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.

 

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New FORKS readers enjoy stories from adventures around the world!

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Tapping the firkin at Green Dot Stables in Detroit

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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.”

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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.