Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Wish for 2010

My wish for 2010 is that Yamaha brings the Super Tenere to the US.  I would be first in line to get one and I would begin a whole new type of my own adventures.  All my long trips to date have been mostly on paved roads with the occasional unpaved road but the sound of rocks and stones bouncing off my Goldie's fairing always makes me cringe.  There are so many unpaved, gravel and dirt roads in the US to be explored and this would be the perfect bike to explore them. As every biker knows, one bike is never enough and the Super Tenere would be a great addition to my stable.  Yamaha, please bring the Super Tenere to the US, what an awesome machine.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best adventures in 2010. Remember that the key to take on any good adventure is to just show up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last ride of the year

As I count down the last days of what was a beautiful and successful riding year, I can only hope 2010 will be even better. Lately I have been missing the long past warm Summer days and all the beautiful scenery I have enjoyed this past year. The just started winter season is already dragging and I long for the warm Spring days to start the riding season again.

This past weekend started with rain on Saturday that continued throughout the day into the evening but it turned out to be a blessing as it melted the almost 20 inches of snow we had received on the 19th.

Sunday was expected to be in the upper 40's according to the weather man and a quick plan was put into action to wake our bikes out of hibernation. I am referring to my brothers new shiny BMW 1200GS Adventure and my trusted Goldie. They had been keeping each other company in my cold garage, my well ridden Goldie and the brand new, never ridden GS. I'm sure my Goldie could tell the newcomer a few tales if they could talk. We started getting them ready on Saturday by making sure the battery tenders were in action, activating and warming the chemicals in their hearts, as the early morning start would put a strain on their cold engines. Sunday arrived with a beautiful sunrise and temperatures in the high 30's. We got the bikes out and started their engines, the starting cacophony quickly turning into a purring sound, music to our hearts. We suited up and briskly hit the road, no time to lose. My brothers instructions were clear, no speeding, no highway driving, no constant speed, preferably a road with lots of turns and ups and downs, that is the way to break-in a brand new engine. We decided we would ride back roads towards the shore and then continue up to the Sandy Hook lighthouse. I have lived in the area for 24 years, I know my way around. We rode through some of Jackson's back-roads eventually crossing through Freehold and hitting the old Route 33, we proceeded East past the old Collingwood Auction and Flea Market and into Ocean Township. We went down Cold Indian Springs road towards Deal road and made our way to Whale Pond road alongside Joe Palaia Park. We continued towards Long Branch where I had planned to stop for a quick bite and an Espresso (Bica) at the Port Chop Barbecue, a small but cozy Portuguese restaurant. We split a plate of "Rissois de Camarao" (Shrimp Cakes) and another of "Pasteis de Bacalhau" (Cod Fish Cakes) and after 2 espressos I was ready to hit the road again. A few casual observers had been admiring our bikes and especially the GS with its aluminum side cases and the black spoke wheels. We got back on the road and proceeded to Ocean Boulevard, turning north along the shore.

View from Sandy Hook towards NY City with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the foreground

We entered the Gateway National Recreation Area, AKA Sandy Hook, and continued past Spermaceti Cove followed by Horseshoe Cove and finally stopped for a few shots of our bikes in front of some Cold War age US Army Missiles. These missiles were used to protect NY City from nuclear attack from the old USSR.

We then rode past the old homes along the bay and moved on to the north part of the park where you can see the old fortifications. These concrete fortifications held gun batteries at the beginning of last century but are now decaying badly. Some of the areas are still accessible to the public and offer beautiful views of the bay and the entrance to the New York Harbor.

My brother waiting for me while I take photos

We left the park and proceeded north to the Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook. At 266 feet, this overlook in Atlantic Highlands sits on the highest natural elevation on the Atlantic seaboard (excluding islands) from Maine to the Yucatan providing beautiful views of Sandy Hook, Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay and the New York skyline. This 12-acre site is also home to Monmouth County's 9/11 Memorial. Monmouth County's 9/11 Memorial is a tribute to 147 men and women who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001-- men and women born, raised, or residing at the time in Monmouth County.

It was getting late and it was time to head home, we got on our bikes, rode down the twisty Ocean Blvd to the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Harbor only to make a U-turn and head back up Ocean Blvd just for fun. We continued home on Navesink Ave and Monmouth Ave towards route 35. We made a left going south towards Red Bank and then crossing Colts Neck Township on County Road 537 and eventually getting home without ever hitting a highway. We did a little over 100 miles and got home with the sun disappearing on the horizon and the temperature returning to what is normal for this time of the year, in other words, freezing. We parked our bikes, plugged the battery tenders and quickly went inside to brew a cup of coffee.

My brother is happy with his new GS and I can't wait for Spring.

A big Happy New Year wish to all my friends :-)

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Our" Motorcycle trip to Death Valley, California

We were in Las Vegas celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and the flashing neon sign welcoming you to "Fabulous" Las Vegas as you leave the airport is a sure sign that you can find something to entertain you in this glistening and exciting oasis of a city in the middle of the vast Nevada desert. We were headed to the Luxor Hotel and Casino for what would be seven days of good food, exceptional entertainment, the renewal of our wedding vows and to top it off with a motorcycle trip through Death Valley in California. The city, with it's plethora of wedding chapels, is the perfect spot to surprise your honey of 25 years. From Elvis themed chapels, drive-through chapels, “Chapel in the Clouds” and even helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon for vow renewals, you are bound to find something exciting to celebrate the occasion.

We were headed to the Luxor because of my sweetheart’s affection for everything Egyptian and there’s nothing better than to start with an Egyptian themed resort and casino. She was pleasantly surprised the next day and totally unaware when the big white stretched limo pulled up in front of the hotel as we waited outside for what she thought was going to be a simple cab ride to another casino for dinner. We drove through the city, a labyrinth of glowing and flashing neon signed casinos in what to her might have been a white chariot pulled by stallions, to the wedding chapel. We renewed our vows, got the pictures to show the family and friends and then were chauffeured in the limo through the city to the Bellagio casino for a sumptuous dinner at the Circo restaurant, a rustic taste of Tuscany with breathtaking views of the Bellagio fountains.

Later that evening, we saw "O" Cirque du Soleil, an aquatic tapestry of artistry, surrealism and theatrical romance, with world-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters performing in, on, and above water to create a breathtaking experience in a magnificent theatre reminiscent of a European opera house.

The day finally arrived when we would embark on our motorcycle adventure to Death Valley. It was to be my first time on a Harley Davidson motorcycle and I anxiously waited for the moment I would straddle the big Harley and “feel” the big V-Twin rumble. It was a Harley Davidson Heritage, similar in size to my Kawasaki Mean Streak, which was to be my ride for the day. We both suited up and promptly left the city of Las Vegas at 8.30 in the morning for what was to be a glorious riding day into California and through the entire length of Death Valley. We hit State Route 160 West, AKA the “Pahrump Valley Highway” and proceeded to cross Mountain Springs, a small community in southern Nevada located at the pass over the Spring Mountains.

It was late February and the mountains peaks were still covered with snow. We shivered for a while as we crossed the peak of the mountain and then as we descended into the valley took a left on to the Old Spanish Trail Highway on the way to Calvada Springs. I was not prepared for the cold temperatures but as we crossed Tecopa the temperature was on the way up. We stopped to admire the scenery and to stretch the legs. The roads in this part of the country stretch for mile after mile in endless straights offering the perfect place to enjoy a motorcycle. The Heritage was very comfortable and the windshield offered a certain amount of protection from the cold. My better half was totally enjoying the ride and finding the back seat much more comfortable than the one on the Mean Streak.

We arrive in Shoshone, population 52, although small it is notable as a southern gateway to Death Valley and it has the last services available before the Furnace Creek area in the park. The town includes a Post Office, gas station, restaurant, bar and coffee house and lots of Date Palm trees.

It was still early morning and cold, a hot cup of coffee and a snack at the local shop was soon in our hands. We made an acquaintance at the coffee shop, he didn't say much but we had fun taking pictures with him. After admiring the local shops and wondering through the local area we filled up with gas and got on our way leaving behind the still sleepy desert town.

Just a few miles down the road we made a left into Jubilee Pass road leaving the white peaked mountains behind us. The Harley was finally able to stretch its legs and we made good time across the desert until we met up with Bad Water road. We made a right and proceeded north into Death Valley. The early morning sun beautifully accentuating a desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and 3 million acres of wilderness.

Summer high temperatures commonly run above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, I was glad we were doing this trip in late February. Our first major stop was in Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan being the lowest. We walked on the Salt lake bed and were surprised by the lack of any visible life form other than human. The salt lake extends for miles and miles throughout the valley with the snow-capped Panamint Mountains rising to more than 11,000 feet above the nation's lowest elevation.

The water is definitely "Bad" but the pools of salty water reflect the beauty of the surroundings creating a beautiful landscape. We mounted our steed and noisily left on the way to Furnace Creek, the headquarters of Death Valley National Park. Furnace Creek has the distinction of holding the record for the highest ever recorded temperature in the United States, as well as one of the highest ever reliably recorded worldwide, reaching 134 °F (57 °C) on July 10, 1913. Springs in the Amargosa Range created a natural oasis at Furnace Creek. The Timbisha Indians have lived in the area for centuries and continue to comprise most of the permanent population. The town is full of Date Palm trees providing a contrast to the desolate surroundings.

We headed to the Corkscrew Saloon for a much anticipated meal and drink. The waitress was nice, the food good and the drinks cold. With our bodies replenished, we left town and proceeded north towards Scotty's Castle on the north side of the park. We took some sight seeing detours along the way and finally arrived at our destination late in the afternoon. Hidden in the green oasis of Grapevine Canyon in far northern Death Valley, the Death Valley Ranch, or Scotty's Castle as it is more commonly known, is a window into the life and times of the Roaring 20's and Depression 30's.

Death Valley "Scotty" told everyone that he built his castle in northern Death Valley with money from his "secret" gold mine. That was not quite the truth. A Chicago millionaire and his wife built their "Death Valley Ranch" in the cool of Grapevine Canyon and they let their friend Scotty live there as a guest. "Moonlight anywhere is a delight. But there's no moonlight in the world that can compare with the moonlight in Grapevine Canyon, our desert canyon, where the Castle stands." -quote by Mrs. Bessie Johnson from Death Valley Scotty by Mabel © 1932.

It was late in the afternoon and with the temperature dropping fast, we made our way out of Death Valley over the mountains and back into Nevada, passing Bonnie Claire, a ghost town before meeting up with I95 and turning south towards our next stop for gas in Beatty. By the time we reached Beatty, the darkness of the desert night had engulfed us and the temperature was fast approaching freezing. We bought t-shirts, 2 warm scarfs, warmed up with hot chocolate, donned my protective mask and with a full tank of gas headed south for what would be a 2 and half hours dash back to Las Vegas.

The approach to the city is almost supernatural with all the light shining into the sky and illuminating the surrounding desert. Outdoor lighting displays are everywhere on the Las Vegas Strip and are seen elsewhere in the city as well. As seen from space, the Las Vegas metropolitan area is the brightest city on Earth. Our day ended with 380 beautifully ridden miles across the desert. We returned to the Luxor, had a glass of Champagne to celebrate the ride at the Aurora bar , which features unique lighting effects across the ceiling based off the Aurora Borealis, and then retreated to our Egyptian themed room. Later, as I closed my eyes with my honey next to me, I could still hear the rambling of the big V-Twin of the Harley Davidson Heritage.

More pictures here:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trip to Key West

I had 7 days to ride to Key West Florida and return back home. I decided I would do the trip on my Kawasaki Mean Streak. All my friends said I was crazy (I am), they said the bike was too noisy for long distance riding (it is), but I really wanted to get a photo of my Mean Streak in front of the "Southern Most Point in the USA" and so it was, with the bike packed up, wired with a GPS and a camera on hand, my friend Mike and I departed on our trip.

We decided to go down Interstate 81 and ride part of the Skyline Drive in Virginia. The mountains of Virginia are always beautiful in the fall with all the leaves changing color. We rode all day and as the night approached we decided to camp in Buena Vista.

We continued the next day towards Atlanta where a friend had offered us an overnight stay. We arrived late in the afternoon, had dinner at "El Azteca", paid a visit to a local bar for a few beers and called it a night.
The next day we continued south on I75 towards Tampa splitting up near Lake Panasoffkee, Mike continuing towards Tampa and I made my way down the Florida Turnpike through Orlando and on to West Palm Beach on the east coast for the night.

The next morning, got up early and headed out towards Miami and made a stop in South Beach for breakfast at the Cardozo Hotel. South Beach is world famous as a party playground for the rich and famous. South Beach (aka SoBe) is on Miami beach, a barrier island connected to Miami proper by the MacArthur causeway bridge. I took a leisurely stroll along Ocean Drive, which is lined with colorful historic Art Deco buildings, every photographer's dream. Stylish hotels now occupy the iconic buildings - most have cool bars and trendy cafés, which front the sidewalk. "SoBe" is an interesting and colorful place with old and new hotels intermixed with palm trees and beautiful beaches.

I made my way through Miami and continued south on route 1 towards my final destination of Key West. I arrived late in the afternoon and after checking into a motel headed towards Duval Street. If you ever go to Key West, stay until dark, that's when the party begins.

Despite its comparably small size, the island as well as the town Key West are fascinating and bustling with activity. Key West is not only known for its perfect weather, but also for its fascinating culture which is really more a blend of cultures because of the immigrants who have settled here and added to the tolerant and accepting atmosphere. Every night, painters, musician, performers and artists congregate in a park on the west side of the island at sunset to perform for tourists from all over the globe.
I watched in awe the sunset in Key West, the most southern city in the USA, with thousands of people around me. The views over the gulf of Mexico are breathtaking. I enjoyed a shrimp dinner and then made my way to Duval Street again for a few more drinks. The place gets crazy late into the night and I got some unexpected pictures of babes on my bike, all in good fun.

The next morning, after getting up at 6 am to pack the bike, I headed north on route 1 to see the sunrise over the bridges that connect the islands.

The sunrise was spectacular as I traveled alone up route 1 north . Watching the sun rise while listening to the symphonic drone of the engine is just magical.
I made my way towards Marco Island on the west side of the Everglades along route 41, also known as the Alligator Alley. You can be certain to see lots of alligators on the side of the road and I was not disappointed. Route 41 has some very long straights along the Everglades National Park and very few cars travel through it.

The temperatures kept climbing as the day progressed and off came the jacket. All I could think was how a little accident could turn very drastic with all the Alligators eying me as I slowly rode my loud Mean Streak. I had a feeling I was intruding into their space and interrupting their midday nap. I stopped a few times to admire the beauty surrounding me and absence of civilization noise. During mating season, adult males let out a rumble to entice females and young alligators let out a squeal to summon their mother to dig them out of the ground. There were lots of anhingas, a water bird, that does not have oil glands for waterproofing its feathers like most water birds. When it goes swimming its feathers get wet. This helps it dive and chase fish underwater. However when it is above water, it must spread its wings to dry in the sun. I saw Sandhill Cranes, a family of long-necked marsh birds that live in Florida. It stands almost 5 feet tall with a wingspread of 7 feet. The Sandhill Crane wades in the marshy water of the Everglades where it eats small fish. There were Great Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, Osprey, Red-shouldered hawks and various other beautiful birds going about their usual business.

My buddy

Marco Island is the largest of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, located on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. It has been described as Magical, Mystical and Alluring. The attraction is tropical sun-washed white beaches. Nestled in the mangrove islands of southwest Florida's coast, Marco Island is surrounded by miles and miles of pristine, uninhabited islands, bays, creeks, and the Gulf of Mexico. I was getting hungrier by the minute and a stop for lunch was due.

After a quick bite and a large chocolate ice cream cone I headed out towards Tampa along I75. I could see stormy weather up north but after checking the weather radar map on my cell phone I decided to continue as the storm was heading north west. I did catch a few drops but it was the tail end of the storm and not enough to slow me down.

I continued as the glorious sun went down once again over the horizon. It was getting darker by the minute but I made my way north and checked into a motel on the outskirts of Tampa. After a phone call to my wife and daughter and checking on my friend Mike it was time for dinner and relaxing after more than 12 hours on the bike. I must admit, I was surprised how comfortable my Mean Streak was after every long day.

The next day, Mike met me for breakfast before we started our trek back home. After a quick look at the weather map we decided we would change plans and not go back to Atlanta as torrential rains were predicted for most of Georgia. We headed east towards Daytona Beach and proceeded north on I95. We crossed Georgia and into South Carolina where we took I26 West towards Columbia and then I77 North towards Charlotte. We ran into rain late in the evening and after an hour riding in the rain a quick decision was made to stop for the night rather than fight for the road with 18 wheelers under very bad weather conditions. We checked into a motel and proceeded to use our camping cookware in the room to wip out a quick meal. Fire alarms didn't go off but I was concerned. We had done 550 miles for the day, it was time to wind down and call it a night.

The next day we left the motel with fog all around us. We stopped for breakfast and then hit the road again. I was able to convince my friend Mike that we could ride all the way home in one day. He thought otherwise at first but as the day progressed and we covered mile after mile with stops for fuel and a quick strech only, we realised we would be home from Florida in 2 days. It was a very long day with me covering 680 miles in one day. My family were happy to see me back and I got my picture at the Southern Most Point in the USA.

More pictures here: