Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 5 of 10


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Part 5 of 10

Mothers with Cubs
Jade City
Big Mama Bisons


Mothers with Cubs


HWY 37N was the long stretch that would eventually terminate at “The Junction” the point where it meets the infamous Alaska Hwy just inside the Yukon Territory. We had almost two long days of heavy riding before we would get to that point. Shortly after heading north we were in for a rather nice treat at a place called Bell II. It had gas . It served hot coffee. There were fresh pastries if you were in the mood and the Lodge was charming. I gathered from the posters on the wall that visitors could go on scenic helicopter rides and scissoring was a real favourite during the winter time. We covered a lot of distance that day and the thing that I noticed most were the high number of black bears with cubs eating and playing in the long grass that lined the edges of the highway. I saw more black bears than any other species of animal in the area. I counted about twenty black bears throughout the entire trip. Each bear had two, three or more cubs but seldom just one. I assumed that the ones without cubs were males. They were a good distance away and they showed no interest in us at all.



Jade City

After riding for most of the morning through hills and valleys and sections of heavy road construction we came across a settlement right out of the nineteenth century. Big iron signs were posted all over the place saying “Jade City”. It was a popular place with tourists and of course we stopped to explore Jade City and to buy various souvenirs and things. Coffee was available. It certainly gave you a flavour of how things were during the old days and I couldn't help but appreciate the comforts and conveniences we enjoy now in the 21st Century. We were not alone. The main street, if you can call it a street, was lined with countless motorcycles that were parked all along each side of it. Frankly, I had never in my life seen anything quite like it. We knew that we would be seeing a gas station about 35 Kms after leaving Jade City in a place called Good Hope. What we had no way of knowing was the handwritten piece of paper that had been taped to the face of the pumps saying “Out of Gas”.


Big Mama Bison


The number of road constructions and crushed stone road surfaces were not helping our gas situation but, nonetheless, we carried on for miles in the direction of the Junction. It was not unusual after travelling rough roads for our load to shift a bit causing our bikes to get a bit off-balance now and then. This was one of those times. I pulled over to the side of the road; shut my engine off; got off the bike and I began to unload and re-secure the bags I was carrying. I was concentrating on getting it right when I felt as if someone was watching me close-by. My mental radar was working perfectly. Not twenty feet away from me stood this huge 1200 lbs Bison watching me intently. He had the ugliest face I'd ever seen in my life and I was sure he hadn't used any deodorant that morning. He reeked. I've seen too many bull-fight movies. I expected him to start scraping the ground with his front foot ready to charge but he didn't move. He just stood there. He looked far too old and ugly to charge me so I figured I should make the first move to get out of there. My Harley was between me and the Bison so I had to walk slowly towards him to get to my bike. Our eyes never shifted from each other. I very slowly mounted my Harley and started her up quietly. I let her idle so he could get used to the noise. I whispered quietly to myself “Now is not the time to run out of gas!” I slipped into first gear and very rode very slowly to get around the beast. His head turned towards me and he surprised me by walking besides me at my speed and in my direction. That's when I took the photo. Sensing no danger I quickened my pace and so did he. He broke out into a trot. I stayed with him for a little while but he decided that this was no fun anymore so he broke away from the road and went his own way.


Word Count 783


Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 4 of 10


Part 4 of 10

Stewart BC and Hyder AK
The Bear Glacier
Mooses and Invisible Mountain Goats


Stewart BC and Hyder AK

From Mezadin Junction on 37N a road leads west to Stewart BC and Hyder AK. The ride takes about one and a half hours . It has rugged mountain scenery with close-up views of the Bear Glacier; various ice-falls and the tumbling bear river that characterizes the route. The road conditions were much better than we had been led to believe . I was monitoring my odometer with an eagle eye and I was maintaining a steady 80 KPH to conserve fuel. As the number of kilometers decreased as I approached Stewart I became less concerned that I would run out of gas. Alas!..There it was just waiting for me on the main street of Stewart was a gas station and it was open. Unlike Vancouver, however, you filled your gas tank and then you went inside to pay for it. The pumps took no credit cards – no pre-authorizations – no pin numbers – and no tiny screens telling you that you messed up. Your credit card or cash was happily accepted inside the station with a smile and a pleasant greeting. There's a lot to be said about the old ways. The King Edward hotel was just down the street and our rooms had been confirmed for the night. A little beyond that was the town of Hyder, AK. I could have easily walked, danced, skipped or jogged right into Hyder but we decided to get our bikes and ride in style. It was truly a Golden moment. My photo shown here under the “Welcome to Alaska” sign is included as evidence to prove that I actually got there – finally. It was July 16, 2014. Neil Armstrong had TV coverage to verify his moon landing. All I have is a photo from my new camera.

Bear Glacier

When leaving Stewart early the next morning we made it a point to stop at the well-know Bear Glacier. There wasn't much traffic so we parked our bikes to take a close-up look at the Glacier. The first thing I noticed was that it became noticeably cooler as I approached it on foot. I've seen bigger glaciers but this one was unique in the way it snaked up between the mountains. It was also mid-July after a scorching summer in Southern BC with near record hot temperatures so I would doubt that it would look anything like this mid-winter. However, it was ideal for taking photographs due to the morning sun rising in the east and literally “illuminating” the glacier and giving it a “glowing” effect. What a treat!

Mooses, Foxes, and Invisible Mountain Goats

The Bear glacier was not the only thing of special interest on this stretch of Highway. I observed more different varieties of species collectively than I saw throughout the entire Alaska/Yukon trip. It was the first time in my life that I cruised at idling speed behind a fully grown female moose trotting along in a non-nonchalant fashion in the middle of the road. I could have stayed behind her all morning but she saw fit to trot-off into the bush a little while later. I was hoping that I hadn't spooked her. Deer became almost a problem as they sprung out of the foliage and pranced towards the far side of the road with no sense at all about highway safety rules. I saw a family of foxes playing at the side of the road. Black bears were in abundance but they generally kept a discreet distance to one side of the road or the other. The most fascinating of all were the mountain goats that blended perfectly into the side of the mountain. I was so impressed that I pulled over to take a photo of them as shown. This was not an easy thing to do since they had a tenancy to disappear through the viewfinder of my camera. Nevertheless, I persevered. You can see the young moose very clearly but how many Mountain Goats are you able to count? Their camouflage is very affective – isn't it?

Word Count 701


Sunday, October 12, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 3 of 10



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Alaska Done

Part 3 of 10

Boarding for the The Inside Passage
Is this the Planet Earth?
Highway of Tears



Boarding for the Inside Passage


To me, this was no Ferry. It was a luxury cruise liner. The thrill of fifty bikes all starting their engines ready to board surpassed that of hearing the starter pistol at the Oulton Park race track in Cheshire England. Once aboard, we were instructed by crew members to shut-off-our engines; engage first gear; and secure them from falling using heavy straps attached to metal rings in the floor of the deck. We departed on time for our fifteen hour journey to Prince Rupert. The scenery that we encountered was enough to take your breath away. There were countless miles of virgin shorelines; we saw tree-filled mountains reaching for the sky; we saw humpback whales dancing in the ocean on more than one occasion; and every now and then we could see the countless settlements of our first nation peoples. It almost made me envious. What absolute tranquillity and solitude. A life of hunting and fishing and no five o' clock traffic jams every day. On the other extreme, we were resting in luxurious armchairs. We drank and ate like royalty and some of us missed quite a bit of the scenery by dozing-off in the afternoon, including me. How shameful!



Is this the Planet Earth?


The further north we got, the more things began to change. As the sun slowly began to go down in the western sky, we were treated to a panorama of brilliant heavenly colours from yellow to orange to crimson red. The effect of this was intriguing. Mountains that had begun to sprout out of the sea itself were cast in shadows of different shades of grey under an orange sky and the circle of heavy mist surrounding them gave the illusion of halos. I haven't seen this effect anywhere else - certainly nowhere down south. I would have to give it the description of looking somewhat “Ominous”.


Highway of Tears
 

After a restful night at the Moby Dick Inn in Prince Rupert I was in the mood the next morning to cover some serious distance on the first major leg of our journey. I filled the Harley with as much premium gasoline as I could possibly get in there without going into overflow including the two extra fuel containers I carried in the back. We began on highway 16 towards the junction of highway 37 which eventually meets the Alaska highway days later. The riding was good with good road conditions but it was easy to see the nature of the landscape begin to change as we headed north east. I jumped out of my skin when I was suddenly overtaken by several motorcycles going at high speed. Most were being driven by younger guys with a female passenger on the pillion hanging on for dear life. During a rest stop later in the day I noticed several of these same motorcycles parked in a rest area. As I suspected, these bikes were generally older and not in the best of shape. Moreover, their back tires showed very little thread. They were just about bald and very unsafe to drive. It occurred to me that this highway had seen more cases of young women's deaths over recent years that I care to count. It was known especially for the disappearance or murder of countless young aboriginal girl hitch-hikers and had earned the name – Highway of Tears. ...How sad indeed.


Word Count 590

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 2 of 10


Alaska Done

Part 2 of 10

The Grey Man
Flying Warrior
The Ghost Ship

The Grey Man

I was up at 3:30am and ready to leave home at 4:30am for a half-hour ride to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal to catch the 6:20am Ferry to Nanaimo. I have a tendency to do silly things like that. It arises from my deep-seated fear of being late or in this case – of missing an important Ferry. Of course, it was so early that the entire terminal was still closed for the night. Not even the toll booths were showing any signs of life so I parked my Harley in the lane marked – Nanaimo. Moments later, an older man riding an older grey Heritage Special Harley parked beside me . He staggered over to talk to me because that's what us Harley Riders do. The man's skin tone was grey; his ratty-looking beard was grey; his leather jacket that had seen better days was grey and even his Harley was grey. He stunk of booze. I couldn't help but notice his nine inch curved hunting knife sheathed in a grey holster on his belt. Neither of us were in the mood for talking. We were like two wary strangers meeting for the first time in an old cowboy movie. He said “Hey”. I said, “Hey” and a lengthy silence followed. I felt a little awkward so I formulated a perfectly innocent and non-offensive question about his Harley. Just before I had the chance to ask it, however, he began snoring like a tractor. Sometime later when other vehicles began to arrive I thought it prudent to give him a gentle wake-up tap on the shoulder. I didn't want to start my holiday by seeing one of my biker- brothers dragged off by the RCMP.

Flying Warrior

The crossing to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island took about an hour and a half. It was nothing less than spectacular. Equally beautiful was the Island's coastline bearing North along Highway 19 and passing through the sea-side towns of Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Fanny Bay. When glancing to your right, you see the breathtaking views of the Georgia Straits and the western coastline of the BC mainland still relatively untouched by man for the most part. The Pacific generally appears calm compared to the choppy white-caps of the Atlantic surrounding the shores of Great Britain. While surrounded by the awesome beauty of nature its important not to become distracted when riding on the highway. I was happily enjoying the sights when I noticed a large eagle soaring high in the sky before me. It just didn't look right and it gave me the creeps. Suddenly, he assumed a dive-bomber approach aiming directly for me. This was no ordinary eagle. The closer he got the bigger he became. He was the big granddaddy of all Eagles. He came directly for me with his wingspan reaching practically from one side of the highway to the other and with talons outstretched as if to pluck me from my bike. However, a cool head and simple physics prevailed. Even if he did have the strength to lift my body-weight of 165 lbs there was no way he could possibly lift both me and my 600 lbs Harley. Consequently, I held on to my bike very tightly while he skimmed the top of my windshield and veered upwards and away. I'm glad I didn't end up in that eagle's nest having my eyes picked-out for his supper. The City of Campbell River was our last major stop before heading on to Port Hardy and the Northern Ferry Terminal. Campbell River was most impressive due to its shoreline displaying a hundred or more Totem Poles newly crafted by the very talented Indians of that area.


Ghost Ship

Leaving the Airport Inn Motel at 5:00am for the Port Hardy Ferry Terminal was somewhat challenging. It was pitch black, foggy with heavy dew and with light rain. Visibility was limited. GPS (SAT/Nav) was helpful in finding it. Finally....What a treat! It was a scene right out of the twilight zone. Dozens of tall, powerful lamp-posts illuminated the entire harbour. The artificial light amplified the effects of the fog even more resulting in everything having an eerie, ghostly appearance. But, best of all, I found myself looking down the jaws of our ship - The Northern Expedition. Its bough was wide-open and cranked-up vertical fully exposing the vehicle decks (see photo). It was a “Ghost Ship” right out of a Hollywood movie. It was a lengthy wait before departure and during that time over fifty motorcycles arrived. It was a show better than the Vancouver motorcycle show. I was talking to a husband and wife from the States each riding similar BMW motorcycles. I was asking her what did she do for a living. I was surprised when she replied. “I'm a pilot. I fly the Airbus 330 from America to Europe and back”. So you see – you never know what type of classy people you meet on these biking adventures.


Word Count 855

2014 Alaska Done - Part 1 of 10




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Alaska Done

Part 1 of 10

Foreword
Pre-Trip Hiccups
The Box Man

Foreword

I'd tried this trip once before in 2010 leaving from Ottawa and it took seven straight days of heavy rain; a collapsed Trans-Canada Highway; uprooted railway lines; a sea of mud and the Declaration of a State of Emergency from the Premier of Saskatchewan together with my poor, limp, water-soaked and battered body to give it up as a bad idea. This time, however, I was determined to make it to the Yukon Territory and the State of Alaska come hell or high water - or die trying. Well, I'm still here and I'm proud to tell you that I made it successfully notwithstanding being somewhat weather-beaten and just a little bum-sore. The awesome scenery; the animal life; the mountains and the sparse, barren beauty of the far north made it well worth the effort. I would like to acknowledge and thank my two English cousins Shirley Sidlow of Atherton and Lesley Gee of Lowton for volunteering to track and monitor my progress from across the pond and for generous doses of encouragement and support.


Pre-Trip Hiccups

A loud low-frequency whine suddenly erupted from my Harley Davidson motorcycle after making a routine stop at an intersection in Squamish, BC. I hit the kill-switch instantly; put her on her side-stand and looked for oil-leaks underneath. There was nothing. Everything was clean and dry. I even checked my dip-stick and my oil indicator warning light. Everything looked fine. I wasn't very good mechanically with bikes and I had no idea what might be wrong but what I did know was that I was supposed to take this bike to Alaska and the Yukon in less than six weeks time. I was divided in my thinking. How could she let me down like this just before my long trip – and – thank God she broke down now and not in some remote location in No-Man's-Land at night-time. The Harley dealer told me that my Cam Chain Adjusters had failed which in street language means that she'd suffered the human equivalent of a major heart attack. The next few days were difficult. Do I fix her? Do I cancel my trip? Do I take my Yamaha Virago instead? What on earth do I do now? I decided to get her fixed-up again. Within a week, and after a very expensive repair bill she was ready to ride again. However, would she be able to take the punishment of a Yukon / Alaska trip of over 5000Kms? ....I guess I was going to find out.


The Box Man

I couldn't get a straight answer from anyone about whether or not there were going to be enough gas stations to see us through the whole trip without running out of fuel. More importantly, it was simply not possible to get advance information about whether or not a gas station was going to be out of fuel which was often the case in the far north. Since I was not prepared to get out of gas and stranded in grizzly bear land I took the precaution of buying two safety approved one-gallon gas containers to carry with me. The next challenge was how to carry them on the Harley. I built a wooden box exactly the right size to hold a large zippered cooler bag and the two gas containers. Perry Dyck, an artist and friend of mine designed and painted the box with an attractive design saying – Long Way Up! Everyone was so impressed that he earned the honorary title – The Box Man.


Word Count 604



Friday, January 25, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 10 of 10


2012 Rolling Over the 100K – Part 10 of 10



 Table of Contents




 Part 1: What I Want to Do / T – Minus 48 Hours / Perfect Getaway

 Part 2: The Port Mann Bridge / Hope BC / Christina Lake Park

 Part 3: Southern BC / Nancy Greene / Close to Heaven

 Part 4: The Gravel Patch / Multiple Matchsticks / Still in BC?

 Part 5: Alberta's Welcome / Sixes and Sevens / French Envy

 Part 6: Montana's Magic / The Sportsman Motel MT / Chinese Arithmetic

 Part 7: Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots / Dinosaur Park / Rolling Over the 100K

 Part 8: Ashland Motel WI / Man with No Name / Down Under Lake Superior

 Part 9: You're OK to Go! / Iron Bridge ON / Papa's Welcome Home

 Part 10: Table of Contents

Friday, January 18, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 9 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 9 of 10


You're OK to Go!
Iron Bridge, ON
Papa's Welcome Home


You're OK to Go!

It was a nice feeling to see the border crossing into Canada in the far distance. I couldn't help but think of the hard time given to me by the US border guard at Montana about carrying my passport in my front pocket and remembering my BC plate number. I figured I'd be all ready for the Canadian border guard. I pulled over at a rest stop and committed my licence number to memory. “BC Plate SO 6766” . There! ...I just stated it correctly off the top of my head without having to look at it again. I had a problem with my passport though. Firstly, it had gotten wet and then dry again so many times that I was embarrassed to show it to anyone. It looked like it had been dredged-up from the bottom of a Florida swamp. My rain-suit had no front pockets. I couldn't hold it between my fingers as I drove the bike because I needed my left hand to operate the clutch and my right to apply the front brake if necessary. I tried sticking it between my chin-strap and my face but it didn't feel secure enough. I'm sure the wind would have blown it free. I tried sitting on it but if it would have blown free I wouldn't have known about it. Then I'd have a real big problem. I wasn't sure what to do. As I approached the border guard's station he smiled from ear to ear and said “Is that your passport in your teeth?” I nodded my head. He told be not to turn my engine off. He reach over – took my passport from my teeth – flipped through the pages – stuck it back in my teeth and said, “You're OK to Go! Have a nice trip!”



Iron Bridge, ON

It was so nice to get back into Canada and visit the very fabric of Canadian good-living - Tim Horton's. Good food; great coffee; clean washrooms; those hot, thick “Cream of whatever....” soups; those happy smiling faces and unlimited parking. I never passed on the Cream of Broccoli soup because that is my all time favourite. What more could you ask for? I gave some thought to trying to make it to Ottawa non-stop but I was looking at another 800 kilometres in addition to the couple of hundred I'd already done since Ashland,WI. That was going to be too far even in the best of weather. Moreover, I had no doubt that I was still travelling in a weakened condition from the non-stop pounding and soaking I'd suffered from the downpours in Alberta and the mid-western States. I decided to treat myself to an overnight stay at the Red Top motel in Iron Bridge, ON. This beautiful little town is ideally situated. It's located near the half-way point between Sault St. Marie and Sudbury and it's well known for camping and hiking. The junction between the Trans-Canada and HWY 546 North to Mississagi Provincial Park is at Iron Bridge. Lots of rattlers there I'll bet. Later in the evening I ordered six egg rolls with plum sauce at the Motel's restaurant with one bottle of Coors Lite. After that, I had a very good night's sleep.



Papa's Welcome Home

Early the next morning was cool but dry so I took the time to discard anything I wouldn't be needing seeing that I would most likely be cruising the streets of Ottawa that same afternoon. I lightened my load substantially using my de-cluttering rules I invented when I was moving from Ottawa to Burnaby BC. They go like this and they work!

If you need it – keep it
If you don't need it – get rid of it
If you can't decide – get rid of it

I had about 700 kms to go to get to Ottawa and my family. In no time at all I was cruising through the towns of Blind River, Massey, Espanola and Sudbury. I am so familiar with this route I can tell you where every Tim Horton's restaurant; gas station and Canada Post mailbox is located. I could drive the rest of the way with my eyes shut, speaking metaphorically, of course. I was glad to see that it wasn't thunder-storming for a change and that it was starting to warm up. HWY 17 by-passes Sudbury and takes you directly to the City of North Bay on the eastern shore of Lake Nipissing. It's the 200Kms stretch of highway from North Bay to the City of Pembroke I like the best. It shadows the Ottawa river separating Ontario from the beautiful Province of Quebec. You go through Mattawa; Deep River; Chalk River (home of our Atomic Energy Facility); the military town of CFB Petawawa; and the City of Pembroke which makes fabulous pizzas. The scenery never changes - its breathtaking.

I named this concluding part “Papa's Welcome Home”. You'll see why. My ten year old granddaughter saw me as I rode into her driveway. She was playing with friends in her front garden. I shut-off the ignition and parked the bike. I was struggling like mad to remove my knapsack so I could hug this charming bundle of joy. She was bounding towards me with outstretched arms yelling “Papa!...Papa!....Papa!”. With half a moment to spare I threw my knapsack to the ground as she leaped and locked her arms around my neck almost knocking me to the ground. She was jubilant. I was jubilant. WOW!!...what a wonderful welcome home! The wet; the cold; the exhaustion and the minor aches and pains that accompanied them suddenly faded into a distant memory. What a glorious welcome! ..... She made it all worth it!

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 8 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 8 of 10


Ashland Motel, WI
Man with No Name
Down Under Lake Superior


Ashland Motel, WI

It was getting late and I was cruising happily along Route 28 East. I could see Lake Superior on my left which felt strange because I usually view this lake from the other side. I can understand why its regarded as the largest lake in the world in terms of surface area. To me – its a sea. To my right I was treated to a very warm and welcoming sight. It was Wyoming's Ashland motel with a parking lot full of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Even more endearing was the sight of Harley guys and gals sitting in lawn chairs outside their rooms leaving their front doors wide-open and drinking beer. Oh!... “My brother's and sisters are here”, I said to myself as I pulled into the parking lot and booked a room for the night. There were bikers to my left and bikers to my right so I did what Harley guys do and I went over to say “Nice bikes”. The group to my left didn't believe that I'd ridden all the way from Vancouver so the biggest guy, the one with the most gold chains and the biggest tattoos, walked over to check my licence plate. “Holy S---!” he yelled to the rest of them. “The Vancouver guy's not kidding. He's got BC plates!” That's when they offered me a beer and a hot dog. The guys to my right were an older and younger brother also from Wyoming. The older brother had gone to bed. The younger brother was looking forward to his driver's test so I told him the story I wrote of the infamous Mr. Green on February 19, 2010. (Scroll way-down and click “Older Posts”. Go to second last story under John's Motorcycle Stories).


Man with No Name

It was still early the next day and I'd just finished breakfast at a McDonald's restaurant. There was no rain and the sky was turning blue indicating that it was going to be a nice
day. I knew from earlier trips that the further east I got on Route 28, the less the frequency of gas stations, so I pulled into a small gas station to fill-up my tank. The
highway was clear and I was surprised to see very little traffic. Frankly, I was trying hard to decided if it was a Monday or a Sunday without looking at my pocket notebook. The exit from the gas station met the entrance to the roadway at an exceptionally acute angle meaning that I had to rubber-neck my head around my left shoulder to see if any vehicles were approaching from my left-rear side. All was clear. What I didn't see was a red fast-moving Dodge Ram SUV coming from the opposite direction; screeching his tires while turning into the gas station exit where I was leaving; and aiming his SUV directly at me! All I could see were those chrome-plated high-rise front-mounted crash-bars and a Michigan plate gunning for me. Yes!....Gunning for me! I don't know what the guy's problem was. Maybe he was on drugs; maybe he was drunk; maybe he just didn't like motorcycles; or maybe he stomped on the gas-pedal instead of the brake. Thank God my reflex reaction was instant. I snapped the throttle on the Harley and I managed to get out of harm's way in the nick of time. He missed my back bumper by about three feet. I dismissed thoughts of reporting him to a police cruiser coming my way. That would have meant going back to get his licence plate number. By the time I'd put some real distance between us I preferred to think of him as simply a man with no name.



Down Under Lake Superior

US Route 28 from Ashland WI to the Canadian border at Sault St. Marie MI is over 700 Kms, roughly the same distance as Winnipeg Thunder Bay. Down under Lake Superior its ruggedly beautiful and the lake-shore is visible for most of the way but there isn't much there in terms of services – especially gas stations. I wasn't too worried because I remember several small gas stations from years ago spaced at reasonable intervals throughout the route. I then discovered that these service stations had since closed but I made it to Newberry MI without having to switch to reserve. After a refreshing McDonald's dinner I filled-up with gas and I asked the attendant a carefully worded question. I was going to ask him whether or not there were any more gas stations before the Canadian border at Sault St. Marie but I didn't want to be blown-off by a dismissive yes or no. I changed my question to say “How many gas stations are there between here and Sault St. Marie?” My plan didn't work. He blew me off by saying bluntly, “None Sir! This is the last gas station!” I didn't believe him for a moment. I took the photos of the stunning wooden elephants for my daughter just before I left Newberry. Ever since she was a little girl she has always like elephants and she always will. I rode hard and fast the rest of the way. I turned North at Interstate 75 towards the Canadian border. There had been four large gas stations since Newberry - all open.


Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 7 of 10


2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 7 of 10


Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots!
Dinosaur Park, ND
Rolling Over the 100K



Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots!
 
You get a nice feeling when you're wet and cold and hungry and you unexpectedly see a McDonald's restaurant still serving breakfast. An egg McMuffin and a hot coffee was just what I needed to boost my dwindling energy levels. I wasn't sure where I was but as I walked through the front door I looked at the address. I was in Glasgow, MT. My God! This is a big State. No wonder they call it the “Big Sky State”. Since this was a rural town the clientèle were mostly local folks and predominantly farmers. They were a talkative and cheerie lot and everyone seemed to be in good humour except, perhaps, me. I was a little down because I hadn't been totally dry since I left British Columbia and I was getting fed-up with being damp all the time. An old chap accompanied by his wife sitting at the next table struck-up a friendly conversation with me and they cheered me up. He was very interested in BC and in my destination, Ottawa. His wife was saying that she'd like to visit both places sometime as soon as her husband gave up some of his many jobs. I told them stories similar to what you are reading in my blog. They told me local jokes and I was sorry to see them finally get up and leave. The old guy had the courtesy and good manners to help his wife put on her raincoat which totally impressed me. Chivalry isn't dead after all. As they were walking towards the front door, he came back to tell me how he and his wife had enjoyed my company. He was very sincere when he said that the next time I come through their town they would be honoured to invite me to their house for a meal. I was a little overwhelmed and I shook his hand. He reached in his pocket and gave me his card saying, “That's where you can find us.” I put the card in my pocket without looking at it. The next day I was looking in my wallet and I read his card with surprise. It read, "Mayor, City of Glasgow, MT”.



Dinosaur Park, ND

There were certain landmarks I recognized from earlier trips after I had finally crossed into the beautiful State of N. Dakota. Apart from seeing the welcome sign, it wasn't long before I was passing by the array of windmills with their giant blades rotating gracefully in the gentle breeze. Although not its real name, I found myself driving through Dinosaur Park where entire fields were covered with man-made brontosauruses, tyrannosauruses, tetra-dactyls and other pre-historic beasts that I wouldn't even try to guess the names of. What this did for me was comforting. I'd seen these animals before and it provided me with reassurance that I was making progress and that, indeed, I was now well over half-way towards Ontario's western border. Until now, it had simply been mile after endless mile without markers. I decided to stay at the Northern Lights Inn in Rugby, ND, that night. I wanted to get an early night's sleep in the hope of reaching Duluth, MN, sometime during the following day. I was disappointed with that hotel because someone was using a cordless drill in the next room during the middle of the night. I was angry enough to get the night clerk to knock on the door and ask them to stop. I went with him. It turned out that the room was not booked that night. It was dark and empty. The noise I'd heard was being generated by a maladjusted air-conditioning system that was running ten times more powerfully than it should have been. This resulted in audible high-pitched “whistling” between the snug-fitting doors. Mind you, I am grossly over-sensitive to unwanted noises and I am irritated by them. I just can't help it. Nevertheless, I felt like such a fool.



Rolling Over the 100K
Even though I woke-up to rain once again I resolved that I would reach Duluth, MN, that day. It was much easier that I thought it was going to be because many of the quaint small towns I remembered from the last time I was out this way were now by- passed through extensive reconstruction of Route 2. This was both good and not-so-good. On the one hand I made better time than I had anticipated due to a lesser number of stops. On the downside I missed visiting those small towns because they provided you with a better understanding of life in small-town America. The rain cleared by mid-day and I had covered a great distance in just a few hours. Route 2 had been converted to near Interstate calibre now. I was cruising at 70mph and keeping pace easily with truckers; camper-wagons; domestic automobiles and other motorcycles. The greatest surprise, however, were the powerful pick-up trucks that prevailed west of the State of Minnesota to the Pacific coast. Ninety-nine percent of them carried no load whatsoever. I don't know why they are so popular. I'm convinced it must be a “macho” thing. By now, I was getting excited – 099,992 Kms was displayed now on my odometer. It appeared to be rolling faster than it had before. 099,993 Kms ...099,998 Kms.....099,999 Kms …..and, finally, I rolled over 100,000 Kms as I saw the beautiful City of Duluth, MN, in the far distance. I couldn't pull over and enjoy the moment. There were no shoulders to pull over to; I was surrounded by corrugated steel guard-rails. State Troopers would be on your back instantly if you did anything to stop or even slow down traffic unless it was a life and death emergency. I love Duluth. Its absolutely gorgeous. At the very first opportunity after crossing all the bridges and elevated ramps I stopped at the first Burger-King and I congratulated myself with a whopper-burger and a giant root-beer. Before continuing east on Route 28, I took an hour in the early evening to walk along the shore of Lake Superior and admire it's awesome beauty. I was impressed with a plague mounted by the shore in tribute to the Mariner's that had fallen (photo as shown).







Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 6 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 6 of 10


Montana's Magic
The Sportsman Motel
Chinese Arithmetic

Montana's Magic

Riding through the State of Montana is not much different than riding across the Alberta badlands from Lethbridge to Regina, Saskatchewan – there ain't much there when it comes to the lay of the land. In Montana, however, the string of small towns along route 2, including Chester, Havre, Malta, Glasgow, Wolf Point and Culbertson all carry their own distinctive charm, character and sense of humour. This is exactly what gives Montana its special kind of magic. While staying overnight at the Townhouse Inn in Havre I treated myself to a little luxury. It was pouring rain so hard there was no way I would consider trying to pitch my little MEC tent between the deepening puddles outside. Since I was dripping wet anyway, I decided to continue being all wet by watching the downpour of rain outside, from the relative warmth of the hotel pool - inside. This was followed by a hot meal and a warm dry bed where I got some well deserved sleep. The next morning, however, I awoke to heavy pounding rain on the hotel roof. It was coming down with a vengeance so I immediately asked the front desk to extend my stay one more night. The clerk replied, “I'm sorry Sir. We are fully pre-booked for tonight”. I got dressed in my rain-suit; gritted my teeth; took a deep breath and headed east along Route 2 splashing through the many puddles along the way.


The Sportsman Motel

Not since my “Alaska Sunk” trip in 2010 had I experienced such torrential rain non-stop. Even with my windshield and visor down I was not able to see the road clearly. “Pull over and stop!” you might say, but there was no place to pull over to; no bridges to take shelter; and no gas stations to seek refuge. I was the dumb one here. It didn't take much to realize that I was the only vehicle on the highway. No-one else was in sight. I was wet; I was cold and I became exhausted to the point where I was simply not able to continue riding any more. As soon as I got to Malta I checked into the Sportsman motel even though it was only twelve noon. The room was not the best. The toilet and sink were in the living room with no door but it was reasonably clean and dry. It had a huge TV hanging on the wall. For the cheapie price of $50USD it was good enough for me. I was in no mood to haggle. I dried-off the best I could and I slept for the afternoon right up until suppertime without waking up.


Chinese Arithmetic

I woke up hungry. About 100 yards down the street was a Chinese restaurant. Half a dozen egg rolls and two cans of Coors light beer sounded good so I decided to pay them a visit. “I'd like six egg rolls and two cans of Coors Light to go please,” I said to the Chinese cashier who spoke English almost perfectly. “I'm sorry Sir, but I can't give you six egg rolls. We only serve them in groups of two”. What!!!...I couldn't believe my ears. I had to confirm the idiocy of what I'd just heard. “Well,...how many egg rolls would I end up with if I ordered three groups of two – to go?” Her head looked down as she punched buttons on her calculator. She turned to me stone-faced without the slightest hint of a smile and said, “That would give you a total of six, Sir.” “Thank you Miss”, I said. “I'll take three groups of two egg rolls to go”. When she handed me my brown paper bag I thought it wise to check my order. I asked her for some plum sauce with my egg rolls but she said that she only had sweet and sour sauce; honey and mustard sauce; honey and ketchup but no plum sauce. I took the honey and mustard sauce. I reminded her that even though my beers are paid for, I still don't have them. She looked at me expressionless and said that the two beers are waiting for me at my table. When I told her that I had ordered them “To Go” she said that alcoholic drinks could not be taken outside the restaurant. I had to drink them inside the restaurant, at my table. Since I wasn't getting anywhere - I gave up the conversation. I brought my brown paper “To Go” bag to my table; I sat at the table; ate my meal; and drank my beers inside the restaurant. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say that each town has its own special kind of charm, character and humour. The food was great and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.


Friday, December 14, 2012

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 5 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 5 of 10

Alberta's Welcome
Sixes and Sevens
French Envy



Alberta's Welcome

I don't know what it is about Alberta but every time I go through that Province I end up feeling like I've been kicked-around a bit. I was leaving BC heading towards the Alberta border when I felt something ominous was about to happen. For those of you who remember the B&W cowboy movies from the old days where stagecoach wheels reversed rotation when they were slowing down and fast-moving cumuli-nimbus clouds moved at breakneck speed across an ugly sky – the latter was all happening now right above my head. They had found me! They unleashed their thousand-gallon loads of heavy rain right on top of me. It was no co-incidence that this occurred just as I was passing the “Welcome to Alberta” sign to my right. There had to be some sinister connection. I stopped to put my rain suit on my already drenched body. There was no shelter. No respite. I had to grin and bear it as I began the long and lonely trek south to the US Border at Montana. It was going to be a long, wet, cold ride with very few, if any, gas stations.



Sixes and Sevens

I was the sole vehicle at the border and the US Border Guard looked like I'd spoiled his morning coffee. There was no friendly greeting - no smile - no wave - no nothing. He held out his hand and said “Passport”. I shut off my engine and started to dismount. He barked “Why are you getting off your bike?” “To get my passport” I said, “Its in my knapsack on my back”. “ It shouldn't be in your knapsack. You should carry it in the front pocket of your rain-suit ready to give to me!” When I handed it to him he asked “What's your licence plate number?” I told him I didn't know. He said “Do you own the motorcycle?” I told him “Yes” to which he said that if I really owned the motorcycle I should be able to tell him my plate number. I was getting a little annoyed at his interrogation so I responded by saying a little too sharply. “Well – its a BC plate with lots of sixes and sevens.” I noticed that he was now concentrating on his monitor so I quietly took a couple of steps backwards and read out loud - BC 6766! He handed me my passport and waved me on my way.



French Envy

If you can close your eyes and imagine travelling through barren land where there is nothing, absolutely nothing, and then even more nothing, you would most likely be travelling the vast barren “deserts” of Southern Alberta and Montana. The lay of the land doesn't change with the political boundaries and neither does the weather. I was getting wetter and wetter and colder and colder when I saw a nice restaurant on US Route 2 just as I was approaching Chester. I pulled in. I was in dire need of a steaming hot coffee and a grilled-cheese sandwich so that's exactly what I ordered. Across from me were two young men who appeared to be in their twenties. They were speaking French. It wasn't hard to understand that they were fascinated with my Harley. I had parked it next to their touring bicycles. The older one asked me, with some difficulty, if it was my motorcycle to which I responded affirmatively in French. They were delighted. I asked them, in French, if they would care to join me and in a moment they were sitting across from me at my table. I was surprised at how well I was getting along in French and whenever I had difficulties they would switch to their broken English. They were here touring on their bicycles from the south of France. They were totally taken with my Harley and explained that Harley Davidsons were far too expensive to buy in France. Not many could afford such luxuries. We spent most of the afternoon talking about life in Canada and America and France until they had to go. As they were leaving, the taller boy came back to my table and said in his very best English “John, I really envy you riding a Harley.”



Friday, December 7, 2012

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 4 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 4 of 10


The Gravel Patch
A Multitude of Matchsticks
Still in BC?



The Gravel Patch

I continued along the Crowsnest highway through the charming towns of Castlegar, Salmo, Creston, Cranbruck and Fernie until I came within a stones throw of the village of Sparwood. I had foregone more than half-a-dozen opportunities to cross into the United States. My original plan was to head straight towards Lethbridge, Alberta, and then turn due south into Montana. I wanted to stick with it. It had been a terrific day and I was tired and thirsty. As I was trying to decide where I was going to stay for the night I passed the Mountain Shadows Campground on my right and a rather large beer store on my left. It had a red flashing neon sign that said “OPEN”. It was winking at me. How Perfect! Only one small camping spot was still available and it was situated right next to the highway. It was mostly gravel – not grass – and barely large enough to fit my pup-tent and my Harley. I decided to take it anyway because I was quite tired and very thirsty. I parked my Harley and I set-up my tent on the small uneven surface of the gravel patch and I walked across the highway and bought two tall boys of ice-cold Coors light beer. I felt like someone was cutting my throat with a sharp knife as I took my first gulp. Boy were they GOOD! The next morning I knew that something was wrong the moment I opened my eyes. My whole body hurt and I spent the first few minutes trying to decided which part of my body would hurt the least when I tried moved it. I was moving very slowly that morning. My head was clear but everything below my neck would not move without a great deal of effort and pain. The first thing I did when I reached Sparwood was drink several hot coffees and eat a nice breakfast since I'd skipped supper the night before. I was ready to ride a again.


A Multitude of Matchsticks

Continuing East from Sparwood I noticed a substantial increase in commercial truck traffic, especially the huge logging trucks carrying tons and tons of lumber. Never in the world have I seen trucks so huge and carrying such massive loads. Sometimes, I saw them travelling in convoys. They were good drivers. They kept to the speed limit; they were courteous to other vehicles including me and they always left ample space between trucks to allow you to get past safely. I let my imagination run rampant as I tried to count the uses of that lumber. Of course, the vast majority of it would be used in the construction industry, I presumed. After a while, I began to remember when I used to smoke cigarettes and I couldn't help but think of the multitude of wooden matchsticks I went through over the years. Then, as a real mind-bender, I tried to calculate how many matchsticks could be made out of the load on the truck in front of me. Surely several billions. I never did, however, come up with an actual figure but I had no doubt it would have been a huge multitude of matchsticks.


Still in BC?

Its not hard to lose track of the days when you're on the road with a bike and a tent and you're having a real good time. That's how I felt today. I wanted to stay in south-eastern BC because it was so beautiful and the towns and villages were so very quaint and interesting but I figured it was about time I left BC. I began to count. OK, I left Vancouver last Tuesday morning and camped overnight at the Christina Lake Campground. That was Day one. The next day was following the Crowsnest highway all the way to Sparwood where I camped overnight. That was Day two. Hey! .....I'm already in Day three and where's Alberta? It takes four days to get out of Ontario from Ottawa but it normally takes only two days to get out of BC travelling east. I pulled-over to take a look at my road map. It had seen better days. It was torn and tattered and I don't remember ever seeing it completely dry. Good value for $3.95 though. Oh! I saw two major factors which explained why I was still in BC. Firstly, Southern BC pushes the Alberta border considerably further east than does the northern part of the Province. Secondly, the highways in Southern BC were not built as east-west direct routes. Hwy 3, for example, loops up and down like an angry serpent taking a hissy-fit. Consequently, you eat-up hundreds of kilometres travelling north and south as opposed to going west in a straight line. That explained things. Ah Well! Alberta here I come! Its not my most favourite Province.

Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 3 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 3 of 10


Southern BC
Nancy Greene
Close to Heaven



Southern BC

From Christina Lake to Castlegar in the very heart of Southern BC the highways were a motorcyclists dream. It was my highway. I was all alone. There were no trucks or camper-wagons to slow me down. It was warm and dry with newly paved surfaces. The curves were challenging, exhilarating and just a little bit scary. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world. My Harley was performing so responsively that I began to hammer her really hard. In my fifty years of riding I have found that riding your bike hard, as long as the road quality is good, and there's no other traffic around or nearby intersections, makes them run even better. On this occasion, however, there was an unfortunate incident that turned out to be minor in nature but it could have been more serious. I heard a mysterious tinkle coming from my back-end so I instantly disengaged the clutch and slowed right down. I rubber-necked to see what was wrong but I couldn't find anything. The tinkling had stopped. The bike was fine so I continued on. The next time I took a rest-stop I got off the bike and I carefully inspected the back of the bike around the rear-wheel. One saddlebag strap was missing. I checked the remaining strap on the other side and it was fine. I continued heading east.


Nancy Greene

Surprise! Surprise!....I was roaring along Highway 3 when all of a sudden I came across a name I recognized instantly. I never expected to see a BC Provincial Park named after that very famous Olympic athlete, Nancy Greene. For those of you who may not be familiar with the name, Nancy Greene had an absolutely spectacular career in Alpine Skiing. Her achievements were out of this world. She's an Olympic Gold and Silver Medallist. She was named as the Olympic Ambassador for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and if that's not enough, Nancy Greene was honoured as Canada's “Female Athlete of the 20th Century”. She is now sitting as a Senator in Mr. Harper's Government. I stopped at the entrance to the Park and I took a look around. It was very early in the morning and the wrong time of day to think about staying over but the next time I'm out this way I'll make a point of camping here for a couple of days. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I found out more recently that she was actually born in Ottawa before she moved to BC as a child. I salute Nancy Greene for her impressive career in Canadian Skiing and for her outstanding achievements.



Close to Heaven

The rest of the day was motorcycle-touring at its very best. It was warm and sunny. The highway was dry and full of white-knuckle hairpin bends. It was as if the Harley and I had blended into a single unit. Her handling and manoeuvrability was excellent and rivalled the 750cc Triumph Bonneville I used to own. I called her “The Great Performer” My Bonnie was the all-time champion of great handling, but today, the Harley was a very close second. Once again, I had the empty highway all to myself. To the right of the highway there was a single train track where now and then a diesel freight-train could be seen at intervals through the patches of heavy under-brush. Each time I saw a gap in the trees I calculated that the train and I were going the same speed so I stood high on my mid-pedals and waved frantically at the engineer. As soon as he saw me he gave me a wave back and a blast of his whistle. I couldn't have been happier. Motorcycles, Trains and Ocean-going Ships, not little boats, have always fascinated me . I have to admit that I've always lamented the demise of the old steam trains which I spent many hours as a kid admiring by sitting at the side of the tracks and collecting their numbers. Having a powerful motorcycle between my legs; a speeding locomotive to my right; a clear dry road ahead and the sun high in the sky was about as close to heaven as I could possibly get in this life. Furthermore, I was spell-bound by the striking similarities between the countryside here in southern BC and that of Alaska in the summertime. There were fast-flowing shallow rivers weaving their way around rock-formations; wide-pebbled shores ideal for parking a camper-trailer for an overnight stay and an abundance of deer. It was breathtakingly beautiful. What more could I possibly ask for? ...This is why I do it – you know.




Friday, November 23, 2012

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 2 of 10

2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 2 of 10


The Port Mann Bridge
Hope BC
Christina Lake Park


The Port Mann Bridge

Cruising east along the Trans-Canada highway out of Vancouver and into the lower mainland brings you through the growing cities of Surrey, Langley, Abbottsford and Chilliwack. For the most part its rather uneventful as would driving along any Canadian or American Interstate, except for one thing, the majestic three billion dollar Port Mann Bridge spanning the Fraser River. I have to catch my breath every time I cross that unfinished bridge due to its towering height and strikingly beautiful architecture. It is very nearly completed. Tolls will help pay the cost. The Port Mann bridge rivals the great Sunshine Causeway connecting St. Petersburg to Sarasota on Florida's west coast. It is truly magnificent.


Hope, BC

Hope BC is a hub connecting arterial highways going north, east, west and south. Its a very pretty place nestled between rivers and mountains. Its where Sylvester Stallone was filmed in the making of First Blood. From what I've read about this, he made quite an impression on the local folks and he was very friendly with them. I have often taken the wrong highway leading out of Hope ending up being in places I didn't plan to be. This time however I was prepared. I committed Highway signposts like Princeton, Osoyoos and Grand Forks to memory to make sure I didn't end up too far north in Penticton or Kilowna by mistake. Highway 3 was the key to getting East. Osoyoos always amazes me. It straddles a lake at the bottom of a valley. I stopped briefly at a Safeway supermarket for a chicken salad sandwich and a soft drink and before you know it I was all refreshed again and ready to continue. When climbing out of the town I stopped to take a photo from a posted viewpoint where I met some visitors from Northern England. Being from there myself they were amazed at how well I knew the area where they were from. We even talked a little about the escapades of the Coronation Street gang before I headed-off. When they asked where I was going, I said “Ottawa, Ontario”. One of my former countrymen said, “Blimey Lad! Your crazy! That's a hell of a long way!”. I agreed with them and snapped the throttle of my Harley to continue climbing the steep incline.


Christina Lake Park

I made good time that day and I decided to rest for the night at Christina Lake RV Park. I made it very clear to the part-time person in the office that I wanted no snacks, no camp-fire, no laundry facilities and no noise. All I wanted was a quiet out-of-the way spot where I could set up my tent and get some sleep. Nothing more! I'd worry about getting some breakfast on the road the next morning. “No Problem” she assured me and she pointed to a vacant camping spot with no-one on either side of me. Behind me was a thin wire fence with some vacant benches and what looked like a giant fire place that was not used. How nice! At midnight, however, I was awakened by soft singing. About a dozen boys and girls had lit a giant campfire and were having a sing-song not twenty feet on the other side of the thin wire fence. Some songs were religious in nature. If I hadn't have been so tired I would have probably enjoyed it but there was no way I could get back to sleep. They left about 2:00am but about four of then stayed behind talking amongst themselves until around 4:00am. I fell asleep around 5:00am. I woke up at 6:00am and promptly left the camp-ground not too quietly.