Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mormons, rattlesnakes and long boards.

Buenos dias gentes! Another week or so has probably passed, along with more exciting events in the world of Unemployed Guys Looking At Stuff. Most notably would be that Team Unemployed Guys just recruited a new unemployed competitor, Mark Ferguson, our friend from Melbourne. 4 weeks ago he woke up sweating, after an urgent bout of the midnight terrors, but this time Big Bird wasn’t involved. It was a strange noise that filled his dream. The noise of three 4 horse power Victor mowers, incessantly blaring their message at him: GO RIDE THE BAJA WITH THOSE GUYS. Not one to argue with such a specific message from beyond the grave, he promptly left his job, house and life, drawn magnetically to the thrill that keeps middle aged men trying to pass their kidney stones: Dual Sporting!

Max Fergeson, Dual Sport Enthusiast

What the old men want

Riding the Nevada desert
I write this blog post from the shady backyard of Andy and Amanda, who were so kind to host us for a few nights in their wonderful home in the hills of Los Angeles. In the smoggy distance the Hollywood sign stands gaudily, and in the foreground the delightful Mexican ghetto suburbs waft up tales of tacos and tyre shops. Tucked away at the end of a windy road, this house has been a Mecca of relaxation after the exhaustion of desert sports. The tremendous views of the hilly Hollywood suburbs below are an excellent backdrop over which to reminisce on our journey away from the Meth addicts of Salt Lake City.

Psyching up to pump iron at Venice beach 

"Hey guy, whatcha dooing?"
“Well my friend, we did bloody well to get out of that one with our bodies, minds and possessions intact,” crackled the voice of Atley over the bike-to-bike intercoms as we roared through the inner city streets of that salty, lakey, sketchy city. Religious and alcohol attainment views aside, there was something just not quite right about Salt Lake City. I suppose it was partly the numerous references to heroin made by our fellow hostellers, or comments like, “You’re riding to Argentina? You must have money?!” and the fact that Atley had 14 thong/flipflop blowouts on the 500 metre walk to the shonky Chinese restaurant. $2.88 Walmart footwear quality aside, a man just shouldn’t have to watch another man have that many blowouts. It’s just not funny after the 11th time.

Clearly just a shed.
Utah storm front threatens the Dual Sporters. Unperturbed, we pushed forward.
Utah rock features
So we were glad to be riding the Utah road with the city growing smaller in our shaky side mirrors, especially when we could turn off the interstate and ride some cruisey riverside secondary roads to rejuvenate our hobo souls. Having obligations in Las Vegas three days away, we could not take our dilly-dallying route as per normal and had to keep the throttle open at highway speeds for most of that day. While stopping that afternoon to stock up on dinner goods at a tiny town grocery store, we inquired with a semi-toothless man if there was any free camping to be found in the area. “Sure is,” he cried, and with his heavily accented responses repeated 4 or 5 times each, some spelled out pho-net-ic-al-ly ,we took off in search of the local “crik” that would host us for the evening. As luck would have it, we found the crik, the bumpy gravel track and camping, and enjoyed another quiet evening in the Utah wilderness, with good old Uncle Sam picking up the bill.

Getting prepped for the gangs of LA
Riding motorbikes is like wearing a complicated bra under a corset under a petticoat under a singlet under a blouse under a blazer, then going dancing. It takes time to go from eating lunch mode into Dual Sport mode, and it takes quiet effort. No one likes to get motorbiked up then find out you’ve gotta wait for the other guy to do some other crap. It was after a particularly hot and drawn out luncheon in Utah that we finally hit the road, after several stops on the way out of town, and a few wrong turns. We were just about to hit the right highway when Atley pulled over. Regular operation of equipment sometimes encompasses operator based failure detection. “Dude we gotta stop, my highway pegs are loose.” We pulled over and inspected the herd, observing an empty bolt hole that wasn’t previously there. “Reckon it’s important?” mumbled lanky man. It was then observed that said missing bolt previously linked the engine with the frame of the motorbike. “Depends.”

The following day led us to the mighty Grand Canyon National Park. Eager to ride the fun open roads between the park gate and the canyon, it was not surprising when the blue and red flashing lights of a park ranger pulled us over. Dubious of the nervous officer’s power to do anything other than suggest camping locations, we listened patiently to his explanation of why it’s dangerous to do 20 mph over the speed limit, then baffled him with our trip plans and talk of the metric system. Too excited to even tell us his favourite camping spot, he let us on our way with a wave, a smile and a, “I love dual sporting!”

Large hole in ground

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon did not disappoint, and through a pleasant mixture of wide angle photography, wasp stings and portabello mushroom burgers, we spent several hours pondering our insignificance while peering over the edge of a very big hole in the ground. An interesting Geologist talk taught us that the age of the rock at the bottom of the canyon is 1700 million years old, and the Colorado River started cutting the canyon only 5 million years ago. Clearly not fascinated enough with this information, Atley still took his shorts off in the carpark 10 minutes later (to put his bike pants back on of course, geeez).

That night we had the pleasure of listening to a Blue eyed Arian family, giggly fart themselves to sleep at the next camp site. Like Atley’s thong blowouts, it got old after about the 12th time. We were on the road early the next morning, but not quite early enough to beat the $18 camping fee enforced by Ranger Walt B. Walton moments before we pulled on our helmets for departure. We had a final 450km to ride in extreme summer desert heat, towards the shimmering haze in the distance that was Las Vegas. The old sun didn’t disappoint, and we were soon frying like emu eggs in our motorbike suits in the 43C (112F) degree heat. It was all good until my bike started to act a little funny. Part of me began to ponder the strange surging that the bike was doing, while another part of me was gazing around at the blisteringly hot and uninhabited desert that we were very much in the middle of and probably didn’t want to be stranded in, and another part of me was rocking out to Jimi Hendix. After a while we pulled over and observed that the engine was still in place and the foot pegs hadn’t moved, but we swapped bikes to see if the desert heat was making me loco. Atley agreed he too could feel the surging, the heat of the desert, and the psychedelic funk that only Jimi knew how to produce, right around about the same time that I began to feel the same three symptoms on HIS bike. “Bad fuel man, bad fuel”, we cried, bopping our heads in unison to Foxy Lady. We’d already burned most of the so-called bad fuel in our tanks, so we quickly fuelled up, and surged our way through the final 50km into Las Vegas, eager to escape the desert heat, and to never speak of this surging again.

Our penthouse suite stayed this clean, even cleaner, the whole four days...
Enter Las Vegas! The happiest place on earth. Or is it the sleaziest place in the world? Or is it just some place to bet your bike on red and cross your fingers you’ll be getting a BMW? We didn’t know, but we did know we were extremely pleased to enter our 27th floor penthouse suite of the Palms Hotel and wash days of desert sweat off in the master bathroom’s 6-headed shower. And it was that day that we joined Matt, Isaac, Ferg, Mark Ferg, Damo and Jonathon to spend 4 lovely days in Vegas with. Strangely enough details of that period remain vague.

Demonstracion del burro
Mark Ferg however was not vague, and one hot August night while we were in Vegas he and I went to inspect a 2009 KLR650 that was for sale in the suburbs. The bike had enough forum-based mods to give three middle aged men the Dual Sporting Disease from 40 paces, so after some test riding he bought the thing. Thus began Ferg’s pleasant entry into Dual Sporting called The Paperwork Phase. DMVs in 2 states, insurance companies mis-spelling names on important documents and bank cheques with self-addressed pre-paid express-post envelopes of pre-specified dimensions were just some of the glamorous events that would turn this Adventure Riding Newb into a legend among men. Middle aged men.

Copping a feel
We left Vegas with clear heads and razor sharp vision. Luckily the road through the desert was straight and true, so we could pop our bikes on cruise control and head out back for a coffee and a biscuit. The Paperwork Phase forced a late departure, and that evening was actually the first that we arrived at the camp site in the dark. Lake Mead was the name, and hot temps were the game. We sweated every moment we weren't in the lake, and that made for a miserable night in the tents. The new guy didn’t complain though, and we soldiered on early the next morning, riding past the Mojave National Preserve and onto the sprawling urban beast of Los Angeles, California.

Hollywood tire service. Break time.

Atley had the mad hook ups, and we sailed into the Hollywood hills, to Andy and Amanda’s super cute house, with a backyard clearly designed for chilling out and changing tires. During the days there we picked away at jobs on the bikes, and Ferg continued his assault on the paperwork. Atley and I obtained some great new rear tires from the Mexicans in Santa Monica and installed them at Andy’s house, with just a little bit of help from some other Mexicans with a tire bead seating machine. In the evenings we hung out with our awesome hosts, going for a great walk in the surrounding hills and having the honour of becoming Tree People at a Neil Diamond concert! Nothing beats a local tour guide, and being driven into some suburb, parking the car, walking though some streets, around a fence, through some bushes, through another fence and arriving at a high point above the Greek Theatre below, we were stoked to sit and drink beers while listening to Neil Diamond belt out his classic tunes, pro bono.

Awesome Andy and Amanda!

We only change tires before fabulous views
The getaway vehicles.
Hopefully before Andy and Amanda got sick of Australians, we moved on to more of Atley’s hook ups, and stayed with Pete and Beth, and their two little boys Teddy and Evan. It is yet again a fascinating and humbling experience to have people who hardly know us, open up their home, possessions and energy to three homeless motorcyclists (looking at stuff). Here we’ve been able to continue the battle against Ferg’s paperwork demons, spend our days lounging in the backyard pool, and have a great holiday from the holiday. The highlight for me was definitely our trip out to Venture Beach on my 30th birthday a few days ago, in two vehicles loaded with 4 long boards and the family beach gear. Pete had us straight out to the point, and with his expert direction we were all standing and riding the Californian waves into the beach like champs. An awesome Mexican dinner and beers afterward was a great end to the day, and left us all fat and happy for the car ride home.

Birthday guy has a big one.

Max catches waves.
Atley caught a baby
The cute little face as he eases his nails into your leg
Well that’s about it. Paperwork Phase is still not complete, so our time in LA continues. Once we’re set, it’s half a day’s ride south to the Mexican border, where the 1000km long Baja Peninsula awaits our exploration. So stay tuned! We hope you’re enjoying The Adventures of Unemployed Guys Looking At Stuff! We are!!!

Moving photos (remember to click fullscreen, might have to "view in YouTube"):

Monday, August 6, 2012

The relentless pursuit of the ultimate chicken sandwich

Hello from inside your computer! It’s hot in here! Well actually, I’m sitting in a dingy, soiled room in the Utah International Hostel, in Salt Lake City Utah, and it really is quite hot in here. As much as we didn’t want to do it, we had to remove ourselves from the beautiful bush and amble into another hectic metropolis to battle the bacteria growing on our bodies and clothes, and to rest our weary selves after 7 tiring days of Adventure Motorcycling through north west America. It’s been good, there’s no denying it - more mountains, ravines, rivers, awesome people, beers, fried food and inquiries into the pursuit of Duel Sporting.

Now who wouldn't have questions for these guys?
Even those with moustaches must sleep...
The previous post had us in the uber-cool trendopolous of inner-city Portland, where we could eat our panini’s and drink our whey-enriched energy shakes while basking in the free wifi oozing from every street corner. We made the decision in the car park outside the hostel that we’d skip riding the famous west coast of America, and return inland, east, to where the mountains loom and the rivers would wash the summer sweat from our bodies. We followed the signs to Mt Hood, and basked in another uncaring volcanic mountainous giant. Alas we did not stop to seek out snowboards and ride the mucky summer snow, but we chugged on with no particular destination in mind. The mountains and forest soon ended abruptly and we found ourselves being cooked alive in a flat brown deserted land, the lawn-mower-like throb of the bikes a constant drone of weariness and heat exhaustion. “Damn you Jeff and Steve, you Oregano bastards,” we cried in the relentless heat, “what kind of pub-trickery have you played on us this time?!” But then salvation appeared in the form of a lonely gas station amongst the dead shrubbery and long-given-up trees. This was no ordinary gas station. This was a desert haven oasis, manned by a generous and thoroughly fascinated family, who sell fuel and red bull. They gave us maps, they gave us refreshing drinks, they gave us the vital 91 octane that our steel beasts feed upon and they gave us good ol’fashion American hospitality, they kind that MTV and George W. Bush ruined. They gave us directions to where the best roads were, and we set off for an afternoon of seriously awesome motorbiking. Twisty roads, smooth clean pavement, and rocky desolate scenery that got bigger and better with each gear change. A free camp that night in a laxidasically patrolled State Park had us refreshed for the next day of canyon country awesomness. John Day Canyon in Oregon people: get online, buy some plane tickets, and come ride a motorbike through it TODAY, because you just don’t realise what you’re missing! Turn, after turn, after swooping bend, after whoops and dips, bridges over rushing rivers and nice old ladies serving delicious lunches, John Day Canyon taught us that the little “Scenic Byway” symbol beside certain highways on the map means good times and great classic hits, motorbike style.

John Day knows his canyons

Shirtless for easy back hair access
We rode the canyons til they turned to mountains, into rivers and back into hills. Finally we pulled up, hot, sweaty and exhausted, by some lake, in some place, just west of some other place (Baker City). We stumbled out to the lake and floated in the refreshingly non-freezing water, and slumped on the picnic table at our dusty, dry, open “camp site”. Not ones to complain, we instead sat there and pondered tonights hastily obtained dinner: 1 can of tomato soup, 1 can of mushroom soup and 2 packets of 2 minute noodles. It was just one of those days where you’re in the middle of nowhere and you’ve got to buy your dinner from a gas station, operated by a staring old man who probably hates you. So there we sat, not particularly interested in setting up camp, and really not very interested in the food we had to eat. And then we heard those delightful words that put a spring into every hobo motorcyclist’s step, “Hey you guys want a hot dog and a cold beer?” My reaction time was between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds. “We sure do!” And over we lurched to the Nelson family picnic, where we were instructed to consume the hotdogs, pastas, fruit salads and beers that adorned their picnic table. Quite different to our picnic table, only 100 feet away, where my soggy, sweaty socks and underwear sat smouldering on the bench seat, killing all surrounding fauna. We barely had time to tell them of our travels, when they discovered something hideous, something terrible, something downright nasty (and it wasn’t my socks), they were out of beeer! To the Nelsons, quite rightly so, this was a critical situation, where people of all walks of life must band together and fight the good fight, to somehow appropriate more goddam suds. Idle talk of going to the store was soon stomped out by Kim, who came up with the master plan, “You Aussies wanna come back to our place for a hot tub and beers?!?!?!” Atley looked at me. I looked at Atley. We both smiled. “Why yes we do.”

We packed up our stuff and followed the Nelsonmobile west to the bright lights of Baker City, Oregon, and proceeded to enjoy a super relaxed evening of beer pong, marshmellow fights, hot tubbing and checking out the RV. I woke up on a couch, not quite sure what country I was in, let alone who’s house, but I put it together pretty quickly from the family portraits smiling down at me. The Nelsons were able to spend the morning relaxing with us in our hungover state, and fed us a delicious breakfast that got us going for the day. Thank you so much for your hospitality guys, it’s people like you who make hobo’s like us feel less like hobos.

Nelson City

Little did the Nelsons realise that Mark was wearing a sexy corset the WHOLE time!

Oregon views
From Baker City we meandered east, back into the ripe potato lands of Idaho, and spotted some curly looking roads heading north into Boise National Forest. Stocked up with fresh corn and 'taters we headed back into the bush and were rewarded with more top notch motorcycling, through massive gorges carved out by the rushing Payette River. Some locals pointed us in the direction of Garden Valley and we located some enticing free camp sites with private access to the raging river, the perfect location to sip on the first bottle of scotch we’d appropriated in the land where any man can be president.

Garden Valley free campin'

Fancy good riding? Choose a road following a river.

Some say a man resides within.
Up fresh and early the next day, we continued riding ravines and gorges, basking in the awesomeness of the Salmon and Sawtooth National Forests. As always we chatted with worthy looking locals to gather information of the roads ahead, and if there was one man who’s camping advice you’d want to consider, it was that from Harley-riding, gun-toting, straight-talking Eddie, as he cracked a huge can of beer for lunch. It didn’t take much for us to mimic his day’s riding plan of heading North to Salmon, Idaho, for some $5 camping by the river. We met up with him that night, and had a jolly evening discussing the world over some brews and whiskey.

From there we zig-zagged our way east from Idaho into Montana, past the Big Hole National Battlefield. This was the site of the largest battle of the 5 month long Nez Perce War of 1877, fought between the US Army and the Nez Perce American Indians. We watched a movie about the battle, in the visitors centre, and I took the opportunity to respectfully sneak in a 10 minute powernap to regain some focus on the endless highway we seemed to be on. By then the mountains had opened up into a vast plain, skirted by jagged peaks in the distance, and we battled the fierce Montana winds on our way to the Lewis and Clark Cavern State Park. Here we joined the last tour of the day to be taken through a massive network of caves that had been a Wild West tourist draw card since ye olde horse and cart days.

Boil in the bag

The following day was the whole point we’d been travelling east: Yellowstone National Park! An amazing area of land, with bison, bear, wolves, elk, mountains, canyons, geysers, rivers and hot springs that certainly deserves more exploring, but from our point of view it was a bit disappointing. The blame for this disappointment can be squarely directed at the previous 7000km of travel we have just experienced through North West North America. We have seen so many spectacular and amazing landscapes, seen so much wild life, and been able to enjoy most of it completely on our own. And that was our complaint with Yellowstone – too many camera-wielding tourists, too many slow moving cars and too many swerving motorhomes to be able to enjoy the spectacular landscapes set out before us. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled with solitude so far, but there’s something so special about seeing a majestic foreign landscape with no one else around. Fees, ques, traffic and crappy food were unfortunately the motivators for us to get the hell out of there and continue our easy life of travelling the deserted back roads of North America, with only friendly locals and wild life to contend with.

Smouldering aqueous limestone spews forth in Yellowstone

But before I completely disrespect the first national park in the world (Yellowstone), I must thank Ranger John. We approached him with this predicament, “Excuse me, every camp ground in the Park is full and it’s getting late. What should we do?” Ranger John assessed the bikes, the facial hair and made a quick judgement. He then described how we were to get to a free camp, just outside the park, where we could peacefully camp in bear country, if our motorbiking skills were up to the entry track. Luckily, they were, and we bounced and throttled our way up some super steep “wagon tracks” and found ourselves on the slopes of a massive valley, with nothing but epic mountain views to keep us entertained. We drained the very last of the whiskey and proceeded to help a few dead trees reach their ultimate resting place.

Thanks for the hook up Ranger John!

The next day was filled with yet more amazing riding, this time on the switch-backed, cliff-edged Chief Joseph Highway, east of Yellowstone, and we eventually looped our way south to the Grand Teton National Park. We free-camped by yet another scenic river and met some more cool people. Our departure the next day was slowed however with my bike refusing to start in the cold. We hit it with hammers, kicked dirt at it, then ignored it, until 30 minutes later it magically started. The same thing happened then next morning, except in a worryingly remote location, deep in Strawberry Canyon of Wyoming. Concerned with the situation, we have since bought booster/jumper cables, a new maintenance free battery for each bike, and have adjusted the choke on my bike, more to Gasman’s liking. Here’s hoping she starts next time it’s cold.

"Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the oil goes in here?"

Strawberry Canyon

Chief Joseph Highway views were mostly too big for the camera to capture...
From here we point our bikes south to the world of fake Elvis's, drive through wedding chapels and crap tourney's - Viva Las Vegas!

The Grand Tetons are totally grand.
Atley takes time out to get friendly with a horse
And the video...