Los Angeles, California is probably an OK city. A zillion people live in and around the city. Driving from north to south on Interstate 405 takes over an hour when the traffic is light, at 60 miles per hour. That means the sprawl is 60 miles long. Forget that the air stinks, traffic moves at the speed of melting butter and the price of everything from gas to food is unpleasantly high. The zillion people must find something in the area that merits stewing there.
The Russians stranded me in Los Angeles for just over three weeks. Vladivostok Air Cargo out of Vladivostok, Russia had accepted full payment to fly my Kawasaki KLR 650 to Los Angeles. They flew it as far as Seoul, Korea, where it sat in Never-Never Land while I tried to get it freed-up. Eventually, with a lot of help from friends all over the world, we were able to put enough pressure on the company management to move it from Seoul to Los Angeles, but only after Vladivostok Air Cargo extracted another $360.00 from my bank account. That was the cheap part. Staying in the Los Angeles area for three weeks cost four times as much.
To kill a long weekend I bummed a car and bed from friends and got out of Los Angeles. Driving a car after 5 months on a motorcycle was almost a pleasure. I got out of the air-conditioned glass and metal box in Yuma, Arizona at 6:30 PM one evening to fill-up with gas. The thermometer on the wall, in the shade, showed 106 degrees Fahrenheit. I was glad not to have been on the motorcycle. My brains would have been melting, dripping out of my ears and down the insides of my motorcycle helmet. A jillion people live in Yuma, Arizona, so there must also be something there that merits cooking in that desert oven.
After an hour of sitting in the sun the tops of the aluminum panniers on my motorcycle could have fried an egg. In Yuma it was too hot to play golf during the day, so they played at night, with golf balls that had little lights on the inside.
Wandering down a section of Route 66, I was reminded of what a Russian motorcyclist told me in Moscow. He had read in a Russian motorcycle magazine that it was the dream of American “bikers” to ride their motorcycle the entire length of Route 66. I popped his bubble when I told him much of Route 66 has gone missing in middle America, and other sections were clogged with traffic, so many “bikers” never dreamt of dealing with the remaining sections. I did tell him that having lived on Route 66 (this really got his heart pumping) I could recommend the sections from Oklahoma to California as being scenic and reflective of the “Mother Road.” It was on these sections I had seen many Harley-Davidson, Honda Gold Wing and BMW Clubs stopped at diners and “Mom and Pop” motels. These were the images he had in his mind, along with old cars and 1950-era gas stations.
Route 66, America’s “Mother Road.” I saw more foreigners riding their motorcycles on Route 66 than I saw Americans.
Another phenomenon I noted while driving around Southwest America was the presence of roadkills on the roads. Dogs, cats, coyotes and birds seemed to be the most numerous. I reflected on the roads of Russia, Europe and Africa. I had seen little roadkill there. I asked a local motorcyclist in Europe what happened to the animals cars killed while crossing the road. The European (German) told me the police and local “jaggermeister” were immediately called and the animal removed. He said there was a man who kept an inventory of all the animals in his assigned wooded area, so he must be contacted to delete the dead ones from his list, and it was him who scraped it up from the road. Knowing the Germans love for wild meat, I suspected the animal ended up in the local cook pot.
In Africa there was no question that the squashed animal became Fido Stew. With too many people and no food, to leave fresh meat to broil on the tarmac for flies and birds to eat would be to take the food out of the mouth of a hungry human being.
Same-same in Asia, where the land had been hunted barren. In Thailand, Laos and Burma I never saw a single roadkill. Again, it was a matter of hunger.
Russia perplexed me. Cars were zipping along at great speed, and there were no fences to keep the animals from entering the kill zone of macadam. However, I saw no flattened cats, dogs or wild game. I asked a Russian what happened to the roadkill and was told most often it was quickly scooped up by the locals and used as a delicacy for meals. He added that this was a carryover from the Communist years where even animals were factored into their 20-Year Plans. For example, a domestic dog required dog food, so the planners needed to know how many domesticated dogs there were in the country to make their plan for how much dog food would be needed, and allocated. Since there was not much dog food planned for, there were few dogs (or cats, etc). The other animals, such as cows, sheep, pigs and goats, were all expected to live to a ripe old age producing milk, wool, etc. When one finally died it was usually tough as shoe leather or infected with some disease. A young animal whacked by a speeding truck or car was prime meat, and thus quickly spirited away for the cooker.
Not so in America. I saw dead Spot, flattened Missy and smashed Bambi lying on the road everywhere in California and Arizona. My conclusion was America is truly the land of plenty because no one seems to be hungry enough to back-up and throw a fresh killed deer into the trunk (illegal in some US States, encouraged in others) for the hungry. America is also strangely different from Germany in this also. Americans are required to license and register their pets, each having an identifying metal tag hanging from their neck, which would seem to be more advanced than the Germans keeping a running inventory of their forest animals. And yet, with numerous dead cats and dogs alongside Interstates 5 and 10, no one seemed the least bit interested in calling the police to check the little metal identification tags. After some weeks the road crews picking up trash scoop the dried out remains of Buffy onto a shovel and flip it into an orange plastic garbage bag with the rest of America’s road trash.
The peccary above, whacked by a speeding American automobile, would have been on a spit over the cooking fire in Africa (expect for Muslim parts) in a matter of minutes. In Arizona it was coyote food.
America was definitely the land of motorcycles of all the countries I traveled through. Compared to other parts of the world, the USA was the King of the Heap, the land where anything goes. And California was probably at the top of the pile when it came to anything going. The wildest motorcycles, the strangest looking motorcyclists, and most of the major motorcycle magazines called California home. California was also the headquarters of most of the major motorcycle companies as well as many aftermarket parts suppliers. Probably the only other landmass to rival California for motorcyclitest was Japan.
This was the strangest looking motorcycle I saw on this ride around the globe. It used a chain saw for a motor.
After three weeks in and out of California, my Kawasaki KLR finally landed at the Los Angeles Airport. $60.00 US paid to a freight forwarder got me some forms and a Release, which I took to the US Customs Office. I spent 45 minutes explaining to the Customs official how my USA registered and titled motorcycle had gotten from the USA to Russia, then back to Los Angeles. When I told him I had ridden it across Russia he expressed disbelief, then asked where I got gas, how I found food and what did I do when I came to streams. I told him I used vodka for gas, ate berries and built rafts out of logs to float my motorcycle across the streams. He nodded, and said, “Thought so.”
Finally, after inputting the Vehicle Identification Number into the national computer system and finding it registered to me (he checked my passport to make sure I was the Gregory W. Frazier listed as the owner) and not stolen, he stamped my Release, not charging an Import Tax.
From Customs I went over to the air cargo warehouse for the airline that had flown the motorcycle from Seoul, (Polar Air), where I presented my Release. A forklift delivered my crate to the entrance and slid it into the back of a friend’s pick-up truck. I had planned on taking the crate apart in the warehouse parking lot, assembling the motorcycle, and riding off, leaving the crate behind. The warehouse bosses balked at this plan. It seemed one of my buddies had done that exact procedure several days before and the warehouse people were stuck with having to dispose of the crate, which was “not our job.”
We trucked the crated motorcycle several miles away, then three of us wrestled the box out of the back of the pick-up and dropped all 600 lbs. of it on the sidewalk in front of another friend’s house in upper middle-class suburbia. I spent the next three hours making a mess of the neighborhood. Working in 90-degree heat, sweating and swearing like a streetwalker in Houston, Texas on payday, I was so unpleasant the mailman crossed over to the opposite side of the street to get around me.
One lady walking her dog asked, “Do you live here?” I told her I was just moving in. She said, “I hope that motorcycle doesn’t make a loud noise.” Wiping the sweat that was dripping off the end of my nose with the bottom of my T-shirt, I answered, “It’s a Harley-Davidson, so the only time it makes noise is on the weekends.”
The biggest problem was getting the wheels on the motorcycle. I could not lift the motorcycle off the ground high enough to get it onto the center stand. I tried several methods, but each required so much physical strength I felt as if both of my repaired hernias were going to blow. The solution was to flop the motorcycle onto its side. Fully expecting gas, oil or battery acid to run out while it lay this way, I was spinning wrenches and flipping sweat like an Indy 500 pit crew. The Kawasaki was a champ! Not a drop made it to the virgin sidewalk, and once the wheels were on I was able to lever the motorcycle back onto its feet and upright. I gave thanks it was a Kawasaki KLR and not some 700-lb. BMW GS Adventure or 1,000-lb. Harley that I had chosen to ride around the world.
One of the changes I made to the motorcycle was to replace the original battery with a sealed battery, one with no openings. The theory was if I crashed and the motorcycle was upside down or on its side, the battery acid would not run out, leaving me with a non-functioning battery. I never thought it would be me who intentionally pushed it over.
When I finally got some gas into the tank and the battery re-connected, the motorcycle started immediately. As it was warming up I stood back, looked at the trashed crate on the sidewalk, dripped sweat, rubbed my aching back, and reflected on what it had taken me in time, money and frustration to get my motorcycle across the Pacific and running again. I said out loud, “That’s it. No more. I will f****** never ship another motorcycle across water.” After four rides around the world I had decided that shipping my motorcycles was the biggest waste of money of any ‘round the world adventure. It was also the largest waste of time, and the most frustrating part of the trip.
On my third ride around the world I had flown from continent to continent with my personal belongings and riding gear, using motorcycles indigenous to the continent I was crossing. I saved 1,000’s of dollars, numerous days, and had little frustration. What I saved in airfreight and sea cargo paid for the land costs. A couple of times I had to pay for excess baggage, but never more than $100.00 US.
So this was probably be my last motorcycle ride around the world. Four was enough, unless someone else comes up with the dollars. I could see myself going back to countries I liked, such as Brazil and parts of Asia, and purchasing a motorcycle there. But I could not see another “adventure” like dealing with the Russians at Vladivostok Air Cargo and the money wasted.
After cleaning up my mess on the sidewalk of Suburbia, USA, I rode the motorcycle to Irvine, California, home of Kawasaki USA. Kawasaki headquarters was like an oasis in the desert after dealing with Vladivostok Air Cargo, US Customs, freight forwarders, international telephone operators and Los Angeles rush hour traffic. I rode the KLR into their parking lot where I had picked it up less than a year before and it was like coming back to the womb. The motorcycle had been on four continents since leaving, and had covered over 20,000 miles of some of the toughest terrain I could find.
A Kawasaki VIP checked me into a posh hotel, introduced me to numerous other VIPs, gave me a clean white Kawasaki shirt to wear and told me not to worry about the dried Russian cow flop stuck to the bottom of the motorcycle. I told him I had not had a chance to wash it since leaving Germany and would gladly run it through a car wash, but the VIP said, “No! We want it just like it is.” I felt bad about leaving it with them, covered in mud and road spooge. The king size bed, remote clicker for the cable TV, Jacuzzi, room service, soft toilet paper and fluffy towels of the VIP room at the hotel made my bad feelings slip away quickly. Although alone in the room for the night, I managed to keep the Kawasaki good times rolling by using my credit card to call friends around the United States and world and tell them I was safe and back in the USA with my motorcycle.
I left my Kawasaki resting. I had really beaten it up, taking it over the Rocky Mountains, through the sands of the Sahara, and across Siberia. It had done its job, getting me around the world without a single mechanical problem. It did need an oil change, but I could do that later. My schedule had me back in the Rocky Mountains four days later, pounding the ground with some of the toughest BMW motorcycle riders in the world on the 12th Annual BMW GS “BIG DOG RIDE.”
The BIG DOG RIDE is known as the “world’s highest, toughest” BMW motorcycle event. Neither race nor rally, it is “the annual gathering of the fraternity of like minded BMW ‘GS’ aficionados” high in the Rocky Mountains. The men from the United States and Canada ride their BMW GS motorcycle over some of the ugliest, wildest terrain in the world, and have fun doing it. (For some background on the BIG DOG RIDE and photographs go to www.horizonsunlimited.com/bigdog/.)
I have a couple of BMW GS motorcycles, and a highly modified HPN version. I usually use the latter on the BIG DOG RIDE because of the long suspension, light weight and low-end power. However, during the last BIG DOG RIDE the rear bearing in the transmission decided to have a heart attack and crumped. I had the transmission repaired, but not enough time to re-install it in the motorcycle frame. It was supposed to be “winter work,” but in the winter I went to Asia while the transmission rested on the floor of my studio. The project got moved to “spring work,” but then I was off on the just finished ‘round the world ride. With hours to go before the start of the BIG DOG RIDE, the transmission was not going to quit resting on the floor. Instead I walked over to my R100 GS and inserted the key, planning to take it on the BIG DOG RIDE. A dead battery saved the R100 GS from a thrashing in the Rocky Mountains. I looked across the studio at my road weary, oil dripping 1981 R80 G/S and wondered if its battery had any life left.
1980 R80 G/S “Basic”. It had sat, resting, for the last year. The gasket on the oil pan had blown out in two places, and I had made a “road fix” by squirting RTV into the holes. Oil still dripped from them, leaving spots large enough to have been spewed by the Exon Valdez.
My R80 G/S had seen the ends of the earth. The odometer showed 160,000 miles, and the frame was so tired that when I accelerated I could feel it flex. Everything on the R80 G/S had been replaced, repaired or was still broken. It had been hammered harder than any other motorcycle I owned. It had been crashed, drowned and stolen (attempted in Colombia). When I was with it at the bottom of South America, in Ushuaia, Argentina, and it was running poorly, I promised it that if it would get me back to my home in Montana, I would never take it again on the BIG DOG RIDE. It was a promise I fully intended to keep, until the battery on my R100 GS groaned and gasped its death rattle hours before the BIG DOG RIDE.
I walked over to the R 80, turned the ignition key. The oil, charging and neutral lights came to life. After letting some gas run into the carburetors, I thumbed back the choke lever with my left thumb, and then depressed the starter button with my right. Grind, grind, and grind went the electric starter for 20 seconds; the motor coughed once, and then started to run. I was elated. Not so my R80. As I rolled it out of the studio I thought I heard it say, “Gregory, you lied to me.”
Stripped of its panniers and tank bag, my R80 G/S performed perfectly on the BIG DOG RIDE, until I slowed too much trying to make this uphill turn and dropped it on the left side. As I struggled to get it upright, I said out loud, “Come on Honey, just get me off this mountain, and I will never take you on another long ride.” I thought I heard a muffled voice say, “You’re lying to me again.”
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
May 2013, The World Motorcycle Adventure Continues
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited