Way Out West

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Joliet Jake, Jun 4, 2006.

  1. Joliet Jake

    Joliet Jake Opposer

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    This is a 7000 mile trip through the western United States on my 1999 BMW F650. It took me 4 weeks starting on May 7, 2006. It fulfills my long time dream of taking a solo long distance motorcycle journey. My plan was to ride from the Rio Grande River to the Canadian border and back, exploring the best motorcycle roads and visiting as many national parks as I could. I have flown over the western USA many times on business trips, but only rarely have I seen anything but big cities and ski resorts. This is my journey to see America.

    It's a long report. Grab a Snickers, this will take awhile.

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    The route.

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    The gear, minus laptop and toiletries.

    My packing system has been refined over time. I used to cram everything into the panniers haphazardly and head out for a trip. My panniers resembled one of those gag peanut cans where you open the lid and a coiled spring snake comes out. Now I have a better way to stay organized. I bought 12" and 14" tool bags from Harbor Freight and Lowe's costing about $5 each. I collect similar items into a bag and then pack the bags. One bag is for tools, another for spare inner tubes and tire changing stuff, one for rain gear, and the fourth I call my "rare bag". This bag has all the weird, rarely used stuff I might need on a trip but maybe I won't. The list of items for this bag includes spare parts for the bike like clutch/throttle cables and levers, an oil change kit, a mosquito net, waterproof wallet, rope, etc. My clothes fit in all the remaining nooks and crannies not taken up by the bags. For $20 I now have an efficient packing system that greatly simplifies traveling on a bike. This has revolutionized my motorcycle traveling. I can easily distribute the weight so both panniers weigh the same, and frequently used stuff is on top and rarely used stuff is on the bottom. I pack the panniers the same way every time so that I always know where stuff is.

    It's the first day of my journey! I depart Austin, Texas after installing new tires and adjusting the chain tension. The bike feels very solid and is handling great.

    I take some new routes through the Texas hill country that I haven't taken before, roads like FM 1077 and 470 that are more southern than the ones Austin riders are used to taking. These routes are probably old news to San Antonio riders, but they are a nice change from the normal routes I've taken.

    I stop at the Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia, TX. There is a KTM and a KLR parked outside, and one of them has a "FYYFF" sticker emblazoned on each pannier. This must be the place to eat! I eat a burger and meet two ADV guys, Crowbocop and 02Silver, who have a cool helmet to helmet communications system.

    "Where are you headed?" 02Silver asks.
    "Montana," I reply.
    "You're headed the wrong way."
    I laugh and tell him I'm going to Big Bend first.
    "Did you take two weeks off from work?"
    "I quit my job."
    "You're my hero."

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    Crowbocop and 02Silver in Utopia, Texas.

    I ride on. Highway 55 is the demarcation line to West Texas. As soon as I reach FM 334, the landscape changes from green hills to low scrub brush. I won't be seeing a "real" tree for quite some time.

    I lose count of dead deer on Highway 90. There are at least thirty. Where there used to be deer carcasses, red stains remain on the asphalt. Do not ride Highway 90 at night.

    I ride to Fort Davis, TX and take a tour of the McDonald Observatory located in the Davis Mountains. My tour guide reminds me of Ben Stein. He has a habit of elongating syllables before the next phrase, much like a teletype hitting a carriage return before continuing on the next line. "And who can tell me why the lens is coated on the near s-i-d-e instead of the far side? B-e-c-a-u-s-e of refraction." The tour is excellent. It starts off in the auditorium with a brief presentation on the solar telescope, then we file out to take the bus (the short bus!) to two of the telescopes. Eight bucks gets you a 2.5 hour tour with a shuttle bus! You can't beat it.

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    A really big telescope at McDonald Observatory that looks at stars and space and stuff. Fort Davis, Texas.

    The next day I head south from Alpine towards Study Butte to ride on Highway 170 near Big Bend National Park. I have heard how great this road is and how it's best to tour it from east to west. I tell myself as I pull onto it, "This had better be good."

    Believe me, it is. The only difference between Highway 170 and a roller coaster is the liable party. Turns on roads usually have yellow arrow signs ahead of time to give you an idea of which direction the road is going. Highway 170 doesn't do that very often. You come over the crest of a hill and you don't know what's going to happen next. Your stomach drops just like it would if you were on a roller coaster. If you go to Big Bend, you must ride Highway 170.

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    View from Highway 170 outside Big Bend National Park, Texas.

    When I reach Presidio, TX, I realize that even though I have already traveled 1000 miles, my journey has just begun. I am now at the Rio Grande River, and it is time to head north to Montana. 1000 miles and the journey has just started!

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    Me, standing by the Rio Grande River.

    I remember when riding 300 miles in a day was a big deal. Now it's an average day. I think the Camelbak has made a huge difference. I cannot imagine riding in a hot climate without one now. The Corbin seat doesn't hurt, either. My stamina has really improved. I can do 500 mile days without too much trouble, but that will be the exception instead of the rule on this trip. This is not a race. I have to keep telling myself, "I am not in a hurry." I'm used to looking at a map and figuring out where I'm going to be at the end of the day. Instead of calculating and planning, I need to let it happen. There are campsites and RV parks everywhere. All I need to do is stop at a convenient location whenever it's time.

    I head out of Texas via Highway 90 towards Van Horn and into New Mexico.

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    I met this guy at a rest stop. He owns a restaurant in Alpine, TX and was on his way back from Santa Cruz, CA!

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    A jackrabbit poses for me near a USAF blimp that detects drug smuggling aircraft. Highway 90, Texas.

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    You've seen this picture on advrider before. It's architectural art located 38 miles west of Marfa, TX on Highway 90 in the middle of nowhere.

    I ride past the Guadalupe Mountain Range (the highest point in Texas) and reach White's City, NM outside of Carlsbad Caverns. I camp for the night.

    I tour Carlsbad Caverns the next day. The guided tour of the smaller rooms is not very informative. You need to tour the big room which is called -- conveniently -- The Big Room. It is the area of fourteen football fields. Whether you take a tour with an audio device or stop to read each plaque, this is definitely the reason you come to Carlsbad Caverns. Very cool.

    I realize on the elevator ride up to the surface that I stink. The tour guide mentioned mysterious microbes living in the unexplored parts of the cavern, but I think I have some living in my touring jacket. I ride on to Roswell, NM and do laundry.
    #1
  2. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Gordo tonto y contento.

    Joined:
    May 12, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,331
    Location:
    San Diego, not Mex, but I can smell it from here.
    :lurk




    Camelbak and a custom saddle are money well spent. :thumb
    #2
  3. Joliet Jake

    Joliet Jake Opposer

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    The next morning I head downtown to the two UFO museums with much anticipation. After all, this is Roswell, right?

    The UFO Museum in Roswell, NM is in an old movie theater downtown and consists of documents hung on pegboards. It has all the vitality of an eighth grade science fair (minus the science part). You sign a guest book when you enter, and there's a checkbox that says, "I came all the way to Roswell to see this". I wonder if at the end of the day they count up all the checkmarks and have a good laugh. I don't check the box. I don't even take a picture. There's a reason it's free, folks.

    My next stop is down the street at the Area 51 museum. The "museum" is a narrow room containing large dioramas with aliens posing in each scene. That's it.

    The most embarrassing thing about my trip was not the time I almost dropped my bike onto a gleaming yellow Harley in front of a cafe full of onlookers, nor when I exhibited flatulence during a quiet moment on the tour of McDonald Observatory. No, dear reader, there is nothing more embarrassing about my trip that I could tell you than the fact that the Area 51 museum got my two dollars. I got taken. Most people don't admit to things like this because they want others to experience the same shame, but I don't mind. Do not go to Roswell for the UFOs. Eating a bucket of KFC chicken while watching an X-Files re-run would be ten times more rewarding.

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    Roswell, New Mexico. The truth is out there, but it's not here.

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    Refueling right before leaving Roswell, New Mexico.

    The trip between Roswell and Alamogordo, NM is full of speed traps and double fine zones, but as you descend Highway 70, you see the San Andreas mountains from horizon to horizon, and it's beautiful.

    Next on the itinerary is the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo. It is very well done and well worth a visit. There is a floor dedicated to rockets, one for satellites, another for a hall of fame, and lots of discussion of the Soviet space program as well. I learn that the reason for the prevalence of astronomy and weapons research in this part of the country is a predictable climate, great visibility from the southern latitude, and sparse population. I also see the grave of Ham the Astrochimp. You can't go wrong for only $3. Looking back on my Roswell experience earlier in the day, I find it very appropriate that the UFO museum has pegboards while this museum is a modern, four story monument of science and technology.

    Next I head to White Sands National Monument fifteen miles outside of Alamogordo. It is a fun little ride in and out of the park. As I'm headed out of the park, I pass a photogenic sand dune and decide I want to go back to take a picture. There is an enormous grey RV approaching in the opposite direction at approximately .032 miles per hour, lumbering along like an elephant. I have about 70 or 80 feet of space between me and the RV, and it is practically crawling, so I make my U turn and pull off to the side of the road. Now the RV and I are facing the same direction. As I'm removing my gloves and unzipping my tank bag to get my camera, the RV stops next to me and the giant door swings open. There are two 50-something guys staring down at me. I'm used to situations like this because I will often pull over to take a picture, and the vehicle behind me will stop or slow down to make sure that I am OK. I'll give the thumbs up sign, and the other vehicle acknowledges me and drives away. Except these guys aren't asking me if I'm OK. In fact, their expressions are totally blank. Stone faced. I'm looking at them, and they're looking at me, and they're not saying anything. I break the ice by giving them the thumbs up sign. They immediately sigh and relax, and the driver says to me, "I thought you were a policeman with all those lights."

    :imaposer

    They go on their way, and I take my pictures. As I ride out of the park, I can't stop thinking about what he said: "with all those lights". At first I think my yellow jacket and ATGATT makes me look like a cop, but he distinctly mentioned my lights. What lights? I don't have a headlight modulator, so that can't be it. And I don't have any PIAA lights mounted, nor does my bike even remotely resemble a CHP model, so what was it? Then it dawns on me. He thought my flashing Hiperlights were police lights! When he saw me make a U turn in front of him and then apply my brakes, the flashing lights made him think I was a cop! I wish I would have realized what was happening because I would have said to them in a very stern tone, "You boys sure were going fast back there."

    Yellow Kilimanjaro II jacket: $300
    Hiperlights: $80
    Pulling over RVs in national parks: priceless.

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    White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

    After staying in Las Cruces, NM for the night, I take Highway 152 towards Silver City, NM. This road is fun and twisty through the Gila National Forest.

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    This guy is a clockmaker in Hillsboro, New Mexico, population 129. He gets around town on this 1977 Suzuki 125cc. He says it's hard to find tires for it. Emma the dog looks on.

    I get stung by a bee after pulling away from a fuel stop in Hillsboro, NM. It's the first time that's ever happened while riding. I guess the bee got trapped in my touring jacket, freaked out, and decided to sting me on the back of the neck. Luckily, I do not have an allergic reaction to the sting, which is amazing considering fire ants cause me to swell into Mr. Michelin.
    :amazon

    The next day I visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I can tell the docent is a Texan from his dialect (he showed me the "pitchergraphs" on the cave walls), and he confirms he is from San Antonio.

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    Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

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    Lizard in Gila National Forest, New Mexico.

    Now it is time to leave New Mexico for Arizona. I am looking forward to riding on Arizona's famed highway 191. While entering Arizona on Highway 180, I can't believe how amazing the view from Highway 180 is. It reminds me of the phone commercial where the guy buying the cellular phone spins the wheel of adjectives... "Spectacular!"

    I refuel in Clifton, AZ and head up 191 into the mountains. The first 15 miles are open mines with gigantic dump trucks crawling within them like the ones you see in "Modern Marvels" on the Learning Channel. Once I get past the mines, it's time for the twisty ascent.

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    Highway 191 in eastern Arizona.

    When you reach the top, you can't believe you're in the USA. It looks like China with an endless series of misty mountain ranges scrolling off into the distance for a thousand miles.

    I underestimated how long it would take to ride Highway 191. I started in the late afternoon from Clifton, and it's almost 6:30pm now. I'm getting tired, and as the sun is setting, critters are going to start jumping out in front of me. I decide to call it a day and camp.

    I pull into a primitive campground, dismount, and begin walking around looking for the perfect campsite. I hear a loud "CRASH" behind me and turn around to find that my bike has fallen over. The ground is uneven, and the bike was almost vertical on a sloped grade. The bike must have rolled forward ever so slightly on the downward grade, and the side stand no longer supported the weight. I have a nice little dent in my aluminum pannier as a memento. Luckily, I carry spare levers. I don my REI mosquito head net (complete with camouflage yarmulke!), and it takes only ten minutes to replace the clutch lever. Lessons learned: 1. make sure your bike is leaning onto your sidestand, not close to vertical. 2. carry spare levers.

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    Broken clutch lever.

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    Setting up camp in Apache National Forest, eastern Arizona.

    When I continue the next morning, I discover there is a bed and breakfast about .2 miles down the road from where i camped. :bluduh

    The ride to the Petrified Forest evokes images of Arizona from Bugs Bunny Road Runner cartoons: reddish brown boulders stacked on top of each other and wooden telephone poles lining the road to the horizon. Some of the roads are so straight here that I almost wish I had a sport bike so I could utter "meep meep" and leave a ribbon of tarmac fluttering behind me like the Road Runner.

    The petrified forest is interesting... if you majored in geology. I'm not much of a geologist, so I take some pictures at the visitor center before riding through the park. I think the most interesting part of the Petrified Forest is the scenic vistas of the badlands in the northern part of the park. "Badlands" derives from a Native American term (literally "bad lands") meaning eroded yet beautiful.

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    Fossils at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

    Next is Canyon de Chelly ("de shay"). You can view the canyon from the rim on the north and south sides. If you want to descend into the canyon, you need to hire a Navajo guide to drive you through. I ride along the south rim.

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    Canyon de Chelly, northeastern Arizona.

    Not a single Navajo has smiled at me since I have been here. Whether it is the color of my skin or the fact I am a tourist, I cannot say. I depart Canyon de Chelly north on Highway 191. Trash and large dead dogs line the highway for 60 miles. I am reminded of the Peter Gabriel song, San Jacinto... And the tears roll down my swollen cheek. This is not a happy place. I have seen trash lining the highways of major cities, but I find it unusual to see it here in such a sparsely populated place.

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    Junction of 191 and 160, northeastern Arizona.

    Despite the negative imagery, I am feeling good about today. I should see some amazing scenery as I dip into southeastern Utah, including Monument Valley. It feels good to not have to grind out miles and just see the sights. Next stop is Navajo Twin Rocks in Bluff, Utah. It is a tourist trap that can be avoided if you are in a hurry. Developers built a restaurant and gift shop at the bottom of a unique rock formation and piped in Navajo flute muzak.

    I ride the dirt road through Valley of the Gods. The canyon walls that surround the formations are almost as impressive as the formations themselves.

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    Valley of the Gods, southeastern Utah.

    I take 261 up the side of the canyon wall. What an amazing view looking down on the Valley of the Gods! At the top of 261, I take a dirt road to see another overlook, Muley Point. The dirt road itself is straight and easy, but there are several washout areas filled with gravel. The gravel is the large kind you see wrapped in mesh along the side of the road to provide runoff and prevent erosion. I ride through the gravel at 35 mph thinking that the speed will help keep me upright. I encounter some obstinate livestock with big horns blocking the road, and I realize that I'm not headed towards the Goosenecks overlook. I turn around and head towards Goosenecks State Park.

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    Goosenecks State Park, Utah.

    Next stop, Monument Valley! I happen to look down prior to getting on my bike, and I see a weird shadow on my front tire. I kneel down for a closer inspection and see this:

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    Houston, we have a problem.

    I must have slashed my front tire on some sharp gravel on that dirt road as I was riding through a washout. I should have slowed down and deflated my tires to get through. Now I have a slashed front tire that could fail at any moment. If only there were a global information network linking suppliers, consumers, and shippers...

    To be continued...
    #3
  4. PackMule

    PackMule love what you do

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Oddometer:
    19,490
    Location:
    New Hampshah
    OutFuckingStanding. :thumbsup


    This one gets 5 (count 'em) stars. :nod

    (BTW, I think I got jipped. The camouflage yarmulke I got in the Army didn't come with a bug net...?) :scratch :lol3
    #4
  5. CuzinMike

    CuzinMike Treedragger

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2005
    Oddometer:
    308
    Location:
    The Here and Now
    Great Report! Keet it coming!
    #5
  6. hammo

    hammo n00b

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2006
    Oddometer:
    7
    Location:
    Garrison, NY
    excellent report and thanks for reminding me i have to get back to new mexico soon. j
    #6
  7. Joliet Jake

    Joliet Jake Opposer

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    I limp 5 miles to the small town of Mexican Hat, Utah. I check into a hotel and immediately fire up an Internet connection. The hotels in this part of the country use satellite dishes for Internet access, so the connection isn't the fastest. I order a new tire from swmototires.com in Tucson, AZ and have it shipped overnight via FedEx. The problem is, it is early evening, and the order won't be placed until tomorrow morning. Furthermore, FedEx priority overnight in this part of the country doesn't mean next morning, it means sometime before sunset.

    So now I have two days to kill waiting for my new tire. I spend the next morning performing maintenance on the bike. I discover that my lower chain roller has completely disintegrated, so I swap it with the upper one which is still intact. The rubber cover on my left footrest has fallen off, but that is no big loss since the right one fell off long ago, and now both sides match! I tighten the steering head bearings and make sure everything else is ship shape.

    Mexican Hat is the quintessential dusty western town. Everyone knows everybody else and occasionally you see someone riding down main street on horseback. There are two restaurants, a gas station, and no stoplight. Soon everybody knows me as the guy from Texas waiting for the motorcycle tire to arrive. The locals explain that FedEx can be hit or miss in this part of the country, and even the Post Office forty miles away cannot guarantee delivery within a certain timeline. I eat at the same outdoor chuckwagon restaurant both nights. The cook wears a cowboy hat and a bandanna around his neck and cooks over an open fire. The waitress jokes that I have my own table now. This isn't such a bad place to break down. The San Juan River runs right behind my hotel, and everyone here is very friendly and accommodating. Even the locals tell me that this is a lot like the Australian outback.

    Finally, the tire arrives!

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    Thanks, Southwest Moto and Federal Express... you rock!

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    This is my F650. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My F650 is my best friend. Without it, I am useless.

    I mount my new tire, and I'm ready to hit the road and see Monument Valley. But first, one last breakfast in Mexican Hat, Utah.

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    These Swedish bikers razzed me for not riding a Harley, but one of them stayed behind after the rest departed and told me he didn't like his rented Harley and missed his F650 Dakar at home.

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    Monument Valley, Utah.

    It's hot as I make my way across Marble Canyon among the Vermillion Cliffs, but then the temperature drops once I enter Kaibab National Forest. I choose the north rim of the Grand Canyon because there are fewer people than the south rim. I finally get to see the Grand Canyon from a vantage point other than 35,000 feet.

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    Bright Angel Point, north rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

    Next stop is Zion National Park. The ride into the park is nice with switchbacks and twisties, but the park is crowded. So crowded, in fact, that the only way to see the heart of the park up close is to take a ninety minute propane-powered shuttle bus that moves at a glacial pace. My ride into and out of the park is more fun than sitting on the bus.

    Bryce Canyon National Park is next. There are lots of people here, too, but the nice thing about Bryce is that most people stay near the entrance of the park where charter buses are permitted. I ride the entire eighteen mile length, and thankfully the remote areas of the park with its spectacular views at Rainbow Point are sparsely occupied. Soon this park will have shuttle buses, too, because it is being overrun. If you're strapped for time, head straight for Bryce Point to see the amphitheater of hoodoos.

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    Hoodoos at Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

    As I'm refueling in Escalante, UT, a shiny black Ford truck pulls up next to me and a guy with tattoos up and down both arms asks me, "Are you the guy who needs the new battery?" I say it's not me, and he hands me his business card. It turns out he is the famous "Desert Doctor" you have heard about on advrider before. He owns the only bike shop for 200 miles. It's obvious he has his PR campaign down to a science, and he tells me to let every rider know about him. The next time you are refueling your bike in Escalante, UT and a guy in a truck asks you, "Are you the one looking for the (tire/battery/whatever)?" please say, "YES! I can't believe you found me." I want to know what his next line is.

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    Escalante, Utah.

    I ride highway 12 through checkerboard slickrock formations and then ascend to the chilly summit with great panoramic views. Highway 12 is definitely worth a ride.

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    Traffic jam on Highway 12, Utah.

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    Highway 24 after exiting Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

    I'm miserable as I ride out of Capitol Reef National Park because it's 95F and windy. I want to go to Moab, and my original route was to take Highway 95 south to Blanding, but now I am considering taking the shorter route on Highway 24 instead. While refueling at a gas station, a rider from Colorado tells me that the shorter route is boring and that I should take Highway 95.

    Right answer.

    Highway 95 from Hanksville to Blanding, UT is the best desert road I have ever ridden. While Texas 170 is pure kinetics, Utah 95 combines twisties with stunning scenery of Glen Canyon that is up close and personal. You feel like you're in a video game. I soon forget that it is 95F. Book your tickets now.

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    Highway 95, southeastern Utah.

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    Glen Canyon, southeastern Utah.

    I ride to Natural Bridges National Monument and try to muster the will to take pictures, but I am reaching my saturation point. One of my friends has an analogous term for it when touring Europe: "ABC", or "Another Bloody Church". After you tour so many churches or castles in Europe, you just can't take another one. I can't take any more geology. No more plaques about rocks, minerals, fossils, sandstone, limestone, or the Blarney Stone... that's it, I'm done. The only fossils I care about now are the refined ones I put in my 4.5 gallon tank, and the only geology I want to know about is the beautiful scenery going past me at 75 miles per hour.

    I ride to Moab and join a cavalcade of dirt bikes, ATVs, humvees, and Jeeps as they file into town from every direction like some kind of haj. An unseasonable heat wave has parked itself over the Colorado Plateau, and it's 95F in the shade. I'm wearing ATGATT touring gear. I decide not to ride offroad. It's too hot, there are too many people, and I will have plenty of opportunity to ride dirt in beautiful weather in Montana. I do not feel comfortable riding offroad by myself on Metzler Tourance tires in 95F heat. I'll save Moab for a group tour in nicer weather sometime in the future. After being on the road for two weeks, I decide what I really need is to get out of the heat and off the bike and recharge in the big city. I ride quickly through Arches National Park and then head to Salt Lake City.

    The temperature starts to cool down as the mountains approach in the distance. My spirits are starting to lift. I don't even mind that there are long straightaway sections of highway because the cool air feels great, and things are turning green again. As I'm riding into the city, I happen to look down at my odometer at the exact moment it rolls over to 24,000 miles. Time for an oil change! I couldn't have planned this any better if I tried.

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    Highway 6 on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah.

    I check into a swanky downtown hotel with modern fluffy beds and oatmeal flakes in the soap. The great thing about staying downtown is that everything is one block away. I finish the book I'm reading, so I go to a bookstore and buy another one. I see a movie, do laundry, and lift weights. I have a fantastic Italian dinner and sleep in the next day. So far on this trip, most of my lunches have come from convenience store refrigerators. Lunch consists of those triangular sandwich wedges that come in vacuum packed plastic. I've developed quite a taste for them. There's a scene in Long Way Round where Ewan jokes that after the trip is over, he and Charley will continue to meet at petrol stations. I am starting to feel the same way about my lunches. I wonder if after I get back when my friends ask me to lunch, I'll say, "Sure, let's meet at the 7-Eleven on the corner of 12th and Main... they have a great ham on rye there."

    After a day and a half of R&R, I decide to get my oil changed on my way out of town. I ride to BMW of Salt Lake and ask the service manager if he can squeeze me in. He walks back to the shop to see what's on the docket. Even if he says no, I have a kit and can do it myself, but I'd rather indulge myself and let someone else do the work. He returns and says that the tech is in between projects -- the next one being the disassembly of an LT. "Your timing is impeccable," he says. I spend two hours drooling over BMW apparel that my local dealer doesn't carry because of contractual issues.

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    Shaggy the dog greets customers at BMW of Salt Lake.

    I depart Salt Lake City. My riding gear is clean, my bike's oil has been changed, and my mind and body are rejuvenated.
    #7
  8. ThomD

    ThomD Is this thing on?

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2006
    Oddometer:
    783
    Location:
    SF Bay Area
    :lurk
    #8
  9. Joliet Jake

    Joliet Jake Opposer

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    I ride through Brigham City, UT and feel like I'm in a John Steinbeck novel. Sycamore trees and white picket fences line Main Street with gentle rolling mountains in the distance. This is what California must have been like in the fifties.

    On my way to Wyoming, I dip into southeastern Idaho on Highway 89 and ride through small country towns with populations of 100 or less. I reach Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are impressive because there are no foothills leading up to them. The mountains simply appear right out of a plateau. I decide to visit Jenny Lake since I have heard good things about it. When I arrive at the lake, something very interesting happens. For the first time on my trip, I don't feel the need to act like a tourist by snapping a picture and moving on as if checking something off my list. I just want to sit and experience the stillness and solitude.

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    Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

    I have done three interviews today, the most in one day so far on my trip. Let me explain. There is a tendency when riding on a solo motorcycle trip for people to walk up to you and ask questions. I don't think this happens as often when you ride in a group because it can be intimidating to approach a group of bikers and disturb their social clique. But when you are riding alone, the social barrier is reduced, and that makes you more approachable (it helps when you ride a motorcycle with out of state license plates loaded with lots of camping gear). People come up and start asking you questions. I call this process "doing interviews". Some riders don't like this ritual, but I enjoy it. It allows you to be a representative to riders and non-riders alike. Sometimes the interviewer is a fellow rider, and you share weather reports or fun routes. When the interview is a non-rider, the questions usually pertain to your bike or the equipment. Here is a list of some of the more memorable interview questions I have been asked on my trip:

    "Aren't you a little over-dressed?"
    "Is there enough room for you on that motorcycle?"
    "I've never seen a Beemer without cylinders sticking out of the sides."
    "Are those side bags insulated?"
    "Are you comfortable on that thing?"
    "You're from the States? I thought you were from another country."
    "Going to Sturgis early this year?"

    It's getting late, so I camp at Flagg Ranch outside of Yellowstone. The nighttime temperature is 30F, but my sleeping bag is rated for 30F, so I am nice and warm. I sleep well.

    I spend the next day in Yellowstone. I wanted to do a figure-8 through the park, but the northeastern quadrant is closed for road construction. I hit the highlights including Old Faithful and the Yellowstone River. I see lots of wildlife including mule deer, bison, and Canadian geese.

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    Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

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    Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

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    Entering Montana from the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

    I depart Yellowstone via the north entrance and enter Montana. Highway 89 runs through a beautiful plateau. I decide to stay at a hotel in Bozeman, MT for the evening. I exit Interstate 90 where all the hotels are, and I turn right. I soon discover, however, that I am going the wrong direction and that the hotels are on the other side of the Interstate. I turn into a small strip mall in order to turn around. As I'm circling around, I notice in the corner of the strip mall is the "American Computer Museum."

    Those of you who know me know that I have, shall we say, a passing interest in computer technology. I've been to the Computer Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, so there's no way this place in a rinky dink strip mall is going to impress me. The outside glass has pictures of some of the exhibits including old Apple I and Apple ][ computers, near and dear to my heart. The sign on the door says, "Open". I look at the clock. It's Thursday at 6:55pm. The hours posted on the door say that Thursday is the only day of the week they have extended hours until 8pm. I decide this is an omen for me to visit this museum.

    I go in, pay my $4, and am practically forced into a small room to watch a twelve minute introductory video explaining the exhibits. I'm so tired from riding all day that I could probably watch twelve minutes of white noise or a cricket match telecast in Japanese. I laugh out loud because I'm sitting alone in the dark on a folding chair in full motorcycle textile regalia watching a guy who resembles Jim Henson explain the American Computer Museum to me. Just show me the Apple stuff, and I'll be on my way.

    After the video is over, I begin the tour. And it totally blows my mind! Believe me, it would take no effort whatsoever to amass a bunch of 128K Macintoshes and an Atari 2600 from garage sales, put them under a glass case, and call it your "computer museum". That is not what this museum is about. The museum is really about the history of computation instead of computer technology. The exhibits trace a timeline from Sumerian tablets, number systems, information theory, electronics, automation, and of course, hardware from the 1940s onward. There are even copies of Newton's Principia Mathematica and Optics, two pivotal works in the history of mathematics and astronomy, respectively. By the time the Apple display comes around at the end, it is almost anti-climactic. I am enthralled. I am the last visitor to leave the building. It is on par with an episode of James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed. And it is located in a nondescript strip mall in Bozeman, MT next to a beauty salon, a chiropractor, and a locksmith. I'm not saying you should go to Bozeman, MT just to see the American Computer Museum, but if you're ever in Bozeman, check it out.

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    American Computer Museum, Bozeman, Montana.

    As I'm checking into the hotel, the receptionist asks, "What brings you to Bozeman?"
    "I'm headed up to Glacier," I say.
    She gives no response. Not even, "That's nice" or, "It's impassable" or anything like that. This is not a good sign.

    I check the weather report for Glacier and see that it's five straight days of rain with winter snow advisories above 5000 feet. Going-to-the-Sun Road is not yet completely plowed. Bummer. I would have liked to have seen Glacier National Park and reached the Canadian border as a milestone, but snow and potentially freezing rain do not sound like a good idea. I decide to turn back.

    I depart Bozeman, MT after briefly driving past the university as an homage to Robert Pirsig. It's starting to sprinkle, but I leave the thunderclouds behind as I head east. I take 78 from Columbus, MT to 212 and then the Beartooth pass. It's overcast, so I don't think I get the full effect. I stop at the summit at the scenic overlook and laugh because there are ten spotless sport touring motorcycles parked here, and then there's my Filthy McNasty Rat Bike with three weeks of grime all over it. A helpful rider from Billings, MT educates me about the two passes I will cross next. It's overcast and very cold crossing the two passes, but I enjoy the scenic descent on 296 into Cody, WY.

    The next morning, I am excited to see Devil's Tower, the site of Steven Spielberg's 1978 documentary. I don my Thinsulate cold weather gear, start up the bike, and run through my pre-flight checklist. That's funny, my Hiperlights are not flashing. I discover that my front brake switch is malfunctioning. The rear brake light is constantly on even when I release the brake lever. This is not good since someone behind me won't know when I'm stopping. I have a Zen moment as I listen to the early morning birds chirping and proceed to take the brake switch apart carefully with my Leatherman. The switch is working fine mechanically, so the problem is not the switch, it's with the actuator of the switch. I squirt some WD40 into the actuator and clean it off with a rag, and when I reassemble everything, it's working again. This is the second time this problem has occurred since I've owned the bike. It seems every now and then, you have to unscrew the front brake switch, clean everything, and reconnect it.

    While the ascent into the Bighorn Mountains is fun, the descent is through thick fog! I am going 25 miles per hour with about 30 feet of visibility. I make up for lost time by grinding out the rest of the day on the Interstate. It's not so bad because there are rolling hills to look at. With the brake switch malfunction and the fog, I don't make it to Devil's Tower until the next day.

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    Devil's Tower, Wyoming.

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    5ft long bull snake at Devil's Tower. Harmless to humans, it is a non-venomous constrictor that eats rodents.

    As I cross into South Dakota, I see Confederate flags and lots of chrome, and nobody is returning my waves. My next stop is Mount Rushmore. I ride to the summit of 244 and see the parking garage for the monument. But I don't see the monument. I make a U turn and that's when I see Mount Rushmore. It is tiny, which is why I completely missed it as I rode by. All of the pictures you have seen of it were taken from a helicopter with a telephoto lens in good light. It is very underwhelming.

    I camp in Rapid City, SD as a major thunderstorm rolls through. I deliberately leave my bike uncovered so the rain will wash some of the gunk off. I sleep right through the storm. The next morning, the rain has made a 1% improvement in the amount of grime covering my bike.

    I ride east on Interstate 90 towards Badlands National Park. I see a sign for the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base. It's Memorial Day, so I decide it's the perfect opportunity to go. I end up spending the whole morning there. I take a bus onto the base and tour a Minuteman II training silo. The Minuteman II missiles are all decommissioned now, but their successors still sleep under these vast prairies.

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    B-1 Bomber, South Dakota Air and Space Museum, taken on Memorial Day. The nose art says, "Let's Roll!"

    I depart the museum and head east. Along the way, there are billboards along the Interstate advertising this amazing place called "Wall Drug". Each one of these small billboards has a factoid about the place ending in "... at Wall Drug." "See the giant T-Rex... at Wall Drug." "Giant Jackalope... at Wall Drug." "Free ice water... at Wall Drug." In one hour's time there must be one hundred of these billboards along the road. When you reach the city of Wall, the very last billboard admonishes you, "Last chance to see Wall Drug." I decide to check this place out. My mental prediction is a Cracker Barrel restaurant on acid. I am correct.

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    Jackalope (Jakealope?) at Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota.

    I ride through Badlands National Park. The rock formations remind me of giant sandcastles that could melt at any moment. As I'm riding on a dirt road, I come across a herd of bison grazing, including a few standing right in the middle of the road. Bison scare me. Last time I checked, Firstgear does not make protection for a 2000 pound set of horns coming at you at 30 miles per hour. If one of those bulls thinks I'm threatening the herd, I'm history. So I sit and wait to see if they wander off. After five minutes of waiting, a car in the opposite direction plods along, and some of the bison scatter. I see this as my opportunity, so I gently nudge forward. The driver of the car rolls down his window and jokingly asks me, "Do you have enough padding?" "I hope so," I reply. Thankfully, the bison run off as I approach.

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    Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

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    Sage Creek Rim Road, Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

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    Bison trotting away from me in Badlands National Park. Picture taken with handlebar mount as I rode by them.

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    Graffiti in Custer State Park, South Dakota. No, it's not my handwriting. I don't hate Harleys, I just think it's funny.

    I ride the ridiculously fun Route 16A and then through Custer State Park, SD. You could easily spend all day in Custer State Park. I visit Wind Cave National Park and tour its visitor center. I don't go into the cave (I'm still a little burned out on geology), but the visitor center has a very informative history of the ecosystem the park is preserving. It explains how 20 million bison were slaughtered almost to extinction around the year 1900 and how there are currently 200,000. I can now appreciate the lack of smiles I experienced in northeastern Arizona.

    I turn south. The realization hits me that my adventure is nearing an end. Every mile under my tires brings me closer to where I started. I ride through the rolling prairies of western Nebraska. I head toward Agate ("ag-it") Fossil Beds National Monument. I want to visit this place because it's on the way, and it's kind of remote, so I think it will be rather unique. A thunderstorm is blowing in. It's cold and windy, but it hasn't started raining yet. A windmill to my right is spinning furiously trying to keep up with the wind. I look up and see a hawk above me flapping its wings, but it's not moving, it's just flapping and staying in one place. I ride quickly to the museum and learn about the fossils from the Miocene era (much later than the dinosaurs).

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    Agate Fossil Beds National Monument visitor's center.

    I leave the museum and route around the thunderstorm. I cross over into Wyoming, and on a whim take Highway 270. It turns out to be a fantastic ride through rolling hills. I also enjoy Highway 210. I've never been to Scotland, but this is what I imagine it to be: light grey mist enveloping rocky hills. What a great ride.

    On my ride to breakfast the next day I immediately notice that something doesn't feel right. It feels like my shock has failed. When I look under the bike, there is oil all over the suspension linkage. I see road gunk caked on the cylinder of the shock, and I'm sure the seal has failed. That sucks. I have 1500 more miles to go, and now I'll be doing it without suspension. After I get the shock rebuilt, I'll have to construct a flap to protect it like the F650GS guys do.

    Later that day as I cross into northern Colorado, I look down and see my right windshield bolt is dangling precariously and about to fall out. Sure enough, when I downshift to pull off to the side of the road, it falls out. I walk back to pick it up and then pull off to a safe place to re-insert it. The windshield bolts of the carbureted F650 are fastened with wellnuts made out of chocolate. If I had not looked down at the exact instant I did, the bolt would have been lost. I examine the other fairing bolts and find that all of my fairing bolts are little loose, so I take the opportunity to tighten them all. When I go on another long distance trip, I'll need to set aside a day each week to tighten everything down.

    I ride through Rocky Mountain National Park, and there are a lot of tourists and crass commercialism surrounding the park. There are many other amazing mountain passes you can experience in Colorado without snarled traffic.

    I ride through Colorado's San Luis Valley and forgo tourist stops such as the alligator zoo and UFO observation platform on my way to Great Sands National Park nestled up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Great Sands is the last national park I will visit on my trip. There isn't much you can do with a large pile of sand, but there are nice exhibits for the kiddos.

    I grind out a ten hour day of 529 miles between Raton, NM and Abilene, TX. The Texas panhandle is fairly boring except for two beautiful canyons on Highway 207 near the city of Canyon. Ten hours is about all my posterior can take. It's getting dark, and riding through the Texas hill country at dusk isn't a good idea. I'll have an easy ride home tomorrow.

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    Highway 207, Texas panhandle. It feels good to be back.

    Today is the last day of my trip. It's an easy 3 hour ride from Abilene to Austin. I make an effort to stay focused and not let my mind wander. Flashbacks to the end of Easy Rider come to mind. It's a good thing, too: I see a truck in the opposing direction experience a blowout and pull over to the side of the road with a billow of smoke behind his rear tire for hundreds of feet.

    As I approach Austin, I look forward to riding on 1431, a popular roller coaster ride through the Texas hill country. Then I realize there is a huge biker rally in Austin this weekend. The hill country is clogged with chrome. I am unwittingly absorbed into a slow formation of Harleys on what is normally an isolated country road near my house. Surrounded by do-rags and wifebeater undershirts, I stand out like a radioactive circus clown. I start to hear the opening brass section to the Village People's "YMCA" in my head. Then I realize that this sort of escort into Austin is totally appropriate. Just as in Long Way Round, I ride to my final city with a cruiser escort! I stand on my foot pegs while I ride down my street. I'm home.


    Epilogue

    This experience was amazing. I learned a lot in the process. The timing was good, too. The weather was not too hot and not too cold (with the exception of northern Montana). There was a little rain, but not much. I wanted to time it so that I could see the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Had I left earlier, I would have encountered a locked gate, and if I had left later, it would have been too hot in the desert. The summer vacation season had not yet started, so attractions were not totally clogged with tourists. My National Parks Pass easily paid for itself. The only bummer was not being able to see Glacier National Park in Montana.

    I see my F650 in a different light now. This trip highlighted its weaknesses. It has nothing to do with the mechanical hurdles I encountered on my trip. Those are to be expected on any long distance trip on any motorcycle. No, it wasn't that. I yearn for more fairing for wind protection, fuel injection for better mileage, ABS for increased safety, and a big engine for the highway. Don't get me wrong: the F650 is a great starter bike, and it's perfect for tootin' around Texas on weekend rides and short trips. And if I wanted to do an around-the-world trip over every kind of terrain imaginable, I would definitely choose the F650. But for long distance tarmac riding in Western Civilization with the occasional dirt road -- the kind of riding I like to do -- a boxer is the right tool for the job.

    What worked well: lightweight bike cover and neoprene faceshield bag from Aerostich; spare levers; Wolfman Explorer Lite tank bag; all my Firstgear textile clothing.

    What didn't work well: digital tire gauges. They don't last long. My $8 Harbor Freight model failed prior to the trip, and my $20 Aerostich model failed during the trip. I bought a nice $10 analog model from Brookstone while I was in Salt Lake City. It's built like a tank, and it allows you to adjust pressure and take a measurement at the same time. Analog tire gauges take up a little more room, but they are definitely worth it.

    states visited: 10
    national parks and monuments visited: 15
    days: 28
    miles: 6985
    cost of fuel: $545
    gallons of fuel used: 185
    average miles per gallon: 37.8 (time for a carburetor rebuild)
    mechanical hurdles: broken clutch lever, slashed front tire, lost footrest cover, flaky front brake switch, almost lost windshield bolt, failed rear shock
    #9
  10. Jedediah

    Jedediah Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2006
    Oddometer:
    822
    Location:
    Riverside County, California.
    What a great trip and ride report. Thanks.

    Jed
    #10
  11. PaleRider

    PaleRider gelande/strasse

    Joined:
    May 1, 2004
    Oddometer:
    9,980
    Location:
    ceteris paribus
    [​IMG]

    nice report and some great pictures
    #11
  12. mjhil

    mjhil Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    Escondido, Ca
    I'm jealous. Great report. Enjoyed reading about your adventure. The slashed tire chapter was the most exciting. I guess the broken lever was exciting, too. Glad you made it back ok.
    #12
  13. Wallace

    Wallace Seat belt tight babe?

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2005
    Oddometer:
    841
    Mexican Hat.........one of my favs.:D

    Thanks for sharing.
    #13
  14. PackMule

    PackMule love what you do

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Oddometer:
    19,490
    Location:
    New Hampshah

    :photog :oscar Great writing, great pics -- hope to see more reports from you!


    (BTW, what's up with the job situation?)
    #14
  15. Deano955

    Deano955 Insatiable

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2005
    Oddometer:
    4,515
    Location:
    Colorado
    This is one of, if not the, best ride reports I have read on this site.

    Excellent job.
    #15
  16. Fubars

    Fubars What would Scoobydo?

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2003
    Oddometer:
    2,004
    Location:
    Ventuna, California
    Outstanding. Toss the stock shock and buy a Wilbers. You'll love it.
    #16
  17. LavaBull

    LavaBull Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2005
    Oddometer:
    221
    Location:
    Republic of Goat Trails
    Terrific photography and captions... :clap

    Awesome... :lurk



    ___________________

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    #17
  18. nomiles

    nomiles Sledge-o-matic

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2002
    Oddometer:
    4,332
    Location:
    Bay Area ~ NorCal
    Outstanding report! ~ Thanks. :thumb :thumb
    #18
  19. ktmnate

    ktmnate Long timer

    Joined:
    May 7, 2003
    Oddometer:
    3,092
    Location:
    Somewhere
    :lurk Man you are organized.
    #19
  20. strommer

    strommer Ride for balance

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2004
    Oddometer:
    374
    Location:
    Beantown
    My motto is, as a rule, if a trip report starts off with a photo of the equipment - one should read it. And your report proves me right. Outstanding.

    During my cross country trip last summer (report can be found under `Team Two Turks`) I passed through many of the places you did and wish I could do it again. Regarding the desecration of the Twin Rocks at Bluff....I could not agree more. That was the only truly ugly thing I saw in almost 4000 miles of riding from DC to San Francisco.

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    #20