Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Life gets moving

So, as I've alluded to in my last post, I had a pretty screwed up 2015. My ex-wife moved out of my house on the 7th of January, and 2 weeks later, I found out that she had supposedly met someone in the 2 weeks that she had been gone. She'd never admit to it, but I later found out that she had been cheating on me since at least December (I hate to be petty, but damn, don't post that crap on your wedding announcement website!), and then several months after that, found out that she slept with at least 2 other guys while we were married. I had been married for 16 years, and suddenly, I was in a big empty house. It took me some time, and some serious thinking, for me to realize that it was honestly for the best. For both of us, I hope. I have come to realize that she had probably wanted out of our relationship for a few years, but she couldn't bring herself to leave until she had a "support network"; i.e. someone to drive her around.

So, fast forward a few months, and about 3 weeks after my divorce was finalized, I was out riding motorcycles with some friends. I was on a friend's borrowed motorcycle. His bike, a Suzuki V-Strom 1000, was significantly heavier than my KLR650, so when the going got tough, and some newer riders wanted to split off, I did as well. We rode for a while, but I began experiencing some of the exhaust popping and stuttering that the bike occasionally had, so I decided to split off on my own, go test out new helmets, and then see if I could get his bike sorted out. For some stupid reason, I ended up doubling back to run down a road that I like. I was in the middle of an 18 foot wide dirt ride, and as I came over the top of a small but fairly steep hill, a low tree branched blocked my view of an oncoming SUV. I saw it in time to move out of their way, but I apparently gassed the throttle, and I think that the back end broke loose. I flopped onto my back at about 20 miles per hour, and landed just right to cause my T-4 vertebrae explode.

So, super long story short, I spent 9 days in the trauma unit Vanderbilt, before moving to Stallworth Rehab for 5 weeks of PT and OT. I got to work with some great people that really helped me turn things around. The support from my family and friends was immeasurable. My mother took 9 months out of her life, sleeping on my couch for most of it, to help me get back on with my life. I missed 5 months of work, and then worked my way from 3 days a week up to full time again over the following 4 months. A week after I finally got my El Camino back from becoming street legal and having a hoist and hand controls installed, she was finally able to get back home.

To top off a super crappy year, my dog Duke had to be euthanized on December 26th due to renal failure. Fortunately, my super awesome friend Lisa had both of my dogs at her farm outside of Paducah Kentucky, and I know that she gave him as much love as I could have during that time, and he no doubt enjoyed the freedom he had to roam around his last few months.

So, anyway, this is a blog about travel. Obviously, my ability to travel as much as I used to, or as much as I want to, has become more challenging, to say the least. Between fears of flying (horror stories include lost wheelchairs, broken ankles and elbows getting on and off of planes, etc.) and logistics such as transporting my extra medical supplies and equipment, plus things such as renting cars with hand controls and finding hotels that I can actually get my wheelchair into all rooms is always a gamble.

Rewind the story a little bit, just before my divorce was finalized, I met this girl, Kaity. She is pretty awesome, and we hit it off well from the start. We dated on and off initially, both of us unsure what we were doing. I wasn't sure if I was ready to start dating again, and frankly wondered if I was making a mistake as I had been married for 16 years and hadn't ever really lived on my own. Working together always adds another odd element as well. We got along well, and things were looking up. And then I had my crash. It was obvious that she was very upset when she came to visit me in the hospital, and after a few weeks, it was obvious to us both that this wasn't going to work. And frankly, it was probably best that way as I needed to concentrate on my recovery efforts.

Fast forward to June of 2016. The day of my one year anniversary of my crash, I heard that she was looking for me. I assumed because of the date, but it was to let me know that she had taken the LSAT and was planning to go to law school. She has talked about it while we were dating, and I encouraged her to dig in and see if she really wanted to. Anyway, we talked for a fairly lengthy time, far more than we had since August of 2015. It was good catching up, and we said maybe we would grab lunch someday. I had no delusions that we would be anything more than friends, but was a little surprised when a few days later she called me and asked if I wanted to go see a movie. We ended up hanging out or doing something 4 or 5 times in a week and a half or so.

And now, what this whole blog is about. Fast forward a few months, and we are happy to say we are dating. One night she came over to visit, and I had been watching a travel documentary, which was great, but simultaneously depressing. She could tell something was wrong, so I told her my fears of travel, and how travel had previously defined so much of who I was, so it sucked a lot. She started to suggest things like “if we were to fly somewhere, where would you want to go?” I eventually asked her to stop bringing it up, because I didn’t want to dream of things that weren’t going to happen. She agreed, and the next day while we were hanging around my pool, she said, “Let’s do it, let’s fly somewhere.”

We booked tickets to Boston the next day. I was super excited, and we had a 2 month period to plan things out. I had not left a 150 miles radius of my home in over a year, with the exception of one trip to Indiana for my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. This was an whole new, terrifying world, but I had someone that wanted to help me conquer it. We both had been to Maine previously, but neither of us got to spend much time in Portland, so we decided to go there. I took very few pictures, but we had a great time. We saw Hannibal Buress on the first day we were there, we went on a whale watching tour and saw a Minke whale, seals, porpoises, etc. I had been waiting to see whales for a long time, and while it wasn’t a breaching whale, it was still awesome! We ate at some great restaurants (Central Provisions was a stand out, but far from the only good meal we had), and even took a day trip up to Acadia National Park, which is truly breathtaking. We even went on a “hike” on one of the old carriage roads. It was an incredible experience, and Kaity’s enthusiasm rocked my world. She was an absolutely incredible travel partner, and never batted an eye at the things that I saw as a hassle. Plus, she drove a lot in just a few days, what with the 2 hour drive from Boston and then 3 hours up to Acadia, both roundtrip in a 4 day period.

We both had a good time, and really seemed to connect even more on the trip. On the flight home, we were already planning our next trip, even if it was more of a dream. It wasn’t long though, and we decided to visit Louisville for her birthday. Again, nearly zero pictures, but we stayed in the historic Brown Hotel, ate some great food (check out Ramsi’s CafĂ© on the World), and saw some great sites. The highlight of the trip was definitely the Muhammed Ali Center. I have zero interest in boxing, but really, it’s not about that so much. I will be going back there, maybe before the end of this year.

So……. That pretty much sums up my travel life from the last 2 years, and then some. Things have changed, but I still get to “ride” with my motorcycle buddies in the Dune Buggy that Chris modified, and I currently have someone that I really like to travel with. Yep, I’ve gone through a ton of crap lately, but things could be way worse.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The last two years have been insane

I honestly don't know why I'm posting this, except that I feel bad that I haven't kept this blog up to date. For a good reason, as you'll see below. I posted this on imgur (and it died), but I figured I'd repost it here, and then create a new post about my more recent travels.

About 7 years ago, I FINALLY got my first motorcycle. 2009 Yamaha XT250.
I actually had a Honda CX500 for a brief period of time, but put less than 500 miles on it do to carb problems that I couldn't sort out. I had been interested in dual sport motorcycles for the better part of 10 years, but my ex-wife hated the idea of me riding. I finally convinced her to let me get a bike, and I was hooked immediately. I quickly made friends with a couple of great riders, and learned a lot.

Fast forward a year and I bought a 2001 Kawasaki KLR650. They aren't pretty, powerful, or particularly great at anything, but they are good enough at everything. I had my eye on these from the beginning, and when a low mileage bike became available through a coworker of a friend for $1200, I jumped on it.

I spent way more on it than I should have. My bike has a TON of upgrades. Completely new suspension, all of the factory plastics have been replaced to make it look better, upgraded tank, seat, headlight, electronics, etc, etc, etc. I could live off of this bike for months and months. Work had limited that to about a week at a time, but I loved it when I could get out.

The bike is street legal. And I could jump on the interstate, ride it across the country, and get dirty on it just about anywhere. Fortunately, at the time, I lived about 45 minutes from Land Between the Lakes, a huge National Forest with about 400 miles of unimproved roads that had excellent water crossings, fallen trees, and nasty ruts. I dropped my XT250 a ton when I got it, and the KLR650 as well. Over time, I become more and more confident on it, and was really happy with my riding ability. Of course, I was always looking to improve, but I felt like I could get myself out of most situations I would regularly come across.

I spent a lot of time riding with my buddy Troy. He has a stable full of bikes, and while I was always on my KLR650, he'd ride his Suzuki DRZ400S, Suzuki DR650SE, and BMW GS1200Adventure. He was a great mentor and an incredible friend. I actually met him when he bought my CX500, but we had previously chatted on and planned on riding together for a while.

About the time I got my XT250, my best friend got back into bikes.
He had a Vulcan 500, and with a little arm twisting, I convinced him to get his Suzuki Vstrom 1000. He had that bike for several years, and finally just sold it to step down to the lighter weight Vstrom650. Unfortunately, about a year after the above picture was taken, I had a stupid crash on my bike at about 20 miles an hour, and I flopped onto my back, grenading my T-4 vertebrate and rendering myself paralyzed from the chest down.

This was about 4 weeks post accident.
I spent 9 days in the trauma unit at Vanderbilt. After 9 days, I was moved to Stallworth Rehab Hospital across the street. I then spent the absolute toughest 5 weeks of my life trying to discover what I was capable of, learning how to function again, and preparing myself to return to life and work. My INCREDIBLE friends and family stepped up on some many levels, helping my mom get stuff to Tennessee so that she could stay with me for an indeterminable length of time, getting paperwork filed for short term disability, and giving me the push I needed to get through the darkest part of my life. This experience was incredibly challenging for me (and I had been blindsided when my wife of 16 years left me and I discovered that she had been cheating on me), but the love that I discovered helped me tremendously.

When I got out of the hospital, I was immediately included in our favorite rallies again.
I wasn't on two wheels, but no one cared, they wanted me to be there, and I wanted to join in. Troy is the guy in the suspenders, my mom is next to him, and Chris is on the right. He's important to the next picture.

My friend's refused to not let me ride with them.
Within days of my accident, my motorcycle buddies and I were scheming about how to get me out into our favorite places again. Twice a year, a group of 20 or so of us spend the weekend camping out at LBL and tearing up our favorite roads for the weekend. My accident was June 7, 2015, and we needed something for me by November. A 2wd Ural sidecar bike was an idea, but the logistics of building a seat, getting my motorcycle license again, etc. put that on hold for the time being. My buddy Chris bought a 1974 VW sand rail, and began the convert to hand controls for me. He's a BALLER.

Hand Controls
This is what the hand controls look like. They are not completed here, but it's pretty close. The transmission is a 4 speed, and the controls are built on top of the shifter. Twist throttle, when you pull the brake lever, the brakes engage and the clutch disengages as well. In addition, there is a clutch button that when pressed disengages the clutch and slowly (about 2 or 3 seconds) releases it to allow shifting on the fly. There is also a stop button for the ignition, and a start button for the starter. It works really well. The brake and clutch controls are tied into air cylinders that pull the pedals in from the back side of the pedals.

First day out
This is the end of the second time that we took the buggy out, May of 2016. I'd obviously had a shower after a super super muddy ride. It did fantastic this time, and we got to roost a bunch of guys at Jeep event in which they paid $350-$500 to take their $50,000+ jeeps out. Nothing like having a lot more fun than guys spending 10-20x as much money as you.

My El Camino
You can see the El Camino in my last picture too, as well as the wheelchair hoist that I has installed in the bed. While I was in rehab, I took my hand controls test. Generally, you go out for an hour, are evaluated on your ability, and then spend 4-6 more hours driving to refine everything. I was out for 40 minutes, and told that I didn't need any more training. They kept telling me to go test drives minivans, but I wasn't having it. At the time, I was struggling to get my wheelchair into my existing car (Hyundai Accent, the chair comes apart enough to be lifted into the passenger seat, but my chair is a bit on the heavy side, and with the push canes and brakes on I couldn't get it around my steering wheel) and I was highly encouraged to get something I could either roll into (a minivan) or put the chair into the bed of (full size pick up trucks are about the only option as I would need a special rotating and lowering seat to get into. A fullsize wouldn't fit into my works parking garage and allow me to lift the chair out without hitting the ceiling).

450HP LS1 power!
While watching Ozzie Ute racing, I decided to get an El Camino. I can get in and out without special seats, and I can put my chair into the bed of the truck. It's something very different, and a ton of fun. I looked around for a month before finding this restored/massively upgraded model on ebay, pulled the trigger, and it arrived the last week of December 2015. Unfortunately, due to weather and a few other hurdles, it took 2 months to get catalytic converters on it to pass emissions and get the hand controls and lift installed. It was a GREAT day when I finally drove it home in early March for the first time. I returned to work in early November, part time, and the week I got the El Camino drivable, I started back full time. My awesome mom had been at my place for 9 months, and after just 4 days of driving, we both thought it was time for her to go back home to my dad.

Doing maintenance.
A few weeks after I started driving it, I went up to my buddy Jeff's garagemahal (5 bay garage with a dedicated spray room!) and we spent several hours fixing a bunch of little things on it. I still have a pile of parts that I need to install, but it's difficult as my tools are at Troy's house since I moved into an apartment. However, once my house is completed in December, I (likely with other's help) will be installing new door seals, rear suspension, steering wheel, and a bunch of little things. While Troy was under the car, he remarked that this was the first car he had ever seen that had a hand polished drive shaft installed.

After seeing a lot of cool rides on here, I thought that some may like to see what those of us that can't just hope into a regular car anymore might drive. Hope some find it neat, I'm pretty happy with my rides right now. BTW, I recently changed some parts on my Hyundai Accent and I'm now able to get my chair in and out of it. The car has taken a REAL beating from loading my chair in and out. That said, I own it outright, so no reason to replace it with something newer/cooler that will also get beat up. I've decided to slap some Sparco rally wheels on it, big ass mudflaps, and some rally decals to sort of make it look like Hyundai's i20 World Rally Championship car. Never had a desire to do anything to the Hyundai, but it is SOOOO boring compared to the El Camino now.