Horizons Unlimited: The Yosemite Meet-Up

Inspiration and guidance for the around-the-world traveler or for those hoping to be.

The campgrounds spread out over acres of well-manicured turf with plenty of permanent buildings housing meeting halls, toilets and showers, but like arctic penguins, many veterans of the annual event huddled together with their wide variety of bikes to share stories, laughs and a campfire with both old and new friends.

The bulk of the motorcycle activity in the USA is based around cruisers and sport bikes, but a growing segment of popularity is the dual sport and adventure category; a passion that is far more prevalent in other parts of the globe. These riders have become discontent with riding over the same roads and interstates and long for something with a sense of adventure—like a ride to another country or continent, especially if unpaved roads are involved. Grant and Susan Johnson had completed an 11-year round-the-world experience on a 1986 BMW R60 and saw the need for an information clearing house readily accessible to fellow travelers. At that point, Horizons Unlimited was born.

Carla King has carved out a career helping folks publish their books, especially about motorcycle travel. She, and partner Jonathan Ehly, are also experts on travel in Baja; they’re shown here displaying places that scream to be visited in our South of the Border neighbor.

A couple of decades later, Horizons Unlimited has evolved into a series of annual meetings all over the globe with an associated website, blog and on-line store that provides information ranging from how to adjust your carb for altitude (helpful in the Andes) to shipping yourself and your bike across the Darien gap from Panama to Columbia. Even if you’re not ready to leave on that RTW trip just yet, their DVD’s will certainly wet your appetite. But the core of the “HU” experiences are the local meetings where information is exchanged, ideas are shared, classes are held and friendships blossom. The seminar presenters and local organizers are all volunteers, so the sole motive is to share the love of motorcycle adventure travel.

The venue of the Mariposa Fairgrounds, at the entry to Yosemite Park in central California, was a new one for the group and proved to be well chosen. The grounds were grassy (a welcome change to those used to camping on sand in the parched Southwest) and the facilities included running water, power, indoor restrooms and ample hot showers. Although the caterers for the event were a bit basic, the town of Mariposa was a short ride away and those that brought their cookstoves had plenty to choose from for meals. The roads leading to and surrounding the fairgrounds, as well as nearby Yosemite, are a motorcyclists dream. Smooth blacktop under a canopy of ancient trees lead to panoramic vistas. Some travelers came early to the four-day event to allow spending time exploring Yosemite; a breathtaking experience in itself.

Motorcycle Recovery
One of the wide range of events was a session on motorcycle recovery using ropes and pulleys that could be easily carried; a good bit of insurance for those traveling on slippery, mud-covered mountain passes. The instructor, Bill Ellison, has plenty of experience having been a search and rescue volunteer for decades.

The scheduled program started at noon on Thursday and ran through noon on Sunday. Attendees were given a schedule of classes and demonstrations that was simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Exciting because of the variety of topics encompassing locations all over the globe, but also frustrating because one could not possibly see everything that was of interest.

Topics included traveling through the ex-USSR, first aid on the road, essential motorcycle skills (taught by champion rider Jimmy Lewis), motorcycle design (by Craig Vetter of Vetter fairing fame), photo composition and organization, planning a RTW trip, passports, visas and paperwork, bike repairs, and other human topics like exercise, stretching and getting along with a spouse on the road.

The star attraction on Saturday night, filling the hall to standing-room only, was a riveting presentation by internet celebrity Alex Chacon, who is perhaps most famous for his viral YouTube video (now over 10 million views) “Around the World in 360 Degrees – 3 Year Epic Selfie.” Alex showed the group his viral video and also his new successor video. He spent an hour or so talking about how he dropped out of medical school at the age of 23 to pursue his dream, as well as how social media has changed the world and how we look at it. After the presentation, and on the following day, Alex mingled with anyone and everyone happy to share his passion for travel and photography and to learn what everyone else was doing.

Horizions Unlimited
Although the site did have catered meals available, some folks camped in gourmet style. After commandeering a merchant’s awning and ignoring a thunderstorm, steak burritos were on the menu for these campers.

The atmosphere in the fairgrounds was that of friendship and camaraderie; there were as many folks eager for information as there were those offering to share. Suggested best routes and equipment selections were offered by both attendees and the vendors who had set up displays. Sales of goodies, like camping chairs and cots, appeared like a Costco for adventure travelers. Riding apparel is not inexpensive, but a thunderstorm caused a near sell-out of Gore-Tex. Manufacturers like Giant Loop, Black Dog and Twisted Throttle displayed their wares to riders anxious to add the latest farkles, luggage and protective gear to their mounts.

The evenings were spent around an on-site beer garden where good times, past, present and future, were lived and relived. No one was ever bored.

Motorcycle route maps
Mirko and Claudia Nalger, closest to camera, hail from Germany and are on a fundraising ride to South America to raise money for educating children. Seen here, they gather information on the best routes.

The event also had a charitable side. A special guest was Ron Grace, whose charity, Lost For A Reason, solicited contributions for their cause of enhancing the lives of Native American children in the Southwest. Ron pays his own expenses and all the funds collected goes to the kids. A second charity was present: 2ar.eu. This is the passion of Mirko and Claudia Nagler, a delightful young couple from Germany, who are on a mission to raise money for school children in South America. These selfless efforts remind us of the harsh realities that face those less fortunate.

As the event wound down on Sunday, the universal good-by was “See you next year!” as riders retreated to the blacktop ribbons leading in all directions. Even if you are bound to stay close to your home for the next decade to raise a young family, these Horizons Unlimited events are worth attending. After all, it only took Susan and Grant 11 years to complete their first trip, so what is another 10-15 years of waiting, learning and planning for an epic adventure? Just think of how prepared you’ll be.


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