Paved roads are a classic waste of taxpayer dollars!

U.S. Route 11 – America’s French Connection

Posted by SCG on October 1st, 2013

Dateline: From the North Country to the Deep South

By “moto” photojournalist Douglas Graham

From where I live in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, it’s known as the Valley Pike. To most everyone else, it’s U.S. Route 11. It starts near Rouses Point, N.Y., on the edge of Lake Champlain at the Canadian border, below Montreal, Quebec. It wanders down, through the Shenandoah Valley, dropping into the South. And it flames out 1,677 miles from where it started, in formerly French Louisiana.

It is America’s French Connection.

Old Route 11 somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Old Route 11 somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Old Route 11 looking south near Mt. Jackson Virginia.

Old Route 11 looking south near Mt. Jackson, Virginia.

Click any photo for a larger image

You might expect such a storied highway, crusty with age and tradition, to conclude triumphantly in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Instead, old Route 11 dead-ends quietly at an east-west highway just outside of the Big Easy. Instead of seeing the lights of Bourbon Street, you run head first into a nondescript parking lot at 11’s terminus.

Even-numbered national highways like the famed Route 66 ran east-west and back. Odd-numbered ones like Route 11 cut north and south. Numbers for modern, high-speed interstates, which sucked the traffic off the old roads, work the same way. You may have heard of or driven our most-acclaimed national road, historic U.S. Route 66.

It started in Chicago, crisscrossed southwestward to Oklahoma, then traversed the dusty, desert West before ending at the Santa Monica, California pier on the Pacific Ocean.  Tall tales, evocative photographs and snappy songs like “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” still celebrate Route 66, whose devotees call it “The Mother Road.” Route 11 has much of the same offerings but none of the glamor or public relations of 66.

We’ve lost so much of early Americana, and Route 11 clings to that part of our culture like the stubborn stepchild she is. Like other parts of old, weird America, you do, however, need to look for it nowadays; it only pops up if you keep an eye peeled.

Old Route 11 North/South sign near Bristol Virginia. US 11E connects Knoxville and the twin cities of Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee.

Old Route 11 North/South sign near Bristol Virginia. US 11E connects Knoxville and the twin cities of Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee.

A single-span Burr arch truss known as Meem's Bottom Covered Bridge in Mount Jackson is just .4 miles off of old Route 11 near Mt. Jackson Virginia.

A single-span Burr arch truss known as Meem’s Bottom Covered Bridge in Mount Jackson is just .4 miles off of old Route 11 near Mt. Jackson Virginia.

The sagging remnants of Route 11’s glory days are there, though. Rusted tourist court signs full of bullet holes, vine-covered barns, long-shuttered restaurants, busted-up gas stations, chunks of old drive-in theaters and faded historical markers.

On old 11, you’ll find obscure museums, with no lines to speak of, dedicated to hand weaving, American presidents and steam trains. Scranton, Pa., even has one dedicated to the legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Many of these places first opened at a time when people loved the open road and took great pride when a national highway ran through their towns. When roads got U.S. highway numbers – such as when a stretch from Bristol to Knoxville in eastern Tennessee received the coveted U.S. 11 designation – it was a big deal. It literally put you on the map.

School buses head south through Mt. Jackson along old Route 11 looking in Mt. Jackson Virginia.

School buses head south through Mt. Jackson along old Route 11 in Mt. Jackson Virginia.

Old Route 11 just outside of Bristol Tennessee looking north towards Virginia.

Old Route 11 just outside of Bristol Tennessee looking north towards Virginia.

U.S. Route 11 was perfect for my photo assignments/motorcycle travels this summer. I’ve traveled parts of Route 11 over the years as far south as Louisiana and as far north as New York.

I have not traveled the entire road but would love to. It suits my slow moving, stop-a-lot brand of travel.

Sure, I’ve done the mega-mile days. But I don’t remember much about them, except for the opportunity to say, “yeah, I did 800 miles here, 1000 there.” It makes my butt hurt thinking about it, and I saw little more than the blur of the road and the bottom of many coffee cups.

My summer travels have carried me along U.S. Route 11 through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The still-operating roadside attractions range from snake farms to the extremely rare drive-in movie theater still showing family movies to farm league baseball where you can eat like a king and drink ice cold beer and never get close to spending 50 bucks. Try and do that at a major league game!

Just off of old U.S. Route 11 people watch a movie at the Family Drive-In movie theater just off of route 11 in Stephens City, Virginia. The drive-in is the last drive-in operating in the Shenandoah Valley. The drive-in has operated non-stop for 57 years, holds 434 cars and has 2 screens.

Just off of old U.S. Route 11 people watch a movie at the Family Drive-In theater in Stephens City, Virginia. It is the last drive-in operating in the Shenandoah Valley, has operated non-stop for 57 years, holds 434 cars and has 2 screens.

Just off of old U.S. Route 11 baseball has been a staple in Hagerstown Maryland for the better part of the past century and is only a 65 mile drive from Washington, D.C.

Just off of old U.S. Route 11 baseball has been a staple in Hagerstown Maryland for the better part of the past century and is only a 65 mile drive from Washington, D.C.

There are dark and windowless strip clubs, pseudo-scientific fossil collections, spooky caverns. Sure, they’re tourist traps. That’s the whole point of traveling like this. All the better to lure folks off the interstate super-slabs.

When Interstate 81 was built in the 1960s, it pretty much killed the commerce on Route 11, driving coffin nails into a huge slice of Americana. Folks nowadays are pretty focused on travel that’s simply point A to point B. They see nothing in between, except the screens of their smart phones and GPS units.

I work with a guy who likes to travel to see things – not to get somewhere. He, like me, is a rare bird indeed. I once forced the entire photo staff to take the train from Washington, D.C. up to Boston to cover a big national event. All but one hated me and complained for days about how long it took.

Being typical of too many hurried people, they missed the point. For me, it’s trains, not planes. Motorcycles, not cars. Show me a back road with a monkey ranch and I’m on it, no questions asked. It’s how you find things and meet people. It’s what life is all about.

In its heyday, U.S. Route 11 guided drivers right through towns. Little motor courts, greasy spoon diners, souvenir stands and independent repair shops beckoned in every little place, complete with elaborate neon signs.

The old Valley Dinner has been closed for some time and, like a lot of once-viable businesses off Old Route 11, went by the wayside after I-81 was built in the 1960's. Valley Dinner is located near Woodstock, Virginia.

The old Valley Dinner has been closed for some time and, like a lot of once-viable businesses off Old Route 11, went by the wayside after I-81 was built in the 1960’s. Valley Dinner is located near Woodstock, Virginia.

The Route 11 potato chip factory where all the products are hand-cooked. The showroom is a free-for-all in chip tasting and hot chips fresh from the back are served regularly, The magic used to happen in this original building in Middletown, Virginia. It has now moved to Mt. Jackson Virginia.

The Route 11 potato chip factory where all the products are hand-cooked. The showroom is a free-for-all in chip tasting and hot chips fresh from the back are served regularly, The magic used to happen in this original building in Middletown, Virginia. It has now moved to Mt. Jackson Virginia.

In the Golden Age of automobile travel in the United States, driving was carefree and scenic. Two-lane highways snaked across the countryside and right through the hearts of towns and cities. There were no slick bypasses in those days. Business leaders wouldn’t have dreamed of diverting traffic away from Main Street.
The whole point was to funnel travelers and their dollars to local businesses.

I love my brand of travel. I wear it like a badge of honor. I’m proud at the end of the day to have gotten there by motorcycle through rain, sleet, snow, heat, and, of course, the cool autumn days that we motorcyclists live for.

I do fear I’m a dying breed, just like old Route 11 and the communities along it that have gone to rack and ruin. Farms played out and technology passed them by. Once-viable businesses were abandoned to vandals and knuckleheads. Increasingly rusted and rotted, the slice of America along Route 11 has slid out of our daily lives.

“Disappearing America,” I call these places.

They’re blemishes and nuisances to many. But they are a feast to the eye for a photographer or historian. So if you find yourself in the Mid-Atlantic, hop on Route 11. Keep your eyes peeled. Life is playing out, way out there in old America.

DG_bio_PhotoDouglas Graham is a photojournalist in Washington, D.C. His career spans 35 years as a staff and freelance news photographer. He has been in the middle of some of the most important news stories of the past three decades. Graham has been chased by a crack-head trying to steal his cameras, shot at, slammed into by a bank robber during a high-speed chase, tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, punched and beaten, spit on by protesters, arrested and he shook the hand of the President in the Oval Office after being recognized for his award winning work. Currently he is on staff for the Economist Group in Washington D.C. assigned to national politics, Capitol Hill and the White House.

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Tackling the Lolo Motorway

Posted by SCG on October 1st, 2013

Originally published in the Boise Weekly

A Motorcycle Haven in North Idaho

By Andrew Mentzer


Peering over the endless expanse of the Clearwater National Forest from my 7,000-foot perch above the Lochsa River, the realization that I had waited all these years to explore one of the coolest places in Idaho settled in. I have reported on dozens of epic stretches across the Gem State, but the Lolo Motorway might take the cake for scenery, solitude and sheer enjoyment.

It may have been the perfect weather that made the trip especially good, but most folks would feel a similar appreciation on their first trip out. Its rugged ascent from Highway 12 to countless mountain lakes and overlooks which provide a peace hard to find elsewhere. This is the backcountry, so staying aware amid the temptation to let your head float off your shoulders is paramount.

My early September run on the Lolo Motorway was with the folks from Happy Trails Products in Boise, a dual sport motorcycle gear company. The second installment of their annual Lolo Motorway Rally utilized the town of Kamiah as home base, which proved the perfect location for each evening’s meeting of the minds.

Each morning, dozens of hardcore dual-sport and enduro enthusiasts convened in small groups to decide which way to go. Some chose remote single-track routes. Others (like myself, coming off a recent knee surgery) chose one of myriad Forest Service roads to explore. While I only completed a roughly 50-mile segment of the Lolo Motorway, there are hundreds of miles of rides/drives in the area that are sure to adequately whet your adventure whistle.


A good orientation point is the Lochsa Lodge on Highway 12, just a stone’s throw from the route’s eastern origin. We accessed our route from Road 107, between Lowell and Lochsa Lodge, and came out at the Powell Junction. Side routes include scenic Horseshoe Lake and the overlook at Indian Post Office. The more adventurous can get off the Motorway and head toward Superior, Mont., from routes adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A long weekend is best to cover a respectable amount of ground, but you could spend a week in this region and not scratch the surface. Bring fishing gear. Lastly, be prepared for anything and make sure you have a back-up map in the event that your GPS leaves you hanging.

I have no clue why Lewis and Clark ever ventured any further west after stumbling across this pristine gem.

Lolo Motorway

 From Boise, head north on Highway 55 through McCall. Continue on Highway 95 to Grangeville. Turn right toward the Harpster Grade and take Highway 13 to Kooskia to the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 12. You can head left to Kamiah or right toward Lolo, Mont. The Lolo Motorway (officially dubbed Road 500) runs parallel to the north of Highway 12, with a handful of steep, often rough, perpendicular access roads along the way.


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CMA Lewis and Clark Rally 2013

Posted by SCG on September 9th, 2013

Ride in: Thursday, September 5
Ride out: 
Sunday, September 8

Where:   Accommodations are at The Lewis and Clark Resort, on U.S. Highway 12 – 65 miles east of Lewiston, Idaho, 150 miles west of Missoula, Montana, and include Friday and Saturday dinners by Lewis-Clark Resort staff.

The Rides: Ride the Lolo Motor Way or any of the great Dual Sport Roads in this area, known for its great roads, both paved and unpaved. Once registered for the ride you will have access to GPX tracks and suggested routes.

Registration includes:

  • Tee-Shirt
  • Friday and Saturday dinner
  • GPX tracks and suggested routes

Here are .pdf (Adobe Acrobat or equivalent reader required) documents related to the various rides:

The Nez Perce Trail of 1877


Lolo & Look Outs

Elk City Wagon Road

ECWR 1 to ECWR 29








And here are all the above in one zipped file:


And here are gpx files:

SB Gospel Hump

DS Tom’s Ride





Lolo Pass

Lolo Pass

Lolo Summit

A warm welcome awaits you

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Why You Need a Skid Plate

Posted by SCG on August 27th, 2013

By Dave Despain

If you plan to take your KLR off-road (more on the definition of that term in a moment), installation of a proper skid plate is even more important than fixing your doohickey. Why? Because the doo MAY fail and hurt your engine. But engine damage is virtually guaranteed if you go bouncing off the big, hard and gnarly stuff without the protection offered by a good skid plate.

“But wait,” you argue. “My definition of ‘off-road’ is more like “off-highway.” It certainly doesn’t include big, hard and gnarly stuff. I’m gonna stick to the dirt and gravel and leave ‘big, hard and gnarly’ to the serious guys. That nice piece of Tupperware that Kawasaki installed under my engine should be more than enough protection for me.”

Why you need a skid plate

Why you need a skid plate …

Why you need a skid plate

… when you hit the gnarly stuff

It’s a good intention, and hats off if you can see it through. But here’s the thing about dirt roads. They tend to go downhill, and I don’t mean that in a topographical sense. A perfectly comfortable little two-lane dirt road has a tendency, over the span of a few miles, to deteriorate into a somewhat-less-comfortable two-track and thence to a rutted up four-wheeler trail. And about the time you realize it’s really too far to back track, things progressively worsen until the ruts and adjacent rocks are engine case deep.

And if trickeries of the terrain don’t get you, your riding buddies will. How many of us have heard, at the beginning of a dual sport ride, “Ah, we’ll just stick to the easy stuff.” An hour later, up to your gas tank in big, hard and gnarly, you realize that the term “easy stuff” (like the term “off-road”) is subject to definition!

The point is that all the good intentions in the world can’t guarantee you’ll avoid terrain capable of damaging your KLR. So why not just pony up for the protection offered by a quality skid plate and not have to worry about it? And given that Happy Trails Products has been in the skid plate business for more than 20 years, it’s no surprise they’ve figured out exactly what you need: 3/16 inch aluminum plate of combat grade that will take as much abuse as you’re likely to throw at it, and with a cool finish to boot–choose from an ultra-stylish, durable Silver-Vein color powder coat finish or a Hammertone Black powder coat finish*. This skid plate has plenty of protection for the engine cases on both sides, including that highly vulnerable water pump; an available vibration-absorbing mounting pad, and openings to allow airflow and easy access to the doohickey adjustment bolt and oil drain plug, one of those openings strategically shaped to serve as a bottle opener!

That last bit does it for me. Engine insurance for under 100 bucks, from people who understand the therapeutic value of a cold adult beverage after a day in the big, hard and gnarly stuff.  Sign me up!

* Note the SW Motech version of the skid plate only comes in Hammertone Black powder coat.

Click on photos for larger images

Skid Plate Impact Kit absorbs vibration

Skid Plate Impact Kit absorbs vibration

Happy Trails KLR skid plate mounted

Happy Trails KLR skid plate mounted

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Make Time to Take Time

Posted by SCG on August 3rd, 2013

By Andrew Mentzer

In 1977-8 my father, Terry Mentzer, circumnavigated the globe on a Honda XL 250. He did so solo, taking 207 days to complete his epic journey. He never broke down, and his cultural experience seldom required him to employ the guarded headspace that would be requisite of a circumnavigation today. Having completed nearly half of his route myself—recently completing rides across Australia and SE Asia—I often wonder how he got through it so seamlessly. How did he avoid not only mechanical catastrophe, but never even got a flat tire? No wrecks, never mugged—in combination these realities would seem a miracle by today’s adventure riding standards.

The world seems so very different now, but one thing remains exactly the same in 2013—pace.

The Green Hornet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the Petronas Towers in the background.

The Green Hornet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the Petronas Towers in the background.

I turn 31 in a few weeks and I have had some time to consider what the keys are to a successful around the world journey. Above all, I have realized the value of slowing down and looking at the road ahead not in terms of where I have to end up for the night, but rather how I will feel about the body of work when I return home. As with anything worth doing, there will be good days and bad. How you handle the bad is far more important than anything else. The pace with which an adventurer addresses what is in front of him/her, especially in foreboding territory, will ultimately determine the value of any tour.

I recently took some time to peruse my father’s article from the November and December 1978 installments of Motorcyclist Magazine to see if I could identify some take-aways that support my recently enhanced perspective. Here’s what I found:

On a freight ship between Perth, Australia and Singapore—“The next day we sail, and to my delight I have a four berth cabin to myself. Flies follow the ship until nightfall. In the morning they are gone, lost at sea like small carrier aircraft. The six-day passage is a fine affair: good company, 25-cent drinks, six course meals and a good library.”

After crossing into Thailand from Malaysia—“There is much less traffic in Southern Thailand than Malaysia. The countryside is a fairyland in shades of green encompassing miles of rice fields between low mountain ranges and beautifully maintained Buddhist temples, resplendent in gold leaf. It’s sunny and warm.”

Off the coast of Krabi Town, Thailand, adjacent to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Off the coast of Krabi Town, Thailand, adjacent to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

A moment of introspection in Kathmandu, Nepal—“I’ve been away in foreign lands almost three months and my past no longer seems very real to me. The pressures of the business world have faded away. My daily concerns are simple: food, shelter, safe riding. The adventure takes care of itself.”

A windy ride outside of Tehran, Iran—“The next day the winds have shifted and come from ahead, gusting to 40mph. Oncoming trucks spin off vortices that slam against the Honda, wrenching against the fairing. The bike doesn’t want to pull the tall fifth gear, so I run in fourth for miles.”

There are countless examples of times when choosing the right pace was the difference between success and failure, efficiency and recklessness, or making it or not in my father’s RTW tour. It seems that no matter whether it is 1977 or 2013, the key to enjoying long tours is taking the time to consider what is around you. If you don’t, you are likely to miss the bigger picture while putting yourself and your machine at risk. I reckon there is nothing more detrimental to the mission of an adventure rider than a time constraint.

To read Terry Mentzer’s complete article, check out: transworldtour/1977-8/

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The Rally in the Gorge 2013

Posted by SCG on July 31st, 2013

5 days, 4 nights too much fun!

Sound RIDER! Rally in The Gorge is a five day event incorporating 4 mini rallies. Set in the national scenic area of the Columbia River Gorge you’ll experience fantastic rides, pastoral beauty and camaraderie with others who enjoy riding the same type of bike you ride.

For all the info and to register, head on over to SOUNDRIDER.

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What Will I Do?

Posted by SCG on July 19th, 2013

Part 3 of 3
Read Part 1
Read Part 2

By Ramey ‘Coach’ Stroud

What should I do now? I ask that question over and over in the dark freezing air of a climbers emergency refuge. Outside, the wind-driven snow is curling around my motorcycle.  It’s getting dark and I am low on fuel.  Stay here at 15,000’ near the top of the Andes or take a chance and ride down through a snow storm to the base camp some 30 kilometers away?  What should I do now?

Andes Snow 600

Introduction.  Part I of this three-part series introduced some fundamental concepts of risk management on motorcycles.  In Part II you learned that making tough choices about risk is like looking at a playground teeter-totter.  The risk and danger ahead go on one end and your skills and the motorcycle’s capability on the other.  If it tips down on the danger side you don’t go or you choose a less risky option.  If it tips the other way it means your skills and bike setup out-weight the dangers and you are good to go.  But what happens when the teeter-totter stays level?

Risk Assessment What if your skills and equipment are in balance with the dangers ahead?  What do you do then?  Is your safety to be a matter of a coin toss?  To explore this question I shared with you last time the story of a tough situation I recently experienced high in the Andes Mountains of South America.  I then asked what would you have done in my situation?  Now, here in Part III, you’ll find out what actually happened. You get to evaluate how I used the teeter-totter in real life.  You get to decide whether I made the right call …

Take A Risk?  What does that word “risk” mean anyway?  If it is used as a noun it usually means an exposure to danger and the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen.  A scientist could evaluate the applicable physics and mathematics to calculate the amount of danger as a fairly uniform and constant probability.  If A and if B, but not C, then outcome D will occur X times out of a 100.  But when humans enter the picture the game changes.  Now the word risk becomes a verb: an act or failure to act in such a way as to bring about the possibility of an unpleasant or unwelcome event.  Danger the noun, humans the verb.

For example, if I jump from a perfectly good airplane am I an extreme risk taker?  How about if I ride a motorcycle on a busy street?  The skydiver holds a Class A rating (the highest possible) and uses the best equipment available. She never jumps in bad weather and always wears a reserve parachute with an automatic altitude sensing opener. In contrast the man on his new S1000RR isn’t using a helmet because his state doesn’t require one. He’s wearing a black T-shirt and shorts because it’s a hot night. He’s had a few beers while watching the game at the pub but he’s not that far from home.  At this speed his eyes are watering because he forgot his prescription glasses. Who do you think is more at risk?  The lady falling through the air at terminal velocity only seconds from the ground or the man on a short ride to his house?  Whatever your answer can you see that what these people did changed the degree of risk they faced?  The preparation, or lack thereof, lowered the risk on the one hand and raised it on the other.  These simple examples illustrate that an extreme risk taker is one who faces danger without appropriate training or equipment and/or who makes poor decisions.  MotoSafe will discuss training and safety equipment in future articles.  For now let’s look at one way to decide if something is too dangerous to do.

GO / NO-GO Decisions.  At some point in every ride you will face GO / NO-GO decision points.  This is when you have to decide if you will take that trail or climb that hill or go that fast or call it a day.  These are non-control decisions.  To go or not is about when, where and how hard to ride, not the specifics of what gear or what RPM or to brake or not.  Your GO / NO-GO decisions are about ride strategy not the tactical aspects of control function or body mechanics.

To make good GO, NO-GO choices requires a rider to consider three things: (1) skills, (2) equipment and (3) situation.  The sky-diver in the example above decided to jump after putting the dangers of free fall and weather on one side of the teeter-totter and her equipment and training on the other.  To remember all three parts of a good decision I visualize a three-legged milk stool.  The legs are skills, equipment and situational awareness.  If one leg breaks (meaning it is over-looked) the stool falls over, resulting in a poor-decision.


The milk stool and the teeter-totter visualizations work together.  To demonstrate how, let’s evaluate all the facts you were given in Part II about my situation up in the Andes.

On one side of the teeter-totter:

Situation (the Danger)

5,000 meters MSL (about 16,000‘ elevation) in thin air.
Unexpected Weather:

Forecast in error and no updates available.
Micro-weather pattern unknown.
Wind chill index currently around zero degrees F.
Unknown snowfall intensity (total depth).
Unknown snowfall duration (hours or days).

On my own with no help available close by.
Base Camp and next fuel some 30 to 50 kilometers away, mostly downhill.
Not familiar with area; limited map detail and few road signs.
Now sunset and soon darkness with no star or moonlight, due to cloud cover.
Off-pavement road conditions but map says pavement soon.

On the other end of the teeter-totter:


Former mountain search & rescue team member, ski patrol, wilderness EMT.
Extensive motorcycle training on/off-road with day/night racing/rally experience.
65 years old in good health and fitness but has been riding all day.
Partial-paraplegic with limited mobility, can hike short distance with a cane.
Possible hypoxia: some mental disorientation with lapses in focus/concentration.
Possible dehydration, no urge to urinate.
Currently stage I hyperthermia.
Clothing and all weather boots now maintaining body heat.
Overall feeling of fatigue but still ready and capable of more miles.


Fixed enclosed refuge shelter available but no heat and limited water.
Portable cold-weather emergency shelter on the bike.
48 to 72 hours of survival rations but no cooking firewood available.
GPS working and programed for route; paper map back-up.
SPOT emergency locator and shelter short-wave radio off-line.
BMW R1150R in top mechanical condition and set-up for these conditions.
LOW on fuel but enough to do 50 kilometers.
Four liters of spare fuel onboard, good for approximately 40 kilometers.
Off-road and fog lights fitted and functional.
No additional cold weather clothing available, only summer pants and shirts.
No formal trip plan filed but informed officers at border station of travel goals.

I sat there thinking about where the teeter-totter was for my various options:

  1. Stay where I am in the refuge shelter.
  2. Continue on to the base station below.
  3. Return to the Chilean border station.

I immediately ruled out option three.  Not enough fuel.  So now the choice was down to stay or to go.

To Stay: The benefits of staying were immediate and not in question.  I have shelter from the storm.  There is no heat but at least I’m protected from the icy wind outside. But what if this storm dumps a couple of feet of snow?  How long will it be before I can ride out?

I have enough gear and food to last for a couple of days. It won’t be pleasant or comfortable but it is possible.  I could melt snow for drinking water but it would not be easy because there is no more firewood.

No one knows I am here.  I was relying on my SPOT emergency locator but it is showing a red warning light.  Is there no GPS signal because of a malfunction or the dense cloud cover?  It’s not likely the border guards in Chile will call the guards in Argentina to ask if I made it to their outpost.

There is an emergency radio built-in to the back wall of the shelter but the push-to-talk switch is missing.  Can I access the radio in the wall and fix it?  Will the batteries that power the radio be charged? How long will it take to make the repairs?  If I spend the time and the radio still doesn’t work will the snow be too deep by then to ride on?

What if I lose body heat in the next 72 hours?  I can pull a wheel and burn a tire but then I’m stuck here if the storm breaks and the road is passible.  It would also be a good signal fire but who would see it?

To Go:  What if I leave and then can’t find the base camp?  But then I realize it is next to the road.  If I can just keep moving the road will lead me there.

What if I get stuck in the snow or mud? Two things come to mind: I can steer in slippery conditions with my thumb-brake and throttle.  It’s mostly downhill from here to the base camp so traction management should be easier than going uphill.

What if the snow fall increases?  I will be going down the mountain to warmer, thicker air.  It is possible the snow will turn back to rain.

What if I run out of gas? Not likely but I have survival gear on the bike.  I could snow camp in place.  Not a good thought; a worst case scenario.

The “what if” questions continued in my head until I realized that the teeter-totter was level in both cases.  The risks of staying and the risks of going were about equal.   Now what?

Risk Tolerance.  I had gotten myself into a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation.  There was no clear best choice and both options were equally bad. It was about this time that fear raised it’s ugly head.  Some face fear with anger and boldness.  They get mad to start an adrenaline release for the fight ahead.  When in doubt, gas it!   Others allow fear to take control of the situation.  They find a corner and do nothing.  As a fireman on search and rescue missions I always looked for children hiding in closets or under beds.  Kids hide from the flames, thinking that what they can’t see won’t hurt them.  These bravado and avoidance behaviors are classic fight or flight responses.  As we discussed in Part I, there is a better way to make tough decisions. With the proper training and experience we can learn to move our decision-making from a part of the brain called the hypothalamus to the prefrontal cortex.  We can learn to avoid fight or flight reactions and make executive function decisions based on logic and fact.  Thankfully I have received that training, so here in the dim light of the shelter I forced myself to do what we do on the bike: SCAN, THINK, ACT.  I reviewed all of the details of my situation.  I considered the pros and cons of my options.  And then — before making the decision — I took a long, slow, deep breath.

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves how am I doing? It’s a powerful question because under stress we tend to lose touch with our bodies.  For example, in competition I learned to routinely do self-assessments at speed for strategic reasons.  During rallies or desert races it might be on a dry lake bed, a long sand section or some other relatively smooth surface where I could relax just a little.  On the super bikes it was usually on a long straightaway while down behind the bubble at 150 mph+.  I would take a long deep breath and let it out slowly.  How am I doing?  How’s the bike?  Can I pick-up the pace or do I need to back-off?

RS Formula USA x600

Now I’m here on this cold floor asking questions for another reason.  Risk tolerance levels move around and I need to find out where mine is now.  In the morning when we are fresh, sharp and strong our risk tolerance is usually at its highest level.  But as the miles or hours unfold we get mentally, physically and emotionally tired.  We are not as able to cope with demanding situations.  If we are smart we adjust speed and terrain accordingly.  We don’t take on as much and are more cautious.  I am cold and tired so I need to be more conservative, but I’m under the gun.  My decision clock is ticking.  I have to make my GO / NO GO choice quickly.  The longer I wait the colder it gets.  If it gets cold enough the wet snow will turn dry and get deeper.

An individual’s risk tolerance is not only based on current condition but also on his or her life experiences and personality.  For example, I have lived on the edge most of my life.  I’m used to doing dangerous things: fire captain, sky-diver, rodeo cowboy, motorcycle racer, aerobatic pilot, ultra-marathoner, scuba diver.  My ability to tolerate tough conditions is not theoretical.  If I had had a less challenging life I probably would not be riding solo here in South America.  But even with a lifetime of experience and training — and even with the finest equipment — we can only lower the risk so much.  How low it has to go before I can accept it is my risk tolerance level.  Now I have to get in touch with my current risk tolerance level and choose between two bad options.

What Happened Next.  While I was sitting there deciding what to do I was eating and drinking.  I was doing a micro-recovery like an IronButt rider taking a 5 minute nap on the bike at a gas stop.  I asked myself, if I ride on what will the next couple of hours be like?  The images in my mind were not that bad so I made the decision to go.  I packed my pockets accordingly.  Anti-fog here, Plexis there. SPOT on and into a side pocket. Flashlight checked OK then into another pocket with power bars and lip wax. Face wrapped in a bandana, ear plugs in, heavy gloves on, zippers closed.  As I was doing all that I planned how I would pack when I went out to the bike. I wanted the reverse order of the gear needed to set-up a fast snow camp if I got stuck or ran out of gas.  When I stood-up in the dark I was on a mission.  There was no question in my mind about what I was going to do next.  When you make a GO / NO GO decision it has to be a 100% commitment.  If you are going to climb that hill, then climb it!  A half-hearted effort is usually worse than doing nothing.

I threw my gear out the door then stumbled down the step to the bike.  Normally I would have started the bike to warm it up but I didn’t want to waste gas.  It took longer to pack and mount than planned because my thick gloves slowed the process.  I scraped the snow off the seat and sat down.  Key on, fuel lever up and the bike started immediately. I love fuel injection.  I lowered my face shield half-way and reached for full grip heat.  Left toe down, left fingers out and I stalled the bike.  Restart and try again.  The wheel spun and spun but slowly found traction and we began to move.  The high beam reflected back on the whiteness ahead and blinded me.  So down to low beam and fog light on.  First gear and then second and then third but it was too fast so back to second.  Now it was time to settle-in.  I scooted around on the seat to find the magic spot, leaned forward and tilted my chin just right so I could see out through a small open strip between the bottom of my face shield and the bandana over my nose and chin.

I passed the base camp but didn’t know it until I reached a barrier across the road at the Argentine border station.  The guard who came to the door was mad because I had gotten him out of bed.  He pointed back up the road and shouted, mañana!  Crazy Gringo, come back tomorrow.  Great, I thought, I’m going to run out of gas because of a turn-around.  The old Quonset hut was hard to see in the snowy darkness.  Their generator was off so there were no lights.  I rolled up to one end and parked.  They couldn’t believe that a guy on a motorcycle was pounding on their door in the middle of the night in a snow storm.  They laughed at the crazy man in the helmet and BMW jacket and invited me in.  One went to start the generator and another heated water for tea.  They wanted to hear my story.  An hour or so later I slipped into a bunk in the dormitory.  The rings on the metal ceiling above my bunk were wet with condensation.  I didn’t care.

Home Sweet Base Camp

Home Sweet Base Camp

Backcountry Gas

Backcountry Gas

Post Script.  After a couple of days the snow melted and it was time to get back on the road.  But before I left I wanted to take firewood back up to the refuge for the next person in trouble.  I had called the Argentina Civil Defense Agency to report the broken emergency radio on the back wall.  Surprisingly while I was in the shelter a service truck pulled up outside.  Two guys in sharp uniforms carried in a BIG new battery and a fancy new radio.  I smiled.  As I drove away I thought, timing is everything.


Argentina Civil Defense Fixing the Emergency Radio

Coach Stroud

Coach Stroud


About the author. Ramey ‘Coach’ Stroud is an former off-road racing champion, past motocross rider of the year and currently an around-the-world motorcycle traveler. He was recently awarded the BMW MOA Foundation’s prestigious “Individual of the Year” award for his motorcycle training programs and contributions to rider safety. His current challenge is learning to walk without a cane so he can Tango.



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2013 V-Strom Rally

Posted by SCG on July 19th, 2013

There are so many great rides, you will want to be in Ventura, ready to go at 8am Friday!!! The plan is to do “The Epic” ride on Friday the 19th.

The Solvang Motorcycle Museum ride will be Saturday, and the Malibu ride will be Sunday.

Ventura is a great location for the rally because the weather is going to be nice, and the wide variety of terrain and roads available make it a perfect choice for 2013.

This rally will offer scenic rides along the coast, technical twisty rides up in the mountains, and even dirt riding for the true adventurer. There will be something for everyone. If you have ridden enough just to get to the rally, you can relax on the beach, or explore many of the great attractions in the area, like 6 Flags Magic Mountain.

Head on over to the main rally website where Matt (host for 2013 rally) has all the information you need about rides, meals, camping and everything else.


Is your V-Strom Rally Ready?
You might be interested in:
4 in 1 protection package for DL650
Mojave Soft Side Bags for DL1000 or DL650
Center Stand DL650 all years
Adventure Tire and Tube Repair Kit

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Canada – The Rockies to Vancouver Island

Posted by SCG on July 15th, 2013

By Alexander Tolchinsky

alex bike in rockiesFrom Lethbridge I took Hwy 3 west to Hwy 22 north, before connecting with the TCH west into Banff National Park. The road was no longer straight, in fact a straightaway of more than a couple of miles would not come again for a very long time. As I climbed ever higher into the Rockies, my little 4-cylinder Honda made no complaints regarding altitude (I wish I could say the same of my KLR).

With every passing mile the landscape became more arresting. By the time I reached Lakes Louise and Moraine in Banff National Park, I found it difficult to ride more than a quarter mile without wanting to stop and stare at the majestic granite peaks, turquoise and jade colored lakes and rivers, and ancient, quickly disappearing, glaciers. The silt from glaciers turns many of the rivers a milky jade color. No matter how many shades of green and blue you have seen, it is shocking to witness a river of milk.

I spent the first night with a friend of a friend in Canmore and got a scary taste of a ski resort town out of season. I then continued north on Hwy 93 (Icefields Parkway) into Jasper National Park. The roads of the parks are very well preserved and twisty, lending them an irresistible draw to go fast but, just like the TCH around the Great Lakes, that is impossible to do without missing everything. So I continued north slowly, stopping often, until I found a cozy spot, opposite a glacier, for the night. As the wind howled from the slopes of the surrounding mountains, there was little my sleeping bag and tent could do to defend against the sub-zero cold which blew through the campsite. I shivered and couldn’t fall asleep – it was one of the coldest nights of my life. But my fortitude was rewarded when I met two other riders at that camp site – they are my good friends to this day. The following day brought more riding through this granite heaven which also helped make up for the sleepless night. I kept itching to go fast, I would lean on the throttle for a minute or so and just as my adrenaline would begin to surge, the road would open onto a valley and wildflower strewn field with a babbling branch of a river passing through, which would inevitably arrest my ride.

Turquoise and jade colored lakes and rivers

Turquoise and jade colored lakes and rivers

No matter how many shades of green and blue you have seen, it is shocking to witness a river of milk

No matter how many shades of green and blue you have seen, it is shocking to witness a river of milk

Thankfully there was plenty more excellent riding to come. Once the Rockies start in western Alberta, the mountainscape doesn’t end until you hit water at the far end of British Columbia. The next day I went as far north as the town of Jasper before turning around and heading south on 93, and again west on the Trans Canada into British Columbia (BC). This is one of single best tracks of riding I’ve ever done. Between Hwy 93 where it meets Hwy 1 (TCH) and Kamloops, BC, you pass the heart of the Rockies, numerous national parks, and slowly descend into the foothills and valleys below. While in the Rockies the four lane tarmacs are of impeccable quality and the curves large enough that you can easily go 40-60mph on some, and an exhilarating 80mph on others. The road begs for you to scrape pegs, overloaded steed or not. The scenery is no less beautiful than on Hwy 93, but after so much temptation I could not help but open the throttle up full …

45mph speed limit – check.
60mph actual riding speed – check.
Back and abs tight, slight forward lean, arms loose, hands tight, big breath in, slow exhale… go!
Road curving right, position on far left of lane, the road falling away 1000 ft off the sheer face of the cliff, weight on left foot, leaning right into the turn, breathe, throttle back – 65mph.
Leaning closer to the ground, right hand pushing the bar away, ass lifting off, adrenaline spiking, breathe, neck tight, head up – looking for the end of the curve – 70mph.
Still can’t see the end of the curve, body off the bike entirely – getting closer and closer to the ground, breathe, leaning on the throttle – 75mph.
Still no end in sight, heartbeat matching the trance in the eardrum – 100bpm … 110bpm … 120bpm, breathe, knee almost to the ground – 80mph.
Face burning, the flush of adrenaline soaking me, beads of sweat running into my eyes, the sparks flying as the right peg scars the blacktop, I see the end of the turn, breathe, almost there, throttle back, on the far right of the lane, stone wall of the cliff barely a meter away – it too is soaked from the tiny waterfalls covering its face, breathe, throttle – 85mph.
G-forces subsiding, slowly sliding back onto the seat, pushing the bar back to the right, heart growing lighter, snow covered peaks revealing beyond – draped with skirts of pine, the sun slowly disappearing beyond a mass of granite… road curving left, speed – check, breathe …

By the time you reach Kamloops, BC you are essentially in a giant valley between the Rockies and Coastal ranges. It is flatter, but the roads continue to stick to natural rises and falls of the earth as well as the shores of rivers, so the excellent riding continues. So much of the eerie rivers, with islets and bits of fog, reminded me of the western part of Scotland: big, rocky hills on one side of the road, the shores of misty rivers and lakes on the other.

Once you are down from the Rockies, and well into the Coastal range, the roads are lined with fruit stalls and dairies. You can pass one or two, but eventually their omni-presence becomes too enticing to not stop. The dairies are filled with local cheeses, milk, chocolate milk, and ice cream! The fruit stalls are also replete with the bounty of British Columbia, most notably – peaches. When in season, the right kind of peach can be the size of your face, but, unlike other fruit, the size only adds to the juiciness, sweetness and flavor. I have eaten many excellent meals in my life, but I still remember vividly the peach I had by the side of the road in BC… and now my mouth is watering.

There are two ways out of Kamloops if you are heading for Vancouver: Big Hwy 5, which goes south and enters Vancouver from the east; and the longer, smaller and more breathtaking Hwy 99 (linked by Hwy 97 to Kamloops). You can guess which one I took.

Hwy 99 enters the coastal range, and slowly meanders along the mountain passes, valleys, lakes, national parks and more fruit stalls. I want to say it is some of the best riding you can do in North America, but honestly, riding anywhere in BC is going to make you wish you were a motorcycle gypsy. There simply are no straightaways, it is a province of twisty roads and mountains, most of which are in excellent shape which allows you to take turns faster than what might be recommended. By the time I passed the world famous Squamish, Blackcomb and Whistler (you haven’t skied until you have skied there), I was right back on the western shores of Scotland as Hwy 99 began to skirt the Howe Sound, on the way south to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver.

It was some of the best riding I have ever done. There was, however, a slight detour, to avoid construction, which strained me and my Magna a little more than we liked. Waiting for a road to re-open, another biker, on a DR, pulled up next to me and said he knew a short-cut around the construction. Because I am generally impatient I agreed even though he said it would be a little off-road. “A little off-road” turned out to be a heavily rutted single track which soon brought my bike and me to our knees. The stranger having ridden ahead was of no help as I struggled to lift the heavily burdened beast back to a vertical position. The ruts and slick mud and grass did not help but, as often is the case when one is alone, I managed to get her back up. The rest of the ride was hairy, but I stayed up and eventually managed to get back to pavement.

Relaxing on a Vancouver beach

Relaxing on a beach in Vancouver

With Vancouver came traffic and the general annoyances of riding through a city. However, as every person you will ever meet will attest, it is simply too wonderful a city to stay angry. The people are great, the food is excellent, and the nature is unparalleled.

My fondest memory of Vancouver is Stanley Park – a proper rain forest, which faces the waters of the Strait of Georgia. It was there, with new friends from Couch surfing, that I decided to tip back a bottle of vino and watch the sun set for 3 hours, while lying on the beach, surrounded by bikes, boats, someone blowing bubbles, and the slowly changing vista of colorful sky, water, islands, hills, and container ships the size of cities lighting up in the growing darkness. I spent the next few days taking in the food, the positivity and the expense, before hopping a ferry to Vancouver Island to complete my trek across Canada.

From Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo: the ferry slides across the calm, teeming with whales, waters of the strait. I spent a few pleasant hours gazing at the tranquility of islands, fishermen, sail boats and dolphins.

On Vancouver Island I hopped on Hwy 19 heading north before taking Hwy 4 west.  Hwy 4 is a wonderfully curvy road which passes a number of lakes – each more enticing than the other. It was hard not to stop, pitch a tent and find a fishing pole with which to lounge away days and days on the shore. But I continued forward, taking care not to slip on the ever present moistness of the road. BC is many things, dry it is not.  After traversing the Island, Hwy 4 turns back north and becomes the Pacific Rim Highway, which ends at the Western Terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway in Tofino.  It was a cold ride along the shore, but that did not detract from the stark beauty of pine forest set against a steel gray sky, with the tumultuous crash of waves ever present on the rocky coast.

The end of the Trans Canada Highway

The end of the TCH

I went into Tofino to find the end of the TCH, then found a nice place to camp with some friends I had made in Jasper a couple of weeks back.  We enjoyed some of nature’s stimulants and contemplated the risk of being mauled by the prowling wild cat somewhere in our park. The following day we spent walking along the beach, climbing rocks, and listening to the song of the sea. It is one of those activities which I find never gets old – watching and listening to the ocean. The rhythm is soothing and almost regular. The crash of waves reminds you of the immense force contained in the ocean, the sight of the endless horizon frees dreams of sailing on the open sea, the smell of salt, the great sensation of being surrounded by water with no land in sight – freedom.

I was not prepared for the constant cold and wet, so the following day I headed back south to Victoria and the ferry to Anacortes in Washington. I repeated the ride of a few days before, but continued south into Sydney (just north of Victoria). I again found kind people who gave me a roof and a delicious meal – friends of someone with whom I stayed in Winnipeg. It is true that the more you travel, the smaller the world becomes, the more interlinked your life becomes with humanity as a whole, and the more likely are you to find help the further you go.

The next day I set off to the terminal at Sydney to catch the ferry to Anacortes. I spent a few hours writing in the beauty which is the crossing into Washington, past countless islands, yachts, schooners and whales. It was the perfect end to the unforgettable 4000 mile crossing of the world’s second largest country. Without pause I can easily say that this is a place to which I wish to return. The roads are impeccable, the natural wonders are the stuff of dreams … and I still have dreams of that peach.

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What Would You Do?

Posted by SCG on July 12th, 2013

Part 2 of 3
Read Part 1

By Ramey ‘Coach’ Stroud

Coach Stroud


The climber’s refuge was cold — freezing cold — but it was better than being outside.  The wind whipped the icy snow in circles around my bike parked a few meters from the steel door.  In the back corner of the stone A-frame was a small fireplace with a few twigs left to warm stranded climbers.  Instead, a biker will burn them.  Over the last eight hours the temperature steadily dropped as I climbed the gravel road to the top of the Andes.  Normally I would say I am above the tree line but this is the Atacama, one of the highest deserts in the world.  There have been no trees between this morning at sea level to here at 5,000 meters (16,000 feet).  My tires have been drifting all day on the endless gravel roads but now they are sliding on slippery mud.  The forecast rain has arrived early and now, as the sun dips to the horizon, it is turning to snow.  The wind-driven chill has slowly worked its way past my BMW riding suit and Nike cold weather underwear to skin and now bone.  I am shivering and not thinking straight but somehow I remember the thermal suit in my survival bag.  So on the cold concrete floor of the little stone hut I start to strip to add the silver space-blanket liner.  My numb fingers fumble with laces and zippers so undressing and redressing is taking a long, long time.  As I finish, the little fire in the corner goes out.  There is no more wood, so in the last dim light of day I sit on the cold floor thinking.  Should I go on or stay?  My destination, a climbers base camp, is only thirty kilometers or so away but is it wise to ride through the snowstorm at night?  If I stay the storm might leave me snowed-in and stranded for days in this primitive shelter with little water and no heat.  Is this a life or death situation or just a serious inconvenience?  I weigh all the factors and then make the decision.

In the first part of this three part series I wrote about the theory behind managing risk.  In it I presented the visualization of a playground teeter-totter as a decision-making tool, sort of a cost-benefit analysis scale.  The risk factors are mentally placed on one end and you and your bike on the other.   If the amount of danger causes the teeter-totter to tip down on that side then you don’t go, or you choose a less risky alternative.  If your physical condition, riding skills and bike’s capability outweigh the risks, the teeter-totter tips to that side and you are good to go.  In other words you have what it takes to deal with the risk.  But what if the board stays in balance?  Then going or staying, doing or not, is based on your risk tolerance.  So an essential question to be considered is how much risk are you willing to accept when riding your motorcycle?  Your answer will help you decide when, where and how you will ride on any given day.

Risk AssessmentAfter submitting the article to Trail-Dust I headed to South American for the DAKAR Rally and soon found myself using the teeter-totter in real life.  Instead of just telling you the story of the dangerous situation I found myself in, I am going to ask you to step into my boots.  I’ll give you the risk/ability information I had in front of me.  I’ll describe the choices/options I had and then ask you to decide what you would have done in the same situation.  From the warm, dry safety of your chair you get to use the risk management teeter-totter in real life.  Although there are no exact rules for risk management, or perfect choices, in Part III I’ll share with you what actually happened.  I’ll describe for you what I felt that night in the cold, what I was thinking and eventually what I chose to do.  I am here writing to you now so you know I survived.  But I can tell you that it easily could have gone another way.  In the extreme conditions I found myself, a wrong choice could have meant death.

BACKGROUND.  After the DAKAR Rally finished in Santiago my plan was to ride the backcountry from Chile to Argentina over Los Andes, the highest mountain range in South America.  It was the middle of summer on the other side of the Equator so as I let the clutch out it was dry and hot.

The oiled gravel road turned to gray rock after I reached the nitrate mines high in the mountains.  No big trucks from here on so the graded road narrowed into a rough path.  Now it was mostly river base with long sections of sand or dirt just the way GS riders like it.  I smiled at miles of beautiful mineral colors.  But it was barren color, no water, no trees and little grass.  Just rolling hills and rocky cliffs.



I had done lots of planning, equipment selection and preparation before I left.  My BMW R1150R sidecar outfit is setup for on and off-pavement conditions.  I have driven it all over North, Central and South America.  Instead of a passenger sidecar I have installed a large equipment box.  No longer do I have to count socks or worry about extra tools and spare parts taking up too much room.  In fact the extra weight helps keep the sidecar wheel on the ground in right-hand turns.  I also carry enough emergency gear that you can drop me almost anywhere in the world and I’ll survive for 72 hours.  So on this day I had packed six liters of water, four for consumption and two for backup, and some food.  Not gourmet cuisine but protein bars, bread and cheese.  The sidecar box also contained camping gear including a ground cloth that doubled as a lean-to over the bike, a sleeping bag and a paramedic level first-aid kit with IV pack and fluids. (I’m a wilderness E.M.T.)  The survival pack in the sidecar box included a small water purification system, a thermal suit called a “body bag,” fire starters, SPOT locator, spare batteries, knife, hatchet/shovel, rope and some freeze-dried food. Yuck!  Oh, and waterproof toilet paper.  I know, I know, but it was on sale.  My outfit is a well-tested battle tank.


The long ride up and over the Andes had begun as planned but the pace slowed as my route backtracked some of the DAKAR racecourse.  All the high-speed spinning tires had torn up the riding surface so it was tedious going.  It was demanding, but I eventually reached my point of no return.  This is what I called the waypoint on my GPS, where I have enough gas to turn around and make it back to where I started.  I was at my fuel turn-around point.  To go on now means I must keep going until the next fuel at the Chilean border station.  I downshift to 2nd and roll-on the throttle.  Over the next few hours I make lots of stops for pictures and to drink.  The air is getting thin and it’s time to start closing zippers. The skies have been clear and blue so far, but off to the East I can see towering cumulonimbus clouds building over a mountain range.  Strange, I think, is this a normal afternoon weather pattern?  The aviation forecast said I have two days before the next storm arrives.

The narrow dirt road crests a ridge and dips down into a valley with a white dry lake on the floor.  That was it?  That was the top of the Andes, I think?  Little did I know the miles so far were just a preview of what was ahead.  This was the valley where the rural aduana (border station) is located.  Here I will get gas, have my passport stamped and sign my bike out of Chile.  At least that was the plan.

No nafta (gas), they said, they are out.  In South America this happens often so it was time for my back-up plan.  I usually do not carry spare gas but for this trip I had 4 liters in a small yellow jug lashed to the sidecar.  That should be enough to get me to a mountain climber base-camp in Argentina. There I can hopefully get fuel from 55-gallon drums.  If not at least it will be a warm, dry place to wait for the next load of gas to arrive.  But first I have to finish my ride to the top.  The guards say there is another 1,500 meters or so to go, another 5,000 feet to climb. Great, I mutter.  I do my paperwork, say thanks and ride on.  Now I am in “no man’s land.”  The Chile station is at the heavy snow line on the West side of the Andes; the Argentina station ahead is at the heavy snow line on the East.  When you are in-between you and your motorcycle are technically not admitted into any country in South America.  The Andes have you.  I wondered if they do this not because of snow but so that neither have to be responsible for those who get lost.  My mind was starting to have some strange thoughts.

The air was cold and I wondered if my oxygen saturation level was OK?  My bike is low on power in the thin air and I am too.  I am hyperventilating in my helmet on purpose to oxygenate my blood stream as much as possible.  I had decided not take Diamox (an altitude medication) for this ride since I was only going to be above 10,000 feet for a couple of days.  Panting in the helmet was getting to be a full-time endeavor so my face-shield was fogging more and more even though I had a installed an inner fog liner.  To make matters worse it started to rain.  The rivulets ran down the shield in front of my face.  My BMW riding suit has an inner rain liner but I don’t like the outer layers soaking-up rainwater and getting heavy.  So I usually use an outer rain suit instead.  But now I’ll use both, the inner liner for warmth, the outer for wet.

It’s easy to get dehydrated at altitude.  I am drinking like a fish and want more.  I have already consumed all of my planned water and opened one of the back-up bottles.  At the same time I don’t have to pee. Weird, I think.  As I top out at over 15,000′ I immediately notice the low-fuel warning light come on.  The bright yellow glow is hard to miss in the dim light of a cloudy sunset.  As I consider my fuel situation the rain turns to snow.  Ahead is a sign: “Thanks for visiting Chile,” it says, “Buen Viaje.”  That means good travels.  Ha!  I’m low on fuel, riding in snow, running out of daylight and you say, good travels?  OK, Stroud, now what?

If you have ridden with me you know I am sort of anal about safety.  My training as a fire captain drilled into me a fundamental rule of survival: ALWAYS leave yourself an out.  For this trip my “out” was programmed into my GPS.  This area is popular with mountain climbers and hikers.  They have many websites that tell about refuge shelters sponsored by the Argentine search and rescue agency.  It’s sort of a civil defense organization.  I had located the ones near my planned route of travel and preprogrammed their locations into my GPS just in case.  Now, I need one and fast.  I am shivering and stage II hypothermia is not far away.  I select the coordinates of the nearest one and hit GO.  Pick-up trucks service the refuge shelters so I know I can go there too — if the snow doesn’t get any worse.

The ground up here is pretty hard and heavy with rock.  So the rain and snow soaked dirt support the weight of the bike and me.  But the grooves in my tires fill with mud and become smooth like road racing slicks.  Steering is loose in these conditions so I use my thumb-brake to go right.  It’s a small lever under the clutch handle to activate the brake on the sidecar wheel.  Thumb it and the sidecar wheel slows but the motorcycle tries to keep going causing a right hand turn.  To turn left I use steering and compression braking.  When I roll off the throttle the bike slows down but the sidecar wants to keep going causing a turn to the left.  It’s a strange technique but it works.

Eventually I see a roofline.  I have not seen a structure of any sort for hours so the little A-frame hut stands out like a lighthouse on a rocky-coast.  I park just in front and immediately fall off the bike.  My legs are sleeping it seems.  I get up, grab some gear and climb the step up to the steel door.  The step is difficult for many reasons.  Sure it is wet and the light is dim and I am carrying a gear bag, but it is also difficult because of my cane.

A while back I was in a serious racing accident and sustained a spinal cord injury.  It has taken me nine years to work my way out of a wheelchair and back onto motorcycles.  Now when I travel I use a sidecar.  It’s easier because I don’t have to hold the bike up at stops.  My gait is functional except in situations like this.  I can barely move because of my big boots, the many layers of clothes and being chilled to the bone.  The bolt on the steel door slides back and I go inside.  The climber’s refuge is cold — freezing cold — but it is better than being outside. The wind is whipping the icy snow in circles around my bike parked a few meters away.  In the back corner is a small fireplace with a few twigs left to warm stranded climbers.  No matches, I think, crap.  I have a fire kit but it is buried under lots of other gear.  So I go back outside and dip one end of a small rag in my gas jug, then I pull a spark-plug cap.  While holding the rag near the plug cap I hit the starter button.  One end of the rag turns golden-orange in flame and I hobble back to the wood.  Success, I think, but I am shivering and not thinking straight.  I remember the emergency thermal suit in my survival bag, so back outside I go and move all the gear after all.  On the cold concrete floor of the little hut I strip to add the silver space-blanket liner over my Nike thermal-underwear.  My numb fingers fumble with laces and zippers.  Undressing and then redressing takes a long, long time.  Just as I finish, the little fire in the corner goes out.  There is no more wood, so in the last light of day I sit on the cold floor thinking.  Should I go on or stay?

TO GO.  My destination is a climber’s base camp thirty to fifty kilometers away.  My low fuel light means I have maybe 50 kilometers (30 miles) of gas left in my tank.  The 4 liters of spare gas in the yellow jug is good for another 50 kilometers at a fuel-economy pace.  The road ahead is downhill and will turn to pavement soon, so says the map.  But what if I can’t find the base camp in the dark even though it is programmed in my GPS?  What if I get stuck and can’t get myself out?

TO STAY.  If I stay the storm might be a BIG one and leave me snowed-in and stranded.  It could be days before I can ride out or someone might find me.  There is no more wood.  I am low on water.  I have no more clothes to add layers. I have a SPOT emergency locator but it is showing a red light meaning no signal.  There is a wireless transceiver on the hut’s back wall to call for help but the push-to-talk button is missing.

Is this a life or death situation or just a serious inconvenience? Is the best choice to stay or to go?  You are the one who must make the call.  You are in the hut sitting in the dark deciding what to do.  A quick peek through the door and you see your windshield covered in white but the snow is not sticking to the ground — YET.  As the temperature drops it will.  So you have a limited time to decide: Go or Stay?  How do the risks of each option compare to your skills/condition and your available equipment?   What will the teeter-totter do?   What will you do?

Coach Stroud

Coach Stroud


About the author: Ramey ‘Coach’ Stroud is an former off-road racing champion, past motocross rider of the year and currently an around-the-world motorcycle traveler. He was recently awarded the BMW MOA Foundation’s prestigious “Individual of the Year” award for his motorcycle training programs and contributions to rider safety.



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