JerkQuest '03 Tour - August/September 2003


This trip had a different flavor than the others - not better or worse, just different.  I don't know all the reasons why, but one reason I'm sure of is that we trailered the motorcycles to the starting point in Eastern Montana.  Besides the obvious difference of beginning a tour a thousand miles from home, Gizmo and I had a 17-hour pre-tour briefing and a 17-hour post-tour debriefing.  That's a lot of time to discuss important stuff, like how the international date line works and why the Porridge bird lays its eggs in the air.

During these none-too-brief brief/debrief sessions with Gizmo, I learned that:

  1. Gizmo attends a lot of dog shows with his wife, Janis, and their family dog, Sophie, often traveling to and from said shows via a (gas-guzzling, road-clogging, totally despicable) RV.  My total knowledge of motorcycles could  fit in the gray water tank of their knowledge of dog shows and RVs.  After reading this, Gizmo and Janis probably would like to fit me in there too.

  2. The fuel pump on my ML320 SUV does not like to pump fuel at ambient temperatures above 90 degrees.  This is a common problem on M-class SUVs, and a pox on Mercedes Benz for letting this well-known defect fester, year after year.

  3. When it comes to easy-on/easy-off interstate cuisine, Perkins is a better Dennys than Dennys.

  4. Gizmo, sly fox that he is, somehow managed to avoid paying for his agreed-upon share of the truck gas using some trumped-up excuse about the credit card company erroneously reporting that his card was over the spending limit.  Yeah, right. 

  5. When trailering two big motorcycles in a small trailer, they ride much better if pointed directly fore/aft and not cocked to one side.

  6. Driving at sunrise is best done in a westerly direction.

  7. Gizmo had a secret crush on a junior high school teacher that even now, brings a sparkle to his eye and raises his respiration rate.

  8. Listening to country radio for a couple hours can give you some great ideas for slogans.  How about:  If you don't think W&G are #1, then you're full of #2!

  9. When presented with about 100 random/obscure music cuts of 70's and 80's rock and roll (custom-built CDs thoughtfully loaned to us by longtime reader J. Ozinski), Gizmo can identify the artist and song for about nine out of ten, typically within a few seconds.  Giz thinks his ability to instantly recognize tens of thousands of songs is a parlor magic trick and has no sustaining usefulness; I'm just in awe.

  10. When put in a closed vehicle with music and radio off, W&G can jointly generate hare-brained ideas at the rate of approximately twenty per hour.  About fifteen are so stupid, they can be rejected within seconds of exiting the vehicle.  Another four are vaguely interesting, but have some fatal flaw.  One is pretty good, but we always forget it.

In all seriousness, I couldn't ask for a better traveling companion than Giz, no matter what the vehicle(s).  And without the help and support of our families, these self-indulgent road adventures wouldn't be remotely feasible.  We both know how lucky we are, both to have one another as friends and to have such great support systems back at home.

A few of our readers have asked about the technical details of how we do photography and build the photo galleries.  At the risk of divulging all the cool information we plan on charging outrageous sums for when you buy our upcoming bestseller book about motorcycle touring, here is a general rundown of how we do photography:

  • Cameras:  This was my first tour traveling with two cameras, both digital Canons:  a new 10D 6.2-MP SLR and my old standby, a A50 1.2-MP point-and-shoot.  Both worked very well, and while I certainly could have gotten by with a single camera, I loved having the small camera for quick, impromptu shooting and the big camera for times when we stepped off the bikes, took a careful look around, and did some serious picture taking.  Gizmo used a Canon S40 3.8-MP point-and-shoot and although it didn't provide quite the power and flexibility of an interchangeable lens SLR, it took some very impressive photos.  As always, the biggest factor in good photography is not the equipment, it is the nut behind the viewfinder.

  • Lens:  Both the point-and-shoot's have built-in zoom lenses, and while they cover an Ok range for utility shooting, they are unsuitable for demanding telephoto, wide-angle, or low-light work.  For my 10D, I carried only a single lens on this trip:  Canon's superb 28-135 IS image-stabilized zoom.  I have always been impressed with this lens on my 35mm film bodies and I remain impressed when using it on a digital body.  But there IS a gotcha.  When mounted on the 10D, it's effective focal length increases by a factor of 1.6 making it a 45-216 lens.  This is great for telephoto work, but sucks for wide-angle scenery shots.  Next trip, I'm bringing something wider, although I need to figure out a better spot on the bike to store extra lenses  - having them rattle around in my tank bag with my Lemon Pledge and chain lube isn't going to cut it.

  • Image Storage and Transfer:  All our cameras used 'old-tech' Compact Flash cards (although storing 1-GB of image data in a 1.5" x 1.3" x 0.2" wafer hardly seems old-tech to me).  We had plenty of storage for several hundred pictures on each camera and since we transferred pictures from the camera to our notebook computers each night, we never came close to using the full capacity of the cards.  One tip:  If you are using multiple cameras, make sure their real-time clocks are accurate and synchronized.  Once your image files are in a folder on your PC, sort them by modification date.  Seeing all our pictures for the day in the order you took them, even when shot with different cameras, really helps in visualizing the flow of the day.

  • Camera Support:  I carried a small tabletop tripod but never used it.  I resolve each year to take the time to set up some cool shot where a rock-steady camera and long exposure will yield a better picture (such as capturing flowing water or grain stalks waving in the wind) but it always seems like it takes too much time, and darn it, there never seem to be any tables next to streams and grain fields.  I did use a beanbag on occasion, mostly to do time-delay shots in which I wanted to jump into the picture.

  • Resolution:  With all the cameras, we shoot at their highest resolution in the least-compressed JPG format available.  For web publishing, you don't need the highest resolution but we wanted the extra pixels to be able to crop to a small area of the photo.  And, we also brought back pictures with more detail in case we want to print them on something that can exploit the higher resolution, such as a photo printer.

  • Galleries:  Before the tour, I built a template for the galleries.  Each day, I'd paste the nine best pictures from the day into the template.  This was a tedious process and I plan to build some tools this winter to automate it.  The biggest limitation of the current gallery is that all the pictures have to be exactly the same size and in landscape mode.  Supporting portrait mode is a priority for next year.

I hope this information inspires someone in our readership to take and publish better photos on their next adventure.  Good photography is difficult but very rewarding and I'm only scratching the surface.

Another area that our readers have asked about is safety, particularly whether we worry about the risks associated with our motorcycle touring.  Well, as I teach in my MSF classes, risk is a personal thing and what may seem very risky to one person, might seem fairly safe to another.  We both accept the risks of long-distance touring, but only after we heavily stack the deck in our favor:  we ride well-maintained motorcycles, we never drink and ride, we wear the best safety gear, we get our rest, and we typically ride during the lowest risk part of the day (7AM to 3PM ) on lightly-traveled country roads.  I have an added leg up in that I attend track schools regularly and teach motorcycling, so I'm constantly refreshing my skills in a professional setting.  (I'm working on Gizmo to do a track school with me.)  This was another year when we had ZERO close calls or even dicey situations.  We don't anticipate crashing, but we're as well prepared as we can be if the unthinkable happens.

So until next year, ride and/or drive safe.  Thanks for all your thoughts and best wishes.  It is nice knowing we have you along on our trips. 

Ever since I was a young boy, I have loved the lure of the open road.  Each summer, my family would pile into the station wagon and head east from Indiana to visit relatives and spend time on Long Island and the Jersey Shore.  Every trip was an adventure, filled with strange and mysterious Howard Johnson motels, vibrating beds (twenty-five cents!) and swimming pools.  Watching old family 8mm movies brings back vivid recollections of those wonderful times.

Gizmo and Sismo on The Road,
circa mid-1960s

As I became older and more independent, my sojourns evolved into road trips with buddies and my own family. But I give full credit for my love of The Road to my father, who infused our trips with the same goofy sense of adventure that I relish today.  My pulse rate still goes up whenever I spot a 20'-tall roadside chicken.

Wait, haven't I been here before?

One duty that comes with the nickname Gizmo is to share the technological improvements and enhancements to our touring.  I have two things to report in this category.  The first has to do with maps and GPS.  As our longtime readers know, I'm a big fan of using a GPS unit mounted on the motorcycle.  The benefits are pretty simple - you have a wealth of contextual data about where you are, where you're going, and how long it's going to take you to get there.  This year I modified my opinion.  I had already decided that I wanted to use paper maps behind a clear plastic cover on the tank bag, so the idea was that I would be using both the GPS and the maps.  Due to the fact that I ended up on a bike not my own, we had to cobble together a mount at the last minute for my Garmin GPS V.  It was workable, but there was some sort of electrical or mechanical interference preventing the unit from tracking when the bike was at typical cruising speeds.  Eventually, I disconnected the GPS and just used the paper maps.   The information on AAA maps is just the right amount of detail while driving, and by highlighting the route before the day's trip, it's easy to follow.  Occasionally, the GPS would be working well, and by setting the scale of the display to match the scale of the paper map, I had the best of both worlds.  I could simply glance at the GPS to see the contour of the route, then glance at the paper map to get more context.  Using both the GPS and a paper map will definitely be my model for future touring.

The other technological change had to do with connectivity.  We're always wrestling with phone lines and modems, and this year the problem was compounded by the additional upload requirements of the daily photo gallery.  It's typically a 30-40 minute upload each day.  I switched my cell phone service to Verizon this year, and the phone I'm using has a cellular modem with data rates up to ~120kb/sec on evenings and weekends in areas with their '1X' service.  We were within 1X coverage about 1/3 of the time, and I used it whenever I could, which made things go much quicker. For the first time this year, we also were able to use a motel's high speed internet service, which was wonderful.  Next time, our route and stops will be influenced by where we can find high-speed connectivity. 

From my perspective, our most significant improvement this year was the addition of the photo gallery.    This improvement has come at a cost - we've created a monster.  Our average workload this trip was about 5 hours of editing and writing.   It seems inevitable that we'll be making some changes in our approach to photo-moto-journalism to reduce this workload. 

On the long ride back from Miles City to Seattle, Whiz and I were comparing what we enjoy about these trips and what keeps us coming back.  Whiz observed that I love to bathe myself in Americana and chatter about it in these pages.  Yes, I do find it endlessly fascinating to transport myself into another reality and try to imagine what it's like to live and work in the areas we pass through.   Each place we visit has a unique flavor making me want to linger, to find one more person to talk to, to check out one more side street looking for that unforgettable image to cement it in my mind. 

For those readers who aren't motorcyclists, there is nothing to compare to the exhilarating thrill of navigating an open country road in perfect late-summer weather, taking in the feast of sensory data.  At speed, mere will-power guides the bike into the groove as we sweep through curves and roll over hills.  It's as close to the sensation of super-human flight as I ever expect to get, unless that JetPack 2000 that I ordered from the back of a Superman comic book finally arrives.  Being out there on The Road is enormously conducive to introspection and insight.  I use these journals to capture a tiny fraction of what sails through my head each day, with the vague hope that someday all of this is going to come together in some delightful and meaningful way.  The fact that you're out there reading and reacting helps me take this self-assigned task more seriously, and I sincerely appreciate that.

For those readers who are motorcyclists, you already know that my riding partner is the more serious biker among us.  Whiz is an endless source of wisdom and knowledge about the physics and philosophy of motorcycling, for which I am endlessly grateful.  A finer riding partner would be hard to find.  Thanks Whiz, you da man.

Every year, we do a de-brief on the trip and make notes for possible future adventures.  For both of us, there's an growing awareness that circumstances could change, and our ability to continue these rides might come to an end.  Therefore, we try to make every trip as memorable as possible, anticipating that certain point in the future when these pages become the best memories we'll have of our online motorcycle adventures.  Maybe by the time that day arrives, there will be new technology enabling us to do these tours remotely via simulation technology.   I'm not in any hurry for that day to arrive.

The W&G 2023 Tour?

Finally, it's time to put the W&G costumes away for another year.  I sincerely hope that you've enjoyed reading along as much as we've enjoyed showing and telling you about it. 

Thanks for riding with us!

Gosh, are we done already?  Here's a summary of this year's winners:

Contest #1: 'Name Those Riding Tunes' - Glenda Revelle
Contest #2: 'A Perplexing Palindromic Puzzle' - J. O'zinski
Contest #3: 'Caption the Silly Snapshot' - Peter Ellis
Contest #4: 'Help Whizmo & Gizmo Make Ends Meet' - Tom Brady
Contest #5: 'What the Heck is That Thing?' - Bill Lindner
Contest #6: 'Name the Dominating Denomination' - Bob Seidensticker

If you're one of our clever and/or knowledgeable winners, send us your mailing address and we'll put you in the queue for this year's prize, whenever we figure out what it's going to be.