Tom Petty was onto something when he sang, "The waiting is the hardest part".
We have been in San Antonio since mid-December, which has forced us into preparation-mode for 2 months. 2 WHOLE MONTHS. We're getting a bit stir crazy... in fact, my leg is twitching at this very moment.
It turns out that it takes a ton of work beforehand to do a trip like we're planning. That being said, I can't lie and pretend like we've been entirely committed. We've spent a good number of afternoons hanging out with friends, watching stupid sitcoms and bumming around our parents' houses with Bacon.
Though there has been a healthy amount of procrastination, we are actually almost ready. Getting tolls together was a major ordeal. The pile I created originally (which I'm pretty sure had become self-aware) was ridiculously over-the-top. There was no way that it would have ever fit on BigBoi. I'm pretty proud of the way I was able to cut it down in order to fit in one bag:
I was very thorough in making sure I still had what I NEED as opposed to what I WANT. If I could take everything that I want, I would have kidnapped the head mechanic from the BMW dealership here in San Antonio and had him come along. We'll have to resort to our own meager understanding of mechanics instead.
One thing I've learned over the past couple of weeks: BMW part are EXPENSIVE. Like really, really expensive. Like $180 for a set of brake pads expensive. Here are some BMW specific parts that we're taking along:
- fuel pump controller (no fuel filter in our GSA - crazy)
- front and rear brake pads (due to the weight of the rig, they wear quickly)
- oil cap and various o-rings
- alternator belt
- various light bulbs (we've already had a headlight burn out)
- octane booster and fuel system cleaner
- repair kit for wheel bearings
- air filters
- various cables
My biggest concern at the moment is fuel quality. I have a feeling that the horror stories I've heard are a little exaggerated...
I've also decided to buy a winch, just in case. I ended up going with a fairly compact unit from Northern Tool. I bought some extra cable that will attach to a boat anchor (which can be driven into the ground) if there is nothing else to loop the cable around.
I originally thought that a Madam rope puller would be perfect, until it came in the mail. I suppose I should've read the specs more carefully. A little too big even for us.
Among the gear we collected is a new waterproof bag from Bass Pro Shop (with roll-down top) that will lay behind me on the bike. I like to have something to lean against and our trusted North Face duffle was no longer repelling water.
To satisfy my nerd-dom, we got a Spot Connect (thanks to Kristen's dad) that will allow us to send emails and texts from anywhere we can get hooked up with a satellite.
Kristen has spent a lot of time making sure all our camping gear is ready to go. We decided on our smaller MSR tent instead of the beast we've been lugging around.
We also made a few minor modifications to the rig. The inside of Kristen's camera compartment is worth mentioning - she's added some padding which was sorely needed.
I decided I wanted a gas can holder that was lockable, so I called up Adventure Trailers (http://www.adventuretrailers.com/) and made a purchase. They got it to me quickly, but I just didn't feel very good about the mounting system. So, my dad and I came up with a plan to beef it up and I think it came out nicely.
After our snafu on I-10, I made one last check of the wheel bearings as well:
Just when I thought we were on top of things, we received an email from our shipping broker to let us know that we needed to get the bike down to Houston and crated by the next day. It turns out that customs requires vehicles to be in their possession for 72 hours before being exported, a detail that had slipped my mind until we received the email. So, we went into hyper speed and barely squeezed BigBoi onto our trailer.
Before we left, my little sister (who happens to be 6 feet tall) let me know how much she wanted to come with us. She also confirmed that Bigboi is indeed huge.
As is normal, at least for us, we had to throw everything together at the last minute. We stayed up way too late and then my dad and I headed off to the coast early the next morning.
We arrived at MEI Crating and put on quite the show. MEI was very professional but they are used primarily to crate parts for oil rigs to be shipped overseas. BigBoi stood out quite a bit, especially when I rode him through the warehouse.
We let the rig to be crated and immediately headed back to San Antonio so that Kristen and I could finish getting all of our gear together while the box was being built.
The next day, Kris and I drove back to Houston again to put all of our gear into the now completed crate so that we wouldn't have to check bags when we fly down to Chile ourselves. We walked into the warehouse to find BIgBoi like this:
Very Raiders of the Lost Ark. With no time to waste, I jumped in and we packed our stuff away for its journey overseas.
After making sure everything was secured in case of high seas (how amazing is it that I can legitimately type that sentence?), we left the crate to be completed and delivered while we jumped in the car to head to the port. This is where things got hinky.
We arrived to find that the port was very serious about security. In fact, we weren't even allowed on the premises until our crate was delivered and when we were, it was necessary for us to have an escort to lead us to the port offices in a golf cart.
It was as we were getting our paperwork settled with the port that we were given the bad news: the customs office, which was on the other side of town, closed at 4:00 PM. It was 3:15 PM. Bad, bad news. The port officer was extremely helpful and rushed to get us out as quickly as possible. Our escort, who had drifted off somewhere, had other ideas. 10 minutes later, he finally showed up and led us off the property.
After battling the lovely Houston traffic (remind me to never move here) we arrived at Customs at around 3:58 PM. We sprinted inside where we were given the quote of the day from a sassy officer. The dude just didn't like me. He did, however, like my pretty bride and I was reminded of how beneficial her presence will be at border crossings.
Our broker had given us some instruction about what we needed from Customs and the officer wasn't complying. Eventually he asked where our broker was from, we told him Gaston was from Miami, and he died laughing. "Well that's Miami...this is Houston, BABY!".
As we walked out the door, we promptly executed a perfect Top Gun high-five. We had done it. BigBoi is headed to South America!
So now we're back in real time. The bike arrives in Valparaiso, Chile on February 19th and then is taken to a warehouse in San Antonio, Chile (weird) where we will eventually pick it up. We fly into Santiago on the 22nd and will immediately head to the bike to take it through to Customs (Aduana in Spanish). It's happening. This is happening. We're going to South America.
Until we leave, we'll be taking joyrides on Elga while we can (she's super jealous of what's happening).
We'll also be pouring over maps trying to figure out where we're supposed to go when we get there. I should clear that up, Kristen will be pouring over the maps as she's the official navigator. I'm just a chauffeur.
We've also been taking some Spanish classes seeing as neither of us paid much attention when we were in high school...
And the inevitable finally happened: my facial hair changed to an gentleman's mustache. I have to admit that I'm very pleased with how it turned out. In my mind, if I were to ever stumble across Sam Elliott, he would greet me with a firm handshake and a wink. He would also whisper the password to the secret club that he, Tom Selleck, Groucho Marx, and Super Mario created for men of their particular caliber.
More as we get closer to our departure!
We had the bike, the fabricator and the design, but a week ago it dawned on us that we had to get the BMW up to Claude, whose shop happens to be in Pennsylvania. Great... right?
I'm not sure what's happening, but the entire USA appears to be engulfed in a heat wave. Being from Texas, we are well versed in riding in an onslaught of sunshine and heat - at some point it just becomes unbearable.
So, we came up with a plan: we would just ride 5 or 6 hours a day during the morning and take our time getting up North. Our route treks across a good chunk of the country while trying to avoid the heat. The Blue Ridge Mountains definitely being a highlight, both because of the sights and the climate reprieve.
It turns out that there is no where to hide...
There was quite a bit of highway riding to make miles.
We stayed a night on the mighty Mississippi, though the shower was not quite as mighty.
After I was stung by a kamikaze bee, I was rewarded with this amazing gift for my bravery.
After boiling for 3 days, the Blue Ridge Parkway greeted us with fog, rain and 65 degree temperatures.
We rode through a cloud for the first couple of hours and I don't think I've ever been happier to be riding through terrible visibility. As the day rolled on, the fog seemed to roll off the mountains above, across the road and finally took rest in the valley below.
All in all, the parkway was magnificent. I got to have fun leaning the huge GSA over through turns and Kristen had a ton of opportunities for photos.
Eventually we had to leave the parkway and hit the highway again to make up time. We rolled past Winchester, Virginia and Kristen's parents' first home (where Ryan was born) and finally to Claude's shop in Middleburg!
It should be noted that the first thing we came across when we finally arrived was an unbelievably cool sidecar rig that Claude had made specifically for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The rig was made for a 16-year old boy with muscular dystrophy. His father contacted the foundation when his son's condition started to worsen; eventually the doctors gave him the difficult prognosis of only having a couple of years to live. At this news, the father retired from his job and decided to fulfill his son's wish of seeing the world by motorcycle.
The Foundation funded the entire build and the family will now be able to drive Nicolas' motorized wheelchair into the back of the sidecar. The rig itself is just insane. The amount of work that went into making such a heavy duty frame and car is really remarkable. It was due to be picked up very soon - we'll try to post some links when photos of their travels become available.
We eventually made our way inside and had a dramatic reveal of our new sidecar in its early stages.
Claude has really been listening to our requests and somehow is making them a reality. This thing is incredible! Kristen was happy about her newly found leg room. I can even stretch my legs all the way out. I guess it's about time for Kris to take control of the bike so I can relax.
One of Kristen's ideas was to incorporate a lockable box located in the nose of the sidecar. It will be such a great location for her to store her cameras while riding. Claude wondered why they hadn't done it before.
The amount of storage on this thing is just crazy. I'm pretty sure I could get inside the trunk. It will definitely make packing and living on the road much easier.
There is so much to be done (powder coating, racks, a few more additions to the body, building the frame, etc) but it's out of our hands now. We've made all the decisions we need for Claude and team to move forward!
It's going to be a long 6 weeks!
Before all else, it needs to be said that Kristen and I love our Ural. Not only is it a fantastic machine that will take you where very few other vehicles can but the people surrounding the brand are hospitable and generous. We will never sell our Elga and she will always be well cared for and maintained and ready for riding. Our Ural really ushered us into motorcycle touring and our trip to the Arctic Circle is the cornerstone on which our love of motorcycles stands:
For the past 4 months, however, I have been doing research on other options that may suit our needs better in the future. The wealth of information available on site like Horizons Unlimited, ADVRider, and Soviet Steeds is amazing. I was able to connect with so many experienced riders that really knew what they were talking about. After many conversations and deliberation, we wrote a check for a brand new 2011 BMW R1200 GS Adventure!
Our main considerations for going with a BMW are based on the following:
- I am 6'5". The Ural was definitely designed for someone that was a bit shorter than me. I was able to make it work with bar risers and a flat bench seat but it still gives me a pain in the back after a couple of days of riding. The GSA, on the other hand, is an absolute monster. It fits my body type pretty perfectly and is already proving to be a bit more comfortable.
- The power of the GSA is incredible. We don't ride very fast, in fact part of the reason I love the Ural is because she runs best at around 55 mph. But with the GSA, we will have the option to go faster if need be.
- Reliability: This is kind of a double-edged sword but from what I can tell, the BMW will hopefully have fewer problems that need to be constantly addressed. I'm not under the impression that it will always run flawlessly, but I am hoping that it holds up for quite a few miles. The downside is that if something does go wrong, there is no way that I will be able to fix it myself due to its' complexity. The Ural is a simple machine that can be fixed on the side of the road, at least by those who have the knowledge to do so.
So now we come to our plans for the bike and possibly the biggest deciding factor of the whole purchase. We are currently having a custom sidecar made by C Stanley Motorsports in Pennsylvania! After talking with him many times over the phone, I realized that we could design something that could potentially perfectly fit our particular needs.
For the past month or so, Claude and Kristen and I have been designing our dream sidecar. We have never been a part of this kind of process and it has been a blast, mainly because he so accommodating. It is still in the early steps but as soon as it starts coming together we'll be posting some pictures of the build.
So what's in store for the future?
Kristen and I will be riding the bike up to PA to drop it off at Claude's shop next weekend. We're going to try and take our time and make it a fun ride so we'll be sure to post to BOMF as we head North. We have some pretty extensive plans past that but that will have to wait until another post... More soon!
We woke up feeling moderately rested at the classy Sharf's Motor Inn and headed down for our breakfast. This is worth mentioning because while Kristen had a nice, healthy meal of eggs and toast, I had a cinnamon roll that had been sliced like bread, fried and served like pancakes with syrup and powdered sugar. I could actually hear myself getting fatter.
With a belly full of goodness, we walked across the street to take a tour of the Old Montana Prison. The woman in charge of the motel told us to get there early so that we wouldn't get caught up in the crowds.
The crowds. In a prison.
I love this place.
It turns out that we were put in our place after skeptically smirking because there were a ton of people touring the prison. Enough people, in fact, that at several points we had to hang back so that we could see the "attractions" after the crowd thinned.
"Why would you go to a place like this?", you may ask. We honestly went to gawk at an odd tourist trap and left feeling completely creeped out. This place is straight out of The Shawshank Redemption. The cells were tiny, there were bars everywhere, the air was thick with bad history, and "The Hole" was horrid (too small to stand up or lie down).
The thing that really got us were the gallows. I know they were just set up for show, but something was just wrong about the whole thing. In a Hitchcockesque setting, they stood in a building with hundreds of pigeons cooing overhead.
Our payment also got us into a car museum, which was surprisingly impressive in its oddness.
Our ticket also got us into a place called Yesterday's Playthings. Inside were hundreds of toys and dolls. Did I mention that I hate dolls? And clowns?
After an overall creepy day, we jumped on Elga and rode a beautiful 200 miles to our Aunt and Uncle's place in Bigfork, Montana. Day redeemed.
Since then, we spent a bit of time in town (Kristen found her "one" piece of jewelry for the trip), we cooked lunch and I did Elga's 10,000 km service. I actually really enjoy working on the bike, but today I woke up with the worst back and neck pain I've ever had. I'm hunched over like I'm from Notre Dame and doing the service was a chore. Hopefully some rest will do me good.
Tomorrow we head to Glacier National Park and CANADA!