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…

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