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Reflections & Surprises-The Middle East

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Reflecting then. Reflecting now. Egypt’s rich history overshadowed by its present.

For those of you who follow my Facebook page or Twitter feed, you know over the last couple weeks I’ve been posting a few photos and thinking about the time I spent through Egypt in 2008.

First, I still haven’t connected with my host in Cairo, Mohamed Magdi. During the height of the demonstrations, the email bounced back to me several times. I still await to hear from him. Certainly I am happy for Egypt and though the road ahead will be rough and potholed, I do wish for a smooth transition to a solid democracy that will pave a smoother road for the country’s future and destiny as a mid east leader.

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Ana, Gregor, Ana and Borut are from Slovenia taking a couple week journey to Jordan on their V-Strom and GS1200.

As protests and uprising spread through the region I also thought about Jordan and Syria, two of my favorite countries in the region. Just as Mubarek was about to step down, I received an email from a motorcyclists I met at the entrance to Wadi Rum, the legendary desert where Laurence of Arabia led a growing group of Bedouins to Aqaba where they singlehandedly toppled the Ottoman Turks and captured the city. Wadi Rum is vast desert of other worldly rock formations, rich umber and brick colors and lots of sand.

Gregor, Ana, Borut and his wife were on a two week tour of the region when I spotted their bikes at the Wadi Rum visitors center. To be sure, I didn’t see many foreign motorcyclists in the Middle East. Curious and intrigued the four of us shared lunch and stories of the region. I’ve never visited Slovenia, but have always wanted. Detailing their route around Slovenia, Turkey, Lebanon and such, Gregor explained that Slovenia can be described as shaped like a chicken. He pulled out his maps and detailed the shape. Forever I cannot think of Slovenia without thinking of its chicken shape.

Gregor and Ana were planning on riding two up to Egypt this spring. But the questionable stability in the region caused them to rethink their plans. So, they’ve decided to visit the United States. With such short time to prepare, they realized the shipping the bikes would be too costly and the cost of renting similar bikes here, much too expensive. So they’ll land in Los Angeles in early March and take a couple weeks to tour California and the western United States.

In Jordan I was intrigued by the panniers that Borut and Gregor had on their bikes. Turns out, Gregor owns a company that manufacturers an automatic oiler for chain driven motorcycles. He also made the panniers on their bikes. Even more, the company that provides some of the machining tools is US-based in Oxnard, California—just a 30 miles north of Los Angeles. So their trip will include a visit to the factory in Oxnard, and after they’ve made a loop which will include Route 1 to San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Grand Canyon and more, they’ll stop here at my place before heading back to Slovenia.

I’m sure we’ll pull a couple corks of some good wine, though I understand Slovenian wine is very good yet not widely available here. If the timing works I’ll try to interview both of them for an upcoming edition of the long-lost WorldRider PodCast series—if you’ve never listened, it’s fun to go back and check out both the stories and the production.

Gregor, Ana and their friends have toured dozens of countries in the region—including Iran, a country I was repeatedly denied a visa for entry. Here’s what Gregor told me about his trip to Iran:

“Iran was a beautiful country and the people are realy great, they are inviting you in your homes all the time. Must say that Iran was the best country we everer visited.”

Gregor, Ana and friends continue to push their boundaries and tour on motorcycles to places we all like to dream about. You can see some photos of their adventures here.

Stay tuned, I look forward to sharing more about Gregor and Ana when they visit.

Friends & Family: Ludlow, Vermont in the Shadows of Okemo

With the temperature dropping and skies threatening, I only hoped that I would make Ludlow before nightfall and, ideally, dry. Per my standard riding practice (SRP), I do whatever I can to avoid interestates and multilane highways, I found myself skirting around and then riding through Concord, the capital of New Hampshire.

Sporting a glistening gold dome like the capitol buildings of its neighbors in Massachusetts, Vermont and other New EIMG_0079 - Version 2.jpgngland states including Connecticut, the New Hampshire Capitol building was completed in 1819, seven years before the the first dome, made of copper, was set on our nation’s capitol building in Washington, DC.

For the first time on this journey, I wondered why I was riding. As cars passed me on the slick roads, young children pressed their nose against the cold windows or their parents’ cars seemingly giggling at me in my bright yellow rainsuit. Perhaps they thought I was Big Bird riding away on some wet adventure. Hunched over and and in a rhythm like that of a metronome gone haywire, I wiped the drops of sheeting rain from my face-shield wishing I was in a warm car.

I did arrive in Ludlow just as the sun dipped behind Okemo Mountain. While the rain-suit did I good job keeping me dry, my numb toes and soggy cover to my AirHawk seat cushion provided the evidence that today’s ride was the most physically challenging of the trip, so far.

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Ludlow Vermont was chartered as a city just 15 years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1761 and is also the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. Though it wasn’t the rich history, notable historic village nor the ski resort which brings hordes of New Englanders here in the winter that brought me to Ludlow. No I rode through whipping rain, nasty wind and biting cold to visit The Timber Inn Motel.

Well, even that’s not entirely true. Actually, I came to visit a friend who not only attended my high school, but also my college, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Glenn Heitsmith and I also served the Syracuse University Ski Club, organizing weekend trips to Vermont ski resorts. Yet like others I’ve encountered on my east coast tour, I haven’t seen Glenn in more than 20 years — perhaps longer. But he, his family and the infamous Inn he owns were sponsors and supporters of my WorldRider journey and for this trip, he graciously offered accommodations.

While familiar with Ludlow and Okemo Mountain, I’d never skied or visited. And until Glenn brought it to my attention, I had no idea that I had family living and working in Ludlow. I guess because I come from a fairly large extended family, there are many relatives I’d never met. While I’d heard of Joe Karl and his family, and my father had met him on a few occasions, I’d never met. So with a warm motel room and my friend Glenn in Boston for the weekend visiting his son, I arranged to meet Joe and his family–his wife Kathleen and their three lovely daughters.WorldRider 2010 cut.JPG

Glenn not only arranged me to meet long lost relatives, so to speak, but also to deliver my WorldRider presentation to the local community Rotary Club. An article in the local paper as well as a broadcast to other Rotary Clubs, the room was packed at one of Ludlow’s finest restaurants, D.J.’s — even three Rotarian motorcyclists from elsewhere in Vermont showed up to be inspired by my adventures.

Before making tracks toward Syracuse and Rochester New York, Glenn took me on a hiking tour over the Healdville Trail which winds through Okemo State Forest and to an historic fire tower which offers vast views of Okemo Mountain and the surrounding forests and mountains. Glenn is working to gain support to maintain the old fire tower which was built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s. We then worked out way to the summit of the mountain and the ski area before making a muddy trek down a few grassy and muddy ski runs. We noticed hoses and other plumbing fittings indicating that the ski area was preparing to make snow very soon.

With more foul weather and rain on the forecast, I packed up Doc and after an excellent lunch in nearby Proctorsville at Singleton’s General Store, where not only can one find a fresh and tasty sandwich, but all the whiskey, guns and ammo you could ever desire.

I only rode as far as Saratoga Springs the day I bid my friends and family farewell in Ludlow. Next stop? Syracuse New York where I’m hoping to connect with former professors and walk in the shadows of my younger self.

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My cousin Joe Karl — after all these years, I finally meet him and catch up in Ludlow, Vermont

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Joe’s beautiful twins, Brigid and Paige sporting fresh vegetables from the family garden. A great homemade dinner at the Karl residence — everybody helped!

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Joe’s eldest, Riley had to work on a little homework before dinner.

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View from Timber Inn Motel in Ludlow, VT toward Okemo Mountain

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Climbing the historic fire tower in the Okemo National Forest. Glenn is hoping to bring it to full restoration.

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Historic village and town of Ludlow Vermont from atop Okemo Mountain’s historic fire tower.

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Rushing waters and plenty of fallen leaves as Glenn tours me through the state forest.

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Hiking the Healdville Trail with an ad hoc snowball fight thrown in.

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Glenn’s wife Donna holds her cards tightly after a wonderful meal and fun with the kids.

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Erik was the ringleader of the evenings card game. Seems the rules changed either to suit his hand or extend bedtime just a few minutes later. I couldn’t argue!

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Patrick Chadburn prepared my last meal in Vermont, but with the bike loaded enough, I passed on any whiskey, guns or ammo. Maybe next time!

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Hoping both the temperature and rains hold off until I get to Syracuse.

MAX BMW – North Hampton, New Hampshire – many reunions

I know I’ve been slow on the update to worldrider.com — but one thing is for sure, I haven’t been slow to keeping busy. So at the risk of filling the e-mailboxes of my followers and subscribers, please humor me by allowing me to catch up with a handful of posts and pics of my recent east coast tour and then some.

While I grew up in New England and still cherish fond memories of fall colors, back roads and historic buildings and cIMG_3548 - Version 2.jpg harming old houses, it’s easy to remember the good of times past, and while caught up in the romance of revisiting old stomping grounds is also easy to forget many of those reasons I was drawn to the California Coast: cold, gray skies, rain and even snow. Don’t get me wrong. I love weather, the biting cold of chilling wind, sheeting rain and snowflakes on the tongue. But on a motorcycle? Sure, why not?

The idea of riding New England and the East Coast in October was incredibly alluring. The mere suggestion by Bob Henig of Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Maryland convinced me.

The ride from a tiny no frills motel just a few miles from Max BMW in North Hampton at about 8am in the morning was a sudden slap in the face of just what 39 degrees feels like at 40 mph. And it’s not that I’m averse nor unprepared for changes in weather. Geeez, I think my bones are still thawing from my days in Patagonia in southern Argentina and Chile. I’ve got the layers, the Held winter gloves and liners and a heated vest. But I have I become soft by living in Southern California since returning from my trip just two years prior? Not a chance. I think the issue is simple: I just need to warm up to cold weather.

I love seeing my breath first thing in the morning. And of the nearly 80 people that warmed the seats of Max’s showroom turned temporary multimedia theater at 10am that morning some 25 percent showed up on their bikes, including Nate Katz (aka PackMule), a fellow ADVrider who I’ve been in touch with since beginning my journey some five years ago. During the Q&A session of my presentation, Nate and others asked the usual and unusual questions that typically followed my prepared presentation. Nate rolled into North Hampton that morning on his new GS800 sporting the usual cadre of weather fighting and electric apparel. It’s no wonder before I got back on the road that Max Apparel Specialist Rose Marston convinced me to shell out dollars for a pair of heated Gerbing gloves. Me. Soft? Nah, everyone out here seems to wear them.

Perhaps the best part of this tour, other than the opportunity to share my journey and stories from the road with new and old friends, is the number of coincidences and reconnections I’ve experienced. Not only did I finally meet Nate, I was surprised to learn that the brother of a very good friend, Ken Hauck, from my high school days lives in Exeter, a short hop from Portsmouth and North Hampton. Peter greeted me at my motel and took me to dinner in the historic town of Portsmouth, which sits on the Atlantic coast and on the southern border of the Piscataqua River. Earlier that day I crossed that river over the classic truss lift Memorial Bridge to Badger island in Kittery Maine — marking the ninth state I’d visited so far on this journey.

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Along the Atlantic Coast just south of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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Market Square @night, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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Perhaps even more amazing, after the presentation and Q&A a big guy sporting a mischievous smile sticks his hand out to greet me and says, “Allan Karl, it’s been a long time. I’m Brian, Kevin Skeith’s brother.” He squeezed my hand with a firm shake and we reminisced how some twenty-five years earlier when he was studying in college in the mid-west, he visited his brother Kevin, who at the time was my next door neighbor in Balboa, California.

Even weirder, Brian certainly was the only person in the room who’d ever been on the back of a motorcycle with me at the helm. The details of why and where we were going are perhaps fogged by the years, but what will forever be ingrained in both of our memories and those of his brother and my friends who were following in a car close behind, is when the light turned green at the intersection of Newport Blvd and 17th, I pulled a wheelie for several seconds, until gently resting the front wheel of my Yamaha Turbo Seca motorcycle.

Make no mistake, this was a completely unintentional wheelie. Throughout the week that Brian visited, remarking that he should be a linebacker on his native Chicago Bears team, I coined a nickname that would stick for the week: “Tiny.” With the mass of Tiny as he rode pillion, the force of the engine and his weight caused physics to take over and to both of our surprise, I’d done my first, and last, two-up wheelie on a motorcycle. It was quite appropriate that we’d meet so many years later where I was able to share more stories of motorcycle adventures.

At Max’s I learned how the passionate motorcyclists in northern New Hampshire won’t even let ice get in the way of riding bikes in the winter. Max Service & Parts Specialist Joe Warner gave me tour of the exceptionally clean and organized parts and service departments, I was treated to a unique one-of-a-kind custom-built motorcycle ice-tire, looking like an oversized spiked and studded collar suitable for perhaps a wildebeest, the Mad Max team here in New Hampshire took a highly-tuned BMW S1000RR on the ice. Interested in seeing the tire built and what kind of traction it holds on a frozen lake. Check out this YouTube video from Max’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPOw-Xmm4o

After the service department at Max’s were kind enough to check out of few minor issues I was experiencing, I hopped on the road and headed to Vermont, hoping to make it to Ludlow before the impending rains–or could it be snow?

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Owner Max Stratton runs two very successful BMW shops in New York and New Hampshire. I was lucky to present and meet the staff and customers of both during my east coast presentation tour 2010. I hope to be back next year!

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A standing room only crowd filled the big showroom at Max’s in North Hampton, New Hampshire.

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Max Service & Parts Specialist Joe Warner demonstrates the super ultra-studded ice tire used on the BMW S1000RR for racing and riding on ice lakes in New England.

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Max BMW doesn’t have just one female technician, but two! I was lucky to have one these smart and pretty ladies work on Doc. Here Zena Foster diagnoses an issue of a neutral light and side stand safety switch problem that’s been nagging me since Aswan, Egypt.

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On the way to Vermont I was able to find some dirt roads just so Doc could experience some sort of adventure! The rain helped!

Seized & Shafted In Robbinsville

After another night of camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I made my way down the final stretch of the 469 mile run that goes from Northern Virginia to Western North Carolina. It’s hard to ride this parkway without stopping at every pull off to gaze at the limitless vistas deep into the Shenandoah Valley, across to the Appalachian Mountains and into gaps, hollows and small towns seemingly stuck in a time warp.

The last stretch of The Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina crosses the tallest mountains on the route up to just over 6,000 feet. With brisk nippy air and clear skies the long tunnels that cut through the mountains along the parkway add to the dramatic setting. I came across several stops where a group of people in beach chairs and sporting binoculars or powerful monoculars so they would watch birds of prey sail high above the valley and the mountains below. One such stop was an official “Hawk Counting” station. Though I can’t remember who they were officially counting for — but it was an impressive display of unity and passion among the group.

Winding through beautiful sweeping turns, zooming up quick inclines resolving to nicely banked decreasing radius turns and then gliding down and up and over again. It’s the near perfect road for riding a motorcycle. Speed limits notwithstanding. But it too must end and end it did at the small town of Cherokee near the Cherokee Indian Reservation at the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Here I needed to make a decision. Do I continue North into Smokey Mountains National Park and then into Gatlinburg? Or do I take the shorter but still very scenic Charahala Skyway which crosses from North Carolina into Tennessee.

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Looking for birds.

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The majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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The last section of the highway winded through nearly a dozen dark tunnels.

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Bryson City, North Carolina Town Hall/ Courthouse. A sweet slice of Americana.

A quick poll and I decided to go for the Charahala. Everybody I talked to was concerned about fuel: gas. Thankfully, at about 70/mpg, my range on just under four gallons of fuel is greater than most four-wheeled machines. So while there is potentially a greater chance for finding fuel north, I decide to avoid, this time and from this direction, the Smokies. You see Gatlinburg and points North are nothing more than a tourist trap featuring “Dollywood,” the resort named after our favorite big breasted country singer Dolly Pardon. No thank you. I’ll head to Robbinsville and then over the mountains into Tennessee.

So I took the back roads to Robbinsville where I had to stop because of a nasty headache. The second one this week. I guess I once again became dependent on coffee while at my brother’s place and on the road, especially when camping, I’m not motivated nor equipped to brew a GOOD cup of coffee. My memories still swirl around those great coffee ceremonies and sessions in Ethiopia. But this nagging headache? Maybe a caffeine fix type of headache? I don’t know. But I needed Ibuprofen. That’s when i realized I had mobile phone coverage. So over a chicken sandwich at the local Wendy’s in Robbinsville I satisfied my hunger and made a few important phone calls. This financial crises is killing me!

Getting back on the bike I immediately feel something wrong. It’s bizarre. Feels like a flat tire. I stop at a local one-man motorcycle shop, Mountain Motors, run by John, a calm, easy going, mechanic with long hair fitting of the type of guy you’d find on a Harley-Davidson. His shop was littered with an eclectic collection of odd parts, Harley kitsch and memorabilia and posters touting the “Tail of the Dragon” at Deals Gap. A one-time quiet back road that over its 11 miles winds away through the mountains through 318 curves. Do the math? That’s close to 30 curves every mile. It’s now become a haven and an odd mecca for sports bike riders. According to John, when he first moved here from Pennsylvania he was instrumental creating awareness for the windy and often dangerous road to the motorcycle community.

  We checked the tire pressure and then noticed that my rear axle was loose. Strange. Just a few weeks back the folks at Bob’s BMW in Jessup had fitted new sprockets and chain. Could they not have torqued it enough? We tightened it up, took the ubiquitous photos and I headed toward the Charahala Skyway.

But I didn’t get too far. Even above the excellent attenuation provided by my custom molded Westone ear plugs I could hear the squeak like grinding. I made a U-Turn and soon John and I were removing the rear tire because we realized that while it might look cool, the axle bolt shouldn’t move at the same rate as the rear wheel. In fact, it shouldn’t move at all.

Seems that the rear wheel bearings, actually the bearings in the sprocket assembly had worn and melted – rather nearly welded – to the chase. After pulling the axle and assembly apart, it was difficult to make sense of what parts were separate and what were together. They were all melted together. It was already past FedEx time on the east coast, and calls to the west coast resulted in no parts available. But thankfully the parts guy at Bob’s BMW explained over the phone the seven parts that made up the sprocket assembly:

1) Spacer – sleeve exterior
2) Shaft seal (dust seal)
3) bearing (a)
4) circlet locking ring
5) stopper (washer)
6) bearing (b)
7) Spacer – sleeve interior

Most of these parts could be reused if we could separate them. The bearings would need replacing, but Bob’s once again went over and above and gave me the standard bearing part numbers: For the sprocket carrier 6204 (double seal); and for the wheel itself: 6203 (17 x 40 x 12). All these parts could be found here in Robbinsville. But it mean staying the night.

John let me leave most of my stuff locked in his showroom and then took me to a local motel. Later I made my way to Ruby’s for a home cooked spaghetti dinner ($5.99 complete with salad and Texas toast). But when I tried to order beer I learned I got stuck in a dry county. Imagine that.

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John owner and mechanic extraordinaire outside his shop, Mountain Motors in Robbinsville, North Carolina.

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It didn’t take long to figure out what was wrong with Doc.

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Things were a bit tight and seized and it took quite a bit to get the sleeve and bearings free.

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John’s shop was an eclectic mix of motorcycle kitsch and just the parts and supplies you’d need before and after riding Deal’s Gap or the Charahala Highway.

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By early the next afternoon Doc was ready to go. Together we sailed over the Charahala Skyway and into Tennessee.