Greetings from Heber City, Utah, which is near Park City, but has more affordable restaurants. I arrived here yesterday from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which does not have many affordable restaurants, but does have a lot of private jets at the airport. Coincidence?

Some of you (okay, very few of you) have asked about my bike and equipment setup. If you’re not into this kind of stuff, skip over this post and wait for the next one. I shall not be offended.

With that, motorcyclists, gear-heads, BMW Club of Southern California members and fans everywhere of all things technical and usually expensive, here’s my jam…


  • 2008 BMW R1200GS. 51,000+ trouble-free miles. Heated grips, no ESA, standard suspension. Namibia orange. Stock seat (AKA, CIA Black Site torture device). I call her “Baby.”


The folks at @RevZilla are putting kids through college and funding retirements thanks, in no small part, to my voracious appetite for gear. #UnderstandingWife, #ZLA-Army, #hankwentthataway, #hashtag. I’m so hip.

Star Valley WY

View from the Lander Cutoff of the Oregon Trail toward Star Valley, Wyoming. Gotta remember to look up once and a while and not to stare at the farkles on my bike. Yes, farkle is a real word.

Bike Modifications:

  • Touratech Front Fender Beak Cover. More for looks than paint chipping protection. Makes the GS look like a GSA from a distance, which, short of having a larger fuel tank and with my additional mods, it pretty much is.
  • Baja Designs XL Pro LED off-road lights. Mounted adjacent to the stock headlight, you get darkness to daylight with the flip of a switch. I’ll flash these 4300 lumen-producing babies when approaching an intersection with an opposing driver turning left (while talking or texting on a cell phone, or eating, or beating a kid in the backseat). Very effective at getting attention and burning out corneas.
  • Ztechnik V-Stream windscreen. The unique design eliminates most buffeting and bug strikes. Those hurt.
  • Rox Speed Handlebar Riser. I’m tall-ish, have a bad back and wouldn’t bend over to pick up a coin on the ground if it’s less than a quarter. You think I’m gonna reach down for my handlebars?
  • Garmin Zumo 550 GPS. A finicky navigation device, which I’ll address with other complaints at another time.
  • Kaoko Throttle Control. The middle class man’s cruise control. An absolute necessity on long highway stretches. BMW made true cruise control standard on the new GS.
  • Cee Bailey GSA winglets. Cold air deflectors/low-flying bug killers.
  • Pivot Pegz. Riding pegs that allow for a more flexible and aggressive off-road riding stance. Useless on the highway, other than toe tapping to the iPod.
  • Hepco-Becker upper and lower crash-bar system. It works, trust me.
  • AirHawk Seat Pad (driver and pillion). Like I said, BMW stock seats are awful. A custom made seat runs about $700 and stays with the bike when it gets sold. An AirHawk pad works pretty much with any bike. My current AirHawk pad (third one) sprung a leak on this trip. I patched it in Coos Bay, Oregon two weeks ago, but the patch failed, turned into a big-ass hole yesterday and now it’s gonna be a long ride home. Ugh.
  • Giant Loop Fandango Tank Bag. This bag was great — durable, roomy, low profile — until the zipper closure failed on this trip. Now it’s an unusable lump on my tank, secured with duct tape.
  • Sargent Passenger Backrest (removable). I like to lock in the missus behind me when I’m doing wheelies.
  • Touratech Rear Rack Extension. Lightweight rack solution for carrying stuff you probably don’t need to bring.
  • Givi Outback Trekker Pannier System. Originally, I had the BMW Vario Case system on the bike, but needed more space and security. These things are damn-near bulletproof. Not that I’d like to test that claim.
  • Keeping the Rubber Side Down. For tires, I’m currently running Metzler Tourance Next for highway and trail. TKC 80 knobbies for true off-road. I get my tires from Chris at CT Motorcycle Tires in Reseda, CA. Good guy. Good deals.

airhawk hole

My AirHawk seat pad with a “small leak.” The next 750 miles to home are gonna hurt.


What used to be my tank bag is now a $200 armrest. Awesome.

Riding Gear:

  • Helmet. For touring, a Schuberth C3. It’s super-quiet, 99% waterproof and hotter than hell in the summer. For ADV riding, a Shoei Hornet DS. Yeah, these are high-end helmets and, sure, you can buy a helmet for fifty bucks. But is your head worth fifty bucks?
  • Communication system. Cardo Scala Rider G9 paired with my passenger using a Scala Q2. Essential for 2-Up travel to keep your voice from giving out from turning and yelling over your shoulder, “What deer? I don’t see any damn deer!” Stuff like that.
  • Rev’It Outback Armored Riding Jacket. Versatile, vented, not especially waterproof. That said, after 30 minutes of hard rain all gear fails. Water finds a way in every time. If you don’t like rain, avoid riding during monsoon season.
  • Klim Dakar Riding Pants. Vented, adjustable fit, hard to dance in.
  • Boots. For touring, Alpinestars Gore-Tex Waterproof boots. Waterproof-ish is more accurate. For ADV, Gaerne G-Adventure boots. I only received a hairline fracture of my right lateral malleolus wearing this boot, instead of a snapped ankle and a helicopter ride. My mom always said, “Don’t scrimp on shoes.You only get one set of feet.” Right, as usual, mom.
  • Gloves. Rev’It Neutron with “connect” fingertips for easy use of iPhone (take photos, change music, or write a long email) without removing the glove.
  • Support Gear. Back-A-Line support belt. Not really sure if this thing does what it’s supposed to do – eliminate back pain and fatigue while riding – but I’ll try anything. In my physical case, it’s not about the years, it’s about the miles.

Well, there it is. Hank’s complete, perfect bike and riding equipment setup. Which is total crap if you were to take a look my order history with RevZilla. I’m always looking for the next “gotta have” farkle.

Chicks scone

The Smooth Crew has a favorite joint in Heber City, Utah called “Chick’s” (see “Smoothtah” post below). They’re famous for this thing they call a “scone.” I’ve been to the UK a few times and this ain’t a scone. It’s a big piece of fried bread, loaded with butter and served with honey. Fantastic and as nasty as it looks.

Long road

The highways I traveled yesterday from Jackson Hole to Heber City crossed from Wyoming into Idaho, then back into Wyoming, then into Utah, then back into Wyoming and finally back into Utah. I have no idea what state this is in the photo. Safe bet is to assume it’s somewhere in the Great American West and go from there.

Travel safe. And often.

How Well Can You Spell Kalispell?

“Life’s short. Live it up.” – Nikita Kruschev

Greetings from Kalispell, Montana. Sometimes I start these posts with a little background or trivia about where I’m staying. Truth is, there ain’t much to Kalispell, short of this city of 20,000 being the “Gateway to Glacier National Park.”

Well played, Kalispell.

Since my last post from Jasper, we’ve had a couple of amazing touring days. I’m also a little worn out from riding nearly 2,400 miles over 13 days (with two days off, which, if you know us, usually means “hit the bricks” and check out the surrounding attractions), so I’m going to be less wordy tonight (you’re welcome) and cut to the chase with the good stuff.

On Monday, we left Jasper and rode the Icefields Parkway, also known as Highway 93, which ends somewhere in Arizona, to Banff. The Icefields Parkway is a scenic route (an understatement, truly) that parallels the Continental Divide along the Canadian Rockies and links Jasper National Park with Banff National Park. In addition to being the home to a number of active glaciers, the Icefields Parkway also has some serious eye candy — ice-carved canyons, mountain peaks, lakes and waterfalls.

From Banff, we continued south on Highway 93 to lovely Kalispell (sorry, all you Kalispellians) and a dream destination (not really into the concept of “Bucket List”) for the both of us: Glacier National Park.

Glacier is one of the national park system’s crown jewels. It has everything, from lakes and rushing rivers to glaciers and grizzly bears. The best way to see Glacier is by taking the famous Red Bus Tour through the park and along the Going-to-the-Sun road. Aside from the almost motorcycle-like feeling you get from traveling in a distinctive, bright red open-top bus, technically a handmade White Motor Company Model 706, made in 1936, using an oak frame and with original coachwork still in place, we found our guide, Marlon, to be exceptional. He really put the majesty, geology and history of the park into perspective. And he’s a funny dude, too, for a retired high school science teacher. If I’d had Marlon for 11th grade biology, I might’ve found science more interesting and paid better attention (and would’ve probably still got a “C”).


That’s a real glacier, folks. One of, like, 10 we saw along the Icefields Parkway.


The view from Mt. Edith Cavell near Jasper. Ignore the man in the photo.


Athabasca Falls along the Icefields Parkway. We live in a drought-affected area of California. All I could think about was how more water went by every five seconds than we’ve been allocated by the water provider for July and August.


This is Dee’s view every ride day. Mine is sightly better.


In Canada, they call this “poutine.” In the US, we call this fries, gravy and cheese chunks. Tastes better than it looks — or sounds.


Baby rolled over to fifty grand 15 miles north of the US border. I’ve never owned a bike with this many miles — and all ridden by me. Heck, most of my other bikes wouldn’t have survived that long. Who’s a good girl? Baby’s a good girl! Yes you are! Yes you are!


Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Note to great-nephew, Gavin: Skipping “Flatty-Rock-Skippers” is a must-do here. I got a “7-skip!” Beat that!


The famous Red Bus, handmade in 1936. The park owns 34 of ’em. I got to ride shotgun and keep an eye peeled for grizzlies. Sneaky bastards. Saw only one measly, small black bear — and from a safe distance. BTW: “Riding Shotgun” no longer seems to include shotguns. Now they tell me.

thumb_IMG_5165_1024 thumb_IMG_5168_1024

Two views from the Going-to-the-Sun road, one of the most popular motorcycling roads in the US — and for good reason. Not bad in an open-top bus, either. Photo on the right shows where the road was cut into the mountain using pickaxes and shovels between 1924 and 1931.

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Logan Pass at the top of the Going-to-the-Sun rod, where east meets west at the Continental Divide. Two full tour buses sang “Happy Birthday” to Dee and our guide gave her an ornament for our tree. I got her the usual for her birthday, absolutely nothing. But I did offer to drive the rest of the way home.


Marlon is the tour guide to ask for when you take a Red Bus Tour. Informative, funny and didn’t drive off any cliffs. I’m still kinda tweaked about the no shotgun thing, however.

It might be a few days before I get the chance to post again. Heading tomorrow to Joe Phelps’ place, Rancho Relaxo, near Livingston, Montana and next to the Yellowstone River. After that, Yellowstone! The last time I was at Yellowstone was 1965 when I was seven. I remember that trip mostly from the home movies my dad shot and especially the reel where he hand feeds a bear out of the window of our 1962 Chevy Impala and how the bear tried to climb into the car to see what my mom was eating. It was sweet — the car, not the bear. I didn’t realize my mom could make that sound.


Butt hurts. Check. Back aches. Check. Inside of helmet stinks. Check. Good to go!

She Was My First.

Come on, we all have the first one. We don’t talk about it much. Maybe to someone you trust with intimate information. Someone who understands you, gets you and knows how to stay quiet while you talk. Maybe it’s someone who has had a similar first time experience that changed how they look at the world, too. Admit it,  after that relationship, nothing was ever the same. It was a long time ago, and maybe in a more innocent time, but, oh, if you’re like me, you’ll never forget your first motorcycle.

Where the hell did you think this was going? Jeeze, my wife and kids read this blog. And at least three nuns (that I know of).

My motorcycles have always been “shes.” I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just easier to express my love of fine mechanical engineering in the feminine. Truly, however, I have no idea how the “she” thing got started.

She – the first one – was a 1971 Yamaha Mini-Enduro. A 60cc, two-stroke miniature dirt bike that Yamaha introduced in the US around the time Bruce Brown’s movie, “On Any Sunday,” was released — and changed the focus of boys everywhere. I think one positive side-effect of the film was probably the general overall increase in grade point averages for 12-year-old-boys nationwide, determined to do whatever it would take to get their parents to buy them a bike. “Read it (my report card, June, 1971) and weep, mom, a deal is a deal.”

Yamaha Mini EnduroHank Red Bull

A ’71 Yami Mini-Enduro. Still sets my heart fluttering just looking at her. Or maybe it’s due to too much Red Bull. The last 30 miles each day is the hardest and I do what I have to do to make it through.

My mom worked as nurse in an ER, so capitulating couldn’t have been easy. My dad was a mechanical engineer and was probably jealous that he didn’t have a report card to show my mom.

“Ingrid” (beats me) was fast. Okay fast-ish. The bike had a wheelie-prone clutch (like a real motorcycle), three speeds and spewed blue smoke because my dad didn’t know how to properly mix the gas and oil. Did I mention he was a mechanical engineer? Ingrid had lousy suspension, a twitchy throttle, sketchy brakes and was generally pretty dangerous to ride. I could not have loved her more. I’ve loved many motorcycles since Ingrid. There was “Ursula (the Bitch),” “Tonga-Le-Oh” (um, ah… yeah ) and even “Zelda.”

I also named my 1954 Chevy pickup “Bess.” Some people think I’m weird. Whatever. I’ve known true love.


Bess. What a gal. Dee had her painted bright red for me as a “surprise birthday present.” I was surprised, all right. I didn’t speak to her for, like, a week. This is the “before” picture.

Now I ride “Baby,” a 2008 BMW R1200GS. The “GS” stands for “Gelande-Strasse, which, in German, basically translates into “road and not road.” Baby is a wonderful machine that has taken me all over the US, on-road and not-on-road, and now to Canada. Her odometer will turn 50,000 trouble-free miles while on this trip. I love Baby like a member of the family. And I’ll probably sell her when I get back and move on to my next motorcycle affair. I’m done taking her off-road and, as I’ll explain in another post down the road, need to up my comfort level on-road.

Baby got Back

Baby got Back. No man has ever requested that song in a bar as a tribute to his girl. Never.

So, fellow riders, what was your first? Come on, you can tell me. I understand how you feel. Put it in the comments section below. I know my club-mates at BMWCSC have secrets to tell…

“Oh, Canada.”

I don’t know any other words to the Canadian National Anthem, but the first two, “Oh, Canada” pretty much sum up what we’ve seen the past couple of days. A visual feast.

I arrived in Seattle Wednesday afternoon and met up with my former workmate, Gavin G, to catch up on his life. I’m not being cute about his last name (it’s Graves), but when we worked together at the advertising agency a few years ago, we all called him “Gavin G!” or just “G!” He was really into rap and spoke in a kind of natural urban smooth drawl that is a product of his mixed neighborhood upbringing. He was real, still is, and not a bit of a “put-on” person. 

Hank and G

Now G!’s married and has two kids, and responds to people calling him “Gavin” in subdued tones, but he’ll always be just G! (always with the exclamation) to me. Great to hang with you, little brother.

Dee flew into Seattle Wednesday night. Thursday morning we began our adventure ride after meeting her cousin, Shawn, for breakfast. Shawn’s a cool guy and I spent time trying to convince him to ride with us. We’ll get him going “thataway” sometime.

Dee start day

I seem to have picked up something along the way.

We headed east on the Northern Cascade Highway (WA 20). This is one of those roads you hear about all the time from other riders. And for the most part they’re right. Perfect for touring on a motorcycle, which is rider-speak for “go really fast and see pretty stuff out of the corner of your eye.” We stayed the night in Winthrop, which is kind of an old west themed town. Not much to recommend it, other than the air conditioning in the motel which worked fine. Which reminds me, it’s been hot in Washington and British Columbia. Like, unseasonably – check that – unreasonably hot. When we rolled into Kamloops, after crossing into Canada, it was 102F. Of course, we’re in Canada where that’s only 35C, so it should be cooler, right?

Ross Lake WA20

The view of Ross Lake from the summit along the Northern Cascade Highway. The water is a brilliant green due to sediment known as “rock flour.” I’ve had biscuits made of what I’m sure was rock flour at a Denny’s once. Really, I crack myself up.

BC sign

Welcome to British Columbia, where it’s a balmy 102F,  just like in Colombian Colombia.

We had dinner at a biker recommended joint, “The Noble Pig.” Fantastic! We shared the baked potato, bacon and cabbage (yeah, cabbage) chowder and a ridiculously large serving of their signature truffle and mushroom mac and cheese. The Noble Pig also brews their own beer (many varieties), which I almost poured on my head to cool off. If you find yourself in Kamloops (I love saying “Kamloops”) be sure to check out the Pig.

Noble Pig

Three or four thousand calories, but it doesn’t count when you share. Scientific fact.

From Kamloops (as satisfying to say as Yakima; go on, try it), we headed 275 miles northeast on the Yellowhead Highway to the town of Jasper, Alberta. It was a great ride, especially seeing as the air temperature finally dropped to about 80F. This little town of 4,500 sits in the middle of Jasper National Park, which is in the Canadian Rockies, and, as it’s summer, currently has about 50,000 tourists filling the hotels and restaurants. I guess that would include us.

Alberta sign

Can you name all of the provinces in Canada? Yeah, me neither. I think there’s British Columbia, Alberta, Sasquatch, Sneezy, Dopey and Tundra-land. I will, no doubt, be hearing from my Canadian friends very soon.

We began our day by taking the Jasper Skytram, which takes you up to about 7,500 feet and overlooks the beautiful mountain ranges, rivers and lakes of the Jasper National Park.

Jasper skytram

Jasper from the top of the Skytram at 7,500 feet.

In the afternoon, we rode over to Maligne Lake and took a boat tour out to Spirit Island. This trip is not to be missed if you ever visit Jasper. The lake is fed and surrounded by active glaciers. The photos below will give you an idea of the area, but won’t really give you the scope. It’s massive and stunning. As Dee said to me on the boat ride today, “You know, a 100,000-year-old glacier really puts your mortality into perspective.”

Indeed. Like the John Mellencamp tune says, “Your life is now.”

Maligne Lake1 Maligne Boat

How do they get all this magnificent beauty into one place?

Maligne Lake Spirit Island Maligne Glacier

Spirit Island and one of the glaciers that put all that water around it.

Maligne Canyon Falls

Waterfall in Maligne Canyon that has carved through rock for thousands of years. I feel small. Again.

HD spirit

In the unlikely event that we started sending out a holiday card again, this’d probably be this year’s photo. I doubt it, so Happy Holidays!

Bear Sign

Randomness #1. Lots of signs warning us about encountering animals on the road, like moose, deer and elk, but the one that made me laugh was this Bear Warning sign on the way to Maligne Lake. The part I liked the best was “Stay in your car if bears are encountered.” That’s comforting when you’re on a bike.

Hank sleep

Randomness #2: By the end of the ride day, I’m pretty wiped out and sometimes take a little nap. Dee thinks it’s just hilarious to take photos of me sleeping on this trip to make up for the 300 or so photos I have of her sleeping in the car. Right. It’s on.

Jasper is the northern most point of our planned route. Tomorrow we’ll start heading south through Lake Louise and stopping overnight in Banff. By all indications, guidebooks, locals overheard, and stray bikers heading for Sturgis, we should continue to see magnificent country for the next few days.

By the way, I do drive a car now and then. It’s an old Jeep Wrangler. Her name, for no reason in particular, is “Clarice.” But you gotta say it like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.”

“Hello, Clarice.”

Creepy, right?

Nuns and Bikers.

“A nun and a biker walk into a bar…” began no joke ever.

I think the nicest types of people I’ve probably ever met are nuns and bikers. So far, I haven’t met any nuns on this trip, unless they were incognito. You know, undercover nuns. I have, however, met a number of bikers. Well, more like I’ve talked to a number of bikers. I have yet to meet a biker-nun (nun-biker?), but I’m sure they exist.

First, let’s get the nun thing out of the way. Okay, I know some nuns. My daughter, Kelsey, attended Louisville High School, an all-girls catholic school, and we got to know a few of the nuns, who are Sisters of St. Louis, through parent organization meetings and the like. Many of the sisters have become our friends. Why? Because they are just outstanding human beings —  the kind of people you want to be associated with and wish you were like, short of, well, you know, the nun commitment thing. And I’m a dude. Anyway, these women have devoted their lives to making the world a better place, which is usually a cliché, but absolutely the day-to-day deal for the Sisters of St. Louis. We’ve become close to a couple of them, Sister Brid and Sister Michele, and have been fortunate to stay with them whenever we’re in New York City — and they with us.

What I love about the sisters is their acceptance of all people, good and bad, and the sisters’ unshakable belief that we are all worthy of grace and have value. I come from the business world where success is measured by one’s ability to “scale up” an idea – put a product into as many hands, and for as much profit, as possible. The sisters help others find their way and are content to do it one person at a time. So I like nuns.

Bikers are also, generally, good people. I know some bikers. To be clear, I’m not a biker, per se. I think of myself as a “rider.” I ride all styles and brands of motorcycles – call me “bike agnostic” — and I don’t really embrace the perceived biker “culture” of Harleys and leather outerwear. I don’t have a problem with that culture, but it’s just not me.

What I like about bikers/riders is that we share a common love of two-wheel-driven exposure to the elements found on the road (or trail, or track, or whatever). And we’ll talk about it to any other biker/rider who’ll listen. And to some who won’t.

It seems that everywhere that I’ve stopped on this trip – for meals, butt-unnumbing or an Advil reload – I’ve gotten into a conversation with a fellow rider. It’s summertime on perfect roads, so they’re everywhere. We pass each other by the hundreds, going in opposite directions on the highway and, most often, returning the familiar two-fingers-held-low wave that says, “Yo, you and I get it.”

When we’re stopped and talking, the tone is collegial and the topic is always about the ride. We almost never speak to drivers in cages (cars), unless they start up the conversation and have that “Man, I used to ride a bike…” look in their eyes, as their kids drop Cheerios and apple juice between the seats of their mini-van. I don’t know, it’s just an unwritten rule. “I’m cool with you asking me about my bike and where I’m headed, but you gotta start the convo, Mac.”

But fellow riders? Jeeze, we get right into it and only stop talking because we have another hundred miles or so to ride before we reach our destinations.


This is my bike. You wanna talk about it?

Ship Yard

Random thing along the way that I can’t explain. If there’s a ship in the yard, would that make it a shipyard? Help me out here.

I got into a conversation with a biker yesterday as we both were checking into the Motel 6 in Coos Bay, Oregon (truly much nicer than the parking garage suite). Two dudes, who’d never met before, riding different bikes and within 10 minutes we were like long lost pals, deep in conversation about our shared passion. We decided get some dinner at a nice Coos Bay workaday burger and beer joint called “Walt’s Pourhouse.” Get it?

My instant pal, Randy, hails from the Florida Keys and is a retired air traffic controller. I know a little about aviation and air traffic controllers. You’d think a guy who made a career out of talking to people – lots of people – all day long would be kind of reticent. Not Randy. Man, we talked for over three hours about life, the places we’ve been and, of course, motorcycles.


My new riding buddy, Randy. 11 years my senior, riding 9,000 miles to my measly 4,000. Badass. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down, brother!

Randy rides a top-of-the-line Harley, his 18th bike I believe he said, and is currently on a 9,000 mile, “round the US trip.” His target destination is Sturgis, South Dakota, where about 500,000 (mostly) Harley riders converge each summer to hang out and, you guessed it, talk about bikes. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the event. BMW has a similar annual event, but only draws about 7,000 attendees.

Grants Pass

More randomness. Grant’s Pass is NOT a small town. (Inside joke)

Randy and I agreed to meet this morning and ride together for about a hundred miles along the central coast of Oregon from Coos Bay to Newport. This has some of the most beautiful coastline you’ll ever see — from a motorcycle or a cage (car). We stopped for breakfast at a joint called the Newport Café, which was voted “#1 Breakfast in Newport.” It says so on the sign out front. Who am I to argue? We both had the breaded and fried razor clams and eggs for breakfast (OMG! Just…OMG!). We talked for at least another hour about bikes and life before Randy headed east towards Sturgis and I continued north. If clocks didn’t move and the sun never set, we’d probably still be there debating the merits of liquid-cooled motors.

Newport CafeRazor Clam Bfast

Razor clams, breaded and fried, with a Lipitor chaser. Worth it. Why is the crab smiling while holding fries and a soda? Think he knows what comes next? If everything I liked to eat was presented in it’s cute animal form, I’d probably become a vegan right quick.

More fantastic Oregon coastal vistas continued and, along the way, I stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in (where else?) Tillamook. Ah-yup, they make a bunch of cheese there. Like 167,000 pounds per day. That’s what the sign said, anyway. I trust signs. You can watch the assembly line floor from above and behind glass on the self-guided tour, then walk through a salad bar type line to sample various Tillamook cheeses using a toothpick. Or fingers, if you’re a four-year-old. Yeef. I was probably there for a total of 22 minutes, including the time it took to secure my bike and gear. Go there, or don’t.

Tillamook Cheese Ext Tillamook Cheese Int

Those blocks of Tillamook cheddar cheese in the lower right corner weigh in at around 40 lbs. About right for my kinda cheeseburger.

Tillamook Cheese bar

The problem with the cheese sample bar is that most four-year-olds can’t read the sign that says, “Please use a toothpick to select samples.” Ew.

Oregon Coastline

Nope, still not sick of the views.

I arrived at my destination, Astoria, Oregon, in the late afternoon. Astoria is a city of 10,000 people on the Columbia River, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, and is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. The city lines the south banks of the Columbia River, and the north banks of Young’s Bay. What’s interesting about Astoria in pop culture is that the city was the filming location for “Kindergarten Cop” and, more famously, “Goonies.” I love both of these films (“It’s naht a toomah!”) and Astoria was the perfect backdrop, with a gentrified and hipster-vibed city center and classic Victorian homes on the hillside overlooking town. Just beautiful.

I watched the sun set on this warm evening at the Fort George Brewery and Public House, while sampling their small batch brews and enjoying a bowl of rich and spicy clam chowder. I guess today’s dining theme was “clams, two ways.”

Tonight, I’m staying at the Commodore Astoria Hotel, which is a funky, retro Euro-style hotel (as in a shared bath in the hallway, which is fine). I’m in comfortable room that’s apparently nowhere near the county jail.

Tomorrow I’ll cross the Astoria-Megler Bridge (a very imposing structure at 196 feet – can’t wait to see how windy it is on the GS) into Washington and head to Seattle to meet up with Dee, after she flies in tomorrow night. From there, the adventure really begins. Dee is much more outgoing than I am. She’s a great conversationalist and has the gift of being able to engage almost anyone. That said, if there’s a biker-nun in our path, trust me, Dee will find her.

Tsunami sign

Oh, okay. Wait… what?

Eureka! I Have Found It!

This is the motto of the State of California that appears on the Great Seal. It’s not an “official” motto of the State, but there it is. “Eureka” is a Greek word that translates into “I have found it,” so if you think about it, the unofficial motto of the State of California is actually redundant. “I have found it! I have found it!” Jeeze, calm down. Historically, “Eureka!” refers to the discovery of gold in California in 1849. The impact of the gold rush is that people moved here and now traffic sucks in LA.

Greetings from Eureka, California, where I’ve just finished day three of the Northwest Epic Ride (With a Twist). Let’s get you up-to-speed.

As planned, I left home Friday morning and rode to our ranch in Paso Robles. I’ve done this ride a few times and have discovered some great side roads you should check out sometime when you’re headed north. I usually take the San Marcos Pass/Highway 154 from Santa Barbara to Los Olivos. It’s a great alternative to the 101 beach view, although not always faster. From there, I took Foxen Canyon Road, which runs past some great wineries, like Fess Parker and Cambria Estates, and rolled into Santa Maria. Then I rode along the coast through little towns like Guadalupe (stuck somewhere in time around 1975) and Nipomo (just stuck). The last few miles into Paso Robles on the 101 were a traffic-filled mess (see gold rush above), as the Midstate Fair is in town, but whenever I walk through the door at the ranch, I exhale and say out loud, “We should live here.”


Rancho Deeluxe, Paso Robles. What’s not to like?

Saturday I started the day with breakfast at the Nosh Café in Paso Robles (solid eggs benedict) with my pal and ranch neighbor, Charlie. Charlie is married to Steve. Charlie is a chick. Steve isn’t. Steve and Charlie grow amazing wine grapes and Steve taught me the saying, “Wanna have a million dollars from the wine business? Start with two million dollars.”

Charlie and hank

Me and Charlie (the chick in “Charlie and Steve”) at the Nosh Cafe. Hey! Matching shirts!

Arroyo Seco Bridge

Single lane Arroyo Seco Bridge between Greenfield and Carmel Valley. Shhh… secret side road.

Then I was off on more side roads to San Jose and spent the night in the guesthouse of our good friends, John and Debra Murphy. Here’s how I know they’re good friends: they weren’t even home. Fortunately, John’s mom, Ellie, lives with John and Deb and her daughter, Eileen, was visiting from Reno. I made chicken marsala for dinner and had one of those amazing conversations with a wise person of a certain age (yeah, that’d be Ellie) who reminded me (without actually saying it like this) that life is beautiful and should be lived well. I just adore her.

Ellie and Hank

Me and Ellie. Pay attention and you might just learn a few things.

So, Eureka. I wasn’t sure if I’d even make it this far today. My usual mileage target is about 200-250 miles. I like riding side roads and stopping to look at stuff, so that can take a while. It often takes me six hours to travel 200 miles. Today I did 350 miles in about nine hours — and I’m really feeling those last 50 miles.

Bodega Bay Selfie

Bodega Bay. Patience, I’m new to this selfie stick thing.

Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino coastline. After 100-plus perfect panoramas of rocky shoreline, did I get bored? No. Duh.

I usually plan ahead for lodging, as is the case for most of this trip — and especially during the busy summer vacation months. But not today. I just didn’t know where I’d land. When I was about 100 miles out from Eureka, I called Dee, using the Cardo Scala Rider G9 communication system in my helmet that connects via Bluetooth to my mobile phone, and we started discussing lodging options. It’s good to have a competent travel planner for a spouse. The possible destination options included Garberville (original target), Fortuna (50 more miles) and Eureka (68 more miles). Long story short, Dee found a good deal on a Four-Star-TripAdvisor-rated motel in Eureka called the Town House Motel. Okay, said me. Give me the coordinates and I’ll drink a Red Bull for the additional mileage boost. The last 70 miles were through the Redwood Forest area, so the scenery was worth the effort.

Eureka has been going through some hard times. It’s like Stockton, California, but without the glitz. For you Midwesterners reading this, that’s like saying Akron is like Cleveland, but without, well, the glitz.

The Town House Motel hasn’t been spared, either. It’s on the main drag and conveniently located (I found out later) directly across the street from the Humboldt County Correctional Facility. The motel manager, who proudly displays his Four Star rating from TripAdvisor on the wall of the office, referred to the county joint as the “Humboldt Hilton.” Nice.

Town House Ext

Fairmont. Ritz Carlton. Waldorf-Astoria. Town House. Been there. Done that.

Humboldt Joint

The neighbors are staying across the street at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility.

My room, to be fair, is very clean. What makes it unique, however, is that it’s a ground floor room. In the parking garage. The Town House has two rooms in the parking garage. I really don’t know why someone would design something like this on purpose. My room is adjacent to the stairwell leading upstairs to the “regular” rooms and a 2006 Ford Expedition. I’ve included a photo as proof. From my room, I can hear the residents of the Humboldt Hilton talking loudly as they work out in the weight room. I’m being dead serious here. I can hear the weights clanking down as I write this.

Room With View

Room with a view. Of the parking garage.

Apparently I was the last to check in this evening and the Town House now had its “No Vacancy” sign sputtering intermittently out front as it partially illuminated the four or five panhandlers that I had to navigate and dole out cash to while walking to and from dinner. My thinking about this is that they’re human beings — like me and you — and are just trying to get by. Hell, who isn’t? I figure some loose change from me won’t make their lives any better or any worse, so I usually hand it over. Addiction is a day-by-day thing, you know?

I had dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery Pub, which was packed with Humboldt hipsters. Along with a pint of Lost Coast Blonde Ale I savored the signature beef stew, which is cooked in Lost Coast’s stout beer. A hearty reward after 370 miles of windy California coastline.

When I got back to my room – and after stripping every possible removable part from my bike and then parking it under a surveillance camera – I bolted the door, placed a chair to block it and sat rocking back and forth on the bed for a few minutes, comparing Eureka to what the apocalyptic city looked like in the film “Blade Runner.” Suddenly concerned about defending myself if things went south, I dug around in my tank bag looking for the little folding knife My Buddy, Bird, gave me. It always falls to the bottom and I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t find the only weapon – short of snappy dry wit – that I carry. Then…

Eureka! I have found it!

Pig sticker

Whew! Planning to sleep with one eye open.

Thataway, Redux

I’m lazy. I’ll admit it. I love to write, but hate the chore of the actual “writing” part. Perhaps more accurately I don’t type well, and because it slows down my creative process, I tend not to have the discipline to just sit down and write which is a quality that I admire in other writers. “Writers write,” I believe, is the adage.

I have friends and colleagues who write or publish something nearly… Every. Damn. Day. At the very least they re-post something interesting they’ve read, along with a comment or two. I don’t know how they do it. I’m so easily distracted by shiny objects and puppy videos that I haven’t posted to this blog in over a year. And even then I repurposed someone else’s Ride Report (see “Lifted Literary Longings”).

It’s not because I haven’t been traveling. Just like the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” I’ve been back and forth across the US about five times. I ate three helpings of tuna poke on the Big Island of Hawaii, bruddah. I’ve taken two significant motorcycle rides; one on slab through the Shenandoah Valley and Smokey Mountains, the other off-road on the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (AZBDR) with the Smooth Crew. I bopped around Patagonia in South-Freakin’ America in January. Pura vida and great beefsteaks. I’ve even been to Akron, Ohio — twice in the past year. They have a very nice air and space (okay, mostly air) museum there.

So I’ve been around; seen me some airports. But I guess I didn’t have enough to talk about to motivate me to write and post my observations. Some of you reading this are incredulous at this comment. And because, like I said, I’m lazy.

Until now.

On Friday, July 24, 2015, I’m leaving on an Epic Ride — an Epic Ride with a twist. I’ll ride my trusty BMW R1200GS, “Baby,” from my home in Topanga north to Seattle, across Washington state on the North Cascade Highway and up into Canada. The farthest destination north will be Jasper, Alberta, then down the Icefield Parkway to Lake Louise, Banff and back into the US via Montana. From there, it’s Glacier National Park (which is currently on fire, yay), then Paradise Valley, Montana to visit my pal and former boss (he hates that title, but it makes it simpler to explain), Joe Phelps. Then it’s on to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Jackson Hole, Park City, Zion National Park (for the fourth time — and worth it, trust me), Las Vegas (because Vegas, baby! — and it’s on the way home) and then, well, home. 4,200 linear miles. 23 days. If all goes according to plan (HA! See “Smoothtah”), I’ll return home on Saturday, August 15.

Oh yeah, the twist? Dee is joining me for this trip. I’ll pick her up in Seattle and she’ll settle into the co-pilot position on the pillion seat.

Dee rode with me last year for a week down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina on a rented Honda Goldwing 1800. She’s solid when it comes to being both a traveling companion (always carries her own stuff) and a non-vehicle-operating motorcycle passenger, short of when she waves her hand in front of my face to get me to slow down instead of just saying it over the connected intercom in our helmets. Thankfully she spends about a third of her riding time asleep, so she doesn’t complain much. Yep, you read that correctly. Feel free to ask her about it.

So Baby has been outfitted, serviced and is ready to go. I’ve been fighting a summer cold which turned into this thing called “walking pneumonia,” which is laughable in that I didn’t walk much overIMG_4671 the past two weeks while hosting this crud. I’m on the mend and pretty much ready to go, as well.

Follow me (link below) and stay tuned for posts along the way — assuming, of course, that I don’t get lazy and watch puppy videos instead of writing.

Travel safe and often.

Lifted Literary Longings

There’s a dude named Hank Shaw who’s a kinda famous writer. I’m not him. Famous Hank Shaw is a well-known chef/author/forager who describes himself on his blog “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook” ( thusly:

“I write. I fish. I dig earth, raise plants, live politics and kill wild animals. I drink bourbon, wear seersucker or Wranglers with equal aplomb and wish I owned a farm. But most of all I think daily about new ways to eat anything that walks, flies, swims, crawls, skitters, jumps – or grows. I am the omnivore who has solved his dilemma.”

Nope. I’m definitely not him. Except for the bourbon drinking part. Shout out to the fine folks at Maker’s Mark. Feel free to send me some product. And seersucker? For real? I wear a RevIt Outback armored jacket and Klim riding pants. With aplomb, too, I think.

Famous Hank Shaw writes cookbooks, is a James Beard Award winner for his great food blog (check out “Squirrel Stew with Paprika and Greens” — I kid you not), contributes to many cooking sites and has almost 13,000 followers on Twitter. Which is about 12,995 more followers (@hankshaw) than I have.

Famous Hank Shaw seems like a cool guy. I admire his passionate and informative writing style. I might even try some of his game recipes one of these days, short of the the squirrel pie thing, or whatever.

I also admire Tom Milan’s writing ability. As introduced in an earlier hankwentthataway post, Smoothtah, Tom is the unofficial, unelected leader of our Adventure/Dual Sport riding group, the Smooth Crew. Tom is a wise-y, sage-y, wisdom-y kind of guy. And even though Tom tried to kill me a couple of rides back, he produces a great blog about his riding exploits including the Smooth Crew’s most recent two-day ride in the Mojave Desert area near the almost non-existent town of Garlock and the very existent town of Randsburg.

While I would never lift someone else’s literary efforts without “express written permission” (as they say in the fine print, whoever “they” are) I’m kinda lazy and have no problem posting a link to Tom’s blog so you can read about our adventure in the dez. Enjoy.

Travel safe. And often.




Bird in Flight

My buddy, Bird, doesn’t resemble a bird. Not even close. As mentioned in a previous post, his mom, Hurricane Cheryl, tagged him with that nickname a zillion years ago when he was young. Truly, a zillion. I suppose the nickname could mean any number of things to describe him in some way, like “naked as a jay-bird,” or  “shiftless yard-bird,” or even “low-life shit-bird.” He’s fits neither of the last two descriptions and I’ve avoided the first one altogether.

This quick post is about Bird’s adventure last weekend at the AltRider “Taste of Dakar” Adventure Riding Thingy 2014, hosted by the legendary Jimmy Lewis near his off-road riding school in Pahrump, Nevada. Jimmy is considered to be a straight-up badass in the riding community and has competed in the real Dakar Rally.

I didn’t attend this event. Come to think of it, I wasn’t even invited. Hmm.

Anyway, the “Taste of Dakar” offers an opportunity to ride terrain similar to the Dakar Rally, which for security reasons, is no longer actually held in Dakar, which is in Senegal, Africa, where it’s apparently completely acceptable to “open carry” automatic weapons. Chew on that, Arizona!

This multi-stage race for motorcycles, cars and trucks (I’m way over-simplifying the vehicles used) is now held in southern Chile, where they don’t carry guns and they make a nice Malbec; bold, but not over-assuming in the finish and generally good when paired with BBQ.

Bird created a short video using his GoPro and posted it to YouTube. It’ll give you an idea of what we see and experience when riding our adventure bikes off-road. I especially liked the part at 1:30 where he gently keels his BMW F800GS over in the sand.

Sand. I hate sand.


Follow me on this blog ( and look for more hankwentthataway posts coming your way soon.

Travel safe. And often.


Ride Report: “Tom Milan Wants Me Dead”

Okay, Tom Milan does not really want me dead. I think he’s fond of me. Maybe a better title for this ride report would be…

“Tom Milan Wants Me to Be Completely Awake and Yet Totally Exhausted and to Stop Eating Meat and to Lose Weight and to Get Healthier and to Consider My Packing and Bike Choices More Carefully.”

Yeah, that’s it.

To give you an idea of what I thought would be some of the terrain we’d be facing on this ride, check out this email exchange between me and Tom during final the planning phase of the trip.

Tom — 12/12/13 10:21 PM: We will… leave Canyon Lake mid to late morning on the 27th, ride as much dirt as possible to Anza (gas and water stop) and then into the Anza-Borrego State Desert Park to ride Coyote Canyon to Bailey’s Cabin to camp… There is about a mile or so of deep sand on the way out and back but two-wheeled pickups make the drive; so it is doable for pretty much all bikes.

Hank — 12/13/2013 1:54 PM: A little concerned about your idea of “doable” sand — especially when taking my 530 lb. (BMW R1200) GS into consideration.* Define “pretty much all bikes.”

Tom – 12/13/13 3:20 PM: Another guy is going to ride his KTM 950. If things get nasty you guys can snuggle up together. (Uh, what?) There really is somewhere near a mile or so of cell bottom sand that could give you problems. We have enough guys to get you thru if necessary. I might have pics of the area to send to you. 


*It turns out the actual weight of my bike, fully loaded with gear, fuel and a soft-sided cooler full of beer was 637 lbs. I did the calculation using a scale when I got home. That’s about 60 lbs. heavier than a fully loaded Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. Jeeze…

December 27

My son, Daniel, decided to join us on the ride. After the drama in Utah (bad weather, me crashing into a mud-filled rut, hunters who were probably poachers, an unplanned visit with the Wasatch Search & Rescue Team, etc., see “Smoothtah” Ride Report), it was comforting to know I’d have Dan along in case things got hairy. He’s dependable in that way, having hauled my busted-down ass out of the Wasatch Mountains.

We trailered the bikes to my niece’s home in Corona, unloaded, geared up and left the truck and trailer behind. We rode the last 20 miles down Interstate 15 to Tom and LindaMilan’s (space between first and last name purposely left off – that’s how we, including Tom, say her name) home in Canyon Lake, which is just south of Lake Elsinore.

Canyon Lake is an interesting community in that the Homeowner’s Association banned any and all motorcycles being operated within the community. Too much noise, I guess, from big-bore, straight-piped street cruisers and local “bros” whipping around on yappy two-stroke dirt bikes. We met the ride crew outside the front gate. There were other bikers meeting up at the front gate, too, revving engines and all. I figured it would suck to own the house next to the gate.

Along on this ride, in addition to me, Daniel and Tom, were Dave, Steve and Gersh. All are experienced riders, which is always a relief. At the end of the day, I was probably the least capable and competent. But nowhere near the oldest. Steve and I are about the same age. Gersh is a little younger. Daniel is 18 (so the hell with him). Tom and Dave are, chronologically speaking, seniors, but the kind of seniors who can pull a bus using a rope. With their teeth.

But anyway…

Five of us departed Canyon Lake shortly after 10am, expecting to meet up with Gersh later down the road. Tom was in charge of route planning for this ride. Having recently led the Smooth Crew through Utah and committing numerous navigation errors that nearly resulted in (or did—depending on your viewpoint) disaster, I was only too happy to buck this gig to Tom. I really had only a general idea of the areas we’d be riding through over the next three days. After a mile or so from the departure point, we turned on to a dirt road and the adventure began…

No it didn’t. The road was a dead end after a half-mile. So we turned around and rode back out to the pavement. Having been in the navigator seat, I kept my mouth shut. A few turns later we accessed a dirt trail that runs along the San Jacinto River, which at this time of year, and due to the recent drought, could be defined as the San Jacinto Sand Wash.

Sand. I hate sand.

I took the trail slow and easy on the big GS, as I’m still recovering from dumping the bike on my ankle in a muddy rut in Utah two months earlier. More on the ankle later. I was bringing up the rear, also known as “riding sweep,” which was just fine with me. The other guys, with the exception of Steve on his KTM 950, were all riding much lighter dual sport bikes.

Daniel and I were in constant communication by intercom using our Scala Rider comm systems. He was a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, calling out small rocks and ruts. Little did I know at the time how critical his eye for the trail would become later that day.

Along the trail there were neighborhoods in the distance and power lines overhead, but what I noticed most was that this little bit of wildlife refuge was a gigantic used tire dump. Tires were strewn everywhere. Hundreds of ‘em. I’ve said it before, humans are messy. From the saddle of my bike, I’ve seen tons and tons of crap dumped in and around living spaces throughout the US. Kind of a bummer.

We got back on the pavement and met up with Gersh, who took over “sweeper” duties, as he was familiar with the area. It was at this early point in the ride that Dan called out to me on the intercom, “I forgot to pack my sleeping bag.”

“Oh. Do you wanna stop at a store and get one,” I said, trying to sound like a concerned father.

“Naw. I’ll be fine.”

The low temperature at where I thought we’d be camping (altitude 1,500+/- feet) was predicted to be around 55 degrees. Dan also decided he didn’t want to carry an air mattress to sleep on. Tough kid, I guess. Me? I’m all about comfort and warmth when I’m out in the open. Pretty sure he’ll be rethinking those packing decisions before the next ride.

After vectoring on dirt access roads through farmland for a couple of miles, we picked up Stanley Road. We just blasted along, climbing into the foothills and past oddly isolated homes. It was the perfect dirt backroad for the big GS…

No it wasn’t. After a few miles of bliss, we came upon a dead-end gate with a sign that read something like…


Violators will be SHOT!



Tom was shaking his head, looking at his planned route map. Again, I kept my mouth shut. We turned around, rode all the way back and picked up Sage Road, which was a little more rocky, rutted and isolated. The homes tucked away along this road had the kind of fences you see surrounding prisons. There wasn’t a sign of life anywhere, which I attributed to the locals being busy out back, making meth or something. From there, we connected to Wilson Road and, eventually, Highway 371, which is a paved, twisty mountain backroad. Seriously fun riding.

At a fuel stop in Anza, we loaded my soft cooler with beer and ice for the campsite. Beer is considered “comfort food,” right? “Home free, baby,” was my thinking at the time.

A couple of paved road vectors later, we picked up a dirt road called Coyote Canyon. As I approached the climbing part of the road that would ultimately deposit us at our camping destination, Bailey’s Cabin, the big GS was already slip-sliding on the sand-filled road.

Sand. I hate sand.

I looked at the rapidly deteriorating “road” in front of me. No sand, thankfully, but that was because it was a rock-filled, rutted nightmare. Gersh rode ahead to check out the conditions. When he returned, he just shrugged his shoulders in that, “Well, you might die or not,” kinda way guys do with each other when they don’t really know the answer.

To his credit, Tom said we could bypass this trail and go somewhere else to camp if I wasn’t comfortable riding Coyote Canyon. Tom’s cool like that. It was getting late and the sun was heading down. I did that twisting and cocking thing with my neck and head, like Dirty Harry did just before he uttered the line, “So do ya feel lucky, punk?”

I looked at the group and said, “Oh, dear fellows, I’ll just buck up and give it my very best.”

Okay, what I really said was, “WTF,” but without using the abbreviation.

Three riders, including Dan, went ahead of me. Two stayed behind me, in case I needed help picking up the now-637 lb. bike, including 20 lbs. of beer and ice.

It was a harrowing ride. Good word, “harrowing.” Dan was a hundred yards or so in front of me and was calling out obstacles over the intercom, like, “Huge sand rut! Boulders in the middle of the road… stay right! You gotta climb a step-up rock section ahead—not good!”

Stuff like that.

I climbed about a mile and then I descended for three miles of hell into what I supposed was Coyote Canyon. I stayed on the bike and didn’t crash, but I had to stop repeatedly to make adjustments and plan how to ride the next section of nightmare. I could smell the clutch burning and felt the beer cooler pressing up against my backpack. Up to that point it was the hardest, most difficult section I’ve ever ridden on the GS. I was exhausted when we stopped at the bottom, where were greeted by a long section of deep sand.

Sand. I hate sand.

A couple of the guys rode ahead to see what was in store for us on the approach to our proposed campsite at Bailey’s Cabin. They were back about the time my heart rate returned to normal and were shaking their heads. Deep sand and hidden rocks ahead. Crap. That was it. I was done for the day. The rest of the crew seemed okay with that and we pitched camp at the bottom of the hellhole called Coyote Canyon.

I like to camp. I also like luxury hotels. I have the right equipment for motorcycle camping, like a lightweight sleeping bag, a medium-weight tent and a really cool collapsible camp chair (all purchased at considerable expense from REI, or as Bird and I call it, “The Mother Ship”), all of which tucks away neatly in a waterproof bag on the tail of the bike. My clothes fit in my backpack, and my food, water and cooking gear are stored in the panniers on the bike, along with a tool kit and a first aid kit.

And I had 20 pounds of beer and ice.

But anyway…

The camaraderie of the campsite is very appealing to me. You’re independent and self-reliant, yet supported by guys with the same objectives. I’ve never served in the military, but I imagine this is one of the elements of that bond I hear about. Except no one was shooting at us. Respect.

Once camp was set up and the sun went down, it started to get cold. Really cold. Turns out, we weren’t at 1500 feet, it was more like 2800 feet. And, believe me, that can make for a big difference in climate and comfort. Gersh brought up the fact that it was illegal to have a campfire in this area and that he’d already paid a $500 ticket to the Forest Service once as part of that learning experience. We observed the no campfire law for about 90 minutes and then made the decision to split the ticket if it came to that. Dan just kinda narrowed his eyes at me during this discussion. $500 divided by six guys is about eighty-three bucks each. That’s a lot of party dough when you’re 18. We made a fire ring surrounded by 40 feet of sand as a fire-break and lit up to keep warm. We figured any ranger crazy enough to drive down that canyon road in the dark deserved his five bills. And we’d have plenty of time to see him coming.

Great conversations around the campfire that night with the crew. These are interesting men, most of whom have made a good living in manufacturing and using their hands. I respect that and hoped that Dan was listening. He has the natural hand skills I wish I had.

We got to bed early. I covered up Dan with every available piece of clothing or material I could find. He did bring his camping pillow, so that was something. He fell asleep almost immediately, which he can also do in a crowded room – while standing up. Youth, frankly, is annoying.

Me? I lay awake for hours freaking out at the very real reality that I had to ride the GS out of Coyote Canyon the next morning. I was truly rattled. I was also feeling an odd, yet continual pain in my ankle and foot from the Utah crash. The ankle was supposed to be only sprained, however, a recent MRI revealed that it was, in fact, a hairline stress fracture of my fibula. I got the results two days after I returned from this ride. I’m writing this report while wearing an orthopedic “walking boot” on my right foot and ankle. Fantastic.

On the upside the beer was gone, so the bike now only weighed about 617 lbs. By comparison, Daniel’s Honda XR 650 weighs in fully loaded (including mat and sleeping bag) at around 375 pounds. Can’t imagine why I was worried.

December 28

The next morning, we had breakfast and packed up our camp. The guys quietly watched me stare at the ridiculously vertical, twisting, rock quarry path in front of me. I was very nervous, to say the least, and expected to be down on the ground shortly and often. I mounted up, did the “Dirty Harry” move with my head, applied throttle and released the clutch.

At a hundred yards up the trail I was already out of breath when I suddenly remembered to actually… breathe. We used the same ride positions as the way in: three in front of me, two in back and Dan calling out obstacles on the intercom. My focus was so intense that I finally asked Dan to stop describing the crap-storm of rocks ahead, as I needed to concentrate on the road 10 feet in front of me. I was working hard to get into a rhythm, like from my desert racing days on crappy trails like this. On a 250 lb. racing bike. It took a while – and damn near every ounce of strength I had – but I made it out. At the mountain’s peak, we ran into a group of mountain-bikers headed down into the canyon. They shook their heads at my dumptruck-sized motorbike, shrugged and blasted down into the maw.

After a short rest at the exit out of Coyote Canyon, we vectored to Cooper Cienega Road and that day’s part of the adventure ride began…

No it didn’t. We headed up and down a number of neighborhood/meth lab dirt roads until Tom gave up on his map and GPS and decided to ask for directions at a gas station in Anza.

Now here’s the irony of the day. I spent the first part of the morning on the hardest ride of my life, wrestling my big-ass bike up a mountain without stopping, or dumping it over a cliff with me attached. After fueling, I rode to where the guys were forming up, leaned the bike into the left side mounted kickstand, which I had forgotten to extend, and promptly laid the bike down. On the pavement. With the motor running. In front of everyone. As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon.”

We finally accessed Cooper Cienega Road, AKA for some reason, Cooper Cienega Truck Trail. Hard to picture large trucks driving over this rocky and rutted road. Maybe if you’re a bootlegger. It was a great 25 mile ride and we could see the summit of Mt. Palomar in the distance to the southwest. While not as difficult as Coyote “Hank is Totally Screwed” Canyon, it offered a challenging ride that kept me riding slow, steady and very awake.

We got back on the pavement at Highway 79 and stopped at Sunshine Summit for lunch. It was there that Tom quietly mentioned to me that tonight’s camping destination required traversing a canyon similar to Coyote “Holy Hell” Canyon.

A man’s gotta know his limits. My limits include only one life-threatening-scary-as-shit trail per day on a 600+ lb. adventure bike. I told the guys that Dan and I would pass on this one and stay instead at a local motel in Borrego Springs nearby the campground. Then I sat there for a bit, totally exhausted, and thought, well, we’ll get to the motel at 3pm and sit there until tomorrow morning at 9am when we meet up with the guys and ride back to our starting point. Nope. We decided to bail and ride back – on paved highways – to our truck and trailer rig, drive home and sleep in our own beds that night.

My ride ended there. Tom will need to fill in the details of the remainder of the ride, but I know they all got back safely.

So, you ask, where are all the photos detailing the ride? I’ve included a couple of shots, but, the truth is that there were three things preventing me from taking many photos.

  1. Speed. Most of the time we were on the gas, which is a blast, but didn’t provide a lot of time for setting up shots. I’d like to point out that those old coots ride pretty fast for old coots.
  2. Terror. As mentioned, I was hanging on for dear life up-and down-and-up Coyote Canyon. On the few occasions when I stopped to gasp for air, I was exhausted and hanging over the handlebars like a wet rag.
  3. Evidence. I have a decent amount of life insurance. As I was climbing out of Coyote Canyon, the occasionally rational voice in my head was telling me that the insurance adjusters might consider riding that “road” on a 600+ lb. bike to be suicidal and would likely deny the claim. Photos wouldn’t help.

So, here’s what I’ve got to show…

Daniel, Gersh, Dave, Steve and Tom checking out the local homes/meth labs/sex dungeons/cult compounds tucked away along Sage Road overlooking Murietta

Daniel, Gersh, Dave, Steve and Tom checking out the local homes/meth labs/sex dungeons/cult compounds tucked away along Sage Road overlooking Murietta

Camaraderie around the (apparently illegal) campfire. It’s a little burry because my hands were shaking as I took the photo, thinking about the next day’s ride out of Coyote Canyon.

Camaraderie around the (apparently illegal) campfire. It’s a little blurry because my hands were shaking as I took the photo, thinking about the next day’s ride out of Coyote Canyon.

Yeah, kinda anti-climactic photos after reading this long report, so I’m including photos of kittens. Everybody likes kittens. They get into all kinds of hilarious mischief. Except even a kitten would avoid riding a fully-loaded BMW R1200 GS into Coyote Canyon.

Oh, you little rascals!

Oh, you little rascals!


OMG! I mean really, wow… so cute, right?

OMG! I mean really, wow… so cute, right?

It was a long, quiet drive back to the house. I spent most of it thinking of the various ways to reduce the weight of my ride profile. Instead of beer, carry whiskey in a flask? No, wait. I had already that in my backpack. Smaller, lighter camping gear? Smaller, lighter bike? Smaller, lighter Hank? Good stuff to ponder and I’ll report back on what happens.

Overall, it was a great ride, on great trails (depending on your particular viewpoint) and with great guys — short of the part where Tom Milan wanted me dead.

Look for more HANKWENTTHATAWAY posts coming in 2014. I’ve got some great rides lined up and I’m happy to have you along for the ride!


Ride Report: “Smoothtah”

Dear Readers,

Slightly different format for this post, as my buddy, Bird, and I tell the story in tandem. Warning: There’s some more than usual adult language used in this post — what Dee refers to as my “Camp Voice.” Apologies in advance to Sister Myra, Sister Brid and Sister Michele. (Yes, I think about who might read this stuff).

The Setup

Bird: Our plan was to sneak in a 4-day late-summer/early-fall adventure bike ride into Utah, following the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, making a large loop that started and ended just outside of Salt Lake City. We got a little more adventure than we bargained for.

This was a unique trip from the start. Our patriarch, Tom Milan, had recently broken his wrist in a mountain bike accident and had to back out. His fill-in was the youngest on the squad, Dan Shaw, Hank’s son, who had recently purchased a Honda XR 650 L. Garth, Scott and I were going to fly into Salt Lake City where Hank and Dan would pick us up and take us to the condo in Heber City. Unfortunately, the night before our flight, we were alerted that Hank’s truck (with bikes in tow) had broken down outside of Las Vegas.

The breakdown delayed Hank nearly seven hours. Luckily, there were several bars and a movie theatre in Park City that held our attention that afternoon and we all got to the condo late Friday night and prepped for the coming days.

Hank: If you wanted to avoid the details and jump to the end of this report to see how it all ended, the two words you’d read would be, “Shit Happens.” That’s a good metaphor for life and an even better description of our adventure. So, with that in mind to set the stage…

Shit Happens #1: Yep, Tom broke his wrist 10 days before we departed for Utah. Crashed on his mountain bike. I’d like to point out that Tom Milan is 69 years old and a certified Badass. I’m 14 years his junior and won’t ride a stationary bike in front of the TV. The implications of not having Tom along were big. Tom, being the senior man and all, is our unofficial, unelected leader. More importantly — and this plays into “Shit Happens” starting around #4 or #5, Tom is the crew’s secondary navigator. I do the route planning and mapping. Tom carries the backup GPS device, plus 69 years of not-getting-killed-experience, so we rely on Tom. We missed him before we left.

Shit Happens #2: The alternator on my truck — the one with the trailer hauling the five bikes — decided to melt down about 20 miles east of Las Vegas. Dan and I had stopped in Sin City to do required maintenance: refuel, down Red Bulls and, well, shoot machine guns at Guns n’ Ammo Garage. It’s a guy thing. Dan had no clue that this little side trip had been carefully planned out on the schedule for the day. I had set it up with Bird in advance. What made it even sweeter was that for the last hour of the drive into Vegas, Dan was harping on me about how it was actually possible to “shoot real machine guns” in Vegas. Thank you, outdoor advertising. I just played dumb and responded with dad-like lines such as, “My goodness, that seems ridiculous and dangerous!” And, “Who’d want to do something as pointless and wasteful as that?”

I would, for one.

I could barely contain my snickering glee. I’m not known for containing testosterone outbreaks. I planned it so we’d stop for fuel next door to the shooting range. As we drove past, Dan pointed it out and I slowed the truck. Then I stopped suddenly and said, “You know, Dan, you’re right. Let’s do this!” His jaw dropped. We went in, selected our weapons of choice and then blasted away with dangerous fully-automatic weapons at targets so close Stevie Wonder couldn’t have missed. The smell of cordite on our hands and clothing was so strong that we probably caused a security lock-down at McCarran Airport just by driving past. I gotta admit, as a father-son bonding event, spewing 30 rounds of hot lead in five seconds is right up there.

"You talkin' to me?"

“You talkin’ to me?”

On our way out of town, the truck started acting up. No advance warning or starting problems, just a swift and complete systems shut-down. At sunset. In the desert. 20 miles from town. Awesome. I pulled off the freeway just in time to watch everything go dark on the panel. After fiddling with stuff for 10 minutes, we called AAA and had the truck and trailer towed back to Vegas to a shop recommended by the tow truck driver as capable of pushing other customers aside and getting us out early-ish the next day to meet Garth, Scott and Bird at SLC. We found a hotel off the strip that was mostly populated by “People of Wal-Mart,” if you get my drift, and bedded down for the night, smelling of cordite and testosterone.

The next morning my definition of early-ish conflicted with the repair shop’s, but we finally hit the road for the six-hour drive to SLC. The guys arrived on time and, true to form, were eventually located outside a bar in Park City. We made it to my buddy, Jimmy’s, borrowed condo in Heber City after a quick stop for, wait for it, more beer.

Day 1

 Bird: The morning started great for the first mile. Then Garth’s bike was having obvious problems. We rode into nearby Heber City to fuel up and assess the situation. Luckily, the gas station was next to a Yamaha dealer that was able to re-jet Garth’s bike and that somewhat fixed the problem. At least enough that we could continue. We rode out of town and picked up the off-road trail, trying to make up some lost time. The fall leaves and smooth roads were great. Somehow in the enjoyment of it all, we missed our turnoff and ended up adjusting our plans and camped at a small lake with great views. It was great to be camping again. The first time for most of us since Idaho.

Day 1 - "Naw, man. According to Weather Underground, this is the only snow we'll see."

Day 1 – “Naw, man. According to Weather Underground, this is the only snow we’ll see.”

Hank: One of the many things I like about riding with this crew is our adaptability. Things usually go right, but when they go wrong, nobody whines about it. We assess the situation, develop a plan, get consensus and execute.

Shit Happens #3: Garth’s fuel problems weren’t #3. That got mostly fixed in Heber City. #3 turned out to be the first of our navigation errors. I say “our” errors, but what I really mean is “my.” The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route — from here on called UTBDR or just BDR — is a well-mapped route created by ADV riders for Butler Motorcycle Maps. Currently, there are four published BDRs, with six more under development. A feature of the BDR series is the ability to download the map tracks directly into a GPS device, like the Garmin Zumo 550 I have mounted on my BMW R1200 GS.

I don’t think it’s a good practice to rely solely on electronic devices for navigation. The ability to read a map is critical. That said, I left my copy of the UTBDR on my desk at home and also failed to download the map routes into the Zumo. Instead, I opted to write down directions like, “Turn right on FR094, then left on FR437,” and put those slips of non-waterproof paper in the map case on my tank bag. Old school. Like Donner Party old school.

Day 1 - Bird, Houston, Garth and Dan at Currant Creek Reservoir

Day 1 – Bird, Houston, Garth and Dan at Currant Creek Reservoir

The end result was I knew where we wanted to go, which general direction to head and where to turn (assuming there was a sign post, like in Idaho, which there wasn’t), but I didn’t know how far it was to each turn vector. So I missed a key turn on Day 1 that put us 30 miles off course and missed our target destination. By 5 pm we were three hours behind schedule, tired, hungry and thirsty. We decided to camp near Duchesne, UT at a place called Starvation Lake. Again, Donner Party old school.

Day 1 - Camp at Starvation Lake near Duchesne, UT

Day 1 – Camp at Starvation Lake near Duchesne, UT

Day 2

Bird: Although the weather was cool, the day started out great. We locked onto the trail and took off into the countryside… only to find out we weren’t on the trail. It was more of a cow path. So we turned around, and looked for the real trail. After about an hour or so, we got on the real one and headed into the mountains.

Day 2 - Garth blasting by at 60 mph -- on the wrong trail. Again.

Day 2 – Garth blasting by at 60 mph — on the wrong trail. Again.

Hank: Shit Happens #4 – See Shit Happens #3

Bird: We had some AMAZING views in front of us. The fall colors on the trees, the sun hitting the mountains, etc. etc. etc. It was awesome.

Hank: It was awesome and it’s called Timber Canyon Road, a major section of the UTBDR. There had been some rain earlier and we hit a few ruts and puddles. It’s always good to get a little mud on the bike and boots so people don’t get the wrong idea about ADV riding being all cushy.

Day 2 - The hills are alive with the sound of... motorcycles!

Day 2 – The hills are alive with the sound of… motorcycles!

Bird: After several miles, we reached a small summit just as it started to snow. We all rejoiced. It was gorgeous. The weather wasn’t even cold. My thermometer registered 35 degrees. We knew, however, that motorcycles and snow don’t mix, so we were anxious to get to the next point. The road was a T at the point, and we went right, as the GPS said the next town was 7-14 miles away.

Shit Happens #5

Hank: I did not rejoice. I was struggling with navigation at this point and looking for our next turn when I saw the heavy rain clouds in front of us. We monitor weather using web-based services like Weather Underground and had been proceeding under the (now) mistaken assumption that the rain was supposed to hit well after sunset, when we were either safely in our tents or at a motel 25 miles south of our current position on Strawberry Mountain. We (I) made a wrong turn and we (we) headed into Shit Happens #6.

Day 2 - "Hey, it's starting to snow! Awesome." No, not really.

Day 2 – “Hey, it’s starting to snow! Awesome.”
No, not really.

Bird: About a mile down the road we ran into trouble. Hank’s front wheel slipped off the path and folded on him. His 600 lb. bike came to a stop…in a deep mud puddle with his right leg under it. We parked as fast as we could and ran over to get the big bike off him. He got out from under the bike, full of mud, able to stand. However, his ankle was pretty hurt. He shook off the pain, as we righted the bike. The snow continued to fall harder and harder. After several minutes, Hank manned-up and we pushed on, knowing the roads were getting worse with the heavy, wet snow falling.

We immediately started running into trouble. The roads had already started to turn bad. It had hardly been a half hour since the start of the storm, but that’s what it was – a storm. Some could even say a blizzard. And we were solidly in it.

We traveled about another mile, slipping, sliding, cussing and contemplating. Finally, we reached a point where Hank had to stop because of the pain, and we both had to stop because of the problems with traction. (Hank and I have the heaviest bikes, which don’t do well in muck and slick conditions. And they are heavy as hell when they fall!)

The storm was in full effect. Hank’s ankle was hurting. After a tough conversation and decision, it was decided to make the call to the Wasatch Sheriff for a Search and Rescue (SAR) team to come get us. At the same time, Scott and Garth, whose bikes were still nimble and moving, made a run for the next town. Shortly after they left, they returned to let us know that an elk hunter’s camp was just around the bend, about 300 yards up the road. Dan walked up to the camp and convinced one of the hunters to come get us in his side-by-side. Eventually, the three of us (Dan, Hank and I), made it up to the camp and warmed up around a blazing fire. We were told it would be about three hours before the SAR team would arrive. There was nothing to do but relax, stay warm and hope that Scott and Garth made it out, or were at least safe.

Day 2 - "Just choose your line and pin it!"

Day 2 – “Okay, just choose your line and pin it!”

As the time wore on, the well being of Scott and Garth became worrisome. Somehow, we had cell reception in the area, but we didn’t know if they did, wherever they were. Finally, after a full two hours, they arrived back at camp. (Ironically, right after I sent them a text, telling them that they may have to bed down for the night – we all carried our tents and camping gear – and we would send SAR after them once they arrived at the hunter’s camp).

After three hours and near dark, Wasatch SAR arrived in two side-by-sides with six people. After getting Hank organized, they agreed to take all of us down the hill. Since we had five people, this meant some pretty cramped quarters. Everyone but me went with Hank in the first side-by-side. Scott had the craziest ride, as he was seated on the elevated back seat, where the paramedic would normally sit next to someone if they were using a stretcher. I’m sure it was the ride of his life, all bundled up and sitting above the center of gravity for that vehicle.

I went down with our gear in the second vehicle that held three people. Unfortunately, we had four. We were so cramped, I had to have a guy sit on my knees, cramped against the front window. Ironically, this same guy was the mechanic that fixed Garth’s bike a day before in Heber City. And as it turned out, we were lucky he was a mechanic, because our vehicle broke down…twice.

Day 2 - The welcome sight of Houston returning to the hunter's camp following failed recon.

Day 2 – The welcome sight of Houston returning to the hunter’s camp following failed recon.

But wait, there’s more….

The side-by-side also turned over… twice. This was a 22-mile trek out of the mountains, during a snowstorm, through VERY rough terrain. It definitely wasn’t a high-speed rescue. At one point, after the first breakdown, we started a fire, because we thought that a Second Response SAR team was going to have to come get us. The guys in the first vehicle could hear the radio calls of us breaking down and were probably wondering what the hell was going on.

Eventually, we did get down off the mountain. It was about a three-hour ride in all. From there, we had to get back to the condo and then get Hank from the hospital, as they had transported him there by ambulance once off the hill.

After we retrieved Hank, we swung by 7-Eleven for beer. (Side note: it was Sunday night at 11pm, we were very concerned there wouldn’t be any, even if it was 3.2% alcohol.) While checking out, a 20-something kid came in and announced to all inside, “Do NOT go up Strawberry Mountain. There is a huge storm up there! We just came down from there and it took us forever!”

We felt validated.

Hank: It’s hard to add to Bird’s account of the second day— he pretty much nailed it — other than to say three things.

1. My day was over when I went down. I knew it the minute I tried to put weight on my right ankle. It was sprained pretty badly, but not broken (at least I didn’t think it was broken). More to the point, I knew my ride was over. After trying to ride a few hundred yards I could feel myself flirting with going into shock, which called for fluids, sugar and calm. Making the call to the SAR team was hard, but not as hard as the call I made to Dee back home. It went something like this:

Dee: Hi!

Hank: Hey! So, ah, what ya doin’?

Dee: Shopping. How ‘bout you guys?

Hank: Hm. Well… I’m okay and Daniel is okay. (Pause) Repeat back to me what I just said.

Dee: You’re okay and Daniel is okay.

Hank. Right. I’m okay and Daniel is okay. I’ve crashed my bike on the top of a mountain in a snowstorm and hurt my ankle. I can’t ride. We’ve called for Search & Rescue. We have winter gear, shelter, food, water and emergency equipment. Might be stuck up here for a while, but… we’re… okay! Repeat back to me what I just said…

Dee: Uh…

At that point in time, we didn’t know if SAR would make it there before dark, or even risk jumping into the storm. What I did know was that we were prepared for the conditions and safe at the hunter’s camp. They showed us their recent hunting “kills” and seemed a little concerned when we said the sheriff’s SAR crew was on the way. Concerned in the way poachers would be concerned if they had a few too many kills stored in camp.

To help with mobility, I fashioned a cane — more like a staff — from a fallen tree branch. I would hold it up and bellow, “You shall not pass!” I thought it was hilarious. I brought the staff back home as a souvenir.

Day 2 - Hunter's camp in a blizzard. Hank: "You shall not pass!" Bird: "Shut the %!@# up!"

Day 2 – Hunter’s camp in a blizzard.
Hank: “You shall not pass!”
Bird: “Shut the %!@# up!”

2. I won’t make the same navigation mistakes again. Ever. I’m committed to learning from this (mis)adventure and sharing what I learn with the Smooth Crew. I hate the idea that I put my guys in jeopardy because I didn’t do enough prep work. Yes, they’re adults and chose to take the risks. I can’t control the weather and we had the proper equipment and training to survive in adverse conditions. But I committed us to three wrong turns, which could’ve been avoided by better planning and situational awareness. Lesson learned.

3. Choose wisely. I remind Bird, Scott and Dan — the three single guys in our crew — about this General Rule when it comes to seeking long-term romance (Garth, Tom and I are married). But for me, it  applies to riding partners, as well. These guys, and that certainly includes Tom, have my back, as I have theirs. We operate as a team — and it was truly gratifying to see my son, Daniel, step up and carry his weight — and the weight of his busted-up old man. The very nature of motorcycle adventure travel requires competence and trust. I trust these guys with my life because… Shit Happens.

I chose my friends wisely.

Bikes recovered off Strawberry Peak. The Smooth Crew, minus 1 (Tom) , near Soldier Summit, UT. 10/15/13

Bikes recovered off Strawberry Peak 2 days after rescue. The Smooth Crew, minus 1 (Tom) , near Soldier Summit, UT. 10/15/13