Aug 21, 2008

Getting Badgered

The vanishing summer and approaching time zone change bit me in the ass this morning. I’m used to sun and birds waking me up at 5:30, so I just let them do their work in starting my day. It’s still dark, I’m awake, and when I check my watch it’s 6:45. Crap! I have about 20 minutes to get to the ferry ticket office or I’m going back where I came from and, maybe, even around Chicago. My usual leisurely camp breakdown turns into organized chaos, but I’m pretty practiced at this and I think I made it out with everything I brought in. On the road in 15 minutes, I’m following the advice of my GPS like a robot.

Made it, with some hassle. With my ear plugs in, I get about a dozen instructions wrong and end up ping-ponging from security to the ticket office several times before they take pity on me and sell me a ticket. I’m on the boat, it’s heading west, it’s a beautiful cloudless, windless day and I’m back writing to you. The Badger has the coolest lounge chairs on the bow deck and I may fall asleep any minute.

Security has changed a lot since 1997. Then, I rode to the front of the boat, parked the bike, bought a ticket, talked to one of the ship’s owners about how cool he thought my SV’s Two Brothers pipe sounded (I thought it was an irritating racket, but he liked it), and rode on to the ship. Today, I pass by a gunpowder-sniffing dog and a collection of security questions, I screw up getting a second security check when I mistake the security guard’s weird arm waving as a direction to park with the other bikes (of which there are many), and I go through a collection of routines before finally being sold a ticket, parking the bike on the ship, getting the bike inspected, getting inspected myself, and climbing the stairs to the deck. It’s nothing like the bullshit of flying, but it’s a lot of pretend security.

We’re just not very good at managing anything complicated in this country. Like the Brits in 1920, our ruling class has inbred into total flaccid incompetence. G.W. is the best possible example of that breeding failure. I suppose there will never be a war that kills off the children of the rich and retarded ever again, but nature will probably find a way to weed their tiny brains and valueless lives out with disease or infertility. WWI and WWII did a job on Europe’s rich hillbillies, but those wars didn’t touch our richest and worst fit for survival. America has been specially good at protecting inherited wealth and its offspring since the Civil War. They have bought their way out of harm’s way so successfully that they look like the horse-faced British “royal family” or the chimps that we evolved fro. Every failed culture has been overbalanced by royalty and inherited wealth and power when forces against it tipped the scales toward defeat and obsolescence. Why would a boat ride make me think about that crap? Too much time on my hands, I suppose.

This probably isn’t the fastest way to get around Chicago, but it may be the most pleasant. You can sleep on the deck, watch a movie (when the satellite connection works, which wasn’t on this trip), sit in a comfortable interior lounge/museum/quiet room, eat, drink, or wander around enjoying all of those things.

I have decisions to make when the ship docks. The last time I landed in Manitowoc, it was hailing tennis balls, so my “plan” to explore Wisconsin turned into a roller derby/dodge ball contest between my, my sense of balance, and Mommy Nature’s worst tantrum in years. I rode past tornados, hail-decimated buildings and crops, wind-blown slick roads that were often flooded and the detours were worse than the roads they tried to avoid. I ended up riding all the way south to Iowa before I could turn west again. I was so wet and cold that for two days I could barely put in a 200 mile day without hypothermia. I quit, on the 2nd day less than 60 miles from home, finding a motel and standing in a shower to use up two charges of the hot water heater before I stopped shivering. I can’t imagine that this will be a repeat of that experience. Now that I write all of this, I can’t remember what made me thing taking the Badger across Lake Michigan would revive pleasant old memories. That was a miserable end to an otherwise fine trip.

Anyway, I have a couple of possible things to do and see on my last leg of the 2008 Crazy Old Man’s Tour. I want to visit Green Bay, home of the Minnesota nemesis. It is such a tiny town to have a pro team that it has to be interesting and a fun place to pick up an irritating sticker for my gear. After that, I have two return plans: 1) down to Milwaukee to visit the new Harley Museum and, maybe, the Buell plant or 2) across country more directly toward home. It’s a tough call. Milwaukee isn’t a place I’ve ever found to be very interesting. It’s hard to imagine anything in the museum that I haven’t seen and Harley’s marketing always pisses me off. Buell, on the other hand, is fascinating. Eric is an engineering hero and his plant is making better products every year. If the Buell Ulysses had been available when I bought my V-Strom, I’d have considered the choice a long time. It’s the first American motorcycle I’ve ever liked, except for the XL750 Harley race bike. Either way, Green Bay is on the trip. I’ll decide about the rest when I’m leaving Green Bay. I have plotted two GPS routes home, so it’s a button push to re-route when I decide.

I hope I always remember leaving the Badger in 1997. The ship mostly avoided the storm, other than some wind. When it docked, the ground was pure white with hailstones. I waited as long as I could before leaving the protection of the boat. Eventually, the crew threatened to toss me overboard if I didn’t get going. Rolling down that ramp onto balls of ice in a pouring rain storm was one of my life’s greatest acts of resignation. I traveled about 2 blocks, until I found a bank drive-through awning to hide under. The bank opened and I had to move on. The security guy acted as if I was stealing something valuable from the bank, although there were no customers yet for me to have obstructed. I vowed to never start an account with Wisconsin something-or-other Savings and Loan. Eventually, I was on my way out of town and the sky looked threatening in every direction. I couldn’t have gone to Green Bay if I’d have wanted to, the road was closed and downed trees redirected traffic for at least 100 miles in every direction. A smart guy would have found a motel that morning and gone back to sleep for a day or two. I tried to find a way home.

Apparently, there is an adventure rider event going on in Wisconsin this week, near the Apostles. Several guys from Ohio trailered their bikes to Ludington, to avoid the boredom of Ohio and Michigan roads, and are riding the ferry across before they start their week in Wisconsin. I got lots of recommendations for a trip to Kentucky and West Virginia some later date. It’s possible, although my eastern drive is seriously tuned down after this trip. I need some Rocky Mountains to reset my appreciation for real mountains. The Rockies are sort of tame after Alaska, though. It’s a tough call, glad I get to make it.

I made it off of the ferry safely and on to the highway. I discovered a really cool two-lane that parallels the four-lane to Green Bay. I satisfied my rural ruins Jones several times. Green Bay is larger than I expected and a little nicer. I snagged a Packers sticker and a load of pictures. There are a ton of fans visiting Lambeau Field, even off season. Nobody looks at the Dome when there isn’t a game there. I listened to a pair of cashiers argue about the post-Farve Packers and realized how much difference a real city team makes. Only an idiot would care about the rest of the pro team world. The Lakers, Vikings, Jets, etc. don’t belong to the community any more than a McDonald’s franchise. They are just businesses that coincidentally ended up in a particular town. They’ll follow the money anywhere it takes them, like the players also do. The Packers belong to Green Bay, not some whacked out mess like the team organization that renamed the Cav’s stadium “Quicken Loans Stadium.” (“You can’t have popcorn or a hotdog, but you can get your home refinanced/repossessed.”) Cheering for these other corporations is as silly as wearing a Harley tattoo or jumping up and down and shrieking when you see the ENRON logo. The only pro team I care about is the Packers and I don’t particularly like football. I want the Packers to beat everyone, not just the NFL but everyone in pro sports. Actually, I want Green Bay to beat everyone; I don’t care about the Packers, either.

There was a small chance that I might get to tour the Buell factory, but that appears to be vanishing. My motivation to see the Harley museum is almost non-existent. After a heart-stopping meal at a Packer fans’ bar, I may diagonal across Wisconsin toward home. I didn’t give the Buell folks enough time. In my excitement over the idea and my focus on getting from one place to another, I didn’t allow the usual 4-5 days that it takes for business to react. Maybe another time.

I’m done with lunch, still nothing from HD’s marketing department. It’s settled, I’m taking the shorter way home. I have a $300 rat bike to find and fix. The route my GPS picked for the return home was based off of the “shorter route, faster route, etc.” options. I picked faster route, since I’d decided not to stay overnight between home and anywhere. Four and a half hours later, I was home.

Aug 20, 2008

R&R Hole of Fame and Points Westward

It was a non-motorcycling weekend. I was in Cleveland for the duration, visiting two of my life’s best friends. Brett has been a motorcyclist almost as long as me, but we won’t be riding anywhere this weekend. We’re just catching up and goofing around town. I’ve been to the R&R Hole of Fame before, but since Madonna has been inducted I’m afraid I’ll contract some dorky disease if I actually spend time there. However, it is the cool place to pick up an Ohio-based sticker for my luggage.

Speaking of stickers and luggage, I am beginning to suspect the adventure touring guys like aluminum cases because they hang on to stickers better than plastic. I seem to be doing a first-in-first-out sticker replacement as my oldest stickers are blowing off of my GIVI cases making room for the new ones. I lost Idaho and Washington somewhere in Quebec. Manitoulin Island tried to escape yesterday afternoon. I forgot to see if it’s still there when I stopped for gas the next time. The trick, if you have the resources, is to clean the case with soap and water, rinsing really well, and wipe it quickly with something like lacquer thinner. The thinner softens up the surface of the plastic, so the sticker’s adhesive can find something to bond with. Every sticker I’ve attached this way is still solidly stuck in place. The others are randomly and precariously stuck in place.

Brett moved “up” to a Goldwing a few years ago. I’m waiting to hear how his golf game is progressing any year now. At least it’s not a Harley, right Brett? I’m kidding. I like Goldwings. I’d have one if I could afford it and if I had an extra airplane hangar attached to my garage.

Tuesday, I’m on the road toward Lake Michigan. My “plan” is to hook up with a ferry and avoid Chicago. The two ferry towns are Muskegon and Ludington. The Muskegon ferry is a “rapid shuttle” and costs accordingly. I’m tempted, but I’d like to take in Green Bay this trip, so Ludington makes more sense and is $40 cheaper. There are several good campsites between the two towns, so I expect I’ll keep going north and try to find a place to park close to Ludington. I am wiped out, for some reason. I didn’t sleep more than a couple of hours last night, a sign that I’m ready to hit the road again.

There isn’t much to see or photograph between Ohio and Lake Michigan. Miles and miles of small towns and farm land. The weather is perfect; overcast, slightly cool, little wind, not much traffic, and it clears up about 5PM so visibility near the lake is terrific. I stopped more than usual because I was falling asleep at the bars. When I’m “pounding out” a 400 mile day like this one, I’m particular amazed by the Iron Butters. It is just mind-numbing being on these straight country roads, passing through one carbon-copy small town after another, watching for deer and cops, trying to stay awake. I live for the three corners per county that is, apparently, the allowance in Michigan.

I bumped into a guy watching his kids play at a park in Grand Haven. He wanted to talk about motorcycles and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was dying of boredom on his favorite roads. He owns an ’84 Virago, but (like everyone in Michigan) dreams of owning a Hardly. He received my sympathy and I got back on the road.

Eventually, I made it to the coast of Lake Michigan and headed north. I paused in Muskegon, considering the rapid shuttle. I, of course, am not man enough to even think about riding through or around Chicago. In my opinion, Illinois is nearly the perfect hell for motorcyclists. Insanely incompetent motorists, lousy roads, toll booths ever 50 feet, and a city so hostile that its own residents argue about where it’s safe to be. I worked for a Chicago-based company for a short while in 1991 and learned that the only way to travel in Chicago is by bus or train. Even then, the risk outweighs my motivation. Twice, while fumbling for change at a toll booth, the car behind me tried to hurry me along by bumping into my bike and that’s all it took for me to write this city off on two wheels. I’m impulsive, I know.

Out of nostalgia, I decide to pass on Muskegon. In 1997, when I was bringing my new-to-me SV650 home from Cleveland, I decided on the Badger Ferry at Ludington. That was a great ride and a terrific memory. I decided to redo that path on my return from this trip. I made it about 400 miles from Cleveland to a state campground a few miles south of Ludington.

Out of boredom and time to burn, I decided to test my new tent pole repair kit, after mostly making camp. When I bought the kit, I was certain that the pole sleeves would be too large, but they were slightly smaller than my pole’s outer diameter. So, instead of doing the duct tape shim I’d planned on, I needed to disassemble the pole and heat the sleeve to get it over the pole. That worked, but I ended up needing to cut one of the other poles about 1” shorter to compensate for the extra length from the sleeve. That meant that I needed to cut an aluminum pole with my knife. That worked, too, after some inaccurate attempts at scoring the pole. I used a rock for a grindstone, to smooth out the pole end, and I was ready to test the pole repair. Worked like new.

After wrestling with the poles, I discovered that in my need for a third hand in restringing the shock cord, I’d tossed the repair kit’s feeder wire somewhere on the ground. I wandered around, looking like a chicken searching for grubs, and attracted the attention of my camping neighbors. They probably thought I was looking for something important, but they joined in looking for the wire and found it about 6’ from where I’d last used it. Can’t explain that. Out of sympathy for the retarded old biker, I got an invitation to dinner. We ended talking until about 9:30, past my camping bedtime, and I fell into the hammock and went immediately unconscious. As much as I enjoy my bed at home, it will never beat a hammock as a place to sleep well. The night is windy but dry, so the rainfly remains half-installed and I have a fine view of the giant pines to which my hammock is attached and a sometimes clear sky full of stars. Being an old guy, I wake up a few times during the night, but the wind rocks me back to sleep and I am more rested in the morning than I ever am at home or in an unfamiliar bed. I’m going to hate coming off of the road when this trip ends this week.

Aug 17, 2008

Go Places, Meet People, Burn their Fuel

Got up early, hit the road in the wrong direction, made a u-turn, and headed back down Vermont 17. Turns out my excursion to the inn last night was actually on my GPS plan. Once I’d started looking for a place to stop, I quit looking at the GPS, which must have frustrated the electronic biddy in the box, but I’d turned where I was supposed to turn by accident. Not knowing that, I reversed directions and headed back to 100. My GPS kept telling me to make a u-turn, but I figured it was stupid, or something. Finally, I stopped, looked at the map, realized the GPS was smarter than me, and went back up the hill. Sorry, east coasters, the mountain. Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a little, tiny, rounded top, tree-covered mountain.

Vermont 17 is a blast. The speed limits are totally cowardly, but the road is good, the scenery is tree-lined but occasionally nice, and the ride is a good morning workout. I’ll be ready for breakfast after 150 miles of this. My GPS plan kept me off of main roads and on fun backroads all the way through Vermont into New York. I am amazed at how little traffic and how few houses there are in this well developed part of the country. I went through a town called Moriah that was celebrating its 200th birthday. Amazing, 200 years and they still haven’t found the time to build a restaurant. Makes me feel much better about coming from a younger part of the country. We may be new at this business of civilization, but we’re better at it. We don’t talk funny, either.

I stumbled on a convenience store/restaurant/campground on New York country road 84. I was entertained with an incomprehensible “upstate New York” dialect that combined with my single unplugged ear turned ordering breakfast into a Laurel and Hardy routine. I could have sworn he was saying ‘have some home fries,” but he was saying “don’t have home fries.” Turned out, his wife is the official cook, but she was occupied with getting the kids sorted out. He did an ok job with the sausage (“I like sausage.”), but the pancakes were burned and a bit flat (“I don’t like pancakes, you should have ordered an omelet.”). Later, he tried to convince me that I needed ice cream to go with my breakfast, since it was a balmy 45F outside that morning. I think we entertained each other enough, so I am on the road again.

New York speed limits are some kind of testament to the conservative nature of old America. What New York considers to be a 25mph corner, Colorado would label 45mpg. New York 35mph corners wouldn’t be worth the trouble to label or even put up a turn sign in the west. I kept seeing twisty corner signs and being disappointed with gradual curves hardly worth pushing on the bars. I guess that goes with calling 2k bumps “mountains.”

I kept going through New York the coward’s way, I90. After slogging my way through zillions of dots on the map jokingly called “towns” with the usual 4 miles of 30mph speed limits and no buildings or residents in sight, I gave up on “seeing New York” and decided to blow through every thing from Rochester west. I missed many valuable history lessons, I’m sure, but at least I wasn’t bored. New York freeway drivers are challenging, even if the freeway is a freeway (except for the $11 toll I paid to be on the US taxpayer subsidized interstate system). I whipped though most of the tiny bit of Pennsylvania the same way. I’d lost interest.

I was aimed for the Cleveland home of an old friend and I made it to their general territory about 8PM . I’ll be there for a day or two. I have a vicious plan for the last couple of days of this tour. Stay tuned.

Aug 15, 2008

Fifteen Days on the Road and Going Nowhere Special

Up early, pack up my gear, hit the road in deep fog, again. It must be my karma.

My historic moment, today, was to find the most eastern point in the US. That place is the home of a lighthouse. The most eastern town in the US is Lubec, ME. There is a fine restaurant in that little town that services a good breakfast. After taking my own picture by the nation's cornerstone, I was back on the road.

Today was a long ride from Maine to the west end of Vermont. As the crow flies, it’s a short trip; about 400 miles. As a rider, it takes forever to cross these tiny states. Here’s my take on those states:
. Maine – Highway 1 is a rolling disaster, unless you have the suspension for it. Maine’s road maintenance plan is not apparent. Traffic speeds are slow to parked and the speed limits are prehistoric.
. New Hampshire – More prehistoric speed limits. Mediocre roads and way too many “towns.” A New Hampshire town is a bump in the road with a lowered speed limit for no obvious reason. I had a good time on both Maine and New Hampshire roads, but I ride a V-Strom and my new ELKA rear shock got a workout.
. Vermont – Great roads, silly low speed limits that nobody pays attention to, and I haven’t seen a cop in the state yet. The east side of I91 is pretty tourist oriented, the west is not so much.

I started out slogging through pea soup fog. I ended up rocketing along a Vermont back road with lots of high speed company and having a ton of fun in the twisties. I’m just traveling today. No tourist stuff, no cool pictures, just logging miles heading west toward the Adirondacks. This is pretty country, but not much different from western Wisconsin from a riding perspective. Calling these bumps “mountains” does a disservice to real mountains everywhere.

I wanted to make 400 miles before I gave up for the day. I also wanted to find fuel before I stopped. Those two goals screwed me up for the night. My artificial target was Montpelier, VT. There was no reason for that goal, I just decided on it arbitrarially. The fuel objective was practical. If I can hit the road without needing to stop for anything, I can get further in the morning than in the afternoon. I don't know if that is me or because of traffic, but it appears to be true. After the Adirondacks, I have no other NY objectives but to get the hell out of the state. I don't have any reason at all to be in Pennsylvania. I'd rather spend a couple of days in Wisconsin than in any of those places. I have some interest in Erie Canal history, but I don't have any idea how to satisfy that itch.

Once I passed Monpelier, no sign of camping areas or decent motels came into sight. I kept going, hoping for more luck. On highway 100, heading south, I decided enough was enough. It was approaching 6PM and nothing good happens in moose territory after dark. I stopped at a Fayston station, got directions for a place to put up a tent, and headed that direction. I didn't make it. Half-way up the mountain, I stumbled into an inn with reasonable rates and great food and better beer.

14 Days Rolling

I’m packed and out of camp by 6:30. I slept well and am ready to make some miles up. I put in 140 miles before breakfast. Made it to the harbor to check out the ferry to the mainland. Fog slowed my progress most of the way from New Glasgow to the Digby harbor. Sometimes it was thick as goo. More of that Scotland feel, I suppose. The scenery, when I could see it was pretty cool. A lot like an exceptionally hilly and wet eastern Kansas with the same crops (except for occasional apple orchards).

I stopped for breakfast and an attempt at finding replacement parts for the hammock. No luck, but I got an idea for the repair from talking to a clerk at Canadian Tire. He was looking for fiberglass tape, which gave me the idea to wrap the pole end with nylon rope and duct tape that on tight. Might work. Might save me having to buy a tent.

No plan today, except to keep moving. I figured on hitting the Digby ferry. If that didn’t work, I’d move on to Yarmouth. I picked Digby as my first choice because I figured the combination of a ferry crossing and a boarder crossing might overwhelm my capabilities. I lucked out and arrived at Digby right in time to get on the ferry. $80 for the bike and my over-60 discount. I have no idea how long it will take to cross the bay, but it doesn’t much matter because I’m not having to work to get the job done.

Like the fort, the ferry is pretty empty. I had no problem getting on the boat, but either did a collection of foot passengers and a few cagers. For August, this is pretty slow business. “Prime tourist time” may have a different meaning if energy and economics continue to flag. I saw a lot of closed businesses on the way across Canada. Some of them appeared to have barely opened before they went bust. Lots of houses for sale, too.

Some little parent-less retards commandeered the ships computers and dialed up a noisy on-line computer game. I put up with the noise for a few moments and turned off the computer’s sound for the little morons. Mommy bitched, so I told her to turn it back on if she didn’t know how to parent her little retards. She left in a pout. A few moments later, a steward came by and took the little shits off of the computer and delivered them to gutless, brainless mommy. Even Canadians are allowed to spawn without credentials. What a world!

After St. John, I’m taking Highway 1 to Maine. I haven’t decided if I’m going to cross Maine or follow the coast for a bit. I’ll decide when I get there. I’m generally westward bound for the rest of the trip.

Ferry’s are peaceful. Some folks are on the deck whale-watching. I’m too lazy to be that focused, but if someone yells I’ll look up. It’s too foggy for pictures and we’re too far from shore for the pictures to be worth much. It’s warm, however. I’m in my riding gear, but it’s all opened up and it feels good to have the fresh air without being cold. It’s a long ride. We’re heading toward 2 ½ hours and land just came into sight. The Atlantic is calm and even Robbye would enjoy this motionless ride. If you don’t look out the window, you’d barely know we were moving. It’s not the north Atlantic I expected, for sure.

I’d like to make Maine before dark, if possible. Now I have a goal for the day. It’s good to have goals.

I made Maine, barely. About 20 miles in, in fact. I was doing well, even ahead of my non-existent schedule, until I hit the boarder. I screwed up. I was wearing my wife’s “Green Man” t-shirt. I hadn’t brought anything but nylon dirt biker shirts and thought a t-shirt would be comfortable as a change. The boarder guards took one look at the shirt and flagged me for “inspection.” Honestly, they were pretty polite about it. I didn’t get a cavity search. The worst thing about the whole episode was having to sit under the leering picture of the head What-Me-Worry idiot while his minions went through my gear and burned up my daylight. They made a mess of my top case, but probably neatened up my side cases. Other than their almost pathological lack of humor and the lost time, I can’t say anything bad about the experience. Where do they find guys so humorless? Is there a factory they send ordinary people to for funnybone extraction?

I’m camped in an incredible place. It’s a good distance from Highway 1, so the traffic noise is vanishingly absent. Some local doofuses are firing off fireworks, but that will quit in an hour or two. My “fix” for the screwed up tent pole sort of worked. I should be able to survive the night, anyway. I plan to hit the US’s most eastern point, tomorrow. After that, explore more of Maine. It’s good to be back in the US where my AAA card is useful.

Aug 14, 2008

Unlucky Thirteen

I gotta hope that title is bogus. But today is my thirteenth day out. After getting drowned yesterday, I can only imagine so many ways today could be worse. However, the sun is shining and the air is warm and humid. It feels like summer again. I am almost inclined to skip out on the Fort Louisbourg trip, but I won’t. I was advised that it is worth the time.

The rebuilt fort is pretty amazing, in fact. Almost every building has a reenactment actor to explain the structure and its historical significance. I was particularly impressed by the engineer’s quarters and the tens of thousands of documents he turned out in his 20 period at the job. His documentation, kept in triplicate at the fort, in Quebec City, and in France, was what allowed the Canadian government to rebuild the fort accurately. The engineer’s house and the many improvements he made to the fort put most of today’s engineers to shame. His auto-barbeque-spit was freakin’ amazing. I need one for my barbeque. His office, home, and kitchen were inspiring. His layout for the city inside the fort should be a standard study for modern city designers.

I was feeling pretty good about the position of engineering in the past (3rd on the fort’s totem pole) until I arrived at the “accountant’s” home (2nd on the pole). This example of pre-MBA evil managed to screw France out of $80 million during his rein of incompetence. The entire fort cost the government of France less than $4 million. As an early ENRON-style carpetbagger, he probably managed to screw France out of a substantial portion of the New World all by himself. When he was finally “punished,” he received a pat on the hand and was banished to the south of France with only half of his stolen money and property. France put away the guillotine way too soon. So did we. The definition of “treason” ought to include any politician or bureaucrat ripping off the public till and the penalty should be the firing squad.

The fuel and economic damage really shows in outback places like this. Obviously, Canada and Nova Scotia built this as a major tourist trade attraction. It provides lots of employment and significant support for the area, when it is working. The outgoing bus I took from the center to the fort was about 2/3 full. A guy I met at the coffee shop, before heading to the fort, turned out to be my ticket taker. He said the fort attendance was down at least 50% from previous years. I “business” would be laying off, bigtime, now. My return bus, at noon, held only me. I had no trouble taking shots of the fort that weren’t obstructed by other tourists. This can’t be the intended plan.

After that experience, I decided to go back to the road. I headed for the Cabot Trail and the solitude of ocean, road, and mountains. Several bikers told me that if I came all this way and missed the Trail, I missed Nova Scotia. So, I’m on that road and it is kind of a mini-mountain road with occasional great views of ocean from beaches or cliffs. This, of course, is what my wife would have loved to experience. She wouldn’t have liked much of the ride here, though.

Crossing from the main island to the cape, I got a dose of rain. It fell hard enough that I stopped to put on my over-gloves, but it stopped almost immediately. All the way to the top, I had great weather, great scenery, and a wonderful ride. My luck held all the way around Cabot Trail. I saw some clouds, a little mist, even some fog, but no rain. It was, in fact, a nearly perfect day on the road. I could have stopped a lot more. In fact, I could have parked the bike for a week and walked most of the park and it wouldn’t have been enough time.

This is where Nova Scotia gets its name; New Scotland. It would be easy to imagine these hills populated by sheep and herders, denuded of their trees and covered, instead, with grazing. It would be a shame, but not unbelievable or unlikely. As Robbye said about the rest of Nova Scotia, it’s obvious that not much of this forested area is old growth. Most of the pines are well under 20 years old, in fact. I have seen absolutely no large, old trees since I entered Canada. Canada has lots of things going for it, but conservation is not one of them. For such a small population, the place is highly industrialized and the ecology is “farm land” to the inhabitants.

I came out of Cape Breton wanting to cover some miles before I slept. So, I stayed on the gas through a variety of attractive towns and likely campsites. After suffering a long road maintenance wait at Antigonish, I decided to make New Glasgow, at least, before stopping. The stop-and-go traffic after that half-hour wait caught me mentally napping. I spent so much time in 5th, passing slow moving trucks and SUVs that I spaced off shifting back to 6th when I had the chance. I had plenty of fuel when I left Antigonish to make it to New Glasgow, but that assumed I would be using my transmission competently. I didn’t, so I found myself about 20 miles out of town with the fuel gauge flashing at me. I nursed the throttle, coasted down hills, and gasped into town with my tension level at stupid.

That was enough. I needed a place to camp, or plan on riding all night long. I asked the station mechanic for advice and he sent me to Trenton, a town about 5 miles back from where I’d come. His directions involved a lot of well known landmarks, none of which were known to me or visible at night. I made it to Trenton, stopped at a Tim Hortons and asked another local for directions. He used even more landmarks, no street names, and got me within ½ mile of the park. Finally, I hit a dead end in a trailer park. Some kids came out to ask what I was doing making a u-turn in their front yard. I explained my quest and one of them volunteered to put on a helmet and direct me to the park. Turns out, “follow the highway to Park Street, turn right until the street deadends into the park” would have done the job, description-wise.

The Trenton city park was closed, but the caretaker told me to find a spot and I did. Bits of my Lawson hammock are beginning to fail on this trip and one of the poles bit the dust tonight. Duct tape “fixed” it temporarily, but I’ll need a new pole or a new tent sometime soon.

I went to sleep to the sound of partying teenagers and frustrated mosquitoes.

Back on the Road Again

Robbye took a shuttle from the hotel to the airport at 7AM and I loitered around Halifax for a few hours. I found a camping equipment store and bought a collection of Nikwax products. I thought about going back to the street party, but it looked like rain and I had an itch to be on the road again. I took the easy way out of town, 104 which is a fat, four-lane freeway northeast toward Cape Breton. I stayed on the big road because it was raining hard by the time I left the remnants of Halifax. It rained all the way to Sydney. Just like Friday, my boots still leaked, but my ‘stitch didn’t.

I started looking for a campground a dozen miles out of Sydney but I couldn’t find a site with a pair of trees. Finally, I decided on an unlike place called “The Arm of Gold.” I struck gold.

Don, the caretaker, took pity on me and aimed me toward the well heated laundry room. I stripped off my wet gear and tossed the Aerostitch stuff in a washing machine with my Nikwax chemicals. The rest of the stuff went into the dryer. While I was taking care of my gear, Don talked to the camp’s owner and decided to put me up in the “barn” (pronounced bay-er-in, but say it with a single syllable).

Four old guys sitting around a dry room talking about how much they dislike the motorcycle crowds that rattle their windows. They weren’t big fans of pickups, either. “Rich brats get a new truck from mommy and the first thing they do is put new pipes on it and raise hell in the neighborhood.” Then they told me about two guys on Kawasaki’s who rode in so quietly that nobody notice they were there until they started rattling their money.

Nova Scotia motorcycle joke: “What does a Harley and a Labrador dog have in common? They both like to ride and drool in the back of a ¾ ton truck.”

“I never rode anywhere I regretted riding, even that road that took from me the best thing I ever owned.” The guy was talking about crashing his bike and killing his wife on the Alcan last summer. As you’d probably assume, he was riding a big Harley. He was at “cruising speed” when he topped a hill and discovered the next few hundred meters were paved with gravel. Create your own scenario from here, but the gist was that the bike went down, his wife’s helmet came off, and she was killed. He wasn’t hurt too badly and the bike was totaled.

He was driving a truck, pulling a big camper when we met at the campsite. I was in the laundry, “refreshing” the waterproofing of my Aerostitch and drying my boots and clothes. He brought in a load of laundry and was a little irritated that I hadn’t pulled my gear from the table quickly enough to suit him. He looked at the ‘stitch’s armor lying on the table and said, “Your stuff?”

Yes it is. All of it.

“Pretty silly looking helmet.”

He’s talking about my bright yellow full face HJC. I have a yellow reflective strip on the back that adds something to the silly look, I guess.

“Lotta gear to be wearing on a bike.”

I guess it is. It didn’t seem like much in the rain, though. My wife sort of agrees with him. I brought armored perforated pants and a rain cover for her, but she didn’t want to wear them because they “look hot.” Life is hard when your internal temperature regulation fails and you are claustrophobic.

It didn’t seem like a lot when I dropped the bike on the Dempster last year, either. Even with my Darien and every piece of clothing I owned, I still managed to bust a rib or two, separate my left shoulder, and crack a bone in my right hand. I didn’t, however, lose a drop of blood or suffer any damage below the waist. My helmet was wreaked, but my head was no worse than usual.
In the Louisbourg café, one lady was saying she was done with Nova Scotia weather and was retiring to one of the islands. “What island?” She hadn’t decided, but it sounded like the Bahamas.

The waitress said, “I’m retired here, so it sucks to be me.” This part of Nova Scotia hasn’t seen summer since July 22. Every day from that point, it rained at least a little.

Aug 11, 2008

4 Easy Days in Nova Scotia

After the exciting ride to the Marquis of Dufferin Seaside Inn ( the bike was mostly parked for a day. We walked around the resort areas to work up an appetite, taking extra time to relax on the Inn’s pier. The resort has a collection of gardens and Robbye took special enjoyment out of pointing out plants that won’t grow in Minnesota. We spotted several loons in the bay and even more gulls and a variety of ducks and other water fowl.

The inn has one telephone, stuck to the outside of the restaurant office building. I’m still wrestling with the identify theft residue and I spent about an hour on that phone sorting out charges that did and did not belong to me with my bank’s fraud representative. Otherwise, if the world ended we’d never know. The room does have a small television with the usual 60 uninteresting channels, but we’ve chosen to avoid that opportunity. I called Holly and left a message that Robbye had arrived and we were alive and safe. Otherwise, this will be 4 days without contact with our usual world. I'll miss hearing from you all. Right.

After a superb breakfast at the Inn’s restaurant and a lazy morning, we took a ride to Sheet Harbor to hike and enjoy the scenery. It was an overcast but otherwise clear day and we discovered several spectacular views and local hiding places. We even stumbled on a local parade. When we got back, we hiked to a nearby waterfall, accidentally discovering some wonderful local gardening on the way.

The resort loaned us a canoe and we paddled out into the bay, experiencing some wave action and working up an appetite for dinner. We found a fairly isolated beach on the east side of the bay and waded around looking for seashells and enjoying the solitude. Even during the day, much of the time spent is spent in dead quiet, outside of natural sounds.

Dinner at the resort was the same kind of rare experience as was breakfast. Robbye had Scallops Dufferin and I had Beef Burgandy. If presentation is an important part of a dining experience, the inn’s chef is an artist. The owner, Pat,s does every job at her inn. She is, clearly, a marketing wizard, but she is a management and customer service wonder also. I don't know if I have ever felt more at home away from home. This is a terrific place and if you only came here and stayed for a whole vacation you would come away rested and satisfied.

Saturday was no more than a 10 mile biking day. I didn’t even show the motivation to cover up the bike when we crashed for the evening. I’m writing this at 7AM on Sunday, our 41st Anniversary. Robbye is gently snoring, working on 10 hours of sleep for the night. I woke up to the sound of loons calling at about 6AM. The place is so quiet that you can hear gulls across the bay. The highway wraps around the bay, so every car that passes is audible and visible. In the last hour, I’ve seen and heard two cars. Our neighbors are waking up and I can hear every word they say. They can probably hear me typing. It’s that quiet.

Again, it’s a little overcast, but the air is clear and I can see miles of the shoreline. Robbye had hoped to see a lot of Nova Scotia on the trip and I thought she might be over estimating her traveling capability. The flight and airport hassles and the 90 mile trip to the inn was about all her knees were able to tolerate. She was stiff and in pain Saturday morning. She’s tough and really wanted to experience more than a motel room, so we walked (slowly) around the resort and took a short ride to Sheet Harbor to check out the town, river and bay.

It was worth the effort. The old industrial area had reverted to most of its natural state at the nature walk around the river was a vacation in itself. It’s easy to forget that traveling isn’t a means in itself. The point is to go places and experience them.

I could, easily, spend a week on the deck of this motel room. It’s dead quiet, except for nature sounds, the view is spectacular, and the air is as clean as anywhere on earth. We took a long canoe trip around the bay, finding an isolated shoreline to look for sea shells and animal life. This was the first time either of us had canoed on an ocean and the waves were mildly exciting. At first Robbye tended to panic and seize up on the larger waves but, after I offered to whack her on the head with my paddle, she settled down. Crossing the bole at the mouth of the Salmon River was a lot of work and we’d generated a reason to eat another terrific dinner at the Inn’s restaurant.

Sunday, I sort of hoped we’d make a run for the north shore. We rode into Sheet Harbor to check out the galleries; all closed. We headed out toward the north shore, but when we stopped at about 50 miles to check out a historic city, Sherbrooke, Robbye complained that her knees were already giving out. She could barely get off of the bike. We spent a couple of hours walking around Sherbrooke, a town that was once a booming logging, gold mining, and ship building city and is now nearly a ghost town.

We’d spotted a wild looking river on the way out that we’d planned on checking out. I was so focused on watching for animals on the road and she was so focused on looking for a moose in the swamps that we ended up at the inn and missed seeing the river altogether. We stopped at a roadside stand and had the best mussels ever prepared by human hands and ice cream.

Robbye was hurting pretty badly after that 100 mile ride, so we took a short walk on the beach and called it a night. Monday is our last day here. Woke to the sound of a loon touring the bay, calling for attention. The gulls chimed in and drowned out the musical sound of the loon with their screeching. The bay is flat as a Kansas plains in the morning. Totally waveless.

If the Fed-X guy doesn’t arrive with my replacement bank card by noon, we’re going to leave without it. I’ll survive with the backup card Robbye brought and my cash.

It’s another overcast, high visibility morning. The view from the deck is awesome. The cabin next door is stuffed with a family of small children. They are breaking my concentration but cracking me up. Kids are such doofuses.

If I can get Robbye out of bed, I’d like to take the canoe out before breakfast. She woke up about 7:30 and we did a several mile, cross-bay canoe trip.

My money and credit card didn’t arrive on time. We’re on the road to Halifax. Robbye is having a terrible time on the bike, especially with the luggage loaded. 25 miles at a time are about the most she can stand. We made it to the hotel. Unloaded. Rode into downtown and saw some of the Busker Festival and bought tourist junk. Watched a guy lie down on a bed of nails and have another guy stand on him, for a crowd’s pocket change. Talk about a tough job. Tomorrow, early, Robbye is going home. I’m going back east to see the rest of Nova Scotia before I head back to the US.

Eight Days and Resting

I found a great campsite last night, got a solid night’s sleep, and was indecisive about my next move. I need to get to the resort, dump gear, get to the airport, pick up Robbye at 8:30PM, get back (85 miles) to the hotel. I also want to see some of Nova Scotia while I wait. I headed west toward the ferry (Yarmouth) to see what that ride might be like when I get ready to leave Nova Scotia and to check out the coast. I gave up at Liverpool.

Liverpool is some kind of demonstration of terrible city management. The town is cute and ought to be a tourist mecca, except that the city mismanagement was viciously greedy. There are parking meters all over downtown ($1 an hour) and the place was dead empty. At least a half-dozen stores are having “going bust sales” and I didn’t feel motivated to leave my bike long enough to see if they were selling anything I’d want. I need a tourist

Had breakfast, decided to head north to the Kejimkujik National Park. I made it to the park, but didn’t have time to do much. I probably should have just gone to the resort and slept so I’d be alert for the ride to the airport. As it was, It was a blast to get to the resort, unpack, and turn around for the ride back to Halifax Airport.

People commute this far every day, but I don’t know why. I’d be miserable if I had to retrace my steps this far more than once or twice a year. I can’t imagine living anywhere so perfect that I’d drive 100 or more miles a day to live there. The trip back to Halifax was pretty boring. It would be less so on the third time around.

I got to town early and it was raining. I knew Robbye would bring inappropriate gear, other than the rain pants I packed for her, so I looked for a shopping center where I could buy disposable rain gear. I wrestled with the Halifax freeway system, which was designed by Minnesota DPS rejects or someone equally unsuited for urban planning. Exits are few and poorly identified and even more poorly located. Signs are usually placed right on the exit and are labeled to be as close to perfectly useless as possible. I found a hell-hole of a shopping mall that looked like a carbon copy of the dumbest plan ever concocted by the Mission-Veijo Company. It was so new that no part of it was on my 2007 Garmin maps. However, about half of the stores were already going out of business. A mostly customer-absent Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, and Best Buy were surrounded by other name brand clothing stores that have failed to find customers all over the USA. I hoped to find a sporting goods store that stocked Nikwax products, but no such luck. The entire mall was designed for clothes horses. A whole, larger, section of the mall was uncompleted and, if the current renters are examples, there won’t be much point in finishing the exercise in fiscal irresponsibility.

Halifax had been cursed with the Eagles in an outdoor concert during the week. Some enterprising person read the weather report and bought out all the disposable rain gear from every store in the mall. They probably made a fortune. I, however, struck out.

It stopped raining when I gave up on finding gear for Robbye. I decided to go to the airport and wait for the plane, maybe get some sleep on a bench. When I arrived, I noticed that the 20:30 flight from Toronto had “arrived.” Nuts, Nova Scotia is yet another time zone. I was late instead of early.

She was there, pissed, worried, and angry as hell at the airport and Air Canada folks in Toronto. Apparently, the airline worked hard to lose her box of riding gear. Just in time, she rescued it from the Toronto “lost and found,” although it was labeled and any semi-competent system would know it needed to follow the owner’s flight. Flying is harder, these days, than walking. You have to seriously want to go somewhere to put up with the stupid systems these stupid people have put in place to make life entertaining for terrorists. I don’t want to go anywhere that badly. I’d rather ride cross country than fly. If there is a reason for me to get there fast, I’ll just pass on the opportunity.

Once out of the airport building, we got her stuff together, loaded it and her on the bike, and headed for the resort. It started raining almost immediately. Of course, it was pitch black with total cloud cover and rain. It rained soft and hard all the way, all 92 miles, to the resort. The road was dark, every town was shut down for the night, and there was no rescue between Halifax and our destination. I probably averaged 10kph below the speed limit for most of the trip. Visibility was no better than 100 meters in most places and for a long stretch of highway the road was newly paved and unmarked. It was like riding on a narrow black void. Often coming into a town, the bike hydroplaned across sections of pooled water adding a new level of insecurity to the ride. My knees and back were aching from tension and I suspected that Robbye’s already damaged knees providing worse pain. Several times on the way, she whacked me out of fear and frustration, but she didn’t want to stop and change her gear. “Keep going,” she’d shout. As we past Sheet Harbor, about 5 miles from our resort, she really whacked me and I understood her frustration.

We were both soaked when we arrived. My Aerostitch gear had kept me dry through 20+ days of Alaska and western Canada rain, but it didn’t hold up to a Nova Scotia soaking. Robbye wasn’t that much wetter than me, having used me for a rain shield. It was a long, miserable night drive, but the animals were absent from the roads. They were probably too smart to be caught out on that kind of evil night. If a deer had run on to the road, we’d have probably hit it and killed us all. At some point, that thought might have provided more relief than terror. To start off her weekend in Nova Scotia, we had a real motorcycle adventure.

Aug 8, 2008

Seventh Day Adventure

I overspent on a motel last night, it was “biker-friendly,” clean, had plenty of hot water and towels, and convenient to food, though. $100 for a tiny room is silly. My hammock is turning out to be more hassle than advantage. There aren’t many campsites, apparently, with a pair of usefully spaced trees. The hammock is less than a coffin on the ground, so I need trees. I may ship it home and buy a 1-man tent somewhere. It packs a little large, too.

The highway to and into Nova Scotia is a rocket pad. Traffic is allowed to travel at 110k/h, but it speeds along a good 40k/h faster than that. I was getting passed like the good old days in Montana. If I weren’t so far from home, insurance, mechanics, and a tow truck, I’d be inclined to play along. Since I am where I am, I’m going to take it easy on my equipment. I sort of like this bike and would like to ride it all the way home; 2200 miles away from where I ended up today.

I found Halifax right where the map said it should be. Garmin directed me to the “Halifax Airport,” which appeared to be a dirt field about two miles from the bay. “Detour” signs directed me past a guard shack, where the guard waved me on while his buddy’s dope sniffing dog looked at me as if I were something to eat. The further I rode up the route my GPS indicated, the sketchier the airport looked. I saw what looked like C12 cargo planes in hangars and one jet with an insignia I didn’t recognize. I kept going where the GPS told me to go, until I came to a really nasty dirt road with a van parked in front of an old man standing next to a stop sign. I stopped.
“Where do you think you’re goin’?”

“To the airport to pick up my wife.”

“Not here you aren’t. This is the Canadian Air Force base and if you go over that hill a couple dozen guys will be takin’ pot shots at you until you stop movin’.”

“I don’t want that. This isn’t the Halifax Airport?”

Turns out, Garmin missed the airport by about 35 kilometers. The Halifax International Airport is way north of town, the Air Force base is not. I found the real airport, the one for the “rest of us” and got my travel plans sorted out. I also tracked down a hotel for the last night Robbye will be in Nova Scotia. Other than figuring out how to stow her luggage on top of my luggage, I think we’re set for the next few days. The old deal about how two people can keep a secret only if one is dead sort of applies to road trips, too. One person on a road trip is an adventure and an exercise in freedom. Two people is a convention. The planning required for two people is exponentially greater than for one. And that’s when the second person is as easy to please as my wife. Any normal person would need to be killed.

After all the plane, motel, hotel crap was done, I headed down the coast, west, to look for a campground. I found one about 60 miles west of Halifax and settled down to read a little, write some of this blog, and to listen to the stream beside my campsite. It’s getting dark at 8:30PM, so summer is almost over. No bugs, though. The campsite has a pool, but I’m too done in to take advantage of it.

Six Days on the Road

I found an abandoned city camp ground at Berthier-Sur-Mur. No services, but clean, manicured camp sites and a safe place to sleep. I slept well, got up at 5AM, struck camp, hit the road as the sun came up. 50 miles later, I had breakfast at a Normadin Le meilleur du resto. I don’t know what that means, I’m just copying it all from the place mat. Great meal, good service, nice people who accommodated a non-French speaking American with style.

My tourist destination for the morning was the motorcycle museum at St-Jean-Port-Joli. I wanted to hit the road and stay on it, but I had to blow almost 3 hours messing with the stolen credit card crap. Between the bank and the credit card company, I was on hold for two of the three hours. Let me make this clear, I’m not a fan of capital punishment. However, I would fire one or two warning shots to the head of the bastard who caused all this trouble. Anyone that worthless ought to be dead or in massive pain

Once all the crap was done, I was ready to visit the museum and, then, hit the road. The museum is a cute little thing with about 100 mostly European vintage bikes. I would have bet that I could find a cool bumper sticker at the museum, but I was disappointed. For some reason, they have lapel pins but no bumper stickers. Foolish marketing plan. I took a load of pictures, stared at historic engineering tactics, wondered about the several bikes the museum has still in the crate, including a Bimoto db1 and a Ducati 900SS. Why anyone would buy those expensive wheels and never put them on the road is a little past my comprehension. Collectors, I guess. I got a picture of my fat self standing in front of the museum, post-maintenance work pre-museum opening. After gawking at bikes, I hit the road late, distracted, and a little tired.

I ended up in Frederickson, New Brunswick at about 6PM, following CA 2 most of the way. The once-two-lane is now a manicured 4-lane freeway. My GPS was so thrown off by the new route that it crashed and didn’t recover for 200 miles. Garmin ought to make the software a little more flexible or provide simple updates for downloading (free). A system that blows up when the road varies a few hundred feet isn’t particularly useful.

That’s not the route I planned, but with my wife meeting me in Halifax on Friday and the complications that will entail I decided to follow the “discretion is the better part of valor” route. My original route involved a two lane that would have taken me across the hills to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There was a 100 mile stretch of nothing that really looked good, but I chickened out. My wife has a pair of flawed knees that are making it nearly impossible for her to get around much. I probably need to be at the airport when she arrives. I may take this path on the way home. Because of her visit and Scott’s work-search goals, the first week of this trip are more scheduled than I like to travel.

Aug 6, 2008

Five Days on the Road

Monday was a vacation/tourist day. Scott arrived late afternoon and when I got back from the 1000 Islands excursion we spent the rest of the day catching up. Lots more talk and a wonderful home Italian meal prepared by Lee. She served the best bread I’ve ever eaten and it was all I could do to not curl around the plate and growl at anyone else who tried to take some.

When I called home, my wife said my credit card company had been calling, lots. Of course, she didn’t have the number, so I called the general purpose VISA number and got a kid who didn’t seem to have a clue. I wasted time with him for a while, he wasted time saying something to the folks in the VISA department, and I went on my merry way. Turns out, someone else was being merry, too.

Other than minor disasters, I’m getting into the hang of it today. It took a while to say “goodbye” to the Hills, so I didn’t get on the road until about 8:30. I didn’t get much out of the backroad route I started with. Mostly Nebraska farm land and I’ve been there and done that. I took a few pictures, but got bored and flipped the boarder into Canada and headed east with commitment. I mostly made good main highway time, but got lost once and burned an hour in some mid-sized town that was having a festival and had almost every escape route blocked with barriers and an excessive number of cops. When serious irritation set in, I found the CA20 freeway and dropped the hammer for a while with the rest of Quebec’ers. These folks drive like I’ve heard Europeans drive (I wouldn’t know from actual experience) and it is easy to hang on to a fast group leader and average 90mph for as long as the gas holds out. Lots of bikes, at least every 10th vehicle is a bike and, some areas, I’d bet we’re almost 1/5 of traffic.

I bailed in Montreal. I was there in 1989 and saw a lot of the city. I hoped to see more on this trip but the Montreal speed freakers did me in. Kids in Honda or Toyota sedans imagine themselves to be drivers. It’s mostly twenty-something guys, but a few older doofuses join in the fun. They drive as fast as their piles of crap will travel, crawl up your rear fender, swap lanes without a glance to see who is there, and, hopefully, die often enough to justify their lousy driving skills. Quebec, in general, is very third world, driver-wise. Lots of bumper chasing, thoughtless lane-swapping, and crazed driving behaviors. The larger cities are, as best I can tell, police-free on the freeways. Maybe they are hoping to thin out the population by letting the fools sort themselves out. Anyway, Montreal was too much for me and I gave up after nearly getting killed a couple of times.

I kept traveling until Quebec City, the province capitol. The city was celebrating its 400th anniversary and I got there in time for a pretty cool downtown parade. I practically drooled on diners’ plates because the street-side cafes’ fare looked so good. I couldn’t find a bank to get Canadian cash and didn’t feel like using my card, so I ended up skipping dinner and looking for a room.

The surprise of the Quebec City parade was the music. When I was last in Montreal, I was there supporting QSC and doing my audio guy gig. After I did my bit, the rep took me bar hopping one night to hear local bands. This would have been about 1989 or so. Every band was a cover band. There was no local “flavor” to the music. If you’d have stepped into a club in Kansas or Massachusetts or LA, you’d have heard exactly the same thing. I expected some French flavor like you’d hear in New Orleans. Montreal was a disappointment. So, when I heard about the 400th Anniversary parade, I expected the same kind of boring US-based music. I was not ready for the bands in this parade.

The art was pretty good, too. The giant historic masks were, sometimes, eerily life-like. Other times, they were caricatures of famous French people from 400 years of history. It was odd being in the middle of something so personal to this city and not understanding a word being said around me. The costumes were mostly of the city’s 200-400 years history. Lots of color, lots of animation, and the city was a perfect place for the celebration.

Quebec is very European in its layout (as best I can tell from my vast experience reading books about Europe). Every restaurant and café had outdoor seating and the food looked incredible. I’m a bread freak and those restaurants had some great looking bread. It didn’t matter, though. It was late when I got to Quebec City. Every room was booked for about 100 miles in all directions. I needed to find a place to sleep. Great party, though.
Every room in Quebec City was booked and I stopped for information and cash and gas. When I tried the bank machine, I discovered my card was rejected. I called my bank, got switched to the VISA folks, and discovered someone had been racking up just-under-$100 charges to my card since August 2nd. After a long, foolish conversation with the help desk guy, I headed for a real bank, checked out a load of cash, and hit the road looking for a motel or a campground.

Motels were all booked for the next 50 miles, but I found a city campground. It's practically abandoned, but it's clean and I don't need much. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with the bank crap. This trip just got a lot more complicated.

Third Day Push

Today started evil and kept at it until I parked. Parking was good. Everything before that was questionable.

Scott and I spent the night foolishly looking for a motel room to split. At 2AM we stumbled into a park and thought about tossing our sleeping bags on the ground until the cops rousted us. A local pointed us to a city campground across the street and at 3AM we attempted to setup camp. Scott did pretty well. I managed to screw up my hammock knots and found myself sleeping half on the ground in the morning, at 6AM.

Tomorrow ought to be a nothing ride. I’m going to ride to Alexandria Bay and sit on a cattle boat around the Thousand Islands. However, today we rode/drove from Owen Sound to Toronto to Black Lake, NY. The first part was a little boring. I had no idea that Ontario could be so much like Kansas-Nebraska, including flat, boring terrain and corn fields by the miles. Toronto started off interesting, great skyline, and turned deadly. I’d heard that Toronto was Canada’s New York, but it seemed a little more like Dallas (or Chicago without the lousy municipal workmanship). Traffic was very much like Chicago, braindead and fast moving. I followed Scott to the riverside and skipped out on him when he turned west on Lake Shore Drive. I went east. I was entertained by the diversity and the shops for about five miles. About the time I passed Ontario Place, the filthiest park I’ve ever seen in my life, I decided to bail on Toronto. Getting out was harder than I expected, though. The city has damn few freeway entrances and lots of loops and frontage roads to nowhere.

When I hit the freeway, finally, I found I was in Tailgater Heaven. Toronto drivers are every bit as foolish as the worst US city drivers and no more skilled. I stuck with the freeway all the way to Kingston, though. I tried getting off and checking out the river roads, but they were lined with dead industrial towns and way too many cops for my wallet’s safety. It was one of the most miserable 200 miles I’ve ever ridden and I felt like crap the whole way.

I crossed the boarder a little past Kingston and headed for Gary and Lee Hill’s Indian Head Point Resort. Gary is an old friend of Scott’s and they’d foolishly offered to put us up for a couple of days. I wanted to tour (by boat) the Thousand Islands and after the miserable night we spent before a good night’s sleep sounded awesome. Gary and I hit it off pretty naturally and ended up talking politics, tree hugging, economics, music, and business until late. Lee showed up about 9PM and joined the debate until about midnight. Showing more intelligence that Gary or I, she bailed for bed. I don’t remember lying down, but I woke up Monday morning feeling human again. I can’t vouch for my appearance.

This is a spectacular place. Completely different than my expectations of New York, upstate or any state. Gary and Lee have built an amazing resort that is an escape from any where you might want to escape from. This feels more like Oregon or Wisconsin than New York.

Aug 4, 2008

Second Day Grey

The next day, Saturday, was a massive improvement. No chills, no belly heaving, and nausea is back to the philosophical realm. I woke up at 6AM, took another scalding shower in case some memory of the previous day lived in my gut, and we were out of the cabin and on the road by 7AM or so. Today, the target is South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island by 5:30PM. It’s a reasonable target and takes us through one of the most scenic bits of Ontario, in my opinion. The best description I can generate of this area is “the southern Rocky Mountains with a giant lake on the south side.” The mountains, of course, are not there, but the rocks are. Giant chunks of granite, shale, and other bits of geology that I should, but don’t recognize decorate the landscape and the Trans Canada Highway is cut right through this material.

It’s a great road and a constant source of entertainment. Mostly, the traffic is light and moves quickly. We passed a fair number of Canada’s finest flashing their lights behind some unlucky motorists, but they don’t seem to be viciously aggressive about enforcing the 90km/hr limit because we’ve pushed that pretty hard constantly and haven’t attracted any official attention.

There is, in my opinion, nothing to see in Sault Ste Marie and we take the new bypass and skip the wonders of that boarder town. The traffic is a lot heavier here and slower. It takes a while to get to the cutoff, Espanoia, and from there on the going gets really slow. I fired up my helmet cam for the first real test and managed to get it on the helmet after about a minute of one-handed fumbling. Turns out, it works really well. Good thing, since my Sony DVCam died in the rain yesterday. Note to self-send tapes back to Minnesota with Robbye and get a SD Card USB thingy.

South Baymouth is booming on Saturday. There is some Canadian holiday this weekend, plus a music and art festival, and something else. Whatever. The motels and campgrounds are all jammed. Scott had made an advance reservation for the late ferry and discovered that there was no option for moving it to the next morning. Good thing. We discovered that every room and campground was full after he asked about moving his reservation back. On a motorcycle, I could have gone any time. We ended up catching the late, 10:30PM, ferry across Lake Huron and discovered that something was going on on the other end of the link, too. Every motel was booked from the tip practically to Toronto. We stumbled on to a town campground in Owen Sound and put up “camp” at 1:30AM. I hate making camp in the dark and this turned out to be no exception. When I woke up in the morning, the head end of my hammock was on the ground.

The crows were doing their nature’s alarm clock bit at 5:30AM and they did their job on me. I struck camp and let Scott know where I’d be (at a Tim Horton’s in town) as I rolled out of camp. He showed up an hour later, looking no better than I felt.

I struck up a conversation with an older guy, who’d driven a truck in the Canadian west 30 years ago. He described the Dempster as being pretty much the same road I crashed on. Time doesn’t, apparently, improve or change everything.

Aug 2, 2008

Geezer on the Road East

First Day Blues

I left home for Nova Scotia on Friday. I spent all of Thursday and most of Wednesday doing last minute bike and trip preparations. My parts, that were supposed to come on Monday, didn’t arrive until late Wednesday. So, I had left my bike balanced on the centerstand and a floor jack, waiting for the new sprocket, shock hub, and other drive bits. I didn’t have the guts to pull the front end off with the back end off and, each day, I held off hoping the parts would arrive until it was too late to start a different approach. Bad planning, poor tactics, lazy attitude.

Wednesday evening, the parts appeared and I began a panic repair procedure on the drive line of the V-Strom so that I could get the back end on the bike and tear off the forks to fix the mess I'd made trying a non-Suzuki procedure for replacing the fork fluid. I wish I could promise this is the last time I will ever take this kind of short cut, but I'd probably be lying.

After getting through the mechanicals, while being whined at by my two grandkids and my wife because both days were miserably hot and they all wanted to go to the lake and swim, I started on packing and getting my gear arranged late Thursday. At 8PM, I gave in and took the crowd to the lake. I don't know why they (especially my wife) needed me to be part of the process, but they did. Apparently. Supposedly. An hour's swim, a fast shopping trip to get RAM for the helmet cam, and back to work on the gear pile. In the end, I did a fair job of organizing myself, but a lousy job of avoiding distractions in the morning.

My wife, upset or something about being left alone for most of a month, did a song-and-dance with noon's fried chicken, pulling it out of the frig for the kids, leaving it out until I found it and put it back, and doing it all over again at least three times, finally managed to poison me. She decided to "cook" dinner for me about two hours before I finished putting the bike together. When she handed me the plate of potatoes and chicken, with my hands covered in oil and grease, I told her "Not now, I can't stop now." She put the plate on a chair in the basement and went back to working on an art project. I discovered the plate and, exhausted and distracted, sat down to shove it down my gullet. About 3AM, I woke up with my stomach boiling and chills. I spent the rest of the morning evacuating my innards and cursing my garbage disposal eating habits.

Friday, at 6:30AM, I’m loaded and ready to go, mentally if not physically. Scott shows up in his Toyota about 15 minutes later. We get on the road about 7AM and make it to Duluth about 11AM, via I35. We didn’t slow down for the big city and stayed on the gas all the way to the Canada boarder.

About a mile past the boarder, the sky fell and even dropped some marble-sized hail. I was wearing as little cover as possible, under my Darien suit, and it felt like being smacked by a zillion BB-guns. After the hail-beating, it poured for another 20 miles. All the while, I’m shivering from food poisoning, my joints ache like I have the flu, and I’m even a little nauseous (something that never happens to me). We kept going to a little short of White River, Ontario, and found a cheap cabin for the night. I was past freezing and exhaustion. Scott wanted to talk a little before giving up the day, but I passed out on him about 20 minutes after getting my gear into the room, taking a scalding shower, downing a pair of pain meds and a beer, and lying down on my bed.