F800GS

Episode 1 - A Chance Meeting by Walter Kitundu

This is the very first 12 Seconds Ahead podcast. It recalls the accident outlined in the recent post Reflecting on Risk.

Like the blog, this is just another outlet for contemplating the experience of being a motorcyclist. I've got a library of music I've written and recorded and will use it to score each episode. I'm new to this and am only planning to create a podcast when the content merits one. Since I'm not pressured to create one on a schedule, I'll endeavor to make each one worth your time.

Let me know what you think. This is a weirdly vulnerable thing to do, offering your voice to strangers. We'll see how this experiment goes. Podcasting is an easy thing to do... but it's a hard thing to do well. I see the learning curve looming up ahead.

Here is the link to Roman Mars' brilliant podcast mentioned in the opening. 99% Invisible

Scrubbing in the New Tire by Walter Kitundu

I went on a circuitous hundred mile meander over the hills and through the woods, down the coast and around the mountain today to get the new rear tire properly scrubbed in.

The light near the top of Mount Tamalpais was astounding as it scattered through the redwoods.

It's always interesting getting to know the feel of a new tire. In this case I had just changed the oil and done some chain maintenance so the bike felt like a different animal until it settled in. It was at once smoother because it shifts like silk after an oil change, and weirdly vibey because the new rubber has a distinctive tread that plays rhythms at low speeds.

Bolinas-Fairfax Road was its usual curvy-glorious-uninhabited self as it transported me to the coast. Then I ambled down Highway One, pacing the setting sun back to the bay, rising just in time to catch it as it descended golden over the coastal hills above Muir Woods.

It illuminated a west-facing outcropping of rock and revealed a perfect outdoor venue for shadow theatre,

The long weekend also gave me the chance to reassemble the bike's good luck charm which looked over me through Death Valley on the trip to and from the Overland Expo. (read the trip report HERE)

It was nice to put in some miles and I'm grateful for the weather which could have easily been grey and considerably colder. I'll give credit for that one to the bird on my tail.

A Trip to the Overland Expo by Walter Kitundu

This is a photo laden post but don't miss the video which is short and gives a great sense of the trip.

I started out with the BMW boxes, but as I left I discovered my soft luggage from Andy Strapz in Australia had arrived.

I switched over and was amazed that the bike could be so much lighter, more compact, and still carry the same load. It seemed promising.

I started with french toast at the famous bike stop on Highway 35, Alice's Restaurant.

After careening through Panoche Valley and lumbering down Interstate 5, I emerged in the vast, open landscape of the Carrizo Plain.

I wasn't the only one moving through the plains that day.

It has an endlessness about it and is one of my favorite places in California, especially in spring when the whole area is submerged in wildflowers.

Southward still lie the mountains and the sinuous Highway 33. I stayed the night with some dear friends in Los Angeles after 520 rapturous and rigorous miles. The next day I put my head down and rocketed across the desert adding another 515 miles to the tally bringing the grand total to 1035 miles in two long days. But at last I was at the Expo. I set up camp and awoke early to discover just what I had gotten myself into.

Right away I met the inimitable Bill Dwyer, author of Anxiety Across the Americas, which was great timing as I was rife with anxiety being alone among thousands, a thousand miles from home.

Then I took in the legendary Austin Vince's tremendously engaging talk about making a proper film of your journey.

Soon another of my moto-heroes popped up in the form of the incomparable Lois Pryce. She signed my windshield for good luck and raised my spirits. Eventually Ted Simon, Chris Scott, Austin and the Mondo Sahara crew, and filmmaker Sterling Noren all contributed their signatures!

Their words of encouragement would immediately come in handy.

The next morning I joined a group ride with about thirty 1200GS riders. It was slated to be a "basic" 2 hour ride and ended up lasting for four, rutted, rocky, tree-lined, sandy-bermed, dusty hours. I stayed with the top two or three riders and learned a tremendous amount as I outpaced most of the group and felt wonderfully challenged but in control. It was invigorating and confidence-inspiring. Sterling's words to "Ride hard and take chances" resonated.

This is the dusty face of contentment and newly found confidence!

Another highlight was the well crafted Adventure Travel Film Festival hosted by Austin Vince. We got to enjoy the world premiere of Mondo Sahara followed by a Q&A with the team.

Just like that the weekend was drawing to a close under Arizona's dramatic skies.

The next morning it was time to roam. At least one of us had that option...

I made my way north to the Hoover Dam and through Las Vegas to a place I had always dreamed of going.

The internet had assured me the temperature would peak in the 80s... I was artfully deceived.

Here I am sinking to new lows in the wide, hot, open spaces of the morbidly named park. Apparently the first non-native travelers who tried to cross it ran into troubles. One person died during the trip and that tarnished the place's reputation enough that it was labeled the valley of death. The name stuck. Descending through the Funeral Mountains will still put a chill down your back and refresh any uncertainties you might have. (click the image to see it properly)

The scale of the place actually reminded my of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania... except not green. There were some proper dunes to be found and they stood lovely and forbidding in the late afternoon light.

Leaving Death Valley through the vast Panamint Valley and high desert.

I stayed in Lone Pine in the shadow of Mount Whitney. The end of a 550 mile day.

It is morning in Mono Basin, and the famous lake and its gangrenous tufa formations continue to spark curiosity and fascination.

A sunrise in miniature.

Returning through Tioga Pass and Yosemite National Park was what you might expect... simply beautiful. Perhaps I'll head to the Expo again next year. Many thanks to everyone who supported my trip, from the lovely people I met, to my employers, and crucially, to the love of my life. More journeys lay ahead...

Here is the eventual line I scrawled across the map as I meandered. Click it for more detail.

As an aside, here is a video chronicling one of the hazards of returning to civilization after having enjoyed the pleasures of more remote regions. 

Rubicon Road by Walter Kitundu

Our destination was a steep valley that my friend North found in the mountains northeast of Georgetown. The red squiggle actually shows our route from morning until we came to an unexpected bump in the road. This was the goal... to weave through the trees beyond Rubicon Road and get to a tiny bridge that could carry us across the river to unknown and uncharted territory. We hoped to reconnect with Interstate 80 after navigating through what looked like passable trails on the satellite photos.

So I got the bike packed up for an overnight trip into the hills.

I ended up in Dixon after a low-frequency front-end wobble at 80 mph had me puzzling over the recent changes I'd made to the bike. Suspension, steering damper, new tires? I rechecked all the bolts and decided to crank up the preload on the rear shock and hope for the best. The oscillation was self correcting which was good if still unsettling. I got in tune with it and soon was back up to speed and feeling safe again.

Reaching the South Fork of the American River it finally felt like I was away from the congestion of the central valley.

This was the scene that greeted me at that particular pullout.

North and I met up at a friend's home in Garden Valley and contemplated getting our camp set up before the forecasted rains arrived.

Not a bad place to spend a night. The lightning storm was an added bonus at 3am.

The next day we set off to find Rubicon Road and North, eager to get off the pavement, found some rain-slicked single-track to dirty up his bike before the main event. Here he has just recovered his bike from a hole in the forest off Darling Ridge Road.

We eventually found Rubicon Road and the riding was amazing, and challenging, and rainy, and rocky, and slick... Click the image above to see it full size.

Before I get too ahead of the story, here is the video of what happened on that particular Easter Sunday.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/63148826 w=600&h=451]

Here is a link to the story as told by still pictures from my helmet-cam.

The road eventually came to an abrupt end courtesy of a landslide that had reclaimed the hillside. It was a beautiful place to have to stop. Click the image to see it full size.

We figured it was as good a place as any to have lunch.

Heading down that ravine trail in the rain, over sharp rocks, mud, moss, branches, ruts, etc... surely counts as a legit way to get my first off road experience. It was epic. Thanks to North for leading the way, in his inimitable fashion, on worn out street tires that had no business being on the trail.

North and I reflect on the events of the morning.

We could see that tiny bridge in the distance but there wasn't any hope of getting our bikes down there.

North contemplates the trails snaking up to the opposing ridge.

I practice timing celebratory jumps in anticipation of crossing equators and such.

While setting up to pose for what I'm sure would have been the most epic heroic self portraits at the end of the road, North backed his bike up to the edge of a sheer forty foot drop and dismounted only to have the kickstand sink into the mud and the 600lb bike fall onto the very edge of the cliff. It was a scary moment that I couldn't quite believe I was seeing as it unfolded in slow motion.

We managed to drag it away from the edge and get it righted again but not before, feeling slightly unsure of etiquette, I grabbed my camera to document the proceedings.

I wound up heading to Grizzly Island at the end of the day to look for Short-eared Owls and relax a bit. It was a fantastic day with incredibly beautiful and challenging terrain.