Adventure is not outside man; it is within. ~George Eliot
Rather than breaking up all the planning and preparation, I decided to put it all on one page, with links herein to more detailed pages. These pages are constantly being updated, so if you see it’s not complete that means I have not gotten to a section yet!
Below you will find my thoughts on everything from getting my bike ready for an extended journey, to health and fitness, to safety (and a lot of stuff inbetween). I started this page at about the 1-year-out-from my intended launch date in May 2016, but the information I have below includes preparations I made even before that point. I will update the page as I go along, even after my journey starts to clarify or add to the information here.
Before I go any further, if you are considering making a journey like mine, please ensure you bookmark the Horizons Unlimited website. It is so full of rich information you could spend weeks there learning from others that have gone before you (or me). And the forums on the HUBB provide quick answers to your travel questions, especially when you are on the road. There is only one other worthy mention here, ADVRider. There you will find forums on any topic you can think of and the ride reports also are a rich and valuable (and entertaining as heck) resource.
So, on we go. While the page is dedicated to my all my preparations and thought processes surrounding my preparation, there are separate sections of the website for gear and places and experiences and such.
Getting the bike ready
I spoke with Rick at my local dealership about my trip, the owner of Adventure BMW in Chesapeake, for advice on what I needed to do. He’s taken a few trips himself and his advice was to keep it simple. I have a capable bike already and can find service for it in most major cities and I am not really planning on hard-core moto-crossing anyway. Additionally, the bike has a good reputation for not stranding you, so I am not too worried before starting out.
I began with THE bike I wanted to do an around the world trip riding. I did a wee bit of write up here on my BMW R1200GS. Needless to say I love this bike. But, I still did some things make it even better for my journey. Mostly I made the bike more durable off road and added a bunch of “farkles” to suit me and my riding style. One of the first things I did was add Touratech engine and body protection bars. I can drop this bike on its side and not worry about damaging the Boxer engine that protrudes from the side or the radiators hidden beneath the upper plastics. With these guards came weight, but it’s low weight and instills a great deal of confidence.
Other mods to the bike that I will write about at some point: Touratech Brush Guards, Touratech Side Bags, BMW Top Case and Rack, BMW Adventure Pegs, Conspicuity Rear Brake Lights, AirHawk seat cushion. Tools, spares, and such I write about in a section below. Other farkles, such as Bluetooth Communications, I will write about in the gear section.
Although I am on my third motorcycle during my life, I never racked up the miles on and loved a bike like I do my R1200GS. And because I knew my trip would entail taking me out of my comfort zone and onto dirt, gravel, and through mud, I decided to go back to the basics. First, I enrolled in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course. I took the same course about 17 years ago, but wanted a refresher. My local community college had the course, so I signed up. It was over a cold February weekend, but I enjoyed every minute of the classroom and course instruction. I was the only one of 12 students who already had a motorcycle endorsement, but that only led to ribbing from the instructors every time I made a mistake. It was really good fun and I did, in fact, learn a few things about slow speed maneuvering, covering the controls, and braking in corners, among others, that really did help my confidence. Although we were on assigned, smaller 250cc cruiser type bikes, the skills transferred well back to my bike.
Next, I signed up for the 2-day off road course that BMW offers at their Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina. I did do a more extensive writeup here, but for this page, I can tell you that was some of the best training I have ever had. It was pure BMW quality from soup to nuts – the facility, the instruction, the bikes, and mostly, the instructors. It was a pricey weekend, but did more for my confidence off road, in the mud, than I would have gotten in many months of practicing on my own. I learned and got to practice dozens of techniques for getting into and more importantly out of sticky situations. I think the biggest lessen I learned was that despite the size and bulk of the R1200GS, it is a very balanced bike. So, learning how to balance on a balanced bike makes for a very maneuverable bike. Weight shifting properly, particularly while standing on the pegs, and the bike seems to drive itself. And with loads of power, the throttle becomes your friend. It really was a great course.
The skills I learned in the two courses, the Basic Rider Course and the Off Road Course, would do me no good unless I practiced. So, I had my local dealership put some knobby tires on my bike, like the ones I had at the BMW facility in Greer, and I took every opportunity to go out and find trails, mud, and such. I know much of my trip will be on well-groomed asphalt, but I also have learned through my other camping trips that much of the world is to be found off the beaten track, so I wanted to be prepared. On one long weekend, my brother and I took off to Carolina Adventure World in Winnsboro, South Carolina, which is a huge OHV park, with miles and miles of trails from hard packed gravel service roads to double diamond motocross only trails. While I stayed away from the gnarlier stuff there, I did find the limits of my comfort and learned to avoid getting into “too sticky” of situations. Fortunately, and proudly, I never dropped the bike that weekend. I also attended a Horizons Unlimited Meeting near Appomattox, Virginia where I learned all sorts of good information about overlanding by motorcycle.
I did a slightly more extensive write up on that trip here.
The next step in my journey in becoming a better off-road rider was getting a dirt bike. As I mentioned I never spent any time off road on motorcycles growing up and even after. And as much as I love the big BMW, I never felt like I could really have fun on the bike in the mud. With the bike bike, it seemed like just getting through the muck without ditching and falling over. What I felt I needed was gain some insight and touch on a smaller bike.
Enter KTM. I bought a new KTM 350 EXC-F to add the stable. This bike is incredibly light and powerful and loads of fun (It’s the bright orange on the right).
It weighs about a third of the BMW when loaded up. The seat height is 38″ (and I have a 29″ inseam), so the bike is high to get on. But, once you’re on it, you’re in for a hell of ride. I immediately had the opportunity to take it out to Carolina Adventure World, just southeast of Charlotte, and had a freakin’ blast.
Honestly, I never knew what I had been missing all my life. It was perhaps the most fun I have ever had, slipping and sliding around in the mud. And I gained a truckload of confidence handling the rutty stuff. I took shots of everything and made a short video. You may hear a squeal or two, but it was all in fun.
I went out a few months later to Carolina Adventure World and rode the whole weekend. There was a remarkable change I noticed in my riding as the weekend went on – I got faster and more confident. There is just something about learning to let a bike slide around underneath you and just keeping it pointed in the right direction. I learned to stop thinking about leaning the bike this way and that and to just relax.
Was all this necessary? To each his own, I suppose. I have been riding for about 17 years, but always on the relative “safety” of the road, and never standing on the pegs for long periods dodging branches and motoring through muddy ruts. And with panniers packed to the gills with all my gear and me in the middle of nowhere, I wanted to be prepared for any riding conditions. I think all this training and practice prepared me well.
Learning how to motobike camp – Trips
So, one thing I wanted to do is to “learn” how to motorbike camp and as an analog learn how to pack for long, extended, voyages. What does that mean to me? That means striking a balance between what you need to carry, what you want to carry, and what you can carry. Thankfully, the R1200GS is like a mule, meaning it can carry quite a bit considering I only weigh 160 pounds (72 kg). The max weight on this bike is close to 1000 pounds! So, if weight is not an issue, then space has to be. Therefore, the considerations are really: need, want, and space. Small, light, and multipurpose are the keys here, I think.
At the top of the “must have list” are items associated with shelter, fire, and food. You must have these things to survive if you intend to rough it and camp along the way. Everything else is considered a luxury after those primary needs are met. So here you need:
A good quality tent and ground cloth. I also make a hatchet available to set up camp (to drive stakes).
A spark source – I carry a couple of cheap lighters and fire starters.
Basic cooking equipment: pots/utensils/water and something to cook, like freeze dried stuff (this is over and above the tank bag snacks I take).
Something to keep you dry while setting up camp is also good.
Battery powered illumination, for setting things up in the dark. I use a battery powered head lamp (actually my one item I must have)
I really put all of my camping/touring skills to the test when I took a 12-day trip from Virginia to Canada and back in the Summer of 2015. That was a lot of fun, but more importantly I learned a lot. Mostly, I learned I was carrying too much, which is advice I hear frequently from other overlanders. Perhaps the desire is comfort in knowing you are prepared for anything, but in reality most of the stuff you think you need, you really don’t. This trip also gave me my first crack at blogging. My favorite part of that extended camping trip was meeting people.
What to take – packing list development
Jeez, what a pain sorting all this out. What you *need* versus what you want to take. Weigh issues, packing… I have a list, but you won’t like it and probably will critique the hell out of it because it is so extensive. Well, it is. But, I prefer thinking that if I can carry it comfortably (without making the bike unstable) and it provides me with a combination of comfort and confidence, then I’ll carry it. I think in the end you carry what you want and dump the stuff you find you did not really need along the way.
Gear I chose
I am only going to remark on the gear I really love here. The rest of the gear just does its job. Here’s the list:
BMW Rallye Suit. Top shelf and bomb proof – although not waterproof.
Daytona GTX Riding Boots. The most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn.
More to come here:
Health, Shots, and so on
Working out, getting in shape, inoculations, educating myself about first aid and country-specific issues that I might encounter.
All the documentation I think I need; digitizing everything.
Health, motorcycle, insurance
Tracking me, getting help
Knowing that I would be traveling to the unknowns, and hence possibly getting a bit far out from civilization, I decided to invest in a satellite communication device. I chose the DeLorme InReach Explorer. It’s a nifty device that allows me to share my location and track online and SMS text message with anyone with cell phone, all without me having any access to a cellular or wifi network. It also has a built-in GPS and maps, so I can plan routes and double check those against my bike’s GPS unit.
But perhaps the most important reason I decided to get the device was its SOS feature. Using the Iridium satellite network, I can summon help to me nearly any place in the world. Simply by pressing the SOS button, I am put in contact with a 24/7 monitoring service that I can SMS back and forth with about my situation. If needed, they will arrange for emergency support services to be sent to my location, including plucking me out and sending me off to the nearest hospital in a helicopter should the need arise. Iridium has nearly constant, world-wide coverage with its constellation.
One of the main menu items above on this page is, “Where is Brent?” By clicking on that, you are taken to a GIS map with my location, my recent tracks, and latest messages from me. From there, you can ping my location (if I have not updated in a while) or send me a SMS message right from the web-interface. Granted, using a satellite-based system, I will likely not receive your message immediately, but it should never take more than 20 minutes or so. Also, I may be sleeping or riding and be unable to answer immediately. The bottom line is that with this device I can get help if I need it anywhere, I can communicate with you from anywhere, and you can locate me and follow my track, wherever I may be.