Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Smell of WINTER......and another change of plans.

And all of a sudden it's winter up here at the Arctic Circle in Finland.

I woke up one morning and the pool of water that was a permanent fixture in front of the Karu MC clubhouse had frozen over.

Later on in the day, it snowed. Only a little, but enough to make me happy and looking forward to the rest of winter. 
My Finnish comrades here at the club, not so happy. Not happy at all actually. They don't like winter. Not like me. I'm special.
I love winter. When it snows, I get a mood change for the better. Winter is my season. It has it's own flavor and smell. A clean, crisp and fresh air aroma. 
I come alive when the summer's choking and debilitating heat is over. When the air starts to get cooler, fresher, denser and more breathable. And when it's cold enough for rain to solidify and it starts to snow?. Well, then I really get going. My inner child wakes right up, jumps out of bed and wants to come out and play.
A good snowfall puts a nice thick white blanket, a soft layer of clean over everything and covers all the bumps, bruises and blemishes in the landscape. Thats one of the things I love about winter. A blanket of snow, covering everything up, all the crap for 6 months, all the unevenness in the landscape. If you live in a place that gets snow in winter that is. There's a calm and a quietness that winter brings. 
Snow is a natural sound absorber, the stillness and the silence that hangs in the air after a snowfall is just absolutely magical.
The crisp, white flakes of soft snow, magical in their transformation of this otherwise barren part of Finland, made it a place of peaceful solitude. I could of sat there for hours were it not so cold. This was on route 93 riding south from the Norwegian border toward Enontekiö in Finland. Normally desolate and empty, in winter it becomes a white and quiet artistic wonderland.

And last Thursday was a gorgeous day here in Rovaniemi, FinlandA cool -11ºC, sunshine and blue skies. Air so clean and crisp that if you could find a way you could bottle it and sell it to Bejing.

This week too I finally received the parts to put the bike back together and see if my transmission problem is cured or not. However, I didn't receive all of the parts so I'm still in a bit of a holding pattern. Apparently BMW had only half of the clutch in stock, the housing or outer half is on back order. Until late November. Go figure.

The bike has been apart all this time, over two months now sitting outside Karu MC, and I've been patiently waiting for parts to come in. So since I had the engine apart down to the transmission I decided to go ahead and replace some items that were going to come up for replacement sooner rather than later anyway, like the clutch slave cylinder (notorious for breaking). The slave cylinder that's on the bike now is the original factory one, having been on the bike since 2004 and 80,000 miles, so it's about ready to let go any day now. And while I was there I was going to put in a new clutch, but of course I can't until BMW get the outer housing back in stock. 
No rush guys.

And I replaced a few other small parts while I was at it too,like those special size swing-arm pivot bearings that BMW cleverly patented so that nobody else is allowed to make or sell them, which have been on the bike for the last 9 years, ever since it rolled off the BMW factory floor. I figured since I can, I may as well change them and do whatever needs to be done here in Finland rather than halfway across Russia on the side of the M51 in -50ºC. Although I'm sure there awaits some very interesting stories and experiences when I decide to head east across the vastness and ten time zones that is Russia.

I really thought I was going to get the parts easy enough about 6 weeks ago, or soon after they were ordered. But as usual things never work out the way they're supposed to, do they?. As much as it pisses me off sometimes, life would be about as boring as watching paint dry if everything always worked out the way it was supposed to. Seriously. I'm only seeing that these last few years. If everything went according to my original plan, I would have missed out on over a years worth of friendships and experiences that I just wouldn't had the time to do had I breezed through Europe and ended up at the end of my final "planned" destination.

The "plan" then was to repair the bike, put it back together, test ride it, then maybe take a quick trip to Russia just to wet my feet and get a firsthand idea of what I'm dealing with over there. 
I hear nothing but horror stories about Russia to be honest. Especially from the Finns. And especially about the road conditions.
I've stopped listening to them, and also stopped watching the Youtube Russian driving videos as well. Doesn't do me any good. 

Especially the Winter driving videos.

And my new parts sponsor?. That would be Touratech
I didn't approach them about any sponsorship. It was the owner, Herbert Schwarz, that wrote to me. I see in my inbox one day an email from a Herbert Schwarz. Who's Herbert Schw.....oh, wait. Herbert, riight.
Nahh, can't be. He doesn't even know about me....does he?. Well, obviously he does since he wrote to me. Asking if I still had problems and if he could help me with parts. Well that was very nice of him I must say. From what I know Herbert's not the type of guy that sits around much. I do know that he's a pretty well traveled motorcyclist with a lot, an awful lot of countries and kilometers under his belt. 
He had found about my dilemma through a mutual friend in Germany, Stef, who was trying to help me locate parts and not having much luck at all at it. So I guess Stef knew Herbert and decided to write to him to see if he could help. Well, if Herbert and Touratech couldn't help, then I guess no one could.
So thank you Stef, much appreciate the initial consideration that prompted you to email Herbert. And thank you Herbert for getting the parts to me. 

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Actually, looking back on it now, it's quite possible that Herbert may have heard of me.

Back in August of 2010, on the second leg of the trip from Ft. Lauderdale FL up to Seattle WA, I stopped off at the TouratechUSA store in Seattle to get a few more Touratech parts for my bike and meet the guys I had been buying parts from over the phone for the last year. You can read that post hereThe person I had been dealing with at TouratechUSA was Kimmo Lasilla. 
And ironically, Kimmo is from Finland. 

So, Kimmo worked, and still works, for Touratech, I needed some parts, that was the extent of our dealings really. The fact that Kimmo was Finnish had no meaning then and a fact I only found out about and paid attention to a few years later. 
I was just tickled pink that I had actually made it from the extreme southernmost point of the US to the extreme northern westernmost point of the US. Well, turns out it wasn't the extreme northern westernmost point of the US, it was only Cape Flattery, but for me, at that moment in time, it was good enough. And I really was close enough, geographically speaking, as Cape Alava is just a little south of Cape Flattery and not even half a degree further west. 
And Finland?. I knew where Finland was, but my "On the road for less than a year" motorcycle vagabond mindset had a hard time of dealing with all the crap I was going through in the USA, let alone another country on another continent. Another continent was only a very small part of a very big dream or fantasy that most motorcyclists have, a kind of a "To hell with society and it's rules" rebelliousness that in all honesty, I didn't allow myself to think about much since throwing most of it away while I was drinking.
I was a little conflicted I suppose. And it was just way too much information for my "fresh out of rehab" mind to handle and deal with. I had only been out of rehab and sober a year and a half at that time, so I had a bit of catching up on life to do. The original "plan" was just to get out of Florida, away from a life and a climate that didn't hold much for me and that I had no use for anymore. Time for a fresh start somewhere else was my mindset at the time.

Macah Indian Reservation, Neah Bay, WA. USA. July, 2010

So after about a year on the road the thought occurred to me that this lifestyle change could be serious and quite possibly have long term side effects of which there was no other cure than to stay out on the road and not return. Sounds like a good plan, right?. Right.
It was seriously addicting that's for sure, a far cry from the daily repetitive slog and grind that I had been used to back in Ft. Lauderdale when I was a landlord with a 20 unit apartment building and a bunch of complaining tenants to take care of. And of course a  second full time job on the side as an alcoholic.

Maybe I should try and ask for some parts sponsorship from Touratech I thought, as I was still buying odds and ends from them. So the subject was mentioned to Kimmo on a few occasions. And the answer was always the same, "You really have to talk to Touratech Germany, that's where that decision comes from". 
Well, in all honesty, that early in the trip I really felt I had nothing to offer or submit to Touratech Germany or anyone else for that matter. No proposal, no decent photography, no real plan, nada!. My blog was less than a year old so I just never bothered. Kimmo was good enough to help me out with a small discount wherever he could, so I let it go at that. 

And there were many more Round the World motorcycle travelers that have been on the road much longer than I was at the time and much more seasoned in many ways too, so I thought that my little voice wasn't going to be heard for a guy who's only been on the road for the last year vs. someone who's been traveling and riding for the last 5 or 10 years. 
So it was put on the back burner and I decided to try to see if I could keep going and realize a hidden dream of mine and many others, and that was to pack up a motorcycle, hit the road and see what happens. See how far I could get and how long I could do it for. I mean for me, it sure as hell beat the life I had led for the last 30 something years or so. Thirty something years of a sort of conformity. Well, not quite. I always marched to the beat of my own drum and did things my way, so it wasn't an all out submission on my part. Probably my saving grace.

So now it's already the middle of Oct here in Finland, and due to the delay caused by my transmission problem and then the delay in the parts getting here, again my "plans", or as I have renamed them now, my "thoughts", have changed again. 
I've stopped making plans. I stopped last year in Sweden. I really don't like to make  plans anymore as they just lock you into something and that's not how I like to live my life these days. Plans don't allow for much flexibility and the unexpected surprises in life that I seem to run across in my travels in the last year or so. And for most of this trip so far, every single "plan" I've made has never gone according to "plan". From shipping the bike over to Holland, getting the sidecar built by LBS, leaving for Nordkapp 5 weeks later than I had "planned", and so on and so forth. And in a way i'm glad that none of the plans ever did work out, because I've had a much better time because of it. 
Or have I?. 
What if they did work out and I ended up sticking to the plan?. What then?.
What if.....

I've always wondered about those Twilight Zone moments, the other "what if's". Yanno, the whole parallel universe theory?. A split second change of direction, ending up taking a different bus, another book off the shelf, going to another restaurant to eat and meeting the love of your life.

Staying in Rovaniemi for nearly a year versus breezing through in my original time frame of 2 weeks?. What would have happened I wonder if that plan had of transpired and come to fruition?. Who would I have met, where would I have gone, how would I have..........and on and on.
You've heard the usual one of the person who was delayed in traffic, and because of that delay missed their flight, only to find out afterward that the flight that they was supposed to be on had crashed. 
But it's happened, quite a lot in fact. These moments, happenings or occurrences are not as rare as you would think, but most of the time we just don't see them as most of us are too busy on Facebook or buried into a cellphone and not paying much attention to the life that's going on around us.
I think there are many many parallel universes or "other" world moments happening all around us all the time as we live and breathe. Maybe not. But I tend to think that there are.

So my trip so far, all the way from Holland up to Nordkapp in Norway and down here to Rovaniemi in Finland, has all been based on a "plan" that never, not once, worked out according to that plan. Before I left Holland, I bought a visa for Russia, starting on Nov 15th 2012 and ending on Feb 15th, 2013.

I was supposed to start out for Nordkapp from Holland immediately after the EGT in August of 2012, so that would of put my departure at around the first week of Sept. So, 3 months to ride up to Nordkapp, back down through Finland to Helsinki and across over to St. Petersburg in Russia. Plenty of time, right?. Absolutely. 
If all you want to do is ride straight through and not allow much time for meeting people or for plans to change, yes, that would normally be plenty of time. Well, as it turned out I wasn't even able to leave LBS in Holland until the first week of Oct so that gave me 6 weeks before my Russian visa started to ride up to Nordkapp, down to Helsinki and over to St Petersburg and then Moscow. Still enough time to make it I thought, but now there wasn't much of a buffer zone or any spare time to allow for anything else to happen, good or otherwise. But I was still sticking to the "plan", letting the 3 month Russian visa dictate my schedule. Well, I had only made it as far as Stockholm before my "plan" started to unravel and my trip began charting it's new course. All on it's own. 
As far as I was concerned I was still on target to reach Nordkapp by the end of Oct or first week of Nov the latest, and be in Russia by the end of Nov or beginning of Dec. I mean, I have a plan, right?. What could possibly go wrong?. 

What could possibly go wrong?. 

Well, as it turned out, nearly everything that possibly could.

Ok, not everything, but more than enough to start to give me major agida.
By now it was the end of Oct 2012 and I had only made it as far as Stockholm in Sweden. 
And of course more things were about to go wrong. Or rather things were not going to go according to plan is a better way of putting it. Saying that things are going wrong is just too negative. Shit happens.
However, one thing did go wrong, and that was the 2 Wheel Drive shaft breaking before I got as far north as Umeå in Sweden
Well, why not?. It would have been no fun if it didn't.

Meanwhile, my winter travel plans in Europe and Russia have been put on hold, and instead I've decided to leave the outfit unfinished and apart here at Karu MC, and fly back to Colorado and spend Christmas with my Mum. There are still a few modifications and improvements I would like to do before I put the transmission and bike back together, so why rush?. I'm not on a time schedule.
I've had a few emails and comments from people about how long it's taking me so far, and that I'm still only in Europe they said. One person commented to me "well, there's 200+ countries in the world, at the rate you're going, 6 months+ in each one, you'll never see them all". 

Well, to clarify, I never set out on this trip or journey to travel and see every country in the world. That was never my intention. In all honesty there are some countries in the world I have absolutely no desire to ever go to. Those would be the very hot ones.
I'm not a country collector either, I don't  care or have any desire to feel the need to brag about how many countries I've been to while propping up a bar. I don't collect those little small "World Flag stickers" of countries to stick on the side of my panniers or windshield so I can brag about it at a motorcycle meeting either. It's not about how many countries that you can get to on your Round the World trip. For me it's all about going to all the places and the countries that you want to go to, and all the interesting things and the wonderful people and experiences that happen to you along the way on you journey. If I never finish or get to the end of the trip or only see another 2 or 3 countries?. So what?. Great. If I don't reach the end that means I have to keep going, right?.
And I can pretty much knock off countries that are in a sub-tropical zone in the world, as I have no desire to be stuck there traveling and riding in that type of heat anymore. Ever. 
Australia is going to be one of the exceptional tropical zone countries however. But South America and Africa?. I'm really going to have to think hard about those. That type of heat holds zero interest for me to travel in, regardless of what country in the world it is.
But, I never, ever, say never. 

And leaving the bike here at Karu MC unfinished makes a little more sense to me too. It goes back to my earlier sentiment of things not happening the way you originally intend them to, because maybe, just maybe, there's another parallel set of actions that are going to happen that may work out to be more what you need to do rather than your original plan of what you wanted to do. 
I can travel to Russia anytime. I have no time frame on this Round the World trip of mine. If it takes me 10 years to make one full circumference, so what?. What's the rush?.
But since I'm an only child and the apple of my Mothers eye (that's what she tells me anyway) well, Christmas is only once a year, right?. And it's not like I have to be in Russia for any reason. And since the repairs on the bike have gone much longer than I thought they would, I've given up trying to get it ready and all together by a certain date. It'll be done when it's done. Meanwhile, life goes on and my Mum gets to have me back for Christmas for a few months. How do you feel about that Mum?.
"I'll drink to that my son".

And my Mum, I'm so proud of her. Last week my Mum, all by herself, learned how to send me a Facebook message. A fantastic accomplishment for an 85 year old lady who only learnt to use a computer less then 3 months ago, had never used one before. You're never too old to learn, see?.  
Since she has learned how to use the iPad and mastered navigating through Skype and call me we can now communicate every day, and it makes the world of a difference for both of us. The fact that I'm half way around the work on another continent makes no difference on Skype, as the visual communication that if offers bridges any continental distances, no matter how far and no matter what part of the world either of us may be in.

And it also adds another important factor for me and for her in that she can read all of my posts here on the blog now, much better than trying to explain to her over the phone what it is I wrote about this week or what kind of photos I included. Now she can see them for herself. My mum is the envy of all her other building dwellers, being the only one there with her own iPad who knows how to use it. 
But Mum works at it. Along with the iPad I also bought her a series of lessons at the Apple store in Boulder, so every week she gets on a bus to go there and get patiently tutored by one of the Apple store employees. Good for her and good for them.
But my Mum was always smart cookie and a quick learner, and it just goes to prove that it's never too late to teach yourself something new. I'm actually considering discussing with her the possibility of her becoming a computer teacher for the elderly. I think she would be a marvelous at it. 

But the most important factor it adds I think, is the psychological one. 
The confidence boost of not only learning how to use a computer for someone of her age, but being able to use it for a very personal reason other than web surfing or looking at nice photos. 
But in my Mums case, there's a noticeable change is her mood, her attitude. On a scale of 1-10 her general demeanor has gone from a 4 or a 5 to an 8 or 9. Computers have opened up a whole new world for Mum in many different ways, and have now given her an even better reason to jump out of bed in the morning, as getting on to Skype and calling me in early is the first thing she does, even before she makes her morning coffee. 
It's hard enough getting old, but it's even harder when the things that you used to do effortlessly 30 years ago have now become difficult, awkward and sometimes impossible. So to be able to add a new skill set to your list of life accomplishments at the age of 85, especially a computer skill, is nothing short of fantastic. Instead of feeling old, distanced and isolated by the new computer generations of today, it can also be an inclusive tool for people too. And my Mum has just proven that.
We're now working on Youtube movie links so that she can be able to watch some of the incredibly vast selection of marvelous movies, documentaries and some British detective series that I came across a few months ago. 
The sky's the limit.

If you do nothing, nothing will happen. 

I've always felt that places like Florida, where most of the elderly go to retire, are nothing but a mind numbing and dumbing part of the country that just accelerate and fast track your death, simply from not doing anything. Florida lends itself to a laid back and a less active lifestyle than a place like Colorado for example, as the Colorado climate with it's seasons require a change in lifestyle 4 times a year. In Florida, there is only one season all year, hot. And because of that there is no need to have to push yourself much or to have to struggle through a little bad or cold weather. It seems like a good place to go as you get older, a place to take life a little easier as you age. But in reality it should be the opposite. As you age and get older your body and mind need more stimulation, not less, in order to stay alert, fit and healthy. Ever notice the high death rate of those people who, at around 65, retire and thought to themselves "great, now I can go fishing everyday and lie on the beach all week long and do nothing". Well, within 2-3 years they're dead. Why?. Boredom. Sheer fucking boredom. Of the mind. Lack of intellectual stimulation. 
And the body follows the mind, not the other way around. If you don't think so, just talk to a Triathlete.
And I refuse to get old, fat, decrepit and out of shape. The old I have no choice in, but the fat, decrepit and out of shape I do have a choice in. Those are circumstances that don't happen of their own accord. They happen if you let them happen. And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they don't happen while I still have the ability to be able to do so.
However, for some reason I cannot explain, well, I can but don't want to admit it, my "clumsy" factor has climbed to the top lately. Once I hit 51 it all started to go downhill. Things drop out of my hands like I have eagle talons or bear claws, not dextrous fingers that I can grip things with.  I put things down and one minute later I forget where it is. And what it was I put down in the first place. 
I couldn't be any more awkward if I tried lately. I fell like I need to go back to kindergarden and learn the basics all over again.

I'm working at the computer, editing photos, like I usually am. I'm also multi tasking, sowing a patch on one of my wool hats. The next minute the patch disappears. Gone. Under the laptop?. No. On the floor?. No. 
5 minutes later and still no sign of it. And I'm fuming, pissed at myself and why something so simple has turned into a Twilight Zone moment. WTF??!!

Why I looked down at my shoe I have no idea, but there it was, peeking out from under my foot in my clog. I mean, really?. 
Somehow, someway, the patch had managed to fall off the chair in front of me and land inside my clog and under my foot. What the hell are the odds of that happening?.

Frustration level was at "High", Defcon 1. Ooooooo.

Anyway, I fly back to the US early November, with a detour in Monheim Germany to visit some friends.If you want to order sticker sets for the Christmas as gifts, now is the time to do it, as I won't be bringing many sets back to the US with me because I just won't have much room in my baggage. 

If you wish to order multiple sets, like 4 or 5+, then just email me and let me know how many you would like and I will make you a better deal just for the holidays.

Have the day and week of your choice,

 Irish Murph.

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