Monthly Archives: February 2013

Light Bike Travels

There was a time I was much more carefree in my adventures, and quite honestly the naivety could have gotten me seriously hurt.

I had just returned from Europe with a short detour through the middle east, mainly the hot spots of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with a bit of Turkey in the mix. Life had smacked me with a recent divorce, the main culprit …. a woman who did not understand my adventurous nature and my unwillingness to be a stay at home couch potato. After being accused of nearly every sin in the book, I cast of my desire to conform with anything, except what the military deemed necessary to be termed “Good Conduct”.

Part of this rebellious streak included buying a motorcycle. My Suzuki Samurai had yet to be returned from the ex, and I was not going to wait around to travel the U.S. now that I was back. I had not been allowed motorcycles when growing up, so combined with the need to travel, soothe my soul, and the need to be far-away from post prompted my purchase of a 1983 Yamaha XT-250.

A barracks mate of mine took me down to buy it. I had some money saved up so we hit the local Yamaha shop. I knew I needed something small with it being my first bike. I also wanted the ability to travel off-road.

After paper work was signed, a small finance package from the dealer who was used to working (read “working over”) service guys, I drove my buddy’s car back to base and he rode my new bike.

I had never ridden a bike except around base camps in southern Turkey and Northern Iraq, so we set up in the parking lot, and I learned the ins and outs of motor-biking. Fortunately my friend was a motorcycle safety instructor for the post and I had great 1×1 instruction on the safety aspects of bikes. For a few weeks I limited my bike rides to our parking lot and on occasion the BX. Eventually through practice, I ventured off-base for a little more freedom.

At the time I was working 12-hour night shift with a three-on/ three- off schedule. I would get off duty around 0600, get a ride back to the barracks, shower and change out of uniform, and be on the road no later than 0700. I had all of Texas to discover in a few days, and packed with a credit card, small tarp for a tent, toothbrush, and change of underwear I was off and down the road with my little 250.

I knew nothing about chain tension, how to change a flat, or other minor maintenance needs of my bike at the time. In those early days I made horrible decisions about riding in rain, fog, and even ice. Looking back, I was gaining experience, simply by being lucky. Within the first three months, at the awe of the dealer, I had put over 12,000 miles on the bike. It wasn’t until I took it in for a negotiated 90 maintenance that I learned both of the need to change or adjust the chain and other preventative task for the bike. The dealer was blown away by the amount of milage I had made on such a small bike. If it had not been for some of my other obligations, a few short trips with lay-overs, etc I would have logged more miles.

While most of my trips had me exploring Texas, after the 90-day period (and a crash course from the mechanic on roadside repairs) I started exploring New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and even a trip into Mexico. With more confidence in the bike and aversion to interstates, I made most of my trips on the older highways and backroads. While it was slower in ticking the odometer, I was more into racking up scenery and interaction with the locals more than I was about simply adding numbers to my stats.

What I learned about small bike travel has not only shaped my travels today (which is perhaps what drives my wife insane), but paid off several years later when she and I traveled all over Texas on a 250 Virago. Here is a basic outline of the lessons learned that I still apply today.

Rigid Flexibility: I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t afraid to meander, delay, goof-off, rabbit trail, or hang out. I never made the destination the priority unless it was getting back to post on time. I made sure to follow my curiosity. Not once did I book a hotel that I had to be at by a certain time, and never committed to a time of arrival for meet-ups.

Two-Thirds Rule: As far as time allocation, it ties in with the above. I would look at the overall area that I wanted to go to and plan from there back to my home how long it would take to get back using 2/3rds the time I had. Then I would use my rule of rigid flexibility to plan the first 1/3rd of the trip. Was never late to the first formation, and in fact, planned sleep time before showing up for my first shift.

Map Recon: This comes easy as I love maps. I would check out the general area I wanted to go to and during long and boring hours of guard duty I would commit the maps to memory. I would have others quiz me about the section I was going to be traveling in. This also (in one way or another) let others know where I was going. I knew in advance where gas stations, hotels, camp grounds, and even emergency contacts (friends and family of friends) were when I needed them.

Dress for the Crash: I put that bike down three times. Once was jumping it in a vacant lot, the other was avoiding the hood of a truck. The final time, I was over-loaded and entering the interstate outside of Weatherford, Texas. The bike had too much weight on the rear and as I accelerated, the front came up and flipped me backwards. All three times gear kept me safe.

Travel Light: I learned the hard way (above) you can only pack so much on a light bike. It disrupts handling, and is just more stuff to carry. I opted to travel in style since I was on so many backroads, and since most of my “day-job” involved living in the field, I opted to stay in less expensive hotels. Having a pool is great for summer-time travel in southern New Mexico.

Imodium: still in every travel pack I own. At some point you will eat a bad burrito.

Pictures and Journal: Though I still have many of the journal notes, I really wish I had more pictures from this time in my life. Even if it would have just been the bike at a roadside stop or a scenic overlook.

My travels taught me and shaped so much of who I am today. While I long for independent travel still, I also realize that this was perhaps one period of my life, and I have made choices that prompt me to move along. For a young guy who was in the state I was in, it was great. Now with a family, others who depend on me in my company, and other obligations, I have shifted my focus to four-wheel travel. But I do believe that every man needs to have this Lone Ranger era in his life….

Now that I have introduced this period of my life, I will have to post some of the specific trips at a later point…

Top Gun – I Feel the Need for Speed

Another geek confession. I loved Top Gun. I saw it 26 times in the span of three weeks. Most pilots over the age of 40 remembers Top Gun. This was the 1986 blockbuster with Tom Cruise that encouraged many people to learn to fly. I was one. Though it was something I had wanted to do before, but the movie sent me over the edge. I took initial lessons, joined Civil Air Patrol, talked to professional liars (military recruiters).


 I naively joined the Air Force thinking this would be my path to flying, in both the military and general aviation. I didn’t realize at the time I would spend my career in the field, eating MREs, and only talking to pilots.

Fast forward and the movie has been re-mastered in 3-D and will return to about 300 IMAX theaters beginning this Friday (Feb. 8) for a six-day engagement.

Though my love for Kelly McGillis has faded because she isn’t interested in my type, and Tom Cruise is a dweeb, Val Kilmer is fat, and Meg Ryan in her small role still makes my heart thump. But it still has Goose, AKA Anthony Edwards—who played Maverick’s back-seater/radar intercept officer. Edwards recently became a private pilot who drives a serious a Cirrus SR20.

The movie follows the story (kind of far-fetched at the end) of elite Navy Aviators competing to be the best in their air combat maneuvering class. The blockbuster earned more than $300 million in box offices worldwide. It can be corny, and if you forget everything you know about military discipline, aviation, and beach volleyball, it’s a great movie. Plus the Navy has always been great at allowing Hollywood access to ships, planes, and other aspects that incorporate real footage.

Not sure yet which Imax theaters will feature, really hoping I get to see it in BOI and introduce my kiddo to one of my own influences in becoming a pilot.