An ugly white six inches of snow met me in April when I returned to my Denver office in the USA from wintering in SE Asia. I had come back from the Land of Smiles too early. Two days of shoveling the cold wet stuff found me booking a flight to southern Arizona where I stash a Kawasaki KLR 650.
The snows in the north melted while I did business in Phoenix and then some desert riding along the Arizona-Mexican border for a week, then it was home to Montana.
My reward for successfully surviving the jungles and crazy drivers of SE Asia for the winter was a perfect day of fishing and riding in Montana. Some would say life can not get better than fresh trout for dinner after a day of riding off road in Montana, as pictured above.
Bob Henig of Bob’s BMW (www.bobsbmw.com), the largest BMW motorcycle dealer in the USA, invited me to do my multi-media show SUN CHASING: FOUR TIMES AROUND THE WORLD BY MOTORCYCLE at his “BMW GS Day” in Jessup, Maryland. I only do this show on a limited basis, no more than four times each year, and usually by special request from friends or sponsors.
Several hundred BMW GS owners came to Bob’s BMW on a sunny April Saturday to kick tires, swap stories, look at new GS models, watch my multi-media show and buy some of my books and DVDs. I tried for two days to figure an angle to schmooze a new GS out of Bob but with no luck. Instead the schmoozer (me, standing by the door above) became the schmoozee.
Bob smoothly twisted my arm into donating my 1981 “around the world R80 G/S” for permanent display in his BMW Motorcycle Museum. This motorcycle has approximately 240,000 miles on it and drips oil from every bolt hole and joint. If it were a dog or horse the beast would have long ago been shot behind the ear and buried. Instead Bob promised to put it in his world famous museum next to a pristine 1981 R80 G/S with -0- miles on it, a before and after display, making it and me an infamous motorcycle adventurer. I have known Bob for nearly 20 years and have learned he not only is an avid BMW dealer and rider but has a wrinkled sense of humor like mine, so agreed to his proposal for smoke and mirrored fame and fortune.
After the motorcycle was set-up in his glittering showroom Bob wrote that if I would send him the tired riding gear I wore on the around the world ride he would purchase a mannequin and put my used helmet, gloves, Aerostich jacket, gloves and boots on it. I told him I would send the gear, then added that if he wanted the display to be 100% authentic I should also send him the unwashed underwear. I added that knowing my used gear was being stuffed on a dummy made me feel a bit like Trigger, Roy Roger’s stuffed horse. Bob declined on the used and unwashed unterhosen but came back at me with, “Look at it this way Greg, we're taking the gear off one dummy and putting it on another.”
My 1981 R80 G/S pictured above was far from what the BMW company advertised or promoted as a solid world tourer. The only parts not repaired or replaced were the rod and main bearings. The frame and forks are so tired that when I gave it gas or applied the brakes I could feel the frame and forks bend and twist. Not only did this motorcycle see the ends of the earth, it also managed Alaska numerous times, and when my other bikes would not start in August, it was hauled out of my studio for the annual BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE. Sometimes when I looked at it I could almost feel it weeping, knowing I was planning some more abuse for it.
I have never given a name to one of my motorcycles. To me they are machines, and while I have a fondness for some (and hatred for others), I can make no sense out of personalizing or trying to humanize a mass of metal, oil and plastic. Some motorcycles owners do the opposite, give the machine a name. I suspect it may be like those men who physically enjoy the company of rubberized woman life size, blow-up companions, some psychological need to be connected with their Alice or Inga.
One of the BMW GS aficionados familiar with my museum machine asked me what its name was. I told him it did not have a name, that it was just a bike. He gasped, as if taken aback by some major flaw in my psychological globe trotting make-up. He astoundingly asked, “You lived with that motorcycle for nearly a quarter of a million miles and you didn’t name it? It needs a name, especially if it’s going to be in a museum.”
I thought for a few seconds, then said, “OK, let’s call it Helga. I knew a Helga, someone who really thought they were doing something special, riding here and there, doing press conferences about their travels, talking to TV stations, to the point their head became so big I often wondered how they got through doors. It’s the same with this motorcycle; the heads are so wide I often could not get it through doorways. So let it be Helga.”
If you are on the East Coast of the USA stop in Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Maryland. Bob is building a new and bigger BMW Motorcycle Museum. Say “Hi” to Helga for me, then remember I have written that it let me down in some of the worst places on the planet, repeatedly broke when I needed to move, and generally gave me enough fodder for a book titled “BITCH AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE.”
The month of May found me on the other side of the USA, in Auburn, California. There I did my multi-media show for another BMW group at the 49er BMW Rally. I generally beg off going to motorcycle rallies but this group’s organizer was a BMW GS arm twister like Bob Henig, promising me fame, fortune and a chance to meet a “kinder, gentler” rally rat than those needing to validate their purchase of a particular brand of motorcycle. He also offered immediate payment that immediately rang my cash flow bell.
Brian Halton (right), publisher and editor of CITY BIKE magazine, was at the 49er Rally. Pictured above he was giving me tips on how to spin media BS to sell more books and DVD’s about my motorcycle adventures. His advice was “pile it higher and deeper.” We agreed that if I got lost due to my poor map reading in Burma or Angola, a better yarn would be how I was captured by anti-government activists, questioned for hours or days, tortured even, than to write I made a wrong turn and ended up in some fishing village with a dead battery for the same period of time. Because it is well known I travel with no electronic gizmos like GPS’s, and do not heed USA State Department Travel Advisories, he said I could pen a plausible tale.
In June I headed to Alaska for some weeks of Kawasaki KLR riding with the Aerostich Tours Company (www.aerostichtours.com) to the Arctic Circle and on to Prudhoe Bay. I was at the same time working on magazine articles and updating my book, ALASKA BY MOTORCYCLE, while exploring new ground. The book and accompanying DVD are best sellers. Every year or two they get an update from my field research in Alaska. I have met numerous motorcycle travelers in Alaska who were there because they had read my book and watched my film on VHS of DVD.
This year the Dalton Highway could have been called the Carnage Highway or the Road to Hell for 30-40 Harley-Davidson riders from the Southeast USA. They had trucked their motorcycles to Fairbanks, Alaska from Stone Mountain, Georgia to ride from Prudhoe Bay to Key West, Florida. Someone had forgotten to tell them that about 200 miles of the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay was unpaved, and often snot-like mud or ice, neither of which 1,000 lb. Harley-Davidsons (or any other heavyweight motorcycle) like to stay upright on. Whether it was ego or misinformation, a number of the event entrants tried to make the official start point leaving broken turn signals, glass and hammered egos scattered from the beginning to the end of the 400 mile Dalton Highway.
One of the smartest riders in the group may have read my book. He purchased a new 2007 Kawasaki KLR 650 to be picked up in Fairbanks, then flew in and collected it. After safely riding it to Prudhoe Bay and back to Fairbanks he sold the Kawasaki for $1,000 less than he paid, then rode his unscathed Harley out of Fairbanks on the paved highway to Key West.
I saw a dirty BMW near Delta Junction and stopped to take a photo of the bike and rider. As I was taking pictures, with my helmet on, the rider said, “Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you that book guy, that professional motorcycle adventurer?”
This can be a good question, or a bad one, depending on which book guy he was asking about. I answered, “Well, I’m one of a bunch of book guys. Maybe I am the one you’re asking about, maybe not.”
“Nah, you’re him, you’re that guy, I recognize your jacket. You’re that Frazier guy, the reason I am here, right now.”
He zipped open his tank bag and pulled out a copy of my book, ALASKA BY MOTORCYCLE, looked at the cover, then me, and said, “Yep, you’re here, right on the cover. You and this book cost me $20,000.00! Will you autograph it?”
I laughed, admitted I was that guy, and signed his book, then asked how I had cost him $20,000.00. He said he rode a Harley-Davidson “back home,” as did all his riding buddies. He had dreamed of riding to Alaska, and his wife bought the book for him for his birthday. After reading it he decided his Harley was not up for the Dalton or Denali Highway and some of the construction zones on the Alaska Highway, so he bought a BMW GS over the Internet, then the riding gear needed. He had tagged Prudhoe Bay and was headed home.
As we parted he said, “You know, getting to Alaska and Prudhoe Bay was a major achievement for me, plus spending all the time and money. But meeting you, the guy who wrote the book, that’s the highlight of my trip. I can’t wait to get home to tell my wife and friends I met you.”
I thanked him for the complement, gave him a personalized sticker for his bike and then told him, “I enjoyed meeting you as much as you meeting me. I like to meet people who read, especially motorcyclists who read my books.”
Most motorcycle riders to Alaska foolishly believe bears will be their biggest worry. Actually moose kill far more people each year than bears. In fact, most motorcyclists will not see a bear their entire trip, unless they take a plane, bus or minivan tour to look for animals, or go to a town garbage dump.
After Alaska I did a couple thousand miles out of Seattle with my friend Jim Aiken. He has one of the 150 last edition R100 GSPD’s, the black one with nice chrome. His wife bought it for him new and I delivered it to Washington for his birthday. Once a year we try to get out on our old “airhead’ model BMW’s and wander through the Northwest. This year we did Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Jim has grown from a newbie pavement rider to a solid off-road rider, so we can poke around some of the quiet places away from the super slabs and paved highways. While he has matured as a rider, he still falls a little short in the mechanical maintenance area. This year on the second day his battery was dead when tried to leave a gas stop. I push started him and at the next gas stop asked him how old the battery was (two years) and when did he last check or add water? He looked at me like I was from the planet Pluto, then said, “They need water?” We rode to a Wal-Mart where I found his water level nearly empty in two of the six cells. I sent him into the store to buy some distilled water and 15 minutes later his battery was happy and charging.
A day later I looked at his rear tire and said, “Jimmy, you’re not going to make it home on that tire.” He looked at it, then said, “Gee, it’s only got about 5,000 miles on it.”
I smiled and answered, “Yeah, and that’s about all that brand of tire gets. Let’s see if I can find someone within 300-400 miles who might have a tire we can borrow or buy tomorrow, Sunday. And Jimmy, next time before we leave on a tour, read my book, MOTORCYCLE TOURING: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, from Motor Books International. I’ll send you a copy for your birthday. It’ll save us at least two or three days of doing your annual bike maintenance on the road.” That night, after we found a tire, he bought the beer.
Jim and I trade off decision making every day. One day I make all decisions on food, gas, sleeping and picture stops. The next day is his decision day. Pictured above he is trying to figure out if our gas supply would make it to the next town or should we go back to the last town that had gas. It was his decision day, another day of laughing for me and stress for him.
Some years ago I ran with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain for four bloody mornings. I can now liken it to running with the buffalo through Yellowstone Park, Wyoming. As Jim and I rode through the park we saw 1,000’s of buffalo, mostly away from the road eating grass or resting in it. I worked in Yellowstone for two summers, and saw only one buffalo. They had multiplied quite well in nearly 40 years.
Some buffalo walk or run down the road. They tend to avoid cars, possibly seeing them as big obstacles like rocks. However, at one buffalo jam, where 10-15 cars were stopped to take pictures of one buffalo on the road, the animal got tired of the attention and decided to run off the road and to do so over Jim and myself on our motorcycles. Quick thinking on our part, and being in first gear, got us out of its way. I could have reached over and touched the buffalo much the same as I did the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. I learned like I did with the Pamplona bulls, that buffalo are very fast, much faster than a man on foot.
Some Yellowstone tourists are foolish enough to try to pet the 2,000 lb. beasts, or put their kids on their back to take a photograph of them. My brush with this one on the road could have resulted in news headlines if I had posted something on some website or issued a News Release, something like “Biker Run Over By Buffalo!” As CITY BIKE editor Brian Halton said, “Pile it higher and deeper.”
July was ugly. I crashed my dirt bike (Honda XR 250) while scouting routes for the BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE (www.horizonsunlimited.com/bigdog/). A fall from a ladder in June had resulted in a broken arm that was not quite knitted. In July, when the dirt bike went down, I pulled the bone apart again. I spent most of July walking and riding around like Napoleon with my left arm stuck in my shirt. While doing my multi-media show for BMW of Denver in conjunction with Ride To Work Day (www.ridetowork.org) one of my friends attending noticed I was holding the arm while speaking and asked what was wrong. When I told him I fell off a ladder and broke it he said had I been the Greg he knew 10 years earlier I would have shaken it off and not been wimping around. I did not tell him I had ridden to Prudhoe Bay, then 10 days with Jim, and finally gave it a rest after dropping the Honda on some ugly rocks. It was not until September that I could raise my arm above my head, just in time for a ride in Japan.
Before I could leave for my winter home in the Golden Triangle, with the stop on Hokkaido, I managed to try the new KLR 650 and some desert riding in Arizona. With nearly 50 changes over the 2007 model, like the one I rode around the world, the new KLR was greatly improved, and all for a small increase in price. Friend and fellow KLR owner Philip Orth mounted Happy Trails (www.happy-trail.com) aluminum panniers, crash bars and skid plate, Wolfman tank bag (www.wolfmanluggage.com), Aerostich seat pad and tank panniers (www.aerostich.com) on the red 2008 KLR for me and off we went on an expedition along the Mexican border. The Kawasaki engineers in the USA and Japan had listened to what we KLR riders had been saying over the years and dialed the new KLR in to our specifications. It was nice to find a motorcycle manufacturer that listens to what their product users were saying. I am sold on the new KLR and say, “Good job!” to Kawasaki.
Pictured above is me on the 2008 Kawasaki KLR 650, painfully lifting my mending left arm above the flowers on the Mexico/Arizona border. My happiness with the new Kawasaki overrode the aches of my broken and wounded body parts.
I knew Hokkaido as a favored motorcyclist destination for Japanese riders. Some years earlier I had ridden in Japan, but only on the mainland and out of Tokyo. Aerostich Tours offered me a chance to do Hokkaido. Company guru Andy Goldfine and I agreed to carve out some face time together riding the Island, so in late September we met in Sapporo for ten days of Japanese hospitality. We circled the island, tagging Cape Soya at the northernmost point, then points to the far eastern and western parts. While it was late in the riding season we saw numerous Japanese motorcycle travelers, proving that this was truly a motorcyclist destination point for the avid traveler.
Andy Goldfine took this photo of me enjoying a perfect riding day at Cape Soya.
We dallied too long and had to ride the last 100 miles in the dark or near dark. Speedster Goldfine picked up the pace to try and beat the sun going down, testing my riding skills to stay with him on some technical twisty roads. He later commented that we had cooked it along at a pretty good pace, both being on the same size motorcycle. I did not tell him the reasons he had not left me behind were because with my sunglasses on I could not see the road, so stuck to his tail light, and since I had no GPS or map, needed him to get me back to where we were staying for the night.
Unique to Hokkaido were the numerous biker guesthouses or roadhouses. Many are only open for the summer and all cater to budget conscious motorcycle travelers. Whereas an inexpensive hotel would be in the $150.00 per night range, these motorcycle friendly places could be had for less than $20.00. While that meant sharing a room, dormitory style, and common toilet, it also meant the comeraderie of other motorcycle travelers. Every one of these places I inspected was attached to reasonably priced small restaurant with bar, perfect for the two wheel traveler wanting to spend their money on movement and not high end sleeping and eating. All had common kitchens for the more budget minded who wanted to cook their own food.
We stopped at one biker road house for coffee, the Time Tunnel (www.timetunnel.net), that had a vintage motorcycle café. As I was poking around the old bike memorabilia I noticed a collection of Indian Motocycle books. A laptop computer on the bar was free to check email and when I touched the mouse the screen saver came on with a 1948 Indian Chief pictured. I own one of these rare 1948 Indians, so when I was finished I thanked the owner and gave him one of my business cards that has an Indian Motorcycle logo on it. Between his broken English and my non-existent Japanese I discovered he too owned a 1948 Indian Chief. We traded some information, and then he took me outside to a container he had next to the restaurant. Inside he had his Indian on display, along with hard-to-find books and parts. It was a rare find for me, and for him. He gave me a limited edition Indian Motorcycle porcelain cup that I cherish. I noted that while he had a good collection of Indian books, he did not have the one I wrote. When I got to the next Internet point I ordered one to be sent to him, possibly the only copy in Japan.
Andy Goldfine and my fellow Indian Motocycle aficionado are pictured above sitting at the entrance of the “museum” the owner had made out of a shipping container for his $32,000 1948 Indian Chief.
The owner even had an Indian Motocycle belt buckle like the one I dug out of my luggage, something as rare as his 1948 Indian. Both buckles were made by inmates in the Colorado State prison, signed and dated on the back. He now knows what that date and initials mean, or at least I think he understood when I explained through our third person that knew some English. Or possibly he thinks something entirely different, like the man who made the buckle went to prison.
I have moved into my winter work mode of riding, filming and writing in SE Asia. I hate snow and think it is best seen on the TV weather channel, so while the white flakes fly in the USA I will be roaming the jungles of the Indochina world.
I was recently told that because I did not have a high profile on the Internet and did not post “higher and deeper” tales, I had become yesterday’s motorcycle adventure news. I laughed, then said of the source, “He’s about half a million miles and ten years behind me, and quietly I am still moving, exploring the world on two wheels. Over the summer I covered some interesting miles but really don’t feel the need to pile it to any depth. I guess I will stay yesterday's news, an old lone wolf wanderer.”
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited