This saga began long before any of this actually came together. My buddy Dave and I schemed a TransAmerica Trail trip over Facebook one night while I sat kicking back whiskeys in a hotel bar in Pune, India. Dave on the other had much less enjoyable surroundings as he sat in a dorm on a drilling rig off the coast of Angola in 2012. A lot has happened since then; needless to say I’ve waited until the last possible minute to start a site documenting this adventure. Another decision made while drinking.
“I’ve got it! I need to document all of this!” A little late there James…
Since this is last minute it felt like a “How we got here” post was in order so it didn’t seem like this was all happening in a vacuum. So here it goes:
In late January 2016 I sat in a 1:1 meeting with my manager. These are monthly things; with the purpose of touching base on various issues that have come up over the course of the month. That’s when I dropped the bomb.
Now, asking for ALL of your vacation at once is a pretty lofty proposition. I’d recommend doing it WELL in advance and maybe even earlier if possible. However, by some sort of miracle it was approved. Five straight weeks, on the road; essentially a vagabond on a motorbike.
At that moment, I’m not terribly prepared. I have a Suzuki DR650 sitting in the garage, which I’ve affectionately named “The Doctor” and she is in pretty good shape, I think… And, well…that was really it.
The main reason for the gross lack of preparation? I didn’t actually expect that taking that much vacation time at once would be approved. What I expected was a list of very good (and I mean that sincerely) reasons why the powers at be couldn’t approve it. Followed by a few days spent explaining to myself why I was completely unprepared to take on such an endeavor anyway, and how it was probably for the best they declined my request.
That’s not where we were though; I’d just committed myself to riding a motorcycle I’ve never had in the dirt 6,000 miles off-road across the country. Oh and did mention Dave couldn’t make it now?
By the end of the weekend I’d built a massive spreadsheet documenting where, when and what I needed to accomplish by August 31.
I treaded pretty lightly at first, I started by buying small things. A couple tubes here, a rescue beacon there, new sets of brake pads. Cheap and easy stuff; things that made me feel like I was making progress even though I really wasn’t. The problem was that I hadn’t really built a multi-day kit for the bike yet. That was the plan when I bought her, to slowly turn her into a touring bike but hell; I’d only had her since Thanksgiving and now it was late January and I was actually doing this trip. Basically all I had was some pretty decent quality riding gear since we rode enduro on the weekends. I didn’t have an extensive tool kit, spare parts, reliable camping gear or proper camera equipment for documenting the whole thing.
I also didn’t really have a plan. Prior to asking for the time off I’d planned the whole trip really just out of boredom. I based the distances on gpskevin.com‘s breakout of stopping points and concluded I needed to do 167 miles a day if I had 39 days to complete it. That time frame would leave plenty enough time to include some rest days and buffer days at the end in case I got behind schedule.
I sold my level of planning and preliminary prep work confidently to management though, knowing I’d get to a full proof plan point before summer. If you know me personally or professionally I can imagine your surprise in reading how shot from the hip this was in the early stages.
Over the course of the next few months the lists grew longer and the Amazon boxes would pile higher. Panniers, a tank bag, spare parts, tripods, chargers, tent, sleeping bag, mess kit, stove, tools, maintenance chemicals; you name it, it was flowing in. Amazon Prime had paid for itself at least 2 times over. In addition to motorcycle stuff, I decided moving into a new apartment would be a good thing to add to an already hectic year (I never claimed I was smart). I hadn’t had a vacation day since November and by June I was burnt out completely.
I decided to take couple of weeks off and enjoy myself. The US Open was in town and I’d purchased tickets for my Dad and I for Christmas. That was a blast. I relaxed the whole next week and then spent the next weekend riding enduro bikes around local trails just getting my mind off things. However, that all soon ended and it was back to planning.
By that time I’d decided to do the trail West to East rather than the conventional East to West route. There was a variety of reasons behind this but there were 3 reasons in particular:
- Everyone says the eastern half is fine but the western part is truly amazing and I was nervous that I’d be burnt out and/or behind schedule before the end of Oklahoma. I didn’t want to be miserable or end up taking the super-slab past the best parts because I was tired.
- Every mile I rode would be a mile closer to home. Every day I’d be getting closer to home which provided piece of mind. It also made getting The Doctor back home cheaper and easier in the event of a major mechanical failure. Plus, if I was way behind schedule I wouldn’t mind as much catching up on the highway on the eastern portion of the trail.
- Did I mention I’m the nervous type? Well, all I was thinking about for the first few months planning was how in the hell I was going to get the bike on a truck and myself on a plane by October 8th. I had a plan, yes; but as they say, best laid plans… Since I was already stressed out over this I figured this would only get worse the 3rd or 4th week of September when I evaluated the remaining distances and found I needed to do 500 miles a day to make my flight in time. Getting all of the major logistics out of the way early would be a huge plus.
West-East it was then. I had to ship the bike regardless as I don’t have the time to ride back home from Oregon. It didn’t really matter if I did shipped at the beginning or the end of the trip really; the money was going to be spent regardless.
It was time to book shipping for The Doctor and my gear as well as figure out the logistics of getting there and getting my stuff once in Portland. I spoke with Kristina at Federal Motorcycle Transport about getting The Doctor out there. I’d go dock-dock from Cranberry, PA to Tualatin, OR and it needed to go by August 16th; $635. Yes, there are cheaper options, but the reviews for Federal were fantastic and the bike needed to be there before 8/31. I couldn’t just throw it on the lowest bidding truck on uShip and let it show up when the driver finally got around to the Portland metro area.
I dropped The Doctor off at the shipping dock 8/12 and is currently in transit to Portland.
Last tracking update said Columbus, OH. See the prep here.
I got a number of shipping quotes for my gear. UPS, USPS and Fedex; believe it or not Fedex was the cheapest, $91. My gear will go in a heavy-duty Lowes moving box size 24″x18″x18″, weighing 60 lbs. and have a claimed value of $1,500 for insurance purposes.
The logistics for shipping are slightly challenging though. Shipping from PA to OR is supposed to take 4 business days but it needed to arrive on or preferably before 8/31. I needed to do the Hold to Pickup option so I could swing by the Fedex location in Tualatin, OR after grabbing The Doctor from the dock, load her up and start heading towards Port Orford. Unfortunately, I found out this was not as simple as I’d thought.
Ideally, I would just ship the gear as early as possible and let it sit at Fedex until I got there 9/1. Except, Fedex Hold for Pickup, while a free and very convenient service, only lasts for 7 days. What happens after 7 days you might ask? Well, they ship the package back to where it came from; obviously a terrible, terrible outcome.
I could get it shipped back out to me, but that would be an 8 day turnaround. I could make it back up on the highway on the eastern part but I don’t really want to do that. I figure the timeline will look like this:
Ship the gear on my way home from work 8/22, which means it should arrive on 8/26 and that will ultimately mean that I have until 9/2 to pick it up. I think that’s the tightest I can walk that wire and will have to rely on how accurate Fedex’s shipping estimates are; though there is a 6 day buffer I guess.
I was able to get a great price on a one-way flight to Portland, $179 through Southwest Airlines. I then snagged up an awesome deal on an overnight place about 2 miles from PDX for 8/31-9/1 off Airbnb, $48. I call it the drug house because the house rules were pretty liberal sounding about that sort of thing.
They specified that smoking cigarettes indoors was prohibited and stressed that no “hard” drugs were allowed. I’ll let you interpret what that could mean. Doesn’t make a difference to me though, I’m just staying the night.
I need to peace out of there before 9 a.m. I think. Hopefully the jet lag isn’t too bad. Now I needed to figure out how to get around once I was there.
The general plan was this: Leave PIT at 6 p.m. EST on 8/31. Get in to PDX at 10 p.m. PST. Uber down to the Airbnb. Shuttle down to Tualatin from Portland on 9/1 (30 miles). However, the reality of that plan was this: $10 – $20 Uber to the Airbnb since it was 10 p.m. at night. Affordable shuttles all leave from the airport, so there’s another $10 -$20 to Uber back to PDX (rush hour now).
Hop on the shuttle, $55, and go to the dock where the bike was located in Tualatin. Grab the bike, ride to the Fedex location, set up the gear and head for the 101. Pretty pricey for all of that inconvenience and I’d need to carry on my helmet since Oregon has a helmet law. I’m generally against riding without a helmet, in fact I find it stupid actually. However, the Fedex location is 2 miles from when the bike got dropped off and considering the circumstances I’d just ride it without.
For whatever reason I decided to check one-way rental car rates one last time before booking the shuttle. I’d done this once before back in April, just to see what I’d be looking at to get around. At the time, Enterprise wanted $105 for a Kia Rio. No thanks, I’ll be miserable, save $15 and take the pain in the ass shuttle route. Hell, that’s 1 night at a campsite!
To my surprise, however, Enterprise apparently hadn’t booked enough cars for 8/31-9/1 and in-turn had severely discounted the price. That same Kia Rio was now $29. Booked. Logistical grand slam.
So that’s where we’re at as of this very moment. I leave in 14 days. The trip has come a long way since that night of drinking in a hotel bar in India in 2012. It’s gone from pipe dream to leaving in mere 14 days. What have I gotten myself into…