Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Some Background on This Journey

This journey was conceived in a far younger time, perhaps 30 years ago. Exploration of Southern California's backroads, and the Western States beyond, gave birth to the notion of a grander quest, that of traveling on motorcycle from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But the dream was filed where most of my dreams have been filed, in some dark corner.

(It was not unlike the dream of two 8th graders who were determined to buy 250cc Yamaha motorcycles, then drive from California's San Fernando Valley, all the way across to Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. As soon as they could drive, that is. They had the trip all planned out.)

30 years of working long hours had succeeded only in demonstrating that such labor was for me, a sad excuse for living. A habit masquerading as virtue, slowly stifling whatever possibilities yet remained. No doubt, it is a common, even "average" story.


In recent years, I watched the rotation of "leaders" at Robert Mondavi Corporation (and most other large wineries) toy with business and lives. It became a game in which virtue held no worth. The industry I had joined thirty years earlier, which I loved for its ties to land and weather and honest, healthy labor, was now buried under a superstructure of corporate bureaucracy and shareholder greed. "Market share", "earnings per share" and "price per share as a multiple of earnings" became obsessions (as I guess they must in a Capitalist society.) "Share" had lost its more virtuous meaning.

Like many who are ambivalent in this new "Global Marketplace", the security was alluring, but the formulaic dreams hatched by a multitude of fresh MBAs did not reflect my dreams.

Which led to the question, "do I have any dreams?"

I had to dig deep.


A year ago, my brother suggested I come to Vermont to ride his motorcycles. I hadn't ridden in 25 years or more, but last June I visited him and had the opportunity to ride two remarkable machines on some wonderful Vermont backroads.

The first bike was a Honda CBR1100 "Blackbird". At first I was intimidated even straddling it. But once moving, it was an awesome experience. 0 to 130 mph in just a few seconds.

The second bike was a Kawasaki ZRX1200. A more upright position that I was accustomed to. It was way too much fun! Those days in Vermont, it seems all I wanted to do was ride.


Conditions at work were deteriorating, with a sale or break-up of Robert Mondavi Corporation inevitable. So, I began developing an escape plan.

Last summer, the new BMW R1200GS was making news, and as soon as I saw the brochures, I knew this was the bike I would be buying. My last cycle was a 1972 BMW R75/5. I loved it the moment I sat on it and heard the engine. I spent too much time on it, forsaking school and even going AWOL from the military to ride to Canada!

Last September I enrolled in a motorcycle safety course to expedite getting a new license. Once licensed, I began the search for the bike. BMW of San Francisco received a shipment after Thanksgiving and they called me.

By this time, Robert Mondavi Corporation had been sold to Constellation Brands, and uncertainty surrounded our futures there. Lay-offs had begun. "No problem." I was already moving down the path toward departure.

I took a maiden voyage on my new bike in mid-December, riding the 750 miles to Las Vegas in frigid conditions, a good break-in of machine and rider. One day down and one day back.

Larry Saenz of BMW of San Francisco introduced me to Jim Hyde's RawHyde Adventures. I signed up for his "Adventure Camp", designed to teach GS owners how to handle these behemoths off-road. This would be perfect training for my adventure. The program was excellent, and having finished the three-day course, I could not have imagined traveling roads like Alaska's Dalton Highway without Jim's help.

A "California Adventure Rally" near Death Valley, also organized by Jim, provided further training just in advance of my departure. With every off-road challenge, the R1200GS performed superbly, raising my confidence level.

So, in May 2005, I hit the road for Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. My primary desire in going there now was to get as near as possible to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. ANWR, which is constantly in the news, has repeatedly suffered attempts by certain Congress members to have it opened to oil "exploration". I've opposed this for years. But I wanted to learn more from first-hand experience.

As for the other destinations, Central and South America have remained for me vast unknowns. We hear of the rain forest's exploitation, the destruction of the Amazon Basin, the threat to marine sanctuaries.

And we also hear horror stories of travelers to Latin America being kidnapped, murdered, disappearing. I trust in the kindness of strangers and intend to put those fears to rest. I don't believe the headlines, rather what my experience teaches.

And a star-gazer since childhood, I have also long dreamed of seeing the southern constellations. And so I must go...

I'll dedicate a year to this journey, resources permitting. When I return, I'm not sure who I will be, or what I will do. Hopefully, I'll be a bit wiser and more tolerant.

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