Days 61 – 63 The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park

Driggs, ID – Grand Teton, WY – Yellowstone National Park

235 miles

I left Driggs this morning with a definite spring in my step. I knew I would be entering Yellowstone National Park today, one of the few major goals I had set for my big trip. I had always seen epic depictions of Yellowstone in magazines and TV shows. It seemed there was always something so primal and wild about it, as evidenced by the numerous bear attacks that have occurred this season.

20111005-122009.jpg

The road out of Driggs was long wind up one of the outer Teton Mountains. The road switched back and forth, and signs continuously warned trucks and heavy haulers of the steep grade and emergency run-offs. I crossed the Wyoming border just as I crested over the summit pass, giving me an unparalleled view into the Jackson Hole Valley. Wow. This is why people love Wyoming.

I entered Grand Teton National Park from the south and rode the entire length of the park to enter Yellowstone from the south. What makes the Grand Tetons so spectacular is their abrupt explosion from the floor of the golden valley to tower unadorned over the landscape.

20111005-122040.jpg

Their steepness allows the road to run intimately close to the base of the mountain range. This makes these majestic peaks appear to be merely a short walk away. You can see the peaks. You can see the trails. You can see the glaciers contained within the upper bowls of the mountains. You can’t help but feel connected and dwarfed by them. I’ve really never seen anything like it.

20111005-122028.jpg

And here’s the best part: This weekend was free admission to all National Parks!

That being said, I was a bit worried trying to find a campground in Yellowstone on a weekend, especially a free weekend. I decided to make camp a bit on the early side around 4:15pm at Lewis Lake, one of the first campgrounds on the South Drive, thus assuring me a spot.

20111005-122122.jpg

By setting up early, I had enough time to run up to Grant Village about 15 miles north and purchase some firewood for my campsite to enjoy with a little bit of scotch and Davidoff cigars that I’ve been saving.

20111005-122056.jpg

Next morning, I received the pleasant surprise of finding my motorcycle covered in frost and snow. It had dropped below 30 degrees over the course of the night as was evidenced by the soreness in all my joints.

20111005-122244.jpg

Getting moving is always tough when it’s that cold out, but I managed to be on the road by 8:30am ready to explore Yellowstone.

20111005-122105.jpg

20111005-122114.jpg

20111005-122505.jpg

I started out riding clockwise on the Grand Loop and made my first stop at Old Faithful. I must admit to feeling like a lemming along with the hundreds of other tourists that had gathered around to watch the geyser blow. After she blew, I continued on my journey stopping at the various hot springs and dodging the occasional bison in the road (it happened, but I couldn’t get my camera out in time!). But as the miles wore on, I was a little surprised to find that topography within Yellowstone was not as exciting as the Grand Tetons.

20111005-122308.jpg

Yellowstone is all about the geology and the animals. The landscape, while scenic, doesn’t hold a candle to the grandeur of the Grand Tetons.  The thermal activity and animals are the stars of the show here.

20111005-122427.jpg

20111005-122434.jpg

Now in fairness, I only stayed on the roads. I brought no hiking gear, and I’m told the real Yellowstone is all about backcountry camping.

I settled on camping at the Tower Falls site in the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. When I stopped at the Mammoth convenience store in the park, the owner explained that the store near Tower Falls was closed and this would be my last chance to purchase firewood for the evening. The problem is that I had no room on my bike to strap firewood, at least not until after I camped and unloaded.

Or did I? I’m so glad I followed my own advice and purchased some extra straps in case one broke. After 20 minutes of digging, I found the aforementioned straps and proceeded to load down my bike like a Vietnamese fruit vendor.

20111005-122445.jpg

But despite my questionable strapping skills, both I and the firewood safely made it our campsite and enjoyed our last night in Yellowstone together.

It may seem like I’m making too big a deal about this firewood. But after being informed that it might be dropping into the teens tonight, you might understand my earnestness.

20111005-122455.jpg

Tomorrow, I’m going to try to make it all the way to Sturgis, SD and not get beat up.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

Our National Parks are such a treasure. The more time I spend in them, the more I want to contribute to their longevity. They each exist for a specific reason because someone long ago saw something unbelievably special within them and wanted to share that wonder with generations to come. If you get a chance, you really should check one out, even if it’s just a drive through. Also, when you’re at REI and the salesperson tells you that your sleeping bag is rated to 32 degrees, that’s not good enough. It gets colder than that. Really.

20111005-122414.jpg

Advertisements

Day 58 Back In The Saddle

Boise, ID

20111005-120507.jpg

After 7-week hiatus, I flew back to Boise, ID to get back on Bumblebee and finish my Great American Motorcycle Trip. I was amazed at how much I missed being on the road, and the simplicity of each day. Getting to Boise meant a brief layover in Salt Lake City. It’s easy to forget how grand and diverse America is because the view of Rotary Park and the Red Butte Mountains outside the terminal brought home that I am now in the the glorious West, and things are a lot a different out here. How different? Stay with me because this gets good.

20111005-120529.jpg

I arrived at Boise Airport and was generously picked up by my friend Kipp and his wife Signe, who were also kind enough to let me store my motorcycle while I flew back to NYC. As you can tell, these are amazingly hospitable, kind people, and I am very lucky to know them. We quickly pulled out of the airport and Kipp turned to me with a glint in his eye and asked me how tired I was feeling after my flight. I had grabbed a quick catnap on my connection from Salt Lake City so I told him I was up for anything. Kipp then gave me a sly smile and turned his Suburban towards the private aviation area of the Boise Airport, and informed that we’d be taking out his plane for a sunset flight to Smiley Creek Lodge. Normally, this remote culinary destination would be a 5-hour drive by car or bike. But in our Cesna T-210, it would be a 20-minute flight over the stunning Sawtooth Mountains.

20111005-120537.jpg

Smiley Creek Lodge is this gourmet lodge nestled deep in the Payette National Forest. Most people fly in on small bush planes. And apparently Sunday mornings look like a parking lot of small aircraft along the grass runway.

20111005-120614.jpg

20111005-120623.jpg

20111005-120645.jpg

I’d like to tell you that the best part of the trip was digging into the fresh mountain trout with capers and balsamic reduction sauce (it was amazing), but I’d be lying.

I got to fly the plane!

20111005-120549.jpg

Flying a small plane (not that I’ve flown large planes) felt surprisingly natural, and very much like paragliding but at much faster speeds. The controls were very sensitive and responded well to small inputs, similar to the glider I fly. It was amazing to be able to feel the lofty mountain air gently translate through the controls in your hands, making the plane instantly feel like an extension of my arms. As the sun started to set lower over the National Forest, the Idaho sky was brilliantly illuminated with stretching crimson and orange colors as Kipp took over the controls and landed us gently back in Boise Airport.

20111005-120603.jpg

What a fantastic surprise and what an appropriate way to get back in the saddle on finish this adventure.

WHAT I LEARNED/DISCOVERED TODAY:

The obvious lesson here is that I frickin’ love airplanes and really love flying them. But that love may be the forbidden kind if I live in New York where most forms of private aviation are prohibitively expensive and generally the exclusive purvey of hedge fund managers or Hamptons divorcees. No, the deeper lesson here is about the diversity of experience within America. Kipp explained that he can get from his house to his plane within 15 minutes. House to Work in 10. 20 minutes gets him to the local watersports like to enjoy waterskiing and wakeboarding. And all of this glorious activity is framed by dramatically stunning mountains and expansive state parks to light up every direction you look. All of this for about 1/3 the cost of living in New York. Sort of makes you think. Also, playing Xbox flight simulators is a surprisingly effective training for doing the real thing.

20111005-120637.jpg

The Half-Time Report

Now that I’m officially halfway done with the trip I thought it might be a good time to sit back and take stock of the trip so far. This journey has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. There have been so many enriching experiences that taught me so much. Below I’ve listed some of the things that have gone right and wrong on the trip.

Things I Did Right

– My Packing Set Up: This was obviously something I was concerned about, owing to the fact that I’d never previously set up a motorcycle for such a long journey. The setup of having the two hard Zega Pro panniers with the soft, vulcanized rubber duffel on top has been rock solid. Its enough room for all my gear and tools, and provided me with a little bit of back rest when I would sit back in the pillion (passenger seat). I like this better than if I had a hard top case.

20110731-112843.jpg

– Picked Two Hotel Brands and Stuck with Them: So far, I’ve been going 50 / 50 between camping and staying in hotels. I made the decision to stick with Holiday Inn and La Quinta because both were running the best specials during the summer in terms of generating loyalty points. I now have several free nights in each that could get me most of the way home if I really wanted. I’m glad I didn’t just stay in random spots.

– Turning Back South from Colorado: My original plan was to head due west after crossing the Colorado border. But ultimately the lure of 10,000 Waves Spa, green & red chilies, and solpapilas pulled me back south to Santa Fe. So glad I went back down through Taos, New Mexico and Albuquerque. Not only is Santa Fe one of my top three favorite cities, but it forced me through Arizona which got me to the Grand Canyon.

– Hitting the Blue Ridge Parkway at Dawn: I know I’ve already written about this, but it really was breathtaking and something I’ll keep close to me for the rest of my life.

– Not riding at night: I just feel so much safer, and its nice to be done riding before the sun goes down.

Things I Would Do Differently

– More Research: I probably could have done more homework in terms of knowing what’s around me. I know I missed out on a lot of attractions, but this way I can always look forward to doing it again.

– Make it down to L.A. and Southern CA: Meeting up with friends has been such a terrific part of my journey and I feel like I neglected a lot of people I care for in that area.

– Brought a chair: I’m a little on the fence with this one because I’m not entirely sure where I would put a folding chair on my bike. But most of the campsites have not had picnic tables, and those that did, were not always comfortable after sitting in the saddle for 6 hours. It be nice to have my chair to sit in while watching the sun go down.

– Have some business cards made for my blog to give out to people I meet.
Best Meal of the Trip (Fancy)

Coyote Café (New Mexico)

Best Meal of the Trip (Casual)

Tie: YaYa’s (Alabama) / City Market BBQ (Texas)

Best Camping Meal

Backpacker’s Pantry – Pad See You with Chicken

20110731-112933.jpg

Worst Meal

Tie – Waffle House / King Fu’s Chinese Restaurant (Louisana)

Best View of the Trip

3-way tie – Blue Ridge Parkway / Grand Canyon / Lighthouse Point just South of Fort Bragg

20110731-113003.jpg

20110731-113144.jpg

20110731-113112.jpg

Most Random Thing That Happened

Deciding to stop at The Biltmore in Asheville, NC and then spending the night at the hotel, followed by clay shooting in the morning. Who woulda thunk?

20110731-113242.jpg

Equipment That Rocked

JetBoil: This thing rocked! Boiling hot water in 90 seconds.

Twisted Throttle Electrified Tank Bag: Having my tank bag hooked directly to the battery of my motorcycle, allowed me to keep my iPhone and iPad fully charged most of the time.

Mountain Hardware Monkey Man Fleece: Not only did this jacket keep me warm during some of the cool coastal nights, but the jacket was soft enough to be used as my pillow every night I camped.

BMW Rallye 3 Suit: Remember, this is the jacket and pants I’m wearing every day, rain or shine, hot and cold for 50+ days straight (yeah, I washed it). First of all, the suit did its job protecting me from the crashes I had while driving off road during Shadow of the Rockies. Second, the suit did a great job keeping me warm during some of the early mornings and high altitude passes. I will admit that the suit did get toasty when driving slowly along the Gulf States, but I think that would have been true of any riding suit. I felt good ventilation as soon as I got above 30 mph. Great pockets, good comfort. This suit will go with me to the ends of the Earth. Love it.

– Famous Food Web App: Every traveller MUST bookmark this! The address is http://www.famousfood.us/. This site cross references your location with all the destinations on the Travel Channel and Food Network. I’ve used it as my main dining guide in unknown places.

Equipment That Let Me Down

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 2 Tent: There were a few things I didn’t love about my tent. Being 6’4, I found the tent a bit cramped and found myself usually sleeping in a slight ‘J’ shape diagonally inside. This obviously made turning over a bit cumbersome. The tent pegs that came with the kit were also a bit lackluster and I find myself doing much better with aftermarket tent pegs that I picked up in Boone, NC. Setting up the tent was generally pretty quick (once I had the right pegs) and the size was perfect, fitting right into my pannier. But I sort of feel like I should have kissed a few more frogs before committing to this tent.

Shoei Helmet Pinshield: This will only be of interest to motorcycle people, but before I left I installed a pinshield on the inside of my visor. Let me be clear that my Shoei Multitec Flip Up helmet has been AWESOME – I’m just talking about the visor here. Pinshields are an extra layer installed on the inside of the motorcycle visor to eliminate fog. But in this case, I found my vision getting really distracted between what I could see through the pinshield and what was through the visor. I ended up taking it out after a few days and have never looked back.

BMW Electronic Tire Gauge: What a piece of crap! I could never get a straight reading off this overpriced piece of farkle. I bought a $10 analog gauge at AutoZone in Louisiana that worked just fine.

Best Night’s Sleep

10,000 Waves Spa (New Mexico)

Worst Night’s Sleep

Lake Ute State Park (New Mexico)

20110731-112908.jpg

Best Road

Skyline Drive (Virginia)

Worst Road

Capitan Gap (New Mexico)

Best Travel Tip I Figured Out

Picking up little “airline” bottles of booze to enjoy while camping. They take up very little space and are the perfect serving size (when you drink three).

If I left out any categories or lists, you’d like to see – please feel free to email any questions of comments.

One lap cross-country down, one to go.

Another Great Motorcycle Journey

Many of the gentle readers of my humble blog have expressed to me their heartfelt admiration for the scope and spirit of my wonderful trip. Others have said I’m just batshit crazy. Either way, it does not hold the slightest candle to the incredible odyssey undertaken by Simon and Lisa Thomas back in 2003 (and still going on currently!!).

The husband and wife team decided to embrace the road less travelled and sold their home, and set out on two motorcycles (BMW, of course) to ride all seven continents and hit 122 countries (they’re currently at 70, I think). They’ve faced every sort of break down, calamity and injury you can think of. They now hold the Guinness Record for the Longest Continual Motorcycle Expedition. Just amazing stuff and really inspiring.

If you want to read more about epic motorcycle journeys, you should check out their blog, www.2ridetheworld.com.

Day 24 – Shadow of the Rockies, Part 4

Logan, NM – Santa Fe, NM

380 miles

Last night, the most wicked windstorm you could ever image swept through Lake Ute State Park, tearing up everything in its path and uprooting 3 of my tent stakes that I had literally hammered into the ground.  The storm could have easily given both Dorothy and Toto post-traumatic stress disorder.  But I hunkered down in my tent which really isn’t all that brave because I figured that my fat ass was the only thing keeping it anchored to the ground.  The storm rattled on until about 4:00am.  I was finally able to get a little sleep, but when I awoke, I found a one-inch layer of fine sand covering the inside of my tent, sleeping bag, makeshift pillow, and…me.  Seriously, I looked The Mummy.

20110623-103952.jpg
It usually takes me 45 min – 1 hour to pack everything up and load it onto my bike.  Things took a bit longer this morning as I shook all the sand out of my tent and the rest of my gear.  It got everywhere.  When it comes to packing up, there’s a lot of shoving, pulling and pushing to get all my gear for 10 weeks to fit into the limited space I have.  Because of this, I usually put my heavy riding suit on at the end of this arduous process.  The little bonus I got this morning was finding a nest of brown moths that had sought refuge from the windstorm in my jacket and pants.  Of course, I didn’t see them until I was putting my pants on, and lo and behold, panicked insects started flying out of my crotch.  Needless to say, when my heart dropped back down to 120 beats per minute, I spent the next hour shaking my clothing out as if my life depended on it.  A rather auspicious start to my last day on The Shadow Of The Rockies Trail.

I headed out NW from Logan on mostly ranching roads which were hard packed dirt and easy (relatively) to ride on.  I did notice that I was steadily gaining altitude, which made sense as I inched closer to the Colorado border.  The scrub brush of the ranching plains slowly became more arid until soon I noticed small sand banks accumulating on the sides of the trail.

20110623-104201.jpg

This unnerved me.

The only obstacle I really had major difficulty with at BMW School was the sand pit.  It’s just plain hard to keep a 700-lb bike on track in fine sand.  It was too easy to drop the bike and even easier to get stuck while trying to get out.  I just kept telling myself that I only had 70 miles to go, and to keep my head high and power through.

Finally, I came around a sharp bend and the entire trail was buried in several feet of sand.  I immediately tried to get on the throttle but it was too late.  As soon as the front tire hit the sand, the bike slowed down dramatically.  The slower you are in the sand, the stronger the wobbles get.  Before I knew it, the front end had washed out and I was over the handlebars again.

I picked the bike up again (the only good part about sand is that is usually doesn’t cause damage to the bike when dropped) and tried to get it moving.  But the more throttle I gave, the deeper my rear tire sank into the sand.  I was SO close, and all I could do was pray to the Desert Gods to please not let my journey end here.  I ended up getting off the bike and throttled it while standing beside it, rocking it back and forth.  Finally, the bike leapt out of its rut allowing me to hop on and ride her to safety.

I surprised myself by speaking aloud, “thank you, thank you, thank you…” over and over again.  I don’t know who I was taking to, but it really just hit me how lucky I’ve been so far on the trail, despite a few crashes.  I guess the impact of ending this epic trail ride was beginning to hit me.

Shadow of the Rockies was an incredible adventure.  Really one of the greatest of my life.  Not because the roads were so epically tough or the navigation was so challenging.  Rather, it meant so much because I was alone and had to rely on myself to solve problems like gates, how to move a dropped bike, or making distance.  I’ll absolutely do this trail again, and would love to finish it all the way in Wyoming.

20110623-104427.jpg

But it will never be like the first time.  It will never have the same sense of discovery and wonder that it did when I saw all civilization drop away in the distance outside El Paso, and I realized it was just me, my bike and New Mexico.  Again, I say aloud, thank you.

But I wasn’t through woods yet.  After bearing through another bout of deep sand, I finally ended up back on country roads.  For most of the trip, I’ve heard locals complaining about the drought conditions.  In fact, throughout my entire trip, I haven’t felt a single raindrop yet (knock on wood).  But now, big storm clouds could be seen rolling into the Great Plains. I overheard a farmer at a gas station in Corona say they were expecting rain on Tuesday or Wednesday.  This is only Monday but it looked like rain was on early delivery.  The reason this sucked for me was these benign country roads of hard and loose-packed dirt could easily become massively treacherous if rain struck turning them into deep mud.  I’m still riding on dual sport tires that wouldn’t give me much traction in those conditions.

20110623-104405.jpg

So I leaned on the throttle a little harder.

And then, like I hit a wall, the temperature dropped almost 40 degrees.  I’m not kidding or exaggerating.   I started the day in the mid to high 90s and now my gauge read 57 degrees.  I knew all my complaining about the heat would turn ironic at some point, but I figured it would be near Vancouver not while still in New Mexico.  I still had all the cooling vents open in my riding suit which I quickly pulled over to close.  Nonetheless, I still found myself shivering from the high, chilled winds that kept pushing me left to right in the final miles of the trail.

Before I knew it, I was within 10 miles of the Colorado border.  When I crossed the state line, I was a little choked up.  For all lot of off road riders (most probably), this really wouldn’t have been that big a deal.  But it was for me.  I did it by myself, kept the bike together, stayed on track, and finished what I started.

20110623-104241.jpg

The word ‘adventure’ gets thrown around far too often in society now.  It’s used far too ubiquitously by marketing executives and travel companies.  I have only two qualifications to define something as an adventure.

  1. It contains an aspect of risk that legitimately concerns or scares you.
  2. You want to quit at some point.

The Shadow of the Rockies Trail had both for me, and that’s why it was my adventure that I’ll always treasure.

From Colorado, I dipped back into New Mexico on the pavement.   The easy monotony of highway traffic felt strangely welcoming as I headed west on Route 72.  I was originally going to head over to Utah and hit Moab and Monument National Park.  But I changed my mind and instead felt Santa Fe calling out to me.

I generally consider Santa Fe to be my third favorite city in America (behind New York and San Francisco).  But it might be my second favorite city in which to eat.  Vietnamese and Southwestern cuisine are my dream meals, and authentic versions of either are hard to come by.  I decided to steer Bumblebee towards Taos and then cut south to Santa Fe.  After a few gracious phone calls by my fantastic wife, I was able to get a room at 10,000 Waves – a magnificent spa right outside of town.  This day was going to end well.

But I didn’t even know how well.  As I passed Raton, NM, the cold front eased and I found myself riding in the glorious sweet zone of the high 70s.  The High Plains of New Mexico faded behind me, and in front, I could slowly see giants rising out of the horizon.  After travelling through the dusty flatlands and mesa deserts in the east, it was glorious to see the gargantuan Rocky Mountains in the distance.

20110623-104508.jpg

I travelled through the deliciously shady Cimerron Canyon, carving through the twisty mountain roads leading to Taos.  High granite walls of the mountain flanked me on either side as I passed fly fishermen wading into the stream that paralleled the road.  It was the most beautiful non-park drive I’d experienced thus far in the trip.

20110623-104330.jpg

Soon I hit Taos and it was time to head back south.  As I got closer to Santa Fe, I started seeing familiar places that I’ve visited in previous trips.  I only get to Santa Fe infrequently so I treasure the memories and special spots that I know there.  A smile crept across my face as I saw more of the architecture of the adobe style homes that people usually think of when they imagine the Southwest.  I had discovered a whole new side of New Mexico over the past week, but this was the New Mexico I know and love.

20110623-104612.jpg

I pulled into 10,000 Waves just an hour before sunset, allowing me to throw my gear into the room, change, and hit the communal hot tub while the sun sank below the tips of the San Juan Mountains.

I’m smiling as I write – this was a good day.

Day 23 – Shadow of the Rockies, Part 3

Corona, NM – Logan, NM

275 miles

Today I got up 6:15am to get an early start to make the big push to Logan, NM. As I crawled out of my tent in a remote corner of the town park of Corona, I felt a little like a homeless person with a cool bike. Throughout the night, I could hear freight trains passing through the center of town.

20110621-020518.jpg

In this age of FedEx and email, train transport seems almost antiquated, but it was cool to see that this part of American history was still being utilized (despite keeping me awake in my little hovel). I drove back to the gas station I visited last night, fueled up and strapped water to every conceivable point on my bike. I was in no mood to run out water like yesterday. I had my biggest day of off roading ahead and I wanted to make sure I was prepared.

I headed 30 miles east of Corona to find the trailhead to get me back on route. However, one problem with following the Shadow of the Rockies Trail is that rest stops and towns are far and few in between.

20110621-020852.jpg

At one point when I was about 5 miles back on the trail, a pickup truck started heading towards me. Bear in mind, this is the FIRST time I’ve seen another vehicle on the roads I’ve been riding. The driver stopped and I stopped, bracing for a lecture that I had somehow wandered upon private land (I get lectured a lot). The driver was nothing else but friendly and confirmed that I was indeed riding on county roads, not private.

Pick-Up Truck Driver: You know where you’re going?

Me: Surprisingly, I actually do. I’m trying to get to Logan today riding off road.

Pick-Up Truck Driver: Hmmm…not much between here and Logan.

Me: Yeahh…I made sure to fill up on gas and water.

Pick-Up Truck Driver: Well, good luck to you.

I continued on, passing many horse and cattle ranches. Long roads of gravel and dirt stretched out along straight trajectories taking me deeper into the prairie. The temperature didn’t seem as oppressive as the last few days, but I’m still riding in the high 90s.

20110621-020546.jpg

After the drama from yesterday, I’m feeling a little hesitant to be off road. I hated the reality of being trapped behind a fence with no way out (a situation entirely of my own making). Yesterday, I just got lucky. Today, I made the decision to turn around if I encountered any closed fences.

For the most part, the riding was very mellow, mainly following country dirt roads that bordered ranches. I seem to have left the high desert area and am now entering the Great Plains region (I’m only a few miles from the Oklahoma border).

20110621-024729.jpg

I was pleased to be riding at a more subdued pace, and I was slowly getting my mojo back after dropping the bike yesterday.

20110621-020527.jpg

Then things went very bad, very fast. I was riding along a ranch road that had a single strand of barbed wire running across the cattle crossing. It had a few plastic bags tied at the ends that allowed me to see it at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it until it was too late. I jammed hard on the brakes and my front tire washed out in the loose dirt, sending me over the handlebars and the bike crashing into the ground. Again, I’m fine (always ride with protection people!), but the bike took it’s hardest hit yet.

I didn’t even have time to take a macabre photo as fuel was already leaking out (the gas cap popped open). Fuel is a precious commodity out here so I stumbled over quickly to get the bike back upright. The windshield was cracked and 3 out the 4 auxiliary lights got pretty mangled. Pretty damn shitty because of a single wire gate. I was (and still am) pissed.

Luckily, the bike started up (I had already began calculations as to how far I’d have to hike out). These BMWs are built like goddamn tanks.

Yeah, no kidding…

20110621-020618.jpg

Sadly, that last fall really put damper on the rest of the day. Riding through the remote plains was beginning to feel monotonous. Controlled burns were going on everywhere and the high winds were kicking up massive soot clouds. It was hard to see at times and my eyes were tearing nonstop.  You can see the scorched earth in this photo.  Really sort of eerie driving through it.

20110621-025305.jpg

I met these guys along the way, and stopped to tell them how low I was feeling. They seemed to sympathize or at least faked it pretty well.

20110621-020559.jpg
20110621-020606.jpg

I took it slower again, and the roads were still pretty mellow. I was just a bit shaken, and the fear of getting caught with mechanical issues this far out was starting to gnaw at me.

The best thing happened all day when I crossed 1-40 and found the glorious Russell’s Truck Stop. Man, it felt like Disneyland inside these massive traveller centers. I felt like Templeton the Rat from Charlotte’s Web, basking in the air conditioned splendor and running around trying to sample and look at everything. It had an entire grocery store inside along with maps, gifts, beer, sandwiches, a full service diner and…an antique car museum. I know – WTF? But there weren’t just shleppy cars from a junkyard. This truck stop has some serious wheels.

20110621-020627.jpg

20110621-020637.jpg

20110621-020748.jpg

20110621-020735.jpg

It was nice to get a little bit of (I cringe as I type)…culture at the truck stop. I feel like the last several days have been so much about riding and making miles that I’m not interacting with my surroundings other than enjoying breathtaking scenery.  Maybe I’m just not drinking enough water…

I made it to Logan. So damn thrilled. I debated getting a motel, but ended up at Lake Ute State Park. I’ll splurge on a hotel when I head west to Santa Fe tomorrow after finishing the New Mexico leg of the Shadow Of The Rockies trail.

20110621-024701.jpg

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: No such thing as riding too slow. Having the bike fail in a remote region is dangerous and potentially a trip-ender. Also, I’m considering taking my next rest day exclusively at a truck stop. I’d get to meet interesting people, eat and drink well and catch up on my straight to DVD backlog of titles.

Day 22 – Shadow of the Rockies, Part 2

Capitan, NM – Corona, NM
67 Miles

Today was very tough, hard day.

I started the day leaving the tiny town of Capitan and looked to continue the Shadow of the Rockies trail north. As you recall from the last post, the reason I stayed in Capitan was because I had some confusion as to where actual the trail was. So far, the directions I’ve downloaded have been spot on. Staying on-course is a cause of some concern for me as I’m venturing 50 miles into ranch country and national forest and if I get lost…well, let’s just say the blog posts would be getting a lot more sporadic.

20110620-104724.jpg

But around Capitan, things got confusing. Remember that I had a choice of two roads, the righthand route took me into the groovy teen bible camp.

The lefthand route was actually far more gnarly and gated off by the Forest Service. Apparently, due to the drought, there was an extreme risk of fire so Lincoln National Forest was shut down to visitors or any type of motor traffic. At first I figured there was no way that it was part of the Shadow of the Rockies Trail.  It seemed much greater in difficulty than the roads I’d experienced thus far.  However, I knew via my GPS coordinates that I was in the right place.  Clearly by process of elimination, the left route was the correct one.

Only one problem.  A big fat locked gate blocking the entrance.

But in my infinite wisdom, I also saw a really easy way around the gate, and surely the person who sent me these directions would have told me if I should avoid the National Forest.

So I went.

20110620-104749.jpg

Holy God in Heaven was that a tough route.  I really haven’t been that nervous in a while.  You can see by my distance that it took me most of the day just to do 60 miles. Part of that was due to the increasing numbers of locked gates that I had to maneuver around or partially disassemble in order to pass. I would have never committed myself so far into the route if I had any idea how tough or inaccessible the roads became as I ventured further.  Also, the top of the pass (pictured below) was at almost 10,000 feet and I was getting winded easily.

20110621-014054.jpg

The problem is, the road only really runs north. It’s much harder to negotiate the bike going south which meant that I had to keep going with the trail no matter what it threw at me. There was no turning back.

20110620-104811.jpg

20110621-013849.jpg

The other reason I took so long is that I had a few crashes. I’m fine but poor Bumblebee finally went down. I knew it was only a matter of time, but still it was very sad and very frustrating to deal with.  I really, really love this bike and it just looks wounded lying down on the ground.  The bike weights over 700 lbs so moving it out of a ditch by myself was a sincere challenge.

20110620-104712.jpg

Soon, insipid thoughts start creeping into your head. What if I can’t get it out? What if I’m stuck? What if I have to leave the bike and walk out 30 miles? How will I ever get the bike out with the roads being closed and totally unreachable by most 4-wheel drive cars. I’d have to leave the bike here for weeks.  What if I actually got hurt?  Nobody is coming and nobody can help.

What if I really fucked up?

20110621-013903.jpg

Luckily, after about 2 hours of wrestling and revving I was able to get my bike out of the two ditches she landed in. But I had used up most of my strength, all of my water, and fear was starting to get the better of me.

I finally got the bike through Capitan Pass and around all of the locked Forest Service gates. I was heading for a blessed paved road, Route 246. It stood a mere 10 feet away from me. One problem. Another locked gate. This one was big and there was no going around it. I had also ventured onto private land, which generally isn’t a big deal as long as you stick to the roads (assuming they’re open).

I stood there stumped. I’d be able to overcome every other exhausting obstacle so far, but there was no way I could move forward, and I sure as hell couldn’t go back. I was stuck and there was no way out.

20110620-104737.jpg

Finally, a truck passed towing a large horse trailer.  It slowed down enough to allow the driver to stare menacingly at me.

Me: Hi there!

Ranch Owner: <silence>

Me: Boy, I sure am lost. Am I on your land?  I feel like I might be.

Ranch Owner: You are.

Me: Well, I’d like to get off it as soon as possible. I’m very very sorry.

Ranch Owner: How the hell did you get in there? The gate is locked.

Me: I came the other way. Over the mountain pass from Capitan.

Ranch Owner: But mountain is closed right now.

Me: I know. It’s been a long day.

Half an hour passes and the Ranch Owner finally comes back with a key for the gate, allowing me to pass. He was definitely a little pissed (rightly so) that I had been trespassing on his land and on the State’s Land when there were clear signs forbidding it. I think my saving grace was that I tried to be as apologetic and polite as possible, but also I had New York plates. Everyone knows New Yorkers are pretty worthless when it comes to ranches so I think he might have written me off as an example of dumb Yankee tomfoolery.

At that point, I was feeling pretty sure that I wanted to bail and just stick to paved roads for a while. But deep down, I knew that wasn’t the spirit of this part of the journey. Despite the difficulty of the riding today, I was still rewarded with some of the most stunning vistas I’ve seen the entire trip.

20110620-104441.jpg

I pushed down Rt. 246 another few miles until I got to the trail head for the next leg of the trip. Now that I was off the mountain, I was driving on flat country and ranch roads which were much easier going. I traversed the Hasperos Canyon and passed a dozen or so cattle ranches along the way. Beautiful country. I’m so amazed how these ranchers can live such an isolated life. All of them (including the guy I trespassed on) seemed very nice.

20110621-013940.jpg

20110621-013926.jpg

Yeah, I went over this…

20110620-104800.jpg

I made it to another paved road, Route 247, but I was pretty spent at this point. The map wanted me to continue right, but I could see that the small town of Corona was 30 miles on the left. I needed water and I hadn’t eaten much all day. In these situations, I go for the known value, as opposed to risking the unknown.

I’m in Corona now, and despite a promising name, there’s not much here. I stopped at the local gas station / deli and filled myself up with Gatorade and water. I asked the kind woman at the counter if there were any motels or restaurants nearby. She informed me that the nearest of either were about 50 miles away.

I asked about camping and she said nobody would mind if I pitched a tent on their local town park. I feel a little shady and vulnerable, but I think it will all be good.

I came looking for adventure, and today I got mine super sized. I’m a little full now.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: When a road is closed, leave it closed. I’m pushing it already by going off road solo. Today had some strong elements of stupidity that I’m not proud of. I’m also going to do my best to stay off private property (although it’s a little hard to know the difference between public and private in this neck of the woods). I just got insanely lucky that the ranch owner happened to drive by. Otherwise, I’d still be there. Lastly, BMW School saved my life today. Despite laying the bike down twice, I rode well and kept my cool.

Day 21 – Shadow Of The Rockies, Part 1

El Paso, TX – Capitan, NM

216 miles

WOW!! Today was an adrenaline filled day that had me laughing out loud and smiling for hours. Holy crap is going off road beautiful!!

20110617-104626.jpg

As some of you know, one of the highlights of this trip was going to be riding the Shadow of the Rockies Trail which is an off road route that takes you from the bottom of New Mexico to Wyoming staying primarily on dirt roads. My goal is to complete the New Mexico portion from south to north. My motorcycle trip to Baja earlier this year was a warm-up to help develop my anemic off road riding skills. Going to BMW School was another step toward building my confidence up. This was going to be the big test.

20110617-104636.jpg

The trailhead to the Shadow Of The Rockies trail begins 26 miles due east of El Paso. Even driving there, I started getting butterflies as the road morphed from suburban commercial to a two lane highway until it went down to a one-lane highway. I was pretty anxious because I really had no idea what to expect from the terrain. Quite frankly, I was a little worried it was going to be singletrack which would have been difficult to manage with a 700-pound bike and traveling by myself.

20110617-104728.jpg

And that’s really the big concern. If anything happens out in the desert, I’m all alone. A flat tire is my biggest concern. I have a tire plug kit, but I’ve seen mixed results regarding their effectiveness off road. It will be hard for a tow truck or any support vehicle to get to me given the condition of some of the roads.

But I have to say, the moment my bike got off the highway and touched the dirt, my heart started soaring. My God, its stunning out here. I’m constantly reminded of a really great little indie flick called Off The Map (Rent it! See it!) with Sam Elliot and the gorgeous Joan Allen where she says, “New Mexico is a pretty powerful place. It takes most people a few years to get used to it.”

20110621-010935.jpg

The first 70 miles were just straight though the desert approaching White Sands National Monument. I thought about all those tiny remote roads you see from an airplane in the middle of nowhere and think, “I wonder who the hell ever drives on that road”. Well, today it was me and was fantastically cool.

20110617-104641.jpg

The sky seemed to just open up and pull these dusty roads out into the horizon. While I passed the occasional entrance to a ranch, I never once passed another car while offroad. I was completely alone and it felt tremendous.

20110617-104559.jpg

Not to say, I didn’t hit the occasional traffic jam.

20110617-104615.jpg

And I thought this was a nice touch.

20110617-104658.jpg

The views kept getting better and better.

20110617-104800.jpg

Before I knew it, the long dusty road began to wind into the mountains of Lincoln National Forest and soon the smell of pine and fir permeated through the vents in my helmet. The wide road became less sandy and more rocky causing me to drop me to drop my speed to 25 mph. I could have pushed a bit faster but I wanted to play it safe given that I’m solo and the scenery was so beautiful, so why would I rush?

20110617-105135.jpg

20110617-104740.jpg

20110621-011015.jpg

After winding though some of the fir forests, I stumbled upon my first major rest stop, Cloudcroft, NM. I just like the sound of it. The look of it however, is very much more akin to Frontierland in Disneyworld. It was a kitchy Western styled town, but seemed popular with other bikers. The New York license plate is always a conversation starter as even some Harley guys wanted to hear about the trip. Cloudcroft was a welcome stop to refuel and grab some lunch. Yes, I actually ate here.

20110617-104918.jpg

At one point, it seemed like I might have entered land belonging to the Apache Reservation but I wasn’t sure. Then I saw this.

20110621-010957.jpg

The route took me through Riodoso which reminded me a little bit of Lake Placid, NY. There were more than a few bars advertising live bands, and lots of restaurants with tiny flower boxes outside. Pretty town, looked like a lot of fun and I would have liked to have stayed for a night.

I ended the day pulling into Capitan, New Mexico which I learned was the birth place (and apparently final resting place) of Smokey The Bear. My trail led me just outside the town to a fork in a dirt road. One road led into a National Forest which was closed due to the heat and drought. I followed the other road which led me to Pine Ridge Ranch. Great, I figured! Most of these ranches offer rooms for the evening. This will be my chance to live out my inner cowboy fantasies for an evening. Turns out, the ranch is a teen bible summer camp occupied by the stunt doubles from Children Of The Corn. When I rode in looking like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and asked for a room for the night, they seemed very confused but polite. I turned back to Capitan and figured I ridden enough miles for one day and it might be good to chill with my old pal Smokey.

What an fantastic, soul stirring day. I feel incredibly lucky.

20110617-105038.jpg

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: Going out in the wild blue yonder alone is scary but enthralling. I haven’t felt this sense of adventure in years. I’m so excited about what I’ll find next. Also, bible school kids like BMW bikes (at least, they said they’d pray for me).

20110617-104711.jpg

Day 14 – 16 – Class Is In Session!!

Greenville, South Carolina

0 Miles

20110614-081020.jpg

I arrived in Greenville, South Carolina along with my friend Frank from New York to attend a two-day BMW Offroad Riding Clinic held at the company’s U.S. manufacturing headquarters. I had been waiting for this weekend for months. This was going to be awesome!

Two days of driving MY EXACT BIKE through terrain and obstacles I would never have the courage to attempt. But because it’s BMW’s bike, one can afford to make small mistakes (like dropping the bike and letting it roll down a gravel hill or smashing it into someone else’s bike – both of which I witnessed).

We showed up at the gorgeous facility that BMW calls its Performance Center. The company hosts a variety of other programs at this location which features a huge winding test track for their automotive clinics (including a slick pad that is kept wet and allows drivers to correct spinout due to loss of traction) as well as miles of off-road riding for the motorcycles. They also constructed a huge gravel pad, sand pit, hill climbs and a myriad of other obstacles to help us learn what our motorcycles are capable of, given the correct technique.

20110614-081008.jpg

As the elephant said to his mistress, the mouse, – nothing is easy, neither was BMW Off Road School. In its literature, the school states that riding continues through rain or shine. It also continues in the 100+ degree heat wearing helmets, armored jackets and pants along with knee-high riding boots. I thought my earlier riding through Alabama, Mississippi and Texas were tough. But leisurely riding on paved roads paled in comparison to the physicality of off road riding in the heat and humidity in South Carolina. I was utterly drenched in sweat all day, and even overnight my riding pants couldn’t completely dry out. It was crazy hot.

Three instructors, Ross, Blair and Ricardo, would be our sensei in all aspects of offroad motorcycle proficiency. When you finally decide that you want to ride your motorcycle across Mongolia or traverse the Darien Gap, this is the place you come for training. These guys are the best of the best.

Our class was comprised of eleven students of varying ages, although the average probably skewed a bit past 35. The instructors remarked that despite our class being all male, they usually had at least one female in attendance. None of us possessed any extensive off road riding experience, and a palpable sense of anxiety permeated the room as we watched a marketing video depicting motorcycles slogging through deep mud and catching air off 6-foot ledges. One guy asked if anyone had any Advil or Aleve.

20110614-080956.jpg

After a brief classroom session, the eleven students (including me) went out to the racetrack to meet our steeds for the next two days. A BMW motorcycle buffet was presented to us featuring F650GS, F800GS, R1200GS, and of course my favorite – the R1200GS Adventure.

The class started with a presentation of the different motorcycles and their varying operation. The instructors then surprised us by taking one of the R1200GS bikes and laying it on the asphalt.

“You’ll be dropping these bikes a lot over the next two days so the first thing you better learn is how to pick one up.” Blair explained to the class.

Bear in mind, these bikes weigh over 600 pounds when fueled so “picking one up” is not a trifle matter, especially when one has been eating at Waffle House and scarfing BBQ for the last two weeks. Blair demonstrated an ingenious method of turning your back to the motorcycle and “walking the bike up” using your legs and opposed to throwing out your back. I’m not saying it was easy, but it was clearly doable.

20110614-081125.jpg

With the basics out of the way, we proceeded to mount our bikes and head out to a gravel field where we learned the next foundation skill – standing on the pegs. We were expected to be riding standing up at all times to facilitate greater control over the motorcycle. This way, the instructors explained, the bike can be jostling underneath you, while you stay above it and in control. This also meant that yours truly would performing a half squat for 6 hours each day. Please review the above descriptions of the South Carolina heat and my poor dietary choices before comprehending how arduous this might be.

20110614-081114.jpg

But man, the instructors were right! Standing up afforded us far greater control over rough uneven terrain that sitting down ever could.

“Stand up, and stay in control. Remember if you’re sitting down, you’re just along for the ride.” The lead instructor Ross continually told us.

We proceeded to ride in long ovals practicing standing up while alternating lifting our legs from each peg, then riding with one foot tucked underneath our butts, then graduating to riding sidesaddle. This is where the part about dropping these behemoth motorcycles came to fruition.

Bam! Crash!! Crunch!! Bikes started dropping like hail as we tried to master riding while having our LEFT legs standing on the RIGHT peg. Think about it for a sec. Pretty damn hard.

Luckily, Germans don’t make wimpy motorcycles and all the bikes are fitted with roll bars protecting them from the inevitable put downs. The curriculum quickly accelerated to riding our bikes over sets of ruts, small hills, and drop offs.

20110614-081029.jpg

The overriding emphasis focused on accomplishing these riding challenges in a slow and controlled fashion. Pinning the throttle to plow through whatever lay ahead would only result in launching a 600-pound bike though the air possibly landing on top of you whenever your body should choose to crash back to Earth. This was sadly proven to the class through example on more than one occasion.

I found myself doing well balancing the bike though slow tight maneuvers on the enduro course and I had a pretty good sense of exactly how much throttle to apply when I approached hills and camelhumps. But soon, I would meet my nemesis.

Sand.

Unghhh! I HATE driving a motorcycle through sand. Earlier this year, I went on a motorcycle trip with my brother to Baja, Mexico where we rode through hundreds of miles of sand. I hated almost every minute of it. That’s because I totally suck at it.

20110614-081052.jpg

The trick to riding in sand is hitting it with enough speed that you effectively surf on top of it, as opposed to sinking into it. This increased speed means that every bump and ridge on the surface gets translated into your handlebars that much faster.

I did Baja with my 300-pound Husqvarna 510TE motorcycle. Now I was at BMW School with a big GS bike weighing more than double.

20110614-081102.jpg

As soon as my front tire hit the deep sand pit, my handlebars started gyrating like a drunk Elvis impersonator. Of course, the inbred male response to all predicaments automotive is to give the fucker more gas. I heard one of my earlier driving instructors refer to this masculine phenomenon as “red mist”. This sudden application of throttle in deep sand results in either the bike spinning around 90 degrees tossing you unceremoniously over the handlebars (I call it the Bavarian rodeo) or your bike promptly sinks two feet into the sand. Both suck.

Sadly, I was never able to successfully negotiate the sand pit without laying my bike down (or shooting off into the grass on a diverted 90 degree angle – that’s really fun too). I tried keeping my head up and eyes looking forward, not down. I continually maintained a steady application of throttle. But, I just couldn’t keep my bike upright in the deep sand. On the bright side, I have now learned that should I encounter such sand during my off road travels in New Mexico or the Southwest, I should promptly turn around and seek the safety of the nearest Waffle House. Good to know these things in advance.

However, my off road education ended on high note, literally. Throughout the school session, there was one monster hill near the center of the endure course that kept winking at us, daring us to scale its heights with our trusted bikes. None of the instructors would tell us when we would be tackling this hulking obstacle but all the students suspected that it would somehow pop up on the final exam.

20110614-081043.jpg

In the last two hours on the second day, our class broke up into smaller groups each lead by one of the instructors through the enduro course. Everything was fair game as we tackled all the forest, bridges, ruts, bumps, and drop offs that we had encountered previously, albeit at higher speeds this time. Finally, my group pulled up beside the Big Kahuna and I looked up at 50 feet of steep loose gravel that lay before me.

“Are you guys ready to hit the big one?” our instructor Ricardo asked.

Now, what do you say to that? In an all-male class, declining a testosterone laced challenge like gunning your motorcycle up a steep hill followed by a sheer drop off would by like admitting to knowing the lyrics to Les Miserables. The only acceptable response to the instructor’s question was “hell yes!” or faking a mild cardiac arrest.

I approached the steep hill cautiously, applying a committed burst of throttle as my front tire reached the incline and the motorcycle’s suspension compressed. I quickly remembered to keep my eyes forward and to look straight ahead which startlingly meant I was now staring straight up at a cloud formation and a Continental commuter flight on final approach to the nearby airport. But just then, my bike managed to summit over the peak and my straight-ahead gaze was rewarded by seeing a gravel path leading me back down to Earth. Pretty goddamn thrilling.

Overall, the class was a game changer for me. It greatly expanded on my existing riding skills and made me appreciate my own motorcycle even more. I’m not sure what roads lie ahead as I tackle the Great West and some of our nation’s largest national parks. But now I feel I like I have the skills and confidence to negotiate most terrain (or at least know what to turn around and run away from).

On a side note, Frank and I did manage to sneak away from school long enough to visit the Zentrum BMW Museum where they showcase some amazing vehicles from BMW’s past, present and future. I could try to describe some of the amazing cars and bikes we saw but I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

20110614-080808.jpg

20110614-080908.jpg

20110614-080920.jpg

20110614-080931.jpg

20110614-080946.jpg

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED THIS WEEKEND: The most important lesson about motorcycle riding is where you look. Your head is always up high, eyes on the horizon looking ahead not down in front of you. Feels sort of like a life lesson.

Day 3 – Evolution

Wilmington, DE – Front Royal, VA

184 miles

It’s funny how a day can start one way and evolve into another. I woke up this morning a bit foggy from the revelry of the wedding and its celebrations that occurred the night before. I tried for an early start but saying goodbye to all my family members and general sluggishness resulted in my leaving around 11 a.m. It was my first time in Wilmington and it felt very sterile in an urban sort of way. I was eager to get on the road.

After stopping in Bethesda for lunch, I headed west on 495 and then hooked onto I-66 to take me into Virginia. Throughout my ride in the Northeast corridor on I-95, the NJ Turnpike and the Capitol Beltway, I’ve felt vaguely claustrophobic from all of the car traffic around me, much like standing at the urinals at Giants Stadium during halftime.

But as I headed west on 66, everything started to change. The trip started to unfold. I started riding, not driving.

20110604-101734.jpg

Somewhere around Gainesville, VA, the ever-present traffic started to melt away and long stretches of road presented themselves despite having been reduced to a two-lane highway. Instead of the distant skylines of Baltimore and Washington, the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Mountains rose up on the horizon. The shoulders of the sloping road and its medians became lush green forests as opposed to Roy Rogers Rest Stops.

20110604-101920.jpg

My exit off I-66 rewarded me with The Apple House, home of the some of the best cider donuts I’ve had in years. I started with eating just two and then sheepishly returned to the counter for another two. The establishment might be a bit of tourist trap but regardless, the smell of BBQ and deep fried dough let me know that I had left the Northeast and was now squarely in the South.

I soon pulled into Front Royal, VA, the home of the top of Skyline Drive.

20110604-101752.jpg

I felt good about my decision to slab the big interstates this far because I wanted to push my way into unfamiliar ground as soon as possible. Considering that I’m writing this at the lovely Gooney Creek Campground (I’m not making this up), having set up my first tent in 15 years, and driving on one of America’s most beautiful highways in the morning, I think I’ve arrived at unfamiliar.

20110604-101759.jpg

20110604-101808.jpg

And the best part is that I’ve already made my first road friend. As I pulled into my camp spot and dropped my gear, my neighbor Nafi called me over to offer a hamburger he was making on his grill (a damn good one BTW). He introduced himself and his family that had come to America from Afghanistan and now live in outside Washington DC. He told me about leaving Soviet occupied Afghanistan decades ago to make a new life in America. It was great to hear his immigration story and the optimism he still holds despite the recessionary challenges in the economy. Let me reiterate that this man makes a damn fine burger.

20110604-101845.jpg

These are the kind of experiences I’m hoping for as I drive across America. My goal for tomorrow is to be set up to start Skyline Drive, one of the most scenic highways in America, by dawn.

Pretty good day.

WHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: People are nice. Be open to meeting new folks and hearing their story. Rewards, or at least a hamburger, will follow.

20110605-085107.jpg

20110605-085225.jpg