29 July, 2009
We are off -- finally! Ann has recovered from her violent flu and chest cold. She tells me she is go--od to go so we go. We plan on riding up along the coast to Vancouver Island where we will meet our friends somewhere along the way.
29 July, 2009
The first day is in the bag! It was good to finally get on the road again. We stopped off to visit our friends at Santa Rosa BMW and pick up some spare parts for the bikes. We were seen off so royally by Chris, Dennis and Suzanna we decided to call that our official start. We then rode up Hwy 101 through very hot valleys and slightly cooler redwood forests until we hit the maritime climate near Eureka where the temperature dropped from 97 to 57 in half an hour. Along the way, I was riding along, minding my own business, thinking about how hot it was and, since I had opened up the cuffs on my jacket, whether that would expose me to a bee flying up my sleeve. What I hadn't figured on was that since I was riding along with my helmet open that the bee could easily fly into my face, lodge in between my skin and helmet liner and because he had just been WHACKED at high speed inject his stinger right beside my eye. The pain was blinding but I also didn't know whether it was a bee or a multi-stinging wasp so I had to dig him out -- without crashing, of course. I managed and then found a place to pull over and check it out and that's when I discovered that it had been a bee because the stinger was still stuck in my face. All better now but it sure hurt for awhile and Ann says it looked very unsettling from behind but I will let her use her own words...
Ann: I agree that starting from SRBMW was really special. And that it did eventually get really hot. For the rest, today was the first time we have used a Push-To-Talk system on our bike to bike radios. I am a creature of habit though and kept forgetting to push the button. So when I saw Alex waving his arms around--I swear it looked like both arms were flying about--I kept trying to ask him if he was alright. Of course, he couldn't hear me and the last thing he would be doing then would be pressing his own Push-To-Talk button. It was quite something to watch. It went on like that for quite a distance as we were passing through a some road works with no shoulder on either side. When we finally could pull over, I was stunned to see that he had fully dismantled the face shield on one side. And I swear the bike never deviated from its perfect line.
4 August, 2009
I haven't written much in awhile because there were no more bee stings or other sources of instant excitement but then I realized that day after day of stunning and interesting natural beauty were also worth conveying.
We continued our ride up 101 along the Oregon coastline which neither one of us had ever done before. Each time we stopped, we promised that we would return, this time for a more leisurely visit. We were fortunate that our intended hotel in Newport, Oregon was booked up for the night because we happened by chance on the Agate Beach Motel overlooking, well, overlooking Agate Beach. Apparently, the composer Ernest Bloch lived next door, and, since he was a great friend of Albert Einstein, there are supposed to be some writings on the wall from him. E=mc3, perhaps? The interior was breaking heat records which meant the coast was enshrouded in marine mist and all the hotels were filled with refugees from the heat. This beach is the spitting image of Langland Bay in Wales, complete with aging surfers and paddle boarders.
We continued up the coast alongside the Oregon dunes--endless miles of huge sand dunes and deserted beaches. We stopped for lunch at a small weekend fish restaurant and had some of the best fried calamari we have ever had. Then on to Tacoma where we left off Ann's bike for its last service before setting off into Canada. And there, on I-5, we ran into some of the worst traffic ever: stop and go for 20 miles. The clock was ticking since we had to get the bike in before the shop closed at 6 PM. It is illegal to filter between the lanes of traffic in Washington so there we were stuck with both feet on the ground, unmoving as time passed. We just made it with 15 minutes to spare.
We stayed, nestled below Mt. Rainier, in Puyallup. What an awesome view! And nobody, but nobody, was looking transfixed at the magnificence--except us travelers, of course. I guess you get used to it, but how sad is that?
We drove up into the Olympic Peninsula, took the ferry across to Victoria in time to celebrate BC Day--an excuse for alcoholic libation as far as I could tell. One well appointed woman soddenly walking towards us on the pavement in a weaving manner stopped herself short directly in front of a (quite stationary) vehicle barrier post sticking up which was obviously moving around in front of her, glared it into submission before she moved off in a dignified lurch.
We now have just spent the night at a wonderful B&B, Between the Covers, in Ganges on Salt Springs Island. The theme is books and literature as the owner is a childrens' book author. Below the TV is a bumper sticker: Fight Prime Time, Read A Book. We met up with our friends from England and today we set off on our journey through Canada, first to the West Coast of Vancouver Island to start with the western-most point of Canada we can reach.
And we will leave you with this poem by Robert W Service which was on the wall of the B&B:
There is a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where,
There are skies that seem to be endless,
Life is still challenging there.
There are hardships that nobody reckons,
There are valleys unpeopled and still.
There’s a land - oh, it beckons and beckons,
I want to go there and I will.
15 August, 2009
When last we wrote, we were making our way up Vancouver Island which we found out was on fire. We stopped in the middle of the island and then took a gravel road shortcut which apparently went right between the fires. It was very smoky and difficult to see anything, much less breathe. The smokers in our group still made frequent stops to add superfluous smoke to the already present mix. We arrived at Port Hardy and woke extremely early to make a 5AM loading time for the ferry up the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. This was spectacular--hard to give it justice with words. Basically, you gotta be there... We arrived late and the next day we travelled east towards Prince George, BC: lovely curvy roads along river courses surrounded by mountains. We rode on to Jasper nestled amongst the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains. We had a day off here, which we needed desperately.
The next day we rode through glaciers on the Ice Fields Parkway. Ice on top of the mountains drips down to form rivers and lakes which are an opaque bright peacock blue. Friend India explained that this was due to the suspension in the water of superfine microparticles of the rocks that the glaciers have been crunching along. When the light hits the water, it is magical.
After spending the night in Banff, Alberta we headed off to cross the northern prairies. It was a long day and all of us had more or less been dreading the endless miles but, speaking for myself, I found it quite awe-inspiring. Somehow it seems even more vast than what we saw just a few miles further south. As we turned north into remoter parts of Saskatchewan the prairie gave way to northern forests of birch and jack pine. Soon we were riding in corridors between the walls of trees. At the various stops we made the locals were very friendly and some had wonderful stories to tell.
My favorite was the guy at Bloomfields Resort who joined the smokers in the group on the porch of his store for a smoke. So I asked him, "tell me honestly now, when nobody is here do you just light up inside?" In Canada, like California, it is illegal to smoke inside a building. He answered that he always smoked outside but told me this story about smokers in the back-room bar. They had asked him if they could smoke in the bar but near the door and he told them that OK but that he would go out front to smoke his cigarette and if he saw a Mountie he would loudly say "Good evening officer How are you today?" He heard somebody behind him clear his throat and when he turned around there was the Mountie who asked "Well are you?" The guy said What? and the Mountie said "Ask me how I am..."
We now have driven back down to Kenora on the Lake of the Woods on a rainy day. Having put on our rain gear, it only made the journey more "mist"ical (sorry) We are enjoying our second day off, mostly maintenance on the motorcycles and doing some laundry.
We are basically near the half-way point on the journey!
23 August, 2009
Ann and I are now deep in Labrador having completed two - thirds of the Trans Labrador Highway. We are holed up in a company town, Churchill Falls, which is where the workers for the hydro-electric plant live. Tomorrow we are hoping to go on a tour deep underground to see the generators before we set off for the final leg on the TLH to Happy Valley/Goose Bay. But first let's catch up the story...
Our stay in Kenora was unremarkable except for the young lady cashier at the A&W where I went to get an emergency dinner after working on our motorcycles all day: the bill came to $7.68 so I gave her a $20 bill and then said "Oh, I have some change. Here is 68 cents." Having already rung up the $20 tendered, her cash register told her to give me $12.32. She looked puzzled when I gave her the change, held it in her hand for a bit, then put it in the register and gave me a $10 bill. I told her that there should be more so she gave me 8 cents! Finally I went over the whole transaction with her and got my correct change. Her final words were: "I am just no good at maths." (Then why are you on the cash register I said silently to myself.) On we went through Ontario towards Quebec where we were excited to see how it would be different. The first impression was that English simply vanished as a written language: all signage was solely in French. And many people spoke no English at all. But immediately the architecture changed and so did the visible lifestyle. The houses were small but very neatly kept with frillier flourishes such as window trims and window boxes filled with flowers. And it seemed the orientation of social life turned outwards. We had remarked to each other as we passed through the midwest that we couldn't see any people outdoors--the yards had no people in them, there didn't seem to be anybody working the fields, even some of the towns seemed like the ones in science fiction movies after the aliens had eaten the inhabitants. But now in Quebec there were people sitting on porches (including one old couple who sat at least 30 feet apart from each other on their porch... I imagined that they had simply talked themselves out after 50 years of marriage.), bars all had open areas, restaurants had sidewalk tables, and people were just out walking, or biking. By and large the people were very nice except for the young lady (again!) who took our orders for hot dogs, hamburgers and, in one ill-fated attempt by Nigel, soup. After each order she said nothing just slammed shut the glass window. When Nigel ordered soup by saying "soup" she simply stared blankly at him. He tried several times, all to no avail, before giving up and having a hamburger like the rest of us. And then she slammed the window shut. I guess if Nigel had said "soupe" it would have worked... But mostly they were all very friendly and interested in our journey.
We left Forestville on the St. Lawrence River for the TLH early (5:30 AM!) on a foggy morning. We had miscalculated the mileage we had to achieve so it was going to be a little over 400 miles with several long sections on unpaved piste. It was an eerie ride up through what I am sure were beautiful forested hills but we couldn't see anything until the fog lifted when we arrived at Manic V and the start of the gravel road. We had heard so many different descriptions of what to expect that it was best just to set off ourselves and see. It turned out not to be as bad as we had been told to expect even when black clouds blew in and the heavens opened up. Each of us had our moments of heart-pumping adrenaline as the surface was a little loose and the bikes' handling was very imprecise to say the least. But we all made it without mishap and we feel like we are in a very remote area as we have driven hundreds of miles of gravel covered dirt roads to arrive here. If you look down about halfway on a flight from London to California you will see the land we are in--dirt roads through forested land with lots of lakes and rivers, but all so very desolate. It has been well worth the trip.
We're off to dinner and a needed night's sleep. Tomorrow we head closer to the path of Hurricane Bill. Hopefully he will have been and gone before we get there.
28 August, 2009
After a 1,000 miles of gravel roads expertly ridden, and just 3 miles from the resumption of paved road Ann crashed her bike in heavy winds and torrential rains. Basically, a gust of wind sent her bike into a piled up section of loose gravel causing the crash. Ann had managed to save prior wind buffets and thought she could save this one, too, but the conditions had gotten so bad that there was just no chance. We had slowed down because of the horrible conditions so all she broke was her ankle, thankfully nothing else, not even a bruise. All of us, at one time or another that day, had nearly "lost it". Just a luck of the draw that Ann's turned into a crash.
Here is a copy of a letter I just wrote to the editor of the local newspaper:
This morning I read the article “Gravel surface causing accidents” in the August 24th edition of your newspaper with a sense of recognition. I was waiting for my wife to come out of orthopedic surgery on her fractured ankle at Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony. She had her motorcycle accident in almost the same spot as Mr. Burgyan, just 6 kilometers before Red Bay on Hwy 138.
We started our adventure a month ago from our home near San Francisco, California, each riding our own BMW bikes up to Vancouver and then wandering East across Canada. We had completed well over 1,500 kilometers of gravel roads in Quebec and Labrador and other provinces, before meeting a combination of high winds, heavy rains and loose gravel on Wednesday afternoon, August 26th. We had started out in Cartwright that morning with beautiful cloudless skies but quickly ran into the developing storm as we headed South. We had reduced our speed to about 35 kph but a gust of wind and a built up section of wet gravel sent my wife’s bike into a front wheel skid into the guardrail, just 6 kilometers before the pavement began. Fortunately all she broke was her ankle. We can attest to the truth of Mr. Burgyan’s “worst road” label!
However, the experience won’t leave a bad taste in our mouth because the response of everybody we have met has just been extraordinary. Elijah Way kindly took her in his van to the Labrador Grenfell Health Clinic in Forteau which meant he missed his ferry that night and since the storm cancelled the next day’s ferry it was a kinder act than even he knew! The nurses and staff at the clinic were fantastically helpful, especially Morenda who took home my wife’s clothes and washed them, Wade Jones and Tanya Keats who let us store our motorcycles in their garage and Frieda who helped us organize a way to get my wife to the hospital in St. Anthony’s after the ferry was cancelled. Of course, the kindness has simply continued here in St. Anthony.
No, we will come away with a very good feeling about the people of this region, happy in the knowledge that here in Newfoundland and Labrador the values we ourselves hold--kindness to others--still hold sway.
Ann has come out of surgery and is doing extremely well and we are scurrying around trying to figure out how to get ourselves home from the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and how to get our bikes shipped back to California.
The best description of riding the gravel roads during this day was written by Craig riding two-up with his wife, Barbara. So, with an acknowledgment of Craig's superior writing skills, I'll simply cut and paste it into this report:
Bucking and weaving, I forced the GS through another patch of deep gravel, clear piste ahead, 40, 50, 55. Another stretch of gravel comes into view, slow to 40, accelerating as we hit the gravel. The bike weaves almost uncontrollably for a second before we gain traction. Through the gravel and the surface changes to a lumpy sand and gravel mix; better traction as our speed builds 40, 50, 60 – more gravel ahead, small patches and I accelerate through each one, feathering the throttle on the smoother patches, leaving me space to accelerate through gravel without building too much speed on the heavily laden GS. Then several miles of well worn piste, the gravel thrown to each side of a smooth wide rut, 50, 60, 70, 80; back off to cruise at 60.
Then sand again, hard packed heavily corrugated; the bike shaking like a road drill as I try and find the speed that will smooth our passage through the ruts. We make progress.
Then comes the rain and wind. Howling gusts build into a crescendo of side wind that starts to kick the GS off track. I moderate speed as the bike is forced across ruts through deep ‘berms’ of gravel that send the rear end of the bike swinging from side to side. The rain gets heavier and the wind starts to howl as we traverse an area of rugged and bare moor land. The clouds hang heavy and lower over the high moors as smaller wisps scud across a darkening sky.
The piste starts to destabilise as the drenching downpour works its way into the sand mud and gravel. We are being thrown about and before long, the rules of off road riding go out the window as we struggle to maintain any kind of reasonable speed on the ever deepening gravel and sand mix; wide ruts become narrow water filled rivers and the gusts keep driving the GS into the deep gravel to the right. Keeping the bike on track becomes a matter of sheer strength and will power.
We hit a long section of pink granite gravel; scattered by the grading crews in vast quantities across the whole piste, speed can only be maintained with great effort in the wind and rain.
Of course, we have really enjoyed this adventure with many memories to savor, many new found friends to get to know better and some good stories to tell. One of them is this one:
It is a peculiarity of the region that there are 3 time zones all clustered together: Quebec (-5), Labrador (-4) and Newfoundland (-3.5). We took the ferry from Goose Bay to Cartwright, both in Labrodor. But the ship originated in Lewisporte, Newfoundland so you can add another "time zone" called ship's time. The scheduled arrival time in Cartwright was 6 AM local time (ie, Labrador) or 6:30 AM ship's time and Newfoundland time. We were delayed about an hour on departure so before we went to bed I went to ask the Purser what our expected arrival time would be. (I was of course thinking of setting the alarm later and having a bit of a lie in.) Here is the conversation verbatim:
Me: What time are we due in?
Purser: Well, we were delayed about an hour so I would say around 7 or 7:30.