Good-bye to an old friend

Top Ramen, chicken flavor

Top Ramen, chicken flavor

Tonight, I bid farewell to a package of Top Ramen, chicken flavor, that has traveled with me, more than 50k miles in my F650’s emergency food bag. From California to Alaska and back; to Paonia, the Beartooth Beemer Bash; the BMW MOA Rally in Sedalia. It has listened to more than it’s fair share of campfire drunks and outlasted at least one husband. Good-bye my delicious, dear friend.

Small is beautiful: Yamaha XT225

Yamaha XT225

Yamaha XT225 Photo: ©2013 Wynne Benti

Back in the ’70s, a friend got a job working for the USGS in Fairbanks. Norm was a college student with limited funds. His only method of conveyance was a 1973 Kawasaki 125 Enduro, a big bike for its time. A strapping six foot three inches tall, he packed his belongings into an orange CampTrails frame backpack and set off for Fairbanks via the Alaska-Canada Transcontinental Highway—1700 miles of dirt and gravel. By the time he arrived on the steps of the USGS, riding 45-50 mph all the way to Fairbanks from Playa del Rey, California, the frame of the Kawasaki was completely bent. When his assignment was finished, he rode the bike back to California, with the bent frame.

What I would give for a comfortable, lightweight long distance dualsport motorcycle, one weighing in around 275 pounds, preferably made by BMW. In 2009, BMW produced the short-lived G450X. It was strictly an enduro bike made for motorcross racing, but at its core was the framework for a lightweight dualsport with enough cc’s to carry its rider around the world. As it was designed, the G450X required the most wrenching of any bike in the line, typical of motocross bikes.

Women and men are traveling the world on 225-250cc bikes. Desert tanks have replaced the tiny stock 2 gallon tanks, making long range riding once reserved for adventure touring bikes sporting 4.5 gallon plus tanks completely feasible. For upper body strength challenged folks, small bikes are a lot easier to pick up solo out in the middle of nowhere.

Cliff Danger’s ‘Lucy’, a 1975 Minsk motorcycle built in Belarus and imported into Vietnam, put him on the world traveler road map during his adventure. Ed March is currently riding long distances on a Honda C90 in all sorts of weather, even running down to Tierra del Fuego from Deadhorse.

Then there are people like me, with challenges that make owning a heavier bike difficult. A quick turn off the highway, down an uneven concrete bridge built in 1945, sharp left up a 6 inch broken concrete ramp to a sidewalk in front of a 6-ft. by 12-ft. plate glass window. Get off the bike, unload it and back into the garage. Throw into that mix, silver-hair, senior discounts, and you get the picture. I have to work out at the gym just to get my F650GS on its center stand.

IMG_3220_640Every year, the Airheads and BMW Motorcycle Club of Northern California have a Death Valley campout in Furnace Creek. My BMW F650GS was in the shop having some work done. I stood in the garage eyeing the bike I learned to ride on, a Honda CRF230 Baja Conversion which has neither an aftermarket gas tank nor much of a place for a tail rack on its very flexible back fender. The bike was designed as a day rider not an adventure tourer.

Sitting next to the Honda was my significant other’s understated and immaculately tended Yamaha XT225, predecessor to the XT250 (BTW 250cc is the minimum cc required for riding interstates). I knew it could make the 360 mile round-trip off-highway ride to Furnace Creek with luggage, but would it be comfortable. I’m 5’10”. A four gallon aftermarket desert tank replaced the stock tank, so it had plenty of range. The foot pegs and an extended seat, indicated that it was designed to actually carry passenger, so 40 pounds of luggage was no big deal. Set up as day-tourer, there were no luggage racks for side cases, only a sturdy tail rack, but the seat was made for two and if my REI portage bag was turned vertically, I could easily tie it to the seat and frame.

I set out on Saturday morning, my portage bag packed with the basics: tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, MSR pocket rocket with cook stove set, food. On my back, my daypack had food, water, Gatorade, the usual essentials.

I can tell you, small is beautiful. More on the ride in the next post . . .

©2014 Wynne Benti ADV: yosemite4

HU 2013

Horizons Unlimited 2013 – Cambria

Horizons Unlimited Cambria

Horizons Unlimited, Cambria @2013 Wynne Benti

It was a new day as the sun crested the ancient summits of the White and Inyo Mountains to the east and south of Bishop, I tossed a leg over my fully loaded F650GS and began my ride from Eastern California to the Pacific Ocean and the annual North America west coast meeting of Horizons Unlimited, Oct. 24-26, 2013 in Cambria, California

The Sierra Nevada was brilliant and sharp in the warm, peachy-hued light of morning as I rode south through the Owens Valley. In Inyokern, where 395 meets SR-14 at the northern edge of the Upper Mojave Desert, I stopped for gas at the Mobil station, the one that’s been there forever with the neon winged-horse sign, their moniker for more than a half-century. From this point, I prefer to ride across Walker Pass and down Kern Canyon into Bakersfield, but my relatively new front tire had a slow leak that eluded at least one motorcycle mechanic and the tire guy. I wanted to see about getting it changed at Valley Cycles in Bakersfield. According to Google, it was faster to cross Hwy. 58 over the Tehachapi Mountains then double-back to Bakersfield, so that was my route. The winding grade out of the Tehachapis dropped down into Taft, then on to Bakersfield where I stopped briefly at Valley Cycle to check the tire pressure. It was still holding air. I continued on, gassing up at Formosa where the vintage motel, sign and short off-ramp looked like they did in the 1970s. Nothing stays the same. When I was a student, I-5 wasn’t even completed. There were farm fields and fruit stands in the shape of giant oranges with smiling faces from Bakersfield to Sacramento along 99. I. Then, only a guardrail and miles of newly planted oleanders separated north and southbound lanes. There were no overpasses. In Chowchilla traffic lights brought highway traffic to a complete stop while tractors and pickup trucks meandered across the highway.

By two, I stopped at a rest area on 46, east of Paso Robles along the northern edge of the Carrizo Plain. Sitting at a picnic table in the shade, snacking from a bag of seeds, nuts and dried fruit I checked in on Facebook. Only four miles away was the memorial to James Dean, near 41 and 46, where a motorist, not seeing his low profile Porsche, made a left turn in front of him.

HU 2013

Adventure traveler at Cambria ©2013 Wynne Benti

By three, I arrived in the dirt parking lot overlooking the Pacific, neatly sandwiched between tall stands of Monterey cypress and the rustic lodge-style buildings. Motorcycle adventure travelers from all over the world were arriving in Cambria for the annual Horizons Unlimited North America meeting.

Every bike in the lot was as individual as its rider. Well-used motorcycles were customized not to some factory concept of slick paint and perfection, but by the rider’s own experience and often by their own hand. Travel stickers from exotic locations, colorful hand-painted imagery and calligraphy, modifications to enhance long distance traveling, evoked a sense of adventure. Behind every sticker was a story. These were dreamers who pulled together whatever they could afford to ride and created their own adventures, big ones—the global kind.


The beloved Lucy ©2013 Wynne Benti

Vendors were lined up along the edges of the parking lot. Al Jesse was in from Arizona. Gregg was there with his fabulous Helinox lightweight chairs. With my black BMW F650Gs parked amidst a sea of BMW airheads, tattered Hondas, trail-worn Suzukis and KLRs, I walked up to the registration office where I met Susan Johnson and her team of volunteers checking in lines of very happy riders.

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson, two Canadians from British Columbia, who merged their love for world travel on two wheels into weekend-long educational, informal conferences held all over the world for like-minded motorcycle travelers. This particular event at Camp Ocean Pines was the annual North American west coast meeting. After Cambria, Susan and Grant would be off to another HU Meeting in Australia. They do these events all over the world. Riders can find out about them on their website. I only learned of Horizons Unlimited last year, when a fellow rider talked about the Cambria meeting.

Caming at Cambria

Caming at Cambria @2013 Wynne Benti

Campsites were plentiful and I found a great one overlooking the Pacific with a view of the fog-bathed sunset each night before the start of the evening presentations. Throughout the weekend from dawn ’til dusk, travelers gave presentations on an array of subjects from traveling the length of Africa to emergency roadside motorcycle helmet removal after an accident and how to change a tire. The presentations were outstanding. Most of the presenters were just regular people who accomplished extraordinary things.
Grant Johnson

Grant Johnson @2013 Wynne Benti

The main lodge, where healthful meals were served to a few hundred attendees was open 24/7. (They also accommodated the 10 or so vegetarians like myself). At any hour of the day or night one could wander in for a cup of hot tea or coffee and find a group of riders sitting around a table discussing a new route through Mongolia. Unlike other motorcycle gatherings, what was missing from this event was alcohol. You had to bring your own if you were going to drink. As one veteran attendee told me, “Alcohol is discouraged as its interferes with the uninhibited exchange of ideas and thoughtful conversation.”

What is really unique about this Horizons Unlimited event is the large number of competent women dualsport riders in attendance, each riding their own motorcycle with camping gear. I have never met this many solo women adventure riders at any other event. Though many male dominated motorcycle clubs let women participate in paid or organized club events, women (especially women over 50) still have a hard time finding a way into ‘the guys’ trip’, which perhaps explains why so many single women riders ride alone. Men organize rides with other men and competent women riders just aren’t included, unless they are married or informally betrothed to one of the riders. When I started riding in 2008, I’d been on a bike for 10 months when I was ‘accepted’ on a ‘guys’ trip’ to Alaska. It took a lot of cojones to let a completely green (and unfamiliar) rider join a trip (and a woman). I did serve a purpose however, in that the three guys felt it would be easier for them to be accepted into certain ‘venues’ with a woman along.

Camaraderie through motorcycle maintenance

Camaraderie through maintenance @2013 Wynne Benti

This gathering of riders was laid back and down to earth—not a lot of competitive testosterone. When you ride a 1975 Minsk-built-in-Belarus 125cc motorcycle named Lucy across Viet Nam like Cliff Danger has, there is no need for competition because the accomplishment (or feat) speaks for itself. Standing almost six-foot four inches, Cliff strode around with hands in pockets handing out a set of bunny teeth and a postcard promoting his “Bunny Teeth Movement” tour for world peace. Read more about Cliff’s ride through Viet Nam on his ‘Bunny Teeth Movement’ blog.

It was a place where women felt comfortable, and where men and women felt comfortable in each other’s presence. A strange comment, perhaps. One young Canadian woman was on her way back to Canada on a KLR650 after riding the circumference of the United States–solo. Another woman was about to leave for Siberia and Mongolia–solo. These are women who are riding the across the world solo. The motorcycles of choice among these women are the Kawasaki KLR650, the Suzuki DR650SE, and various versions of the smaller cc Yamaha from the 225 to the XT250. I may have been the only woman on a BMW F650GS, considered much too heavy for off-pavement riding. Women riding dualsport solo, want a bike they can pick up by themselves if they drop it in the middle of nowhere. I walked away from this event thinking about ways to trim a hundred pounds from my F650GS, about 425 pounds wet. Not an easy target unless I consider a smaller cc or a different make of motorcycle.

The main event was an evening presentation by Ted Simon who was promoting his new book, Jupiter’s Travel’s In Camera, a coffee table-sized, full-color ‘addendum’ of sorts to the original book, Jupiter’s Travels, with new text and large format photography. It’s a beautiful book as I bought one earlier in the day from Ted and had him sign it. When does one ever get the chance to speak with Ted Simon about his book on California water, The River Stops Here: Saving Round Valley, A Pivotal Chapter in California’s Water Wars.

Early Sunday morning, I gave my last of three presentations, Best of the West in a Single GS, and got out of there, headed for Bishop with the first storm of winter on my tail. The weekend was so chock full of events, that this small town girl forgot to check the NOAA weather satellite pics on her iPhone before leaving. By the time I reached the Kern River Valley, the winds were 70/80 mph on the Sierra downslope off Walker Pass. Needless to say, I don’t much care for a 70/80 mph side wind pushing against my Jesse bags, so I hunkered down for a day while the big storm passed through. The morning I left for Bishop, the temperature was 28 degrees. It was a cold ride home.

I was somewhat disappointed to learn that the Horizons Unlimited folks are bidding farewell to the beautiful site at Cambria, as they apparently have outgrown it. Camp Ocean Pines was a cozy, intimate setting, which I hope they don’t lose going into their 2014 venue. It’s hard to beat the Pacific Ocean for venue. That said, being from Bishop where all I ever see is the Sierra Nevada and the beautiful rise and fall of the Basin and Range, I was happy to have experienced at least one meeting on the edge of the Pacific. Here’s to another in 2014, when Horizons is headed to the fairgrounds at Mariposa, October 23-26, 2014, made famous by the BMW Motorcycle Club of Northern California’s Annual 49er Rally over Memorial Day Weekend.

The Ride North: 41st BMW MOA International Rally

Mount Shasta from US-97

Mount Shasta from US-97 ©2013 Wynne Benti

The Ride North
41st Annual BMW MOA International Rally in Salem, Oregon:

When Dr. No heard that Schuberth was going to have a booth at the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association Rally in Salem, Oregon, he was ready to head north to find a replacement for his beloved hand-painted zebra-striped helmet. I planned to test ride the newest BMW F800GS and F700GS, though my primary reason for attending, was to dine and chat with fellow contributors to BMW On Magazine at the MOA writers’ dinner.

Five minutes from our garage on Nelson Bar Road in Yankee Hill, California, Dr. No made a sharp left into a side road along the highway and stopped. His instruments and lights were not working and he was sure the R100GS was soon to follow. Too many times he had ridden across the Bay Bridge in the dark, following a Norton motorcycle owners’ meeting in the dark, cursing the failure of the Lucas headlamps. Our plan was to spend the night at Lake Odell, north of Crater Lake, a place neither one of us had ever been. He had to go back to the garage. “You go on and I’ll catch up. Drive 55,” he said, as he turned back to the garage and was gone.

I sat on my F650GS and watched him disappear into the long morning shadows of the oak trees and manzanita, and the brown earthen curves into the Feather River Canyon. Not five miles from the edge of Lake Oroville, I’d already lost my husband. Alone, I turned west on Highway 70, floating out of the volcanic buttes to Highway 99, north across the flat farmland of northern California, the wide expanse of ranch and ag lands, steeped in a light haze from burning fields. Flat and yellow to the brown volcanic bluffs that line the western slope of the Sierra foothills, unique to this part of California. Miles to the east, past the fingerlings of ancient lava flow, Mount Lassen’s snowy volcanic top rises above vast dark green forests of Ponderosa pine, firs and cedar. I love this stretch of US-99 through Butte and Tehama counties; two-lanes beneath a canopy of walnut trees, past peach groves and family run fruit stands lining the road in Dairyland, all the way to Red Bluff. Beneath shadowed sunshades, fruit and vegetable filled baskets, jars of honey and sacks of dried salted vegetables tended by young women and men, showcase the richness of the area’s agriculture.

In Red Bluff, 99 expands into four lanes, passes the county fairgrounds and merges into the interstate, not my favorite road north. It was only Wednesday and time spent on the interstate would make more time to ride a few scenic roads in Oregon on Thursday. I stopped at the rest area alongside Lake Shasta and tried to call Dr. No, but only got static, white noise. He had just hooked up a communication dashboard on his tank bag. He had yet to work out a few bugs. I stayed at the rest area for about 30 minutes, watching the northbound traffic, looking for his zebra-striped motorcycle, coming through the narrow stretch of freeway, a bobsled chute between concrete K-rails and tractor-trailers.

In Weed, I was relieved to exit the interstate for slower paced business district. I stopped at a shaded picnic table outside the Weed Chamber of Commerce and called Dr. No. Again, nothing but digital static. I called my sister and asked her to try calling him. In a few minutes, she calls me back and reports hearing the same static but promises to keep trying throughout the day. From downtown Weed, I followed US-97, a two-lane road that meandered across sagebrush, pines and miles of volcanic rock beneath the impressive snow-white slopes of Mount Shasta.

Just south of Chemult, Oregon the pine trees along the road burst into flame. A forest fire started at that moment, climbing the trunks and popping the crowns into explosive bursts of flame. The only other person on scene was a solo employee of ODOT, the Oregon Department of Transportation. He had just gotten out of his pickup truck and was standing next to the fire as the flames engulfed the trees, the crowns popping and exploding, beneath a cloudless bright blue sky. This fire was human caused—perhaps by a cigarette not thoroughly stomped out in the ashtray before being tossed out of a car window. There’s nothing I could do but ride past.

Wheel Cafe, Chemult, Oregon

Respite from the road. ©2013 Wynne Benti

In Chemult, I got gas and stopped for lunch at the Wheel Cafe, where other riders on their way to the Rally are sitting down to eat. As we introduce ourselves and tell where we are traveling from, my phone rings. It is Dr. No. He tells me he is 17 miles south, but that a forest fire and thick smoke has closed the highway. ODOT has set up a long detour back through Crater Lake. He estimates another two hours before he will see me again at Odell Lake.

I sit back in the booth and pick through my green salad, crackers and coffee while listening to the police scanner sitting on the lunch counter. The cook is on the phone with the highway patrol and a family member who lives near the fire. There is no traffic at all on the highway outside. The cook, who also owns the café, tells me that a fire has closed the highway and he’ll probably close soon for the rest of the day. I take my time, have a second cup of coffee then pay the bill.

As I stood by my bike, the cook came out and talked about the fire. “They are bringing in air support,” he said. Because of the summer heat and lack of rain, the fire is spreading fast and there is not enough time to get ground crews in, too far away. Thick smoke has covered the southbound view and is moving towards town. As the cook talks, through the brown, Dr. No, atop his 20-year old zebra-striped BMW R100GS airhead, roars alongside us, grinning. I am happy to see him. Before he decided to take the detour, he checked his Garmin and saw that a dirt road paralleled the highway, opposite the fire. As he made the turn to the dirt road from the highway, a solo rider on a sidecar came up behind him and stopped. Dr. No turned to him and said, “If you’re game, I am.” The unknown rider gave him a thumbs-up. As the two of them rode through smoke watching the fire jump from pine to pine, all Dr. No could think about was the fire jumping the highway ahead and behind them, cutting off their route.

I asked if he wanted some lunch, but he wasn’t hungry. He reported that the new alternator he installed only eight months before was already dead. Luckily, he had a new rebuild on the shelf and was able to do a quick replacement to get on the road again.

We saddled up and rode north to Odell Lake in the Deschutes National Forest.