A Tale of Extremes

The motorcycle culture is made up of so many different sub-cultures. We riders fancy ourselves as adventure riders, touring riders, motocross racers, one-percenter wanna be’s, moto GP wanna be’s, dirt bikers; and the list goes on. Motorcycles themselves are now categorized: adventure bikes, vintage bikes, touring bikes, sport touring bikes, sport bikes, dirt bikes, standards, baggers, cafe racers, quack, quack, quack. All this in motorcycling’s mainstream arena.

Then you have the extremes. The type of riding and riders that bookend everything above. People and bikes that take it to the limit. On one end you have the Iron Butt Association (IBA), made up of riders who push their machines to the end of mechanical failure, and take themselves to the brink of sanity, or maybe over it. The love of riding uber long distances in a certain time frame lures these men and women to compete in rallies sponsored by the IBA: Saddlesore 1000, 1000 miles in 24 hours or less; Bunburner 1500, 1500 miles in 36 hours or less; and longer competitions leading up to the ultimate test of machine and rider, The Iron Butt Rally, 11,000 miles in 11 days.

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In order to become a member of the IBA, one must complete a Saddlesore 1000. That’s 1000 miles in 24 hours. Very doable if you are so inclined. I am not. I don’t want to do anything for 24 hours, even something I am very passionate about. Give me a 300 to 500 mile day in the saddle every now and then, and I’m good. However, I do admire and enjoy reading about the exploits of these men and women who have the physical stamina and mental toughness to compete in IBA sanctioned rallies. They are truly amazing.

On the other end of our wonderful motorcycle culture we have the long distance travelers. Cross country travelers, overseas travelers, round the world travelers. These are men and women, and at times, their families, who might chuck it all to spend years on the road via motorcycle to experience life, people, cultures. Or, they may take six months and travel through a certain part of the world that fascinates them. Iron Butt riders are concerned with miles and time. Travelers concentrate on experiences with people and cultures. The motorbikes are their means of conveyance. These are the men and women of Horizons Unlimited.

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“The Only Borders Are in your Mind”

I had the pleasure of attending a Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting at Ironhorse Motorcycle Campground in Stecoah, North Carolina recently, and met the most amazing people!

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I’d been aware of Horizon’s Unlimited (HU) for a few years now, and periodically would visit their website, which you can view here. Then I saw they were having one of their Traveler’s Meetings only 160 miles from my home here in South Carolina. I couldn’t pass it up.

HU conducts their Traveler’s Meetings all over the world throughout the year. Their emphasis is on travel, by any means, but especially by motorcycle. The founders, Susan and Grant Johnson, are active motorcyclists themselves who have traveled round the world numerous times. HU acts as a resource for travelers with books, DVD’s, podcasts, webinars to educate and inspire. The Travelers Meetings include workshops and seminars on various topics as well as slide shows given by those who have traveled extensively by motorcycle. I couldn’t wait to leave.

Friday

The Traveler’s meetings actually start on Thursday and go through Sunday. Work commitments had me leaving home on Friday. It’s all good. With an early start, I headed for my favorite route to the mountains; Hwy 178 in South Carolina, connecting to Hwy 215 in North Carolina, which takes me right to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once on the BRP, I took a “refreshment” break and some photos of the changing of the foliage.

Heading south on the BRP, the elevation climbs in a northward direction. It was getting much cooler, much wetter, and much foggier. It was eerie and beautiful at the same time. I could barely see the sign for the highest point on the Motor Road due to the fog.

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And it was a bit nippy. This rider’s blood is southern fried, and anything below 60 degrees warrants winter gear.

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 The beaST comes out of the fog (like the movie Christine, but with a bike)

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The forecast called for rain to begin this afternoon and continue through Saturday. As I neared Ironhorse, it began pissing rain on and off. Parking the ST, I quickly set up camp and threw my gear in the tent just as it started to rain heavily. I covered the beaST with her bike cover, then ran to the porch of the lodge building, watching the rain come down with other travelers. It didn’t stop raining until early Sunday morning.

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The beaST goes undercover

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 After cleanup and snack, it was time to mingle with people from everywhere and who have been everywhere. Most folks at this Travelers Meeting were from here in the States, but there were also riders from the UK, Canada and Germany. Those from the States came from far and away. I met a couple from Maryland, a really funny guy from New Hampshire, one fellow rode cross-country from the state of Washington, two guys from Florida, and one absolutely hysterically funny guy who could pass for Newman on the old Seinfeld show, from, guess where? Yep. New York City, Brooklyn to be exact!

The demographic was just as interesting. My initial thought was that this was going to be an old retired guy fest. After all, they have the time and the disposable income to do this sort of thing. I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the well-to-do 60+ crowd was well represented, but ages ranged from 19 years old (youngest), through 70+. Men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s rounded out the participants. I was really happy to see women well represented here, and not just pillion riders. Most of the women were in their 30’s and 40’s, and get this, only two of them were riding pillion! Fantastic! Even more fascinating was that three of them had ridden round the world! This weekend was going to be awesome!

This afternoon’s seminar topics included a open forum discussion on “safety & security while traveling abroad” and “personal hydration management.” The pre-dinner seminars were rounded out with a dynamic presentation by a couple doing a “honeymoon round the world trip on a Goldwing.” All were well received and well presented.

Dinner in the lodge was a combination of good food and great conversation. Then it was time for three more presentations before sacking out.

Despite the weather, it was a full house.

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The evening presentations included “designing your own gear” and two travel presentaions: “Kazakhstan and life choices” and “Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kryrgystan.” It’s been a full day. It was midnight by the time the last seminar ended and I swam to my tent.

Saturday

Rain. More rain. Rain, rain, rain. Pouring down as I woke up and threw on rain gear for the dash to the bath house. Workshops and seminars were to begin at 1 PM, so the morning would be spent picking the brains of seasoned travelers and drinking coffee and water.

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(Note the Ural in the foreground. This is the owner’s only means of transportation and he criss-crosses the country with that rig.)

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 Horizons Unlimited Tent City-by the Lodge ……

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and Creekside

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 The bikes

The rain would let up now and then for us to walk around and check out the motorbikes. As I suspected, about 80 percent of the bikes here were BMW GS’s, both the different versions of the 1200 and a few F800’s. Yamaha’s Super Tenere was here, four of them, a couple of Goldwings, some older BMW’s, R80 I think, my lone Honda ST1300, and one Moto Guzzi V7II.

Think these guys have been places? Puts Johnny Cash to shame. They’ve been everywhere, man!

Believe it or not, this bike has been around the world twice, and belongs to one of the presenters here: 1981 Yamaha 250! He bought it for $65.00 on        e-bay three years ago! Who needs a GS?

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 The Rat Scooter

So, a good number of us are on the front porch, waiting for the afternoon seminars and counting raindrops. The rain was letting up a bit when in rolls this clanking, belching Bergman scooter that looked like it had been on the front lines in a war zone. Actually, it sort of had. The story goes that the owner was gassing up at a gas station back in 2009, while another bike on the opposite pump was fueling also. Apparently, somehow, the other bike went up in flames and this scooters bodywork with it. The scooter fire was put out, but not before the plastic bodywork had melted. The owner decided to leave it as is, as bits and pieces fell off through the years. He kept adding all kinds of stuff to his scoot to arrive at it’s current iteration. Oh, he also rides this thing all over the country!

The Rat Scooter

025Check out the slides below and read the things he has written on body panels, as well as all the stuff he has hanging off this thing!

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One other thing he has hand written on a body panel, but no pic:

” You mess with this scooter, you mess with the whole trailer park.”

This machine belongs in the Smithsonian! It’s a classic!

Saturday afternoon’s seminars included: “Finding the time/building the budget” , a Q & A discussion on border crossings, and “Practical minimalism/packing small.” These were  interspersed with college football on the big screen between presentations. The rain continued. After the last afternoon presentation, it was into the dining area for a scrumptious salmon dinner. I sat with the couple from Germany who were touring the States and rode half-way across the country to attend this Traveller’s Meeting. I was mesmerized by their stories of life on the road by motorcycle and how their perceptions of people and places changed as they traveled.

Saturday evenings two seminars were awesome. The first was a trip to Khardongla, Himalayas. The final presentation brought the house down, titled ” Africa – full on adventure every day.”

Another late night and still raining as I crawled into my tent, dead tired.

Sunday

Sometime around 3 AM the rain stopped. Finally. Cows mooing in the field adjacent to the campground signaled it was time to get up and packing. It was cloudy and wet, but no rain! Bikes were getting loaded up with gear and riders as folks departed for home or to continue their travels.

Having only a mere 160 miles or so to home, I took my time packing up and conversed with some more moto travelers over a leisurely breakfast. What a fantastic weekend and wonderful people. I found another faction of my tribe. My passion for travel by motorcycle was reinforced after this meeting. Can’t wait to start planning next years adventures!

“Everyone has the time and money to travel, we just choose to spend them on other things.”

  • -Andrew Pain, presenter

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5 thoughts on “A Tale of Extremes

  1. Excellent post! I check out HU’s website from time to time, some great info there regarding motorcycle travel…the only problem is that it’s a little too inspirational…after reading a few articles I just want to pack up the bike and go! I hope to get to a meet sometime in the next few years, I’m sure it would be an amazing experience.

    • It really is a great experience, if for nothing else, meeting the amazing folks who travel round the world! You’re right. It is a bit TOO inspirational. But that’s the point! Thanks for reading!

    • I don’t know if they hold it at IH every year, but I do know it is coming back to IH next year, as they announced it at this years meeting. Also, there is a tentative meeting coming to Appomatox, VA in April 2016. Check in on their site for that one.
      The Ural guy was pretty aloof. Didn’t talk much, but he has been all over the U.S. and Canada with it. Thanks for commenting!

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