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.

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