Except for the 2009 motorcycle in the foreground, it could be 1909 out here. The landscape carries a few more scars now, but modern amenities are still few and far between. I left the pavement maybe 20 miles back and aside from that ancient Coors can a few dozen corners ago, I’m riding the only thing man-made apparatus for miles. No cars, no Starbucks, no street signs, power lines or cell phone towers dressed up like palm trees. This is why I’ve been riding a BMW 800GS for the past year. The Garmin Zumo 550 clipped to my bar is standard equipment out here, and if a little satellite-based help is good, more is probably better.
It’s hard enough to actually meet one of my friends for a Grande Americano, let alone a 94-mile dual-sport loop. So most of the time, I go solo. The principal downside of railing around in California’s high desert alone follows directly from the upside. No cell towers means no bars on my phone and no easy way to call for help if something goes wrong. At least until now.
One of my friends who’s wife worries more than mine just got a new SPOT Assist (http://www.findmespot.com): a more effective GPS-based alternative to whistling for Lassie for help if little Timmy falls down a well. Sized somewhere between the average garage-door opener and a cell phone, it can get a fix on your GPS coordinates and send them to whoever needs to know: search and rescue types if it’s 911 situation or your buddy with the four-wheel-drive pickup if the old warhorse just up and quit again. There’s also an OK function that sends a reassuring all clear so Mrs. Maniac can stop worrying. An optional function lets her track your movements on Google Maps, which may not be such a good idea if you’re planning a stop at the Way Out Inn on the way home. The Satellite Messenger goes for about $100 and a year’s worth of basic service brings the total to about $200, or $250 if you want the tracking feature. Peace of mind for the price of fresh tires? I’ll let you know how it pans out when Mr. UPS shows up with mine.