Panama and back on a 250 Super Sherpa Minimalist Adventure

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by JDowns, Apr 5, 2010.

  1. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hey MrBob,

    The Sherpa doesn't come with a tach. The motor sings in the soprano octave when going over 65. Does that help? Just kidding. Most US rural speed limits are 55-60 and that is a comfortable cruising speed for a 250. The speed limit is 80 kph (50mph) through most of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which is why a lot of bigger bikes get stopped for speeding. I didn't have that problem. Once you get into the small bike casual cruising style you can enjoy the scenery.

    I've never weighed my bags but it isn't much. The key to riding a smaller more fuel efficient bike is traveling light. If you're camping the bulk may be more, but tent, sleeping bag and thermarest don't weigh much. Before I go next fall I'll weigh it all up and get back to you.

    When traveling away from home and doing construction projects for folks you have to get creative. In Costa Rica the neighbor had a tile saw, the lady had a truck to go to town and get tile, thinset and grout. And I made a notched trowel out of plastic and used her mop bucket and garden trowel for mixing, a piece of plastic as a grout float and her dish sponge for detailing the grout lines and cleaning off the grout haze.

    In New Zealand the homeowners had basic tools for cutting and framing, the farm truck to get lumber although the lumber is sold in metric lengths which is a brain teaser, and the wiring was sold by the government at a depot and we told them that a licensed electrician brother-in-law was coming down from Wellington to do the work (white lie). Homeowners can't buy wiring in New Zealand.

    The first time I came to Nebraska to put a brick facade on a room addition for my Aunt, I UPSed tools she didn't have, rode out on my bike and used her farm truck to get supplies.

    I also take my truck when it's winter or like this summer to go paint my sisters house where I need to take scaffolding.

    Nomadic carpentry is fun. Hope this gives you some ideas. With the creative financing you did to get to Mexico back in the 70's it sounds like you have all the skills of lateral thinking to make a great gypsy nomad home improvement guy.

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  2. MrBob

    MrBob Certified Geezer

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    Thanks for the thoughtful reply John. There may be a trend toward more minimalist touring with less need for thousand dollar luggage sets and fewer busted subframes.
    Two months ago I rode my XT600 2600 miles from southern Florida to my home in Colorado and still shipped stuff back that I didn't need. I don't seem to learn the lesson for long before I forget it again. :lol3
    As much as I love carpentry it clashes with my efforts to pare down - you need those tools. I like how you've found solutions for that.
  3. opium89

    opium89 Long timer

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    What was he angry about and what did he chew you out for? Absent suspicion of wrong doing, they have absolutely no legal right to detain you. I am very curious what he/they said to you.


  4. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Opium89,

    Good question.

    He was mad because I didn't stop when he put his hand up with his palm facing me. Instead I waved at him after I whipped around the cars on the shoulder and shot through the road block. While this technique works fine in Latin America it is technically a felony in the US.

    I slammed on my brakes and stopped on the other side of the intersection at the top of the freeway offramp before continuing on down the onramp after the other officers started yelling at me. I realized that I was in the US now and they have radios to call ahead. OOPS. My bad. I did avoid the long lineup of cars they were checking for illegal aliens, drugs, terrorists or whatever they check for down on the freeway though, so it wasn't all bad.

    It wasn't a huge deal. But cops can get an adrenaline rush and get aggressive when someone challenges them. So when he came storming over to me with his hand on his holster, I whipped off my helmet and smiled and talked enthusiastically about what a great country it is and how much fun I had riding down to Panama and back. He slowly lightened up after checking my ID and thankfully he had been stationed in Panama years ago and knew about the places I had traveled. He let me off on a warning. No harm no foul.

    And I learned that it is technically a felony to run a Border patrol roadblock in the US. Now I know. I wasn't in the third world anymore.

    Cheers,
    John Downs
  5. ROAD DAMAGE

    ROAD DAMAGE Long timer

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    Hi John,

    Yeah, it's pretty sad what a lack of sense of humor some of those border guys have, huh? :lol3

    Well, I just finished reading all of your ride report from Panama. Nice job. Well done. I applaud your outlook and attitude. Not always easy to stay positive when you get travel weary. It's a gift of sorts, isn't it?

    Your name first got me interested in your report. I studied geology at the University of Arkansas with a John Downs. You and he are both interesting fellows. You are presently doing a bit better than he. I read recently where he is currently imprisoned for life in Qatar. No shit. Google "John Downs Qatar" and read about his ordeal. Crazy! :eek1

    Thanks again for posting your story. Hope to meet you out there on the road sometime.

    Ride safe John!

    Regards, Rob
  6. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Rob,

    Glad you enjoyed reading along. Pretty radical story about my evil twin you linked to.

    That reminds me of the time I was filling out a visa application in the Thai embassy in Wellington, New Zealand. The nice fellow sitting across the coffee table from me filling out his application asked me what he should put down in the blank for where he was staying in Thailand and I told him Bangkok Hotel since I usually take the capitol city and add hotel in order to fill in these ridiculous blanks.

    Anyway, I came back the next day to get my passport with the Thai visa stamp in it and the beautiful Thai lady behind the counter hands me a British passport. I tell her there must be some mistake. But when I open the passport it has my name in it. What are the chances? It was the picture of the dude from the previous day. 4 billion people in the world and this guy comes to the Thai embassy at the same exact time as me. It turned out he had the exact same name as me. I flipped through and saw he had been to the same places I had. It was a twilight zone moment. Even the Thai embassy secretaries were giggling as they passed it around and went back and got my US passport.

    I never actually met the guy. Although I saw him a couple months later in southern Thailand as he passed by on a open launch heading back from an island I was heading out to.

    I have had some amazing coincidences while traveling. Meeting people I knew from Hawaii in the foothills of the Himilayas when I stopped in a teahouse. Running into the same BMW rider three nights in a row and sharing a camping spot in an out of the way place when we hadn't been riding together or known where each other was going in Mexico. But that passport visa experience takes the cake.

    Cheers,
    John Downs
    (the one NOT in prison or hailing from the UK)
  7. husqvarna

    husqvarna Been here awhile

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    Fantastic report and your positive, "will not allow myself to be hassled" attitude comes through clearly and is a great inspiration. Here in S Africa the most popular ds bikes are probably GS12's and KLR650's etc are considered "small". But I really like minimalist (I mostly ride a KTM 525) and between you and BigDog on his Yamaha 250, I see a dual sport 250 in my future. I also have a KTM 640 and although I've been tempted I cannot bring myself to buy a bike I can't pick up after a lie down. The 640 is at the maximum of my lifting range.

    We're a similar age so a very good role model. Long may you travel.
  8. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi Husqvarna,

    Hope to get to your country someday. Forty years ago when I started riding, a Triumph 650 was considered a big bike. And the closest thing to a mid sized dual sport was a CL350. How times change.

    Like you, I am eyeing the WR250R. Reading Bigdogs ride reports I think that is the perfect lightweight bike for the road less traveled. I think you need one. Great fuel economy, bulletproof motor, easy to work on with Yamaha reliability. Alas, out of my price range at the moment. Until I win the lottery I will ride what I have. The older I get the lighter the bike I ride. Even though I'm lacking in funds and older than I used to be I still have fun exploring backroads around the world.

    Ride on in darkest efrika!

    Cheers,
    John Downs
  9. MrBob

    MrBob Certified Geezer

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    I'm on board with that. During the last several years my bikes have gone from 1200cc to 650cc then 600cc and now 250cc. My 305cc Superhawk was my first touring bike and all the bike I needed until seduced by a 75 Norton.
  10. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi MrBob,

    You must have been one of the cool kids. I couldn't afford a set of whitworth wrenches much less a Norton back in the 70s. You'd be a good guy to travel with. Probably no electrical gremlin you couldn't track down. Just kidding.

    The only time I rode a Norton was jump starting my friends Commando after a late night kegger. Didn't take long to figure out that the shifter wasn't on the left. Pretty hard to shift 1 up 1 down to get it into second with the brake pedal before popping the clutch. Those clever Brits.
    Loved the sound of that Norton. It still is a classic beauty.

    Hope to see you down the road.

    Cheers,
    John Downs
  11. MrBob

    MrBob Certified Geezer

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    Me just a kid from the Projects who knew how to hustle a buck. In 1975 Norton was going down the tubes and Norton Villiers lowered the price of the new bikes to about 1300.00. Between student loans and an especially good crop of what we were growing in the woods outside of Duluth, I laid down the cash. Rode it over 22,000 miles the first year I owned it including a trip from Minnesota to Mexico and, yes, it broke a lot but was easy to fix. I do remember the sound of those Dunstalls when winding up that 850.
  12. KrazyKooter

    KrazyKooter Been here awhile

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    If you'll be passing through Dallas on your way south, I have a spare room where you can stay.
  13. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi KrazyKooter,

    Sounds good to me! I will PM you next fall before I head out. Dallas is definitely between Nebraska and Mexico. I will zig-zag around a bit to meet other adventureriders along the way. Way more fun to shoot the breeze in person than typing on this computer.

    Your kind offer is much appreciated! It's the only kind of sponsorship I'll be getting as a minimalist. What company would sponsor an old guy riding a dirt bike to South America. Walmart? Duct tape? I don't think so. There's no kickstarter for coots.

    So I 'll carry a permanent marker to have the folks I stay with sign my gas tank. They will be my sponsors. I can think of nothing better than getting off the boat in Colombia with a KrazyKooter logo on my bike! Makes me smile just thinking about it.

    Thanks!

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  14. SkizzMan

    SkizzMan There, that's it

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    You got a couch, food and drink here in Austin should you pass this way.

    Also looking for a WR250R. That bike will be legendary one day.
  15. YOUNZ

    YOUNZ Been here awhile

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    Bolt a sidecar on that bike and take the mutt with you, and a small shovel, in case the mutt croaks along the way.
  16. MrBob

    MrBob Certified Geezer

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    Likewise in the Denver area, either a room or tent space.
  17. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hi SchizzMan,

    Wouldn't pass up a visit to Austin!

    The last time I was through hook em horns country was years ago. There was a fellow east of town with a warehouse full of old BMW moto parts. I was heading to Mexico and stopped in El Paso one evening for gas and my beemer wouldn't start. Checked the valves and they had completely closed up. Bad valve seats in the '83 R80ST that I bought from the guy I had stayed with in British Colombia the previous summer. It was a known problem with that model year. Long story short, I rode through the night from El Paso to Austin dodging deer in the hill country. They were thickest near Lyndon Johnsons ranch right before sunrise I remember. The cold night air and deer slalom kept me alert. I stopped to loosen the valves as they quieted down and tightened up and pounded their way into the heads. Finally got to Austin a little after sunrise. Sat outside the Lonestar BMW dealer until the mechanics got there and opened up. The parts counter guy had an R80 so had a set of head gaskets in stock. He drew me a map and directions to get to the young fellows house with used parts. It was still early and I woke the used parts guy up and he made some coffee and we found some decent used heads with good valves in his barn, changed them out in his driveway. It's a tribute to BMW metallurgy that those heads lasted as long as they did. They were hammered and the valve margins and exhaust seats were cracked. Put the bike back together with a pair of lightly used low mileage heads the fellow kindly sold me cheaply and headed off to Laredo that afternoon. He loaned me his torque wrench to re-torque the heads in Mexico in 600 miles. I shipped the torque wrench back to him when I got back home the next month. True Lonestar State hospitality. You meet the nicest people when you're on the road. Especially when the chips are down and your bike starts acting up.

    Austin is surrounded by rolling green tree covered hills. Nice area of the country. I was thinking it would be flat country until I got there. I was lucky to find the BMW dealer north of downtown on the first try. Quite the maze of freeway splits and flying offramps you've got passing through downtown Austin .

    I look forward to visiting, and hope to have as many ADVrider signatures on the side of my gas tank as feasible by the time I get to South America. No need for corporate sponsors when ADVrider has your back .

    I will send postcards from South America to everyone I stay with along the way as a souvenir so they know I made it. Although I will start another ride report and you can follow along. Will PM you next fall before I head out to make sure you're home and let you know I'm on my way.

    Thanks!

    Kindest regards,
    John Downs
  18. MrBob

    MrBob Certified Geezer

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    I loved my R80ST but off road bike it was not. Perfect, though, for cruising back roads on the Minnesota, Wisconsin border.
    The hilly countryside around Austin was a surprise to me too. After I totaled the Norton in Mexico and smuggled it up to the border and patched it together in Laredo I was flat broke and still needed to travel about 1300 miles back to Minnesota. I found a job renting sailboats on Lake Travis and in the evenings took my patched together Commando racing around on the roads in the area. I learned to keep a sharp eye out for armadillos on the road.
  19. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    Hey MrBob!

    I would be honored to drop by for a visit. Longmont is definitely on the way to Texas the way I like to ride through the panhandle of Nebraska. Hopefully you haven't tossed all your photos of that Superhawk and Norton from the 70's. Nothing like talking about the good old days with a fellow carpenter.

    Look forward to meeting you next fall. Flat place to sleep inside or out is all I need. And a MrBob signature on the Sherpa tank for good luck. I'll let you know when I head out.


    Thanks!

    Best,
    John Downs
  20. JDowns

    JDowns Sounds good, let's go!

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    T minus six weeks before I blast off for another minimalist adventure heading to South America.

    Started to get the Sherpa ready for action today.

    Ordered front and rear tires from SWmototires.com
    Shinko 244 Golden Boy has a nice ring to it. The rear Shinko I picked up in Panama worked fine, has 6000 miles on it and still looks great, so I ordered a fresh set. The rear was $55.21 and the front was $36.51. Half the price they are south of the border. Small bike tires are a lot cheaper than big bike tires.

    Ordered front and rear sprockets and one shim for the right exhaust valve. I haven't touched the other three valve adjustments in 21,000 miles and they've all remained in the middle of spec. Not sure why the one tightened up a tad. Also ordered a fresh #20 pilot jet and #130 main jet since the bikes been sitting. I tried www.metricpartsonline.com and the order came to $98.02.

    Also ordered a fresh battery. Sealed glass mat AGM Yuasa YTX7L-BS from www.batterymart.com for $44.95 delivered. Same as the last battery I bought 4 years ago. Seems to work well in the Sherpa. With no kick start it's a good idea to leave the country with a fresh battery if you're headed out for a long ride.

    I was able to save up a little over $5000 travel money in the last few months. Probably not enough to get very far into South America what with having to cross the Darien twice and all. We'll see. I'll start another South America thread when I take off. Will make sure to report back how much it costs to get to South America, as I know that was my number one question when I was wondering what it would take and if it was in the realm of possibility for someone with limited funds.

    I have been dreaming of making it to South America for a long time.

    Can't wait to head out!

    Best,
    John Downs