Temporarily Taking Life on the Road By Motorcycle
Jym and Ann Batey spent seven-and-a-half months touring the country, logging more than 28,000 miles on their motorcycles, without abandoning their home. This couple still lived their lives, paid bills and maintained a Web site of their travels. Here’s how they did it and how you, too, can take an extended trip without dropping out of society.
Jym and Ann Batey had taken plenty of two-week-long scenic jaunts during the 10 years they’ve been riding separate motorcycles. Like most touring riders, two weeks a year is all the paid vacation time their employers would allow. Once in awhile, the Bateys would stretch their time off to three weeks (unused sick days add up), or squeeze in a long weekend of touring on their matching Honda Magnas. “You have a specific goal or destination,” explains Ann of those trips’ limitations. “And sometimes, you get stuck in weather and places you don’t want to be because you have this time schedule.”
Soon, those fixed-time trips became frustrating. The Bateys craved more time on the road, more time to veer off in unplanned directions, more time to visit places they’d always wanted to see. But how do you find more of that precious pavement time while holding down a nine-to-five job, and managing a household? We’re not talking about dropping out of society to tour the world for several years—we’re simply talking about stealing away for a few months to see the country. “The joy of a trip like that, for us, was not knowing where we were going to be that night,” Ann, 60, points out. “Having time to relax with each other and not letting work get in the way.”
So, in May of 2000, after five years of planning, Jym, a computer engineer for the city of Pleasantville, California, and Ann, a bookkeeper for a computer company, left their jobs and embarked on a seven-and-a-half-month journey that covered 28,706 miles of U.S. and Canadian soil. Along the way, they visited 71 national parks and took 5,700 photos, all while paying bills and maintaining a home in northern California to which they could return. “One of the fundamental differences of this trip was that it was not a vacation, it was how we lived,” Jym, 54, explains. “You still need to find a way to effectively pay your bills, to communicate with other people, receive mail and be notified of anything unusual happening. With vacationing, you can slide almost anything for a month.”
The Bateys kicked their trip into gear with a plan that involved five key elements which they say others can use to realize their dream of taking an extended tour:
1) Planning and goal setting: The Bateys shifted into first gear five years before departing. “Every time we saw someplace interesting, either on TV or in a magazine, we made note of it,” says Jym.
As an excuse to stop at a national park or monument they might come across, Jym and Ann set a goal to achieve the Iron Butt Association’s Master Traveler Award, which requires riders visit 50 national parks or monuments in 25 states within a year. It was the impetus they needed to visit the smaller, out-of-the-way parks. “There were places we would never have expected to go, like Saint-Gaudens (National Historic Site) in New Hampshire where this sculptor had an incredible place,” Ann says enthusiastically.
Jym has an interest in carousel horses, while Ann enjoys quilting. So they researched all the museums in the country showcasing those two hobbies and set a goal to visit them. By the way, there are four carousel museums, and the Bateys saw them all.
Next Jym and Ann decided they would inform their employers of their intentions to resign several years in advance of their departure. Jym gave two-and-a-half years notice, while Ann took a new job two years before their scheduled leave date and told her new employer of her plans. “Nobody believed we were actually going to do it,” she chuckles.
The Bateys never had any doubt. Before leaving, they sold their house and moved into a home they inherited from Ann’s late mother. Ann’s brother was the person the couple designated to open their mail and e-mail them with questions.
Jym and Ann had enough money stashed away to pay their bills for the six months they originally planned to be gone. They set up an electronic bill-paying service through their bank so they could pay on the Internet. They used little cash on the trip, opting to charge expenses and pay later. The laptop they brought was their main means of communication. “Any place we could get on the internet, I could look and see if I needed to transfer money or pay a bill,” says Ann.
2) Communications: Being able to keep in touch and have access to communication is the critical factor between the trip being one of productive citizens taking time off to see the country, or one of vagabonds roaming aimlessly. Jym built a Web site where friends and family could get updates on the couple’s progress. “We’re not good letter writers, and six months is kind of a long time to be out of communication,” says Jym. He would update the site every three to four days with pictures downloaded from their digital camera, while Ann kept the daily journal.
Before leaving, the Bateys also set up an account with an internet service provider (ISP) that they would be able to access from all over the country. Surprisingly, the Bateys did not carry a cellular phone, and Jym staunchly defends their reasoning. “Most of the places we rode were rural and hilly with very spotty cell phone coverage. We were two people on bikes. If we had a problem, we always had the ability to jump on one bike and go somewhere.” Jym has since discovered, and advises others, to carry an old cell phone for emergencies. It doesn’t need to have service, just a charged battery for 911 to work.
Jym and Ann laughed in spite of themselves when they shared that—while they didn’t bring a cell phone—they did pack a CD burner to download all the photos they were taking. When they filled up a couple of CDs they would ship them home.
Jym really thought ahead when he brought along a power strip enabling him to plug in several electrical items into one outlet. “We have batteries for our Chatterbox radios on our helmets we have to charge, batteries for our camera to recharge, the laptop and the CD burner, and if you’re at a KOA cabin that has one outlet, we were OK because we carried this silly power strip,” Jym explains.
3) Choosing motorcycles: The Batey’s 1980s Honda Magnas were showing their age and could not be counted upon for reliability. With no affinity toward any brand, they narrowed their choices down to BMW after riding them on a tour in New Zealand. Back home, a salesman steered them toward matching R1100RTs. After a test ride, the two were hooked. “We put every luggage option we could get on them,” Jym said. “They have an on-the-fly adjustable windscreen, and heated handgrips, and they were sporty enough.” Then they re-took the MSF’s Experienced RiderCourse to get used to their new bikes.
4) Trial trip: They hadn’t originally planned to take one, but afterwards, the experience proved invaluable. “There’s a difference between camping for a week and camping for six months,” stated Jym. A four-day trial trip to Yosemite State Park showed them that they didn’t need the full complement of camping equipment, like a stove and lantern, since they had planned on eating “picnic-style” meals on the big trip. “We set up a rudimentary amount of equipment so that if we did get stuck out in the boonies we wouldn’t starve,” Jym said. They also ditched their 35mm camera in favor of a digital one.
5) Rules of the road: To make their trip more interesting, the couple came up with some rules to live by on the road. Choosing local restaurants over the big chains, staying off the interstates, etc. “For the most part, you can get anywhere you want to go without hitting the freeway. The only time we got on the interstate was for specific reasons,” says Jym.
Ann reiterated that the best part of their journey was the unknown each day. “What are we going to see today? Who’s out there, who are we going to meet?” When they left in May the weather was warming up, so they stayed in campgrounds half the time and in motels or with friends the other half. Progressing north and east, less time was spent in tents. In the end, weather dictated their route despite their best efforts to head counterclockwise and hit all four corners of the U.S. Each night they’d check the forecast to determine the general direction in which they’d proceed.
Initially, they headed south from northern California toward Arizona, but when they hit 120-degree heat in May in the Southwest, they did a 180 and headed north to Banff, Canada, crossing their fingers that the snow had cleared out. Their perfectly “unplanned” route after that had them riding through New England and the East Coast in the midst of fall’s beautiful colors, and Florida to bask in warm sunshine in November. From there, they pointed their bikes north and west to meander back home with no particular return date circled on the calendar.
It wasn’t until December, when they witnessed inch-long icicles hanging on the barrel cactus in New Mexico, that they set their bikes on a straight course for home. “That was the final straw. We couldn’t get much farther south without going into Mexico and it wasn’t on our list,” Jym says. The heated vests they purchased to wear under their riding suits came in handy about that time.
Daily mileage was not an issue. “It was never a goal for this whole trip that we were going to average 300 miles a day. There were days we went 18 miles and decided we had enough because we stopped seven times,” Jym explains. Ann adds with a laugh: “We couldn’t get through Vermont. It took us three days to go 150 miles.”
They kept track of their progress with a GPS, the main reason they purchased one. It interfaced with the map program on their laptop, allowing them to catalog their route, which often put them in some interesting places at interesting times. Like when they ended up at Mt. Rushmore on the Fourth of July, and while riding through the Everglades in Florida how they stumbled upon the world’s second attempt to create the largest grilled cheese sandwich. “It was absolutely incredible,” says Ann. “There it was in the Guinness Book of World Records the other day when we went to the bookstore. And we ate a piece,” she smiles proudly.
The only time the Bateys scheduled a stop was when the motorcycles needed their oil and tire changes. “It really put a cramp in our style of not caring where we were going to be and when,” says Jym. “We found, though, most dealers will give you preferential treatment if they understand you are traveling.”
Jym and Ann each went through three sets of Metzeler ME Z4s, opting for a sportier compound tire as opposed to long-distance rubber to match their style of riding. The list of North American BMW dealers they carried with them came in handy.
There were no major problems with the motorcycles except for a rear brake failure on Ann’s bike that had them visiting a dealership sooner than expected. Ann also got hit with a case of kidney stones from out of the blue, which forced her and Jym to park it for a few days in Arizona while the drugs she was prescribed made their way through her system.
When asked if they’d do this type of trip all over again, without hesitating they replied in unison, “In a minute!” adding that another grand excursion like it will have to wait until they fatten up their savings account.
Ann already knows one thing she’ll be packing next time. “We’ll take two computers,” she grins. Jym finishes, “… so she can do the diary and the finances, and I can do the Web site and computer stuff.”
That’s right, two computers…but still no cell phone.
To read more about the Batey’s trip, visit www.jymann.com.
(This article Full Timing was published in the August 2003 issue of Rider Magazine.)