Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Virtus Nobilitat

Virtus Nobilitat has for the last few years, been a personal motto of mine. In English, directly translated, it means Virtue Ennobles. I've always found the direct translation a bit lacking without the proper context. The Latin meaning of Virtus is a bit more complex then the English meaning of Virtue, for example. Virtus represents manliness, excellence, character, worth, courage. I think if we look toward the Prussian Virtues we see a good representation of just what Virtus represents. The translation of Nobilitat is correct, but here the context is more important. This phrase is from an older time, when to be noble often meant a birthright. With this context in place the direct translation can take on a more proper meaning.

Nobility is not a birthright, but attained by Virtue. Living a Virtuous life makes one Noble. I think this sums up my interpretation of the Latin phrase. One of noble birth who is not virtuous is not truly noble. One of normal birth can rise to nobility through virtuousness. Granted virtues are a fluid concept, they can vary on the individual. This is why I reference the Prussian Virtues. Although they certainly don't mesh perfectly with the modern world, one would have a hard time arguing against the merits of most of the Prussian Virtues.

When I push myself to become a better person it is this Latin motto, and the Prussian Virtues that I turn toward. They represent my own personal interpretation of what it means to rise above the average and become an individual of great quality. I have a long journey to reach this goal, and change is always difficult. However, with these set standards, I can fix my gaze toward them in times when I feel that I must improve myself. Slowly, over time, and with the maturity of age, my every hope is to find this nobility. To the ends that not my motto, but my very definition becomes Virtus Nobilitat.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

The Purple Twilight by grinchwslg
The Purple Twilight, a photo by grinchwslg on Flickr.
"We loop in the purple twilight,
We spin in the silvery dawn.
With a trail of smoke behind us,
To show where our comrades have gone."

-Unknown

Sunday, May 27, 2012

DR650

BMW R1200GS
Having decided that I would buy a motorcycle for all the reasons listed previously in Part 1, I began a many month long project to purchase myself a bike and prepare myself to ride it. Buying a motorcycle of course requires deciding on exactly what I wanted. The BMW R1200GS that I admire so much is also very much out of the question as a motorcycle for a beginner and as something I could even remotely afford. Knowing this I first started by looking at the other offerings in BMW's adventure line up. The only one that could be had for my money and wouldn't be too much of a handful for a beginner would have been the G650GS. While these could be bought second hand a reasonable prices, I still felt that they were a bit too spendy for myself. In truth I wanted to avoid taking out a loan and would rather buy the bike with cash I had on hand, saved up over the winter.

With adventure bikes out of the price range I turned my eyes to the determined mules of the adventure world, the dual sports. Most average folks would glance at these motorcycles and immediately label them as dirt bikes, or motocross bikes. While this isn't correct, its not too far off. Dual sports are a natural development of the MX type of motorcycles into a larger, more road ride-able product. Their engines are usually larger and possess 4 stroke instead of 2 stroke motors. They are also a bit more comfortable to operate on the road with different suspension and all the required by law amenities (turn signals, headlights, brake lights, license plate, etc.). The price range on these bikes used was just right, and I would feel too bad if/when I managed to drop it. Plenty of adventurers have used these types of motorcycles to cross the world, so I wasn't too worried about their abilities. They all have their pros and cons though, so I would have to choose the one that I felt most comfortable living with.

I first began the journey down the dual-sport path after seeing a Suzuki DR-Z400 at the local dealer one day. It immediately intrigued me because it was quite off-road capable, but still able to operate on the street. I began looking at dual-sports on line and it didn't take me long to discover the DR650. Like an older brother to the DR-Z the DR650 trades some off road ability for a better ride on the pavement, and a better motor. Its powered by a 650cc single cylinder 4 stroke engine, that produces about 37 HP. Not a 100 HP BMW bike, but enough to get around, and plenty to learn on. I looked at many other bikes, including the Kawasaki KLR650, and the Honda XR650L, but I always came back to the DR650. The DR had an air cooled cylinder combined with an oil cooler, and the engine is carbureted. This makes the bike crazy simple to maintain, which is great for the wallet and peace of mind when you're 100 miles from anywhere.

Okay, decision made. Now I need to figure out if I could even ride a motorcycle before I dropped any sort of coin on one. Have I not mentioned yet that up until this point I'd never actually ridden a motorcycle in my whole life? Yeah. Thankfully there exists the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. I can't recommend this class enough. In two days I went from never having ridden a motorcycle to getting a perfect score on my riding test. If you're going to learn to ride, or want to get back into riding, MSF is the way to go.

With my newly endorsed license in hand I hit the listings hard trying to find a deal on a DR650. While it is a popular bike in the Northwest, finding one nearby was another matter. I finally settled on one outside of Yakima, and after a day trip down with my buddy Jake, we came back to Spokane with the prize nestled in the bed of my truck. For my troubles, and my money, I had gained myself a 2009 Suzuki DR650 with 1,200 miles on it, and most of its original parts. The oil had never been changed, and the chain was rusted up, but this only helped me get a better price.

With the DR home I immediately got to work on it. First a new chain and an oil and filter change. Some replacement hardware in the mail to fix some bits that were replaced...poorly. Tail light conversion and a new license plate bracket and LED license plate light. Then it came to additions. New hand guards to replace the stock floppy plastics, new tires to replace the completely worn down stock ones, and a new Sargent seat to replace the stocker that killed me after just 30 minutes of riding. There's plenty more to go, but for the most part I think the bike is ready for the equipment it will need to start adventure riding on. This will include a tail rack and side racks, plus their relevant cases, bags, and panniers. Its all quite an investment but well worth it in the end.

The DR650 with the mods mentioned.

 I ride the bike as much as I can on a daily basis. Mostly to and from work, as it's great on gas mileage (47 mpg). I'm becoming more and more confident while riding it, and I definitely feel at ease on it. Today I drove the truck for the first time in maybe five days to get groceries and I was surprised by how different I felt in it. The freedom of the motorcycle is such a mythical thing to those who don't ride, but I'm beginning to see what it really is. The prospect of taking a great journey is getting closer and closer, and my excitement grows in kind. Adventure awaits.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Motorcycle

My recent acquisition of a motorcycle surprised quite few of the people in my life, most notably my own family. Even I look back on the path that led to the purchase and find that its a bit confusing. I'll try then to lay out my thoughts on this substantial embarkment.

The most rudimentary source of my desire to own a motorcycle can be placed with the point at which I discovered the dazzling wonderment of true adventure.This can be found in the final summer of my university years. I had traveled with the school's foreign exchange program to Japan for one month. It was here I had my first taste of a completely different culture and people. After that short month I had learned to savor the excitement of trying new things not out of peculiar desire but necessity. Slowly learning a language, making educated guesses about even the food that I ate, and adjusting to the whole experience of an entire new world changed a major part of myself. The world itself had suddenly become much smaller. The people in it became not foreign, but human, just like myself. The seeds of adventure had planted themselves deep.

Of course this puzzle piece in no form lends itself directly toward the path of motorcycle ownership.It was a year or so later when I stumbled upon a TV series known as Long Way Round that the wheels truly began to be set in motion. I don't recall exactly seeing much of the series, other than it piqued my interest. Years later, at the beginning of 2012 to be exact, I would return to this series. Up until then, it had been a fond, faint, memory. Rewatching the entire run, thanks to that wonderment known as Netflix, kindled a new flame of adventure, motorcycle adventuring.

That is one hell of a jump, I know, but bear with it. Long Way Round and the follow on series Long Way Down follow the adventures of Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman as they cross the globe on their BMW adventure bikes. To be specific they used BMW R1200GS motorcycles, and after watching them power through absolutely every sort of mud, river, sand and general insane road conditions that could be thrown at them, I became quite the fan. Another aspect of the show that appealed to me were the same realizations about the people and places of the world. The awe of cultures whose history can be described as ancient. More importantly though, the mutual feeling of common humanity that a traveler encounters as they interact with people who they had once thought of as foreign.

Okay, the major pieces of the puzzle are coming together now, I suppose. One final aspect is the abundant adventurism found in my natural environment, the Northwest United States. Especially here in Spokane one can reach a conservation area, a large state park, and even some National Forests with only an hour or two drive. Take that further, to a five hour drive, and now you'll find yourself in no less than three or four national parks. I've used this much to my advantage in my short time here and have traveled the Pacific Northwest coast and Glacier National Park. These were without a doubt road trips due to the distances involved and much of the camping was performed from my truck or strongly supported by it. So why not take a cue from the adventures of Ewan and Charlie, and even the whole of the motorcycle adventuring community and accomplish these summer stints on the back of a motorcycle, with all my worldly needs reduced and strapped to the back of the bike? That smells like an adventure to me.

So the time comes that I have to sit back and put together the pieces and ask myself, "Am I really going to do this?" This wasn't a mere act of want without plan. I think most people who know me well know that I'm a methodical person in some respects. There has to be some sort of plan, or at least some sort of risk assessment. The answer wasn't difficult to find, but that didn't stop me from approaching it from the various angles necessary to make sure it would be a secure investment. I think if you've reached this point in my somewhat bizarre explanation you'll realize my answer to the question posed was, "Yes".

With the puzzle complete, the revealed question answered, the time came to put that answer to action. That will be covered in Part Two.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moving In

New domain, new blog. Please excuse the mess as I get this sorted out. Trying to make this a hub of sorts, we'll see how that pans out.