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Sep 30, 2015

Traveling to (and in and from) America... Part One

09 August—After a couple days in Saigon, I boarded the first of three planes that would transport me (wouldn’t it be great if Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a transporter were already realized?) to Seattle via Hong Kong and Los Angeles. It would take about 33 hours including a short stay in an LAX hotel. I now know that I will return home after a full schedule and an eventful 29 days including 5000+ motorcycle miles. The trip qualifies as a vacation because I returned in need of rest…

As written previously, the main focus of this trip is to improve my riding skills for current riding and, more importantly, because I'm considering leaving VN and embarking on an extended motorcycle journey on at least two (other) continents. The improvements will be via two Puget Sound Safety classes—the PSSOR (off-road) BDR Training Tour and the on-road Advanced Street Skills (A.S.S.) Level One course, in which they teach the S.M.A.R.T. method. Before you ask, I got no discount for being a natural smart ass, perhaps because the instructors are all also well-qualified in that skill area?

My great friend and amazingly patient hostess Liz collected me at SeaTac baggage claim and shepherded my thrashed corporeal vessel to her house. Over my previous and current objections, Liz graciously granted me her bedroom and spent the next almost month sleeping in her cozy (with a very low ceiling, at least for me) upstairs bedroom. Since my months-earlier decision to make this trip, I had, with Liz’s permission, ordered a large quantity of individual items to bring back to VN, from individual-use tubes of Super Glue to a portable battery powerful enough to jump start a V8 to a complete new set of riding gear including wool underwear and Gore-Tex boots. Each item I brought back is either unavailable in VN or prohibitively expensive. Though I never counted the boxes, they took up a hell of a lot of room… I’m certain there were at least 40 and it took a concentrated effort over two days and nights to get all opened and sorted. Then I returned a few things and ordered more. Liz never flinched.

As is my habit, I traveled out with the maximum checked luggage allowance. Even though many things were either given to friends (e.g. Da Lat coffee and a 30” peppermill) or sold (little-used and like-new motorcycle gear) or returned to family members (family heirlooms), there were enough new items to fill two more suitcases on the return trip. For a guy who divested of 95%+ of his possessions less than two years ago, I sure still have a LOT of stuff!

The three days between arrival in Tacoma and departure for the first motorcycle course/adventure passed VERY quickly. Taking priority was outfitting and checking out the Suzuki DR650 I’d purchased sight-unseen from afar via advrider.com’s free classified ads. Yeah, I know... last time that's happening! The bike wasn't as-promised. I should've known that someone who feels the need to advertise his "religion" in his email address (HosanaGTGWSU@aol.com) could possibly be (is probably?) a charlatan. The battery was DOA and emails to the seller only got me, "put it on a charger and it will be okay." Guess he thinks a battery that won't hold a charge is good-enough... and it might be if you didn't mind pushing it to start it every fcuking time! In my opinion, he sold his integrity for the $50 it cost me for a new battery because he never answered my subsequent emails. If you ever have a chance to buy something from Daniel, currently at "For God's Glory Farm" in Stockton, CA, run the other way.

The battery wasn't even the worst of it. As soon as I saw the tires he'd advertised at being 50%+, I felt the need to take it to Hinshaw’s in Auburn for a new—$500 installed—set of rubber

(that I didn't even bother to try to recoup after his failure to sell me a bike that fcuking starts) and an oil change. The oil change was mandatory by the time I arrived because the oil filler cap decided to bail at some point during the 20-minute ride to the dealership. I knew I had a problem when I put my right foot down at the stop light just before the dealership and it (my foot) slipped away from me. There was oil ALL OVER my new boot and the bottom of my new riding pants (first time I ever wore either of them), as well as the entire right-hand side of the bike behind the oil-fill cap. SHEESH!

My guess is that I neglected to sufficiently tighten it after needlessly opening it in search of an oil level. The DRZ has a dip stick on the cap and I thought the DR would also. Nope! It has a glass window that only needs to bike upright to give an accurate reading of the oil level. Fortunately, Service Advisor Pat was able to find another cap lying around, for which he didn’t even bill me. What a great guy!

13 August—A late afternoon departure for Hood River, Oregon and the Hood River Hotel. With an 8 a.m. Friday morning meet-up for the three-day BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route) Training Tour, I wanted to arrive refreshed and NOT after a four-hour ride. My hope was to get out of Tacoma with time to get to Hood River before dark... didn't make it. I rode the last hour in twilight-to-dark and for the final 30 minutes on I-84, I got to ride with bazillions of flying long-legged bugs of some kind. Unfortunately for thousands of them (and me), they were flying west and I was flying east.


The Hood River Hotel is on the National Historic Register and a very nice place.

The room was quiet and clean and the lobby restaurant did a good job with the complimentary (i.e. included in the $100 or so you pay for the room) breakfast.

I left early enough the next morning to make the 8 a.m. rendezvous, though the Columbia Gorge's massive morning headwinds (east to west) almost slowed me down too much.

If you're going to ride a motorcycle along the Gorge and are on a schedule, do what you can to ride downwind. It's a LOT easier, too.

Day one of the BDR class was almost all technical skill improvement. They took us to a dirt hill with a track up that put most of us horizontal at least once. My ego was happy that I wasn't the first. It was a very good, positive, and humbling experience that I would do again with the proper (read same) instructors... I learned a LOT. Due to my failure to take my time in separating my gear, both my camera and my phone were in the bag riding with the support vehicle, so I have no photos from Day 1. Brett, PSSOR's owner and lead instructor took a lot, and he warned us that it will be a while before they work their way to the top of his to-do list. Once I get them, I will, with his permission, post a few.

Day 2 was AWESOME! We rode the WaBDR from Stevenson to Packwood through the beautiful Gifford Pinchot National Forest and almost exclusively off pavement.


There was a LOT of gravel, mostly well-packed,

though there were plenty of opportunities to break a rear, or even a front, wheel loose (a good thing if you're paying attention). Prior to the previous day's instruction and experiences, I was tentative and tense on gravel; today, I was confident and relaxed. It made a HUGE difference! Even before we broke for lunch, I caught myself enjoying some rear slippage and specifically remember thinking, "That was really cool AND I'm still upright and jammin'!"

There was also some pretty amazing scenery and a waterfall stop that I surely would've missed had I been flying solo because this was the only sign/indication from the road
A short walk past the sign and through the trees rewards you with this view
and fortunately for most visitors, only one time was this the view (yes, that's dust/dirt on my nose ;-)

For a while I ran with the significantly more experienced guys, and that night at dinner, Rick from Atlanta turned to me and said, "You were really shreddin' it today!" I could almost feel my chest swell with pride as I temporarily forgot that once we were back on pavement and headed to the night's accommodations, I experienced what I call pilot error, slid on some wet leaves and loose gravel in a corner, and did a face-plant at about 40 mph. Had I been wearing anything but a full-face helmet, the slide would have been on my left jaw.

 
My medical insurance only covers me in 191 of the 192 countries in the world (can you guess which country's medical system is so out-of-control that it's the outlier?), so without the full-face helmet, I'd probably be facing uninsured plastic surgery to repair the left side of my jaw—after six months or so with my jaw wired shut.

This is only one of the reasons I ALWAYS wear a full-face. Are you reading this, Clint?

Both nights' accommodations were very nice, though I would've preferred camping the first night as we'd signed up for, instead of the large house with many bedrooms and a nice view of the Gorge.


I wanted to camp because I'd purchased a complete complement of camping gear for the trip. I never asked, though I'm 95+% sure that camping was taken off the agenda because we had six (or thereabouts) participants who'd won the PSSOR WaBDR Experience in a contest sponsored by Triumph motorcycles. The got airfare, expenses, the $1285 fee paid, and use of a brand new Triumph Tiger to ride... but not camping gear. It's okay, I'll get to use my new-to-me gear five consecutive days the following week (see Part Two).

Day Three was Leg 2 of the WaBDR, featuring more technical riding including some single track and "baby heads" or rocks about the size of a baby's head. There were a couple of us who'd sustained minor injuries the previous day including one "young stud" who insisted on riding beyond his ability and fell HARD at least three times off-road before he listened to the instructors and slowed the fcuk down (my words, not theirs). Everyone was given the opportunity to opt out of Leg 2 and, instead, stay on-road and ride to Sunrise at Mt. Rainier before meeting the Leg 2 group for lunch and farewells.

I chose the non-Leg 2 option because although I'd fallen on my left side the previous day, my right thumb had somehow sustained the only physical damage and hurt like hell. Medical professionals tell me I stretched or tore a ligament and as I write this seven weeks later, it still hurts. Since I'd lived in the PNW for many years and was familiar with the area, I was originally chosen to lead the opt-out group of four. Then one of the instructors decided to go with us, so I was freed up to take some photos along the way without worrying that I was holding others up.

The cruiser riding past was not part of our group
All-in-all it was a great trip with instructors and support group to match. Special thanks to Kyle (pictured on the deck in a photo above) who did an outstanding job of wrangling everything necessary to ensure we were all well-fed with very good food!

Part Two will be up soon... certainly sooner than seven weeks!




Sep 25, 2015

Another "journalist" without a flippin' clue...

What a waste of time it was to read: How to survive a motorcycle tour of Vietnam!!!

The so-called "journalist" gets riding in Việt Nam as wrong as anyone I've ever read...

"Getting through Vietnamese customs with all of our gear was our first step."

WRONG!

There is no VN Customs for airline passengers unless you're bringing it over US$5000 cash, and even then, they don't check. Ask me how I know. There is only Immigration where they check your visa and stamp you in. After picking up your "gear" at baggage claim, you head toward the exit. Immediately prior to exiting, you put your stuff on a conveyor belt that runs it through an x-ray machine—just like security theater in the U.S. except that you are on your way out of the airport and it's an older, larger machine. Your stuff comes out the other side and you take it on your way—unless the operator sees something interesting. Zero questions, and zero paperwork. If you left the weapons and contraband at home, you're on your merry way, khong sao (no problem). That's NOT customs.

Then he whines for two paragraphs about how tired he is. Next time, get your client to spring for Business Class—they're already wasting their money on you, what's another $5000? Or you could halve your posse with no apparent deleterious effect and that would more than pay for the upgrade.

"We have no idea where we are going, or how to get there. We have no working cell phones, no local money."
You don't even know the name of your hotel? Is this your first time traveling internationally? There are places to change money and get a phone card before you leave the terminal. I'm thinking we're supposed to feel sorry for this tired, hungry, confused, and apparently clueless person who's about to do what tens of thousands dream of... get paid to ride a Ducati... AND he gets to do it in beautiful Việt Nam!

"With the support of Ducati Vietnam, we’re about to travel the entire country by motorcycle." Why? Ducati motorcycles are mentioned in a context that would help a potential purchaser exactly 2 more times in the article.

"Meanwhile, what seems like Ho Chi Minh City’s entire 12 million citizens race by." According to what I found on-line, there are about 8 million people in the city... an error of only 50%. If you include everyone within 20 kilometers, you might hit 10 million. A minor point, maybe; I'm just showing how inaccurate this guy is.

Next, the most egregious line of the whole article: “There is only one rule about riding in Vietnam," we are told. "There are no rules.”

BULLSHIT!

Rules are regulations (I just looked it up to be sure). There are a LOT of rules to riding in Vietnam, including rules that everyone six years and older must wear a helmet, rules that you must stop at a red light, and rules against texting while riding and riding drunk. As with all rules, these are broken by people every day.

Looking at the phone while riding with an UNHELMETED CHILD on-board???
I don't care if you kill yourself, but what about the kid (or other motorbikers)?
To keep things interesting, at least once every week I have a close encounter (within 2 meters) with a drunk riding either ridiculously FAST or maddeningly s - l - o - w (different drunks each time, I think).

Many rules, like stopping at red lights and waiting until the light is green AND the intersection is clear before entering into it or looking for on-coming traffic before turning out of a side street or driveway, are ignored so frequently that they may as well not exist. But they do exist.

What he should have been told is that most people here ride their motorbikes so that it looks, to a Westerner, AS IF there are no rules. It is NOT anarchy, it is controlled chaos.

I know many native Vietnamese who live and ride every day in Đà Lạt and who shudder at the thought of riding in Saigon. "It's too crazy!" is frequently heard. Yes, it's crazy and chaotic and sometimes scary. It's also exhilarating!

Just ride as if you were invisible and you'll be fine... maybe.

NOT INVINCIBLE, invisible...

A bit further along, he writes, "There are no speed limits."

WRONG! The speed limit is 40 kph within city limits unless posted otherwise. Outside the city, the limit for motorbikes is 80 kph unless posted otherwise.

"There are no cars."

WRONG! About 5% of the private vehicles are cars and there are taxis EVERYWHERE in the cities. If you aren't seeing cars, then you shouldn't be riding 'cause you're NOT watching the road.

"There are no rules."
WRONG! Already covered.

The author and five others were given Ducati motorcycles to ride: "With the support of Ducati Vietnam, we’re about to travel the entire country by motorcycle." The on-line article is on the web site of a company that caters pretty much exclusively to motorcycle riders, a great many of whom travel internationally and have enough disposable income to buy a Ducati motorcycle. Why Ducati supported them is never apparent. I hope it wasn't for the usual reason—so that he would write about how great the Ducati line is. If that's the case, he still owes them an article.


Sep 24, 2015

More Photos—Helmets for Đà Lạt's Children

Thanks to Phước Phạm for these great photos of Tuesday afternoon's event:
Here, I am talking about why I ALWAYS wear a helmet and showing
that I have a helmet the same color (Vy is to my left and translating).

The first student gets her helmet. She then gave a nice speech thanking me and promised that all the children will wear their helmets every time they ride a motorbike.

These 10 children were our "demonstrators" so that the rest of them could see how we would fit the helmets to each of them.

A student helping her classmate get the proper fit.

Ɖau không? (Does it hurt?)

It was difficult to get a good fit for the smallest child
in the school. She was very patient with me.
 
The entire school poses for photos. The two Red Cross representatives are on the right.


Sep 23, 2015

158 of Đà Lạt's children have new motorbike helmets this morning

We did it!

Yesterday, almost 13 months after the Estate Sale that raised the money, we got to present each child at one of Đà Lạt's elementary schools with a brand-new Protec motorbike helmet...


HUGE thanks to my right-hand person and translator, Vy; my #1 supporter, part-time Vietnamese language coach and cultural attaché, My; the school administrators; the Đà Lạt Red Cross for arranging for the photographer and videographer; friends Gee and Tien; and Vy's four friends who helped ensure that each helmet was properly fitted.

 
 
 
 
 

Special thanks also to Donna, Bob, Debbie, and the four Adventure motorcyclists from Horizons Unlimited's Naksup, BC Travelers' Meeting for their generous contributions that allowed a last-minute addition to the helmet order. Those contributions will allow us to provide helmets to some of the small children of school staff who do not attend the schools to which we donate helmets

The photos in this post were taken by My (except, of course, the one of her). More photos and video later as I collect them from various sources.

We visit the second (and much larger) school on 5 October. Soon after, I will launch a crowd-funding campaign via which you can donate toward the next round of helmet donations.

In the mean time, if you'd like to donate for one helmet (US$13), for the 300 minimum needed to order our special hi-vis color, or anything in-between, please send the funds via PayPal to loveyourchildrenvn@gmail.com. 100% of all donations go toward purchasing helmets; I pay any and all administrative costs.

Once we have the money for at least 300 helmets, we will place the next order and announce our next school(s). If one person/company donates for at least 300 helmets, we can put your club or company logo on those helmets. Please contact me for more details.

Thank you!


Sep 2, 2015

Hodge Podge Hai

Hodge Podge Two

Wrapping up my visit to Mỹ (the U.S.) and Canada, I thought I'd pass on a few things I've been collecting the past few months:

1)

Hang Son Doong is the world's largest known cave and I posted something about it at the end of my 19 May post. Now it's #1 on The Smithsonian's 21st Century Life List: 25 Great New Places to See! I'm especially excited because I booked a spot on the five-day expedition tour starting 9 February!

This page has more links about Hang Son Doong: Son Doong tops Smithsonian's list...


2) Here is a top candidate for most ironic t-shirt:

Snohomish County firefighter Ken Lawless, left, and Lt. Brandon Gardner being thanked by a man near Omak after firefighters saved his home from a wildfire.
Snohomish County firefighter Ken Lawless, left, and Lt. Brandon Gardner being thanked by a man near Omak after firefighters saved his home from a wildfire. Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP
The t-shirt sported by the "gentleman" on the right says "Lower Taxes + Less Government = More Freedom." Uh-huh... I wonder this moron has a clue who pays the firefighters he's thanking? If he got what his shirt says he wants, he'd also get a HUGE multi-tens-of-thousands invoice for the firefighters' work in his Libertarian Utopia.

He should move to Somalia where every day they experience the reality of Ayn Rand's concept of a perfect society.


3)Random Hyperlinks of-interest:

Street art with a message of hope and peace

You gotta click on this one:
Stopping in the shade can get you fined

16 untranslatable words from other languages

Definition of motorcycle apparel terms

Calvin and Hobbes


The next post will be soon after my return home in mid-September...

Until then, stay safe.