This holiday season we were both south of the border and south of freezing temperatures in Mexico and New Mexico. It was fun in both environs.
Two factors drive FW’s Trip-O-Meter’s index: Are we going to someplace interesting, different and far away? And are we getting there on something with wheels (e.g. motorcycle, then RV, then car, etc.). Our current trip scored about a going-in “6” as it included twelve days on the motorcycle (a very good thing) but we were going north in California on a route that I’ve been on before. What’s far away about another California trip?
For the answer, go to a place called Sawyer’s Bar Bar (it’s a town, not a bar). Located deep in the Klamath Forest, packed along side the Salmon river, its one of the remotest places we’ve been to regardless of continent. Easily three plus hours to the nearest store of any kind (in a town called Forks on Salmon — no kidding), down a gravel road that requires 100% concentration to avoid pot holes, cliffs and said river, it reminded one of the West Coast version of Deliverance. What makes it all the more other-worldly is that Sawyer’s Bar Bar residents are still in the 21st century: trucks, indoor plumbing, off-the-grid electricity, etc. Why would anyone want to live so far-out, yet still enjoy the perks of the civilized world? My only conclusion is that they love animals more than people:)
Another rather remote place is the “Lost Coast” area just south of Eureka. While it doesn’t have the Deliverance feel, its remote and foreboding. Walk along the beach, with the slightly-below gale force wind and gray skies, and you shiver thinking about being in any kind of boat out there. We camped along the beach at a campground that had more warning signs about various dangers (from bears to tsunami) than most army bases. It’s also about two hours away from any civilization, in this instance Garberville.
Garberville is in another world, namely the Hippies of the 60’s. Located in Humboldt county, Weed Capital of the US, Garberville is all tie-died shirts and dresses. Just like the ’60s, there are a lot of street kids looking for their next high, either pharmaceutically-induced or other wise. Garberville and other Humboldt towns are undergoing a major economic change as California moves toward legalized pot. Among other things, this is causing a severe housing shortage as most homes are being used as grow-houses. I’m not making this stuff up:) Try buying a shack in Humboldt and it will cost as much as our house in Hollywood.
We tend to meet the nicest people in local bars, which probably says too much about us and how we travel:) Maybe its because we look like we need some help after a long days ride? A bartender in Chester clued us in on which roads to take to Mt. Shasta. It was fascinating to listen to him explain why on earth he made the move from LA to Chester. After listening to him describe the wonders of Chester (population is in the hundreds) I was thinking of making the move myself:) We had a great chat with some fellow bikers in Garberville and learned about a guy who’s criss-crossed the U.S. numerous times on a quad pulling a trailer, mostly on dirt roads! He almost convinced me that pulling a trailer with NVII isn’t a big deal.
After 2100+ miles and 12 nights, we’re ready to get home and do the complete opposite – get back on the road again:) We miss the Dos Diablos (Squirt and Bogart) and I can tell that KR is getting tired of moving every day. Factory Place here we come. We also talked about going to Central America/Columbia/Ecuador/Peru after the first of the year. Admittedly we had this conversation after a couple of drinks.
Here’s what this trip looked like.
I’m leaving for China tomorrow with Gov. Brown (well, we’ll be in the same conference:). Somebody has to pick up the leadership mantel for saving our environment now that Washington DC has abdicated. California is stepping forward as its the perfect case study for countering alternative facts: we have the most regulations regarding pollution and carbon emission yet our economy is growing much faster than the national average. The single largest factory in California — employing more people than any other — is the one I stopped on the way home:)
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months. There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them. Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life? One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)
Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016
- Lots of travel — twelve trips in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico. You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
- Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th. Both will shape LACI for years to come. I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
- 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric: we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%, and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries. Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
- “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session. The result; the family has a leadership problem. No s__t!
- Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far. KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015. Onward and upward!
- Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting. The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting. New establishments are popping up almost daily. The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses. Yaahhh boy! Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
- We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot. As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking. Not surprising, we need more electrical power!
Well, those are the headlines. Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now. For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)
In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.
This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done. We covered four cities in about ten days. I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.
It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business! Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous. Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles. But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax. When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day? Exactly my point:)
I’m still conflicted about India. We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India. Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences. It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles. I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.
Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place. 800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted. The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity. The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.
I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:) KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)
Cairo was a whole different deal. I liked the vibe immediately. The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way. The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang. The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.
No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true. The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it. Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests. I’m not sure this can be fixed…
KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating. And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy. We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.
We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business. I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality: entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands. Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems. It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.
A big part of travel is having the right mode of transportation:) To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):
- The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee): This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.” 162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in. Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it. I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt. Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
- The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone). The Bullet is now the LA version of the Duke. He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
- Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle): The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places. NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability. It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that NV I (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling. NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco. He’s barely broken in:)
- Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero): Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box. Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America. Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes. Fully functional means: bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet. Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
- Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter): Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked. Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history: two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s, and two Scarabeos… Go figure.
- Potential New Additions to the Stable: Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble. This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us. KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar. Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
- Planes, trains, etc. Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two. I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas. British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment. Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM. ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available. Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?
Life in the Loft
It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years! Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District. This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money. Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills. I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off. Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks. Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.
The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle. The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending. Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.
This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.” I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood. He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while. I recommend one to all:)
Life South of the Border
Let me state this up front: Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit. There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico. Narco’s? For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like, but it’s the truth.
The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar. When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos. As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos! For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference. It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.
Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life. We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month. That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!
Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed. He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix. Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)
The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc. Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.
Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use. LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat; just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:) Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.” Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)
Two Seismic Events
The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment. 2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event. Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews. The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs, a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’. The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.
Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling washed over LACI like a tsunami. We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end. And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”
My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what. Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change. This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich. If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on. Drought and crop reduction? We’ll just pay more for food. No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030. This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.
And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.” Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.
To the Future, we go!
I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less. KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows? We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!
Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
CAIRO (DEC 2016)
INDIA (OCT 2016)
LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)
MEXICO (DEC 2016)
ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)
I promise to write more often.
This year began where last year left off; lots of work and lots of travel. Berlin, Abu Dahbi and Dubai weren’t enough to scratch KR’s itch to travel, so she went to Copper Canyon and Cuba without yours truly. Eleven trips, 12 weeks, and 14 cities kind of says it all. I’m on the hunt for new business. And, if truth be told, new experiences.
In the Book of New Experiences, there are few newer experiences than going to the United Arab Emirates for the first time. If I were a good travel writer, I would think up words to describe this place. Honestly, words escape me; I just don’t know how to describe the Other Side of the World adequately. Think the Cantina scene in Star Wars to get an impression. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but things are just so totally different that its hard to draw a comparison.
It’s pretty apparent there are basically two types of people: residents and citizens. Residents are there to work on everything from research institutes to driving taxis. Typical stay for a knowledge worker is about three years. The planes and airports are 90% full of residents from all over the world. Because of the UAE’s location, there are as many people from Asia as Europe. Dubai has just become the world’s busiest airport.
Citizens are a different thing altogether. They dress differently, practice a different religion, and generally live a dual existence trying to integrate Western ways in the Arab culture. Pretty interesting. As with most places we’ve traveled, most people are friendly and happy to help.
People that live in the UAE (and I suppose Saudi Arabia) live in a protective cocoon. There is no sense of the trouble just hundreds of miles away in Syria, or Yemen, or Iraq or.. Pretty amazing really. I don’t know how they do it, but one feels 100% safe.
Our stay in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was just a couple of days, so we weren’t able to sample much of the place beyond my meetings and our hotels. Yet we were able to… see the most outrageous hotel in Abu Dhabi (The Palace Hotel, which also serves as a palace); drive 100 miles through the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopping at a roadside McDonalds; go to the old part of Dubai and wander the markets (called Souks) in which we bought a camel; and get a glimpse of how the super rich and hipsters live in their Lambos and rooftop bars.
And the possibilities of doing some business with the Emirates seem reasonable. Lots of opportunity, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in April, so I’ll be going back and we’ll see.
The whole purpose of this trip was to go to Berlin, not Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We put on an “Expert Work Shop” for 35 GIN members from all of the world. For two days we worked on best practices and learned about how folks from Shanghai or Tokyo or Italy or Germany or Finland did things. Pretty damn interesting.
A not so pleasant experience happened at 4 or 5 in the morning, strapped into my seat, sleeping. Everything is quiet. I’m in a very long, dark, quiet tube of an airplane We’re flying from Abu Dhabi to London and we’re over the Mediterranean. I don’t know where the f___ we are. Never been here before. Then the plane starts bucking. Very significantly. The captain comes on in a clipped manner; “Buckle down!” Didn’t he mean buckle up? And here’s what I’m thinking: this must be exactly what the passengers in the Air France plane from Brazil or the Malaysian Air passengers felt right before it went down. Dark. Quiet. Somewhere over an unfamiliar ocean. We stop bucking and I go back to sleep. But I’ll never forget this feeling and mental image.
As I write this, Karen is in Cuba. I guess the Little Woman couldn’t wait for Her Man, so she and a girl friend flew from Mexico to Cuba. I’m awaiting her report, but this is what she wrote in an email:
From a day trip out of town. tobacco farm, cave, countryside. Pretty good. Free day tomorrow. Looking forward to spending the day in Old Havana!! Had a taste of it yesterday and I can’t wait to go back. No pictures because I used my camera. Will use iPad tomorrow.
This hotel was built in 1930. 19 people were killed in the lobby in the 40’s by Battista’s men during a coup attempt. In the 50s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky hosted the biggest ever gathering of Mafia men under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert in the hotel.The Mafia was responsible for bringing gambling and prostitution to Cuba. If the walls could talk.
I can’t get enough of the cars. I’d say 70% are from the 40s and 50s. Some are tied together with rope and are running with Russian, etc. auto and tractor parts. Mechanics are looking forward to US trade so they can get our parts. Or enough of the architecture-magnificent old mansions built by the sugar barons and taken over by Castro and turned into government/social service office- all in disrepair and sad looking. But there are many preservation efforts. Raul has loosened many restrictions and seems interested in change.
Will send photos tomorrow. We are leaving Wednesday am to stay at a famous beach resort. Yuk. I’ve opted for a day trip (6hours on a bus) to visit one of the best preserved colonial cities.
That’s all for now. Here’s what it looked like in pictures.
When I was a twenty something Account Man working on Madison Avenue, I yearned to work on international accounts as I wanted to see the world, even back then. But I was too career-obsessed then, as international assignments were often only a one-way ticket out of the Big Time. So I passed on “going overseas” and stayed in NYC, then LA, SF and back to LA. While I’ve always done a ton of business travel, two flights a week were not unusual, they were usually to such exciting places as Cincinnati (P&G), Denver (US WEST), Cupertino (Apple) and my favorite, Columbus, Ohio. Exciting travel was left to KR and my personal adventures.
As time marched along—shoot, its run at full trot, no? — KR and I have spent more and more time planning, prepping and going on more adventurous trips on bikes, cars, RVs, planes, trains and buses. We’ve seen Nepal, India, Argentina, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala and all of the U.S. And like a junkie who gets his first shot of dope, I’ve been yearning to go further, longer and more adventurously every chance I get.
And then LACI came along and all thoughts of prolonged, wandering travel have pretty much been put on hold. Instead, we did a “travel pivot” and decided to take advantage of whatever little opportunities came our way and not worry about missing out on the Big Kahuna of trips.
Voila! We took 24 trips to 35 cities in the last year for a combo of business (mostly) and pleasure. While I’ve traveled more often in my career, I’ve never traveled to as many interesting places in such a short stint. Here’s the stat sheet.
I‘m thinking, “How did this happen?” Why now? It certainly wasn’t planned. While I’ve never thought of retiring or slowing down, I didn’t think I’d become an International Man of Mystery at this stage:) About a year ago I dreamed up the idea of a Global Innovation Network, linking innovation institutions around the world together. Well you can’t build a global network without going global. And while we can, have, should, and will continue to debate why a little incubator in downtown Los Angeles is building such a network, we’ve been doing it for about a year and its starting to get momentum.
I guess the other reason is that just as in business the ability to “pivot” is often key to long term success, the ability to pivot in life is at least as important. All my life I’ve been a Man With a Plan, but most of the time the Plan gets thrown away as soon as life happens along. So, Karen and I pivoted off the Adventure Plan to the build a global cleantech ecosystem plan. Go figure:)
So, in celebration of the New Year, here’s what’s struck me as interesting during our Year of Traveling Continuously…
- I like airports, especially big, new, shiny international airports. They’re all the same in that you can figure out what to do and where to go no matter what far-away-land you might find yourself. And now they’re good places to hang with Wi Fi, Starbucks, pretty decent food, comfortable lounges and lots of stores. I feel at home in an airport. Sad, but true.
- There is one international language that most everyone knows and responds to: a smile. While cultures, values, life styles, dress, standards of living, and governments vary widely, the human spirit doesn’t. People are often surprised that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t go much further than “Mas Margarita’s, Pour Some More,” yet we spend so much time in Mexico, Central and South America without speaking much Spanish. How can you live in a country you don’t know the language? My answer is, “Are you going to restrict your travel to only those places you speak the language?” Of course not. We like people, we look for ways to connect in physical and emotional ways, and we treat people with respect. I admit we try not to go to places that are steeped in conflict and hatred, so I’m not sure that our international language will work everywhere.
- Like the pull of gravity, KR’s search for things to decorate Corona is an inexorable force that can’t be fought. No matter how small, light and swift-footed we start any trip with, we end up pulling the equivalent of a 20 mule team across Death Valley by its end: ) And I will always lose this debate because well, the end result is pretty damn neat. Corona is alive with stuff KR has carted back from all over the world and its great.
- From my perspective, China’s people have made an unspoken pact – give us a middle class standard of living and we’ll do what the government says. It’s a bargain most of us would make if in the same situation. China’s middle class looks prosperous, active, educated and pretty happy to this outsider. The same bargain is being struck with Hong Kong’s middle class; let us makes lots of money and we’ll look the other way as Beijing gets rid of the two systems, one country bargain made in 1997.
- This year’s trip along the Pacific edge of Mexico took us through the most notorious parts of Mexico without even a whiff of trouble. In fact, we spent Christmas Eve 2013 not too far away from the area where the 43 students were kidnapped and killed. Two points here; once again we see no signs of the crime and drug cartel behavior that is splashed on the front pages of U.S. newspapers. We love Mexico and its been a safe place for us. Yet, Mexico’s government and criminal justice system is totally corrupt and not to be trusted. If Mexico is ever going to take its place along other developing nations, it needs a deep-rooted cleansing. No one can predict if this will happen, but I keep thinking Columbia cleaned up its act, so Mexico can too.
- KR and I have settled into a new rhythm of the road in which we move often, stay in a city a day or two, and get just enough of a taste to know whether we want to come back or not. These trips are pretty strenuous, often lasting 18 hours a day rushing from one meeting to the next, usually in a different city. Yet, KR doesn’t complain as she gets to explore a new place a bit while I do business. She’s fearless and curious, which usually makes for a good time.
- Often the best part of the trip is riding up front in the leather. On really long trips we use frequent flyer miles to sit in Business Class as one of our many guilty pleasures. It’s amazingly comfortable with food at the push of button, more movies and TV shows than you can possibly watch. When was the last time you could hit the keyboards for 14 uninterrupted hours? It’s productive time in the lap of luxury. Does it get any better?
So, here are a few of our favorite pictures from 2014.
Take care and have a great 2015!
It’s difficult to summarize this past winter’s events. Where’s the theme in it all? It started with the following two-week travel sequence: DC – LAX- PV – Mexico City- PV – Guadalajara- LAX. The trip included meeting with the White House’s most senior energy staff and being told…”We talk about LACI all the time here. There’s no one doing anything like you guys…” I know that and $1.65 will get me a small Starbucks, but it was nice to hear anyway and certainly a 180 degree change from just three years ago. The trips also included signing an MOU with the Mayor of Los Angeles in Mexico City and being told “You’re exceeding expectations, Fred” by the Mayor. Please remember that when we’re asking for more money from the City to support LACI, I’m thinking:) Oh, and we began building a Global Innovation Network (GIN) which now has members in Germany and Mexico, soon to add Italy and the rest of Europe. And I’m part of the Mayor’s delegation on his upcoming trip to Asia this fall.
South of the border, KR has become a world-class inn keeper as the Corona Adobe/Little Big Sur vacation rental business has exploded. No one is more surprised than KR and I at this new development. Corona Adobe has become a very popular B&W to the point that KR has had to escape to LBS because the house was fully rented. That option soon disappeared as well since the Corona Adobe/LBS “metropolitan living and jungle escape combo package” has been very popular. Last week KR had to stay in a PV hotel because we had no space in our own home or out at LBS. KR is coming to LA for the month of April partly because there’s no room in PV. And to see Her Man, of course.
All work and no play makes for a dull boy (which I’ve been accused of being), so there’s been a fair amount of that including a couple of days in PV with friends (Puerto Vallarta is just a great, great town), a Saturday night bar crawl like I only vaguely remember in my youth, and….. A NEW MOTORCYCLE!
We welcomed Now Voyager II into the family about a week ago. He’s a 2014 BMW GS with every gadget, gizmo and option that the German’s could think of:) I spent about two months evaluating various choices for the Walti’s new DreamMobile, but settled on the biggest, fastest, heaviest, and most expensive alternative. Go figure. He’s so big that I’m thinking of getting special elevator shoes made:) None the less, he’s handsome, fast, comfortable and handles great. Why has it taken me all these years to man-up and get a GS? Go figure.
Maybe the theme for this winter is it’s been a time of transitions. LACI is growing up — in size, footprint and reputation. One of these days it will be a real force to be reckoned with. Our life in PV has transitioned to that of part-time/ full-effort inn keeper which has pretty much changed what KR does south of the border. We’ve shifted to a new motorcycle, leaving the stressed-out Now Voyager behind and welcoming the fully-capable Now Voyager II into the fold. And, as we all face the challenges of growing up (finally?), we lost two of our friends this winter. One, Jack Foster, was one of the greatest creative people I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the standard for how to have fun and do great work. Not a bad legacy.
The summer started well enough as KR, Lilly and I drove the Iron Duke north from Puerto Vallarta toward Los Angeles without too many problems. This was an achievement in and of itself. The Iron Duke has 146,000 miles (he’s middle aged now), was in Mexico illegally (he hasn’t had legal plates for two years), and we had to jump start him the morning we left (not a confidence builder before a 1500 road trip). We were sure no one would give him a second glance as he’d taken on the look of a true Mexican Car. The right headlight was duct-taped on, a horizontal crack runs through the middle of the windshield, the tires and rims looked like they’ve pounded into a thousand potholes (which they had), and no surface remained unscratched or undented. The finishing touch was the peeling paint on the hood, giving him a “don’t mess with me because I got nothing to lose” look.
The drive to LA is normally a three day trek, but we took six days making a couple of stops along the way. We needed to go through a major border crossing to get the Iron Duke legally released from Mexico, so we went through Nogales, Arizona for the first time. Then we headed to Prescott to see Bob and Joy Wilson and then up to Flagstaff to attend the Overland Expo, an adventure conference/show.
Most of you want to know one thing: how did we get out of Mexico without being kidnapped or killed by the cartels? An especially relevant question given our route took us straight through the middle of the state of Sinaloa, as in “the Sinaloa Cartel,” purportedly Mexico’s largest drug cartel. And we spent quite a bit of time in one of Mexico’s largest border towns. All a sure recipe for disaster.
Except that nothing happened. Again. Just like the dozen other trips we’ve made through Mexico over the years. Nothing sinister has ever happened to us, in fact quite the opposite is the norm. We meet the nicest people in our travels through Mexico. That’s not to say there wasn’t drama, cause there was certainly drama:
- We ran the entire trip worrying that Iron Duke’s electrical system was discharging, potentially leaving us stranded in drug cartel territory. I finally disconnected the battery whenever we left the Duke.
- Said 300 peso tire didn’t give one confidence either. Given our history with rear blowouts, I was always ready for the worst.
- We didn’t know if the Iron Duke would be seized while trying to get out of Mexico. This forced me to obey all traffic laws, something that doesn’t come naturally:)
- His gas gauge wasn’t working either, making for some close calls on fuel stops.
Not the stuff of reality shows.
The trek north was necessary as KR was (finally) moving back to LA for the summer and we needed to get her, Lilly and the Iron Duke back here. No reality show stuff here, either, as KR has made the transition from 6200 sq ft to 900 sq ft in downtown LA without missing a beat. There’s something to the “absence makes the heart grow stronger” old adage as KR and I hadn’t lived in the same city during the entire construction of Corona. It’s been good, except that KR still gets a bit overwhelmed with LA’s traffic.
Life in the Urban Jungle
We live a very urban life now, the polar opposite of Little Big Sur and Chonchos. Our loft, called Factory Place for a reason, is in the Arts District of downtown LA, which despite its name, has 100x more warehouses and cold storage facilities than art establishments. We’re a stone’s throw from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights, Central and South Central LA, and the fine city of Vernon (more on Vernon in a bit). These are all ethnic, working class and lower income neighborhoods. We are about seven blocks from LA’s Skid Row, with its hundreds of tents on the sidewalks for blocks in every direction. For most everyone, we live in Frontier Land.
For some reason, we feel in sync with the place.
Like many people, we often go out for a Sunday brunch. Except our brunch is at 7:30AM and we usually head over to Mike’s Hockey Burgers, just across the LA River on Washington and Soto. Mike’s is in the deepest, darkest part of Boyle Heights, which means its deserted on Sundays as the only thing around are train tracks, factories and metal recycling yards. What’s a hockey burger? You haven’t lived until you’ve had the beef patty plus hot dog with every imaginable topping plopped onto your paper plate. This folks, is living:)
After brunch at Mikes, we often cruise down the deserted streets of Vernon, So Central LA, and along the Alameda Corridor. This is warehouse country. And food processing, transportation, garment manufacturing, cold storage, and the hundreds of small businesses that make stuff to sell to other businesses. This is Ground Zero for under the radar business to businesses . I think it makes for a pretty nice Sunday ride, KR is less convinced.
We found the Blue Note Restaurant & Bar buried in the heart of all this stuff, with linen table clothes no less. Open seven days a week, from 9AM-3PM. And did you know that we have more “gentlemen’s clubs” per square mile than probably anywhere else? We have Dames ‘n Games, Deja Vu, and Sam’s Hoffbrau, among others. Who says we don’t have a vibrant night club scene?
Ahhh Vernon, a shining city of … well, no one actually lives in Vernon, the best I can tell. It’s just a bunch of junk yards, scrap metal yards and cheapo manufacturing places, but its got the most gorgeous City Hall that any city would be proud to own. The purpose of cities like Vernon is to collect taxes, so it can build the City Hall, pay its Mayor and assorted city employees a “living wage,” and keep its constituency happy. Which is a bit weird since there are no constituents the best I can tell, except businesses. A wave of corruption prosecutions in small cities like Vernon have hit the Southland in the last several years, so Vernon has been keeping an even lower profile than normal.
Transitioning from Antonio to Eric
We just had a mayoral election in Los Angeles, which is an important event to those of us who are plowing the green fields of cleantech. We know the new mayor, Eric Garcetti, who is a strong supporter of our efforts to build a green economy. Building Los Angeles into a cleantech innovation powerhouse was
Antonio Villaraigosa’s idea, but I’m optimistic that Mayor Garcetti will accelerate the City’s support.
What started out as a one-year, temporary assignment to get LACI started has turned into a 2+ year and counting gig. I’m having fun and we’re making good progress at LACI. We’ve had 18 companies through our program, they’ve receibed $14M in investment, and we’ve been hired to build an LACI-style incubator at a state university campus.
The downside of all of this remains my bad habit of the past — letting work become all consuming. KR and I canceled our planned July motorcycle vacation to Europe because it conflicted with the groundbreaking ceremony for our new 60,000 sq. ft. permanent home, the La Kretz Innovation Campus.
Night -Stalking Transvestites
Leaving Corona behind this summer was more of a challenge than we thought. Not only did we have to button the house up for the always humid and wet summer off-season, we also had to hire a maintenance staff that could take care of any guests that were looking to take advantage of the “shoulder season.”
Shortly after arriving in LA, we started getting curious emails from friends saying not all was right south of the Border. Neighbors reported that our pool guy was bringing visitors into Corona late at night. Maybe he wanted to show his friends our place, I thought? Then we were told that Jesus was bringing in “table girls,” whatever they were, late at night. Then we were told that he was letting transvestites in at 3 in the morning! How can you tell that late at night, I wondered?
So, as I write this KR is back in PV for a week to take care of things. Out went the table girl and transvestite pimp, in went security cameras:) A repair crew is working to repair damage from the one heavy rain we’ve had so far (doesn’t portend well for the rest of the rainy season) and we’re assembling a new staff of care takers. Time will see how Inn Keeping 2.0 works out:)
This past weekend I felt like I was arriving home, even though I was hanging with 150+ motorcycle adventurers, most of whom I’d never met. This was the fifth Horizons Unlimited USA meeting that I’ve gone to in the past four years. Those regular TRT readers will remember that it was the 2008 HU meeting in Silverton, Colorado that started this whole “we gotta get out of here” thing for KR and me. This s a meeting of, for and by serious adventure bikers.
For those of us who dream of adventure travel on a motorcycle, there isn’t a more interesting group of people to hang with. For those who don’t have such dreams, this might be a painful weekend. I was even smiling while watching Grant Johnson (the founder of HU) give his “how to change a tire” seminar for the fifth time. Knowing the right wrench to break “the bead” during a tire change is interesting:) Over a two day period, there were about 50 presentations on everything from trip reports to how-to-tune your suspension. This is heaven, beaten only by actually taking a trip on a m/c.
I counted no fewer than ten people/couples who had or were in the process of traveling around the world on their motorcycle. That’s a pretty high concentration even among a group of 100+hardcore adventure bikers. These meetings become destinations for people in the middle of their trip. There “local” travelers from North America on their way to South America and points East and West. There were lots of accents around the dinner table too with bikers from Wales, Australia, France, and Spain, among others. This year’s crew was noticeably different than past years’, as the age mix was broader and there were a lot of families with children.
I felt a bit like a charlatan amongst this crew as we’ve not taken a serious bike trip since South America, almost 18 months ago. Yet, I was asked to give two presentations this year. One was the “2 Up, 9000 Miles in 90 Days” presentation on our South America trip that I’d given last year. For some reason, this year’s presentation was given to a standing-room-only crowd and got lots of laughs and questions. It was a lot better feeling than giving an LACI presentation to a group of politicians in LA.
I had to write a new presentation for this meeting, “Rewiring Your Life for Travel: A Work in Progress” which I was pretty apprehensive about because I didn’t feel much like a real expert in Rewiring. I wondered if anyone would come as it wasn’t about the fun stuff of travel, but the more mundane part of getting your act together so you can travel. I was really surprised with a standing room only crowd and lots of applause again. I even picked up a new consulting client for TPG from the audience!
Friday, May 25 Cortez, CO to Roxborough Park, CO – 365 miles in 7 ½ hours: This day, I changed clothes several times as I wound my way higher and higher up into the Rockies. At first, the day was clear and sunny, but soon clouds rolled in and it got colder, so I upgraded to sweater and jeans. Up and up and when I reached Telluride, ominous black clouds surrounded me and I began to wonder how “One-Eye” would handle in the snow. With no sun, the temperature plummeted amid the snow covered peaks, so a change of clothes again to windbreaker over my shirt and sweater all under a full rain jacket, rain pants and heavy Thinsulate riding gloves. But then, miraculously, the road veered away from the foreboding front and broke into blinding sunshine.
Here are two pictures taken literally 10 minutes apart. First looking into Telluride Pass and then as the road led me out of impending frostbite into a perfect day. First, Telluride Pass with the storm clouds closing in…
The rest of the trip to Denver was great. I arrived at the Hefners and had a nice chat with Diane’s 95 year young, sharp-as-a-tack Mom, Ruth while George and Diane attended their grand nephew’s high school graduation. After I’d showered and freshened up, George came back to take me to take me his sister’s house for a graduation party.
George looked great and we quickly rekindled our many years of friendship. George was the one of the primary reasons I’d decided on the University of Florida back in 1963 as well as why I became a Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother. His career in building and construction was apparent in their new beautifully finished home.
The dinner celebration gave me a chance to eat some great food that his sister Jill and her husband Jim had cooked up for the family. I know that waxing ecstatically about a “real home cooked meal”, after only two days on the road sounds ridiculous, but it sure tasted wonderful. I had seconds of everything, including desert! My diet took back seat to my desire for gratification after a couple of days of “riding along the razor’s edge on two wheels”. (Sorry, lame rationalization for pigging out).
George is a wonderful, honest and kind friend. And if Diane wasn’t so cute, sweet and funny, I’d worry about her need to have 4 (four) cats roaming the house and sneaking into sleep with me. I had a fun, but much too short visit with them.
Saturday May 26 Denver, CO to Colby, KS – 254 Miles in 4 Hours: My “Northern Route” solution started to fall apart as soon as I left the safety of the Hefner’s. Eastern Colorado shouldn’t really be part of that beautiful state. It became flat, very fast and what started out to be a nice day turned scary. With no trees and featureless prairie stretching to the horizon in all directions, there’s nothing to stop the wind on Interstate 70. Wind? Sorry, hurricane gusts.
I’d noticed online that Hurricane “Bud” was swirling off the coast of West Mexico messing with the Jet Stream.
The advancing edges apparently reached all the way to where helpless little Sam was trying to get home to North Carolina.
Now, if you’re riding a Honda Pacific Coast, one of the cool things is the entire motorcycle is enclosed in plastic. One of the not so cool things is that the entire bike becomes a massive, unyielding “sail” when the winds hit it from either side. Well I-70 goes as straight east as a ruler. And “Bud” was hurling balls of airborne energy at it (and me and “One-Eye”) from exactly 90 degrees on our right side. Now, normally with the Pacific Coast, if you have a side wind, you simply relax, let up on the handlebars and let the bike lean 5 or 10 degrees to either side and simply “heel over” like a sailboat.
I was used to sailing from my days with Daddy on the Chesapeake and Manatee River as well as during the years I owned sailboats on San Francisco Bay. I knew “heeling”.
But this challenge was nothing like that. On bays and rivers, the wind was generally consistent and you’d just heel over to port or starboard and haul ass. On I-70 it was unusual and brutal. It was giant blasts of buffeting… totally unpredictable. One second it would be calm and then a 30 mph air hammer would twist “One-Eye” over to the left… and then immediately let up.
Centrifugal force would instantly overcorrect the bike and we would slam over right in the other direction all within a second. From the rear, we must have looked like a giant “Weeble” doll weaving all over the highway.
Now imagine hours of this. Hands clinched in death grips on the handlebars with your body and bike being shoved all over the highway.
Now, normally, on a four lane divided superhighway this is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous. But as I left Colorado and entered Kansas, the first hour they were working on I-70 and had closed it down to two lanes with only flimsy rubber cones separating me and “One-Eye” from the oncoming lane of cars and tractor trailers, all coming toward us at 70 mph. “Bud” kept blowing us toward them. I thought it couldn’t get worse (unless it rained). But after about 3 hours of this hell, the wind actually picked UP (gusts to 40 mph). Then the wind started literally picking US up and sliding our entire 900 pounds 3 feet sideways toward the next lane. There’s nothing I could do but hold on for dear life. I figured it was time to call it a day. Actually during the last 30 minutes that I was hunkered down with my chest plastered against the gas tank trying to lower my wind profile, I honestly was going to pull into the next gas station, take a cab to the nearest airport and have that Motorcycle Transportation Service I’d first looked into come and get “One-Eye” and give it a free ride to Hendersonville…without me.
But, I was looking for adventure, wasn’t I? (And I would have never heard the end of it from Fred). So, after only 4 hours of hell, I pulled off in Colby, KS and found a Choice hotel with a pool so I could soak out the tension frozen into my body.
That night, as I was cozily in bed watching TV, the Kansas Weather Alert System broke into our favorite program “The Big Bang Theory” to warn our county that a 70 mph storm was blowing in from the south bringing blinding dust storms accompanied with quarter-sized hail. We’ll I was safe inside my “Comfort Inn”…until the power went out in the motel and the entire town…twice, for about an hour as the devil whirled and shrieked outside.
I peeked out to check on “One-Eye”…but it was GONE!. The dust storm was so dense, I couldn’t’ see a foot out the window…a tourist attraction Kansas has been famous for since we stripped all her topsoil off to farm.
Sunday May 27, Colby, KS to Blackwell, OK – 354 Miles in 5 ½ Hours: The next morning, “One-Eye” looked like it had been left out in an old field for 40 years. It was covered stem to stern with a thick coating of fine Kansas dust. Every crack, seam and switch, the seat and windshield were all brown. I was too shocked to even take a picture before I used all my motel’s clean towels to coax it back to “Honda Pearl White” from “Kansas Prairie Nightmare Brown”.
My smartphone weather still warned of high winds, but I was an “Adventure Motorcyclist”. So I persevered, suited up and took off. More hours along I-70 proved to be just more upper body isometrics trying to keep old “One-Eye” going in a semblance of a straight line and avoid both of us playing a game of “Chicken” with a 53 foot Wal-Mart truck.
Finally I gave up. I figured if I turned due south, directly into the wind, it should be better. So, half way through Kansas I took a 90 degree right on a secondary road heading for Wichita and then mercifully Oklahoma. (My wind-addled mind convinced me the wind would magically stop at the Oklahoma border.)
The rest of the day was a godsend versus the last day. The Pacific Coast was designed in a wind tunnel to be aerodynamic. And as long as the wind was coming from the front, it was. Once out of the fury, I thought back to my high school English and thought of Joyce Kilmer. Why?
“I think that I shall never see a poem so lovely as a tree”.
Trees, they make all the difference when there’s wind. They provide a needed barrier to it and make the trip much easier. Kansas has NO trees. I’m not sure what that barren state’s redeeming value is, but if it has one, I didn’t find it. My night was spent was just over the border, safe, in Blackwell, Oklahoma.
I had kept Larry and Sally Gordon up to date on my progress as I made my way toward them in Kansas City. I had already informed them I was going to be a day late when “Bud” slowed me down in western KS. But when I turned south and gave up on Kansas, I had to admit I couldn’t make it to eastern side of their fine state and what would have been an enjoyable time together. At least we’ll be able to see them in January back in Bradenton.
Monday May 28 Blackwell, OK to Conway, AR – 354 Miles in 5 ½ hours: Well, the wind didn’t stop completely in Oklahoma but it was much, much better and I started to enjoy the trip again. What impressed me about Oklahoma were the sparrows (or swifts or purple martins). As I sped through under every overpass, swarms of birds would swoosh out from their night perches and zip back and forth in front of me. Not wanting a new ornament for my helmet, I had to duck down behind the windshield as I went under each one. Man, there are a lot of overpasses in Oklahoma. I made it to Arkansas just outside of Little Rock that night.
By the way, why do they pronounce Kansas “Can’s Ass” and Arkansas “Ark Can’s Saw”? Why not “Ark Can’s Ass”? The things you occupy your mind with as you trek for hours across the country by yourself can be often be surreal…and stupid.
Tuesday May 29 Conway, AR to Lebanon, TN – 402 Miles in 6 ½ Hours: OK, now I’m making good miles once more with no wind. I’ve gotten just east of Memphis and am getting excited about seeing Jill and being home again.
But one of my benefactors Fred is upset with me because he thinks differently about motorcycling. He and Karen just finished a 9,000 mile trip on their BMW motorcycle around South America through 7 countries.
But to him, I’m just a wuss just going through 7 states on nice highways where everyone speaks English (mostly) and where gas, food and beds are easy to find.
He suggests I stop in Memphis to “See the King” and then on to Nashville and down to New Orleans to “Hear the Blues”.
I just want to get home to my loving wife and warm bed where there’s no wind.
On leaving Conway, I finally get on I-40 (which I could have taken a few miles from Peter’s in Arizona and avoided all the drama.) Remember my brilliant plan to avoid “Hot” southern routes like I-40? But I would have missed all the fabulous motorcycling and scenery in the west and the Hefners…and the neat near-death experience. Oh well, it was supposed to be an adventure, wasn’t it?
Wednesday May 30 Lebanon, TN to Hendersonville, NC – 278 Mile in 4 ¾ Hours: I wake up to dense fog. Once again I can hardly see the bike outside the motel room. Wait an hour for it to lift. It does a little, so I get on the bike and head back up to the Interstate. My visor immediately fogs over so I lift it. Bad idea. My glasses then fog over just as I’m getting to the I-40 ramp. So I slam the visor down and luckily it clears up just as I’m merging with traffic off the ramp. I guess I was too anxious to get home.
The fog lasted about an hour, but wasn’t dangerous because all the cars were taking it easier. The thick curling mist gave way to a beautiful day and perfect riding weather.
Tennessee’s Interstate 40 all from the Arkansas border in the west to the North Carolina border in the east has the smoothest, best road surface I experienced the entire trip. I soon learned how they probably financed it.
In all the previous states, I had seen 3 cop cars. As soon as I entered Tennessee at Memphis to the eastern mountains, I counted at least 30 local and state patrol cruisers picking off tourists like aardvarks pick off ants. Well, it was Memorial Week and there might have been a special bounty. But it sure kept me under the speed limit on my last leg of the adventure.
As I entered North Carolina, I honked “One-Eye’s” horn and yelled. The lush green mountains and rolling mountains welcomed me home. I took the long way over the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway. And in a few hours I was hugging Jill who had balloons out for my return and my favorite meal waiting for dinner. I parked faithful, trusty “One-Eye” by the lake and went inside to collapse.
A special thanks to my long time and very extraordinary friends Fred Walti and Jack Hetherington for your generous gift and making your old motorcycling buddy feel young again.
You are great pals and both important parts of who I am today.
Sam Hershfield, Senior Adventure Cyclist
Lake Rugby, Hendersonville, NC June 2, 2012
Monday, May 21 Hendersonville, NC to Phoenix, AZ: We locked up the cabin and piled everything into the Prius. Jill dropped me off at Greenville, SC airport (GSP) and drove on east to Folly Beach, SC for a few days with her son Darren, daughter in law Patty and grandkids Davis and Kate. Of course, Delta makes me pay $25 to check even one piece of luggage, the large duffle to PHX. As the plane was boarding, they announce they were so full, they would check any other baggage for free. So I walked on with only my helmet which drew lots of strange stares and some vicarious grins.
Jack picked me up in Phoenix and took me back to their lovely home in Scottsdale. We had a relaxing and fun evening where we rehashed old times over dinner and brought each other up to date on our families. Jack and Janet are one of the few couples that have known all my 4 wives over the decades. They met Jill on our last trip to Phoenix. Jack has been an important person in my life. He was the reason I finally left Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove, my first agency after 10 years when he got me an interview with his agency, Chicago-based Needham, Harper & Steers. It got me out of spending the rest of my ad career in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh…to beautiful downtown Dayton, Ohio (in the worst winter in its history). But it started me on a voyage through some of America’s best ad Agencies. But that’s another story. I felt really lucky to have had Jack as a good friend for many years and many jobs. Thanks Jack!
Tuesday, May 22 Scottsdale, AZ to Peoria, AZ: Still being on EST, I woke up at 5 and tiptoed around loading “One-Eye”. When he awoke, I embarrassedly asked Jack to UPS the big expensive duffle (remember: which I’d paid Delta to fly to PHX) back to NC with all the stuff I couldn’t store on or in “One-Eye”. Add on another $41.50. Brilliant pre-planning Sam!
My Google Weather search had told me that Phoenix was going to have one of the hottest days of the entire summer the day I was to take off…112 degrees. As Jack and I sat having our coffee on his calming cool patio watching all the doves, quail and hummingbirds he feeds, he read the paper and told me not to worry; it was only going to get to 108, just balmy and my brother always reminds me, “It’s a dry heat!”…so is sticking your head in an oven.
My dear brother Peter and his wife Aneth live across Phoenix in a town called Peoria. I definitely wanted to spend time with them. So my first leg was only about a half hour from Scottsdale to Peoria. I used my Verizon Navigator on my smartphone with earphones into my helmet. It worked well and when Peter called my phone to ask where I was, I told him “right at your doorstep”. He opened the door to find me there, ready for some air conditioning. I spent a very pleasant time with them and Aneth cooked us a yummy dinner. We took some of the time re-examining many of my father’s multitude of files that Peter’s been dutifully storing since Dad and Mom’s deaths. There is so much wonderful work and memories I feel there’s so much I yet have to accomplish to do his life and unique, famous career justice. But that’s another story.
Wednesday, May 23 Peoria, AZ to the Tusayan, AZ – 260 Miles in 5 ½ hours: After loading up “One-Eye” and my belly with breakfast I took off northwest out the heat to the Arizona mountains. The GPS on my brand new Verizon LG Lucid Smartphone stopped working, but that too is another story, and not a good one, but, on with the adventure. My first day was driving in the escalating Phoenix heat toward northern Arizona mountains to the Grand Canyon, which was my hoped for goal for Day One.
Jack, Fred and I had been to the Grand Canyon on one or more motorcycle trips. Here’s Jack lying face down at the “Four Corners” monument (CO/AZ/UT/NM) with each limb in a different state. We were such characters then.
I wound my way up through Prescott (Jack made sure I pronounced it correctly “Presskit”. It became cooler as I gained altitude and I even had to put on a windbreaker as the mountain air thinned out. From the curving mountain road, the shimmering Arizona desert lay far below. It felt good to be back on a motorcycle. “One-Eye” hummed along smartly (and even “growled” a little) as I cut through the mountain passes as I remembered what Fred taught me: how to pick a line through a curve, let up on the handlebars and let the bike lean into the turn and apply throttle to pull out of the bend. I smiled and thanked Fred and Jack for their gift with each turn.
At the top of that range was the old mining town of Jerome built vertically up in the mountains, quaint and realistic with a dramatic view down into the next valley. As I wound out of that valley, I curved through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon with a roaring river and sweet smelling pines and cottonwoods on both sides. One of the best motorcycle roads of the trip. But, there’s more…
At the top of Oak Creek Canyon was the very different and even more dramatic scenery of Sedona. I’d been there several times before, but getting there in the late afternoon, the sun was illuminating the famous impressive Red Rocks that encircle the town. Art studios seem to take up every other store on the main street, pretty fabulous place to visit. But you’d better off leaving your American Express card behind.
I kept climbing up through passes to Flagstaff which is at 7000 feet. I’d climbed over a mile vertically since leaving Peter’s. As I turned onto the main street I was stunned by the impressive range of the 12,000 foot snow-capped San Francisco Peak Mountains to the north teasing me about my next day’s ride.
I’d hoped to get to the Grand Canyon my first day and I did…almost. I got to Tusayan, the tourist town at the entrance to the park. I’d been to the Grand Canyon several times and didn’t really need to go again…or so I thought.
Doubting I’d get that far, I’d brilliantly hadn’t made a reservation. So I stopped at a few Tusayan motels. All booked. One of the clerks informed me high season had started the week before and they were all booked up. But maybe, just maybe the Best Western might have a room. I crammed my helmet back on and hauled ass across the street to get the last room in town. I paid $144 for it. Of course, not one of my Choice chain and twice my “budget” and definitely nothing special, but hey, it was a room and I’d ridden a long time since Phoenix. So, I treated myself to a steaming hot bath to soak my tired old body after sitting in the saddle all day. It felt great and gave me a daily solution (sorry, bad pun) to keep my aging aching joints and parts from making the rest of the trip a pain the ass…literally.
Thursday, May 24: Tusayan, AZ to Cortez, CO – 300 Miles in 6 hours: Starting early is key to a trip like this and my body’s mixed up time zones made that easy. The second day I had to put on warmer clothes in the nippy mountain air. By the way, motorcycles eventuate cold or heat at high speeds, even though I’m cowering behind a large windshield. The wind, blistering or freezing curls its way around the Plexiglas and supercharges up your sleeves, under your jacket or up your pant legs. But cool was highly preferable to the microwaving my body had gotten in lower Arizona’s 100+ heat.
Since I’d seen the Grand Canyon, I thought I’d just continue on AZ Route 64 out of Tusayan on to Colorado. But, guess what? The only way to Colorado on 64 was to go through Grand Canyon Park. Cars are charged $25 for entrance; as a motorcycle, I was only charged $12 just to use the road. But since I was early in the morning before the throngs of other tourists like me arrived, I spent some time walking around the south rim. I’d forgotten how spectacular this wound of nature was, truly breathtaking. I thought of Annie as I absorbed the beauty and wished she’d been with me…at least for this part.
The road out of the park was gorgeous, made even better with the cool, crisp weather. I rode for miles and miles through the pine forest with the Grand Canyon on my left until the Colorado River dropped down and cut intricate patterns into the plateau that led toward Colorado.
But before I got to Colorado, there was a side trip I wanted to make again up into Utah to Monument Valley. Driving into it is hard to describe. You’re in the barren desert and in the distance you see what look like small statues.
As you get closer you see they are massive rocks carved by wind and water to leave an art gallery unmatched anywhere in the world. Some of the eroded mountains look as if a sculptor had carved them into likenesses of giant throned kings. Others seemed to be impregnable fortresses rising hundreds of feet straight up.
What struck me all along, at least in the west, was the diversity of types of rocks, terrain and foliage. From uniquely carved granite to sandstone, from vertical to absolutely flat, from sagebrush blowing across the road to giant stands of pine and gorgeous aspens.
Soon I was climbing up again into the Rockies and spent my second night on the road in Cortez, Colorado.
The Process: Unlike other trips, I thought I’d plan this trip day-to-day. So the first thing, after my sumptuous Choice Hotel “hot” breakfast was to look at the map and pick a destination and route.
The next step, suiting up (and un-suiting for each stop) is quite the chore.
- First the clothes, which based on the weather projected for the day often changed dramatically requiring a change (or even two) mid day.
- Light windbreaker or long sleeve shirt and light “transformer” pants for hotter days. (Never shorts or short sleeves due to potential for serious sun and wind burn, to say nothing of what would happen in a fall).
- Jeans and heavy long shirt or jacket in the cooler morning or mountain stretches.
- Then socks and tall leather zip up and velcroed motorcycle boots. (Never short shoes because ankle support is critical when you put your left foot down at each stop heeling over and balancing a 2 wheeled machine weighing almost 900 pounds with you, gas and luggage).
- Then ear plugs (Wind noise, even with the best full face helmet with the face shield locked down can be tiring at 75+ mph all day).
- Then the helmet, locking the chin strap buckle and snapping the strap on a clip (So it doesn’t flap around and beat you senseless).
- Then glasses (with clip on sunglasses in addition to the dark tinted face shield, necessary when riding directly into the sun in the morning sun as I traveled due East).
- Finally light riding gloves. Whew! I’m tired again just writing this.
Luggage had its own process.
- First, every night each of the three bags had to be unmounted and unpacked to expose toiletries, next day’s clothes, electronics like netbook, cell and computer charging cords.
- The next morning everything had to be repacked, placing the previous day’s clothes in the dirty clothes bag and clean ones in the clean clothes bag.
- Then, refilling up the storage bag that went inside the bike’s right trunk. (The left side was for rain suit and heavier clothes).
- Then strapping on the back duffle bag with two bungee cords. Then clipping on the tank bag with four quick clips already mounted to the gas tank.
- Then put in the key, hit the ignition, pull in the left hand clutch lever, click the left foot-operated transmission down into first gear (it has 5 forward gears and no, it doesn’t have a reverse) then let out the clutch.
- And I was finally on my way.
For each gas stop I had to:
- Have to put the side stand down first, get off, turn off the engine, take off your gloves, glasses, then helmet, pull the entire bike up on the heavy stable center stand, undo the rear two quick clips to move the tank bag out of the way of the gas compartment door, open the gas cap and fill the bike.
- (Making sure NOT to let it overflow all over the bike). I used high octane 93 grade all the way. I could really feel a difference in pickup versus 89 grade.
- Then clean the bugs off the windshield and face shield.
- Then reverse the process and ride for another hour or so only to repeat it all over again.
The Communications: Smartphones make it all easier these days. I called Jill every night to reassure her she wasn’t a widow and tell her about my day’s trip. I also Skyped Fred (on my new phone, we could see real time video of each other) and I called Jack and other friends and family to give them updates. I also used it for weather, navigation, restaurants and to make motel reservations.
The Shopping: When you haven’t ridden for a decade and moved around the world, most of your motorcycle stuff is sold, lost or rotten. Remarkably, most states I was travelling through don’t require helmets. But I didn’t think it was fair to make Jill have to feed me through a tube, change my Depends and wipe off my drool. That will come soon enough…So I promised I’d wear a helmet.
Much to my dismay, I found my very expensive helmet from my old motorcycling days was a smelly, mildewed, mess filled with a hornet’s nest in the storage shed and useless. When I started shopping I found that choosing the right one is a hell of a lot more complex these days with many a myriad of formats, styles, brands, colors, graphics, levels of Department of Transportation/Snell safety ratings and prices (from $50 to over $600).
So, I bought a conservative solid grey “safe” full face helmet (versus one of the silly Nazi WWII helmets you see Harley riders wearing, or Beanies that only cover the very top of your skull, or the high tech modulars that flip up so you can drink your Starbucks without de-helmeting or ¾ helmets that don’t protect your chin).
My expensive old Triumph motorcycle boots had suffered through too many baking summers and freezing winters in storage units all over the country and were falling apart but salvageable with a little black duct tape. Classy aren’t they?
I unearthed my long underwear which I might need in the mountains. But my neat rain suit now had holes in it (didn’t know moths liked plastic). And my two old serious motorcycle jackets were black and heavy and would be oppressive in the desert. In addition, as I’d decided that to increase my chance of survival, I now needed Hi-Visibility clothes, so I bought a new lighter weight two piece rain suit with 3M reflective stripes to make me stand out.
As usual, I totally over packed and ended up with two big duffle bags full of clothes, gear and my helmet. My plan was to put as much as I could in the trunk and on the bike, strapped onto the passenger seat behind me or in the tank bag strapped in front of me. I planned to throw out the older duffle in Phoenix. No such luck!
First, I forgotten the size of the Pacific Coast and the larger, newer duffle was simply too big and blocked my rear view mirrors. So I’d have to use the crappy older one and leave behind the cool one and some of my more unnecessary clothes and gear in Phoenix.
The bike: Jack had kept “One-Eyed Jack” (named ignominiously after a harmless “tip-over” that left one side light damaged on one of our early long distance rides together) in fabulous shape. With less than 11,000 miles in almost a quarter of a century, it was virtually a new bike. Here’s a picture of me and Jack with “One-Eye” all loaded up as I leave his house on my adventure.
Jack was kind enough to have it fully serviced before I got there. But even that was a challenge. It seems that none of the modern Honda motorcycle dealers will touch a bike that’s 23 years old and that hasn’t been made by Honda for almost two decades. All the Phoenix authorized dealers refused to service it. So I joined the IPCRC (Internet Pacific Coast Rider’s Club) and sent a plaintive cry out on the owners’ forum.
I immediately found a highly recommended independent service guy in Phoenix named “Frenchie” at Cyclewerks of Tempe. He was great! He checked the tires, engine, replaced all of “One-Eye’s” fluids, filters and tightened everything. He” then declared it fit for the trip across the country.
Of course I had to insure the bike (Progressive had the best coverage) and get it registered in North Carolina (Easy when your pal Jack sends you the notarized AZ title). Meanwhile, Jill searched for a life insurance policy for $100 million in case I became a hood ornament on an 18-wheeler somewhere in mid-Oklahoma.
I was set to ride.
Two of my best friends, Fred Walti and Jack Hetherington, who I’d worked with at various ad agencies over the last 4 decades secretly gotten together and gave me a gift: An “old” motorcycle that Jack had owned for years. He’d decided to sell it and he and Fred conspired to get me straddling a two wheeler again since we’d ridden together for years and I had fallen out of the “biking brotherhood”. It had been about 10 years since I’d owned a motorcycle.
My Love Affair with Motorcycles: I’ve owned and enjoyed many over the years, starting in 1964 at the University of Florida when our new little family’s only form of transportation was a tiny single cylinder 80cc Yamaha YZ80. But in 1967, with Susie working one job and me two it allowed us to move up to a “giant” 100cc two cylinder. Either was an awkward mode of transportation for a young couple with a baby.
Then, in the late 60’s, following the move to Pittsburgh for my first advertising job and unconscionable salary (I think it was $8,800 per year), I bought a “real bike”, a 500cc BMW R50. Interestingly, those same years, we also owned a BMW 2002 coupe (which our combined BMW automotive/motorcycle dealer loved!).
In the early 70’s, when my ad agency transferred me across the country to Los Angeles, my Japanese client, Yamaha Motor, felt embarrassed when I showed up on a German bike at their headquarters for meetings. So they graciously loaned me a new Yamaha of my choice every year I managed their account. First was a high tech, dual overhead cam TX 500 2 cylinder, then a XS2 650 which was modeled after the famous old Triumph Bonneville, but totally redesigned, to start and run consistently, not leak oil and have the electrics that actually worked.
Finally I had their largest bike at the time, the TX 750. I’d never had so much power. They were great bikes and a great client.
Sadly, I had to give them all up when my agency moved us back across the country to Washington, DC. Over the next decade we moved back to Pittsburgh, to Dayton, New York, Boston and San Francisco. During all those years, my bike was a very unique BMW R65LS, a 650cc “café racer” styled horizontally opposed twin cylinder.
When I finally ended up in LA again, our agency had originally represented the Honda account. It was there I saw a print ad for what was the sexiest bike I thought I had ever seen: the brand new 1989 Honda Pacific Coast.
It was an 800cc V-twin touring bike, configured just like a Harley, but with a few differences: It was totally “faired”, meaning it had a sleek, thermoplastic body surrounding it so you couldn’t see the engine. Honda had its car division design a fairing that was aerodynamic and amazingly included a built in, waterproof, lockable TRUNK that could hold two helmets or a briefcase or even groceries!
And unlike a Harley, it was whisper-quiet, technologically advanced with liquid cooling, hydraulically adjusting valves, front disc brake, automobile-style gauges and switches (including self-cancelling turn signals) and featured a driveshaft instead of an oily chain.
Honda had created it for the first-time rider Yuppie who had too much money and the desire for a high tech, maintenance-free motorcycle you could just jump on and ride. It was a great concept, but America was just beginning the Harley revival. Most motorcyclists wanted to see, hear and feel the throb of the old retro, totally exposed, and highly chromed V-twin engine that had been around since the turn of the century. Its detractors (usually Harley Riders) often scoffed at the Pacific Coast and gave it derogatory names like “Porta-Potty on Wheels” or “Scooter on Steroids” (Because it would go 105 mph). The PC’s death knell was that Honda didn’t adequately judge the power of the retro bike wave. On top of that, they priced it at over $8600 which was one hell of a lot of money those days. You could buy a car for that back then. So, they originally cancelled the PC’s production after the 1990 model year. But a growing rabid and powerful owner group convinced them to bring it back from 1994 until 1998 when they retired it forever. There has never been a bike like it since.
I was enchanted and bought one of the early ‘89s in white (they only came in one color each model year). I named it “Whitey” and put many miles on it, including a solo trip from Los Angeles to Alaska and many trips with my friend and co-worker Fred Walti.
Naturally, Fred was jealous of my “Adventure Cycle” so he bought a red 1990 Pacific Coast which he named “Ruby”. Fred was an ex motorcycle racer and one hell of a rider. I learned much of what I now know about how to ride from him.
When the Pacific Coast was reintroduced in the 1995 model year in black, we traded our ’89 and ‘90 for two new ones… together on the same day. Over the following years, we took many trips all over the west, to Baja and even camped out on a three week long tour around the entire Yucatan peninsula with our wives visiting the Mayan/Aztec ruins.
Jack Hetherington also lusted after our Pacific Coasts and while he lived in Chicago, he bought a 1989 similar to my first one. In later years when we all lived in Los Angeles, Fred, Jack and I took trips to places like Denver and the Rockies on our three Pacific Coasts.
After years as a Pacific Coaster, much to Fred’s dismay, I traded my PC for a sleek, powerful, very fast new Triumph Trophy 1200 four cylinder. But after I bought it, my years living in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai and New York, left me little time for motorcycling and finally I sold it and ended almost 35 years of motorcycling…or so I thought.
Fred never forgave me for leaving the Pacific Coast family and still owns his “Black Beauty” to this day. Neither are particularly pretty or in good shape, but they’ve stayed loyal to each other. Here’s proof.
Jack kept his PC until after he retired to Scottsdale, AZ and rode it occasionally. But this 23 year old bike only had 10,575 miles on it when Jack finally decided to sell it. He called Fred and me and asked what we thought it was worth. A few months later, to my shock and excitement, they went in together to give me a gift in my 67th year, Jack’s Pacific Coast. All I had to do was to get it from Phoenix back to in Hendersonville, NC where we spend summers at our cabin. So finally, here’s the adventure you’ve be patiently waiting to read. First, the details of everything that went into making this journey.
WTF? My first reaction was to be astounded by such an expensive and thoughtful gift from my two dear old motorcycle buddies. The second was concern that it had been such a long time since I’d ridden and I feared my stamina and reflexes weren’t what they’d use to be. So I looked into having the bike shipped from AZ to NC. It wasn’t bad (about $500) door to door. But Fred got angry at me and shamed me into riding it all the way.
The Passengers: Jill and I may have dated in high school, but we lived most of our lives separately with others for 40 years. So she never saw or was part of my motorcycle life. And over the years, she’s never been a motorcycle rider.
I think this was one of the only times she was on a motorcycle. Our friend Bill Mullis loaned us one of his Harley’s for a short NC ride. When I told her I’d decided to ride the bike back, we confirmed it wasn’t something she’d be comfortable with as a passenger. But she was wonderful and encouraged me to go alone. A supportive wife, especially in an adventure as potentially dangerous as this trip is something I’m so thankful for with Jill. So I was going alone…until I told my daughter Annie about it. (Remember the little baby on the Yamaha on the first page?)
Annie’s now 45 and going through a “mid-life adventure phase”. She literally jumped through the phone at the chance for a “Travels with Daddy” adventure on the back of a motorcycle across the U.S. We both got excited…for a while.
After a week, I started worrying about what would happen to my beautiful daughter (on the right), her partner Betsy, and my grandchildren Cooper and Sadie if we had an accident and something happened to her. If I survived, I’d feel horribly responsible. So I called her and apologized for getting her excited only to dash her hopes of a chance to see the Grand Canyon for the first time plus the unique chance and way for us to spend time together.
But, after parts of this trip, I called her and told her how happy she should be she didn’t come on an “adventure” that turned out to have a few very uncomfortable and dangerous days…I hope she forgives me.
The Route: So I started planning my trip. Google Maps said it would be just 31 hours to ride it the most direct route straight back from Phoenix on Interstate 40. Now, in my younger years, I’d done as much as over 1,000 miles in one day riding straight from Seattle to LA at 85 mph on Interstate 5. But that was LONG time ago when my body was much younger. So I decide to take it easier and safer. If I could stand 6 hours in the saddle, I might make about 400 miles per day. The PC has a 4.2 gallon tank and gets about 50 miles a gallon. But, in deference to my aging back and ass, I planned to fill up, re-hydrate (and, of course, de-hydrate) every 80-100 miles.
Also, it was summer and wasn’t it just too damned hot on the southern routes like I-10 and I-40? And on top of that, I wanted to ride in the Rockies again.
So, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant way to avoid the heat. I planned a big detour going straight north from Phoenix and then east, adding almost an additional 1,000 miles to the trip.
But, as a plus, I’d get to visit my old high school, college and fraternity pal, George Hefner and his wife, Diane south of Denver. Further east, I could visit another high school friend, Larry Gordon and his wife Sally outside of Kansas City, Kansas.
This turned out to be a BAD decision given the unique weather patterns that were hitting the US and Mexico the week I took off…More on that later.
The Accommodations: I decided to pick one motel chain and get frequent sleeper rewards. I nether needed nor wanted to pay for Ritz-Carltons each night when all I required was a shower and a bed.
So I chose Choice Hotels, an account my agency Grey Worldwide had represented. It had many different brands to chose from (Econolodge, Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, etc.) guaranteeing me a room in most towns.
My goal was to stay in the $70 range. As I learned, depending on the brand and age of motel I stayed in, the quality of my actual accommodations was wide. Nothing scary, but some rooms had definitely “been ridden hard and put away wet”. But some were quite nice with big screen TVs, pools, hot breakfasts, business centers and fitness rooms (no, after 8 hours riding each day I didn’t work out, even though I packed my gym clothes… with good intentions).
Read Part 2…
Whereupon We Rediscover Our Inner Biker Selves
A lot of miles have rolled under the tires since our last motorcycle trip twelve years ago. For the first ten years of our marriage, traveling by motorcycle was our preferred way of transportation. We saw Alaska, Mexico, and most of the Western U.S. two-up on our bike. Like most everyone, though, we slowed down and grew round(er). We gradually upgraded in size and number of wheels, getting a VW camper van and the infamous Sportsmobile. My two wheel Biker Dude days pretty much ended way back in 1996.
Then a couple of months ago my Biker Dude inner self raised its voice as I told KR that I was riding the bike to Silverton, Colorado to attend some adventure biker convention. I asked if she cared to come and “you’re not leaving me behind!” was her response. Typical.
In the back of our minds we wondered if we could re-find the thrill of being two up on a bike. I’m older, fatter, and slower now. KR spent three months recuperating from a broken back not that many years ago. And our bike, “Broken Arrow,” was thirteen years and 36,000 miles old. Could this crew handle another run?
Expectations were low.
Old steed? It takes a brave man to publish a picture like this. Preparation for our eleven-day trip consisted of pulling the old camping equipment out of the garage, trying to remember how to tie it all on to Broken Arrow (BA), and checking the tire pressure. Since I ride BA most everyday as a commuter bike, I knew he would at least run.
Itinerary planning consisted of KR telling me we were going straight (east), not up (north) the night before our trip. “Great,” I told the Little Woman, “but do you realize this would put us in the hottest parts of the country in July?” It apparently didn’t register, but I wasn’t about to argue since we were going on a ride again and I long ago learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m thinking, how bad could it get? If we go east we could go to Prescott, Arizona and see our friends Bob and Joy Wilson on the first night.
We were ready, Rutherford/Walti style. Which is to say, “When shit happens, we’ll deal with it.”
The answer to the above question, “how bad could it get,” is REAL BAD. Most of the first day was spent in 120+degree heat, which made it the hottest temperature that I’ve ever been outside in. KR came close to having a heatstroke (no kidding), saved in part by the Denny’s in Blythe, California (right). We got lucky and were literally nursed back by the World’s Most Friendly Waitress ever to work in a place like Blythe. We went close to 4