02:28 - Kerri’s Superpower: Having an Iron Butt
06:39 - On The Road Entertainment
- FM Radio
- Country Music
- Community/Local Radio
- Roadside Attractions
15:11 - Souvenir Collection & Photography
25:42 - Working On The Road
27:37 - Rallies, Competitive Scavenger Hunts
30:40 - Tracking, Tooling, Databases
35:36 - Community Interaction; Sampling Local Specialties
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Salem Sue, World’s Largest Holstein
38:40 - Recording Adventures
41:46 - Focus / Music
42:22 - Directed Riding vs Wandering/Drifting
Mandy: Taking time to enjoy yourself is SO important.
Jamey: Get started! Create a map, now.
Coraline: Permission to go down rabbit holes: wander aimlessly, and explore.
Aaron: If I’m not having fun, why am I doing this? Resetting expectations to your purpose.
Chelsea: Making “it didn’t always look like this!” stories accessible to folks.
Kerri: It’s a marathon. You can’t do a lot of things in a single step. We have traveled far from where we began.
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CORALINE: Hey, everybody and welcome to Episode 273 of Greater Than Code. You may remember me, my name is Coraline and I’m very, very happy to be with y'all today and to be with my friend, Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: Thanks, Coraline. I'm also excited to introduce my good friend, Aaron Aldrich, and it's our first time co-hosting together so I'm excited about that, too.
AARON: Oh, Hey, it's me, Aaron Aldrich. I'm also excited. I'm so excited to host with all these people and I will introduce you to Chelsea.
CHELSEA: Him folks. I'm Chelsea Troy and I am pleased to introduce Mandy Moore.
MANDY: Hey, everybody. It's Mandy. And today, I am here with one of my favorite people! It's Kerri Miller, and you may know Kerri as an engineer, a glass artist, a public speaker, a motorcyclist, and a lackwit gadabout based in the Pacific Northwest.
Generally, she's on an epic adventure on her motorcycle somewhere in North America. Will she meet Sasquatch? That's what I want to know and that's why she's here today because we're not going to talk about tech, or code today. We're going to catch up with Kerri. If you're not following Kerri on these epic adventures, you need to be because I live vicariously through her all the time and you need to, too. Kerri is a prime example of living your best life.
So without further ado, Kerri, how are you?!
KERRI: Oh my gosh. With an intro like that, how can I be anything but amazing today? Can I just hire you, Mandy just to call me every morning and tell me how exciting I am?
KERRI: No. I'm doing really, really well. The sun actually came out today in the Pacific Northwest. I've been telling people lately that if you want to know what living in Seattle is like, first go stand in the shower for about 4 months [laughs] and then get back to me. So to have the sun bright and it’s 53 outside, it’s amazing.
AARON: 53 does sound amazing. It's been like so far below freezing for so long here that I've lost track. Every once in a while, I go outside and it's like 30 and I'm like, “Oh, this is nice!”
JAMEY: Are we going to ask Kerri the superpower question? Because I feel like she's come on and answered it a bunch of times already. [laughs] We could ask her about Sasquatch instead.
MANDY: I mean, I thought her superpowers were having epicly awesome adventures, but maybe she has a different answer.
KERRI: Well, in the context of this conversation, I think that my superpower is being able to sit on a motorcycle for ridiculously long amounts of time.
CORALINE: Kerri, would you say you have an iron butt? Is that what you call that?
KERRI: Yes. I mean, of course, the joke being that I belong to a group called the Iron Butt Association, which is dedicated to promoting the safe and sane practice of long-distance endurance motorcycle riding. So the only requirement to join, besides having the defective gene that makes you want to sit on a motorcycle for hours and hours on end, is to be able to ride a 1,000 miles on a motorcycle in 24 hours, which once you do it once, you very quickly decide if you ever want to do it again and if you do decide you want to do it again, you are one of the ingroup.
AARON: What's a reference point for a 1,000 miles? That's a number that I only know conceptually.
KERRI: Let's see. It is a 1,000 miles almost exactly from Seattle to Anaheim to the front door of Disneyland. It's a 1,100 miles from Boston to Jacksonville, Florida.
CORALINE: Oh, wow.
KERRI: It's 2,000 miles from my house in Seattle to Chicago.
JAMEY: What made you feel like you wanted to sit on a motorcycle for that long?
KERRI: I don't really have a short answer for that, but I'll give you an honest answer. I mean the short answer is the jokey one to say, “Oh, I've got a defective gene. Ha, ha, ha.”
But when I was in – I grew up in the country and had a lot of a lot of struggles as a teenager and the way that I escaped from that was to go get in my car and drive around the back roads of New England. Dirt roads, finding old farmsteads and farm fields and abandoned logging roads and that gave me this real sort of sense of freedom.
When I moved out to Pacific Northwest—no real friends, no family out here—I spent a lot of time in my car exploring Pacific Northwest. I had a lot of those same vibes of being by myself and listening to my good music and just driving around late nights.
When I got into to motorcycling, I rediscovered that joy of being by myself, exploring things, seeing new things, and if I wasn't seeing something new, I was seeing how had changed this week, or since last month, or since last few years since I've been through a particular region. And my motorcycling is basically an extension of that, it's this sort of urge to travel. A desire to be by myself under my own control, my own power, and to learn and discover new stories that I'm not learning just by sitting in my apartment all day.
I work from home. I've worked remotely for 8, or 9 years now, so anytime I get to leave the apartment is a joy and adventure, but doing so for longest ended periods of time just lets me see more of the world, expand my own story, and learn the story of others as I travel.
Being a single solo lady on a motorcycle, I'm instantly the object of interest wherever I stop and it doesn't help that I have rainbow stickers and all sorts of stuff all over my bikes. My motorcycle helmets are crazy pink, rainbow reflective, got unicorn horns, and things all over my bike, so people see me as being super approachable.
Every time I stop for gas, or to get a burger, or a soda, or something, people come up to me and they want to tell me their stories. It's usually about the motorcycle, they're really interested about. It's usually middle aged and old men come up to me to say, “Oh, I had a motorcycle when I was in college and then I got married and had a kid.” You can kind of see them deflate a little bit.
Or I've had lots of kids come up because it's covered with stickers and a lot of the stickers, they're all kind of at a kid eye level. They see them and they get really excited, they want to come over and talk to me. With rainbow bandanas and everything, I think I look safe as a biker. I'm not dressed in black and skulls and so, people see me as approachable and they want to come up and talk. So there's a lot of those great interactions that I get to have with people along the way.
CORALINE: And you said at the beginning, when you were driving around the Pacific Northwest, you were listening to your good music. Do you also listen to music on the motorcycle and some of those have fancy speakers in the helmet and all that sort of stuff where you just go quiet and just listen to the road?
KERRI: Honestly, over the course of the day, because I will ride 18, 20 hours a day if you just let me go and if I'm trying to make distance, I'll do that. It's kind of a mix, but for the most part, I actually do listen to something.
The last few years, I've really embraced and tried to understand and integrate into my personal identity, having ADHD and how does that manifest for me and I found that if I'm riding my motorcycle and I'm not listening to something, my mind wanders. But weirdly, if I'm listening to something, then I'm paying attention and focused, patrolling the motorcycle and being safe and then whatnot, which seems paradoxical. But that's just how my brain works. So I pretty much always have something going.
Until recently, I had a Spotify playlist with about 1,800 songs on it that was rotating through. I tried to do audiobooks and podcasts, but that's a little tricky with all the wind noise and whatnot. I'm trying to protect my hearing.
Other than that, I also listen to a lot of FM radio, which is great. So I have opinions on country music now, which I never thought I was going to have opinions on that at before. Yes, country music is great. It's all over. Even in Seattle, we have country music, bars, and whatnot, but you don't just walk down the street in Seattle and hear country music. You’ve got to kind of seek it out and so, I haven't been exposed to it.
So listen to a lot of FM country as I cross the vast planes of America and I've also used that to discover a lot of this rebirth that's happened in the last decade of community radio. A lot of small communities have their own low power, super local FM radio you can only pick up for 20 miles at a stretch.
So if I'm passing through a town and I see a sign for K, B, C, or whatever it is for some small town, I immediately tune to it. it’s always somebody who's just like, they're not a trained professional. They never went to broadcasting school. They don't have that trained radio voice. They're just talking about sheep that got out, or here's a problem with the town water supply, or whatever it is, what local road is closed. That's just an amazing way of even as I'm passing through a place, if I'm not stopping, I kind of get a little bit of a flavor for that.
AARON: Well, just thinking that FM radios generally got to give you more of a flavor for the local area that you're at. I always thought of that as the frustration of FM radio when traveling, like, “All my radio stations keep changing. I don't know where to tune!” But at the same time, that's pretty cool. I love that as a positive of what do they listen to over here? What do they listen to over this part of the country? I would imagine even just where different musical genres are on the dial would probably shift around. Or maybe not. Maybe that's just my…coming up with things, but.
KERRI: Yeah. You do learn that there are some patterns, like all of the NPR stations, they're all down in the 800s and also, a lot of the religious radio and the top end of the dial seems to be a lot of rock. The big rock stations seem like 107, whatever the end, or something.
The best ones, though are the ones that have local commercials because you get a lot of the same like, law firms and drugs that I don't know if I have even the condition, but I should really talk to my doctor, see if it's right for me. But then you'll get local car places, or I got one when I was down south, somewhere in Louisiana and it was for a combination, an airboat rental and barbecue joint? It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing and the guy had this amazing regional accent, which I never hear up here in the Northwest. We have our own accent, but I got a little taste of this real Southern accent and it was the owner. It was clearly the owner just reading a little script that he wrote, “Come on down and rent a jet boat, bring your dog and your dog can go on it and then we'll have barbecue waiting for you when we get off the dock,” and I'm like, “I'm sold.” Like, “I'm going to turn around, go see this guy right now. This is amazing,” and I actually have that business.
I keep a map of every interesting place I hear about as I travel and I put a pin there I'm like, “Someday, I'm going to be coming back by this place and I'm going to be hungry for lunch and I'm going to stop. I'm going to stop here.” So advertising works, I guess, is what I'm saying.
JAMEY: Will you share that map with us?
KERRI: I really should. I really should. It's a lot of fun actually because you read these websites, or roadside attractions, or you hear about some abandoned theme park, or something and it's like, that's kind of a cool thing. You read the article and you move on your day, but I add it to my maps and those maps are my GPS unit. As I'm writing, I've got this old screen in front of me and if I see a little pin appearing on the map in front of me, I can say, “Oh, there's this old waterpark over here,” or “Oh, there's that resort over there that I always wanted to see,” or a particular weird statue, or the birthplace of James Kirk, or whatever it is. So I don't have to remember if the computer could do it for me.
JAMEY: I was going to ask if you go to things like the world's largest ball of twine and like –?
KERRI: Every time.
JAMEY: Okay, cool.
KERRI: Every time.
JAMEY: I'm glad that I understand you enough to know that you would do that.
CORALINE: Kerri, have you been in the Mystery Spot?
KERRI: I have been in Mystery Spot.
MANDY: What is Mystery Spot?!
CORALINE: I remember Mystery Spot is some kind of a place where they say gravity is out of whack and everything feels sideways and you're super disoriented. They have this whole mythology around it. I've never been myself, but I did pretend that I'd been there by putting a bumper sticker on my car 15 years ago.
There's this amazing song called Mystery Spot Polka. Can't remember where I read that, but I think that's how I learned about it.
MANDY: I will put that in the show notes.
CORALINE: I will find Mystery Spot Polka. It is incredible.
MANDY: So Kerri, what are some of the coolest places you have visited? Can you give us a top three rundown?
CORALINE: And I really hope that cracker barrel is in that top three, Kerri.
JAMEY: But which cracker barrel?
CORALINE: Oh, cracker barrels are the same everywhere you go. I really believe there's only actually one cracker barrel, the canonical cracker barrel, and it's multidimensional, so.
JAMEY: Yeah. You teleport into it?
KERRI: Well, interestingly enough, I won't call this a danger, but one of the side effects of traveling as much I have in the last 4, or 5 years is strange, random flashbacks to stretches of road and you can't remember where they are. So you were just asking about this and I'm thinking about, “Okay, two places I could talk about,” and then I suddenly, unbidden, had this memory of a stretch of road. I can't remember where that is. I don't even know what state that's in. It was an amazing piece of pavement that I really enjoyed riding and, in that moment, I had this amazing moment.
If I skip way ahead to the end of the conversation where I sum everything up and tell you why I ride, or what I get out of doing this is that it's cemented for me, this concept of the impermanence of everything because if I'm having a great day on the bike, it's beautiful afternoon, the temperature's perfect. It's not going to last. The sun is going to go down, the pavement is going to be bad, traffic is going to pick up, it's going to start raining. So I need to enjoy this moment, this curve, this hour, this half hour, this 5 minutes, whatever it is. Something, conversely, if it's bad, if it's raining, or it's dark, or heck, if it's snowing, it's like, this is not going to last. I'll go through this and everything will be great.
But once every six weeks, or so, I make a really bad decision on the motorcycle, for instance, like that rain's probably going to clear up, that's not going to be a rainstorm. Nah, this wind is going to die down, it'll be fine. I'll be riding through something and it makes me just completely miserable. 110 degrees, or sideways rain, or whatever, and I think, “Yes, this is it. This is the moment. This is the thing that I'm going to be remembered for. This is the dumb thing that I did,” but it never lasts. I always survive and I walk away with this just amazing memory and this amazing about that time I rode through a rainstorm, or illegally parked my motorcycle in front of the Alamo to just get a photo, [laughs] things like that if it happened.
CHELSEA: Kerri, do you collect souvenirs of any kind from some of these travels, or is it specifically photos? Do you post about them specifically anywhere? Maybe you do a whole bunch of things. I've certainly seen a number of your posts, but I guess I'm wondering, I'm imagining myself in these situations collecting stickers, or something like that. Do you have things like that that you look for in these places?
KERRI: One of the neat things that I enjoy about traveling my motorcycle is that I just simply can't, I can't buy anything. It's not any space for it. My gear is all pretty well packed tightly. Souvenirs are kind of out unless I'm willing to pay extra ship from home. So it's kind of rare. Although, I have occasionally gotten, if I know that I'm going to be visiting a friend in a day, or two, I'll stop and pick something up and usually, it's a food item that I haven't seen before. In fact, if you follow me on Twitter, you'll see I'm always posting about weird foods, or energy drinks. 90% of the time it's weird stuff I found in a weird gas station on the side of the road, especially when it comes to energy drinks.
And it's much more about having that experience of a place at the end of the day. I don't take as many photos as I'd like, or I think that I should. Although, certainly, I do take more than I used to. I've been working on landscape photography with my iPhone because again, I choose not to travel with a full camera rig. Well, I’ve got my iPhone, how can I take photos with that? That turns out to be much more about composition and seeing a moment and grabbing it than having the right lens, or light conditions being just right, or whatever.
CHELSEA: Ooh. So I'd be very interested to hear some of your tips for phone photography, because this is a thing. We all have our phones on us and I imagine if I just a little more about how to frame my photos sometimes, I could get something a lot better.
KERRI: Some of the basic tips are just photography one-on-one, like how do you compose a shot in terms of the rule of three where you break it up, and you'll see in phones, a lot of times you have the option turn on a grid. So you're looking at a grid and then help you understand how much space something is going to take up in the final shot. You want to line up your horizon, for example, if I'm taking a picture of say, like a harbor. I've taken a lot of photos of lighthouses for reasons I can get into later. So I'm trying to take really nice photos of lighthouses, the sea kind of wants to be right around and take up the lower third of the shot and then two-thirds is the sky.
It's about how much of the frame gets filled with different elements will psychologically suggest the viewer, what their importance is, or how they relate to the person who's taken the photograph. So just some basic rules around that. I try to do things where, especially when doing landscape photography, because the iPhone lens is just horrible for this. It’s really meant to take photos of your friends at parties, or your car in the driveway. It's not meant to take landscaping vistas, but you can do some tricks.
Actually, I found that zooming in a little bit, not a lot, but just a little tiny bit just brings it a little bit closer and the final result just feels a little different. And then if also, you continue to follow those rules of composition, you can get some good landscape.
Putting something in the foreground is really great. So my motorcycle is in a lot of my shots because of that, because it gives some depth to the photo. It helps to not just be like, especially if you're doing a wide-open plane like you do, it's like, oh yes, here's some bars of color. It's like, oh, now here's something to give me perspective and humanize the scale of a landscape. It's just little things like that and that's all stuff that I've learn just because I'm just a naturally curious person. So I'm like, “Well, how do I take better photos of that?” So I went off and did 4 hours of research and audited a class online somewhere.
CORALINE: Have all, or most of your travels been continental US, or have you ever gone on a motorcycle trip on another continent, or?
KERRI: It depends. Is New Zealand a continent?
JAMEY: Well, it's not in the continental US.
KERRI: Yes. Starting closer to home, though. North America, I've done. So I've done US, Mexico, and Canada. Right when COVID hit, I was actually in Baja, California down at the Southern tip at the Tropic of Cancer on my motorcycle. I rode there all the way from Long Beach, California and I've been up to Alaska through Canada twice now.
JAMEY: I'm sorry. I was going to tell a Jerri Alaska story actually, because I was in Alaska – [overtalk]
KERRI: Oh, please.
JAMEY: Not too long ago and I posted a landscape photo from our rental car on Twitter and I did not label where I was and Kerri was like, “Where are you in Alaska?!” And then we were talking about this and she recommended that I eat fireweed ice cream, which I did and it was wonderful.
KERRI: Oh, was it great?
JAMEY: [laughs] It was great. So I was going to suggest that your superpower could be recommendations.
KERRI: Oh, thank you. That's super flattering, actually. I sometimes think when I finally get tired of tech, I just want to be a tour guide, or something, or write a travel novel, or something.
JAMEY: Oh yeah. You’d be great at that.
KERRI: Yeah. I love being a hostess and I love – whenever somebody's like, “Oh, I'm traveling,” or “I'm going here,” or I see somebody post photos from someplace I've been, I'm like, “Wait, here's this restaurant, you should go here and make sure you talk to this person and do this.”
A year after I got my first bike, no, not even a year. Oh my gosh, it was 5 months after I got my first motorcycle, I went to New Zealand for a conference and said, “Well, hassle in traveling to New Zealand is actually traveling to New Zealand. So I might as well take some time.” I took two weeks and rented a motorcycle and just did a couple thousand kilometers all over the South Island in New Zealand.
So those are the four countries I've ridden in.
I was going to rent one – I'd been to Berlin a few times and I thought, “Oh, I'll rent a BMW when I'm in Germany, that'd be cool and ride around.” But unfortunately, I got sick while I was in Germany, the one time I was going to do that. So I stayed my hotel and felt bad.
JAMEY: How different is motorcycle on the other side of the road in New Zealand? [chuckles]
KERRI: I only rode on the wrong side of the road twice.
Yeah, the shop I rented from actually, they rent to a lot of Americans, I guess. So they put arrows on the windscreen to say, “Drive pass” to help remind us. But it's funny because every single rental car down there, the left side of the car is the one that's completely trashed because when you're riding, we start driving on the wrong side of the road. The side you're not used to. Now, it's like your entire concept as a driver of the opposite side of the car is now completely inverted and so, it's like trying to do something with your left hand when you're right-handed. It's just like, how do left-handed people survive?! Like, what are you doing? [laughs]
CORALINE: I was in South Africa a number of years ago and we drove out to this wildlife preserve and the only car I was able a rental, that was not a stick shift because I don't know how to drive stick shift, [chuckles] was this giant club van. So not only I had driven the wrong side of the road, but I was in the largest vehicle I had ever driven. [laughs] Had no idea where the other side of the car might be was, just terrified of exactly that the whole time.
KERRI: See, you called it a Clubvan, but all I can imagine, the image that popped in my brain was a party bus.
So imagine you driving around South Africa in a party bus.
CORALINE: That would have been amazing. Yeah.
KERRI: Very different trip.
AARON: I just want to bring it back to lighthouse pictures because as a native New Englander, I need to know why you're taking pictures of all these lighthouses.
KERRI: Well, as another native New Englander, hi.
KERRI: How are you?
No. So why am I taking photos of lighthouses? One of the things about the Iron Butt Association, which again, is this group dedicated to promoting this, is not just the pure endurance of can you ride a 1,000 miles in 24 hours? Can you ride 1,500 miles in 24 hours? What are the limits of safe endurance events?
We also do a number of collection style things. We call them tours. I'm doing a lighthouse tour. So you go to lighthouses and I've got this little passport, my lighthouse passport I got from the United States Lighthouse Society. When they're open, you can get a little rubberstamp in your book to prove that you were there. When they're not open, I take a photo of my motorcycle next to the lighthouse and that's the proof that I've been there.
The challenge is I have to visit 60 in 12 months.
KERRI: And that's the bare minimum. So there's advancing levels of difficulty and they're merit badges for adults, really.
60 in 12 months I'm at 25, or 30 now and I scoured the West Coast. I'm going to also hit the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic next month when I'm down there in Florida. There are other challenges like go to 120, or 180 again, over the course of different time periods. You have different difficulty levels.
I've also done one which is visiting national parks because national parks have a similar passports stamp program where you can go get these timestamped little cancellations to say I was in the Redwood National Forest, or I was at Wounded Knee, or not Wounded Knee, Little Bighorn, or Devils Tower, or whatever. The challenge there is to visit say, 50 of them, but now you have to do 25 different states.
Of course, I've upped the ante and we have the silver level, which is you also have to combine that visiting one park in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine, in addition to those 50 and 25 states. So I did two of those last year and then year before that, I added Alaska just for fun, which is the gold, or insanity level. So it's just these little different ways of encouraging people to go out and travel and see more in the country on their motorcycle.
CORALINE: You work from the road, right?
KERRI: Yeah, I do actually.
CORALINE: I would love hear about how that works with such an aggressive travel schedule.
KERRI: That takes a lot of discipline and balance, which I am surprised I managed to pull off [chuckles] given how much I can normally do it without adding to traveling. Usually, what I do is I have days where I am in one place and days when I'm traveling. So for example, on February 28th, I'm going to be heading out for 2 months on the road and my first stops going to be San Diego. I will take that weekend and ride down to San Diego, which again, only 1,300 miles so that's a day and I've rented a little place down in Ocean Beach, a block from the shore and they have Wi-Fi in this little tiny one-bedroom studio. I'll work there and I'll kind of explore San Diego. I'll work all day and, in the evenings, I'll go over ride on the hills, or go up to Legoland, or whatever I want to do in that part of the world. And then Friday night, Saturday, I'll hit the road again for a couple days.
This is actually how I initially started traveling these long, long distances was trying to say like, “Okay, I really want to go to Austin, Texas, but it's going to take me four riding days, or whatever to get to Austin, Texas. How do I manage do that and still work from the road?” So well, 2 days away is Denver, Colorado. So why don't I go to Denver? I'll work there for a few days and then next weekend, then I'll skip on. So it's like setting up a series of base camps as if I was attacking Everest so I can break up these big trips.
But as I wanted to travel further and further distances overall, I had to actually physically travel, or do longer distances in the same amount of time. Speeding isn't going to do that safely and it actually really doesn't get you there that much faster in the end. So the only way to do that was to figure out how to ride longer more hours in the day, figure that out.
JAMEY: Can you talk about these motorcycle scavenger hunt things that you do?
KERRI: Yeah. Thanks for asking. I assume you noticed the trophies on the wall behind me.
So these are competitive scavenger hunt style rallies. We call them rallies. A lot of people, when you say motorcycle rally, they think about Bike Week in Daytona, or Sturgis out in South Dakota. That's none of this. It is a scavenger hunt and there's a timer on it say, 36, or 60 hours where the night before you get a list of here's all the different places that you could possibly go, you call them bonus locations and at 4:00 in the morning, everyone's released and you're like, “Okay, go, be back in a day and a half.”
You go and you take photos of these different places to prove that you went there and every place gets you a certain number of points. The harder it is to get there, or the further away it is, the more points that you would get for going there. You can do combinations for visiting certain places, visit three clown theme places and get the clown bonus, or whatnot. Like a pinball machine, if you will, where you score the right combination, you get more points.
So it's a timed competitive thing to who can the most amount of points because you can't visit all of the – they'll give you 80, or a 100 places you could possibly go. You can't go to all of them in the time allotted. So can you construct an efficient route that is also one that you have that you the physical capability to travel in the allotted time and earn enough points to place well? They typically last, 36 hours is one level. We have a few that do 60.
I'm doing one this summer that is 9 days long. So we'll be leaving Cheyenne, Wyoming and four days later, we have to be in State College, Pennsylvania where we'll all stop for 10 hours and then we'll turn around and head back to Cheyenne. I actually just put in my application for the Olympics of the Iron Butt Association is called the Iron Butt Rally, which is an 11-day version of the countrywide scavenger hunt – [overtalk]
CORALINE: Oh, wow.
KERRI: With locations all over North America and Canada. We call it, it’s sort of the Olympics. It happens every 2 years. You actually have to apply to be accepted to enter because otherwise, you'd have a lot of folks that say, “Oh, I could do that,” and they don't really know what they're getting into and it's a little bit unsafe if you haven't done it before and you don't really understand what it takes to do.
That's what's coming up my horizon for those and they're very competitive events, although at the end of the day, it's made-up internet points. There are no sponsorships, there's no recognition besides outside of this group of 300, or 400 similarly weirdo people who like riding their motorcycles longways. But no, I've had quite a bit of success competitively in that and that just scratch all the right itches because it's riding a motorcycle. Plus, it's basically a traveling salesman problem. It's a directed graph problem and you work with GitHub all day long and like, “Oh, I understand how to traverse a graph, this is easy.”
CORALINE: Speaking of that, Kerri as a long-time software engineer, do you do anything, do you have any software, any kind of tools that you develop for keeping track of all this?
KERRI: Yeah, I do a lot with spreadsheets, believe it, or not. The tooling, it’s tricky because at the end of the day, you still have to ride the motorcycle and you can't really automate that. So a lot of the stuff I'm able to do with software is really around using software for planning and analysis.
For example, there's a number of different databases around you asked about the collection of the lighthouses and one of the things that I'm around the country collecting this year is pressed pennies. Now a pressed penny machine, actually I think they're fascinating because a pressed penny machine is the only machine still in active production that interacts with the penny in any way, shape, or form. There's no vending machines. There's nothing who deals with the penny besides coin counting machine. Besides the penny smasher, you put a penny, 2 quarters and it smashes a little design in.
Again, I've got to go collect a 100 of these from 20 states and 5 of them have to be on the other side of the Mississippi, all these weird rules, but how do you find them? There's one at every cracker barrel. There's eight at Disney, one at SeaWorld. There's some obvious things like that, but it turns out, there's almost 4,000 of these machines in the United States and there's a database for these on this weird creaky, old website written in ASP. It's actually an IP address. It doesn't have a domain name.
JAMEY: That's legit.
CORALINE: Dark web got pennies. That's amazing.
KERRI: If only there was crypto involved here, it'd be perfect.
So I got to break out some scripting the other day and actually write a little script that went into kind of scrape these old web pages and then parse CHTML and kind of strip out, look, here's the address for the place and store them because you want the name of the place and the address so you can find it. You’ve got to take that and ship it over to Google API, actually get an actual latitude, longitude, and then reform it into the XML format that my GPS device – it's this whole chain of Rube Goldberg machine of how to get this data into a place that I can actually use it.
CORALINE: I think the story of the entire internet is made. [laughs]
KERRI: So fast forward to the end of that and now I happen to be the maintainer for a website that maps pressed penny machines across the United States, based on this data that I'm scraping from somebody else's website.
AARON: All because you have a DNS name.
KERRI: Exactly, exactly. But this actually turned to be really, really crucial because a whole bunch of people in my riding community said, “I really wanted to do that penny collecting hunt and you have 12 months to do it and I'm going to go out to the West Coast.” So I was like, I thought, “I have plenty of places to stop, but I could never find the machines.” It's just like, “Oh, okay. So my putting this information into a format that other people could actually easily digest, that's the value that I'm adding here.” It's inspired at least a dozen people to go out and start collecting smashed pennies. So I've got to be responsible for some uptick in sales on these vending machines.
JAMEY: They should sponsor you.
AARON: I love the weirdness of these machines that interact with a coin that's so bad at being currency, we just sort of toss them out to the extent that I was at Disney World not too long ago and the machines have their own supply of pennies because people just don't have pennies. So [chuckles] this machine just has a stock of pennies and you can swipe a credit card and be like, “Give me the smashed pennies,” and it charges you a dollar in 1 cent and then goes through and does it.
KERRI: God, it's fabulous. A lot of people have heard the story that pennies are actually – it costs more to make a penny than a penny is actually worth in terms of currency. It's wild. But every time I start thinking, “We should get rid of the penny,” I'm like, “That sounds like the craziest, insane conspiracy theory position to ever take.”
AARON: But also, the penny is real bad at being currency. [laughs]
KERRI: Yeah. Yeah.
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KERRI: Way back at the beginning of this conversation, somebody asked me and sorry, I forgot who asked me about some of the best places I've been and the strangest things I've seen. I kind of got derailed on some poet nonsense, but I realize that I really am a sucker for world's largest ball twine kinds of things. I had this great opportunity.
So collecting pennies, lighthouses, and national parks, I'm always just getting off the main roads and things. I see a lot of stuff. I found out that I'm a sucker basically for weird local foods like the fireweed ice cream. Anytime I see something advertised on a menu that I've never heard of before, that's the thing I'm going to order.
Cinnamon rolls because when you travel up the Alaskan highway from Dawson Creek, BC up to Alaska, every 60 miles, or so, there's a gas station and a little bakery. So you can get your gas, you can get coffee, and you can get a cinnamon roll and they all claim to have the best cinnamon roll on the Alaskan highway. I stop every 60 miles and get a cinnamon rolls. After about 5 hours, I really just want to fall over and vomit because I'm sick of cinnamon rolls. But now when I travel, if I see some place advertising cinnamon rolls, I'm like, “Well, I’ve got to stop because that's my thing because I like cinnamon rolls because that's reminds me of Alaska.”
So I get to go to a lot of these really great small towns and just seeing a lot of how, especially in the central part of the country, so many towns are struggling with just having jobs for people and keeping local economies going that a lot of them will do these sorts of things. They'll have interesting, strange festivals, or hold the film festival about corn, or soy, or they'll paint their water tower, or something.
Last year, as I was traveling across North Dakota one time, I saw off on the horizon on a hill—first of all, yes, a hill in North Dakota so that was notable—a giant cow. A giant Holstein cow. This a 100-foot-tall fiberglass cow and so, I said to my riding partner, I'm like, “We're going the cow, right?” And she's like, “Yeah, we're going the cow.”
So get off the highway and we rode this little windy dirt road at the top of this hill. It was just this huge giant fiberglass cow that they put on top of the hill 20, 30 years ago and now it's like the 4-H Club with the FFA kids take care of it and repaint it every few years. They collect like, they ask for donations. $5 each and the little two because we're passing through and that's part of our job. That's how I'm interacting with the community and plus man, I got a ton of pictures of this giant cow.
It was right at sunset, we were on this hill, and it was actually really beautiful, the prairie, it was spread out for us and it was about an hour east of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. So it's right where the planes start to break up into the what's called Missouri Breaks where the rivers have really broken up the land quite a bit. So it was just gorgeous. It was just absolutely beautiful and I never would've seen that if I didn't stop because there was a giant cow. That's my giant cow story.
CORALINE: Kerri, have you ever considered writing down your stories and the stories of the people that you meet along the way and the amazing places you've been? I hate to say the B word, but it would make a pretty interesting book.
KERRI: Well, I'll throw back another B word at you, which is blog. I keep a travel blog at motozor.com. Lately, I've been writing more about, because I haven't been doing as much non-directed travel, so a lot of my travel lately has been around these sort of competitive rallies that I've been riding in, which are interesting in themselves because they're like, “Go take your photo with the giant cow,” or “Go to the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, or whatnot, take a photo there.”
I've been writing quite a bit about those sorts of travels, but I also have a huge backlog of articles that I've written for that over the years of all the different trips I've taken to New Zealand, Alaska down into Baja, and the multiple times I've been across the country.
The one that I'm working on, that I haven't finished yet because I'm trying a new thing, which is incorporating a series of interview video interviews with my riding partner, is trying to tell the story in written form of the trip that she and I did last summer, where we rode to all 48 states in 10 days starting in New England ending in Washington.
JAMEY: Kerri, I have an important question to ask you, but I'm contractually obligated to ask you. How many miles at a time would you say that you live your life? [laughs]
KERRI: Well, I guess, I supposed to say one quarter of a mile at a time. [chuckles]
JAMEY: Well, Kerri was also a guest on my Greater Than Code spinoff, fast and furious show, Stationary & Sassy, so.
KERRI: Which I love.
JAMEY: I had to pull it back. [laughs]
KERRI: I'll answer that in an obliviously serious way.
I can go an entire take of gas without putting my foot down. That's kind of fun. One of my current challenges right now is can I ride through the entire state of Oregon, north to south, without getting gas? Because it's 304 miles from the Washington-Oregon border to the California-Oregon border and Oregon doesn't let you pump your own gas and it irritates me. They usually, if they see you're on a motorcycle, they're like, “You got it?” I'm like, “Yeah, I got it. I'm not from here. I pump gas.”
So the challenge right now is can I cross Oregon without having to stop for gas and then actually weirdly, mentally breaks up my day. It's kind of weird motorcycle Pomodoro of like, “Okay, I can go 3 hours before I need to stop.” So my day gets broken up into these chunks of where are the stops that I have to make versus the ones I want to make, or excuse me, the ones I want to make versus the ones I have to make.
JAMEY: You heard it here, folks. Kerri lives her life 304 miles at a time.
KERRI: I live my life a quarter tank at a time.
CHELSEA: Kerri, you mentioned earlier that you listen to music while you're riding because you find that it helps you focus on riding. I find a similar thing with work, whether it's fulltime job work, or side work, I have a much easier time focusing—for the audience, I'm a programmer as well—if I've got something on. I like to listen to Boston Nova, or I also go on turntable.fm, I'm in a heavy metal room there that's kind of fun.
I'm curious as to whether you find that music helps you focus anywhere off the motorcycle as well.
KERRI: Yes. I am very susceptible to the emotional resonance of music, if that makes any sense whatsoever. There are kinds of music that I just can't listen to before I go to bed, like heavy metal gets me going, jam music. I'm a really huge Phish fan, which surprise, from Vermont, and I wear a lot of tie dye. Of course, I'm in the Phish.
But that's the music I like to listen to when I'm riding and when I'm working. But I do a lot of chill hop stuff now. I've gotten into that and I'm finding my way back to a lot of again, country music. But there's this entire alt Nashville scene that's happened in the last 10 years. I completely missed that. I'm kind of getting caught up on these days. My Bandcamp catalog, I think I'm keeping at least three of their engineers paid for; I buy so much stuff on Bandcamp these days.
CORALINE: I definitely get what you said about sensitivity to the emotional music definitely resonates with me as a musician. It's kind of weird to admit, but when I'm doing writing, I listen to Steely Dan [laughs] and I actually learned from a friend of mine that William Gibson listened to Steely Dan while he was writing all the seminal cyberpunk novels and thought that's kind of interesting, maybe good company, right?
KERRI: Hey, Fagen and Becker, great albums.
It's the stereotypical thing that Rush is this big band in programming circles and fun fact, the drummer for Rush was a huge motorcycle guy to the point that they actually had a trailer on their tour bus that he would carry two bikes on the trailer. So he would ride between concert stops. The band do their show and they'd leave on the bus and he got on his motorcycle and like, “See you in Chicago, guys,” “See you in Milwaukee,” “See you in Madison.” The band went along.
He had some personal and his wife passed away and his daughter fairly tragically and he wrote an entire book about it, where he didn't really quit the band. Although, they basically shut Rush down for a period of time so the band could work through that. But he took that time and went on the road just writing his motorcycle around. He wrote several books about dealing with grief through riding his motorcycle. I found that to be a really fascinating book and it's one of those touchstones, the Canada motorcycle riders. What little we read, that's definitely a book that everyone recommends to me at some point like, “Oh, have you read this book?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ve read that book.”
AARON: It's Neil Peart for anyone who needs to look that up.
I relate to the music as a distraction preventative [laughs] as someone who also deals with ADHD. It just makes sense to me. It's like, “Oh yeah, without it, there's so many places for my brain to go,” but if you have music on the back and it's like, “Oh, great. All right. That's where my brain is going to go when it gets distracted, it's just going to listen to this, then I'll go back to riding the bike.” [chuckles]
KERRI: Exactly. Exactly.
CORALINE: Kerri, you said a word earlier when you were contrasting the way you were riding when you started out and being kind of exploratory versus, I think the word you used is directive there, or a sweet spot for you between directed activity, directed riding versus wandering, maybe even drifting—not a car movie reference. But is there a balance that rejuvenates you, or that energizes you?
KERRI: Yes. I've talked to other motorcycle riders about this, where you say, “My gosh, there's so many great things that we see along the way,” and we say, “I would love to stop here.”
So for example, when we're doing these rallies where we're collecting things, for example, you stop to take a picture, or something, and then you’ve got to go. You only really stop for 5 minutes because you have this timetable and a schedule that you're trying to execute, or if you're trying to ride 1,500 miles in 24 hours, you can't stop. Your gas stops, you’re timed down to like oh, 5 minutes. So you'll see things. You're like, “Man, I wish I could stop,” or “I wish I had come back here and take this in and give something,” the respect that you want to give it, or really, really dive deep and taste a place, if you will.
It's a really common thing in the long-distance thing. Other motorcycles will sometimes say like, “Well, you don't see anything that way.” It's like, “Well, actually, I see a lot. I see way lot more in my days than you see,” but you don't get to stop so you have to kind of try and balance that.
That's one thing that I really like about these collection things that I do is, collection challenges, I carry satellite tracker, of course so I can plot out everywhere that I've been. I've been looking at the one for my lighthouse trip so far up and down the West Coast. It's just amazing, I'm going out to every little inlet, point, and little peninsula sticks out into the ocean because that's where the lighthouses are and the things that I've gotten to see through doing that.
So one of the reasons that I've gotten into those sort of challenges rather than the pure and endurance is just because it does reward that exploration. While, at the same time, being fairly directed because the directed part of it is researching and planning at home, like finding where are the lighthouses, where are the national parks I need to go visit? What are the hours are things open? Making that plan versus executing on the plan and the execution plan, getting to explore things, I think it's really a lot about the framing of the trip for me.
In February, I'm going down to San Diego and then I'm going to, what's called a 50cc, which is coast to coast in 50 hours. So I'll be leading San Diego and within 50 hours, I'm going to be in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Aha. Somehow, I'll do that. I'm not going to be able to stop and see anything along the way, but because I know that's the kind ride I'm embarking on, it becomes okay. It's this weird personal permission structure to give a pass to things that I would really like to see along the way versus say, if I'm doing a lighthouse trip –
I did one several months ago down to Disneyland, but I went down the California coast and I found myself like, “Oh, I'm not making any miles. This is so slow. Why is this taking me 3 days to get down to Los Angeles when it normally takes me 1 and a half at most?” So I had to stop and I ended up stopping in this little tiny town. I can't even remember the name of the place, but it's somewhere in Northern coast, California, and there's a little tiny coffee shop there. It's like Two Girls Coffee, or something like that. I just stopped, I got a coffee, and I sat outside. They had a table, it was a nice day, and I was just like, “I'm just going to sit here for 30 minutes and I'm just going to recenter myself and really think about what am I doing here? What do I want to be accomplishing and what set of skills do I need to bring to this moment to maximize how much fun I'm going to have? If I'm not having fun, then why am I doing it?”
So just being able to sit there in sunshine for a little bit and just say, “The point of what I'm doing here is to explore and it's to have this experience. It's not get someplace fast. It's not to get someplace far away. It's to explore and see things.” I was so much happier after that and I had a great conversation with a hippie in the parking lot so that was pretty great.
MANDY: Bonus. [laughs]
Well, we usually end this conversation with reflections.
I know, for me, I just want to say that everything you described just makes me feel so happy. I've been on a really big journey to improve my life and just what you said in the last few minutes about just taking time to enjoy, not being in a hurry, slowing down, and recentering yourself. That is all just so important to remember the whole cliché of stopping and smelling the roses. Like just enjoying your life even if it's a quarter tank at a time.
JAMEY: I keep thinking about this map that Kerri says that she has, which I actually legitimately would really like to see. But a lot of what Kerri was talking about was resonating with me. I also like to explore and I think about keeping track of places, but I don't have a map and I've been thinking about it for a while. I think it's one of these sunk cost things where I'm like, “Well, if I wanted to do a map, I should have been like doing it already,” but that's not how that works in real life. So if I want to have a map, I should start it now and I think that's my call-to-action. [chuckles]
KERRI: When people ask my advice like, “Oh, what motorcycle should I get,” or “What's the best motorcycle to do this, or that?” I always say like, “Oh, well the best motorcycle to do the ride you want to do is the one you have.” I think that's really true of so many things in life is that the trick is just to get started and it's not about the fancy equipment. It's not about the gear. You could just do it. If you just give yourself permission to go do a thing, you can just go do it.
CORALINE: I was thinking about how that kind of philosophy relates to how my life circumstances, job situation has changed so much for the past year since I retired from software engineering and the relief of not having to be productive, not having to hit goal, not having to have constraints that I'm not in control of, governing things, and permission to go down rabbit holes.
So when you were talking about the giant cow, I was liking that to well, if you were in a hurry to get somewhere, you wouldn't have stopped there. But because you weren't, you had a richer experience. You saw something you hadn't seen before. You hadn't experienced before. I really think that's a lesson we can take all over the place and give ourselves permission, like you said, to wander aimlessly and to explore. That's something that I definitely intend to do in my life and your story of doing that is very inspirational so thank you, Kerri.
AARON: I was just latching onto two bits that I really liked.
First off, if I'm not having fun, then why am I doing this is probably life lessons to live by. [chuckles] But I also appreciated the moment of resetting your expectations to your purpose. Like, why am I doing this thing? Let me remember, because I had a reason I'm doing it and if I'm not enjoying it right now, where's the mismatch? I like that.
Because so often, it's easy, for me anyway, to stumble into doing something and finding yourself like, “Why am I doing this?” and then stepping back and be like, “Okay. All right. I chose to do this because of this and if this is my purpose, then I can let go of this other pressure that I'm putting on myself to go further every day when that's not the reason I'm here.” It doesn't make sense to put that pressure on myself then.
KERRI: I feel like that chain, that returning to the beginning point is also a good career skill. You have to get serious about it, or bring this into work realm. But as a senior engineer, staff engineer, and principal, blah, blah, blah, so often, it's not how efficient can I make this loop. It's also going back, is this doing the right thing to do? Like, “Why are we doing this? Is there a better way to solve this sort of problem?” So it's that lesson of what I learned on the road coming back into work, but it's also because work is life as well and if work isn't fun and whatever, then why am I doing it? But that skill comes back into my personal life so there's this free flow of influence going back and forth.
AARON: Yeah. That purpose revisit thing is something that I've just been thinking about from events standpoint from doing conferences over the past couple years, like so much had to go back to first principles because it was like, okay, well what was the reason for us doing this? Just recreating the same motion in a different environment isn't necessarily going to get us the same results. What is the reason we're doing this? Let's revisit that and make sure we're still in alignment with it all. I think we can do that more often in our lives, too. Like, “What is the reason I'm doing this thing?” [chuckles] “Okay, it's not accomplishing that anymore. Let's get rid of this practice and try something else,” or not. Maybe the answer is to keep it.
CHELSEA: Yeah. One of the things that I think about apropos of what a couple of other folks were mentioning about how easy it is to get caught up in the details when trying to start something as opposed to just picking early anything and getting started. Occasionally, folks will ask me questions like that about blogging and one of the things that I like to do is keep some URLs on hand of some of my earlier pieces, just because it makes it really clear that it didn't always look like this. I just started and it wasn't what people see. I think folks sometimes see someone who's several years down the road of having started something and feeling like they can't start because it won't look like that immediately and it won't. [laughs]
But I imagine that having those kinds of stories on hand, what I'm thinking about is how to make those sorts of stories more accessible to folks. Because a lot of what we see understandably about how to do something is from the folks who have mastered it to some degree and it's not as clear where to look to find folks who also are just starting and what to expect your journey to look like right at the beginning.
MANDY: Kerri, do you want to leave a us with any parting thoughts?
KERRI: A lot of people, when I tell them I rode a 1,000 miles in a day, they're like, “You can't do that.” It’s like, “I’ve done it 12 times.” It’s like, “What are you talking about?” But to kind of carry on to Aaron and to what Chelsea just said, it's a marathon. You can't do a lot of big things in a single step. You have to make that first step and then the second step and then the third step and then you're walking and you're doing the thing.
I don't really talk about motorcycling with people who don't motorcycle and everybody who I motorcycle would talk about this. We all do it and so, it's not remarkable. Sometimes I think it's important to realize that what we do accomplish in our lives is fairly remarkable and magic to a lot of people. As software engineers, what we do is frankly, astounding some days and it's important to remember that we have traveled far from where we began when we first started doing this sort of stuff and we may return to that when we change careers, or jobs, or languages, or technologies.
Return to that place of not knowing and that can be uncomfortable, but there is so much joy and discovery you can have if you just take that time, and stop and understand and pay attention to your story of where you started, where you're going, and how far along you've actually come. You can't look up the mountain and be intimidated by that. You should turn around and look back down the mountain to see how far you've come.
MANDY: That was lovely. Thank you so much and thank you so much for coming back on the show and telling us yet another few stories. The first time you were on the show, I distinctly remember the title being Story Time with Kerri Miller and you never disappoint. I'm so glad that you took time to join us and talk about your motorcycling adventures with us [chuckles] non-motorcycling people. It is super fascinating and it's definitely an awesome topic outside of – that we can relate a lot of the concepts to the tech field, software engineering, development, and all that.
So dear listener, if you have a cool hobby like Kerri that you want to come on the show and talk about, we’d love to talk to you because this has frankly been amazing and I really enjoyed this episode. So thank you again and we’ll see you all next week.Support Greater Than Code