The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Day 115 - The search for Spock… er… luggage (Buenos Aires).
The neighbors started arguing early last night. Initially I thought that the guy yelling was mentally retarded. Then I realized he was just yelling in Spanish. Unfortunately, they continued for hours and I couldn't sleep through it. Then I was too hot.. then… Yeah, that's right. I'm a picky bitch. :P
Anyway, we get up, hunt down some pandas at the Panderia, eat breadfast, and figure out what else we can pack in my panniers. We've decided to take mine on the plane and store Dachary's here at Dakar Motos. We'd like to take them all but Copa only allows two checked bags and United Airlines allows zero… well, zero for free. First bag $25. Second bag $35. Go over size or weight on either of those and it's another $100, per bag. If we had of known we would have taken the slightly more expensive itinerary because it was all Copa and would have required any baggage fees or a fracking long layover in DC. The end cost would have been about the same and the hassle would have been far less. Also, with the bullshit over the price skyrocketing after our card was declined on the flight we tried to book first I accidentally purchased the flight protection from Travelocity. Hopefully I'll remember to try calling them tomorrow and see if we can get that refunded.
Where was I? Oh yes, luggage. We've decided we can leave more than half of the shit we had in our panniers because it's useless without bikes. So we've packed that in Dachary's. We're leaving behind our sleeping pads, two 1.5 gallon gas tanks, one 2 liter gas tank, and one used tire at Dakar Motos for anyone who needs them. Javier has a small stack of used tires here for people too broke to afford a tire from his HUGE stack of new ones. If you need a tire near BA, check with Javier.
This leaves us with 2 helmets and 2 sleeping bags to get back home. There's no space to leave them, and without them theres no possibility of riding… well, that's not true. We've both got old crappy helmets that don't fit nearly as well.
Joe and Vern wandered into town before they left and got luggage, so we dropped them an e-mail to find out where. Vern responded with good directions and said they managed to find bags for $50, so we hopped on the train and headed downtown. We've written down the maximum linear size (64 inches) and weight (50 pounds) for a piece of luggage in my Moleskine (a must bring item) but lack any way to determine how big the luggage we're going to buy is. Fortunately I remember one of the street vendors outside of the downtown train station sells tape measures. Sure enough, they're still there when get there and for 10 pesos I am now the proud owner of yet another tape measure. There are probably three at home in the miscellaneous drawer in the kitchen.
Most of the luggage we found was outrageously expensive. Seriously, what kind of people spend over $300 for a single piece of luggage… oh… wait… motorcyclists. That's actually a pretty good price for a single pannier. hmm…
With a max price of 200 pesos ($50 US) we keep searching, and searching, and searching. We find a number of decent rectangular duffels for just under $50 US but are hoping for something with a bit more protection for the helmets. We find some stiffer things, but the helmets would barely fit and have no extra space for us to put padding around them. We take a break at a massive McDonalds that had two floors and at least 100 people spread out over 6 or 7 lines at a massive counter (not exaggerating) and a woman making sure people kept the lines all about the same length and writing peoples orders down on a form to hand to the cashier. I have never seen McDonalds employees work their asses of like these kids were.
Eventually we find the best compromise. It's essentially a rectangular duffel with a stiff bottom, a handle and wheels on one end. At 199 pesos it's twice as expensive as a normal duffel and has slightly worse construction, but in washington DC we'll have to carry it, two panniers, the dry sack duffel, and two tank bags across the airport so we'll be very grateful for the wheels, and the tape measure confirms that it's under 64 linear inches (length plus width plus height). Like the tape measure, we've got one of these back home.
We negotiate the crowds and stop at every Cambio (money exchange) along the way, but no-one wants our Limpera or Quetzales. At this point we're just crossing our fingers that one of the banks or money exchanges at home will take it because we've got about $150 US between the two. There were no money changers when we left Honduras or Nicaragua and we weren't aggressive enough about hunting down banks in the next country. Also, I've got a shitload of change from pretty much every country along the way because no-one wants to take that. David passed on a good solution for that though. At his last fill-up of any country he simply hands over all the coins he's built up during his time there and has them put in that much gas. It's kind-of a shitty thing to do to that last gas-station attendant, but it does solve the excess change problem.
Tired of walking we chill in the park, then make our way to… Starbucks with a BMW! Dachary is a massive Starbucks fan and one of our friends gave us a Starbucks card when we left hoping we could use it along the way, and the BMW clinches it. We've got to go in.
Unfortunately, Starbucks cards don't work in Buenos Aires (it did in Mexico City), but we get a couple drinks and sit in the comfy chairs watching the world go by and pondering how best to acquire money to free our bikes. Discussions of bills lead to a mini-revalation that might actually help us get a fair way to our goal. I inherited a decent piano when my mom died and I should be able to get it out of storage without too much expense… I hope. We're not sure what it's worth, but IF we can get it and IF it sells within a few months it'll make a nice dent in the $6k we need to raise. So, those drinks definitely paid for themselves.
I ponder the ideograms on the train back, and we stop by the supermarket to pick up some food to cook for dinner, but the meat is behind a counter with no attendant and no bell, and the vegetables are behind a counter with no attendant and no bell which leaves us with pasta. Um… yeah. We'll try back later, and if that fails we'll just eat out.
For future Runaways staying at Dakar Motos this is the place to eat. Everything else around here looks a little skeezy, but this place has nice people, nice space, and good foods, reasonably priced. We ate here twice with David, and David got a both times, and we still spent less than we have in most of the places we've eaten dinner in Argentina.
Tonight or tomorrow we'll pack up the new wheelie-duffel.
On a related note Sandra informs us that new TSA regulations say that you can't ship any personal items with your bike*. That means that your panniers either have to be empty, or only contain bike parts when you ship it. So, if you're planning on shipping your bike to the US, you're going to have to hunt down luggage too. Also, she advises that you give her just under one month's warning if at all possible to arrange shipping to get your bike home (quotes from the cargo companies are only good for one month anyway). I suspect she can do it in less if needed, but it's always safer with lead time.
* Apparently there was a bomb on a UPS flight and somehow this means we'll be safer without personal items going along with vehicles. Maybe it's me, but I think it'd be significantly more effective to hide a bomb in the metalwork of a vehicle than in easily inspectable panniers, or anywhere else you'd store personal items on a vehicle. Maybe the TSA just wants to prevent the really lazy bombers and encourage them to make it more of a challenge to prevent planes from blowing up.
Days of trip including departure and day of flying home: 117 Days of not riding: 21 Days in United States: 10 Miles in United States: 2,569 Days in Mexico: 16 Miles in Mexico: 2,041 Days in Central America: 23 Miles in Central America: 2,137 Days in South America: 68 Miles in South America: 11,225
Total Miles: 17,972
Average Daily Mileage in US: 256.9 Average Daily Mileage in Mexico: 127.56 Average Daily Mileage in Central America: 91.91 Average Daily Mileage in South America: 165.07
Sans Non-Riding Days:
Actual Average Daily Mileage in US: 285.44 Actual Average Daily Mileage in Mexico: 145.78 Actual Average Daily Mileage in Central America: 125.71 Actual Average Daily Mileage in South America: 200.44
Actual Average Daily Mileage in Colombia/Ecuador: 131.8 Actual Average Daily Mileage in Peru, Chile and Argentina: 224.92
Longest Riding Day: Chile, 434 miles Shortest Riding Day: Colombia, 7 miles Number of Days Riding 300+ Miles: 15 Number of Days Riding 200-299 Miles: 27 Number of Days Riding 100-199 Miles: 34 Number of Days Riding 1-99 Miles: 20 Number of Non-Riding Days: 21
Last night's home-cooked meal (pasta and beef chunks) didn't go over so well with Dachary's intestines and I was sent to fetch breadfast. 'Twas a good thing though, because on the way there was a dead dog up against the curb. He would have been a cute one too. I really didn't think it would have been good for Dachary to see that now, so I decide to not mention it either. We're sad about leaving the bikes. We're not sure how we feel about the end of the trip, we're really missing our beasts, and sometimes seeing hurt doggies can really get to her. I've mostly tried to just compartmentalize that on the trip. Dogs get hurt, get mistreated… there's nothing I can do about it. Their lives and circumstances are so radically different in Latin America.
I set about cleaning my panniers. They're covered in a film of dirt, and the fronts have tiny bugs splattered across them like little black sprinkles on a huge cupcake. I failed in my earlier attempt to remove the bolt-on Touratech bottle holders and the spare gas holder. Even with the correct sized alan wrench (Leatherman) the bolts just stripped instead of turning. So, I've decided to tent stickers over them so that they at least don't *look* like pieces of bare metal sticking out. And, to do that, they need to have something clean to stick to.
After scrubbing them down with the broom I attack them with lots of baby wipes.
Our sandwich lunch from the Panderia isn't particularly appealing today and neither of us want to finish it.
Dachary sets to work writing mortgage posts for one of her clients and working up a massive hunger. Sadly, it's nowhere near 8 yet, and she can't decide what she'd want me to get from the supermarket, largely because we don't really know what our options are. Supermarkets down here aren't like in the States. Sometimes you do hit big ones, but, mostly the selection is severely limited.
Dachary reminds me to take the armor out of my jacket. We've got space to pack it and it'll help avoid questions at the airport. The jacket's not so bad at an airport even with armor, because you can throw it on the conveyor belt. They weren't so happy with the knee and hip armor in Panama because you can't easily show them what you've got going on under there without stripping.
Anyway, I notice I've a crack in the tip of one of my pieces of elbow armor. Nothing serious as it's just the thin bit at the tip, but it is annoying. Probably happened as a result of trying to get the stuff back after the last washings. Very difficult to get it to fit in its pockets, but at least it won't shift in them. Maybe, with a little luck, the Armor's still under warranty. Not sure if it's been over a year since I bought the suit or not.
While we're sitting around we hear Javier get a call from another rider. He's 100k away and Javier will be gone when he gets here. I guess we'll be letting him in. Before he leaves Javier gives us the scoop. It's a canadian rider who's been here a couple times before, and is riding a F650GS like us.
Night falls, and we hear thunder in the distance… where is this guy? Eventually we see the lightning too. We've been holding off going out to dinner so that there'd be someone to let him in. Now we decide it's best to send me out to bring something back before the heavens open up.
I throw on my rain liner (it's pretty warm out) and track down a pizza for us. I would have done something else but they claim meat would take half an hour, and I'm pretty sure I'd be drenched if I waited that long. It's already sprinkling out.
I head back, and no Canadian. Dachary's been waiting in a chair just inside the door to make sure she heard him. Maybe he hit the other side of the storm and just got a hotel? We watch a little Top Gear when we hear an engine and then banging on the door.
Voila, one wet canadian. His GPS died and he ended up asking the worst kind of people for guidance in getting here. There were very helpful, very ignorant, and very very wrong. But, eventually he made it. A bit wet, and in need of food, but that's not uncommon for our kind.
His name's Gus, and he'd taken like nine months getting from Alaska to Ushuaia and had spread it over two trips. I think he took roughly the same route we did. We talked a little, but ended up cutting it short because we had to get up early to be ready for our 8:30 AM taxi.
Gus seemed nice, but we didn't quite "get" his trip. It felt like there was some vital clue we were missing, and without that we didn't quite understand why he was traveling in the manner he was. Nothing wrong with taking a while, or spending a month or two chilling in various towns, but the why eluded us.
Sleep, however, did not, although it was frequently interrupted to scratch mosquito bites. No screen doors at Dakar Motos.
Day 117-118: Flying Home (Buenos Aires, Argentina to Boston, MA)
Saturday dawned bright and early as we got up, showered and put the finishing touches on our packing at around 7AM, all the time trying not to wake Gus the Canadian. Javier from Dakar Motos said he'd try to make it to the shop in the morning to see us off and lock up after we left, but since Gus was scheduled to arrive, that took the pressure off and Javier didn't make it. The taxi was scheduled to show up at 8:30AM… at 8:20 I went out to take our trash out to the bin and the taxi was there.
So Kay scrambled to get his stuff wrapped up, and we didn't end up signing the guest book at Dakar Motos - we saved that until the last minute and then had to run. I feel bad about that. The guest book is this awesome log of who's been there and their thoughts and a little snippet of their personalities, and I wanted us to be in there too with all the other riders that have passed through, so I'm a little unhappy about that.
Kay's note: In total agreement. Really wanted to sign it, but I remind myself that we'll be back and have another chance when we go to pick up the bikes.
Taxi ride to the airport took about 40 minutes, and while we had mixed feelings (mostly weird) about being passengers instead of riding, it was definitely nice to let someone else do the navigating. We arrived shortly after 9AM, which gave us about three hours before our flight, and I was happy. I always feel time crunched when I get to an airport, but we had plenty of time and that relieved a lot of the stress. Especially as this was a long series of flights.
Whilst standing in line to check in, we notice that some people have gotten their luggage shrink-wrapped. I assume it's to prevent security people from snagging your stuff, which we weren't too worried about, but we did think it might be useful to have Kay's panniers shrink-wrapped because we thought we might have trouble with checking them. They have lots of fiddly, pokey metal bits on them (see yesterday's post) that we thought might give the baggage handlers an excuse to turn them away, so shrink-wrapping seemed like a way to make them appear slightly less odd. We debate it and then he takes them out to get them wrapped up, and they are much less conspicuous when shrink-wrapped (although now they won't stand up at all).
Check in with zero trouble, and Copa prints all three of our boarding passes for us - the two for the Copa flights and the one for the United flight. The itinerary is Buenos Aires to Panama City, Panama City to Washington, D.C. (Dulles), and Washington to Boston. Not optimal in terms of number of connections, but it was the cheapest flight we could find at around $1,300 each. When we check the luggage, the woman at the Copa desk asks "What have you got there?" and Kay explains that his metal panniers are motorcycle luggage, and she seems fine with it. Two big duffle bags and two motorcycle panniers, and everything is within the size limits (we'd checked before hand) and we have no excess baggage fees through Copa. Yay!
Baggage safely checked and boarding passes in hand, we get through security with zero hassle. When we crossed the Darien Gap from Central America to South America, flying from Panama City to Bogota, we were still wearing our full motorcycle gear, and that gave the security people some issues. They were suspicious of our big boots and the motorcycle armor in our pants, which we can't take off to send through the x-ray machine because they're not overpants - they're just our pants (they had to take us off to the side and "inspect" the pants, which for me was behind a screen, but for Kay was out in the open).
So this time we fly with our motorcycle gear safely packed away, except for our jackets, which we can send through the x-ray machines with our baggage. Just to be safe, I take all of the armor out of my jacket (it's in one of the duffle bags) and Kay takes his elbow armor out, but leaves his shoulder and back armor in. Security doesn't give us crap about anything and we make it into the terminal with no problems at all - much smoother than the Panama to Bogota flight from CA to SA months ago.
Safely past security by 10:30AM and we find a cafe for breakfast. We order lomito sandwiches, because the lomito completo was one of the best sandwiches we had in Argentina (I kept ordering it because I liked it so much) except it wasn't the lomito sandwich we've been getting - it was basically really thick ham and cheese on a baguette. We were disappointed because we were looking forward to one more of those sandwiches before we leave, but it was amusing and perhaps somewhat fitting since we ended up eating so many ham and cheese sandwiches in Argentina.
Flight from BA to Panama was from shortly after noon Buenos Aires time to shortly after 5PM in Panama… but we forgot about the time zone differences. So what we thought was a five-hour flight was actually seven hours. We'd both bought a bottled water before we got on the plane, and ended up drinking them both and still being really thirsty.
Meal service on the plane consisted of some very sad airline food (beef in a wine sauce, except somehow my meal was missing the sauce and the bread, so Kay gave me his and we ended up splitting the meat so we each got some with sauce and some without). I commented that it was like eating dog food, but we ate it anyway - long flight and no choice. It took an entire movie (which we actually watched - I don't know the name of it but it had Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson and Owen Wilson and was kinda cute - Kay just looked it up and it was called "How Do You Know") for dinner service to make it to our seats. And we only got a teeny half cup of drink - probably four ounces. Flying dehydrates you anyway, and we wished we'd gotten more water at the airport.
With around three hours left in the flight, I noticed the flight attendants putting some sandwich-looking things in the ovens to warm up. I didn't know if they were for first class or what the deal was, so I pretty much forgot about them. But then, about 20 minutes before landing (and while the captain was making the landing announcements) they started handing out these little ham and cheese sandwiches. They'd been sitting in the warmer things for 2.5 hours - I think they forgot about them. People were literally unwrapping them as we were taxi-ing down the runway from landing - it was a very last minute thing. But we ate those, too, because we were still hungry from the teeny, bad-dog-food meal.
In Panama, we remembered (luckily) that the currency is US dollars. We had some of those! So we bought some hot dogs, water and Gatorade at one of the food stands. We wandered the terminal looking for a money changer, hoping to get rid of our Nicaraguan and Honduran currency, but no luck. The layover wasn't too long - just a little over an hour before boarding for our flight from Panama to Washington, D.C.
Sitting in the waiting area at our gate was a bit of culture shock for us. It was a flight to the US, and *everyone* around us was speaking English. It was so weird to overhear English casually spoken by the people around us after so long in Latin America. Sure, we're happy to speak English when we meet other travelers who speak it, and we speak it between the two of us, but we've just gotten so used to hearing Spanish that it seemed weird and kinda wrong that all of these people were speaking English.
Kay's note: throughout the plane stuff we kept ordering things and responding to people in Spanish even though they were speaking English.
At the last minute, we were still thirsty and dehydrated from the long BA to Panama flight, so Kay grabbed us each another water to take on the plane with us…
… and it turned out that they were inspecting our carry ons before boarding our flight, for some reason, even though we'd already been through security to get to that point and had only been inside the terminal since then, and they confiscated our water. Took it away! We weren't able to carry any drinks on the flight, and we were already thirsty and dehydrated, so this did not bode well. Plus it was a waste of $5 since they basically trashed our drinks. Kay ged his whole bottle before they grabbed it but I was too annoyed and missed my chance.
On the flight from Panama to Washington D.C., we ended up sitting at the very front of economy class. This is a double-edged sword. It's great because you get a little extra leg room up there, but the tables are a bit awkward and you don't have a seat in front of you to put your stuff under. It's also far from the bathrooms. We thought this was a five-hour flight, but due to time zone changes again, it was only a little over four hours. Yay! We left Panama at shortly after 7PM local time, and arrived in Washington, D.C. at around 12:30AM Washington time.
Again, on this flight we didn't get enough to drink. There was meal service, and this time we got chicken instead of beef, but the meals were even smaller if possible. Kay was smart and asked for two drinks when the flight attendant was passing them out, but I didn't and regretted it. So we were both still dehydrated upon arriving at Washington, and also extremely tired at this point, as it was 2AM Argentina time and very late for us.
Got off the plane and had to go through immigration and customs checkpoints. It was very quick and no-hassle, and although we were tired and grumpy, we tried to be polite (as always) to the immigration guy. He had just come on shift and was fresh and friendly to us. He greeted us with a "good morning", which made me think about the time and do the math and realize it really was morning - he seemed amused by that. And when he was stamping our passports and we were heading out, he said "Welcome back, folks." Kay and I agreed as we were walking away that it was surprisingly nice to hear that from an English speaker in our home country. We were back.
It was shortly after 1AM by the time we clear the immigration checkpoint, and we have to retrieve our luggage, take it through the customs checkpoint and then "re-check" it. We were NOT looking forward to this part because we'd be checking it with United, who has a stupid checked bag policy. They charge $25 just for you to check one bag, and $35 to check a second bag. So we were going to have to pay $60 in baggage fees, per person, just to check our luggage. And that was assuming it wasn't over their size or weight limits - if it was over, we'd pay an additional $100 for every piece that was oversized. Ahh, the US and their BS baggage policies… or maybe it's just United.
Waiting for our baggage we were tired and a bit silly. I was all happy every time I saw a piece of our luggage coming. "Look, it's our yellow bag!" "Look, it's a pannier!" "Ooo, it's our black duffle." There was a couple next to us, and the girl was sort of smiling to herself when I was commenting on our luggage… I don't know if she thought it was my first time flying and I was all amazed by the baggage system or if she just realized how tired and silly we were at that point. We collected our pile, and then Kay saw a loose baggage cart thing and snagged it and piled our stuff on. Yay! Only one piece of our luggage had wheels, and the panniers were surprisingly heavy - wouldn't have been fun to haul them around Dulles.
As we're leaving the customs checkpoint with our baggage, we see a "re-check your luggage" sign and think "Oh! That's what we want to do! We need to re-check our luggage!" and start to go that way. It doesn't look particularly open, though, and when a cleaning guy sees us heading that way, he shakes his head and waves us off, pointing upstairs. Apparently the re-check isn't open at 1AM. So we get our cart and head out.
A few minutes later, we pass a Starbucks. And it's open. Thank the GODS! I'm still really thirsty, and the idea of sitting down for a few minutes with a warm drink before we have to deal with our luggage and our crazy long layover (did I mention that we got into Dulles at 1AM and our flight to Boston wasn't until 9AM? Yeah. Never be in a hurry when you're buying plane tickets, kiddies. Examine the itinerary carefully when you book a series of flights this long.) So we get some Starbucks and then sit on some chairs nearby to enjoy our drinks.
With no real rush, we dawdle over our drinks and then try to find a working elevator to get us and our baggage upstairs. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, as you think about it) nothing seems to be open at 1:30AM, and it takes a bit of wondering. But eventually I spot some people with baggage carts getting onto elevators, and we follow them. When we get upstairs, we find the United ticket counters where we need to re-check our baggage… but they're all closed. Boo. It's close to 2AM, so we find some chairs and camp out. We pile our baggage at the end of the chairs, and I see some power outlets nearby so we plug in our cell phones to charge. Then we settle in to watch an episode of Top Gear whilst waiting for our phones to charge.
At this point, we could try to sleep, except the chairs are a bank of like five one-person seats with arms between them. So we can't lay down. I could still sleep sitting up, I think, except the power outlets with the cell phones charging are like 10-15 feet from our spot. I don't want to leave them there while we're sleeping, and they need to charge, so we figure an episode of Top Gear will give them enough charge and then we can maybe grab the phones and sleep.
When Top Gear ends, it's around 3:30AM and there's a woman in front of the United ticket booths moving the corral divider rope things around. I go to the bathroom and Kay asks the woman when the ticketing/check-in opens. She tells him they open at 4:20AM. He explains that we have a 9AM flight and ask if we can check our luggage then (as I think it'll be too early - the United baggage policy states that you can only check luggage up to four hours before your flight for domestic flights) but she says we can, so we think we're good. The cell phones could use more charging, so we decide to wait it out until United opens, collect our phones, check our baggage and try to get through security to find a place to nap.
So we wait. And wait some more. Eventually 4:20 rolls around and people start getting in line. There are only a handful of people waiting around, but they all rush to get in line as though it's somehow going to take forever if they don't. Silly competitive people. We've gotten accustomed to a slower Latin American pace, where stuff will get done when it gets done and not sooner - so we let them go ahead and then go with our stuff.
When we get up to the ticket/check-in, the guy at the counter points to a computer in front of the counter. Apparently they have some sort of automated check-in system. We stare at it dumbly for a minute, and then try scanning things to pull up our reservation. Kay tries the credit card first, which doesn't do it, and then we try to scan our boarding passes with no results. Eventually Kay tries to scan his passport, is successful and the computer brings up his reservation. He goes through the screens, selects his 9AM flight and tries to check his luggage.
No! The computer won't let him - it says he can't check it more than four hours before his flight. We ask a woman standing nearby (a different one than we'd asked earlier, as she's down at the "executive class" check-in) and she confirms we have to wait until four hours before the flight to check in. ARGH! If I'd known at 3:30 that we'd have to wait until 5AM to check the bags in, I woulda said "**** it" to charging the cell phones more and just napped. An hour and a half would have been worth it. But when we asked the woman who apparently mis-informed us, we would only have had 40 minutes to wait to check our bags, and it didn't seem to make sense to me to try to nap for 30 minutes. Our mistake for believing her, I guess.
Kay's note: United airlines is amazingly ****ing lazy. The self check-in doesn't actually let you do all the baggage stuff yourself, since they obviously wouldn't want people throwing whatever they wanted onto the conveyor. So an employee is still required to do half of the work. Instead of having the employee look up your name and swipe your card or passport with the efficiency of someone who does it constantly, they have passengers slowly poking at screens they've never seen before and putting the wrong thing in and wondering how the scanner works and… ****ing United.
I know at this point that I'm EXTREMELY tired and grumpy, and I'm overly upset that we have to go back and wait another 30 minutes for it to be late enough to check our baggage. We've been awake for 23 hours at this point, 21 of which have been spent dealing with airports and flying, and I'm sick of it. I just want to be done. We're so close and it's highly annoying that we've got such a long layover. We could have driven home from DC faster than waiting for this flight, but we didn't have a car and we wouldn't have been in a fit state to drive at this point because we're so tired… but it just makes the delay that much more annoying.
We go back and sit down, and a few minutes later, a United woman is walking up and down asking people about their baggage and directing them to the appropriate line, etc. I'm staring dumbly at our luggage, and I notice on our checked bag tags that the final destination on the tags is Boston. Boston? Does that mean the bags are already checked to Boston? Can we just hand over our bags to the TSA guys without going through the check-in process with United and paying their annoying baggage fees?
Light dawns in my tired brain, and we call the woman over and ask her if our tags mean that our bags are already checked. She confirms that they are, and all we have to do is hand them over to the TSA checkpoint guys. In fact, we could have used the "re-check" baggage point downstairs, she tells us. We tell her it wasn't open when our flight got in, which seems to surprise her - do the United people not even know their own hours, or is this handled by some other part of the airport? Regardless, we can get up and walk our luggage over to the TSA guys, even though it's technically too early for our flight, because they're already checked. Yay! But why didn't anyone tell us that before?
Kay's note: the re-check thing downstairs was a United specific recheck. Didn't see one for any other airline. And there was zero signage indicating that the little TSA booth at the end could be used for rechecking baggage.
So we walk our luggage around the corner to the TSA guys, who ask for our boarding passes and "go check something" with the desk people. But then they come back and say it's cool and we can leave the luggage with them. (Oh, so weird to have people using American idioms in English to us! "It's cool?" No, the airport is not fria, nor does any of us have a fria beverage or anything else "cool"… oh, idioms. I had forgotten about those.)
We walk off and leave our luggage with the TSA guys. JOY! Downstairs to the security checkpoint, because the one up here still isn't open (it doesn't open until 5AM, and it's around 4:50AM.) We wait in line while people go through the ridiculous security procedures here. Nowhere else have we had to take off our shoes, take our laptops or other liquids out of our bags, etc. It just seems so excessive after all the other flying we've done, perfectly safely. Kay wants to complain but I keep asking him to not talk about it here of all places, because the wrong word could get either of us hauled off for questioning.
When we get up to the scanner thing, it's one of the new ones (backscatter?) that takes a basically naked image of you. We've been reading mixed reports of the amount of radiation you get dosed with, and we also both feel strongly about the privacy issue - especially as the person who is reading the scans is literally right next to the machine. In the propaganda about these scanners, they say "oh, the person looking at the images isn't even in the same place - he or she is on the other side of the airport, or in a room somewhere away from the scanner itself." The idea is that the person looking at the images never sees the person getting scanned, and its completely anonymous. But the person looking at the scans here at this Dulles checkpoint is right next to the machine - there's a little monitor and the person watches you walk up, get in the scanner, scans you and looks at your scan, and then watches you walk away. No, sir. This is not what we've been promised.
So when we get there, Kay and I both ask for alternate screening. We have to walk over and stand next to a gate and wait for TSA personnel to lead us off and basically give us a very thorough pat-down. And because I'm a woman, they have to ask for "female assist" and it takes a few minutes for a woman to show up. She then explains the procedure to me, careful to go into detail about the pat-down process in regard to "sensitive" areas - i.e. boobs, butt and crotch region. She then asks if I have any "sensitive" areas - basically, I think, trying to make sure I'm not going to complain afterwards about being touched inappropriately.
She asks if I want to go to a private room or anything, and I say "No, it's fine" and let her pat me down right there in the checkpoint. She's quick, impersonal and efficient, and asks me to wait there for a minute. She walks away, and then comes back and tells me I'm free to collect my stuff and go through, and thanks me - I assume for not giving her crap. I'm polite and friendly to her, as I know she's just doing her job and they're trying to protect the public - I wouldn't want to pat down a bunch of strangers every day if I were her; seems like a pretty thankless job to me.
While we're going through our pat-downs, several other people also opt out of the backscatter scanner, so we're not alone in asking for alternate screening. That makes me feel better. There's a line of people waiting to be patted down by the time we walk off with our stuff, safely through the security checkpoint.
Kay's note: I just said to the guy "I don't want the scanner. I'll take the extra pat-down." I have to admit my heart was beating pretty fast beforehand. Too many horror stories about the TSA bullshit and getting hauled into inspection rooms for hours and crap like that. We had time but I wasn't happy. For me the bigger concern was the reports I've been reading from scientists claiming that the radiation is seriously exceeding what the government is claiming and that there has been a serious lack of testing of the devices.
We do a quick check of the immediate terminal, discover that everything is closed except Starbucks, and then go to our gate. A few other people are there, presumably also from international flights, mostly stretched out on the chairs sleeping. This seems like a great idea to us, as it's nearly 6AM and we've been going for 24 hours with no sleep. So we stretch out with our tank bags and jackets under our heads, I use my Buff to cover my eyes and block out the light, we stick our headphones in to drown out the nearby TV, and sleep.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to sleep stretched out on airport seats, but I'm out like a light almost immediately. I wake up about 40 minutes later because I have to pee, and I go to the bathroom. When I come back, Kay stirs, and I ask if he wants to go look for breakfast or sleep more. He decides breakfast, so at around 6:50AM, with 40 minutes of sleep under our belts, we wander off to see what exists (and is open) for food in this terminal.
We pretty quickly discover a brewery next to a Subway that has a few people sitting around. Kay grabs a menu to see if they serve breakfast items, but we're both brain-dead from lack of sleep and can't make any sense of the menu. A woman inside (who is dining there, not an employee) notices us flipping through and says "there's a menu on the big board there." We walk over to the big board and see breakfast type items, and decide to sit down and order breakfast. And then realize we don't know what we want, so we take turns going over to the big board to decide. As I'm taking my turn staring at the big board, a woman comes over to take our order and shows Kay the breakfast section of the menu. It was there all along - we're just too brain-dead to notice it. So we ask for orange juice and water (tap water we can drink again!) and stare at the menu for a few minutes, trying to get enough brain power to make a decision. It's hard, but I do, and Kay decides to get the same thing I do, which makes it easy. The woman comes back with our drinks, I order, we stare blindly at the TV not even understanding half of what they're showing, and then our food comes.
We get a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, sourdough toast, hash browns (think fried potato piece hash browns) and I get bacon and Kay gets sausage. Delicious. Wonderful. The best breakfast we've had since leaving Colombia, I think. No more of this crappy Argentinian or Chilean "breadfast." And after we've eaten, we're both a lot more awake and alert. We have enough brain power to begin to comprehend what's going on around us, and we can actually have a conversation again. We're still tired but the food has given us the energy to go on a little longer.
Back to the gate, and I tell Kay I'm stopping at Starbucks again because I could use the caffeine and sugar to help keep me awake. It's totally worth the crazy long line. We sit at the gate waiting for it to start boarding (it's shortly after 8AM now so we don't have too long to wait) and I sip my coffee. We both go to the bathroom one more time, and the plane starts boarding around 8:30AM. We get on, get our stuff stowed and make ourselves comfy for the short flight. Everything goes smoothly and we depart on time, without waiting forever or taxi-ing endlessly on the runways.
In the air, we get a drink service. "Yes, please!" as we're still both thirsty and dehydrated from all of the flying. This drink service gives us each an entire can of beverage (Sprite and Ginger Ale) which is something like three of the teeny airplane glasses full. Yay! Kay watches the in-flight entertainment (TV shows) while I stare out the window and think about being back in the United States and trying to re-integrate.
When we land in Boston, it's good to be home. The flight gets in 10 minutes early, and Kay stops to re-activate his cell phone in case the friend who is picking us up needs to reach us. Then we head over to the baggage claim area, where we find our friend (Yay! So good to see our friends again!) and collect our bags. Apparently everyone else has already been and gone as our bags are the only ones sitting there, which makes it easy. Our friend has gotten us a luggage cart and we wheel our stuff off whilst catching up.
We notice, though, when we pick up our bags, that the TSA has decided to inspect one of Kay's panniers. They've unwrapped the green shrink wrap and have taken some of the stuff out, but instead of trying to fit it back inside, have merely wrapped the entire thing with a big plastic bag and left the stuff they took out floating around loose in the plastic bag. We see a couple of holes in the bag from the baggage handling process and hope nothing is missing. Luckily, though, they opened the pannier properly instead of breaking the lock (we left the lock off the pannier when we checked them for just this eventuality) and there's no damage to the pannier itself.
We get home quickly with our friend driving, and we go up and knock on the front door to let the dog-sitters know we're home. The dogs bark and bark at us. Dog-sitter opens the door (we got back earlier than I told her to expect us and she was apparently cleaning for us) and our dogs act like they're going to eat us. It's sad to be on the receiving end of this like any other stranger in the house.
Go back out to collect our luggage, and then pile it in the middle of the kitchen floor. Our friend heads off, leaving us to get re-acquainted with our dogs and our house. The dog-sitter lingers a bit, finishing up a bit of cleaning (taking out the garbage, washing a couple of dishes and collecting a few of their things they've left here) and starts tearing up at the thought of leaving our dogs. She's gotten really attached to them while she was staying here, and we tell her gladly she can visit the dogs. She works nearby and will be in the neighborhood regularly, and I'd be happy for her to visit with them. I'm not sure she will, but I'm glad to see she's gotten so fond of the dogs. Meanwhile, they sit next to her like she's a safe haven and we're strangers.
When I sit on the floor to greet them, Kay's dog comes over and sniffs me. I know I must smell weird from being in all of these places, eating strange food and traveling so long, but he seems to recognize me. He gets tail-waggy and gives me some kisses, so I pet him, but then he randomly snarls and snaps at me. I can't quite figure out how to handle him. He gives Kay a couple of kisses, too, but seems much more interested in me, and I feel bad about that.
My dog, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with us. He sits in the corner and stares at us. But that's what he did when I first got him, too - he's a shy dog to begin with - so I know if I'm patient he'll come around. But I want nothing more than to pet and hug him after being gone so long, and it's hard to force myself not to push him.
The dog-sitter leaves and we run a few errands. We go to the grocery store as the house is out of some staples - trash bags, etc. - and spend a surprising amount of money on re-stocking the basic stuff we use every day. (Kay's note: the house is out of EVERYTHING. Food, cleaning, everything.) Then we get back to the house, and we basically have to move into our apartment all over again. We packed up a lot of stuff for the dog-sitters, so we have to dig through boxes to find basic things like sheets for our bed, and towels for the bathroom. Kay wants his clothes so he can get some clean socks out. The dog sitters have also packed some stuff up, so we have boxes sitting around everywhere and I don't know where half our stuff is - it's going to take days to "move in" to our own apartment. I hadn't counted on having to do this at the end of the trip. It's daunting, and I'm exhausted.
Kay wisely decides we should have some lunch, so we eat some sandwiches (turkey and cheese, not ham and cheese!) and watch a TV show on DVD. It's less entertaining than we remember, and our house feels excessively large. After the show, we walk the dogs because I fully intend to sleep for a while and don't want to have to get up in an hour or two and walk them. Then I shower, while Kay passes out on the couch. I wake him and we go to our own bed, which feels GLORIOUS (I remember it being rather uncomfortable - it didn't compress much and I'd get stiff after sleeping it for too long, but now our own pillows feel luxurious, and the bed feels so much more comfortable after all of the crap beds and hard ground we've slept on during the trip).
We both pass out pretty quickly, and don't wake up until I have to pee around midnight. We've slept for around 7 hours and the dogs need walking, so we get up to walk them. Then we make pasta for dinner, because it's one of the staples we got at the grocery and the grocery is now closed so we can't get anything else, and watch a documentary on Netflix. Which again feels excessive and weird. Kay showers while I start writing up the past couple of days, and the next thing I know, it's 4AM and we're both exhausted again. I have a feeling our sleep schedules are going to be screwed up for the next few days.
I do note at this point that somehow I seem to have picked up a cold. Four months on the road and nothing worse than diarrhea and altitude sickness. But 24 hours of traveling and now I've got a bad headache, a sore throat, messed up sinuses and that "off" feeling that comes with being sick. Boo for my return to the US!
Also, the dogs seem to be adjusting quickly to having us home. By the time we wake up later, they're acting much more normal. My dog napped on the floor next to the side of the bed when I fell asleep, and was in his crate when I woke up like normal.
Note from the next day: when we woke up this morning (Monday AM, Day 119) the dogs were completely back to normal. Kay's dog did his normal morning stuff, and mine, too. They're waggy and predictable and not acting weird at all anymore. That was a quick adjustment, but yay! Now I can hug my dog, and Kay's dog played "shoe" with him this morning… it's good to be with our doggies again.
This is the official end of the trip. We're home. There's nothing more to do. There's a lot of stuff that's being going through our minds about that, and a fair amount of culture shock coming back into the US. Dachary's got a big post planned about that, and I'm working on another big post about the things we brought, specifically, what worked, what didn't, and what we think we should know about some of the items so that you can better choose your own. When we finally get the funds together to go extricate the bikes we'll write that up too I'm sure. And I wouldn't be surprised if we come up with a couple more things to write about here, but yeah… no more daily reports.
I read the very first post, and tuned in regularly to follow your progress. Your writing styles kept me entertained, and longing for such a trip. Thank you for sharing your trip, your ups and downs, and all in between. I'll miss the updates...
There's bound to be adjustments upon returning to the U.S. after a big trip like this. How do you go from riding every day back to the same old office grind? How do you feel about the things you see and used to take for granted on an every-day basis in the U.S.? And how has the trip changed you as a person?
I honestly wasn't expecting much in the way of re-integration upon returning home. When we originally left, I was worried that I might find it hard to adjust coming home, but in the past few weeks, I've been so focused on getting home that I didn't think it would be a problem. I was excited to be going back. I was ready to stop traveling for a while and go back to a structured, ordinary life.
I didn't think about, or didn't know how to gauge, or most likely didn't even notice, all of the subtle ways that a trip like this has changed me.
Sitting in the airport in Panama, it was weird to have people speaking English around me. I've gotten to the point that I automatically revert to Spanish when dealing with anyone other than Kay or another traveler, and it was odd to casually overhear English when we've been living on the road where we can only understand a fraction of what people are saying. On the plane, Kay and I kept ordering things and responding to the flight attendants in Spanish. Even home, I notice myself using Spanish to say things like "yes" and "thank you." And I kinda miss the Spanish, honestly.
There's also the matter of toilets. For our entire stay in Latin America, we've been dealing with toilets that can't handle toilet paper. You wipe and then throw the toilet paper in a nearby trash can. At first, this seemed gross to us and required an adjustment. But we've gotten used to it, and now Kay and I are both having the experience of "oh, crap, where's the trash can?!" when we go to the toilet, only to remember a few beats later that we can throw our used TP in the toilet itself. It's an oddly strange thought to us after so long otherwise.
Then there was the stuff I noticed flying home from Washington, D.C. to Boston. Looking down on it from above, you can really see how dense the East Coast is. There are roads EVERYWHERE. Houses and buildings everywhere. You have to go quite a ways to find any open space at all, and when you do, it's quickly interrupted again by buildings and towns. That was so strange to see, coming from South America, where you go a hundred miles between towns that are barely more than a dozen buildings.
The roads here in America look like scars across the landscape. I had a feeling at one point that we were like parasites taking over the Earth's surface, and no wonder we're having these massive earthquakes and weather events. It's like the Earth is trying to shake us off, like a dog shaking and scratching to get rid of a flea. And we're no more important or consequential than that flea, to the planet.
It makes me feel like here in the U.S., we don't know how to live. We've got these massive structures and infrastructure, which I can definitely appreciate after being in so many areas without infrastructure at all… but we're so spread out. We take up so much space. It feels wrong to me on a very deep level, after traveling through these sparsely-populated areas. It feels very crowded, and not at all eco-friendly.
Too, there's the pettiness of the lives of the people around us. The conversations we overheard at the airport were about people going to concerts and sport events, school plays, and movies. People having work troubles, or people talking about their amazing vacations. Honestly, it all just seems so petty to me now. The people and societies we've been moving through have been concerned with stuff like having enough food to eat - they don't have the luxury to worry about going to a movie or having problems at work. They'd be lucky to have jobs.
Right now, American society seems very… excessive. And petty and small-minded.
Our house feels enormous. There's way too much space in here, and it feels wasteful. And we have so much stuff, most of which is completely expendable. We're having to remember how we like to do things. When we made waffles this morning, we discovered we'd forgotten how long we toast them, how we spread butter on them, how we eat them. These things are slowly coming back to us, but we feel divorced from them - outside of what used to be our every-day lives. Our own home and lifestyles feel foreign to us.
I was unpacking some of my old clothes, and I had quite a large collection of funny t-shirts… that just don't feel the same anymore. They feel like they belong to someone else. I've gotten so used to having just a few shirts, and having all of these extra clothes seems superfluous - particularly as I don't necessarily want to be seen in some of them. I just don't identify with a lot of the humor on the shirts anymore, which is really strange to me because I thought humor was inherent to who you are. A distant part of me can say "yeah, I see why I found this funny before" but it just doesn't seem to matter anymore.
Kay's having a similar experience with his movie collection. We both had substantial movie collections before we left, but Kay's was much bigger than mine and included a wide variety of films. Particularly, Kay had a lot of zombie movies, and enjoyed playing Left for Dead 2 with friends on the XBOX before we left (he had a standing Tuesday night date to play with friends) and now he's having a hard time understanding why he'd want to watch those things, or want anything to do with them.
Most of the things in our movie collections don't really appeal to us anymore. I theorize that we've seen real poverty and people really suffering along the way, and the contrived drama and horror of these Hollywood flicks is no longer appealing. We've seen real darkness in the world, and why would you want to watch this for entertainment? Interestingly, the only things that seem to have any appeal to Kay anymore are the Disney and Pixar films. Things intended for young minds filled with imagination.
Regardless, we're not the same people we used to be. That much is clear. We didn't feel ourselves changing along the way, but now that we're home, our old way of life feels somewhat jarring and unappealing to us. It's clear that we have changed, even though we didn't notice it at the time.
Boston feels different. For both Kay and I, it's felt like home for years. When I first came here, it's a city where I knew I wanted to stay - a city I wanted to make my own. Kay feels similarly. But now, it just feels like a city. It doesn't feel like home - this place that we love. It's convenient to have a grocery store right around the corner, and I like that I can just walk over to the store and buy what I want, because that wasn't really an option most of the time on the trip… but aside from that, Boston doesn't feel particularly welcoming to me anymore. It's just another city.
Kay and I agree that right now we don't feel like we belong. And we don't know where we do belong. Maybe we never did belong properly, and that's why we were able to take this trip in the first place… or maybe now we won't ever feel like we belong again, and that's why so many people who take a trip like this never really stop traveling.
Most of the items we brought with us worked as expected. Some were outstanding and require special mention. Some items seriously disappointed us. Some items simply deserve some comments to help you when considering items for your next trip.
The Wolfman Ranier tank bag
Normally we don't think much about tank bags. You get the size you want and they either work, or they don't, and they're not worth much mention, but throughout the trip we kept commenting about how much we loved these. Exceptional build quality, and so much expandability that when we encountered another rider with one fully expanded we didn't recognize it. The expandability was great, as it made it easy to stow things in the tank bag for a short time. Have some soda left from lunch? No problem, just stick it in your tank bag. Grab some cookies or a bag of chips to snack on later? Tank bag can hold it - just expand the zipper. At one point, Kay had octane booster and a quart of oil in the tank bag in addition to all the normal stuff he stored in there (big, expensive camera, Spanish-English dictionary, stickers, helmet cleaning stuff, toilet paper, etc.) and it still had more room.
The map pouch is great, as it doesn't leave your map soaking wet after a rain. And as a nice added feature, you can get backpack straps for the tank bag so that when you step off the bike to spend a couple hours touring a ruin, you don't have to worry about people walking off with your tank bag or their contents. We also bought one set of the larger outer pockets and put one side pocket on each bag. The larger front pocket made storing the rain cover (which is very well designed, highly effective, and can have the map pouch stuck on it ) and the backpack straps slightly easier.
The BeadBreakr and CyclePump from Best Rest Products
The F650GS has a notoriously difficult bead to break and, with one exception, the BeadBreakr made that trivial. While a number of people just take regular electric pumps for cars and remove the plastic housing we really appreciated the compact and hard-to-kill housing of the CyclePump. Plus, it has an SAE plug on the end (as well as a bunch of adapters) so we didn't have to attach an SAE to Cigarette adapter to use it. Also, it easily pumped in enough air to set the bead for us (they've got another tool for setting the bead on non-tube tires).
We also brought a manual hand-pump we could use for minor top-ups, and in case this one went out on us, but we never had any problems with this one and ended up never using the manual hand pump. We're lazy and this electric pump was highly effective, fast and easy to use.
The Leatherman Wave
A multi-tool is a must-have on any trip like this, but you can by an incredibly compact set of bits for this one that give you hex (metric and US), torx, phillips, and flathead ends. We used this constantly.
Dries fast, lives up to all its claims. Would absolutely buy again. Is stink-resistant and very comfortable to wear under motorcycle clothes (Dachary says more comfortable than regular cotton underwear).
Smartwool T-shirts (or any other merino wool t-shirts).
They wick well. They dry very fast. You can sweat in them for days and they still won't be stinky once they dry. Thin enough that when the wind hits a sweaty shirt through your vents you get all the cooling benefits that sweating is supposed to provide you with. The 100% cotton t-shirts we brought with us got nasty after one day of sweating in 100 degree F (38 C) weather and took too long to dry if the night was cool. So we'd be carrying around wet cotton shirts for days, or wouldn't bother washing them because they'd take too long to dry. Smartwool or other merino wool totally negates this issue.
Merino wool socks.
We used thin "liner socks" on hot days and thick Smartwool winter ones in the cold. Don't believe the claims about being able to throw them in the dryer, but everything else it true. They resist stinking ( although they can only do so much against feet ) and the thick ones keep you quite warm. They dry fast, too.
No, seriously. We fixed and bodged so many things with these stickers. Bag of pasta came open? Sticker. Socks won't stay on the fan to dry? Stickers. Hole in the toothpaste tube? Stickers. Pannier corner falling off? Lots of stickers. Identifying luggage at the airport? Stickers. Yeah yeah, We hear you yelling about your duct-tape. We have that too, but we liked the stickers, and they don't leave a residue when you remove them like duct-tape does. Also, we love getting stickers from other riders and leaving ours in interesting places. You should totally get some made for your trip.
A buff is essentially a stretchy cloth tube. The cyclone buff doubles the stretchy layer for warmth and then attaches a thick piece of Goretex Windstopper fleece. Which is warm and absolutely kills the wind. Wear it as a neck warmer. Wear it as a balaclava. Wear it as a hat. Many of our days would have been painfully cold on the neck without something like this, and without a cyclone buff you're pretty much relegated to wrapping large scarves around your neck or using a balaclava which is not only single use, but also doesn't go as low under / over the neck of your jacket. We brought normal, lightweight, buffs too and used them to keep bugs from pinging off of our necks, or to keep Kay's long hair in check before the Honduran barber got ahold of it.
Held Warm-N-Dry Gloves
We were thrilled with these gloves and can't recommend them highly enough. We rode at highway speeds in sub-freezing temperatures and they kept our hands as warm as any other non-electric gloves would. The real problem was keeping our core temperature up. We rode in cold high-altitude climates with pouring rains and hail and putting these on was almost a delicacy. Our hands never got wet with them.
The only note is that they are absolutely designed to work in conjunction with heated grips. The leather on the palm is standard summer-weight which makes them more comfortable and easier to close your hand and grip the grips, but would be a bad choice without heated grips. As a result, they provide good tactile feedback on the controls but they're not as warm as some of the massive snowboarding-style gloves. Perfect with heated grips, but not warm enough without. Also, in sub-freezing temps even with heated grips, our fingers got cold on some days. For regular commuting in sub-freezing, would probably get heated gloves. For this trip, though, they were the perfect choice.
We wish we had Kindles (see below) but, lacking them, the Kindle software on our iPhone and iPad enabled us to relax with good books in the evenings; something that was very much appreciated. Dachary read 21 books on the trip, and there would simply have been no room to carry around that much paper. Reading on the phone wasn't ideal (hence the wish we'd brought Kindles) but it made reading possible when it wouldn't have been practical otherwise.
Items we wish we'd have brought: Frogg Toggs
We got sick of our GoreTex and Hydratex rain liners leaving us damp. We really disliked walking into restaurants with shells that were soaking wet and left puddles below our chairs, even worse in a hotel. Putting them in on the road was so annoying that if it wasn't cold we'd simply skip bothering with the leg ones. Frogg Toggs have an excellent reputation amongst riders, hold up to highway speed winds, and don't feel like cheap vinyl. We've also heard that they help as windbreakers, and while our layers are *supposed* to do that, they weren't all that effective. There were times on the trip that an extra wind-breaking layer would have made a huge difference in warmth and comfort.
Better external dry sacks.
We bought an outdoor research dry-sack for the tent, Dachary's sleeping mat and something else. It seemed good when we bought it but it wasn't designed to survive the stresses of living on the back of a bike for four months. Next time we've decided that any dry-sack that lives on the bike will have to be heavy-duty PVC material like the bags made by Ortlieb and Wolfman. The Wolfman Expedition Dry Duffel on Kay's bike has been beaten, dropped, dragged, and shoved. Kay let one of the clips dangle against a muffler, melted off half of it, and it still held tight when he put it back. The extra d-rings were great for attaching bungies, or whatever, and the only negative comment we have about it is that the handles that meet across the top aren't quite long enough to meet when it's full. We'd absolutely buy another one but can't decide if we want one that opens along the top or on the ends next time.
Dachary brought two bras but wished for a third because they take a long time to dry and they get skanky when you wear them. The non-sports bra was more comfortable but the sport-bra dried faster.
There are things we'd have fixed if we'd have brought a needle and thread.
Cardo Scala Rider G4 headsets
We bought these in Mexico City when the Senas died. We chose ease of use over known reliability in the beginning. The Cardo's aren't as easy to manipulate, and when it rained one of us would generally be unable to speak to the other, but the hardware design is hard to damage, and they've got a history of reliability.
If you like to read there's no getting around the fact that you can't carry enough physical books and you'll have trouble buying more along the way because they're mostly in foreign languages. The kindle's e-ink screen is very easy on the eyes, it's small, lightweight, has a literal one month battery life, and can hold tons of books and download more whenever you get a net connection. We used the Kindle software on Dachary's iPhone (better screen) and Kay's iPad (bigger screen) but really wished we'd had actual Kindle's. Next time we will. Reading almost exclusively in the evenings and a smidge in the mornings Dachary devoured 21 books and Kay went through 12. There's no way we'd have been able to carry that many paperbacks. It should be noted that Kindle books almost always come with Digital Rights Management (DRM) which means they could literally become unusable at any moment, but right now there's no better way for an adventure rider to read on the road.
More Lithium Batteries
Spot Trackers require lithium batteries for a variety of reasons. You will have an incredibly hard time buying them outside of your home country. So stock up before you leave. We think we got approximately three weeks of constant tracking (while riding) per set.
A small container of grease
The grease on Dachary's rear axel seemed to wear away. The last time we changed her tire we were seriously concerned about how little there was. The gas station didn't have any but a local mechanic, when asked for grease, squirted some oil on the axel… "Well," kay thought, "it *is* a lubricant".
Tiger Balm is one of those creams that feels hot when rubbed into sore muscles. In addition to being very effective it also happens to come in a very small bottle (you don't need much).
Tea and Coffee
Kay's always been a tea fan and we were constantly being offered tea or coffee with our breakfasts. The problem is that other countries have different ideas about what constitutes a decent "black" tea. For a while Kay kept getting black tea with cinnamon and cloves. Bleh. He regretted not having brought along some "good" tea.
Dachary wasn't a huge coffee drinker before the trip, but did appreciate "good" coffee. Kay got her a insulated mug / french press to be her one luxury item on the trip, but she decided against it to save space. It was a decision she'd come to regret after being frequently served bad instant coffe and discovering that "cafe con leche" was really "leche con un poco cafe".
About three months into the trip Kay developed an uncomfortable case of Trigger Finger as a result of constantly gripping the throttle. He actually left one at home because he disliked how it felt in the way on the grip and had no problems on his previous three week trip riding around the states. While we don't like the idea of motorcycle cruise controls for safety reasons we recommend bringing a Throttle Rocker or something similar. If nothing else, throw it in your pannier just in case.
Items we regret choosing: Sena SMH-10
Our trials and tribulations with this have been thoroughly documented. We can't recommend buying these. Go with one of the Cardo Scala Rider models.
Synthetic sleeping bags
They don't pack small enough and we wished we'd have invested in ones with a lower temperature rating. We've since been told that down packs smaller and is generally good to lower temperatures. For the next trip, we're looking into down sleeping bags that can zip together so we can share body warmth on really cold nights.
Kay brought some good sneakers designed for running off-road. They resist squishing and take up way too much space. Next time he'll bring converse low-tops because they squish very flat and you're not off the bike enough for good tread to be a real concern. Dachary's Ahnu Reyes Sandals squished well and had good tread, but occasionally got rocks or sand in them. She'd "absolutely" bring them again. Kay ended up using Dachary's sandals frequently when she wasn't using them herself because they were easier to deal with than Kay's shoes (i.e. didn't require socks, and Dachary always had them with her).
5 Function Digital Meter from Aerostitch
A great idea but a horrible execution. The device was never designed to be exposed to the elements. Aerostitch claims it's "not extreme weatherproof without custom modification (disassemble, apply silicone sealant, reassemble)". We claim it isn't weatherproof at all without that and that a motorcycle company shouldn't be selling a device that isn't capable of being used on a motorcycle without such modifications. We do know of one rider who's done the custom sealing and had no problems.
Aerostitch Triple Digit Rain Covers
Simply not worth the effort, slippery, and when incorrectly worn fill up like water balloons.
Touratech sidestand feet.
Both had the bottom layer bend down either slightly or severely, and then fell off. It's somewhat bent
Bike things that broke:
• Kay's ABS, or rather, the ability to turn it off.
• The 5 function meters.
• Three inner tubes (rear flats on Dachary's bike).
• 2 SW-Motech Quick-locks (hold the pannier frames on).
• Corner of SW-motech Trax pannier.
• Watertightness of SW-Motech Trax pannier.
• Key to Trax pannier broke off in lock.
• AirHawk straps (3 out of 4 ripped off).
• BeadRider began unraveling
• Engine Gasket on Dachary's bike.
• Dachary's bike has gotten a few inches shorter in the rear.
• Tail light / license plate assembly for Kay's bike.
• Fork Seals on Kay's bike.
• Gas light on Kay's bike.
• Neutral light on Kay's bike.
• Cooling fan on Kay's bike.
• Important bolt fell out of Happy-Trails rack on Kay's bike.
• Oil leak on Kay's bike.
• Metal loop on Kay's kickstand.
• Low beam on Kay's bike.
• Odometer / trip meter on Kay's bike (stuck on trip meter at 0.0)
• Rear left blinker on Kay's bike (dangling by wires)
• 2 Touratech sidestand feet. - Both had the bottom layer bend down either slightly or severely, and then fell off.
• 2 Mirror stalk screws that hold the mirrors on (designed to break easily).
• Laminar Lip / Wind deflector at the top of Dachary's windshield.
• A few of the array of screws that provide traction on the Fastway Pegs fell out of 2 pegs despite having used red locktite.
• Dachary's Touratech chain guard broke where they always break and Kay's has a crack most of the way across.
Other things that broke:
• Dachary's Gerbing jacket.
• Dachary's second garbing jacket works but shocks her.
• Dachary's RevIt Rival H20 boots (zipper wouldn't zip, then came off).
• Some stitching in RevIt Sand pants and jacket.
• Kay's glasses (stepped on).
• Sena SMH-10 Headsets.
• Lid on our pot melted (user error).
• Waterproofing on Dachary's replacement boots.
• Waterproofnees of Hydratex in Dachary's Rev'It Sand Jacket and pants (she gets wet, not damp).
• Cheap dry sacks getting holes.
• Contour GPS camera (usb port fell inwards).
• Cord pull tabs on three zippers on the BMW Rally Pro 2 suit fell off (zipper is unaffected).
• Camelbak bite valves. (Kay's popped off repeatedly. Both now leak, Dachary's since Nicaragua )
• Camelbak lock thing that keeps water from coming out at all (Kay's fell out twice spewing water everywhere).
• Metal underwire in one of Dachary's bras broke and had to be removed.
• Shutter on one point and shoot now fails to always open completely (repeatedly dropped)
• Lanyard keeping point and shoot from flying off the bike broke and had to be tied.
• Both point and shoots now have scratches on the lenses (only one was used while riding).
• One spork.
Injuries and Ailments:
• Kay's back was thrown out twice (lift with your legs not your back).
• Far too much diarrhea (twice badly enough to keep Dachary off the bike).
• Dachary's left shoulder in a fall.
• Dachary's left shoulder/neck when reaching for a fan cord.
• Kay's ankle - bruised the bone when trapped between pannier and sand. Hurt when pannier fell on it a second time.
• Kay's shoulder (can't remember which or why)
• Somewhat serious case of trigger finger in Kay's right hand.
• Dachary's knee and ankle got scraped from falling whilst walking on sidewalk.
• Dachary's hand got scraped on pannier and then on hanger used to hold stuff in pannier lid.
• Dachary received a second degree sunburn as a result of standing for too long in the Colombian sun without sunscreen.
• Dachary experienced severe Altitude Sickness in Bolivia ( shortness of breath, migraine, coughing, dizziness).
• Assorted minor bruises and muscle strains.
• Dehydration headaches.
More in the next post. We've exceeded the 35,000 character limit for the HUB!
Our sleeping bag choices were poor. My only experience with down is an old World War II sleeping bag i have that is effing warm but doesn't compress very well. Along the way we learned from other riders that good down compresses exceptionally well. So we'd go for down sleeping bags next time. Also, if you're traveling with someone else be sure to get sleeping bags that can zip together should the night prove unexpectedly cold. Next time we'll bring bags that are rated down to at least 20 deg F (-10 C). Remember that the temperature ratings on sleeping bags are not standardized and generally indicate the lowest temperature it will keep you alive at, not the lowest temperature you'll be comfortable at.
We did bring sleeping bag liners, which were supposed to give us an extra 15 deg F of temperature range. We also found them to be useful in warm climates, as you could sleep in just the liner if it was too warm for the sleeping bag. It's also great if you're in a bed where you don't trust the sheets - just whip out the sleeping bag liner. Easier to clean than the sleeping bag itself, so if you get sweaty, just wash the liner - don't worry about cleaning the bag. Would bring again and highly recommend.
Sleeping Bag Liners
We both brought the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner which claims to add up to 25 degrees F of warmth. We're not convinced of that claim but it did help keep us warmer, is far easier to clean than a sleeping bag, and your skin doesn't stick to it like it does to sleeping bag material. On hot nights we've put the sleeping bags under us for padding and just slept in these. We'd definitely recommend these. For storage we ended up just leaving them inside the sleeping bag which we shoved in a compression sack.
Therm-a-Rest Z-light Sleeping pad
We bought this because it folds up into a square shape instead of the standard foam sleeping pads which roll up into a tube. Squares are much easier to strap in place. Next time we wouldn't buy either. The pad certainly helped but any bone that was pressed against the hard ground through it still hurt. Also, we didn't consider the additional thermal properties you get from using an inflatable mattress, especially the Exped ones with down in them too. Multiple travelers have reported getting punctures in theirs, which was specifically why we avoided inflatable pads, but they've all claimed that fixing them was trivial and the frustration was greatly outweighed by the comfort and warmth.
These are a must-have, and not just for camping. If you need to do anything in the dark these are way better than a flashlight. Kay went with a Petzl Tikka Plus 2 LED Headlamp which is quite comfortable and, at 50 lumens, seemed plenty of light, until Dachary would turn on her heavy-duty Energizer headlamp which totally emasculated the Petzl's 50 lumens. Also, the Energizer had a red light which was particularly nice because it doesn't kill your night vision. Kay can't stand the extra weight of the Energizer's battery pack or its additional strap that goes over the top of the head. Dachary never feels like the Petzl is going to stay on her head. If we had to do it again Dachary would probably take the same Energizer one and Kay would upgrade to a brighter Petzl with a red light.
First Needs XL Water Purifier
We used this very often, especially in countries where large bottles of water are only available in supermarkets. We never needed to filter pond-water or anything like that, but we could have. It isn't the most compact option, but it is one of the best.
We brought a cellulose sponge for washing dishes, and that was a mistake because they take quite a while to dry. Next time we'll bring one of those artificial foam sponges because you can squeeze almost every drop of moisture out of them before setting them to dry.
We're undecided about this. It gets spectacular reviews, whereas most stoves get mediocre reviews, and our first one worked great. But the fuel filter on the replacement we were sent after the recall started getting clogged the first time we used it. We didn't figure out what the problem was till the end of the trip. The manufacturer was great about helping us out with getting one quickly due to the time crunch between the recall and the start of the trip. We'll get a new filter and give it a few tries back in the states before committing to it on the next trip.
Dachary made the call to bring a Gerbing hunting/camping knife as a separate food-safe knife that was to be used exclusively for food. It made cutting beef, and everything else trivial. Not a requirement, but we liked it and will bring it next time. Kay suggested just using the Leatherman knife until Dachary reminded him of everything else we use the Leatherman knife for. It was a compelling argument for a food-only knife.
small cutting board
We definitely appreciated having somewhere clean to cut meat or veggies. Took up essentially no space, weighed nothing, and we used it as a replacement lid on our pot when we screwed up and melted the one it came with. You can also use it as a serving dish, a plate, etc.
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist (pot/bowls/cups)
This is an excellent compact solution that gives you a pot, two cups, two bowls (insulated), and something to wash them in. All of it fits within the pot. We love this thing with one exception. The lid is plastic and if you accidentally let the water boil out of whatever you're cooking it will melt and be useless. We'd happily pay for another set if it came with a metal lid.
This was a mistake. You'll want a good scrubby sponge for cleaning your dishes but don't bring a cellulose one. Instead choose one of the artificial yellow foam ones. You can squeeze almost all the water out of them and they dry pretty quickly. A cellulose sponge is sometimes still damp in the morning.
On the Bike:
In the end we both decided we preferred the BeadRider beaded seat cover over the AirHawk. The AirHawk provides a soft and constant pressure that adjusts as you move. Unfortunately this means there's an inescapably constant pressure on your butt. A beaded seat cover allows you to move around to relieve pressure points and is surprisingly comfortable. Three of the AirHawk's four strap attachment points ripped out of the cover, and whenever it rained while you were off the bike you had to sit your nice dry butt on a soaking wet cloth cover. While we didn't have any problems a few riders we encountered had an exceptional amount of trouble with their AirHawks getting leaks and requiring lots of patching.
The BeadRider wasn't perfect though. Too many accidental kicks when throwing a leg over the seat snapped the heavy-duty fishing line that holds the beads together. A few beads were lost on the side, and we had to re-knot them in a few places to keep other beads from falling off. The slipperiness of the ceramic beads left Dachary sliding forwards on her seat. The wooden ones aren't as durable but they aren't as slippery under your butt either.
Dachary gave up on hers along the way. She was unhappy with how the zip-tie delivery mechanism required feeding more zip-tie from time to time (by design) and didn't feel it was a thorough enough coverage. Additionally she disliked not having something to clean the chain with. Next time she'll bring a brush and a can of chain-lube. We picked up some S10 chain lube along the way and liked the tiny spray tube it had. Kay, on the other hand, was pretty happy with the Loobman. He likes how low-tech it is and how he could reach down and squeeze it when he happened to remember while riding.
Oxford Heaterz Heated Motorcycle Handlebar Grips
Worked great and never needed to turn them all the way up, even in sub-freezing weather. Unfortunately the buttons for adjusting the temperature are nigh-impossible to manipulate when wearing winter gloves and it the unit resets itself to the lowest setting when you turn the bike off.
FuzeBlocks FZ-1 Fuze block
This product is notable because it's very small, and unlike every other fuze block out there allows each item to easily be switched or unswitched. When the bike turned off so did the electric jacket and grips. No more needing to remember to turn them off or drain the battery. The GPS on the other hand stayed on so that you could ponder the map.
Denali LED Lighting Kit
Worked great, and is probably the most affordable lighting system of its kind. When Kay's headlight died we simply pointed them down more and used them as replacement low beams. When we were driving in near-zero visibility it gave us confidence to know that oncoming trucks would be able to see them through the mist. When we turned them on at night the road was absolutely visible. We highly recommend these. Next time we'll spend the extra cash to get a second set for Dachary's bike, too.
Welded kick-stand foot extensions
One of our favorite mods was the "big fat feet" we had an Ecuadoran welder attach to our kick-stands after the Touratech ones had fallen off. Welding on new kickstand feet and loop
DID X-RING Gold Chains
The general consensus is that you simply can't buy better. Ours have over 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) on them and have shown no sign of stretching. They should probably be replaced at this point but neither of us was fearing them at the end. They'd probably be in better shape if we had chain lube and cleaning brushes and were maintaining them thoroughly throughout the trip.
There are few areas more opinionated than pannier selection, and we've formed a couple general thoughts about them. Easy on Easy off is a bigger deal than you think. Every time we went into a hotel Dachary would walk behind her bike and have her panniers off in roughly ten seconds. Kay would be unlocking, unlatching, and unscrewing the pucks in his for the next couple minutes. We decided the extra time of unscrewing pucks wouldn't be nearly as bad if one of us didn't have something so ridiculously easy to remove as Dachary's.
We're not fans of the puck systems that so many metal pannier manufacturer's use. It's annoying to have to open the pannier and dig down into it, sometimes needing to remove things, to get to the pucks and then unscrew them just to get your pannier off or on. One requirement for the next panniers we be will be that the mechanism that attaches them to the frame is both external and quick to undo.
We bought a full sheet of 3mm Neoprene with a cloth backing from FoamOrder.com and carefully mapped out the shapes of every panel we'd have to cut from it. Then used some 3M spray adhesive we picked up at an art supplies store to attach it. A half sheet of neoprene should be enough for one set of panniers. This proved to be a really good idea. No rattling, no black stuff from things rubbing against aluminum, and it provided a little bit of shock absorption for the contents of the pannier.
Kay went with the Happy-Trail 38L Teton Panniers. We felt they were very well made, and don't think you'll find anything significantly more sturdy, especially not for the price. The frame was also very good. We were disappointed when Kay's was ripped off because the bolts in the pucks that hold it on did not shear. Instead the frame got tweaked and the little L shaped pieces of metal the the pucks screw into and hold the panniers onto the frame ended up bending the pannier until the angle of the L was such that its hold was less than the force being exerted by the ground. We honestly believe that Happy-Trail needs to switch to shittier bolts. If the bolt had of sheared it would have been a simple matter to grab a Leatherman, grab the end, unscrew it, and replace it. Instead, we've got a bent frame and L pieces that barely hold because, even after repeated banging with rocks, bricks, and axes, they are still not at the right angle. You can't get anything inside the pannier to help flatten it from the inside. Maybe a tiny bottle jack would work… There are a number of people out there who are soft-bag fans because of the possibility of getting your foot trapped / crushed between a hard pannier and the ground. This happened to Kay twice and if it wasn't for the malleolus armor in Kay's boots we're convinced the ankle would have been broken. With the armor it was just the lingering pain from a bruised bone.
Dachary went with the SW-Motech Trax cases which we made the same handle-mod on. As noted above, we loved the ease of use of these, but in almost every other aspect they failed. The lid of each pannier has space in it, but unlike Jesse Cases there's no way to actually hold anything in the roof. We ended up using wire hangers bent in just such a way which kinda-sorta worked for large items like shoes. The Quick-locks that hold the SW-Motech frame together both self destructed as a result of tiny, no-speed drops where the slightest pressure (the weight of the bike) sheered the pins off the locking mechanisms. Dachary is convinced that in an off capable of ripping a pannier from a bike the frame would self-destruct, which would leave you totally screwed. How do you attach the pannier to a frame that's not really there anymore and limp to the next welder? Kay's convinced that the thin piece of bent aluminum rod that you use to latch the panniers to the frame would be ripped off and then you'd be screwed because it's not just something you can weld. It has to be just the right size and bent at just the right angles.
The corners of the Trax cases are plastic and, as far as we can tell, nothing is welded on them. Everything is riveted. The plastic corners will easily rip free of their rivets in an off. We eventually ended up finding someone to replace the corner that'd ripped off.
While the cases were initially waterproof (although SW-Motech no longer markets them as such), they began to quickly get things wet inside after a couple of drops. The riveted panels pulled away slightly and made enough of a gap for water to leak inside - particularly the right pannier. We do not believe that this would happen with the Happy-Trail panniers unless there was a very serious dent. Everything in our panniers that wasn't supposed to get wet was in one of our many dry-sacks. This proved wise with the Trax cases.
On the Hard vs. Soft debate we're still somewhat torn. We both went with hard for the peace of mind they provide. On one of the test rides with Kay's soft luggage he was constantly concerned about someone getting in to it. On the journey we had no problems with people trying to get into our cases, but we also didn't worry about it either. We're not sure it's needed, and if we were doing a trip just within the USA we might go with soft luggage, but we definitely appreciate the security aspect of hard luggage.
On the Humans: BMW Rallye Pro 2 suit
Great construction, exceptional armor, surprisingly good ventilation. Can't recommend it highly enough. We've looked at the Rallye Pro 3 and believe that they've taken the excellence of the Rallye Pro 2 and made well chosen enhancements. Ignore the fact that people think you bought it because of the BMW roundel and buy it because it's excellent.
TCX GTX Infinity Boots
The waterproofing was excellent. Without the malleolus protector Kay's convinced he'd have broken his left ankle, possibly twice. Only downside is that the edging at the top is very itchy for at least a month of riding, and after that it's mildly itchy. Tall socks are required. After using them long enough Kay decided that the boots had become so comfortable that it wasn't worth the effort of digging out normal shoes if he wasn't going to walking particularly far (more than a couple miles).
RevIt Rival H20 Boots
These had a zipper that was way too fine, got borked on the first encounter with dirt/mud, and ripped off when trying to extricate a foot from them. These boots might be good for highway touring and commuters, but they're simply not practical from a construction standpoint for adventure riding. Any off-road at all is virtually guaranteed to cause problems with the fine-tooth zipper. Otherwise, they were comfortable and perfectly fine for certain applications, especially in their price point - just not for adventure riding.
We ended up returning them at the beginning of the trip and replacing them with…
Dainese Visoke D-WP Boots
These lost all semblance of waterproofness by Colombia at around 6,700 miles and around 50 solid 8-10 hour days in a row of riding, but were otherwise well loved by Dachary and greatly preferred to the Revit Rival H20 Boots due to their thicker soles and extra shin protection. The extra height they provided was just enough to make it easier for Dachary to maneuver her bike in in parking, which she had to do on tippy-toes until the bike got shorter. We've been told that Gore-Tex will guarantee the waterproofing in any product that uses it but haven't contacted anybody yet about the waterproofing of these boots.
Dachary went with the RevIt Monster Gloves for the warm weather. For safety reasons we don't recommend short gloves for most riders but Dachary's sleeves were actually a bit too long and, she believed, would cover, and protect, her wrists from scrapes even when pushed back up the arm. The Monster gloves wore great, and were extremely comfortable when broken in. They don't feel particularly protective and certainly wouldn't have done much in a bad off, particularly in off-road conditions, but they were great for long-distance touring with mostly paved riding.
Dachary had the RevIt Zenith H20 Gloves for the rain and cooler temps. Kay seriously regretted not getting these too. While it may have been excessive to carry three pairs of gloves, there were times when it was too cold for the Monster mesh gloves but not cold enough to justify the Held Warm N'Dry gloves. The RevIt Zenith gloves were the perfect compromise for those in-between temperatures. Also good in the rain.
Kay went with the Joe Rocket Sonic Gloves for the warm weather, but discovered that his thumb (average sized) got slightly jammed when twisting the throttle and eventually had to take out the stitching in the top of the thumb so that it could poke out. Dachary had these before the trip but the felt in the palm wore through near the thumb and became uncomfortable bumps at the edges of the wear holes. They're definitely good from a safety perspective (Kay's wearing the ones that saved Dachary's knuckles in a lowside) and were comfortable for Kay other than the thumb issue, but neither of us would buy them again.
Kay went with the Aerostitch Triple Digit Rain Covers instead of the RevIt Zenith H20 Gloves, despite a total failure on a test run where they turned into water balloons surrounding his hands. This had been chalked up to user-error. Not buying a second pair of rain gloves would save us money and he didn't mind the slipperiness of them. On the trip it was decided that they were obnoxious and not worth the effort. From then on Kay just let his hands get wet unless it was particularly cold out at which point we'd break out the…
Held Warm-N-Dry Gloves
See the note about these in the Outstanding Items section. Short version: buy them. Buy them now. Just remember that they're designed to be used with heated grips.
Dachary went with the Gerbing and Kay with the Aerostich Kanetsu TLTec Windblocker. Our initial review made the Gerbing out to be the clear winner, but after 18,000 miles it's not so black and white. Yes, the Gerbing heated up faster and kept your arms warm too, but the first Gerbing jacket died on us, and the second one had a tendency to shock Dachary at regular intervals unless she wore thick insulating layers beneath it. It was quite painful when turned up too. And, when the first Gerbing died it provided essentially no warmth.
The Aerostich on the other hand burned Kay when worn with the thin side against the skin and turned all the way up, but reversing it to put the fleece between the wires and the skin solved that problem. While the arms weren't heated like the Gerbing it did a good enough job at keeping Kay's core warm that it wasn't a big deal. And, most importantly it still provided a measure of warmth due to its fleece side even when it wasn't turned on. The Aerostich's lack of pockets was particularly annoying when walking around in it, as was it's "motorcycle" cut meant it came barely to the waist when riding and rode up to high when walking around.
So, the question is, would we recommend either of them? We're not sure. Gerbing has a great reputation and is definitely willing to replace faulty products, but we're concerned that both jackets had problems. Also, willingness to replace a faulty product doesn't help when you're in another country or on another continent and don't have a shipping address. The Aerostitch has 1970's technology, but as a result it's not nearly as finicky, and we love that it has a fleece side that'll keep you warm should it break, or if you're just walking around town. The cut and the lack of pockets though…
We highly recommend getting an electric jacket, we're just not sure which one you should get. Kay's considering the exo2 gear for the next trip.
Personal Hygiene: Baby Wipes
Far too many uses to list. About the only thing you can't clean with them is your visor because they leave a thin film of residue.
The kind that fold, or split into two pieces. Normal toothbrushes are too long for a toiletries stuff sack and chopping off the end of the handle leaves it too short for comfortable use. Plus if you have the kind that you split into two pieces and it goes inside itself like a little case, it keeps your toothbrush from getting stuff on it from your other toiletries (i.e. leaky soap, etc.)
We each brought a "large" chamois style MSR PackTowl which was more than sufficient to get us dry and packs very small, but next time we'll bring the extra large one. The difference in packing space is negligible and you should be able to wrap an XL one around you when you step out of the shower in a campground. You can't wrap the smaller ones around you.
We also brought a tiny version for drying the dishes. We weren't sure if bringing a chamois towel for dishes was a good call or not before the trip, but in the end we think it was great.
You could bring a bag of Q-tips, but that takes up space and needs to be kept dry. A mimikaki on the other hand can get wet, is reusable, and takes up less space than a pen. For those who don't know a Mimikaki is essentially an ear spoon. Americans tend to put this in the "gross" category but really it's no worse than a Q-tip and the Japanese have been fans of them for years. Kay went with a poor man's Mimikaki made from a paperclip (not as dangerous as it sounds), but you can buy real ones from sites like J-List. We recommend getting a metal one if you can find it. Side note: Dachary does not and will not use this. But also doesn't have the problems with ear wax that most people have. So to each his own in this regard.
We chose, and would recommend, the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Weekender First-Aid Kit because of its very easy to read section labels. We know from experience that in stressful situations you don't have the mental capacity to hunt for things. If someone's bleeding you want a pocket that says "Bleeding". All of the first aid kits we've seen that have any hope of fitting in a pannier need to have items added to them, but we think the clear labeling is a definite benefit in stressful situations. Also the first aid book that it comes with is quite good; not one of those crappy booklets most kits come with. We're not sure we'd bring the suture kit to the Americas again, but if you're heading to Africa or Around the World we'd definitely recommend it. We're happy to report that we only used the kit for burn gel and some pills, although we did consult the book several times to diagnose Dachary's diarrhea, degree of sunburn, altitude sickness, etc. On a related note, if you're fortunate enough to have an old-school pharmacist nearby, explain what you're about to do and ask them if you could have any of their first aid related items or pills that are either about to expire or just expired recently. Ours offered us a number of useful things that he was just going to have to throw out.
Lots of people recommend these. We recommend against them. Every single ziplock we brought ended up self-destructing, and not just a little tear self destruction either. They completely wore out. Holes everywhere. Even nice round things like batteries couldn't be kept. Save yourself the frustration and just get some small, lightweight dry sacks for holding things in your panniers. We got a few multi-packs of small dry sacks from Amazon.com and they were great as both stuff sacks and at keeping important things dry when our panniers did get wet.
Neither of us ever wore them. Dachary put extra cash and cards in hers but left it somewhere not on her person. it may as well have just been an envelope. Kay never put anything in his. We wouldn't bother next time. We went with the advice of carrying a wallet that has fake cards and just enough cash for the day. If it gets stolen, no biggie. However, we had no problems in this regard on the entire trip.
The advice we'd received was to get maps with a scale of at least 1:500,000. In some cases we were able to find maps with a scale of 1:250,000. Some maps had great road coverage but no topographical information. Some had good roads and topographical information. Some were waterproof, some weren't. Our advice is this: If you're the type who goes out of their way to frequently ride tiny dirt roads then get a 1:250,000 scale map whenever you can. If that doesn't sound like you get 1:500,000. The problem with the 1:250,000 scale is that when you're traveling at normal pavement speeds you have to refold them three times a day just to keep the part you're riding on visible. Always get a map with good topographical information. The map we had of Chile was very easy to read, but we had no clue when we were about to deal with mountains and valleys which seriously impacts your riding speed due to all the squiggles. Also, it's good to know when you're about to climb into the mountains because it generally gets quite chilly when you do.
Waterproof maps, when you can find them, have a surprising side-benefit. They're much more resilient when it comes to all the abuse your maps take from being constantly refolded to fit into the map pouch on your tank bag. Most of our paper maps look thoroughly beaten, and some have holes at some of the fold corners.
We need to make special mention of the National Geographic Adventure maps. If you want a detailed map (1:250,000) these are easy to read, waterproof, contain topographical information, and include "dirt tracks" and "trails". The only downside is that they're only available for a handful of countries.
Salted / Roasted Almonds
The salted ones are hard to find on the road, but you'll sporadically find fresh ones. We recommend these, because they were always greatly appreciated when we nommed on them from a tank bag, and they take a while to digest so your body receives benefit from them for quite a while afterwards. If it's mealtime and you can't find anything nearby, grab a couple handfuls of salted almonds.
Oxford Spanish / English Dictionary
Something like 70% of the words we tried to look up (Spanish and English) weren't in there, but we found an unexpected benefit. When we were trying to convey something important, but lacked the vocabulary, we'd pull it out and look up the world. Frequently the other person would get interested and, once you'd figured out your word, borrow it to look up something they were trying to convey to you. So, while we wouldn't particularly recommend *this* dictionary, we would recommend bringing a paper dictionary, in addition to having a copy of Ultralingua on your iPhone (see below).
Didn't need to use it, but glad we had it. Also, it turns out that there's a common scam amongst corrupt cops in South America where they claim you are required to have one even though you aren't and try and get a bribe out of you. Ditto for warning triangles, which we didn't have.
You're going to meet people who are interested in your trip. You can either tell them your URL and hope they remember it, or hope that someone's got a piece of paper and a pen. Or, you can simply carry business cards. It should be noted that standard US business cards will just fit in a large Altoids tin. The corners might get compressed slightly but not badly, and it'll help protect them from getting beaten up. We carried a couple tins of them and were very grateful to have them to hand out.
We were planning on both getting new point-and-shoot's for the trip, and after doing a lot of research using Flickr's Camera Finder to see what real world pictures looked like from various cameras we decided on the Canon PowerShot SX210 SI. Dachary bought hers, but Kay decided to spend his money on a used DSLR and found a Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS on eBay for about the same price $350. We also had an old Canon PowerShot SD1000 which was the "riding camera".
The old PowerShot got tethered to Kay's tank bag and was used for shooting while riding. If something horrible happened as a result of it being used on a motorcycle we weren't going to be too bummed. The tether definitely came in handy as it was dropped or slipped out of where it got shoved for easy access while riding a number of times. Sadly Kay managed to forget it was there, pull the tank bag off the bike and cause it to hit the ground when the tank bag was lowered… repeatedly. Now, the shutter doesn't always open up completely.
The combination of a good point and shoot (the SX210) and a DSLR is one we'd highly recommend. Mostly we just put the DSLR in landscape mode (no flash) and let it do everything automatically. A telephoto lens would have been nice, but the one it came with was surprisingly good. The 14x optical zoom on the SX210 compensated when the DSLR lens couldn't capture something small or far off, but time and again we were impressed with how much better the color quality is on the DSLR. Megapixels aren't everything.
Our advice is to bring a good point and shoot you can throw in your pocket while walking around populated areas and a good DSLR for the really important / beautiful shots. And, if you have an old one, or can afford another, a point and shoot for your tank bag that you don't mind risking the life of.
We brought a Contour HD, a Contour GPS, and a V.O.I. P.O.V video camera. The Contour HD worked flawlessly and provided great video. The Contour GPS worked flawlessly and provided great video until the USB port on it that you use to charge it and get data off broke and pushed into the camera where you could no longer access it. The P.O.V. never got used even as a replacement for the broken Contour GPS because the remote never seemed to reliably start a recording so you have to keep the screen on the main body visible and there's a big-ass fiber optic cable running from the body to the lens on your head. So, every time you step off the bike you have to remove the camera from your helmet and stow it away. (However, another rider told us that the GPS seems to interfere with the signal from the remote, and if you move the remote further from the GPS unit, it might work reliably. We never got around to testing this.).
Also, because you want to not go through batteries at an insane rate you have to wire it to your battery (there's an adapter for that) but the device must be powered to get video off of it. So, you either have to hold your laptop next to your bike while you download the video or you have to stick in some batteries (it won't power itself from the USB connection) and then remove them when you're ready to plug it back into the bike. All-in-all the added complications and frustrations that the P.O.V presented didn't make Kay feel like bothering. We pondered Velcroing it to the bike, but didn't want to deal with having to detach it from the bike every time we walked away from it. We recommend a nice cordless helmet cam like the Contour HD or GPS. Just be sure to keep it charged so you don't miss that incredible moment.
The GPS functionality on the Contour GPS is, right now, largely a gimmick. You can only share it via their video site, but we chose it because even though we planned to share the video on other sites, we'd be able to use the software on our laptops to know exactly where the video was taken which we found a useful thing on a trip like this. No more wondering "Where was this?"
When we met up with OsoBlanco (on ADVRider) on the road and told him of our dead camera he mentioned that on his Around the World trip he and his companions managed to kill five Contour HDs. He'd also had trouble with the remote on the P.O.V. whenever it was too near his GPS. For this trip he'd switched to the Drift HD170 which seemed to be working ok for him, although we all agreed that no-one in the motorcycle camera space has gotten it *quite* right yet.
It should be noted that right now the V.O.I. P.O.V is the only helmet cam we could find with a microphone in. So, if you want to narrate while riding (wind noise will be hard to overcome) it's your only choice.
We brought two mac laptops and an iPad. Two laptops is a bit excessive for most, but Dachary still needed to work for some of her clients from time to time and we were determined to keep up the daily posts. Writing daily ride reports takes a lot of work, and if you skip writing one evening you have to make it up the next so there were many nights when Dachary was writing one post or working for a client while Kay was writing a post. This was only an option because we had two laptops, and from a space standpoint, it was only justifiable because we had two panniers each. For riding two-up where space is much more of a concern, we never would have been able to justify two laptops.
We brought the iPad because it has an incredible battery life and because with the addition of the thin Apple bluetooth keyboard it becomes a very effective writing device. We believed that we were going to be camping a lot and thought we'd be able to use it for writing the posts. This didn't happen but we ended up loving it for two other reasons: 1) excellent viewing angle for watching downloaded movies and tv shows. You don't have to crowd together to have the screen be at the right angle for both. 2) Kay would use the Kindle app on it it to read books downloaded from Amazon, but it's not nearly as nice for reading on as a real Kindle.
We don't recommend the iPad for content creation unless you're using service like Posterous.com to post to your blog. About the only content the iPad is decent at creating is emails and Posterous.com ingests email and converts it into blog posts (on its site and others if you want), uploads the embedded photos and videos to Flickr, embeds galleries and audio players as needed. But, it can't post to ride reports on sites like ADVRider.
If, however, you're just posting occasionally, or not at all… Can't recommend the iPad highly enough. The only downside is that you're going to have a harder time connecting to weak WiFi signals, which you'll encounter frequently, with an iPad (or iPhone) than you will with a laptop. The antenna's just not as good.
If you have an iPhone grab a copy of Ultralingua. This is an excellent foreign language dictionary (to and from) with a huge vocabulary. Definitely worth the money. Plus many words that weren't in our paper dictionaries were in Ultralingua. Truly helpful and awesome. (Thanks Eric for recommending it!)
Because they Rock:
On our trip, Revzilla went out of their way to help us with returns and getting replacement items when we were in far off lands. Their support in finding the right items for the trip was exceptional. Their web site is also the best in the industry. For these reasons, because we are incredibly grateful for their support, and because they simply get what it is to be an adventure rider we'd like to suggest making your next gear purchases with them. You won't regret it.
I just came across your little trip, you seem to have had quite a fair amount of problems with the bikes, especially accessing filter etc to do basic maintenance. Was it a continuing problem maintaining the BMs and reliability seems not what it should be.
I was thinking of buying a BMW f650gs dakar, but seeing the overlaying problems you have both had, it looks likely that I should look more closely at a japanese machine instead.
I just came across your little trip, you seem to have had quite a fair amount of problems with the bikes, especially accessing filter etc to do basic maintenance. Was it a continuing problem maintaining the BMs and reliability seems not what it should be.
I was thinking of buying a BMW f650gs dakar, but seeing the overlaying problems you have both had, it looks likely that I should look more closely at a japanese machine instead.
We didn't have any "problems" accessing the filter for basic maintenance. It's just that on the F650GS (prior incarnation, not sure about the new 800cc version) BMW put an excessive number of screws between you and what you need to get to. Also, to change the oil you let oil out of three separate places on the bike (oil resevoir, oil filter, sump plug). However, from what we hear this is still better than the KTM adventure...
None of the problems we had with the bikes were anything specific to the F650GS or to ANY motorcycle. Ground fault (probably) in the wiring, fork seals, engine gasket, fan... These are typical problems that happen on EVERY bike from EVERY manufacturer, and most of these were on an eight year old bike.
We would still highly recommend the BMW F650GS, not because we're BMW fanboys, but because it really is a good bike. We believe that you'll encounter the types of problems we encountered on any bike. While we weren't thrilled with BMW Santiago the level of service is FAR better in a BMW shop. We passed hundreds of shops that'd work on the typical japanese bikes but they were generally hole-in-the-wall places that would be unlikely to be particularly familiar with whatever adventure model you choose because they never see bikes like that, nevermind how unlikely they'll be to have a part that fits.
And that's one huge advantage to the BMW. Honda, for example, makes a lot of bikes but only sells some of them in any given country. So, a European might get a great Transalp but come to the US and be screwed when they need parts because you can't get them here. BMW has a very limited number of bikes and sells the same ones everywhere. So you can get the parts your bike needs in every country that has a BMW dealer (which is most all of them). It should also be noted the main BMW site is missing listings for a number of local dealers and service places. It doesn't show any for Argentina for example, and only shows one for Chile.
We should note that we aren't thrilled with the new version of the F650GS as it really seems to be intended for commuters who only dream of riding offroad but don't ever actually do it (big exposed pipe, no bash plate, alloy wheels), plus calling it a 650 with an 800cc engine in it is just ridiculous and confusing.
I haven't yet read your whole report, but I have to thank you for your followup regarding the performance of your gear. It's good, specific advice about the stuff you used and how well it worked. Very useful for someone planning such a trip.
Did you ever reunite your bikes (did you have them shipped back to Boston)?
I came across your Trip Log by chance, and couldn't stop reading it. What an amazing adventure. Not only a tremendous journey, but also commend you on the effort to document the trip daily. With all the photos, details, and logs it would make a great motorcycle travel book
By the way, do most of the countries you traveled through require local Insurance? Would it be better to arrange travel insurance in advance?
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