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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A tribute to the GS (my bike)

by Mark

This post is for the motorcyclists.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I had a great time visiting her aunt Kathy in Kalispell, Montana. We spent a few days enjoying the cool weather on Kathy's back deck, her extraordinarily playful cat Barney (or Barnacle, as we like to call him), and playing the role of gardener. In fact, Kathy started calling me Ramon... or maybe it was Carlos...

In the evenings, I picked up a book of Kathy's about the construction of Glacier National Park's famous Going to the Sun road. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the trip. As far as roads go, this one was basically hand-built by Russian stonemasons and other brave folk who dangled from ropes (crazy!) to survey, blast, and carve the cliffs and steep hillsides. Over the better part of a decade, they created a path into the mountains that blended into the hillsides, so to not disturb the view of folks from Lake MacDonald below. I was intrigued, so I got up at 5:30am.

By a little after 6, I was inside the park boundary, and the sun turned everything orange. There was no one on the road, so I doubled the speed limit and stopped only to take photos. Which I probably didn't do as often as I should have. The riding was sooo fun!

So you may be wondering why this post is entitled as a "tribute." I'll tell you. After 4 years of maintenance, preparation, and learning about how it works, I sold it. Yep. In the middle of a big trip, I sold my bike and I'm starting over. Crazy, eh? I agree. I guess I've come full circle-- my first bike was a 650cc BMW, and I thought I needed something bigger. I'm back to the 650, but this time it's a Honda. I'll have pictures soon of the Honda XR 650L. Street legal, but only 340 pounds of machine, and a lot more dirt-oriented. (See earlier post about mining roads in Colorado). Currently Katie and I are still in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I'll spend the last week or so (sadly) in the garage outfitting this bike for the rest of the trip. My last bike required 3 years to prepare for a big trip. The "new" bike will get 9 days (if it's lucky)!

The upshot is that I'll be riding a MUCH cheaper machine into Central America, which will help us give off a little less of the "rich American" look.
The hope is to turn this machine into an adventure-ready warrior, in nine days or less. (Katie wrote this sentence).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why I love to travel (Part 1)

by Mark This will be hard to explain. I experienced something riding through western Montana a few days ago that I want to share. We had left Katie's grandparents' house an hour earlier, and I was feeling a bit sad. Hank and Catherine Menghini reminded me of my father's parents, who are both gone now. Both families were farmers. Despite working the land in different areas of the country, they shared a common lifestyle that comes from years watching the sky for rain. Both families lived through what most of us (now) would consider poverty, and both have cultivated an unwavering faith that God would take care of them. Right down to the kitchen knife, sharpened well beyond what anyone in my generation would consider ruined, I was inspired by the work, sacrifice, and dedication to family life that they probably never questioned. In his shop, Hank helped me replace a broken spoke on Katie's motorcycle. I got the sense from his suggestions (of how I could do it better), that Hank could probably fix anything. The stories from his children prove it, and I felt proud that my wife was raised by a man who grew up (working) on this farm. Wil's spirit had found us once again. Back to the road. I'm viewing all this Montana farmland with quickly ripening barley and wheat, and felt like my heart was breaking open. I've been thinking about how to say this, and those are the words. Opening. Breaking. Not really a destruction, but the making of space...for the bigness of the world around me. For the families living in the houses I was riding past. For the Chinese kids working in the factory that made my shirt. For the powerful awareness of my smallness... and it hurt like love. Like rehab, where a muscle sends pain messages not because it is damaged, but because it is coming back to life. And how is this attached to travelling? Because in the last 4,000 or so miles, we've reconnected with our families and dozens of friends, received gifts and hot showers and have been forbidden to pay for our own lunches. We've been given money by an 11 year old, been inspired to be parents again, and generally taken way more than we've given. We've been beaten by the sun and (cross) winds of desolate Wyoming, to stop at a gas station where total strangers stop to congratulate us on getting married (they see the sign). We get waves and happy honks and thumbs-ups from people as they pass us on the road. So the day I'm writing about, it came together, and I felt the energy of a big American West that isn't so big. Neighbors and barbeques and front porches of people who are better than your average newscast would lead you to believe. Despite this experience only being detectible by myself, I'll try to convey with some photos: