Home at last…well, in BC anyway

Tuesday, July 17. At the moment we are in Cranbrook, BC all snug in a motel we have stayed in before. Rum poured, chips served and all dressed up in dry clothes.

Pinto McBean in Bow Island, AB. Uh, they grow Pinto beans in Bow Island.

This morning we checked Arlene’s rear tire and found that it was 4 pounds low. That would be the reason why the bike didn’t feel right yesterday, so she knew what she was talking about. Looks like the mechanic was thinking about pre-2007 Glides with different tires. We have a small pump (emphasis on small) on board so after about 15 minutes of pumping before we left, it was up to pressure. Apparently it made quite a difference, which it should have. I think I’ll drop a note to the dealer in Regina since the mechanic also forgot the stem cap. 🙁

Anyway… We turned off of #1 onto #3 – The Crow – at Med Hat,  which is one of my favourite roads. The stretch from Med Hat to the mountains captures the prairies in a fabulous way. The alternating yellow canola and premature green wheat/oats/barley is awesome. It’s interesting, the canola smells just like dill. We actually passed a field of dill (say, 3-400 acres) and it was overpowering.

The Oldman River  valley between Lethbridge and Fort MacLeod is beautiful. Lots of sweeping vistas and rolling hills with green and yellow as far as the eye can see. Great ad for John Deere tractors. When we climbed out of the Oldman river valley west of Lethbridge we caught our first glimpse of the Rockies in 6 weeks (last time was in California). I have to say, I was actually very excited. The only down side was that there was clearly some serious storm activity over that way.

Discretion is the better part of valour. Thunderstorm on the horizon.

It had been relatively cool and sunny up until then but by Pincher Creek we gave in and suited up in rain gear and covered the packs. As we worked away at donning our duds, the lightning started in earnest so we knew it would probably be  a rough ride. Luckily we dodged the worst as the road neatly swung around the core but we still got hammered pretty hard. Soon it cleared up and we had a great ride from the Crowsnest Pass to Fernie.

That’s where the whole thing fell apart. Welcome to BC! Man did it rain. Not exactly a thunderstorm but the cars coming the other way had their wipers in “frantic”. It was a tough last 100K, but thankfully when we pulled into Cranbrook it basically had fizzled out. Happy hour soon made the rain a distant memory.

Slide at Frank, AB. Wiped out the town of Frank, circa 1900.

There was a couple checking in when we arrived who were riding a yellow Goldwing (which means a lot of yellow) with a yellow trailer (a lot more yellow) and they were wearing yellow rain gear. I teased them a bit but apparently they had no sense of ha ha. Oh well, if you’re riding that much yellow (a bad, metallic yellow at that) down the road you have to toughen up a bit. 🙂

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Gotta love thunderstorms

We’re camped in Medicine Hat at the moment. Don’t let me fool you. We’re in a motel. It’s just a figure of speach. (For our American buddies – that is actually the name of a place)

Last night I had a really good look at Arlene’s rear… tire. 🙂 We knew it was on it’s last legs when we started in June and planned on changing it in Virginia, but the dealer we know there let us down huge so it didn’t happen. At any rate, a cut in the bottom of a groove appeared recently and looked pretty bad, so in the interest of safety and peace of mind we called the dealer in Regina this AM and they agreed to change it asap. Interstingly, they were 3 blocks from our downtown rube motel. It’s Harley’s policy to assist travellers so that they can get on their way. We have always been slipped into the line as soon as we showed up requiring a repair. Try that in a GM, Ford or Yamaha.

In general we had decent road/weather today but we played the usual thunderstorm roulette throughout the day. As we rolled along we dodged some, ran a few that were annoying at worst but two required riding by brail. Unless you have been in this position on a bike you wouldn’t understand. Trust me, pulling over is not an option is these storms. Pulling off (if you can see what you are pulling off into) makes you a sitting duck for cars that are doing the same (there’s no side roads or parking lots in the middle of nowhere). The best option is to ride slow, 4-ways on, feel the road and try to get a glimpse of the shoulder. Usually it only lasts a few minutes but it seems like forever. One of them was the “hold left hand over mouth to breathe” type, so shifting is an issue if required (left hand required for the clutch).

At one point Arlene thought her new tire was going south, so slowed to a crawl until we could pull off at a paved cross road. I took it for a blast on that road (it’s unreasonable to go out and back on the TCH because I would have been gone for an hour). All seemed fine so we blamed the road surface, which certainly sucked at that point.

Anyway, we were late into the barn tonight because we left Regina at noon and had about 460 klicks to cover. We made it in pretty big gulps. Only two brief butt breaks and a lunch break for the day, remembering that you can’t shift around like in a car.

Interesting note: We crossed paths with two guys from Montreal at the Regina dealership. They had no idea where BC was!!!!! No shit. They had no idea.  They were going to Banff to ride the “montaines” after they picked up their wives who were to fly into Calgary. We played tag with them in Swift Current, on the road and in Med Hat. They rode “plus vite” than us but we beat them into the same motel. Kind of the tortoise and hare thing, n’est pas?

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Heading west

Today is Sunday, July 15. We’re in Regina at the moment.

Souris’ little train museum. Betty on the left. She’s a big player in anything like this all over town.

Yesterday we left Winnipeg heading for Souris to visit Betty Clevett, a friend who Arlene met working through her geneology. Betty was married to a cousin who passed away some time ago. Every time we go there she invites Arlene’s relatives over for dinner. She’s a blast so we always have a great visit and last night was no exception. Souris experienced devastating floods last year and we were in awe of the earthworks protecting the town at that time. This year she took us on a tour of the same places so we saw the result of all their efforts. Only one house was lost and now a lot of the dikes have been graded into the terrain. Amazing effort by thousands of

The Souris town peacock pecks at his reflection in cars. Tough on paint jobs.

volunteers saved their town. If people weren’t sandbagging they were cooking, as in Betty’s case. The same can’t be said of Minot, ND where all was lost due to no pre-emptive action. We also visited their brand new rail museum in an old payroll car. It’s a tiny museum but pretty cool. Souris is a rail town that was the site of a major rail yard and roundhouse. Almost everyone in town is in some way dependant on the CPR.

Today we left in rain. 🙁 First rain in almost two months but honestly, rain like this is a piece of cake compared to oppressive heat. All day we jousted with rain squals but I would say that more than half the time we had dry roads, which was nice. The most amazing part was that the wind was more or less at our backs (wind at your back happens about .0001% of the time). The prevailing wind through the prairies is east to west – except when WE are heading west. We have certainly paid our dues going east! Riding the TCH across the prairies is getting pretty much like a commute but even now, I still find the ride interesting. Lots of things going on all over the place and the scenery changes with the weather.

This butterfly cadaver has been with us since Wisconsin.

We’re in a rather rat bag-ish motel in downtown Regina. The prices of motels along the TCH are expensive and I’m sure it’s because wherever you are, it’s a long haul to the next stop. Also, motels are generally more expensive than in the US.

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Mental Snapshots of the South

While we have been  on the road I have been putting together small articles for Canadian Biker. A piece that I did on the Wheels Through Time museum has already been accepted. I also put something assembled as we rode along describing all the things that we found different of interesting while in the south – most of them impossible to present in a photograph or the photo-op passed in an instant. I sent this last one in to the editor and he judged it not only worthy but outstanding. The “but” was that he had already given the nod to another similar piece by another regular contributor. I enjoyed writing the piece and since it won’t be put into print, I will post it here.

Mental Snapshots of the South

Sometimes pictures can’t convey thoughts or moods or “the bigger picture”. It’s easy to see what is being portrayed in a picture of Mount Robson in the Rockies but almost impossible to capture the vastly different mood and feeling of the much less rugged Alleghenies, Catskills and Smoky Mountains in the eastern US. We all experience mental snapshots in time or feelings that somehow get lost in translation.

Riding through the American Deep South, we experienced things that only a pasty white boy and girl from the great white north would notice. For instance…

Suddenly turning onto a South Carolina detour and riding for miles along a shaded, tunnel-like back road lined with Live Oaks dripping with Spanish Moss, every mile feeling more and more mellow.

Learning how to speak “Tennessee-an” from our host near Nashville. We pick up the conversation at                                                                                                                                      “So, we’ll have to turn at Maryville?”                                                                                               “No.Mrvl”                                                                                                                                               “Mryvl?”                                                                                                                                                “No. Too many syllables. Mrvl”                                                                                                        “Mrvl?”                                                                                                                                                 “Yer gittin’ close”                                                                                                                               “Well, then how do you say Mary? Mr?”                                                                                    “Nope. Maairry.”

On a small back road in Alabama, the heat’s oppressive. Jim Croche is rocking “Stock Car Boy” on the stereo. We pass a ramshackle house where a few good old boys are wrenching a battered stock car as a couple of southern belles wait patiently. A dozing dog raises his head as we rumble by.

Eating foods that we’ve heard about but never tasted: home made catfish, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, corn bread, hush puppies and grits. Apparently “ya cain’t have jus’ wun grit.”

Being surprised that we had to speak so loudly to be heard over the cicadas in the trees during the day, only to find that the tree frogs are absolutely deafening at night.

Passing a well tended cotton field surrounding a small, abandoned, sun-silvered house. To one side are four skewed, weathered grave markers covered with weeds.

Riding by a small, neat cemetery with flower-bedecked headstones in neat rows, almost every stone decorated with a small American flag. One has a large Confederate flag.

Riding for some time noting the occasional but obvious smell of tobacco, then finally passing the empty but pungent SC Tobacco Coop warehouse.

Every house has a porch; some with a small one on the front, some with a wide, sweeping veranda on all four sides. Rocking chairs – usually just two – or a swing on every one.

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Hanging in Winnipeg

Just a note to say that we’re in Winnipeg and will be here visiting and the like until we leave on Saturday.

Good, simple, short ride from Grand Forks, ND to here. North Dakota and southern Manitoba is absolutely the flattest land we have travelled in – even more so than the country surrounding Regina. It’s no wonder when the Red River floods there is such a large land mass covered. Some folks have been smart and built their houses and other important buildings on mounds.

The second morning of our stay we opened the blinds to find it was actually raining outside. Nice to be in a snug hotel room looking out at it. With that in mind, we  just received this joke in an email that I thought   described the weather over most of our trip quite adequately. ‘Nuff said. 🙂

Anyway, will resume in a few days.

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July 9 in Grand Forks, ND. Today was a lope. Only about 150 miles.

Sometimes flat and straight is just what the doctor ordered. We headed west from Staples on US 10, turned north on US 59 at Detroit Lakes then west again on US 2 to Grand Forks, ND. Basically, just a staging point for Winnipeg. All great roads; nice and smooth, 65mph (110K), sunny, cool and actually pretty interesting scenery. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when there are actual driveways adjoining the road. You can see what folks are doing, how they live, the stuff they grow and just generally get a feel for the place as you roll along. It was nice to just settle back, turn up the tunes – but not so loud as to drown out the rumble – and set the cruise a few klicks over the limit. Did I say I loved my Geezer Glide? :).

It was fun to watch the clouds grow into baby thunderstorms over the morning. The best part was knowing we would be booked in by the time they got serious. One got a little agressive just south of us and things were a little tentative for the last hour or so. It was unloading pretty good and on a converging course, obviously dropping lots of rain but no hail. We laugh in the face of danger – especially when we are in the motel parking lot just as the first giant drops start to dampen the pavement. 🙂

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Lets hear it for weather prognosticators!!

It’s July 8 and we’re in Staples, MN. Only about 250 miles today (400 km) but that was intentional because we front loaded the daily mileage over the first three days in case the going got tough.

Well, today had a very pleasant start with a rather spectacular finish. We slept in a bit because we planned a rather short day, mostly along secondary routes. We started out on US 53 heading north for about 50 miles of freeway. Even though it was freeway it was a very pleasant ride. The road was sparsely populated, the pavement smooth and the temperature actually a bit cool, even in the morning sun. Although quite humid, it didn’t cause us any discomfort. Wonderful rolling, green landscape that I have to say has been one of the more scenic stretches of our trip. This is clearly Amish territory since there are the odd carriage warning signs and plenty of advertising regarding Amish souvenirs and the like.

We turned west on US 8 near Rice Lake heading for Minneapolis/St. Paul. The trick was to skirt the twin cities but that was no problem with the GPS, even though it seems to be having a hissy fit and isn’t speaking to me at the moment. Sometimes I enjoy the silence – like when we turn off for a break. Yes, I know you’re recalculating – again. 🙂   It started to warm up around noon but it was child’s play compared to the heat we have experienced. We had a lunch break somewhere along US 10 after skirting the big cities. We were certainly glad we were heading west rather than east – as in, back to town. There were literally miles-long line ups along US 10 that was clearly weekend traffic heading home. In the land of 10,000 lakes I can only assume everyone was heading home from the lake – every lake. 🙂

When we left in the morning there was a possibility of limited thunder storm activity. Considering the heat, humidity and the low pressure front heading down from the north, I was surprised that was all that was expected. As we rode along in the afternoon, the cumulus clouds suddenly started to grow – some rapidly and very high. My Spidy sense told me that something was up. We haven’t ridden endless miles in the prairies and learned nothing! Before long, what I expected appeared north of us; a massing of thunderheads combining into one, spanning about 75% of the northern horizon, rising into the stratosphere, flattened out on top with the jet stream ripping the top to shreds. Not a good sign. We were heading north straight toward it, but knew the road would turn northwest sooner or later. As we rode all I could think was “Turn, damn you, turn!” The base of the beast wasn’t visible for quite some time while were in the trees but finally we got a look at the whole thing. A black wall from side to side with a boiling center at the base of the cloud. Rain was evident across several miles but there was a column of hail probably a couple of miles wide in the center. Finally we turned northwest, skinning by the worst. We missed the hail but the rain was intense – normal for a thunderstorm – and the wind was both violent and chaotic to say the least. Over about ten miles the rain came and went with the wind changing direction at one point about every 500 yards. We approached a service center (with several bikes parked outside) so I pointed, basically asking Arlene if she wanted to turn in (her CB will transmit but not receive). All I heard was “KEEP GOING!” That’s my girl. 🙂 Once we had passed through, we still had about 20 miles to go. Just enough time to dry out. 🙂

The best part of all this? When I started to smell a rat I turned on the US weather service weather band on the radio (remember, I ride a Geezer Glide). At first, it went on at length telling me all about what the weather WAS during the morning. Just as we cleared the trees and I could see the base of the storm, the announcer – in a very foreboding voice – warned that “the morning forecast for light thunderstorm risk in the afternoon throughout the state had been updated to include a severe threat in the area of Little Falls. As we passed the Little Falls city limit sign all I could think was, “No shit, Sherlock.”

As I sit here, Arlene is watching the weather channel. We just left Ohio and north easternVirginia where they are getting hammered by terrible weather including tornadoes. We were there just after record breaking winds and lightning. Even though I have been whining about the heat over the whole trip, we dodged just north of hurricane Debby and have left nothing but terrible weather in our wake wherever we have been. At the moment we are in a very small pocket of decent weather surrounded by drought or excessive rainfall. She is also highlighting our route so far this trip and found that we have been through 24 states. Including those that we have been through before, we have ridden through a total of 37 of the Excited States, including Alaska.

Today we made a decision to head west toward home rather than east after Winnipeg. For the last couple of days, both of us have been thinking separately that once we started heading west, the rest of the original route we had planned after Virginia seemed almost moot. Although we both were looking forward to visiting the Maritimes and the north eastern US, it’s ground we have covered before –  not for a minute saying that we have seen it all. We’re both pretty tired and would have no problem navigating some new roads through the area, but the idea of turning around to head back over half the continent to pick up our trail just doesn’t appeal to us. At the moment we’re starting to get the “horse heading for the barn” feeling. We’ve had that before and from experience, we know that we will only be going through the motions if we headed east again. It’s been yet another trip of a lifetime so far and we don’t want to spoil it. It’s a bit disappointing because we were looking forward to seeing Andy and Joanne and my cousin Fenn in Nova Scotia. C’est la vie. There will always be another ride.

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We can, we can, we can catch a break.

Saturday July 07. About 10,000 klicks so far. That’s about 6000 miles in the Excited States. 🙂 We cracked off 360 miles or about 575 km today. We’re in Eau Claire, WI.

Today we got a late start. We planned a 6:30 start but Arlene wasn’t feeling up to snuff and I don’t doubt it had something to do with the heat yesterday. Out of the lot at about 9:30 and it was hot already. We decided since it was a Saturday to head through Chicago on the “Chicago Skyway” (I-90).  The going was not bad but at one point we were approaching “The Circle” according to signs at ever decreasing distances. It sounded quite ominous but by very carefully selected lanes ahead of time according to the GPS we did quite well. “The Circle” is simply a location where about 7 or 8  freeway legs come together in a very short, curved stretch. If you’re late to the game on a lane change you’re going to Detroit and that’s that. At any rate, we got out of Dodge in one piece.

A shot of our wind/sun burned paws. Our friend Dave dubbed Arlene “Painted Paws” a couple of weeks back. The pattern is from our light riding gloves.

We started in Indiana at the motel and were in Illinois right away. The freeway was toll until we got into Wisconsin. It felt like we were riding along with my pocket open and the money steadily blowing out on the road. We kicked the crap out of a hundred bucks from Pennsylvania through Illinois in tolls.

As we rode inland from Lake Michigan on I-39/94 it got really hot in a very short period of time. The weather prediction was for cooler weather further north and it was definitely tough going until about 3:00 PM. On schedule, it grew overcast and the air was distinctly cooler.  I-39 headed north and that was when we got cooler. Not only that, the road became smooth over most of the rest of the way. The temp on the dash was just below 90F, so felt quite cool.

 Wisconsin is definitely dairy country, hence the “Cheese Head” reputation. The country went from flat to rolling north of Madison. The foot hills were very green with corn rolling across the landscape rather than the flat, flat, flat we have seen so far. Outcrops of rock produced hoodoos in sedimentary rock in a few locations.

Eau Claire River. The Eau Claire –  tributary of the Chippewa –  at this point is wide, slow flowing, shallow with rounded bedrock outcroppings here and there and the eau is definitely claire; a tuber’s paradise. I spotted a couple of tubes reserved for beer which is most unusual. 🙂 Even though it wasn’t nearly as hot as it has been, we both wanted to be down in that river.

We’ve pretty much broken the back of the ride to Winnipeg. We have a couple of extra days after all, so will hit the back roads from here on. Looking forward to that.

Arlene noted zero bugs, zero Beemers (I saw one on a trailer), one female rider and commented that the bugs down here are not the Kamikazes that we have at home. Pussies. Too hot to be out of the shade, I think.

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If this is Friday, this must be Gary, Indiana.

Well almost. We’re in Merrillville, IN but who would know where that is? The motels are cheaper here and we can dodge downtown Chicago from here tomorrow. Rush hour in Chicago is something we don’t want to experience.

Today was your basic day on the interstate. Temp was not so bad in the AM but plenty hot after noon or so. It was hot enough the the soles of our boots were blistering hot while we were riding. It was 115F with 60% humidity. Anything less is for pussies. 🙂 We made good, steady time with water breaks over the last 200 mi. or 320K. Total for the day was about 350 mi. or 560 km. There are service plazas on the toll interstate so that you don’t have to constantly get off and on through toll booths. We stopped regularly every 140K or 80mi. or so. Not much wind so able to keep the speed up most of the way.

Interstates are soul-less. It’s so hard to get a feel for the places you have travelled through. Through Ohio and Indiana we were obviously in farming country. Lots of silos and corn cribs with large loafing barns. The corn we saw everywhere in the south has been replaced by, well, more corn. The cotton, peanuts and tobacco (tobacco mostly in SC and NC) has morphed into soy beans. Lots of soy beans – to the horizon, even. I recall traveling through the north central states in ’08 and remember the soy and corn. Bio fuel is the name of the game here, I guess. Passed the GM Cruze factory in Ohio. Looks like they make a lot of Cruzes (big). We also passed a Chrysler factory. Likewise, we passed lots of flat decks with rolls (one roll each so they are very large and heavy) of steel sheet for stamping body parts heading in the direction of the factories. Stamping steel is a very special (expensive) product and quite easy to identify if you happen to know what you are looking at (the appearance left by the annealing process). I’ve never seen so much passing by, so obviously business is good.

Forgot to mention yesterday that we crossed the divide between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi drainage basins. It was somewhere just west of the Alleghenies, which makes sense.

We made good time yesterday and today. We’ll match it tomorrow when we hit Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It’s gonna be hot again but the temps should plummet to the mid 80’s (F) after that. Arlene booked the motel for tomorrow yesterday (got that?) because it’s the weekend. We’ve been left out in the cold before (in the case, the heat) on weekends so didn’t want to take a chance when we’re blasting the way we are. From there it will be a lope to Winterpeg.

Arlene has been designated the “Beem-o-meter”. No bugs, no Beemers today. That’s not to say we don’t get the usual splats on the windshield. We’re talking about the guys that get past and get you right between the horns. Anyway, none and none today. 🙂

One special thing that we have noted since the day we left home; we have seen virtually no solo women riders out on the road. In fairness, we have seen a couple who were obviously doing a local ride – even commuting – but none touring. It’s fair to say that Arlene is a breed all her own as far as long distance riding. I am very proud of her for tackling the challenges that she does and so happy to have a great riding partner.

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Really (not) enjoying the Interstates

Cannons at Manassis in Viginia. Two major battles here

Today was the first of probably five days grinding the interstates to Winnipeg. It’s destination-oriented riding but that’s what we have to do. We popped out of Virginia into Maryland, then into Pennsylvania and finally Ohio. Although we were on the interstate, we enjoyed the ride as much as possible, especially the southern portion of Pennsylvania. We loved the Alleghanies last trip and did so today. Wonderful scenery through not-so-rugged mountains that, like New Hamshire/Vermont/Maine, can’t be expressed in photographs. The small towns are all very old, orderly and well kept – the ones we saw anyway. The interstate we are on is a toll road so each stop was a steady drain on the wallet. The alternative is a route that would take us a minimum of a day longer, which we really don’t have.

Arlene was stung by a wasp today (inside the helmet. Ow.) and luckily we were just coming up to a turn out at the side of the interstate. Quick work with a vinegar soaked cotton ball reduced the pain immediately and experience says that the swelling was far less than not treating it at all. Again, a tribute to my tough riding partner, we pressed on in a few minutes.

It just occurred to me that considering her past Bug/Beemer encounters she might have been broadsided by a Beemer just down the road. On the other hand, perhaps not. She collected a few bugs in the past couple of riding days with no equivelant Beemer comeback. Maybe it’s because it’s a tad cooler. 🙂

One very small part of the museum

Tomorrow we plan to hit the Chicago area. It’s a vast, complicated freeway system that we have navigated once before. Arlene booked a motel a few minutes ago that will keep us out of the belly of the beast, allowing us to skin by the perimeter the next day, heading north west to Wisconsin.

As promised, a few shots of the Advar – Hazy Air Museum are sprinkled about in the text. It’s a part of the vast Smithsonian musem system.

Today was also a laundry day as will tomorrow. Our stuff is all one-load coordinated but we have a fair inventory after the last few days off visiting with Bob and Diane, hence the second load tomorrow.

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