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Old 11-05-2007, 12:41 AM   #1
Demoni
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Road Trip to Death Valley & Zion NP

Preface
To get the hell out of Dodge. I have been camping with my family since I was 2yo and boy scouts for a few years. I realized that I had never been solo camping even though I am a bit of a loner. I decided my motorcycle would be the perfect instrument to make this trip a reality. Having successfully done a 700 mile 4 day camping trip with 4 friends a few months prior I was confident that with a little planning I could make the trip a success.

But where to go? I was trying to think of places that were reasonable close. Looking on Google maps one day I said "hey I have never been to the grand canyon". After talking that over with a few people I decided that the Grand Canyon was a bit to touristy for my taste. Everyone mentioned both Zion NP and Bryce Canyon NP as alternatives. Doing a little research both places looked promising. The next task was to get my route setup. The original route would have taken me up through Lake Tahoe and then across Nevada to Great basin NP. Then I would shoot down into Utah to hit Bryce and Zion. Then it was homeward bound with a night in Death Valley NP and possibly swinging up through Yosemite for a night. The total distance of the route was 1700 miles.

I set about getting all the required gear for my trip. I had just purchased a new sleeping bag prior to my last camping trip. I still needed a tent , pad, stove and a lot of other small assorted camping gear. I picked up an Alps Extreme 2 person tent and it performed very well through out the whole trip. The issue I was facing was the limited amount of space I had to work with (50L saddle bags, my tank bag and a dry sack that would be mounted to my passenger seat). I wanted to be as reliant on the supplies I brought with me as possible. This meant I needed to pack 6 breakfasts snack food for lunch and 6 dinners (even though I was going to be gone for 9 nights). I figured that that was about all the food I could carry and I could pick up more supplies when my saddle bags started to look a little thin. I decided on both freeze dried camping food and military MRE's for my dinners. I picked up 4 MRE's on eBay and opened one up the night I received them.
Who ever figured those things out is a king in my book. It had a entree (cheese raviolis in meat sauce) the heater for the entree, a slice of wheat break and some cheese spread, a bag of shoe string potatoes a brownie for desert and a package of grape drink mix. Nothing spectacular but it tasted alright and would serve me well in the wilderness.

The weather for the week prior to my trip was perfect. Then everything went to shit, it started snowing in Tahoe, the Tioga pass through Yosemite closed and it looking like it was going to rain along the coast Friday night.
I spent the remainder of the week prior to my trip planning and re-planning the trip around the ever changing weather predictions. As Thursday approached I had about 5 different scenarios that would hopefully keep me dry. The final route was From SF to Death Valley (500 miles) the first night, camp there 1 more night then head to Zion NP. I would be there one more night and then I would head over to Bryce, after another night I would turn around and head home. Not exactly the loop I was originally planning, but it kept me out of the higher elevations and should keep me dry. My one worry was the first leg of my trip; 500 miles in one daywas more that I has ever pushed in one day. I had done a test the month before where I drove to Yosemite and back (400 miles exactly) to make sure I could do that many miles if need be. The thing that had my worried was after those 400 miles I was exhausted and figured after 500 miles I would be useless.
Throwing caution to the wind I set off Saturday morning around 10am. I would head across the bay bridge till I hit I-5 then take that all the way down through Bakersfield. My bags were packed the night before with very little space left for anything else. Everything was strapped down to the bike nice and tight. Being a Saturday I was worried what kind of traffic I would run into, the answer was none. I stopped for lunch somewhere along the I-5 and headed back out with my next stop being Bakersfield. I quickly realized that having to stop for gas every 125 miles was going to really slow me down. I worked on trying to make the stops as quick as possible per some advice I read on the Iron Butt Association's web page. This really helped my moving average speed and allowed me to pack in the miles. I did stop once to take a few pictures, I think my butt was telling me it was time to walk around a bit. I had brought as much photography gear with me as possible all of it jammed into my tank bag and my tripod onto my dry bag attached to my seat.

Photo gear:
Nikon D70
Gitzo carbon tripod
RRS BH-55 ball head
Tokina 12-24 f/4
Tokina 28-80 f/2.8
Nikon 70-300 f/4
Circular polarizing filter
Extra battery & memory card

It is really a pain in the ass to pull my Nikon body out of my bag grab a lens and put it all together just to take a snapshot. For my next trip I will be buying a 5mp point and shoot camera in addition to my photo gear. That way I would always have a camera close at hand. Due to this I have minimal side of the road photos to share and next to no photos from the days I put in 400+ miles.



I finally reached Bakersfield and headed towards Death Valley via HW178. There was a sign at the beginning of the road stating "Over 200 dead since 1968 drive carefully". Well shit, talk about your friendly advertisements, I wonder how many of those deaths have been recently, after only 3 miles I had seen 2 crosses decorated by flowers. The road was well paved and situated 20 feet above a quickly moving river. On either side the walls of the canyon jutted up 2-3k feet at steep angles. The canyon was also a boulder garden. Rocks of every size from VW bugs to 2 story houses, impressive to say the least. Scenery and Signage aside these were the first twisties I had seen in over 300 miles. There was no way I was not going to have a little fun. After about 8 miles the road opened up and continued on as a divided 2 lane highway through the hills.
When I hit the 395 the world flattened out the road straightened out and everything got warmer. I was back at sea level and in the desert. During my next stop for gas a guy on a GSXR pulled up to another pump. Neil was also in the middle of a 500 mile trip on his 99 Suzuki. We spend a few moments swapping stories for went our separate ways. Neil has just come from Death Valley and mentioned a few speed traps he encountered along the way, Thanks Neil.





I finally saw a sign stating that Death Valley was close (25 miles out). I was again greeted by twisties. This time with the road cut into the rock wall with a sizable drop off to one side. With the sun setting in my mirrors I took the time to enjoyed the view. The sun was getting low as the elevation also fell. As I descended the road changed from twisties to straight but with dips. Hello roller coaster, I twisted the throttle and held on for the ride. There were a few places where it felt like my suspension was fully expanded and grasping for tarmac, what fun!



I pulled into Stovepipe Wells at around 6pm just as the clouds were picking up the red from the setting sun. The rangers station was closed and it turns out the camp ground did not open till Monday the 15th (it was Saturday the 13th). The next camp ground was 30 miles out and the sun was setting fast. I wanted no part of setting up camp in the dark. I decided to see if there was room available in the Lodge at Stovepipe. Turns out there was, 1 room left and it was 70 a night. What the hell I deserve to sleep in a bed after that many miles. I grabbed I quick dinner and headed over to the Saloon for a beer. I heard a pair of Harleys pull up and not long after two men in leathers came in followed by two women in matching attire. I sparked up a conversation with them. Turns out there were looking for a place to stay and the lodge was out of rooms. After a beer they all headed out to find a place to crash. I went back to my room and set my alarm for 5:45, I wanted to get up to make the 3 mile drive to the sand dunes for sunrise.



I woke up early and had a quick cup of coffee loaded my photo gear into my messenger bag. Throwing a leg over my Ducati I thumbed the starter and put an end to the calm quiet of the desert, I pulled out to wait for the sun.



I got back to the lodge around 8:30 and decided to check out the breakfast buffet, nothing special there. Loading up my gear in the heat of the sun took a lot out of me, but I got it finished. I set off for my first camp ground 30 miles up the road. Before leaving wail I was filling up my gas tank at stovepipe 2 BMW motorcycle pulled up. They parked across the road from where I was and took a few photos. They were mounting up just as I was getting my gloves on. We rode together for the first few miles before they pulled off on a side road. I made a decision to follow them to see where they were going. I quickly decided that I needed to instead get my butt to where I was planned to set up camp. I pulled a U turn and headed on my way alone.
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Old 11-05-2007, 12:44 AM   #2
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Furnace creek had 120 camp sites it took me 3 laps before I found one with its table in the shade and a flat spot for my tent. This was the first time I had set up my tent when it was not in my living room; I hit a few snags along the way but managed to get it up. It was around noon and the temperature in the sun was close to 95. That is a bit hot for a San Francisco native such as my self. I hung out in the shade drinking plenty of water and reading one of the magazines I brought with me.

Around 4pm the temperature had dropped a little bit and I decided to go explore a few places of interest on the map. Loading up my photo gear I set off for Badwater basin (the lowest point in the US).



I pulled into the parking lot just as 2 Harley riders and there passengers were getting ready to leave. Turns out one bike had a grandfather and his passenger was his granddaughter. The other bike had the parents of the granddaughter. The mother and the father lived in Santa Cruz he normally rides a R6. The grandfather lived in Vegas and rented the Harley's for the weekend as a gift to his daughter and son.

The Harley's pulled away and guess who pulls up, the 2 BMW riders from before, one on a k12??? And the other on a GS. We struck up a conversation Paul was looking at getting a Multistrada and wanted to know about the air cooled Ducati’s reliability. I mentioned that I have always wanted a GS and conversation ensued. We talked about the basics motorcycle stories the other bikes we had owned. Paul had a Brutale sitting at home and his brother had a 1098 in the garage, lucky guys. We headed out onto the salt flats together and upon returning to our bikes I gave Paul my email since he had taken a quick photo of me on the flats, then we set off on our own paths.





I headed back to my camp site to grab a quick dinner before heading back out to get some photos of last light. Hopping on the Ducati I headed out for artist’s pallet. Artists pallet is a small one way canyon road off the main road that is suppose to have great views of the sunset. I stopped along to way to take a few glamour photos of my bike. By the time I got to artists road the sun was just about to dip below the mountains in the distance. I hiked up a hill to get a few photos and quickly found this really cool rock stack. Most of the rock on the ground was very lightweight almost like red pumice. These rocks on the other hand were solid and heavy looking.



I hiked back to my bike and headed off to find other places to photograph.





I stopped on more time when I saw the sky turn a shade of purple and the moon was sitting perfectly over the mountains. After a few more photos the sun was licking the horizon behind the mountains and the light was fading fast. I decided it would be a good idea to try to get out of the canyon and onto the open road before pitch dark arrived. No such luck, night comes on in the desert so fast it’s almost like someone just throws a switch. Of course the road tightened and became quite twisty. In some places it was just wide enough for a RV to squeeze through and was flanked on either side by solids walls of rock. At 20mph I quickly outran my headlight and had to limp back to the main road at 15mph. I would like to some day go back to that canyon during the day to see how different it is. I could tell it was amazing just by the little glimpses I saw. The way the darkness ate up the light emitted by my headlight and the way the wind whistled over the rocks made it kind of spooky.

The next morning I sat at my table eating oatmeal and trying to melt the sleep from my eyes with a cup of coffee. People in RV’s are strange; this guy across the road from me is raking his “lawn” which is composed of rocks and dirt. I set about taking down camp and stuffing it into my saddle bags. I realized that in the future I would need to wake up earlier on the days I was planning on taking down camp. An hour or so later I headed off my destination Zion NP.

The start of my trek to Zion National Parks was, miles and miles of straight road through the desert intermixed with small towns and brief twisty sections through the canyons. I really wish that people in cars knew how to drive quickly on roads that were less than straight. People would come up from behind and then just fly by me at 100+. I later pass these people up in the canyons doing 45 in a 55.

Then there are the signs that note the “suggested speed” of the turn you are approaching. In a 45mph section there is a turn that is marked 40. As the turn comes into view I see a banked sweeper that could have easily been taken at mach 1. Then a few miles later in a 55mph zone tight radius right hander approaches with no sign. Thank god for big brembo calipers and good pads. I throw the anchors out and my speed is quickly shed. I push my right bar and the bike drops into the corner.

Nevada is a funny place for someone coming from California, SF for that matter. I pass by multiple fireworks emporiums, I stopped at Blackcat and the place is HUGE. I do not have any space for toys at this point of my trip so I continue on. I pass a gun store with a huge sign “From Practical To Tactical” painted on the wall. And the number of brothels and “massage” parlors was just nuts.

As I neared Zion my bike started to hesitate and surge at constant throttle applications. Upon arriving at Zion NP I made a quick call to DesmoSport at 6pm on a Monday someone answered. They transferred me over to a tech and we talked through the issues I was having. We narrowed it down to a fueling issue. The fuel pump started making a gurgling sound and blowing bubbles when you turned the key. It was suggested that I pull the gas cap and try to find where the possible leak was coming from. I thanked him for the advice and said I would call back when I knew more.

The next morning I set about tring to find a 2mm allen key for the set screws on the cap. After lucking out I went back to camp and decided to turn the bike on and take it for a test ride. No gurgling issue and the hesitation was minimized, I hate issues that fix them selves.

Zion is just amazing the light is just perfect. From when the sun rises till when it clears the canyon walls at 9am the light is nice and soft, the same is true for sunset. The only challenge with Zion is when the canyon walls go dark the sky is still quite light out.

I camped out next to a sparkplug of a man. He is an ex-marine who worked for a “private security” force after the Vietnam (think blackwater). He is also a avid photographer and painter. Needless to say he is a interesting person to talk to, and always has a story to tell. Durring my stay I also came within 5ft of a deer.



~I stayed at Zion for 3 days packing in as much of the sites at possible. I did quite a few hikes. The Emerald pools and weeping rock trails were nothing special, but the river trail was much more my style. Lots of interesting things to photograph along the way and as the sun was setting there was great light. At the end of the official trail you come to the trail head for the narrows. This is where you put your waders on and head out into the river. There the canyon walls close up and beauty and great photo opportunity’s await. There were two people just returning from this hike. After talking to them it is defiantly on my list of must do’s in the future.



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Old 11-05-2007, 12:45 AM   #3
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The last day of my stay I decided to not do the angles landing trail. 5 miles round trip of steep trechorus rock hiking with lots of places to fall off into the void. The trail ends at the top of one of the sandstone cliffs affording amazing views of the whole park. I had been trying to psyche my self up to do this hike from day one. I decided instead to drive to the east side of the park for the day.

There is a mile long tunnel cut through the sandstone linking the east entrance to the rest of the park. It is only 2 lanes wide with a 15ft ceiling. When an RV wanted to go through they had to close the other direction of traffic to give the RV room. There is no artificial light to guild the way, headlights do little to pierce the pitch black. The noise of my twin echoing off the rock sounded and felt amazing. On the other side of the tunnel the park is completely different. You have climbed 3k ft in elevation and the massive towers of sandstone are replaced by wind swept hills of the stuff.



I headed back to camp but stopped off to photograph the sunset in a few locations





Returning to my tent I grabbed a quick MRE dinner and got as much packed for the drive home tomorrow. After a good night sleep I started to take my tent down and pack everything away and tie it all down to my bike. Since I was all out of oatmeal I decided to grab a good breakfast in the first town. After some yummy pancakes I got back on the bike and started home. I was aiming for Barstow 480 miles away per my selected route. I wanted to drive through Tonopah where I saw the Blackcat fireworks shop on my way to Zion. This added 60 miles to my total travel time. I decided it was worth it for some “toys”. The ride out was uneventful, after driving through Vegas twice now I can say if definitely looses it’s magic during the day, the whole area just feels dirty.

I arrive in Tonopah in the heat of the afternoon. I grab a few fun fireworks that take about 20 minutes to stuff into my bags. I head out again and before I know it I’m in California. By this time the sun is setting and I’m heading west. Not a good combination, my eyes are tired and the sun rays are not helping any. I had thought of pushing home during the night (another 400 miles). The sun quickly drained the remainder of my energy and my 2nd wind was no where in site. Arriving in Barstow the first thing that hit me was “man this place is a shit hole”. Everything felt worn down even the people. After unpacking my bags I looked at my motorcycle through the window of my motel. I decided that my bike did not deserve to sit out side nor did I feel safe letting it do so. I rearranged a few things in the motel room and slipped my bike in unnoticed after some dinner. I took a much needed shower (last one was back in Death Valley) and put on my clean change of clothes.

The next morning came too quick, it was nice to sleep in a bed for a change but I wanted my bed. Loading up my gear I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed home. It took what felt like forever to get to I-5. There was construction on the road heading out of Barstow, one lane was ripped up and each direction of traffic was taking its turn. Sitting waiting for 10 minutes in the morning sun wearing full gear is not an experience I wish to repeat. When I did have to I-5 everything was better, I was able to get up to speed and make up some time. Once again I made the realization that most Californians are either lazy or to stupid to know how to drive “correctly”. Most think that if you are doing 85mph you have every right to stay in the left lane. Thankfully a good number of people actually moved over after 5-10 minutes. Some did not and illegal left lane passes were made. Wail I was traveling in the right lane doing 85-90 a Honda accord passed me up doing closer to 100. I thought to my self “hey let’s follow that guy”. Turns out he knew how to drive intelligently. Pass on the left continue on the right, really not that hard right? At one point he moved over to the left lane and double tapped his breaks and rolled off the gas. All of a sudden we were doing 80mph? About a half mile up the road we pass a CHP car parked on an onramp. So… this guy has a radar detector and knows how to drive, I think we will be the best of friends. This continued until my odometer read 140 miles and my fuel light came on. When I was going the other direction on the I-5 I was only getting 120 miles before the fuel light turned on. Not only did this guy know how to drive and had a radar detector but his draft was giving me better mileage. I saw an exit for fuel and pulled along side to give a wave. I looked over and the guy was giving me a wave before I could initiate. I turned off the freeway and he headed on his way.

Right as I was getting to the bay bridge thick black clouds blotted out the sun. I had been expecting afternoon showers upon my return to the city. The night before I had lined my saddle bags with trash bags to keep the contents dry. I pushed on but no rain came. When I hit the surface streets there was thick fog to contest with but the fresh damp air reminded me I was home. I pulled into my driveway at 6pm and started to unload. Not 30 minutes after I was in the house the rain started falling and hard. It’s good to be home.

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Old 11-05-2007, 08:52 AM   #4
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BEAUTIFUL PICS.....i love the red rocks of zion. i wasn't too excited to go a couple years ago (mind you this is after 2000 miles in the soutwest), but when we got there i was blown away.....very nice
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Old 11-05-2007, 09:12 AM   #5
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Absolutely awesome write-up and pictures!
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:10 AM   #6
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Excellent read and gorgeous pics! I actually was ready to PM you a "Where be the trip report?" today
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Old 11-05-2007, 12:55 PM   #7
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Good thing I took care of that, I hate getting pm's

Sorry it took so long... going through my journal entries from each day and pulling out interesting stuff took a lot more time that I expected. I figured you guys only wanted to read a short story not a full on novel.

Thank god Feanor never writes full ride reports
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Old 11-05-2007, 12:56 PM   #8
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Gorgeous pics, fantastic ride!
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Old 11-05-2007, 01:17 PM   #9
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just .

awesome all the way around.

You are what I aspire to be in a photographer.
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Old 11-05-2007, 01:45 PM   #10
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Top speed of 129 eh?

Slacker

Awesome pictures. Glad to hear you had a great time.
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Old 11-05-2007, 02:00 PM   #11
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Wow. Stunningly great photos. Really good stuff. Kudos!

I was in DV in February for the first time and it was a trip to remember for so many reasons. I've yet to make it to Zion, maybe next year...
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Old 11-05-2007, 02:03 PM   #12
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That's some impressive photography!
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Old 11-05-2007, 02:08 PM   #13
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dude...you take some kick ass pictures
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Old 11-05-2007, 02:12 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Amandyke View Post
Top speed of 129 eh?
Slacker
Yea sorry about that, it's a Ducati

Was wondering how long it would take before someone brought that up.
That was the only time over 100 during the whole trip. I just pinned the throttle and took it to 8k. The speedo is the last thing on your mind.

Quote:
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You are what I aspire to be in a photographer.
Thanks for the kind words

I can't tell you how happy I was there were so many "keepers" from the trip.

I try to learn something new every time you pick up my camera, the lessons I learned this trip were…

– Always check what your ISO is set to. I fired all the photos from day 1 and half of day 2 on 1000 ISO. That is why some of the earlier photos have graining.

– When in doubt always underexpose the shot. I took a gamble with a few of my sunset shots and due to it there are some blown highlights. With digital you can always lighten the photos but you can never re-create an over exposed area.
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Old 11-05-2007, 02:41 PM   #15
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You fly by the nice views too fast doing triple digits. It's nice to ease it back and enjoy the view. After all, isn't that half of why you're even doing the trip?
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