1. How did you get into motorcycling and why do you ride a Harley-Davidson?
I started riding motorcycles when I was in high school in the 1970s. My first bike was a 1972 Honda XL-250 dual sport, and later in the 70s I rode Suzuki two-stroke street bikes, which were quick and great fun to ride. I didn’t ride in the 1980s much, but in 1994 I became interested in Harley-Davidsons and bought my first one, a new Heritage Softail Special, and I’ve ridden Harleys ever since. After the FLSTN, I owned an ’02 Dyna Wide Glide, and my current bike is an ’06 Road King Classic. I’m really happy with my Road King for touring, although usually when I do trips for HOG magazine I try to get an Electra Glide (the Ultra Limited is my favorite!); the tour pak, saddlebags and other amenities are great for long trips.
2. Do you only write about motorcycle travel?
So far all my published writing and blogging has been about motorcycle-related travel (for HOG, American Iron, RoadBike, American Rider, Rider and Motorcycle Bagger), although I’d like to branch out eventually and write about general travel as well.
3. How did you become a professional motorcycle travel journalist and is this your full time time job?
The first article I wrote was about a motorcycle trip from Orlando, FL to central Mexico in 2003, which I did for American Iron magazine. After that, I did more stories for American Iron, and slowly expanded to other magazines. During the last year, I’ve been doing a lot for HOG magazine, which has allowed me to basically do this (almost) full-time. I still work occasionally as a television photojournalist; my background is in TV news. I started out working for local TV stations in the 1980s during college, and in 1999 I went freelance and made my living shooting news for the networks.
4. You write travel articles for several different magazines. How do you receive assignments or propose ideas for articles? Do the magazines give you the assignments or do you pitch the idea to the magazines? Or do you write the story first and look for someone to publish it?
I always contact the editors first to determine if they’re interested, and what type of stories they might be looking for. Then I’ll do a story proposal. If I’m writing for a magazine that will pay my travel expenses (not many do), I’ll sometimes ask what areas or regions they might like a story on. Otherwise, I’ll propose stories closer to home where my travel expenses will be minimal.
5. What do you do when you’re on the road doing a story and bad weather strikes? Do you write the story as it happened or in some cases does the weather kill or delay the trip?
That’s a really good question. I’ve been incredibly lucky, in that only once since 2003 has the weather been so bad I haven’t been able to do the story (it was in my home state, so I was able to re-do that trip later in the year). If it rains the whole time, I can’t get good pictures – scenery in the rain tends to look really dreary. I’ve often encountered rain during parts of each trip, but as long as I get at least some decent weather, I can take pictures. But if the weather was really bad and it was a crucial part of my trip, I’d probably have to spend an extra day or two and wait for it to improve, although as I said, I’ve been really lucky and that hasn’t happened yet.
6. What are some of the unusual obstacles you face on the road while doing a story?
I think the biggest obstacle is always time! Having enough time to stop and take photographs, and talk to and interview people, while still traveling and covering the ground you want to cover, is always a challenge. I’ve learned to try to ride fewer miles in a day than I normally would, because all the stops I make usually double or triple the amount of time I’m on the road.
The other challenge is staying organized on the road. Ideally, I like to start my days on the road early and get to where I’m staying fairly early, so I can write something, organize my notes, upload photos, etc. and still have time to eat dinner and have a beer!
7. What are your favorite types of stories to write involving motorcycle travel?
I love going to remote areas with beautiful scenery. I recently rode through Death Valley, CA and some really remote areas of Nevada, the kinds of places where the signs say “Next Gas 80 Miles.” That story will be in the summer issue of HOG, which I think comes out later this month.
I also like going to places where you can find unique food (the Louisiana Bayou, for example) or unique culture; those kinds of things really make the ride interesting.
8. Did you blog before your stories were picked up by national magazines and why do you still blog?
No, actually it was the other way around. I didn’t start my blog until about a year and a half ago. At that time, I’d gone to a travel writers’ workshop, and they really emphasized the importance of using social media and creating a “brand.” So, after that I started the blog (www.travelingringo.com), twitter (www.twitter.com/travelingringo) and facebook (www.facebook.com/travelingringo), and it’s been really fun, although it’s been a challenge to find enough time to update the blog as much as I’d like. But I learned it’s important to create a “niche” for yourself, and to become an expert within that niche.
9. How did you come up with the name for your blog?
I traveled a lot in Mexico, I’ve always had a lot of hispanic friends, and my wife is from Venezuela. So wherever I’ve been, it seems like I’ve always been the only “gringo.” I use the term to make fun of myself, not in any kind of derogatory or disrespectful way. When I was thinking of a name, I first thought of “El Gringo Loco (the Crazy Gringo)” but that was taken, and no one was using Travelin’ Gringo, and I think it’s better suited to writing about travel.
10. How did you learn to take such great pictures? What camera equipment and lenses do you use on a regular basis?
I mentioned that I’ve worked professionally as a videographer. My bachelor’s degree is in photography, and I did graduate study in journalism. So although I went on to be a videographer, my background was in still photography, and that’s where I learned the basics, although when I was in school, everything was film – digital photography hadn’t been invented, so for me, the transition to digital has been challenging.
I currently shoot with a Nikon D7000, which I really like. When I’m on a trip, I carry a camera bag with the Nikon and two lenses – an 11-16mm wide angle, and an 18-200mm zoom. I constantly change back and forth between those lenses – I find the wide angle is best for scenery and in tight areas, while the other lens provides more of a normal perspective and is good for close-ups.
11. Any advice for motorcycle bloggers who would like to become professional writers and photographers like yourself?
I think it’s important to shoot decent pictures – not necessarily professional-quality, just well-composed, in focus, and well-lit. You don’t have to use an expensive camera, just don’t make obvious mistakes like shooting into the sun, and take a variety of photos, both with and without the motorcycle. And for the writing part, the best advice I’ve been given is to use your own “voice” in the story – not just a dry recitation of facts and route numbers, but write about your experience, the sights, sounds, and smells of the trip – write the story like you’d tell it to a friend. Include yourself – not necessarily every minute detail of the trip, but use humor, if that’s how you’d tell a story, and try to be creative. And get quotes from people, it helps make the story more interesting. And of course, you should be grammatically correct, and stick to however many words the editor wants for the finished article.