“Burma is still closed to overland motorcycle travelers,” said one hardened adventurist fresh from conquering Southeast Asia. He added, “Bhutan is also still closed. With what the Chinese want in fees, paperwork and guides to go through China, that $10,000 is better spent doing the ‘stans into Russia, and then flying the motorcycle and yourself to Bangkok, using the savings to enjoy some quality roads and time in Thailand.”
In another small parking lot gathering, several gawkers were looking at a dozen electronic and digital gizmos attached to the handlebars and upper front fairing of a large displacement adventure model motorcycle. They were opining on what was necessarily functional versus what was bling and farkle. Their conclusion was “to one man bling is a colorful necessity, the same with farkle.”
With close to 250 attendees, the California Horizons Unlimited Traveller’s Meeting October 18-21 was the largest gathering of motorcycle travelers in the United States. A motorcycle license plate from Switzerland attested to the distances covered to attend the meeting. Some travelers were finishing global rides while others were starting. In between were a great many still on the road and others preparing for or dreaming of their long ride, whether to Alaska or an extended global adventure to the ends of the earth.
Outdoor seminars were well attended throughout the meeting, this one being on how to fix a flat tire.
Throughout the four days there were seminars, slide shows and discussion groups, often three ongoing at different locations. The topics ranged from how to prepare for and make a trip to South America, traveling on a shoe string budget, and one of the more popular, how to fix a flat tire. For those wanting to become an author and publish their travel tales there was a seminar on how to self-publish by motorcycle self-publishing guru Carla King. To add to an aspiring author’s work there was a detailed workshop on photo composition.
Evenings found attendees gathered at the outdoor amphitheater enjoying colorful multi-media shows such as how a family of three had changed their lives to accommodate raising a son while living their free time on the road. Another presenter shared his adventure of kick-starting a 500 Single at 17,200 feet. One evening the iconic ‘round the world author Ted Simon entertained the audience with travel tales and introduced his latest book, Rolling Through The Isles.
Simon and I had known each other well enough to be able to joke about our personal short comings and neither takes the other too seriously when trading tales. This year Simon offered to swap his latest book for mine, Motorcycle Adventurer. It seemed a good trade as each was priced about the same. When Simon asked that I autograph my book I said only if he would autograph his. “Of course,” he replied, “but if I sign mine once, you must sign yours twice.” I bowed to his age and wisdom, autographed my book twice, and then we both had a good laugh.
Craig Vetter, another well known motorcycle personality, spent two days mixing with the attendees after making three seminar presentations. When he and I were introduced I said, “I’ve known of you for a long time, bought a lot of your products back in the 1970s.” He gave me a kindly smile and said, “That’s nice to know. I wish you had bought a lot more.” It was another time for some laughing.
The Craig Vetter “Wind Cutter,” (my moniker after having purchased several “Wind Jammer” fairings) was an eye catcher wherever it appeared.
Vetter and I spent several minutes reflecting on our road racing days, trying to determine if we had ever been on a small race track near Aspen, Colorado, at the same time. While our exchange had nothing to do with motorcycle travel, each of us had a few moments to personally reflect on a time when we were youthful and possibly foolish. I commented on having weighed about 50 pounds less when racing at Woody Creek. Vetter smiled and made a light hearted comment about being leaner in those days too, and then started to explain his upward pointing learning curve regarding weight, acceleration and wind resistance in an early stage. At this point I knew I had ventured into the field of aerodynamics and that Vetter could out run me at light speed. I pleaded that there was a pressing photo shoot I was overdue for and he graciously waved me off.
The wide variety of motorcycles, with a wider range of accessories, found me passing up several seminars to spend time looking at all that was on display. Some of the add-ons and modifications were head-scratching items. A covered extension hanging well-off the back of a BMW which I thought was a sleeping tent turned out to be a covered bicycle. On another BMW, I closely examined a rounded protrusion affixed to the lower frame of a left rear pannier and later found it to be a fishing pole and reel.
One motorcycle that stood out as unique, to some, was the black 1940 Indian Chief ridden to the meeting by Mike Tomas of Kiwi Indian Motorcycle Company (www.kiwiindian.com). As several of us stood around admiring it, someone noted that the key had been left in the ignition.
Another in our group said, “It’s a Horizons Unlimited Meeting. No one here would even consider stealing that $40,000 – $50,000 motorcycle. You can leave a camera on a table, helmet on your bike or gloves on a seat. These are Horizons Unlimited travelers who attend, not thieves.”
Two of my favorite “traveler” motorcycles present were these Indian motorcycles, the real ones, not 21st Century re-pops. A proper 1940 Chief and the 1937-1950 solid runner.
I offered an additional anti-theft opinion, saying that I doubted 95% of the travelers present would be able to start the Indian Chief, let alone drive it.
“Why?” asked one KTM rider. “Dude, it’s just a motorcycle.”
I smiled and said, “Well, yes, that’s true. Someone could foolishly say it is just a motorcycle, but I submit that this is a rather unique one. First, the throttle is on the left side of the handlebars, unlike most modern motorcycles. The manual spark advance is on the right handlebar end, something that needs to be retarded when starting the motorcycle cold and advanced by hand as the engine speeds up. And do you see the strange looking thing on the right side of the gas tank, that’s a hand shift lever for the three gears. There above the left foot board is a foot-operated clutch. And finally, there is a trick to know when you’ve got the proper piston right near top dead center to kick start it or the kick starter will bounce back to bite you or possibly toss an inexperienced rider over the handlebars. So I really don’t think the owner is too worried about someone finding neutral, turning the key to the ‘ON’ position, starting the motorcycle, then shifting into first gear and riding away. It would be tricky to start it, more so to ride it.”
“You’re wrong Mr. Global Road Warrior World Traveler Dr. Gregory W. Frazier,” said one in our group. “There is at least one guy at this meeting who could do what is needed. That’d be you.”
This brought a loud round of laughing, me being chagrined.
I closed with, “Yes, but if that 1940 beauty took a walk, went missing, Mr. Kiwi Mike likely would know it was me who was on top, only wanting to make a small test ride. I once owned a 1945 model similar to it when I started motorcycling and he knows that fact.”
Walt Fulton, the rider with helmet camera on the high speed banking at Daytona in the film “On Any Sunday.”
I attended one seminar titled Getting To The Road Less Traveled…Safely. The seminar presenter was Walt Fulton. He and I enjoy the distinction of once having been named (including three others) at the top of one well-respected motojournalist’s list of “Total Motorcycle Fanatics.” Besides Fulton’s fame of being a total motorcycle fanatic, many motorcyclists know him from the film, On Any Sunday. They may not recognize his name, but likely can remember the scene where the motorcycle racer is on the high banking at Daytona and Bruce Brown, the commentator, says something like “lift your helmet up at this speed and the wind will try to rip your head off.” Unbeknownst to many, it was Walt Fulton piloting the motorcycle in that segment, with a camera taped to one side of his helmet. To counter the wind drag of the camera and weight, he had batteries taped to the other side of his helmet. At the 140 mph speed Fulton was traveling, I was still in awe that he was able to hold on to the handlebars and not be yanked off by the wind. Yes, his being in a group known as total fanatics was fitting.
Ted Simon and I traded books, gossiped, and as always when we meet, laughed together at ourselves and each other.
Grant and Susan Johnson, founders of Horizons Unlimited, with the help of an army of volunteers and local hosts Mike and Sandy Dimond, managed another successful Horizons Unlimited Traveller’s Meeting in Cambria, California. The Johnsons promised a bigger and better event for 2013. It will be tough to beat the success of their 2012 event. I had schmoozed with motorcycle adventure icons, learned that adventure motorcycling can be done on a low end budget, and how to properly fix a flat. Tossed on top of those adventuring tidbits were three days of dawn to well after dusk motorcycle travel, the elixir many of us need to savor the taste of freedom while moving through the global environments on two or three wheels.
If one is a serious motorcycle traveler, the 2013 Horizons Unlimited Traveller’s Meeting might be where they can test their mental travel mettle, pick up a few new tricks and tips, and have a motorcycle travel experience hard to replicate elsewhere.
Maybe I will be back, or maybe I’ll be on the road around the globe. One of these Horizons Unlimited Traveller’s Meetings can bite an adventurous motorcyclist harder than an Indian Motorcycle ill started or the dreams resulting from reading a well written motorcycle travel book.