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Encounter in the Haze by Walter Kitundu

As I stopped to take this picture of light dappled through the afternoon haze on Mt. Tamalpais...

A man pulled up in his car and we began talking about the light and the state of the world and litterbugs, and the suspected source of the haze. He was generous enough to ask if I'd like a picture taken of me on the bike, and he was capable enough to take this stunning photo.

On my way home I had to stop for just one more...

Evolution of the Africa Bike by Walter Kitundu

Nearly 2 months ago I realized I wanted to motorcycle thru Africa... for real. Not like I wanted to think about maybe sometime possibly going... I decided that as long as I have the power to do so... this will happen. So I happened to wander into a bike shop with a dream... Pictured above is the nearly stock, pristine, unbesmirched, ultra-low-mileage beauty that lay in wait. You never see dirtbikes this stock, this clean. People are always tinkering with them trying to improve on what super highly trained motorcycle engineers in Japan have meticulously crafted. I enjoyed and savored the non-tinkered with bike... for 2 days. Seven weeks later...

...behold the Africa Bike (more or less). There will be additions and subtractions I'm sure, but for now I'm focusing on sensible additions that will help make a trip like the one I envision possible (not to mention training for such a trip). I couldn't care less about it being the fastest or most powerful KLX, I'd rather have steady-as-she-goes reliability and simplicity. Suggestions are welcome.

Here is the quick list in picture form with details to follow. Click on the image to see a larger version.

First up, luggage options. Since my trip to the Overland Expo I've been sold on soft luggage, particularly when the going gets rough. It keeps the bike compact, light, and more agile. I'd rather have a leg pinned under a soft bag of my dirty socks than under a bag of my dirty socks sealed in an impenetrable and unforgiving aluminum case. So I decided on Wolfman racks because they can take a hit and can be used as grab handles to shove the bike around. Sensible - yes. Cool points - also yes. Good combo.

A home-made windshield made from a plastic kitchen garbage can. Sensible - yes. Cool points - hell no. Nerd points - yes indeed.

Following that bubble of light through the night is mesmerizing but remember moto-antics are disconcerting to the panic-prone nocturnal denizens of the roadside. All the better to see them with, LED lights from Denali help resolve some of the mysteries of the night.

85 miles between gas stations is silly. A 17L (4.5 gallon) tank gives me at least 200 miles and its translucence takes guessing out of the equation.

200 miles on that slab of a seat is made more bearable with a sheepskin from Alaska Leather. Practical - yes. Weird - awesome.

Lockable tiny top box. Soon to be repositioned on a larger rack that can accommodate a fuel can and dry bag.

Riding on dirt means spending time on your feet. Standing over the stock bars is tiring but these 3 inch risers bring the bars high enough so you can focus on the road ahead and not the burgeoning pain in your hunched over back.

Sometimes you've got to lower the pressures in your tires to deal with offroad conditions. This little 12 volt outlet allows me to re-inflate the tires easily with a tiny pump. I can also charge my phone, camera, and power up the GPS.

Having a tachometer helps me take the measure of the engine. Down the line it won't be crucial but while the bike is still new to me, it helps me relate and calibrate the bike's sound to its inner workings.

Hi-test chain in a used bicycle inner tube provides a lot of security for around 10 bucks.

Since I got the bike I've also wanted the security provided by a kick start. This meant opening up the engine and delving into it. What?! OK, I have to learn how to maintain and repair this bad boy so here we go. With the adult supervision provided by my good friend Mose, I cracked the case open...

and a few hours later reassembled and kicked the bike back to life. Sensible - yes. Badass quotient - exponentially increased. Also, there is a Tonns Fabrication bash plate installed to protect the engine from errant rocks, logs, etc...

I look forward to the day I get to roll this bike over the Tanzanian border. We will both be back home again.

So there it is. I have a W.E.R. steering damper to install to stabilize the bike offroad and in more technical situations, and then just a whole lot of riding. The bike feels great. I realize I'm fortunate to be in the position to entertain such notions of world travel. I don't take it for granted. I hope to share the experiences in ways that are generative and generous.

 

Fifth of July by Walter Kitundu

It's a lovely day in Northern California. The sun is shining and for once I haven't even considered the temperature. The KLX is awesome and the commute to and from work today was great. The trail wings are great on the Pacific Coast Highway's freshly paved surface and even the holiday traffic wasn't a bother once I realized the bike likes to live in its upper register. Overtakes were simple and direct. This bike is what I'm pinning my Africa hopes on. It may be 5-7 years from now but everyday it becomes a sliver more real and I can picture the reality of what is now just a dream, an inkling. I can smell the dirt and feel the uncertainty of police checkpoints and the silence of roadside stops, helmet off in the heat, birds and distant traffic, footfalls and Maasai kids staring me down. And that is just one moment in a litany of moments in one country on one continent.

I still have to learn how to fix my bike and learn Kiswahili and get to Alaska and Panama and Tierra del Fuego. But for now the dream is enough. I have some badass overalls coming to me from Mondo Enduro's own Austin Vince in the colors of the Tanzanian flag (courtesy my sweetheart) and I can picture myself riding the dunes in the Namib desert in them... that really is enough for now. More messing with the bike, more riding, more obsessing. I may be married with kids by the time I go but I know it will make me a better man. A stronger man. A more generous and considered man. And it will put my "home" in context. It will allow me to take the quotes off the word home and feel connected like I ought to. I am Tanzanian after all. Mimi ni mwafrica. Kabisa.

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.