Jun 26, 2013

Go East, Old Man

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

Last year, when I got back from my excursion to Alaska, a friend got the bike bug. Scott bought a 1992 850 TDM and began to regularly ride to work. About the same time, my brother sent me a collection of pictures from Thousand Islands, NY. The islands were decorated with a collection of dream houses; many were small, all were surrounded and isolated by water, and some were outright castles. The pictures appealed to a part of me that wants to visit Europe but assumes I'll never have the time or money. Scott knew about the Thousand Islands and that area. We started talking about doing a trip together, east. The more we talked, the more eastward the trip progressed. Finally, decided to ride to Nova Scotia, possibly ferrying to Newfoundland. Our wives planned to fly to Halifax to take in a little of the most remote part of the trip.

Once I get a trip direction sorted out, I'm mono-tracked about going. Other people program in some flexibility in their lives, accounting for work, family, health, and other responsibilities and realities. Not me. If I say, "I"m going ," you can assume I'm going. I spent the first 35 years of my working life giving up vacations for the demands of work. For whatever life I have left, work takes a backseat to my vacations. Money is time. Time is finite and the last twenty-five years of incompetent government have proven that money is infinite. Spend finite resources carefully and let the infinite stuff take care of itself. 

Once I had a destination picked out, I set out to plan my route, Canadian side going east, US side coming home. Garmin's Mapsource software and I picked the roads, almost all two-lanes through places I've never been and where I hoped camping sites would be plentiful. I made a best-guess as to when I might be able to reach Halifax, cleared the dates with my wife, made her plane reservations, found a remote motel/resort where we'd spend some time together, and started putting my traveling gear together. August rolled around and I was ready to hit the road.

nova_scotia_1 Right. In fact, I struggled for a month to find a pair of sprockets for my V-Strom. Nobody had them in stock. While waiting for sprockets, I tore down the back end of the bike, replacing bearings and such, replaced all the bike's fluids. Before that, I'd installed new tires and taken the easy way to replace the fork fluid; which turned out to be the non-functional way. The forks were almost seized. I don't have the equipment to securely pull both the front and back end of the bike, so I needed to get the back tire on the bike so that I could redo the forks. I got all that finished one day before the trip date. Three near-panic days of going over the maintenance list, packing clothing and gear, and triple checking it all. I'm tired, but ready to go.

While my stuff was in process, Scott's fell apart. His bike turned out to be the victim of a retarded past owner and the final straw was discovering the countershaft sprocket had been welded to the shaft and Scott would be stuck for five more weeks before all the parts to repair that idiocy would show up. He decided to trail along to Kingston, New York, in his Toyota. His wife bailed out, entirely. We'd made alternative plans from the start of trip planning, so . . . no problem, I'll do most of the trip on my own.

nova_scotia_2 August 1, Scott arrives at my house and we're headed to Thunder Bay. About twenty miles out of town and I realize something is very wrong. Most likely, food poisoning. My stomach is boiling and I am freezing. I have had chronic pain in my neck for a month and I'm ignoring it. If it's serious, there is nothing I can do about it. If it's a pulled muscle, I can live with it. However, combined with the symptoms of ptomaine, I can barely turn my head to see what's around me. Whatever doesn't kill me . . .

nova_scotia_3 We whip through Duluth via the interstate and take the scenic route on 61 to Thunder Bay. A few miles from the boarder and it starts to rain and I stopped to get into my Darian pants. Hardly slowing for the boarder crossing, we get into Canada in good time. It starts to rain harder. Then, it hails. There is no place to stop and I can't see more than 50 feet and it feels like being sandblasted by golf balls. Now, I'm freezing, cramping, and my neck, knees, shoulders, butt are killing me. I'm beginning to wonder if I have a flu. I stop on the edge of Thunder Bay to add layers.

Once we're clear of Thunder Bay, the temperature dropped but the rain stopped in another sixty miles. My body was working poorly, but my 'stich gear kept  me dry. My boots, however, leak. I forgot to pack the Nicwax. Now, I have something to hunt for at every stop until Halifax. Doesn't anybody go outside in Canada? I gave up trying to push myself around the lake a little before dusk, about halfway across Lake Superior, just before the scenery gets really cool. Because I was shivering like I'd been naked in sub-zero temps, I begged off on camping and we settled for a decent cabin with a hot shower. I stepped into the shower before the water temperature settled down and boiled myself until the shivering stops. Scott bought a couple of beers from the campground store, I drank one and fell asleep to the sound of Scott talking about the rain and the trip. I woke up about 3AM to crawl under the covers and go back to sleep.

nova_scotia_5 The next morning, I felt great. Cramps were mostly gone, chills vanished, and my neck pain was back to its normal dull throb. We got on the road fairly early, covered a hundred miles before stopping for breakfast in Wawa, Ontario. I looked, for the first time, for a boot treatment and bought more bug spray. Five days later, I would discover that some scumbag at either the restaurant or the drug store snagged my credit card data and started racking up $100 charges on my account. We'd passed a little of the coolest parts of the north shore, but the best was yet to come.

We kept going, through the boarder town of Sault Ste Marie to Manitoulin Island. The "plan" was to get to South Baymouth and the ferry before it sailed at 5:30PM, in case we could jump the boat earlier than Scott's 10:30PM reservation. Turns out, a bike can get on pretty much any time, but Scott's cage was stuck to the late boat. We discussed my going ahead to find a campground or motel, but neither of our cell phones worked on Manitoulin, so that plan had a fatal flaw if we were going to find each other on the other side. We decided to gamble on the late crossing. Bad plan. Everything was either full or out of business from Tobermory to Owen Sound; only 70 miles but in pitch black with a little fog and the constant watch for deer and other night time hazards, stopping at ever "vacant" sign to discover the proprietor was a lazy bastard who hadn't bothered to add "no" to his sign. Finally, on a tip from a clerk at a full-up Travelodge, we straggled into a city campsite at 3AM for two hours of sleep.

nova_scotia_6Back on the road for Toronto and Kingston, New York. Scott has friends to meet in Toronto, I want to get to the islands to play tourist. Another friend of Scott's has cabins on Black Lake, NY, . All the way down, from Tobermory, I experienced the east coast trait that had put me off from the beginning of the trip; massive overpopulation. This part of Ontario is as scenic as Kansas, with one-hundred-and-ten-times as many towns and people. The map is speckled with towns and so is reality. The only upside is that the going is so slow that I get almost 60mpg out of the V-Strom.

Scott and I are going to meet a his friends' resort on the 4th. I get through the boarder check, cross the St. Lawrence, follow my GPS to the Indianhead Point Resort. Knowing Scott is, apparently, a ticket to the easy life on the East Coast. We end up talking politics, business, tree-hugging, and music way into the night. The next day, I rode into Alexandria Bay and took a cattle boat tour of the islands. I took a lot of pictures, found a dream house, ate sea food on the beach, learned a little American history, and went back to the resort tired and with a satisfied tourist Jones. Scott was there, we all hung out another late night, and went to bed a few hours before I planned to hit the road again.

nova_scotia_8 nova_scotia_7 In the morning, I'm off for Montreal, Quebec City, and as far as I can get east into Quebec. I made Montreal about 11AM, toured the city, saw some sights, freaked out at the crazy French Canadian drivers, and decided to keep going so that I could help celebrate Quebec City's 400th birthday. I got there in time to find a parking place and dash for a spot to watch a really cool parade. This place knows how to throw a birthday party. Great music, awesome costumes, an elbow-to-elbow crowd, and gorgeous, incomprehensible French-speaking women lining the streets. The food on the tables of the outdoor bistros looked amazing, especially the bread. I went looking for an ATM and a place to sleep for the night. First, I discovered banks and downtown Quebec City don't go together. Second, I learned that every room within 100 miles had been booked for months. Third, at an ATM 25 miles out of the city I learned my bank card had been locked down. I called the bank, learned that their card fraud folks had decided that someone was playing with my credit card number. They reopened the card for the night and I pulled out a bunch of cash and killed the bank card the next day.

nova_scotia_9 Once I had cash in hand, I started riding east, watching for a campsite. I found an abandoned city campsite in one of the many dinky towns along the Fleuve St. Laurent and rode around the barrier to find a campsite. The "services" were all locked down, but I only needed a pair of trees for the hammock. The next morning, I was on the road by 5AM and headed for my day's first targets, a pay phone and the L'Epopée de la Moto in St-Jean-Port-Joli. This is a weird motorcyclists' gem in a really out of the way place. The museum collects, mostly, European motorcycles from all periods and all sorts; road bikes, racing bikes, and dirt bikes. I needed the pay phone so that I could talk to my bank and the VISA characters. The conversation with my bank was quick and efficient. Panama is an interesting place for VISA to have moved their help desk. Interesting, but not useful. I wasted an hour lining up a Western Union cash pickup that never arrived and a replacement card that would arrive a day too late.

nova_scotia_10 A couple of hours ogling historic bikes, mostly from my own riding era, and I'm on the road toward Riviere du Loup and Edmundston. At this point, I have decisions to make and I made them on the road. I need to get to a place called Dufferin Bay by early on the 8th, two days from now. My original route planned to hook into Maine at the top of the state, at Madawaska, and travel down US 1 to Houlton, where I'd cross back to Canada. The way US boarder crossings have been going for me, that seemed like a major time burner. I think Homeland Security has employed every unemployable ex-high school bully to man the checkpoints. So, I decided to stay in Canada on Highway 2. At Grand Falls, I had another decision to make, cross New Brunswick on 108 to Maraichi where I could ride south along the Northumberland Strait to Nova Scotia or stay on the fast track, Highway 2. I took the low road and stuck with the fast traffic. By the time I got to Fredericton, I was trashed. I stumbled into a worn out motel full of old gearheads who blasted Iron Maiden and AC/DC way into the night. It was a waste of money and I would have slept better on the side of the road.

Friday, I have to find the Halifax Airport, our resort, convince the resort folks that I will (eventually) have a working credit card, dump off all of my gear, get back to the airport, pickup my wife, and get the two of us back to the resort. The airport Garmin had picked for me turned out to be the Canadian Forces Base, which was a pain in the ass to find, harder to get to, and almost landed me in jail for the effort. The Halifax International Airport turned out to be about 20 miles north, but I found it. The resort was 95 miles east along the southern coast of Nova Scotia. I found it, the folks at the Marquis of Dufferin Seaside Inn were insanely trusting and left the financial problem for the next day. I dumped my gear, headed back to the airport with a couple of hours to spare. When I made it back to Halifax, I decided to find some extra rain protection for my wife, since it was raining and her gear was only waterproof from the waist down. I blew an hour looking for rain gear and failed. I gave up, headed for the airport, found it, found a parking place, walked leisurely to the baggage area, glanced at a schedule board and saw that her plane had arrived. Guess what? Nova Scotia is one time slot east of Eastern Standard Time.

nova_scotia_11 She tells me her horror story from the customs clowns at Toronto. We load up her tiny luggage and hit the road, in the dark, for our 95 mile ride to the resort. It starts raining as we enter Halifax, rains harder as we head into the pitch black of 107, begins to pour as we turn onto 7, and only gets worse for the next 60 miles. There is no place to stop, turning around would be no better than going on, especially without a backup reservation. My brave wife tells me, "keep going" every time I ask if she wants to stop, rest, or strangle me. The story of that ride is a whole article on its own. We arrive alive.

nova_scotia_12 The next three days we barely use the bike at all. Everything we need is walking distance from the resort. We take a couple of short trips to nearby tourist attractions, but this part of the trip is about getting to know one small spot in Nova Scotia. Monday, we head for our hotel in Halifax, the one that provides a shuttle service from the hotel to the airport on Monday morning. Halifax is hosting a Buskers Street Festival and that is a blast. We saw a guy set his mouth on fire, walk on a ladder of sharp swords, and lie down on a bed of nails while a 200 pound guy stood on his chest. Bloody stuff, but entertaining.

We say goodbye early in the morning and she is off for the airport. Prowling Halifax by GPS, I find a place that sells Nicwax stuff and I'm off for Cape Breton. At this point, the first 2400 miles of this trip are logged and I have 3600 left to ride. The Cabot Trail is in my sights.

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