The Dingac Tunnel & Beyond

The Peljesac Peninsula. Here we look at the rough coastline and legendary vineyards of Dingac, home to some of the best Plavac Mali grapes and wine in the world.

For a small country, Croatia has so much for me to explore—and learn. Leaving Orebic in my rearview mirror behind, I head toward Dingač, the infamous and inhospitable wine region southeast of here.

The slopes are steep, rocky and only can be harvested by hand with the help of local animals. 

With my eye on research for my new book, I cannot leave the Peljesac peninsula until I’ve seen Dingac and its steep vineyards, rocky soil, and views of the Adriatic. After, I must decide whether to take the ferry to Korcula, the island just a few kilometers across the sea from Orebic, or head to Trpanj and take the ferry to Ploce from where I then would ride the coast to Split. Decisions.

To get to Dingac, I motor to the tiny village of Potomje, and then through a short and narrow and crudely carved tunnel through the rocky mountain. It dead ends at a vineyard with old vines of Plavac Maili, the indigenous Croatian red grape varietal. For centuries Plavac Mali, a near relative of Zinfandel, or Crljenak Kastelanskij as it’s known in Croatia, has been cultivated on these steep and rocky slopes.

The terrain is so rough and steep that the entire protected region must be tended to and harvested by hand. The growers here cannot use tractors, only donkeys, horses, or mules. It’s nearly harvest time, and the berries I see clinging to the vines are small, look very ripe with some even looking close to raisinating.

It’s no wonder that the grapes get so ripe and give Dingac Plavac Mali alcohol levels pushing beyond 15%. Here the slopes have southwest exposure which during the summer provides these grapes some 15 hours of sun exposure. This combined with its proximity to the Adriatic Sea, which acts as a massive reflector and magnifies the intensity of the sun. The grapes love this, and you will enjoy the wine resulting from these vineyards.

Doc must be loving the slopes of Dingac!

Dingac was the first protected and designated region for Plavac Mali in Croatia. But just down the road where I spent a few days in Postup, the Plavac Mali grapes there get the same exposure and results. It’s grown in other parts of Croatia, but the consensus among wine professionals, that due to the soil, sun exposure, and location, the best Plavac Mali wines come from Dingac and Postup.

I hop off my bike and wander through an almost flat part of the vineyard. The vines are old and gnarly, and the clusters of grapes seem to beg to be picked. Soon, I’m sure these slopes will be filled with workers and animals as the rush to harvest will be chaos to what is now a very peaceful place.

I cannot wait for harvest, and with no time to explore Potomje, it is time to decide where to go next.

Do I Need To Go To Dubrovnik?

Old Town Dubrovnik—even as touristed as it is, it is a must visit (one day) while in Croatia.

Last night, the battery was still too weak to crank the engine after dinner. The good news is that there was a slight charge as the instrument and operating lights work. After breakfast, I recruited two bellhops who helped me push and jump start the bike. I didn’t need two, as with both pushing unevenly, I fought to keep balance. So we shoved Doc up to the top of the driveway, and just one of the bellman ran while pushing me down the driveway. I popped the bike into second gear, and Doc started right up. To charge the battery, I took a scenic cruise down the coast and back.

I must also find a room for the night, the Sheraton is sold out. Turn out that Sheraton owns a couple apartments down the street. They don’t honor points for these properties, but the location was perfect and though more expensive than I’m used to paying, saving time is more important than saving a few kunas (the Croatian currency) this time around.

Now it’s time to explore the old town of Dubrovnik. For the past few weeks, I’ve listened to warnings from other travelers. They warned me Dubrovnik is overcrowded with tourists. I prefer to travel off the beaten track, but some places are mandatory, like Machu Picchu, Rome, Barcelona and Paris—all very touristed locations I’ve visited in the past. Then again, I’ve traveled to Lalibela, Lesotho, and Talampaya—places not well known.

I’ve got to visit Dubrovnik at least once.

The good news is I can take a water taxi to the old town and enter it from the eastern, or Ploce Gate and away from the hordes entering through the busier western Pile Gate by boat, bus, or plane.

For much of Dubrovnik’s over 800-year history, the only way into the walled fortress was through one of these gates. Though in 1907, the Austro-Hungarian’s build a third, the Buda Gate.

The long wooden skiff that ushers visitors from the southern beaches and resorts pulls up to the small loading dock near my hotel. Another couple is waiting to board with me, and we motor on into the Adriatic, stopping once to pick up passengers at another beach and then moved north toward Dubrovnik.

The approach from the South is impressive. First, we whiz by Lokrum Island, home to a monastery and botanical gardens and then as we motor closer to the old port, the imposing  St. John Fortress, ominous towers and massive city walls tell of Dubrovnik’s medieval past.

Travelers had warned me about Dubrovnik. First, in Greece, they advised me of maddening crowds. Then, a week ago the Czech travelers said while they enjoyed the beauty and history, the tourists and rampant kitschy consumerism left them with a bad taste. They lamented the possibility of spending more time in Albania had they not wasted precious travel days here.

The boat drops us near the Ploce gate, and soon I’m walking down the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main promenade, or street. There are no cars, not even an electric cart. It’s about 4pm, and while it’s near the end of the busy tourist season, I’m told Dubrovnik is experiencing longer and longer seasons. One vendor tells me that in a year or two, there will be no off-season. The tourists come all year round.

I walk across the polished stones of the Stradun. Behind me is Ploce gate where I entered, and about 300 meters east is Pile Gate. Along the way, I’m taken back by the number of ATMs lining the Stradun. I count. By the time I reach the Onofrio Fountain outside Pile Gate, I’ve run out of fingers and toes—over 20 cash machines in just 250 meters. I think that’s more than I saw in the entire country of Bosnia.

 

The main “drag” in Old Town Dubrovnik, The Stradun leads visitors from the two main gates that in Medieval Times were controlled by drawbridges over a moat. These days they might consider such controls again, especially when the place gets overrun with clueless cruise ship passengers.

 

 

Seems these days visitors are drawn to Dubrovnik for fantasy and fake history, Games of Thrones tours outnumber the historical.

Interested in a walking tour, the spunky and cheerful local offers, “I can tell you all about the ‘Game of Thrones‘ locations here.

To get a better understanding of the history of the old town and the Dubrovnik and Regusa (Italians were here too) Republic, I look for a guide offering a historical walking tour. The smartly dressed woman with knee-high boots, wearing ruby red lipstick, and carrying a bright orange umbrella tells me she’s about to start a tour featuring sites from the HBO hit series, “Game of Thrones.” Yes, she tells me they will also cover basic history. When I ask her if I can join just the history portion, she points out that the two subjects flow together. I think, “great,” you get both fake history with some crumbs of actual history. I only want the crumbs.

I’ve seen a few episodes of “Game of Thrones,” as I have little time to watch or stream television. What I learn is that many memorable scenes of the popular series were filmed here in Old Town Dubrovnik, or “Kings Landing” as it’s known in the show. To be sure, Dubrovnik has always been a popular Balkan tourist destination. However, since the secret about “Game of Thrones” got out, the number of tourists visiting Dubrovnik has more than doubled over the past few years.

On the one hand, I find it offensive a fantasy television show drives interest and tourism in what, on its own, is this fabulously well-preserved medieval town with a rich history of its own. Who needs fiction? Yet, in the windows and on shelves of tourist shops, it’s hard to find anything but junky and disposable “Game of Thrones” kitsch.

It would be admirable if tourists drawn to this town because of the show would leave Dubrovnik with a fresh awakening and interest in history. I can fantasize, but there are more “Game of Thrones” tours and information than the alternative.

I’m amazed that I have the Dubrovnik City Walls nearly to myself as I cruise the two-kilometer path that offers stunning views of the city below and the sea afar.

 

Most of the roofs of Old Town Dubrovnik look spanking new, the bombing by the Serb-backed Yugoslav People’s Army destroyed most of them, but there seem to be a few relics of a yester-year.

Outside the walls you can find a cold beer and a view of Lokrum Island or a place to swim and cool the gnarly heat of late summer.

Lokrum Island is home to botanical gardens and a Monastery. If you’d rather not make the trip, hang out next to the lookout tower and have a beer and a salad.

Even outside the city walls, Dubrovnik sits in a stunning setting.

Tourism aside, I walk atop the two kilometers of walls that for hundreds of years protected this city. From here I can see to the south Lokrum Island, and to the north the St. Lawrence Fortress which sits on a bluff outside these walls. I’m alone as I walk the walls, surprisingly. Peering down on the Stradun, the city is quieter than I expected, given the fair warnings from other travelers.

Some walls reach eighty feet high and in places are twenty feet thick. Surrounding the entire city, at one time, was a moat. Drawbridges hoisted up at night with large chains controlled entrance and exit of the city. Along the Adriatic, the walls drop into the sea atop Dubrovnik’s rocky shore. From the land and sea, the walls protected this city from attack for hundreds of years.

As I’ve traveled the Balkans and traveled many miles to explore and gaze upon fortresses built by Romans, Venetians, and the Ottomans, here in Dubrovnik with its clear medieval routes and a diverse mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the city seems absent of any Ottoman influence.

The views above the city from its fortified walls is stunning.

While the Ottoman’s wreaked havoc on the Balkans and at various times of its five hundred year history in these parts, it invaded, occupied or ruled every square inch of land from Greece to Slovenia—except Dubrovnik. Due to its proximity to the Adriatic Sea, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the 13th Century during the Fourth Crusade, Dubrovnik, then known as Regusa, was invaded by the Venetians and developed into the Venetians southern Adriatic naval base. Dubrovnik negotiated a degree of independence from the Venetians by allowing unfettered access to its port.

The Republic never had a strong military, but where it lacked in firepower, it more than made up in diplomatic skills. Later, in the 14th Century, Dubrovnik (the Republic of Ragusa at the time) became an autonomous republic after the Venetians signed the Treaty of Zadar with Hungarian King Louis I,  which forced them to abandon any claims along the Adriatic.

Some one-hundred years later when the Ottomans were collecting land in the region, using its legendary diplomatic skills the Republic of Dubrovnik signed with them a treaty that gave Turks access to its port and opened them to trade along the Adriatic. The Republic of Dubrovnik managed the trade business for the Ottomans. This provided Dubrovnik additional benefits such as access to trade along the Black Sea, tax exemptions, and protection granted by the Ottoman Empire.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Dubrovnik enjoys international awareness, investment, and plenty of tourists. The old town is well preserved though in 1667 a massive earthquake destroyed almost every building in the town. Then, in during the Siege of Dubrovnik in the old town suffered massive shelling for two months by the Yugoslav People’s Army. It astonishes me that our humanity, that people, would level attacks against an ancient site so rich in history. During the siege, many buildings burned blew up or crumbled. Gazing down from these walls into the web of small streets and alleys that crisscross the tiny walled peninsula, I realize how bright and shiny the orange roofs appear. Most were re-roofed due to fires and damage from the siege.

Even as a world heritage site (UNESCO) life goes on and people live their lives in the beautiful old town of Dubrovnik.

This afternoon the old town is devoid of passengers from cruise ships. Only a few small groups wander the Stradun. Though I notice one ship docked in the eastern harbor, I surmise they must have all left the city before I got here. I’m lucky. No wonder it’s so quiet.

I continue my walk on the walls. Huge towers on the corners of the walled fortress dominate Dubrovnik’s presence. On the southwest side of town, just outside the sea walls, sunbathers and swimmers find refuge from the heat and the crowds. After circling the entire city, I climb back downtown. I see even more ATMs on the side streets, but also find that the cafes, boutique shops, and polished marble pathways positively endearing. There’s not much to do in Dubrovnik, save wander around, imagine the city in a different time, and watch people.

I find a seat at a cafe at the far end of the Stradun, near the clock tower and watch people and relax while sipping a cold draft beer. The mix of languages from others sitting nearby piques my curiosity. Before I can decipher and locate the language and dialect, the screeching and squeaking of dozens of bats overhead steal my attention. It’s dawn, and they’re playfully flying high above the Stradun, and yet those strolling the promenade or sipping coffee at the cafes don’t seem to notice. I raise my camera but feel it’s futile, yet I try to grab a photo that might capture the moment.

Don’t worry if you’re short on cash (kuna) no need to walk more than a few meters to find an ATM. Crazy!

 

Even in late August, you can find a tad of peace and minimal tourists in Old Town Dubrovnik.

If you don’t want to imbibe in “Game of Thrones” garb, the shops will certainly celebrate and tell stories about the Croatian National football team that came so close to its first World Cup Win—the French beat them in the finals.

Later while wandering the narrow streets, I stumble upon a grand stairway that looks like a scaled-down version of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Though I’m on a wider street, this isn’t the Piazza di Spagna, but a passing tour guide explains that this baroque staircase is knowns as the Jesuit Stairs. They climb to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit College. Like most buildings in Dubrovnik, they constructed the church and the staircase after the 1667 earthquake that devastated Dubrovnik. Yes, she mentions, they were modeled after the iconic Spanish Steps in Rome. Just as she’s walking away, she turns around. “Oh, and this is where they filmed “The Walk of Shame” in the “Game of Thrones.”

Hmmmm. Good to know, I guess.

Later I try to get a solo table at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Dubrovnik, but they are fully booked. I decide on a more casual option off the main Stradun. I chose Steakhouse Paparazzo due to its location adjacent to the cathedral and proximity to Ploce Gate. When I look at the wine list, I realize that they offer wine from only one producer, Saints Hills Vinaria. I find this odd and question the waiter.

“We have only Saints Hills, here. We have an agreement,” he explains. I question this.

“You cannot have an agreement with other wineries?” I ask. “I think your customers would like to try different Croatian wines.”

It’s okay wine, but my restaurant in Dubronik offers wine from just ONE producer. Uninspring, short-sighted, and riculously stupid policy. Shame on Saints Hills and shame on Steakhouse Paparazzo for not celebrating wines from all over Dalmatia.

My suggestion falls on deaf ears; he doesn’t have a say, anyway. I ask the owner, an older gentlemen, but his English and my Croatian are insufficient to have a more in-depth conversation. So I order a glass at his suggestion and finish my meal.

I just make the last departure on the water taxi. The lights of Dubrovnik and the orange glow of the city walls fade as we head south. The drone of the engine drowns out the otherwise quiet night.

Tomorrow I’ll return to Dubrovnik once more. I guess that means I’ll visit the old town twice before making my way back to the Peljesac Peninsula where I hope to gain a Croatian wine education that goes beyond Saints Hills.

 

Lively Athens @Night: A WorldRider.tv Video Update

I carry a lot of ‘technology’ on my bike. Perhaps too much. Yet that’s what drives me, to capture through words, pictures, sound, and motion the energy and excitement of an adventure like this. All that technology takes up space and weighs a lot. I carry a DSLR, three lenses, a MacBook Pro, portable hard drives, action cameras from SENA and GoPro, a small drone, an OSMO Mobile, audio recorder for Podcasts, and of course, the “Allan Cam”, a Canon VIXIA mini that I use in my television show to capture intimate moments and provide viewers a different perspective from the external cameras following me around.

Of course the challenge of all this gear, beyond the space and additional weight it consumes on the bike, is finding the time to use it and then create something from it. Then there is the challenge of adequate internet access—broadband. The last thing I want to do is sit around in my room or a café waiting for uploads, downloads, or otherwise just keeping up. We all know that too much time spent with your eyes on your screen takes away from experiencing “real life.” Yet in my case, I’ll do my best to provide balance—and provide you with a more dynamic way to travel and experience the world with me.

So, I shot this update last night, just under ten minutes, after getting a further update from the folks at Vagianelis regarding the motorcycle. So tune in and look for more updates via video as I make my way around Greece and beyond.

Subscribe to the WorldRider.tv YouTube Channel

 

 

The Hot Ride to Copenhagen

Everything Is Old

Our bikes were nestled in a small courtyard below our room at the Hotel Dagmar, built in 1582 and the oldest hotel in Denmark. I make a point to cover my bike with the amazing compact and lightweight Aerostich bike cover. It blinds the temptation of wandering eyes, though we weren’t worried so much about the kitchen staff who use a side door in the courtyard.

The sun blazed and burned hot, so much that my bike cover was hot to touch. When I pulled it off, the thermometer on my dash revealed the hot truth. It was 112 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 45 degrees Celcius).

Sweeping grasslands lead us to the Øresund Bridge to Copenhagen

 

Exploring Rock Stardom With Sugarcubes Founding Member & Drummer

IMG_9640The beauty of Iceland’s relatively small size—it’s smaller than the 50 largest U.S. cities—is that in most circles everyone knows each other. We were able to connect with Andri Snaer via Twitter (kudos to producer/director Panayioti Yannitsos) and Andri put us in touch with Sigtryggur Baldursson.

Even though the country’s 325,000 population is meager on the scale of so many cities, the country thinks, acts, and performs on the world stage like countries more than ten times its size. It leads in green and sustainable practices, has an internationally recognized performing arts theatre, the Harpa, and world-class symphony, opera, and convention center to go with it.

The day I was set to meet Baldursson couldn’t have been more stressful and chaotic. I was still dealing with motorcycle insurance and customs issues and along with the film crew, we were trying to capture as much of Reykjavik for b-roll and mini-stories. Along the way, I was practicing Icelandic—with little or no avail. it sends my mind into a tail spin with its tongue twisting pronunciations and the odd-looking characters and ‘accent’ marks above many of the letters.

I was also eager to talk music with Baldursson and interview him for our upcoming TV show—but I was nervous about mispronouncing his name. We also kept changing the meeting time and place, so I was worried we would appear unorganized, or worse, unprofessional.

We agreed to meet at a bar in the Hlemmer Hotel Square, just across the Icelandic Philological Museum, or as it’s often referred to, The Penis Museum. Baldursson was sitting at a small table and seemingly in meditation as he stared out the window. The beer in his hand nearly empty, consumed as he waited for my arrival. I sit down next to him, to give the camera and sound crew (Pan & Jamie) room to work in the cramped bar. Most guests might have felt uncomfortable sitting side-by-side for an interview in a bar, but Baldursson, settled comfortably—as comfortable. Donned in a gray cabbie cap, and dark framed glasses, his presence evokes more artist or writer, than rock star. Before I just as I try to spit out his name, he takes the pressure off, “You can call me Siggi—everyone does.” Phew.

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We exchange pleasantries, and start chatting as if we were old friends meeting again for the first time in years. The conversation quickly turns to world politic—world music—and visions of the future—the former looking bleak, but the latter full of possibilities and energy. Siggi runs the Iceland Music Export project, a state-funded organization aimed to promote and bring awareness to a diverse range of Icelandic music. Who better than perhaps the first Icelandic rock n’ roll act to bring Iceland and its music to the world stage? While the band was together for a mere six years (1986-1992), it brought the attention of the world to Iceland and its music. Characterized by Bjork’s leading vocals and the bands avant-pop, punk and at times psychedelic sound, The Sugarcubes are sometimes compared to the Talking Heads or B-52’s—yet I find its sound very unique and its own.

Before we dig deeper into his life as a rock star, I realize his beer glass is empty and my throat dry. After I remedy this with a couple pints of Gull, a local pilsner, we dig deeper into Siggi’s musical explorations including his work with the post-punk group KUKL which included eventual Sugarcube vocalist Bjork, Einar Örn and others.

Siggi tells me that out of KUKL he and others created an artists collective called “Bad Taste”. “It was just a joke, in the beginning,” he explains. But out of “Bad Taste” The Sugarcubes were born and Bjork, Siggi and his bandmembers were thrust into fame. As the eclectic music from the bar sound system changes to rhythmic Ethiopian pop, Siggi cant keep his hands still, tapping and drumming on the back of his chair, the side of his beer glass, and the window sill.

Now 53 and still playing, performing, producing, and promoting, I asked him to reflect on life as a young rock star.

“The best time,” he says laughing, “was touring with U2.” The Sugarcubes opened for the iconic Irish rockers during their 1992 “Zoo TV” world tour—playing massive outdoor shows at places like Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in California.. “We flew in the U2 jet.” He has fond memories and shares that U2 bandmembes were fun and nice. When I ask him to dig deeper and share a classic rock n’ roll story from the time, he starts to tell a story about Bono, and then stops. “No, I can’t go there—yet.” We never get back to the story, but he tells me that in San Diego a young guy follows them around and somehow ends up in the lobby of the hotel they were staying. The kid approaches one of the other Sugarcubes, a published poet, and the two connected for hours drinking in a local bar talking poetry. It turns out that the “groupie” was a young Eddie Vetter, who at the time was just getting notoriety as the frontman for Pearl Jam.

After we’re kicked out of the bar, we head to Siggi’s office and studio, just around the corner. Here in his modest office he runs Iceland Music Export, and promotes one of Iceland’s largest music festivals, Iceland Airwaves. He leads me to a small loft overlooking the open and creative space below where he sits behind a small drum kit. He pushes drumsticks aside, and begins jamming an infective groove with his hands. Soon I’m nodding my head, tapping my feet and swaying my body to the groove. A quick impromptu solo performance by the drummer of The Sugarcubes, and the guy whose arms, legs and moves were featured in Chris Cunningham’s award-winning Aphex Twin video “Monkey Drummer.”

IMG_9636Before we dig into more stories Siggi pulls a bottle of Brennivín from the refrigerator in his studio. Using the cap of the bottle as a shot glass he starts handing me and the film crew tastes of Iceland’s signature booze —sometimes it’s referred to as  Svarti daub—Icelandic for Black Death—it’s made from fermented potatos and flavored with caraway seeds. The caraway flavor is strong and masks the alcohol, we do several more shots.

I look out the tall windows of the studio and then at my iPhone—it’s 2AM, and it’s daylight. It’s easy to lose track of time in the summer in Iceland—the sun hardly sets. The formal and filmed part of our interview is over, so we all agree that a nightcap, perhaps a cold beer, would be the ideal thing to top my first Brennivín experience.

Most bars are closed at this time, but Siggi has a plan, we move briskly as the air has a biting chill. With a line up of beers for me, the crew and Siggi, it’s not long before locals approach and greet Siggi. He’s a magnet, and everyone knows him here. Shortly I’m introduced to Helgi, the drummer of Iceland’s —and I know this will sound odd—number one reggae band, Hjálmar.

After an hour and more rounds of beers, the bartender shows up with a stack of plastic cups. He plants them on the table and tells us we have to leave. Closing time. Helgi, Siggi and others in the bar pour the remains of their beers and cocktails into the cups and head out to the street. This is Iceland, and this is normal. No need to chug or slam your drink when the bar closes, just take it to go.

Siggi and I agree that our conversation and friendship has just started and we promise to connect again in the future.

For now, I’m itching to ride and explore more of Iceland.

Last Ride of 2014 & The Ride of My Life

Since my book FORKS was published this summer I have been on a whirlwind promotional tour. Crisscrossing the county several times in a van wrapped in photos and graphics from the book and toting a pallet of books and my trusty F650GS Dakar motorcycle. Even so, the bike saw the lenses of more cameras and felt the butts of many people other than me.

When in the first week of December I finally settled down in my cottage in Leucadia and found time to rest my head on a familiar pillow, I had that settling feeling for a brief moment. Soon the rush of responsibilities combined with the imposing visual of months of mail stacked in my office—and my inbox.

No rest for this WorldRider. Back to work.

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Neale Bayly & Brad Barker

When Brad Barker, of The Ride Of My Life video series, called and asked if I’d like to join him, and my friend Neale Bayly and others on a post-Christmas motorcycle ride, I hesitated. My feet were planted and the mail and responsibilities, despite my desire to ignore them, were not going away.

After a few minutes, Brad barked some sense into me. Besides, I thought, if Bayly is going, I’d better go.

On Friday, the day after Christmas I met Brad and his posse of adventure riders at BMW Motorcycles of Riverside, where I was happy to learn that its owner, Dan Schoo, after months of recovery would be joining us for his first ride since his unfortunate accident earlier that spring.

Through BMW Motorrad, Dan arranged for me to test ride a spanking new 2014 BMW R1200ST—quite a different machine from the dual-sport single-cylinder F650GS I’m used to riding. The 4 day ride would be largely on pavement, so it was a perfect substitute and by the end of the week I imagined what it would like to have one of these sport touring beauties in my garage next to the adventure bike.

Brad’s plans was simple. Get a group of like-minded adventurers and wanderers together and blindly lead them around some of the windiest roads, most bizarre locales and stunning scenery found in the southern California desert near Palm Springs.

As we climbed from about sea level to nearly 6,000 feet, the production team from Barker’s Epic Nomad filmed and documented our ascent. We then descended upon the cozy alpine village of Idyllwild where we stopped for a dose, oddly enough, of Texas Toothpicks at the infamous Lumber Mill Bar and Grill, before winding our way through the perfectly cambered turns of California Highway 74, twisting our way down the long sweeping switchbacks before rolling into Palm Desert and then our home base for the next few days at the Emerald Desert RV Resort.

As Barker’s producer and seasoned chef Ken prepared dinner for the posse, Brad was tight-lipped as to the itinerary and schedule for the next few days. “I want to capture each of your reactions as raw, real and fresh,” he explained, telling us the goal of this ride, for him, was to capture great footage, interviews and reactions for the next episode of his TheRideofMyLife.net YouTube video series.

Fair enough, I thought after confessing with Neale and the others. I’m up for it.

For the next several days, Barker let us on an incredible ride around the Salton Sea, a depressed toxic wasteland complete with wandering rebar and ruins from its glorious early 20th century past. Created accidentally by bad engineering resulting from efforts to route much-needed water from the Colorado River to the booming Imperial Valley, one visitor curious about my camera and the group of motorcycles explained that at one time the Salton Sea attracted more tourists than Yosemite National Park. The stench from dead fish and lost dreams attracts curious gazers from all over the country.

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Jim Hyde of RawHyde Adventures w/Barker

Barker had hoped to get the posse of adventure riders entrance into the International Banana Museum but apparently the owner and proprietor must have been on a binge the night before as the museum was locked and nobody but us waiting in the admission line. Boasting a Guiness Book of World Records claim of the world’s largest collection of “things” devoted to a single fruit, I guess we’ll have to explore this oddity on the next adventure ride.

With the film crew covering nearly every conceivable angle, the adventure motorcycle posse ride was documented fully to the next destination: Salvation Mountain.

I thought I was up and current with not only California oddities as well as California “must see” locales, Barker caught me by surprise. I had seen Sean Penn’s film based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book “Into The Wild” but had forgotten both the visuals and the appearance of the site and its creator, Leonard Night, both of which appear in the 2007 film. Yet as I bounced my BMW R1200ST over a slightly washboarded entrance road and through shallow silty sand, I couldn’t wait to dismount my steed and wander around the curious complex.

“Love Jesus and keep it simple,” Knight said, his mountain built of hay bales and adobe is reported to been created by hundreds of ton of paint, largely financed by donations from migrating snow birds, people escaping the harsh winters of the great white north of North America. These snow birds would make up the eclectic population of Slab City, an odd trailer-park community dotting the area around the shadow of Salvation Mountain.

Cuervo and his mule Rocky.

Cuervo and his mule Rocky.

With hunger pangs afflicting the adventure rider posse, Barker led us to the Buckshot Deli & Diner in Niland, California where I met Cuervo, a sturdy man of some sixty years who sported a permanent tattoo like eye-black grease under baseball or football players’ eyes and his companion, Rock n’ Roll, a feisty mule he called Rocky. Cuervo has spent a life in the southwestern deserts, including a stint in Mexico after he “had to make a run or spent time in prison.” Cuervo skirted the prison issue, but explained “I don’t like cars,” as rationale for traveling by burro. “Motorcycles,” he theorized, “I think I like going much slower.”

Filled up on patty-melts, burgers and tortilla chips, our posse rode into Slab City where the musicians of the group prepared to take the stage at The Range, an outdoor theater complete with pro-level lighting and sound equipment. I was fortunate to have Chef Ken carry my guitar in the chase truck along with instruments for Evan Firstman, vocalist and guitarist and Owen B, an incredible electric violin player (with a wah-wah pedal) and rapper. Barker, an accomplished drummer who left a recording career with a former band to pursue a life of counter-terrorism and adventure motorcycle riding (go figure) still itches for the stage and screaming fans.

The four of us took the stage and performed a five song set that had the odd crowd move, from the warmth of towering infernos of desert brush burning in rusty 55-gallon drums and the odd collection of furniture that probably sourced by a roving truck looking for “Free If You Take It” garbage in the nearby neighborhoods of the Inland Empire, to front of stage. The crowd, many in dreadlocks, baggy clothing and a unique vibe reminiscent of audiences from Phish or Grateful Dead concerts. They danced, raised smart phones and recorded videos and cheered us on. I hadn’t felt this dose of rock stardom since my brush with such in Manado Indonesia some 20 years earlier.

The Ride of My Life film crew captured it all.

While the heat of the stage compounded by the high-energy audience made for a hot performance, the ride back to Emerald RV Resort was a chilling experience for most of Barker’s adventure riding posse. Dare I say that some quipped for wanton of heated garments. Though my ride a tad chilly, I was happy to have an automatic adjustable windscreen and both grips and seat heated by the built-in thermal wonderland of the BMW R1200ST. True, I did have the forethought to pack my heated vest into the bike’s panniers. As for the others, except Bayly who also was riding a luxury BMW K1600RT, equipped with much the same.

We closed the weekend with a glorious ride through Joshua Tree National Park which we capped with a closing-night dinner of local Mexican food and conversation before bidding farewell to the posse the next morning.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group or experience to close down an amazing 2014 year. I look forward to seeing and sharing what Brad Barker and his team at Epic Nomad put together for the next episode of The Ride of My Life. Stay tuned, we’ll be sure to share it with you here on WorldRider.com.

 

RIDE OF MY LIFE – Post Christmas Desert Ride Photo Gallery

Check out more photos here.

Motor City: FORKS Tour Goes To Motown

Detroit Skyline - GM Building

Detroit Skyline – GM Building

I’m loving this summer FORKS on Tour ’14 book tour because it gives me the opportunity to see my own country. After spending three years traveling around the world, and then another 3 years reliving this experience in writing and publishing FORKS, I now get to experience places and meet new people in the United States.

If you’ve been following the news over the last year, chances are you’ve read or heard about the woes Detroit, Michigan is going through. Perhaps no other city has been beaten up and battered by bad press, corrupt politicians and a dwindling population due to businesses moving away from or failing to invest in Detroit.

Dumpster in Detroit

Detroit

All of this news makes one wonder, ‘why visit Detroit, at all?’

I might’ve skipped over Motown if not for Q-Man, my friend Quentin Johnson. I met Quentin Johnson (aka Q-Man) some 20 years ago when I was exploring the Indonesian archipelago on rented motorcycles, where an accidental meeting in a bar on Bali has turned into a lifelong friendship. He has visited me in California dozens of times and yet I’ve never visited his home in Detroit, until now.

Quentin "Q-Man" Johnson

Quentin “Q-Man” Johnson

Thanks to “Q” I had the pleasure of connecting with another of his good friends, Tim, whose son Jacques is creating a name for himself in the now burgeoning Detroit culinary scene. Less than two years ago Jacques injected energy, excitement and enthusiasm into a old and perhaps venerable watering hole that, like much of Detroit, had been abandoned. His Green Dot Stables may have an unclear and perhaps questionable history, Jacques restored the old tavern yet retained its heritage and legacy by not only retaining its name and  but also its classic signage and hometown feel. With an updated interior, a simple menu that focuses on sliders and other small plates, nothing is priced more than $4. The bar follows the same simple concept: all drinks, including call brands are just $3. For Detroit, as it embarks on what will surely be a slow journey to regain its former glory, the Green Dot Stables is generating a lot of buzz.

I was honored that Jacques agreed to host a FORKS on Tour ’14 book signing event at Green Dot Stables. The event was scheduled to coordinate with the 313th anniversary of the founding of the city—313 is symbolic because it’s also the city’s area code. Partnering with one of Detroit’s growing craft breweries, Jacques used the event as occasion to tap open a Firkin of Biere de Garde from Motor City Brewing Works

 

Green Dot Stables' owner Jacques Driscoll with Allan Karl on the patio.

Green Dot Stables’ owner Jacques Driscoll with Allan Karl on the patio.

With the help of Q and new friends, I rolled Doc out of the FORKS Tour Van and set up a display on the patio at Green Dot Stables and throughout the evening shared stories, sold and signed books and enjoyed good local beer and two recipes from FORKS that Green Dot chef Les Molnar prepared for customers: Nyama Na Irio (p. 191) from Kenya and the Quinoa and Black Bean Salad (p. 87) from Bolivia.  Les prepared about 40 servings of each and well before the night was done, Green Dot Stables sold out of both dishes.

 

allan-sharing-stories-green-dot-stables

New FORKS readers enjoy stories from adventures around the world!

firkin-detroit-beer

Tapping the firkin at Green Dot Stables in Detroit

forks-author-allan-karl-green-dot-detroit

Signing books, sharing stories and making connections with FORKS in Detroit.

Legendary Slows Bar BQ, Corktown Detroit

Legendary Slows Bar BQ, Corktown Detroit

For a city that arguably is smoldering in the ashes of its decades of failures with barely an ember lingering, young entrepreneurs such as Jacques Driscoll, Slows Bar BQ owner, Phillip Cooley, and the committed watch and bicycle makers at Shinola, who are out to prove manufacturing and quality crafted products can still be produced in America and motor city, are slowly giving the city the spark that they will use to stoke Detroit’s fire and regenerate the city’s former energy.

Jacques toured me through Detroit where I got lost among the decrepit buildings of the long-abandoned 40-acre Packard Motor Car plant, just one of the estimated 78,000 abandoned buildings littering Detroit. From their we wandered through the Heidelberg Project, the open-air art environment in Detroit’s east side. Its goals and mission are admirable, but critics and naysayers have long attacked the project. Former mayors and city council members doomed and demolished the project twice before, and more recently in late 2013 and early 2014 five of the residential properties that were key exhibits of the project were burned to the ground by arsonists. Remnants of the charred ruins now serve as foundations for resurrected Heidelberg found-object art sculptures—symbolic as I sense a burgeoning and yearning community with a powerful spirit and will that refuses to let Detroit to fall deeper into the hole it has dug itself.

The Heidelberg Project Information Kiosk, Detroit.

The Heidelberg Project Information Kiosk, Detroit.

One can find excitement most anywhere in Detroit. One evening I experience a massive outdoor party in celebration of a multi-community ad-hoc soccer league. With a huge bonfire, free beer with suggested donations, a bounce house, foam pit with slide and a fire-breathing dragon concocted from an old construction crane, the creative energy of Detroit’s rising generation is hard to pass off as “just a reason to party.”

soccer-party-bonfire-detroit

There’s a good reason to think Detroit Positive. Property is cheap as evidenced by enterprising entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the excellent value that can be found among those seventy-thousand buildings. Negative thinkers are quick to spit on outsiders who have seen the value and accepted the risk of investment in Detroit. From faraway foreigners such as Peruvian Fernando Palazuelo who bought that massive Packard plant for a mere $405,000 to billionaire-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who has purchased some 7 million square feet of building space, perhaps the largest landholder in Detroit, to Chinese investors, speculators have their eyes on Detroit and certainly will contribute to the city’s revival.

My next stop is Detroit’s Eastern Market. Since the 1850’s Eastern Market has grown, evolved and served locals with staples from hay to hogs and just about everything in between. For some 40 years street artists have graced the market with massive murals, making the area a large-scale art museum and helping merchants attract attention and communicate offerings visually rather than through boring branding and over-designed logos. It’s organic eye-food for this wanderer and his camera. I could wander this part of Detroit for days, making me a good excuse to comeback to visit friends and watch Detroit’s comeback.

Eastern Market Mural, Detroit

Eastern Market Mural, Detroit

Before heading back to the lake house where Jacques dad, Tim, lives, we make one more stop — to Johnny Noodle King — Driscoll’s second and soon to be opened, eatery just down the street from Green Dot. Johnny’s will offer a selection of ramen dishes made from noodles Driscoll and Molnar have specified and tested.

Sadly, I must leave Detroit before Johnny’s opens. Yet given the success of the FORKS recipe dishes sold at Green Dot, the impending success of an asian noodle bar, I think I’ve planted a bug in Drisoll’s ear that perhaps a FORKS-inspired global kitchen could be part of Detroit’s resurgence and Driscoll’s growing culinary collection.

Check Out The Video of Detroit’s Fire-breathing Dragon:

My quick photo essay of time spent wandering Motown:

Interview on KDKA-TV Pittsburgh Today Live

FORKS Author Allan Karl Discusses Around The World Motorcycle Adventure – CBS Pittsburgh from Allan Karl on Vimeo.

Author Allan Karl stops by to talk about his new book "Forks" and his international motorcycle adventure.