Training with Navy Seals, and the Krav Maga Black Belt test

Five years ago, I put on some excess weight and wanted to do something rousing and encouraging to burn it off. Motivated by a Groupon post, I purchased a fitness boot camp class. I was on my way.

At least that’s what I thought. What I’d actually purchased was a Groupon for a dance class.

There I was, with an extra 20 lbs. around my gut, lost and alone in a whirlwind of tutus and ballet shoes. At 42 years old, there’s not a more humbling moment than showing up to take a class with a roomful of ballerinas. If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I was well medicated for the journey ahead of me. Without having to say a word, both the owner of the studio and I knew I was in the wrong place.

And so I began my search again, this time landing at Elite Martial Arts, a studio only ten minutes from my condo. Fueled by what I experienced on that first, introductory class, I signed up for an entire year. It was exhilarating to have discovered this form of exercise with an inspiring group of people.

I poured my heart, soul, sweat and tears into this hobby, which eventually became a way of life. Five years after I gave up a potential dance career and found martial arts, I got my Black Belt in Krav Maga. Yes, others have done it quicker, but at 47, this was a personal high.

Training with Navy Seals, and the Krav Maga Black Belt test

Spurred by this event and driven with a desire to do even more, I took on Sealfit, an integrated functional fitness program based on the Navy SEAL Hell Week. Sealfit is designed to not only increase physical strength and resilience, but also mental toughness and capacity. I was 47 years old.

What an experience.

Why are you here? I have no idea what time it is. 1am, 2am? There I stood, deep in the California desert, cold and dripping wet from ice baths I’d doused myself in. A Navy Seal is standing over me, demanding of me: “Powell, why are you here?”

Coach James was the soft spoken one. He was always calm – so calm it was intimidating as hell. With chaos engulfing us, he remained unfazed, unbothered, almost placid. But he wanted his answer – the real answer – and I knew he would see through any inauthentic, guarded or counterfeit answer. Despite my exhaustion, my confusion, and my nerves, I welcomed the break as I had just done 75 burpees in a row when Coach James approached me.

The full answer would make for a long story, one that would take me all night to properly explain. This wasn’t the time for a heart-to-heart, bartender-worthy, deep-secret soul purge. I knew he’d want me to cut to the chase.

“I know I can be better,” I finally responded. “I’m not living my purpose.”

He countered quickly. “What is your purpose, Powell?” With that, the pressure on me mounted.

“I don’t know, Coach,” I answered honestly. “But it’s not what I’m doing. I can have better personal relationships, a more fulfilling career. 2017 was rough and I need to get unstuck. I read the Unbeatable Mind and it resonated with me, so I signed up for 20X.”

His reply was kind, albeit short. “Okay. Good. We’ve all been there.” And then he walked away. And there was no time to think about or reflect on that brief interaction because we were right back to it, doing 85, 86, 115 burpees in a single round.

Once upon a time, as a kid from a small town and a family of humble beginnings, the idea of changing one’s life might have seemed impossible, a pipe dream. But what I’ve come to learn over the years is that it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty – it’s fillable either way. What’s important is that you do the things you’re scared to do, and you might just teach yourself some valuable things along the way.

Looking back over these events now that a few months have passed, there were five key take-aways that will stay with me forever.

  1. Find your purpose and take action

It sounds harsh, but I often find super positive people to not be very realistic. I think it’s because there’s usually not a plan in place – they think all you need to do is be positive and good things will happen. While I don’t disagree with the premise of positivity and an optimistic outlook, one needs to take action toward making positive things happen. Visualize yourself doing the things you need to do to be successful, and then visualize yourself winning.  Positive self-talk is crucial to success. Repeat affirmations like, “I am the strongest.” At Sealfit, they had us repeat this all the time. They challenged us with “If you’re not the strongest, who will be?” They recognized the power of positive self-encouragement.

Before each Krav Maga class, I would look at the rack of belts on the wall, from white to black. I would pause and focus on the black belt, knowing without doubt or disbelief that I would get there. After all, a black belt is a white belt that didn’t quit.

For me, considering my purpose in life was difficult, so I can appreciate those who struggle with this internal question. I only knew what it was not – it was not walking through the side door, it was not sitting at my desk not interacting with people, it was not talking endlessly with unappreciated people who expected an unreasonable amount of work completed in an unreasonable amount of time. It wasn’t having arguments with peers and friends about trivial things in life.

This hamster-wheel way of living changed after completing Sealfit and obtaining my Black Belt – I got a new job and advanced my career, and am infinitely happier and more confident. I’m respected in my office, amongst my peers, and thrive in my personal relationships.

Always move forward.  Focusing on past mistakes is unproductive, so own them, learn from them, and then move on.

  1. There are no excuses

Making excuses will get you nowhere. It’s unproductive to blame others. It’s best to take control – if something goes wrong at work or at home, set about fixing it, and then work on preventing it from happening again. And then move on.

Think you don’t have time? I’m calling BS. Here’s a tip: start tracking how much time you waste on unproductive tasks. Wake up early, and start knocking things off your to-do list. If something goes wrong – and it’s likely to – take responsibility if it’s your fault. Your life is your own, so be responsible for it.

There will always be someone better, faster, stronger than you. Learn from them everything you can. Just push on, stay focused, and grow. In Krav Maga, as I was often the oldest person in the room, these were the phrases of encouragement that became a part of my practice, and a part of me.

There are reasons, and there are excuses. Know the difference. Don’t say you’re late for work because of poor weather; you could have checked the forecast and left early. Don’t say you’re challenged by a difficult person in your work life and that’s why you’re doing a less-than-stellar job; you would do well to find common ground. Again, know the differences between reasons and excuses. You’ll soon find they’re mostly excuses.

  1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

The more you practice and train for uncomfortable situations, the more you’ll be prepared for when things go sideways. Take inspiration from Coach James, who remained calm in the face of chaos. Challenged with the discomfort, distress and pains of 24 men and women, he stayed composed and unruffled.

I should have jumped in the freezing lakes of late September and October to prepare for the ice bath – I had no excuse not to. I live walking distance from Lake Ontario, and have a cottage on a lake in Muskoka – those freezing lakes were literally at my fingertips. I know now that the more you know you can handle, the calmer you will always be.

Expand your comfort zone.  Getting accustomed to doing difficult things just means they become easier, so when it really matters – like facing job loss, illness, or other bumps in the road – you’ll be ready. Life is full of discomfort, but it doesn’t have to take you down with it.

  1. Teamwork

Like our families, we don’t always get to choose our team members. They may not be people we would choose, but we often have to stay with them, even if only for the short term.

Remind yourself you have to be the strongest, the calmest. Lead by example. Build your team – show them they are strong, tell them they are strong. Team building often requires that people go through something difficult together, so they can come out on the other end stronger.

Log PT in Sealfit is a prime example of this – despite our personal feelings or initial judgments of one another, we all had to work together, pull our weight and strength at the same time without complaint or surrender. A 300 lb log isn’t so heavy when six people are working together, lifting it in unison. In the corporate world, and in my personal life where it’s been required, I’ve learned to share with my team what I’ve learned in my training thus far: visualizing the end game, breaking things down into smaller components, working as a team and focusing on the next step of your evolution so you get inspired, not overwhelmed. If you lead by example, remaining calm, unflustered and completely in control, the more confident your team will be in you – and in themselves.

Again, your team is your family. In Sealfit, we could never be more than six feet away from another member. If anyone ventured off on their own, our team as a whole was punished with burpees. After being punished a second time – and trust me, it never happened again – we never found ourselves more than six feet apart from each other.

But teamwork isn’t confined to formally assigned groups or colleagues who collect the same paycheck from the same organization. As an example, Krav Maga is very individual – it’s not a team sport. Krav is an infinitely difficult and uncomfortable sport – the Black Belt test took place over five hours, with only a 20-minute rest, a rotating roster of fresh attackers, and sent me to vomit twice. And although other Krav Maga practitioners began to see me differently because of the prestige of the belt, I always had consistent encouragement and praise.

So you see, your team is a part of you, and you a part of them. Be there for each other.

  1. Day to Day Discipline

There’s no excuse for making excuses. There are no legitimate reasons not to not do what is important every day. Today, I work out every morning before work – even if it’s for a mere 15 minutes – and always have a coffee with my wife before leaving for the day. While work and career are vastly important, good health and a happy marriage weigh far more.

One day last year, my iPhone told me that I spent an average of four hours and 37 minutes of screen time every day. I was shocked and appalled; it needed to change. I could have spent that time working out, learning something new or paying it forward.  The day-to-day discipline of knowing, prioritizing and doing what’s important gives us a feeling of accomplishment. Acknowledging what’s important at the start of the day makes us a winner on a daily basis. Without this kind of discipline, I may never have achieved my Black Belt.

No change of environment or circumstance should steer you off-course, either. In February of 2018, I flew to Thailand for my brother’s wedding, and still took time to train – I participated in Muay Thai (Thai boxing) classes, and when I came home, completed my blue shorts test. All of this was in preparation for my Black Belt and Sealfit. One never takes a vacation from self-improvement. Even when you’re in an exotic space like Thailand.

The next journey?

Be uncommon amongst uncommon people

This phrase resonated with me from the first time I heard David Goggins explain it on his YouTube channel. Be uncommon amongst uncommon people. Consider that.

How uncommon could I be? Could I even consider myself uncommon? Special?

Sealfit, for example, is only offered four times a year, allowing approximately 24 people per class. 30% of those 24 traditionally drop out. It’s uncommon to attempt Sealfit, and even more uncommon to complete it. I did Sealfit because I thought it was difficult to do. It was. And Krav Maga? It’s not a common sport, and for those who decide to take it on, only an average of 3% rise to Black Belt status.

Professionally, a CPA certification is uncommon. A CPA is a long process, with many dropping out along the way. Now, a CPA with an FCCA and CFE? More uncommon still.

The uncommon journey continues for me. And I’ll share with you what I intend on continuing to do, notes I hope you’ll keep for yourself: work harder than anyone else in the room. Don’t quit. Be positive, humble, low maintenance, a team player, and kind.

And kick ass. Life is tough, be tougher.

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Africa Twin – My new Bike

After 137,000 km I parted with my Varadero. I can’t tell you how much I loved that bike. The Varadero was amazing and it was not an easy decision to part ways with it, but I found it a new good home.

Two years ago I took the Africa Twin on a test ride and knew right away I had to buy one, it was the same with the Varadero. I want to take some new adventures and wanted a new bike to do it on and after the reading reviews, comparing bikes and especially after the test ride, I knew I had to get the Africa Twin. It was really just a matter of timing.

I finally broke down on January 31st 2019 and bought the AT. With all the snow and freezing temperatures, I haven’t actually taken physical possession of it yet and its still sitting on the show room floor.

Next will come the accessories, crash bars, lights, luggage racks. For now I’m only adding a center stand (surprised this is not standard) and I’ve also purchase more aggressive tires. I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the standard tires this bike came with, the are more of a street tire than an adventure tire, but I’m sure I will need them at some point (maybe for another Iron Butt ride).

Come on spring !!

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How my motorcycle adventure changed me as an accounting professional

It’s been seven years since I left on a motorcycle journey across two continents and six years since I returned to the corporate world.  When I turned 40 I decided to take a sabbatical from the corporate world and explore North, Central and South America by motorcycle. I would be gone 11 months, visit 14 different countries and cover of 65,000 kilometers. The experience changed my life exponentially on both a personal and professional level.   Upon reflection, after an already intensely taxing 2018, I often reflect how my adventure changed me professionally.

  1. My journey made me more resilient

Things don’t always go as planned.  That is just a given in our personal and professional lives. How we respond to challenges often define our careers. My plan was relatively simple, keep riding south until I reached the most southern city in the world, Ushuaia Argentina. At one point protestors in southern Chile impeded that plan, at least temporarily. While standing on the dock, watching the cargo ship that dropped me, my plan and my motorcycle in Puerto Chacabuco sail away,   I was informed that the road going south was blocked by protestors and nobody was allowed to pass. I was stuck there for almost a week. The ATM’s were empty, food in the stores and restaurants was running low and there was no alternate way out. It was a difficult and stressful situation. Fortunately there was no shortage of Chilean wine and new friends, so I made the best of a “bad” situation.  In the accounting profession we all know that year-end, system implementation (and for me a recent acquisition) rarely go as planned, they can become difficult and stressful quickly. Have a plan but be prepared to tough things out for just a little longer and have confidence that things will work out.  I learned that I just needed to keep focused on the goals, work smart and stay positive and the worst would soon be behind me, and it was.

  1. Travelling made me a more confident person

I feel that I was a confident person before I left on my motorcycle adventure, but confidence brings more confidence in yourself and others. With this epic adventure behind me, I have the confidence in the new adventures that lie ahead.   I don’t doubt that I will not reach my goal of riding to the four corners of the Americas. Now back in the office, with new managers, new co-workers and new opportunities I display an aura that I am confident enough to get things done and done right.

  1. Roaming made more resourceful

I had to find a welder in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, and not just any welder but one that could seal my aluminum rim. Start early, ask the right questions, explain clearly, be patient and think outside the box – that’s how you get a rim welded in a small town high in the Andes. Who knew that welding rods were sold next to paint supplies and children’s shoes? How would I have known the best welder in town (probably the only welder) was the cousin of the shop keeper who opened 15 minutes before everyone else? As accountants we have endless resources that tell us where the debits and credits go, but there is no Handbook for business problems, you have to arrive early, clear your head and think strategically and not be afraid to look where nobody else is looking.

  1. I am fundamentally rejuvenated from this “vacation” in a way “normal” vacations can’t offer.

Seven days off work at a beach resort in the Caribbean just doesn’t offer enough, especially when you receive text messages and emails poolside.  Often, you come back from vacation frustrated to find that even the simple things have not been taken care of in your absence. I needed to reset, I like many, felt burnt out and knew that something had to change. For almost a whole year I had no alarm clock, no last minute requests for information and most importantly no deadlines. The motorcycle adventure taught me to recognize what is important and to deal with stress before it becomes unmanageable. As a result, I have become a more productive employees in these past years than I was before my adventure, mainly because I know when it’s time to rejuvenate and prevent undue stress.

  1. My epic adventure made me a better manager

Growth comes from challenge. Inspiration comes from many sources and different sources from different people. I feel that it is my role as a manager to help my staff grow and become inspired. I grew in so many ways as a result of my adventure and was inspired mostly by tales of exploration. I remember getting caught in a snow storm high in the Andes, I had never ridden in snow before and knew it would be a challenge. By lowering the tire pressure and keeping my speed down I managed to ride out of the storm without incident.  I challenge my co-workers to do difficult or new things on a regular basis, “is there a way we can improve this?” is a common question I like to ask. Set a goal to improve, celebrate the small goals with them and provide the tools necessary to get the job done. My co-workers have amazed me. I have been told that my motorcycle adventure was inspirational to some people, I try to remain humble and give encouraging feedback with the hopes of inspiring others.  It seems to be working.

Although it may not be possible or even desirable for you to take a trip like mine I would encourage everyone to challenge themselves beyond what they think they are capable of, push your limits, stay focused and get into a  positive headspace. You will be forever changed for the better.

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Fairweather Riders?

Preparing your Bike For a Rainy Trip

If you are fond of biking, then there is no need to stop because of the rain. You only need to make some tweaks, and your bike will be ready for you to enjoy the rainy weather!

Take note that to ride your bike in the rain, you don’t only have to change the clothing, but you also have to change your riding behavior.

Here are a few changes you can make to your bike so that you can safely ride your awesome vehicle even if it’s pouring from the sky.

Reduce the tire pressure

Tires are generally inflated to 9 or 10 bar, however, in the rain, the pressure should be reduced to 8 or 8.5 bar. By doing so you’ll notice that the tires remain quite hard; however, you, as a rider, will experience a boost in the traction and feel more secure as well.

Grease the bike

If your weather app tells you that it is going to rain then you should add waterproof grease to the derailleur pulleys and chains. Doing this will make sure that the water doesn’t penetrate the links and bearings. It also prevents wet roads from rubbing against the drivetrain like sandpaper.

Re-lube the parts

After a rainy day, you need to ensure that you re-grease the chain, derailleur pulleys, and the headset.

Wash your bike carefully

After you spend a day in the rain and mud, you will be tempted to clean up your bike with a professional, high-powered washer. However, remember that you should not aim the high-powered hose to moving parts such as the derailleurs, headset, or other surfaces with bearings.

If you don’t wash it carefully then you might strip the lube away. Wipe the water and dust off from the bike’s frame. Also, remove the water from the bike’s chain and put a little lubricant to avoid rust.

A few other tips

  • Firstly, add reflectors and lights to the bike as that will make it easier for others to see you.
  • Don’t forget that braking isn’t too effective during the rain. So, when you are driving in such weather make sure that you take a bit more time while braking. This means that you should slow down your bike first and then brake earlier than you normally would while riding in dry weather.
  • You need to be aware of brick, painted, and wood surfaces because they get slippery when they are wet. You should also try to ride straight so that you avoid slipping.
  • Try to avoid puddles as much as you can. Evaluating the depth of the puddles is hard. Also, puddles might have different kinds of stuff in them that can harm your tires such as nails and glass.

Keep these precautions in mind the next time you decide to ride your bike when it’s raining for a safer and better experience!

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Why Horizons Unlimited

I am very excited to be hosting the 7th Annual Horizons Unlimited Ontario event on May 24-27 2018. This is the second year I am Hosting the event but have been involved in the event since the very first one as both a presenter and member of the organization crew. One of my non-motorcycle friends was asking me about the event and when he found out that I did all this work on a volunteer basis as me why I did it. Here is what I told him.

Short answer – without Horizons Unlimited I never would have had my motorcycle adventure in 2011-2012. www.gregsadventure.com would not exist. I feel a sense of pride in inspiring others.

Longer answer

January 2nd 2010 as I stood along the wall of the temple of Ankor Wat in Cambodia I looked out across the field and into the parking lot where I saw the two Honda 250cc Baja motorcycles that my brother and I rented. Right then and there I made the decision that I would take a time off work and travel to exotic places my motorcycle. I had no idea how this would be accomplished, what was involved or what needed to be done, I only knew that I was going to do it.

Back in Canada I Googled “motorcycle adventure travel” and the first thing that came up was “Long Way Round” by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman so I immediately ran out and bought the book. I finished the book rather quickly and when I put it down I was very disheartened and discouraged, I thought I needed to be a Jedi to ride a motorcycle any further than my own backyard. Fortunate for me there were a few other books listed as references in Long Way Round and I purchased a couple more books on the topic of motorcycle travel. One of those books mentioned Horizons Unlimited and I jumped on their website, there was a flood of information.  Under the events page I found upcoming event in North Carolina and immediately signed up.  Most people who I had mentioned my desire to ride around the world to though I was crazy and having a mid-life crisis and was in need of help. AT HU North Carolina I met people just like me who had done amazing motorcycle bike trips, and none of them we Jedi’s! Shortly after returning from HU North Carolina the final parts of my pan were put into motion, including handing in my letter of resignation.

With Horizons Unlimited I never would have had my motorcycle adventure in 2011-2012. www.gregsadventure.com would not exist. Sharing my story with others at HU Ontario and inspiring others to seek their dreams has become a new passion for me.  Check out the website http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/

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Don’t Equate Your Motorcycle Adventure with No Safety Gear

Adventure bikes are meant for adventures. Featuring engine guards, long travel suspension, and big fuel tanks, the adventure motorbike is built with off-road, remote environments in mind.

While the bike is ready to go on water crossings, high deserts, snow, gravel, and dirt, the rider should also be ready to tackle all the different landscapes. Riding an adventure motorcycle doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep yourself safe!

For this reason, riders must be equipped with the following safety gear when going on an adventure.

  • Jacket

Riders going on an adventure must consider the riding jacket as their best companion. It is the biggest gear piece you will put on, and it will be the one piece that will help you the most during a road rash. Not only does such a riding jacket protect the body from various elements, but it is also a storage space for various personal items.

While the jacket must be able to protect you, it should also fit you well and be comfortable. It should also provide sufficient ventilation and feature various compartments for your wallet, phones, etc.

The jacket must be waterproof too. A majority of the jackets claim to be waterproof, however, only very few of them are truly waterproof when you test them against the elements. So, go for a reliable brand.

To ensure that you are on the safe side, you must cover the jacket as well as other protective gear with waterproof spray. Adventure jackets are available in a number of options so, you must pick out one which has comfortable armor in the shoulder and elbow area. Moreover, having a spine protector in one is recommended.

  • Gloves

Having a standard lightweight riding glove is ideal for traveling many miles on smooth and even terrain, but, it is also a good idea to have another pair with you so that you can switch the pair if the situation demands (they become damaged, etc).

If you will be traveling in cold weather then you must opt for heated or cold-weather gloves. Meanwhile, if you plan to travel during hot conditions then ventilated gloves are the right option.

Other Safety Gear

Some other safety gear you should consider having with you on your motorcycle adventure, which we can talk more about in future posts:

  • A visor to protect your eyes.
  • A scarf to protect your face from dust if such a need occurs.
  • An emergency tool kit.
  • Don’t forget a water bottle even if you think you won’t need one and will just visit some pub along the way.
  • A small first aid kit.
  • You can also go for knee and elbow pads if you want.

The point is that you can do a lot to help ensure your safety during a motorcycling adventure. Don’t equate safety to decreasing your ‘cool’ factor. There’s nothing cool about risking your life.

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1,736km through Northern Ontario

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130,000 km

I reached 130,000km on the Varadero this past weekend.  More details on the ride to follow.

 

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Soft Saddlebags vs. Hard Saddlebags

In the world of motorcycling, several arguments never seem to end. One of the more interesting ones is about saddlebags for your bike. Some riders swear by soft bags, while others will only use hard ones no matter what. It’s not exactly clear why each side is so ardent in their beliefs, but to an outside observer, it can make choosing more difficult. So, if you’re trying to decide which motorcycle travel luggage you should get, here are some points to help you make the decision.

Hard Saddlebags

These are usually made of aluminum or some other lightweight metal, and they are semi-permanently affixed to your bike through a mounting system. That means that once you install them you better like them, as they aren’t coming off easily. That’s not to say it’s hard to remove this motorcycle gear, but it’s not as easy as soft bags.

Advantages

  • Durable and rugged
  • Can be locked for security
  • Usable for different vehicles
  • Customizable
  • Keeps contents better protected

Disadvantages

  • Weigh more
  • Can be a safety issue in the event of a collision or spin out
  • More expensive
  • Lids don’t fit securely after a crash

Soft Saddlebags

Again, it’s not clear why these motorcycle parts have such fervent followers, given the fact that storage is relatively the same with both types. But, soft bags have the advantage of being more lightweight and portable, as well as adding a bit of old-school aesthetic to your ride. If you get vintage-style saddlebags, it can upgrade your appearance immediately.

Advantages

  • Cost-effective
  • Easy to transfer
  • Waterproof
  • Less bulky
  • Won’t hurt as bad in a crash

Disadvantages

  • Harder to secure
  • Won’t protect fragile items as well
  • Less stable overall

Hopefully, this breakdown will help you decide which type of luggage carrier is best for you and your ride. In the end, there is no right answer, only the one that you prefer.

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APEXROADS

I was talking with a friend of mine last night about planning a trip this summer, something we can do in just a few days. He is a new rider, but has taken to the motorcycle like a duck to water so he won’t have any issues with keeping up. I was recently point to a new website for finding and navigating new motorcycle roads called www.apexroads.com and thought I would check it out.  I think it would be a great way for me to plan some trips this summer and discover some new places. I like that it has Canadian as well as US content.

I wanted to see how good this website was so I started with some areas that I knew, mainly my cottage near Big Chute Ontario and planned trips from there. This web site looks very promising. It listed roads that I knew and a few that I didn’t.  I was a little disappointed to find that Whites Falls Road was not listed as this is a great road to ride, lots of turns with great scenery, but I guess I’ll keep this road to myself.  It would be nice to have a section where people can put suggested routes or comments on the roads, I’m not sure how APEXROADS chooses their roads, but nothing is better than comments from actual riders.

It has a lot of potential and it great to see people dedicating time and effort to the motorcycle community. Check out their website and keep checking back, I Have a feeling it’s going to just get better and better. I’ll know more once Jack Frost finally leaves –  I need to get my bike out of winter storage!

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