed a kinship with this particular model; a Ford built independently coil sprung intermediate between the Willys and the Hummer. Unusually I was unaware of the model and took keen interest in Terrell’s description of how he is restoring it, using money from his ever declining well profits.
I had to cut it short because I had a very long way to go, in fact I rode around fourteen hours that day, starting through more farmers fields, dodging irrigation runoff and seeing the most wonderful herd of tiny deer with strange antlers.
I managed to drop Ginko again. Deep tractor ruts through sand and mud revealed hidden goop with nowhere to go and I was in the cotton. It took all my strength to right her after removing the dry bags.
New Mexico was a total change. It seems the state line drawers must look at the topography and go “yup, this is a different state; Joe…. Draw the line here this is New Mexico!”. It really looks like cowboy films and the riding got better and better up one over hills through the canyons. I passed through a farm after riding through a valley and then up a very steep switch backed road up onto a plain and I was in Colorado.
Again the countryside changed to rolling hills with mountains in the background. I had to ride carefully because fuel was an issue but eventually I got to a small stop in Trinidad where the open smoking culture of Colorado was truly evident because of the huge choice of implements on which to toke being offered.
Up and toward St Charles peak riding in national forest and open grazing I saw the rain ahead and donned the gimp suit. Not a minute later the red dirt turned to mud and I was climbing a very Welsh looking land up up up and down into the valley.
Ginko told me the time was getting on so, sitting on the side stand and wondering round looking at my phone for an official campsite I decided to head north to Denver. I’d be a day early, but better that than get soaked in the woods, knackered from a huge day.
I inflated the tyres hit the slab, entering Denver with some culture shock of being in a big city again. Not since New Jersey had I seen so many cars. I was then in the bosom of family eating delicious lamb kebabs in the beautiful modern garden of Cousin Adam and Carolyn’s Denver Red brick with Uncle Peter. I was shattered and very glad to be in a familiar surrounding with loved family who I’ve known since before I can remember.
I sneaked around in Sam’s place during the wee hours packing Ginko and stealing ice from his freezer. It couldn’t be a better place to start; the walls are covered with memorabilia from the #TransAmericaTrail.
So I stuff the banana The Saint gave me into my mouth as I head off for the trail head of Mississippi through the morning mist, not knowing what the day would bring and in the excitement forget my tank is almost empty. I head north into Tennessee and an old skool filling station with Lucretia at the helm.
She has a big Harley and dreams of heading west the long way too but her son thinks she’s crazy. Such a sweet lady. She saw the lock of hair stuck to my windscreen that has been my totem of Anne and offered some of her own.
I say to Lucretia- take that Harley and go. Go West.
Whilst I was talking to her I noticed some swanky earplugs on a string round the neck of one of Lucretia’s gas station regulars, commented that I keep loosing mine and he just gave me a pair. What lovely people.
Onward to the #TransAmericaTrail with the weird hum of the knobblies adding to Ginko’s growl we turn onto the trail itself and are instantly presented with rough washed out dirt, fallen trees, creek crossings and sand.
BANG! You’re on the #TransAmericaTrail. Through forests, wide dirt, narrow dirt, shale, stones, sand, pebbles. Up and down the Mississippi lands I too soon run out of water because it is so hot.
Bear in mind I’ve lived in Thailand; it’s hot there but nothing on this. Yesterday was the hottest I have ever been in my life. I drank coming on six litres of water and pee’d twice.
I was searching and searching for water but there was not a soul to be seen. They were all cocooned in their air conditioned mansions and trailers. A dirty creek provided some relief as I splashed water over myself and continued until I saw a dude cutting grass. He asked where I was going and I replied ’Oregon, the hard way’. Turns out he was an Oregon native, a musician who just finished recording at Muscle Shoals. He was on his last sip, so I asked for directions and ended up at a sweet little gas station where the owner and her husband fed and entertained me. Her Philly Cheesesteak was excellent and I scored some ice. Her husband recounted stories of bikes and mower dude told me of his Goldwing.
Then a group of younger Mississippians arrived. These are the people your parents warn you to avoid with their thick accents and tattoos. They were the nicest, most friendly and generous people of their age I have come across. Genuinely interested and happy to see someone traveling, they could only offer support and their most sincere best wishes. Billy (in the red shirt) was in the army and traveled to Hungary and Ireland; he collects artefacts and gave me a precious Indian Arrow head which he suggested I could sell but would never dare. These are the totems by which to remember such great people.
Gary, Stephanie, Billy and the twat in the tinfoil suit.
The all told me to avoid the next road because they were finishing bridges but I told them there was probably adventure there and I set off to find the bridges were, indeed, out but by the power of Ginko we conquered by deftly avoiding bulldozers and ploughing through the fresh soil.
Motoring down the dry trail full of ice water and cheesesteak I suddenly encountered a bit of damp road. This very quickly turned to the slick slimy sticky mud that I believe Mississippi is famous for and in very slow motion Ginko was in a ditch of slop.
The stuff is hard to walk in.
Off come the panniers and within 5 minutes appears Honey Waggon Billy. (Please correct me if I’m wrong with the name!)
Another fine specimen of southern friendliness, he muddies himself to help a complete idiot who dropped his poor bike in a mud ditch.
We needed all of his 6 wheels driving to get my two out and towed Ginko by her sturdy steel frame. I push-motored her to a safe spot, loaded up and by-passed what Honey Wagon Billy told me was much worse up the trail. Apparently they had just graded the road and it rained so hard it was all under water. Nasty.
More very remote trails through the woods ended me at Kathys Kwik Stop and a very bored Becky, who made me a very tasty sandwich. She spends her day looking listfully out the window or surfing the web in her phone, then selling dirty fuel (Ginko hates it) and chewing tobacco.
More trails and me getting to the point where I needed to stop and pushing on ensued. So I dropped her again.
Deep deep sand and a very hot and tired Jason resulted in so much sweat it was dripping off all my fingers and I couldn’t see. The panniers and my suit ended up on an ant hill and the extreme effort of getting Ginko out of that sand resulted in me coming off the trail and into a motel.
I 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
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.
Quebec has really shit roads. Worse could be had when we went to visit my Dad on base in Mom’s MG-B, but that’s because every time we saw a pot-hole we thought we were literally going to die. Landmines do that to you. Rhodesian Army had a vehicle called a Pookie, which was a great testament to our engineering brilliance, but I digress. Quebec has worse roads than most third world countries I have been in. So why would you ride anything other than an off road bike?
There has always been something in me that needs a motorbike and because of the these reasons I chose the Africa Twin: Continue reading Africa Twin→