Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Adv #1: Shifting Gears: A change in career and ride across the country

To help paint the picture: I've resigned from my career of 8+ years, emptied and rented out my townhouse, sold my Chevy Tahoe, bought a motorcycle, and basically reduced my immediate belongings to what fits in my backpack or on the motorycle. Funny thing is, I never thought having to use quarters again to do laundry could feel so good...

This all started when I had the perfect opportunity to get out of my career in 3rd party logistics back in March of this year. Despite working hard and having plenty of successes, I've had the desire to get out of that career for a long time. In a perfect twist of fate back in March, my employer presented a great opportunity for me to leave with some severence so I took the deal, and now I'm going to try and run with it.

Having resigned from my old job, I was doing plenty of soul and job searching when I learned about working as an "Adventure Tour Guide" through my friend, Kevin. We were talking one night and he asked me what I wanted to be doing with my career. That had always been a tough question for me to answer in the past for some reason, but this time I was very clearly able to articulate that "I want to be outdoors, travel everywhere, meet everyone, and be physically active." The next thing Kevin said was "I've got a buddy who has a job that sounds just like that!" So he put me in touch with his friend Ryan who had been working as a Adventure Guide for a couple of different companies, and Ryan gave me some great advice about how to get started. Each time I learned more about the job by chatting with Ryan and heard what it was like, I just became more and more certain that this was the type of lifestyle I wanted to live.

There have certainly been opportunities to jump back into what I was doing, to keep making money and do basically the same thing I've been doing for over 8 years. But I just haven't been able to get myself interested in that type of work anymore. That work reminds me that I'd just be "chasing money" instead of doing what I want to in life, and no matter how cliche it may sound, I've just decided it's time to follow my heart for a while.

After a couple of weeks of sending out resumes, I received word that a company called "Suntrek" wanted me to come on board starting June in California. Most adventure tourism companies in the U.S. had completed their hiring for 2008 and there might not have been many more opportunities for the year, so I accepted the job pretty quickly in hopes that working with Suntrek will be a solid foundation for working in the Adventure Tourism business. Let me clarify here: When I say "Adventure Tourism," it means my job will be to take tourists on outdoor adventures, camping out, biking, rafting, climbing, hiking, and traveling to new places. No more time on the phone, in front of the computer or dragging myself through conference calls. On this job, I'll spend my time in State and National parks, recreational areas, beaches, campgrounds, trails, etc. I've known for a long time that I wanted to spend more time in such places, but I never knew quite how to make it happen considering money and my career. My desire to live like this has been mounting for quite some time...so with this job, I get to live that way and get paid to do it!

Let these writings from here on just be an account of where these travels are taking me...the people I am meeting... and the things I get to do.

So back to the part about the motorcycle: Why fly to California for job training when you can start the "adventure" lifestyle with an actual adventure on an "Adventure" bike? After motorcycle shopping thoroughly for quite some time, I was notified late on June 11th by a local dealer about a used 2004 "KTM 950 Adventure S" that was available. Just looking at the pictures in the email and the whole package they had available, I knew that night that if the bike looked as good in person as it did in the pictures, I'd buy it immediately. So on June 12th, in the middle of hustling to close up my house and put everything in storage I rented a car, drove an hour to the dealership, and after a quick test-drive, bought this immaculate bike on the spot. I was so excited.....it was exactly the deal I was hoping for!

Still in a hurry though, just 24 hours later on Friday the 13th, I packed up the bike, finished a few last minute things, locked up the house, and set out on this trip across the country. The timing worked perfectly, as I was able to detour through Milwaukee and surprise Dad by showing up for Father's Day. (Dad knew I was headed to California soon for the job, but had no idea that I'd even bought a motorcyle at that point.)
I chose the KTM Adventure 950 because it's truly a dual-sport, "all purpose" bike. Meant for riding both on and off-road, I have practically no limits to the type of terrain I can cover. It's also equipped with enough removable cargo space that I can pack everything I need to live. Camping & cooking equipment, tent, sleeping bag, clothing, spare parts....it's all there, right on my bike. If I'm riding along, unable to find a designated camping spot or a hotel.....and nobody's looking.....I can sneak off into the woods, plop down my tent, and have everything I need to eat, sleep, and be merry. What a feeling that is, might I add! Everything I need on 2 wheels? And it gets about 40 miles to the gallon? I knew this ahead of time, and that's why I chose the bike. Not to get off on another topic too early here, but living this way has really helped me realize how little use I had for my fully-furnished 3 bedroom townhouse in Atlanta....
(Above: At the very top of this posting is the picture my friend Carolyn had taken just as I closed the garage door and was turning on the bike to head out across the country. I still hadn't even bought my riding pants at that point which I would do on the way out of town in a hurry. And there's Carolyn showing such excitement for my journey and seeing how my helmet might fit if she wanted to ride!)

So like I was saying, off to Milwaukee to visit Mom and Dad, it was quite a scurry for my first couple of days on the bike. A quick stop in Chicago to visit with my buddy Brian Lang plus a couple of weather delays had me showing up late at my folks house late on Saturday night just before Father's Day. I had pre-arranged this surprise-visit with Mom, such that she would bring Dad outside to look at the landscape of the house or something silly just as I was arriving on their culdesac. Sure enough, they were out in the yard checking things out while I circled and revved the engine. (Dad had no idea I had even bought a motorcycle, since I did so only 24 hours before leaving on this trip!) Eventually entering the driveway and taking off my helmet to reveal myself, I think it was a fun way to stop in and surprise Dad.

Above is a pic of Mom and I about to set out for a quick ride. Admittedly, I was surprised how quickly Mom said yes about hopping on the bike. Dad went for a ride, too...but somehow we missed the picture of that. Also, my old high school buddy Stevie Flowers stopped by with his KTM to have a little welcoming party for my bike. Fifteen years earlier, we used to ride our dirt bikes all around New Berlin trying to ride a fine line between getting in trouble and having fun.

Then headed south out of Milwaukee and nearing Rockford, IL, I learned the hard way that my low fuel indicator wasn't working when I ran out of gas. Fortunately, Rich and Ryan Confer were driving by with the BMX Racing tractor/trailer, and they offered to take Julius (every motorcycle needs a nickname) and myself to the next gas station. The three of us pushed my bike into the trailer, and we were on our way. Thanks again guys!

Julius needed an oil change by about the time we got to Kansas. I would have liked to have handled my first oil change myself, but hey...I had just bought this bike and hadn't even had a minute to get the right tools, filters, etc. Thanks Mario and the guys at Letko for getting us back on the road so quickly!
When Delbert at the Sinclair gas station in Park, Kansas tells you that it hailed the other night: He means it. These hailstones were saved in the freezer behind him, and he says they'd lost about 20% of their size in the freezer since they hit the ground. Imagine what getting hit by one would feel like had you been out walking the 60 yards from one end of the town to the other (it's a very small town.)
About half-way to California I guess....how could you pass on this photo opportunity? The riding does get more fun and interesting from here on, but the tough part was that I felt a bit hurried in the first 5 days or so. I'd only owned my bike for those 5 days, and because you never know if everything is alright with it that early, I was trying to get out to California with at least a couple days of cushion time. Just in case something happened to the bike...

I had started this trip using the Hennessy Hammock that I bought while I was in Atlanta. (See pic below.) Its a hammock that serves as a tent as well because of the mosquito net and rain fly that are built into it. It's great in concept, but after a few nights of setting up camp in Kentucky and Kansas, I realized how tough it can be to find two suitable trees for setting up your hammock. Depending on what campground you're at....sometimes its just not an option. So I stopped at REI in Denver and picked up the REI Half Dome tent, which seems to be working well.
Below are pics entering the beautiful Red Rocks Ampitheatre just west of Denver below. What a great setting for a concert with downtown in the background, and I think my buddy Greg Matzek has seen Dave Mathews Band here like 4 times? The place was empty when I got there of course, but it sure did make me want to stick around for a show or two.

And just a little further west in Dillon, CO, I visited with an good friend of the family, Ralph Stair. Ralph and my Dad grew up together and spent summers on Pewaukee Lake outside of Milwaukee. Thanks for the Bed & Breakfast on Lake Dillon, Ralph! It's always neat to be back in the Summit Area, as I'd been skiing and snowboarding there about 4 times since high school.

Made it into Utah of course, and Arches National Park is certainly worth a visit. I had the chance to stroll through the town of Moab, too, but ran out of time for Canyonlands National Park and all the camping spots there were filled up. Maybe I'll see it soon on the job with Suntrek?

So the next day after Moab and Arches, I buzzed past a stranger walking toward me as I cruised at about 90mph. We were in the middle of absolutely nowhere in western Utah on Hwy 50, and the sign he was carrying sparked enough curiosity in me to circle back and talk with him. Turns out, this traveler's name is Robert Williams, and he is walking from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to help raise awareness of autism. A couple of Robert's friends had lost their son recently due to an autism-related seizure, so to help raise awareness of autism at a rate of 30 miles per day, Robert has taken a leave of absence from his job back in Boston and set out on this awesome journey. Water has been buried for him every 15 miles, (look closely at the picture and you can see his shovel) and he keeps an iPod and cell phone with him for some basic means of entertainment. We talked for about a half-hour, and this was just a couple hours after he said Richard and Kyle Petty had driven past and talked with him. (A few random people at gas stations and such had told me the Petty's were driving through and I had just missed them.)

Anyway, my time with Robert gave me the chance to learn a bit more about what's really going on with autism, and it is much more serious than a simple film like Rain Man would suggest. One out of 150 kids are being diagnosed with this condition, and its something we all could stand to know more about. If you are interested in donating to support Robert in his efforts, click the following link: http://www.firstgiving.com/robertwilliams He'll be walking well into November, so keep your eyes out for him on his incredible journey.

Oh, and it was interesting to think: I left Robert at about 1:30 pm. At my usual 90 mph, that means about 20 minutes later I was passing where Robert was walking AN ENTIRE DAY EARLIER!!!

A stranger at a gas station (no, his name was not "Sea Bass") in Utah had told me that Highway 50 through Nevada would be unforgettable. Because I was making pretty good time, I sure did want to start seeing some of the lesser known roads by skipping the uneventful Interstate system, so Highway 50 sounded perfect to me.

The "nothingness" in Nevada is absotutely great, and that guy that recommended Highway 50 was right. Known as "The Lonliest Highway in America," Highway 50 is certainly worthy of such a title. I think I drove about 20 minutes a couple of times without seeing any cars in either direction. No fuel or service for two hours at a time. Gutsy? Maybe. I had only had my bike, Julius for about 5 days at that point. All I could do was pat him on the side, tell him he's good and strong, and hope that's all that was needed. He made it through Nevada like a champ, and I actually have a bunch of other "attempts" to capture the beauty by photo. As usual, the photos come up short of the actual experience.

Me and Julius...we go everywhere together.
A moment worth a photo as I finally entered California. That is one long drive...and it's not quite over. My destination is Santa Rosa, CA on June 22nd. That's just a few hours drive from this point though, north of San Francisco by about an hour. Above is shot in downtown San Francisco. We're getting close, but I had to take this fun photo-opp first while stopped in traffic. So that's what I look like on my bike?There we go! First picture above is from the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the last shot is from the north end, headed to Santa Rosa. Pretty neat that Suntrek is so close to such monument helping me mark the end of this journey (even though my destination was still about 50 miles north.) My writing above certainly does not cover all that I did or saw in these 9 days, but if we meet up sometime, and I'd be glad to tell you more about what happened along with the photos. Maybe I'll talk you into joining me for a ride!

The final bill when it's all over would be 3749 miles. Wow. The stop in Milwaukee and detour around Iowa (floods had the entire state shut down) added about 1200 miles to this trek. I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out.

Now onto the next adventure.....my training with Suntrek would begin on June 24th.....just a couple of days away.


  1. E-Dog! Who are all these interesting people? I met some Germans in a Northern Italy Hostel in 1998 or 1999 that were doing the same thing you are doing now but they were riding hogs throughout Europe.

    Costa Rica is great! God speed.


  2. Eric,
    It's been forever and a day since we've seen each other. I stumbled across your blog from Facebook. Very interesting and entertaining for sure.

    I had to comment, as I was very surprised to see the ABA Bmx rig in your post..as well as the Confer's. I race BMX and know the Confer's fairly well. Rich's son and I used to ride for the same team coincidentally. I will probably see them this summer and will make sure to mention your travels.

    Travel safe and enjoy!

    Tim Eiring

  3. Hi Eric, I'm Jim Hillburn, believe it or not, the guy you bought "my beautiful bike" from...
    I live in Ocean Springs, MS, on Gulf Coast but have known Paul Wright/owner KTM World since 1980. At 51, I've ridden and raced bikes for the last 47 years.

    I cannot tell how how inadeguate the words "Freakin Jealous" are. I've read through the entire blog, to date and... well... I'm Jealous!
    You are actually the 3rd owner and it is no stranger to distance trips. Stu, the original owner and friend from when I lived in Daytona was the original name on the title. He and "Big Jerry", another Daytonite buddy both bought 950's, Stu the orange S that you so love and Jerry a Black/silver(non-S). They bought these bikes for a trip they planned after too many beers. Stu owns a cabin in Colorado (near Yellowstone on an isolated mountain meadow)so they decided to go for a ride, Daytona-Colorado.After staying at the cabin for a week or so, and after too many beers, decided to presson to Jerry's Childhood home near Seattle...now the rest of this gets a little foggy as "too many beers" were being consumed during the telling of this story. Another week passed as did too many beers and it was decided to press on up to Anchorage, AK... only a couple of days there but still "too many beers", notice the common denominator, and the destination of "The Artic Circle" hit the table and they hit the road... on the return Jerry stayed in Seattle and Stu's daughter, then 17 or so, flew out and rode back to Daytona...
    I bought the bike during Bike Week, down there racing the Alligator Enduro, and my wife and I enjoyed several day and weekend trips. Having lived in the Atlanta area also (8 years) I'm pretty familiar with the northern part of the state and we've ridden, with another friend on a BMW650 Dakar, from Sandy Plains to TN, all on dirt and gravel roads... The LA Swamptour, Arkansas Mountaing, TX Badlands/mountains and the Albequerque area are all pretty darned cool as well... perhaps on your return trip, if you ever come back... you'll make a "Southern Route" and stop in... I'd like to see "The Ol Girl" and meet you after such a trip!

    Happy Trails!
    Jim Hillburn
    228 396 1972

  4. Hi Eric,

    Incredible Blog Site! I will be sure to check in from time to time and show my students your adventures. Yes, I am extremely jealous as I love visiting new countries and cultures. Therefore, I will live vicariously through your expeditions.

    P.S. The cool thing about GeoSpatial Technologies is that you could actually use it on your adventures to check out the weather, terrain, longitudes and latitudes along with a plethera of other uses. So... since we can not travel with you we will simply pull you up on the ArcExplorer and zoom in on you from our space satelite. Once you post you local - it would be a great opportunity for the students to practice their new technology skills and geospatitial research.

    God Bless,
    CSHS Geek Squad and the Geek Squad Mama
    aka - Donna

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