Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rock, Hard Place & Arctic Tundra

We got on the road on Monday morning heading towards Toronto, thrilled to be moving in the direction of the next stage of our travels in North America: South and West towards California. It was so cold that morning that my gloves, which had gotten wet in the rainstorm we rode through the night before, had partially frozen overnight. Which I didn't realize until I had to stop a few miles after we got started because even with my grip heating, I couldn't feel my fingers well enough to operate the clutch and hand brake. As you can imagine, this poses a bit of a problem. But even that couldn’t get me down.... Soon, we would be heading South into the warmth of the sun and more temperate days and nights.

And then we got to Toronto and hit a brick wall.

Roel had entered the US on the Visa Waiver Program, which gives travelers from several countries the US is friendly with, a visa-free 90 days to visit the States. At the end of the 90 days, you must leave the country, but you can re-enter as many times as you like for the next two years... Or so we thought...

Our flights back to Australia are scheduled for the end of December, and to avoid the hassle of getting out of the US again in 90 days, just before that flight, we decided to cough up the fee for a 6-month tourist visa. So we cheerfully headed to the US Consulate in Toronto. Figuring I would save Roel the annoyance of standing in the 100+ person non-US Citizen line, I approached the US entrance, explained what I was there for, and asked for the application for a tourist visa. Instead, the guard handed me a document with several numbers and email addresses and advised me that we would need to request an expedited appointment at the Consulate (current wait time for an appointment was 2 weeks) because not only could Roel not apply for a tourist visa through normal channels because he is not applying for said visa while in his home country, but also because when the Visa Waiver (VW) program says that you must leave the US after 90 days, Canada and Mexico are apparently not foreign enough to count. Really?

As dazed as you would expect one to be after colliding with a wall at full speed, we walked away from the US consulate and began the process of calling Immigration, Customs and Border Protection and visiting the Dutch Consulate and the US Consulate, again. In addition to all of the other distressing information we had learned, we found out that US CBP ideally likes if you return to your home country (not just any other country aside from Canada or Mexico) for a month between VW entries and when applying for a tourist visa from your home country, they need you to show strong ties to your home country (i.e., a job, children, a house, business, etc.), none of which Roel has since he's been traveling for the past four years.

The other aspect of this situation is that even if the Dutch Consulate has never heard of any Dutch people having trouble getting into the US from Canada, it is up to the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection agent you get when you go to cross the border. Cross your fingers, toes, etc. that they woke up on the right side of the bed that morning. 

You might be thinking: So what? Roel has to go back to The Netherlands for a bit, cuddle his new nephew, drink some good beer and nosh on yummy Dutch cheese – not so bad!

Well, until you consider what the airfare would do to our travel budget AND the fact that it’s probably not legal for Roel to leave Canada while his bike is here.

I think this is what is meant by being stuck “between a rock and a hard place.” Oh, and don’t forget the quickly descending arctic tundra. : (

No, thank you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Horizons Unlimited Meeting @ Lake Manitouwabing, Ontario

When we arrived in Parry Sound, it was like we had found “our people.” Every other bike was packed up and looked ready to hit the road for several months (even though most of the other bikes had only been packed for that weekend). 

Our tent and bikes were in good company

Susan and Grant Johnson spent over ten years traveling around the world on their BMW motorcycle and set up Horizons Unlimited to assist other bikers interested in overland adventures. They offer advice and forums to address topics ranging from border crossings, to which bike to choose to take you near or far, to female specific topics. And their meetings, which take place throughout the year in various places throughout the world, are an opportunity for those looking for adventure to come together and be inspired, learn some tricks of the road/trail and realize that it is ALL possible. 

Roel presenting on his amazing journey from Holland to Australia
We started off Friday morning, bright and early, with the first of 3 delicious hot buffet breakfasts we would enjoy that weekend. Roel’s 9am presentation, covering his journey from The Netherlands to Australia, was a hit! He is naturally a charismatic guy and the audience was captivated throughout his “stage” time, oo-ing and ah-ing at his beautiful photographs, and laughing at some of his more unsavory stories (i.e., like the time when he “had” to eat dog meat at a birthday party in East Timor). 

Patrick Trahan
Later that day, we watched Patrick Trahan, a REAL adventurer, give a non-mechanic’s mechanics course. The presentation was filled with humor, but we all learned some handy new tricks. Patrick also gave a presentation each evening about his hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking, experiences on (but mostly off)-road. He is probably one of the most humble guys who has ever signed thousands of autographs, and his stories exemplify that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and BELIEVE. Patrick had a dream to ride the Paris-Dakar Rally, an off-road endurance race where a rider will sometimes need to ride 800–900 kilometers (500–560 mi) per day, through dunes, camel grass, mud, etc. Although he’d only ridden his motorcycle for 10 hours, during which, he’d encountered a number of falls and mishaps, he was determined to see this goal through, and actually finished his first “practice” rally, the 1998 Atlas Rally in Morocco. After a bit more experience, in 2010, he finally achieved his dream and finished the Paris-Dakar Rally. Patrick’s dream to finish the Dakar was made possible by support from sponsors and fans, so after achieving his own dream, he set out to help others achieve theirs… by setting a speed record for circumnavigating Africa while raising money for the Children’s Wish Foundation. However, this journey was interrupted by a catastrophic accident when a truck hit Patrick head-on on a Nigerian highway; against the odds, Patrick survived, as did his spirit, and his desire to finish the ride remained intact. In my 5 years of conference/event planning, I had a lot of opportunities to listen to excellent motivational speakers (Chris Gardner, inspiration for the film, The Pursuit of Happyness, Greg Mortenson who wrote Three Cups of Tea, Bonnie St. John, amputee and Olympic Ski medalist, etc.) - Patrick was right up there with those guys, and perhaps even better – it was quite a treat to be regaled with his stories each evening.  
Roundtable facilitating

The following morning, Roel and I led a round-table discussion called “2-Up or 2 Bikes,” discussing the pros and cons of being on one bike or traveling with two bikes. After my aforementioned experience conference planning in Washington, DC, I was excited to finally be on the “presenter” side of the field. Until only 5 people showed up for our session … Uh-oh. It occurred to me that this must be how a few of my speakers in the past had felt when put up against more popular sessions. Nevertheless, I knew we would at least have an intimate discussion. But soon, folks made their way over from the common area and a nice crowd gathered. We had a great time sharing stories and trading advice. 

Grant Johnson & Roel's rims

Grant leads a session on executing road-side tire changes at every HU meeting, and since Roel’s bike was due for a new rear tire, we volunteered Roel’s bike and the spare Kenda tire he’d been carrying for the job. Again, we learned a lot… you find a lot of “experts” at these meetings, apparently ; ) and we enjoyed a lot of laughs (some at poor Roel’s expense) while watching Grant deftly manage a few tire levers and swap a street-racing-worthy worn-out tire for the well-treaded Kenda.

Through the course of the three days we spent at Lake Manitouwabing, we met bikers who had been around the world several times already, bikers who were just about to get started on their round-the-world adventures and one truly awesome woman who I imagine is looking forward to the day when she can stop worrying about the cancer treatment course she’s in the midst of, and take off to see the world. We had people from all over Canada and the US offering us places to stay, assistance with finding parts and general well-wishes. I don’t think there was a person who rode away from the weekend who hadn’t been touched and inspired by the story of another… including the both of us. It was an exceptional high to ride to Toronto on.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Smokers: BEWARE!! (Warning: tiny rant ahead)

After 650kms in one day, this was our warm welcome to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Parry Sound, Ontario

Of course, after a few days of perfectly clear weather in Montreal, the day arrived when we would have to make a 650 kilometer run for Parry Sound, Ontario to make it to the Horizons Unlimited meeting, and it was pouring. Although we had wanted to get an early start in order to arrive before dark, we were more interested in staying dry than arriving by light. So, we waited until there was a break in the rain and then set out.

Our “good” weather lasted for about an hour and then a massive rain cloud caught up to us. I stayed dry for the most part, but hadn’t layered up before we left Montreal, so I got pretty cold, pretty quickly. This was a no-nonsense riding day, though… so we didn’t stop until we’d found a gas station to fuel up at, with a Wal-mart next-door where we could buy sandwich fixings. My mood improved after a good lunch and a healthy dose of endorphin releasing chocolate… but my butt was starting to sing, so I dug out my sheepskin seat cover from the bottom of my pannier, and fixed it over my seat. A nice bit of luxury, yes, but one that means I will be sitting about an inch higher up and my feet will be that much less firmly planted on the ground. Luxury, yes, but also a risk.

Anyway, we got back on the road and tried to put as many miles behind us as possible, before the sun set. I was thoroughly enjoying riding through the Algonquin Provincial Park, about 150 kilometers from our destination. The nicely designed road wound around beautiful lakes and the beginning hints of color suggested that autumn was not far off. So yes, I was enjoying this ride until we got stuck behind a Chevy that was clearly not as excited about its destination as we were. Oh well, it’s not entirely bad to have a car in front of you on roads that are signposted every 5 kilometers with Moose Crossing warnings. 

We ride with a pretty safe following distance, so it was quite obvious when a small flaming item came hurtling out one of the Chevy’s windows, and bounced along the road straight in the path of our motorcycles. A cigarette butt!!! Ok, what is the likelihood of this hurting us or doing damage to the bikes... not high. BUT, there have been instances of butts flung from cars flying up and getting trapped in motorcyclists pant legs or jackets, requiring them to execute risky emergency maneuvers in order to spare themselves from being severely burned. And there have also been reports of cigarette butts getting trapped in the helmets of riders, causing at least one person to fatally lose control of his motorcycle. Everyone knows what it feels like to burn her/himself on a hot pan: not good. But can you imagine having a burning cigarette stuck in your helmet? burning the sensitive areas around your eyes and cheeks?

So yes, even if the chances of these things happening are about as likely as being eaten by a Great White Shark, or struck by lightning, it is still considered littering, which there are laws against in most States/Provinces AND this person was littering in a Provincial Park! AND creating a forest fire hazard.

So, the Irish in me exploded to the surface, and I layed on my horn giving them a “what the heck” gesture I hoped they saw in their rear-view mirror. Perhaps they just didn’t realize that there were motorcyclists behind them… I mean, our bikes are rather quiet.

Nope!! Moments later, another fiery butt appeared from the passengers window. This time, I didn’t lay on the horn, I leaned on it… for a solid 10 seconds. I was FUMING (fortunately, not literally). I have a terrible memory, but I committed that cars details to memory… black Chevy with Ontario plates: BMME 959… fully intending to report them to the authorities in the next town. Perhaps not much could be done, but maybe a warning would make them think twice before chucking butts out the window, again.

We eventually passed them, worrying that they might be chain smoking and that we would soon have more blazing traffic hazards coming our way. And I will let you car drivers reading this in on a little guilty pleasure I have grown to appreciate during my time motorcycling... If you are telling someone off in traffic from the protective box of your car, they cannot hear you screaming at them. The glare from your windshield, your steering wheel, the side panels of your car, all detract from the message you are trying to convey to the other car who has just cut you off. However, on a motorcycle, these barriers do not exist, so when I pulled up next to that car as I was passing, and looked that driver directly in the eye, shook my head and gave him the most pithy, disgusted look I could manage, I’m pretty sure he got the message.  

Anyway, by the time we made it to Parry Sound that evening, I was frozen. We pulled into the camp where the event was being held and there were a number of motorcyclists sitting around the campfire and milling around event registration. Fully aware that I had put my seat cover on, trading stability for comfort, I focused so intensely on pulling my bike up and backing into a parking spot, that my feet were nearly warm by the time I successfully got off the bike without dropping it in front of 30 other bikers. Five minutes later, while we were in the process of registering, we heard a crash outside and another biker, a big, strong-looking, long-legged guy, had dropped his bike. See, it happens to everyone : )

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Gaspe Peninsula, lessons on fuel consumption vs. wind, Quebec City (wtf?) and my longest pilgrimage to St. Joseph's in Montreal

Percé Rock, Gaspe Peninsula

We based our decision to ride the Gaspe Peninsula entirely on the weather, so when we woke to a brilliantly clear, albeit extremely chilly (9degC/48degF) day, and found out the forecast for the next day would be the same, we made the call to ride around the Gaspe Peninsula. 

Both of our rear tires were getting close to the point of replacement and so we stopped at almost every motorcycle dealership we encountered looking for a tire that was a reasonable price and would fit the bill for both bikes. Make no mistake, finding both of these things while on a French speaking, very touristy peninsula was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, the time that Roel had spent vacationing with his family in France as a child paid off, and we found a good Dunlop tire. While Roel was inside buying it, I was sitting on my bike, idly looked out over the water and a whale swam by! Always a blast to be surprised by nature.
Sunset at our Gaspe Peninsula Camping Spot
The wind on the peninsula was freezing, but the views were stunning. Perce Rock was amazing and riding around there reminded me of driving the Great Ocean Road in Australia. We found an unbelievable place to camp that evening, between the ocean and a river with gorgeous mountains rising up against the sunset in the distance. The next morning, we woke to the calls of migrating Canadian Geese and then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as we watched gannets from the nearby colony diving for their breakfast.  
Canadian Geese Migrating at Sunset
It was even windier that day, making riding right next to the water (where there are plenty of signs warning of waves coming up onto the road) a bit frightening. I learned an important lesson that day about how wind will impact your fuel consumption... and though my range is usually easily 200 miles on a tank, I ran out of fuel at 180 miles. Oops. Fortunately, our spare MSR can (thanks for that, Jesse) was full and got us to the next station.

Old Quebec
On Friday, we made it to Quebec City. We had heard from many people how lovely the city was, how amazing the restaurants were and we anticipated that we would want to spend several days there. Upon arrival in Quebec City, we became quite doubtful of our original "plan." Each road into the Old Quebec City was marked with a "No Motorcycles" sign. Really, Quebec City? WTF? We parked outside of the city and made our way to Tourist Information. We walked to see all of the highlights, which WERE beautiful, but between not feeling entirely welcomed and the clouds that were quickly darkening, we weren't too keen to spend another day there. 

It had been an extremely windy ride to Quebec City from the Gaspe Peninsula and being eager to get there, we pushed our speed more than normal. Usually, we're happy to sit at about 90-100kph/65mph, but that day we ran at about 120kpt/75mph. (Sorry if the conversions are off - I'm feeling too lazy to go look at my speedometer :) So, when we were on the highway heading out of Quebec City and all of the sudden my bike started to buck, shudder quickly lose power with only 130 miles on my gas reading, I thought something was terribly wrong. Could one of my newly installed CDIs be going? What on earth was causing this!? In lower gears the bike seemed fine and I managed to get it into a parking lot nearby. It had really felt like I was out of petrol, and upon opening the fuel tank, that appeared to be the case. Cutting my fuel range by 35% seems a bit extreme for it just to be wind/speed related, but neither of us could imagine someone being so bold as to drain petrol from my bike in the middle of a busy city. 

By the time we made it out of town that evening, it was quite late. We had waited out the last bout of rain, were exhausted from a long day of riding, walking and stressing about the bikes and were eager to find a place to pitch the tent for the night. Well, the Quebec cops had a different idea. They pulled Roel over, seemingly for no reason. Turns out they had never seen Dutch plates, or anything quite like Roel's bike, to be frank. Roel basically pulled out every piece of paperwork he had relating to the bike and confused them enough to let him go. 

We got an early start for Montreal the next day, planning to arrive early and make the most of what appeared to be a fine day. Best laid plans... 

In our search for a shower before arriving in Montreal, we stopped at a few different towns along the way. We proved to be unsuccessful in our search, but during one of those stops, we decided to fuel up, and moments after pulling up at the pump, two other overlanders pulled up to the pump across from us.
Look!!! Bikes as packed up as ours!!! (Roel, Nevil, Stephane & Jim)
Nevil Stow is completing his ride around the world with a run across Canada and his friend Jim has joined him for this. We got to chatting and a few minutes later, a truck pulling a trailer filled with Suzukis and a KTM Adventure bike pulled up to have a chat, as well. These guys had just completed the Orange Crush, an off-road navigation rally, and were heading back to Montreal. Upon hearing that we were looking for campgrounds around the city, one of them, Stephane, invited us to camp in his backyard. We exchanged information and all headed off. 
Old Montreal

We made it to Montreal just before Tourist Information closed. Armed with maps and a list of sights to see, we headed to Stephane's home, just south of Montreal. Stephane and his wife Vivianne warmly welcomed us and invited us not only to join them for dinner, but also to sleep inside as it would be quite cold that evening. We gratefully accepted, and shared a lovely evening with them and their two children. Being in a warm, beautiful home, filled the love of a family and the sound of childrens laughter really does something for the soul. I think it's an aspect of life that we really miss out on while we travel. So a huge thanks to Stephane and Vivianne for being so open to sharing their life with us, even for a brief time. 

On Monday, we realized that even if we could manage to see all of Montreal in one day that we would really need to spend at least another day here. Before making the trip to Ontario, we needed to have a new chain, another new tire, and a set of sprockets. We logged onto the ADV Rider site, and check out the Tent Space forum we had heard about from a few other ADV Riders we met along the way. There was an ad posted for a guy nearby that sounded perfect: another adventure riding enthusiast, with a big backyard AND a garage filled with any tools we could possibly need for the maintenance we would hopefully be doing. So we messaged this guy, and heard back almost immediately that he was around and indeed we could camp at his place that night. 

Relieved that we wouldn't have to worry about finding a way to stay near Montreal that night, we headed into the city.
St. Joseph's Oratory

We visited the impressive St. Joseph's Oratory, where my family had made an annual pilgrimage from before my birth, until my grandfather become too ill to partake in the journey. I had not been back to St. Joseph's since my grandfathers passing, but it was just as I had remembered. The smell of the chapel, it's lighting and it's warmth were so firmly ingrained in my mind that it was as if I was a child again, awed by everything this space held and it's palpable energy. My grandfather was a devout follower of Brother Andre, and would always bring home relics from Montreal to share with his friends in Massachusetts and anyone he heard of who was in need of a healing of some kind. 73 years after his death, Brother Andre was canonized in November of 2010... only months before my Grandfathers passing. This makes me smile.

St. Catherine's Cathedral, Montreal

At the Honda dealership, Excel Moto, we finally found luck with a nice salesguy named Raj. Raj not only managed to find the chain Roel needed, but also the front sprocket (which we finally found out happens to be the same as the front sprocket for the VT600) AND he could also get us a Kenda tire, which we've been wanting to try out: if it works out well, it is extremely affordable and will make replacing tires less painful for the old bank account.

Feeling fantastic, we dodged the rush-hour traffic back out of the city, to La Prairie to meet Philip at his home. Again, we received such a warm, hearty welcome, and Philip told us to leave the tent where it was as we were welcome to sleep in his home that night. He made room for our bikes next to his BMW GS1200 in the garage, and then away we went for a yummy pizza dinner and hours of exchanging travel stories, photos and advice. Philip has recently motorcycled through Peru, and hearing his stories made us even more excited to head South next year. Intermingled with the travel stories and advice he shared, we discovered that Philip has a heart of gold and is one of those purely generous souls. He is the father of two very lucky children, and rather than leave the children with their mother and take off for his own adventures, he finds ways to bring the children along. And is even trying to figure out how to do an overland motorcycle trip with his children someday, so that he can show them the world the best way he knows how. It has really been an honor to stay with Philip, and moreover, an inspiration to get to know him.  

New friends: Philip, me, Roel & Réal
As we will be presenting at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ontario this weekend, Roel and I are logging (too many) hours in front of the computer, selecting photos and preparing our presentations, in the comfort of Philip's home. The adventure rider community here in Montreal is very active and Philip arranged to have us do a dress rehearsal prior to our departure for Ontario. It was a fantastic evening, and really great to share stories with other riders, which in turn has made us even more excited about the HU meeting.

And a bit of an aside... we had heard from a lot of people we met along the way in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that Quebecers were not exactly the nicest people. We heard stories of a broken down motorcyclist walking along the highway in the rain for 20kms to make it to a gas station, without a single person stopping to offer a ride, and many other not-so-nice anecdotes. To the contrary, we have found everyone we have met here in Quebec to be absolutely kind and generous. I think it probably helps that we at least make an attempt to communicate in French, but people are very willing to switch to English (if they can), or find someone who can translate. As an example, we got lost on our way to the shops to pick up items for dinner and a woman following behind us in her van noticed our gesticulations and wandering heads as we searched for the street signs we needed. She eventually motioned for us to pull over, and after determining that it would be too difficult to give us directions to where we needed to go, decided to lead us directly there, even though she was literally a block from her home at the end of her commute home from work. 

The bottom line is that people everywhere are beautiful, and if you look for the good in people, you will find it. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My first fall, finding a top box & the most unique sleep spot to date!

After such an exciting weekend in Digby at the Wharf Rat Rally last week, I kind of thought we might not have such an eventful week this past week. I was certainly wrong!

Evidence of my first in motion spill.
When we left Digby, it was only slightly raining and this on-and-off again drizzle continued for the rest of our ride that afternoon and into the early evening. Finally, as dusk was falling, we found a hilly field to camp in. (On a side note, Roel believes that any field inhabited by deer is a good place to camp – so far, this logic has held true.) Per usual, Roel rode around the field first to find the best spot to set up our tent and to scope out the level of difficulty of the terrain, etc., for me. Upon finding the perfect spot, he gave me the go-ahead to ride up myself. I was feeling a bit soft and not up for the challenge of negotiating a track up the wet, grassy hillside and begged him to ride up for me. But he insisted it was no more difficult than riding around on my Dad’s lawn and so there I went... High throttle, good clutch control, not too fast… things were going well until I had made it about mid-way up the 70-meter climb and all of the sudden my front wheel simply stopped gaining traction and my rear wheel kept right on going… and going… until my bike had spun around 90 degrees and was at an angle perpendicular to the original climb. And then down the bike and I went. It was my first drop while actually in motion and though my side boxes protected my leg and basically enabled me to hop off the bike mid-fall, thus uninjured, it still didn’t feel good. Upon hearing the commotion and seeing the nice strip of field I had torn up Roel came running and (after surmising I was OK) asked “How the h$ll did you manage to do that!!” Well, you can imagine how well that went over.
This doesn't look quite right :/

The bike was completely fine, but my right side pannier suffered the brunt of the fall and was sitting at a decidedly strange new angle. Thanks to Russ for reinforcing the wall of the box back in Asheville, it’s nothing a bit of a strap can’t sort out for now.

I went to sleep that night, listening to the rain dropping on the tent, feeling quite grim and disappointed in myself. I’d felt like I was really getting somewhere with my riding, like I had really improved, and this just seemed to knock me back on my heels. I was angry at myself for not just admitting to my limitations: two months of riding and tires missing a bit of tread don't make a great combination for climbing a muddy, grassy hill that had been steadily rained on for days. Not to mention that the weather was looking pretty bleak for the next few days and the new angle my box had been forced into definitely meant it would no longer be water proof.

The next morning we awoke to a brief break in the rain. Just long enough for us to get packed up, secure my box to the frame and get on our way to Truro. We had coffee there, checked the weather (more rain) and continued on. And on. 

Now THOSE are some skid marks ;)
The monotony and my remaining grumpiness quickly disappeared when Roel, who has been riding for 10 plus years, in all sorts of terrain and actually has a new front tire managed to take a similar spill to the one I had taken the night before. He had missed a turn off and rather than turning around, decided to cut across an old parking lot that separated the two roads, and was dotted with mud patches. Well, as soon as he hit a mud patch, his bike basically did the same thing mine had the night before, spinning 90 degrees before going down. His pannier was fine but one of the waterproof bags affixed to the front of his bike tore off. I just missed snapping a pic of the bike down before Roel got it up on the kickstand. Pity ;) 

Dumpster diving
Getting route advice from an expert

By the end of the day the rain had become so heavy that as soon as the sun started to set, we were eager to find a place to camp. We happened upon an abandoned camp ground with covered concrete patches (PERFECT!!!), next to the highway, across from a truck stop. In hopes that the rain would abate, we treated ourselves to dinner at the truck stop and spent the evening chatting with some truckers about the nicest roads in the area and across the province. At one point, our dinner was interrupted when two black bears created quite a commotion in the restaurant as they were dumpster-diving out back.  (We spent a fair amount of time ridding all of our bags and packs of food and stringing it up out of bears reach before tucking into our sleeping bags.)
Still a soggy morning :(

We woke up to even more rain the next morning. 4 days in a row! We rode on into Bathurst and immediately found a nice library to spend the day at. While I spent the afternoon online, Roel went out to explore and ended our search for an affordable top box for my bike… at Home Hardware : ) My new top box is a massive tool box made by DeWalt! As Home Hardware was about to close, and we would need to borrow their tools to install my new top box, we resigned ourselves to staying in the area that evening. A nice lady at the checkout station asked where we planned to go and camp, and so we asked her for suggestions in the area. Without hesitation, she pulled out her phone and started calling around for places for us to stay. Shortly, she heard back from a friend of theirs who had spent time traveling around the Province in a horse drawn covered wagon and had decked it out like a studio apartment. He was currently staying with his parents downtown, and we could sleep in the wagon out in the woods. What the heck – it sounded better than spending another watery night in the tent!

We wound up spending the evening chatting with Bonnie (the Home Hardware employee), Dale (her husband) and Glen (the owner of the tinker wagon). Bonnie had whipped up some clam dip and so we sat around the fire next to the wagon discussing organic farming, using horses in place of machinery to farm and log and Glen’s time traveling around in the wagon. And the wagon was amazing – nicely finished and insulated on the inside. We bid our hosts goodnight and within moments of them leaving, the skies opened up again and poured! As the thunder cracked and lightning illuminated everything around us to day glow, we were beyond grateful to be in the wagon  – even though our new tent has held up very well in the rain to this point, it is not Noah’s Ark and we surely would have gotten very wet that evening.

The amazing Tinker Wagon we spent the night in!
The next morning was sunny (yes, I praised every God and Goddess I had prayed to for good weather), and we headed out to visit the local Honda dealer, still in search of a chain and sprockets for Roel. Glen heard that we had left the caravan and tracked us down at Honda to give us fresh tomatoes, apples and parslane that he had picked for us that morning from his garden. Bonnie and Dale met us at Home Hardware later (it was Bonnie’s day off), to help us install my top box and say goodbye. After days of rain, sleeping in a dry caravan, being so well looked-after by locals, AND waking up to a sunny day, we were on top of the world.

Insert appropriate pun about thinking outside of the box :)
That afternoon, we headed in the direction of the Gaspe Peninsula. Many had told us that it was not to be missed, but with questionable weather we went to sleep that night in our dry tent, with the understanding that if we woke up to a clear day, we’d head for Gaspe. But, if the weather was at all questionable, we’d skip the 700 kilometer loop as the weather on the peninsula can get famously nasty.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nova Scotia, Part 2: The Digby Wharf Rat Rally

The Digby Wharf Rat Rally

We camped at a lovely spot by the river between Kingston and Digby. On our way to Digby, we stopped at a few historical spots, my favorite being Fort Anne. The most fought over terrain in Canadian history.

Our first stop in Digby was at the Honda test drive tent. Roel was keen to test ride the Honda CBR1000 Repsol, and since I’m still a new rider and don’t want to get on anything shinier than my own bike, I opted to ride koala. Amazing bike. Amazing power. Went up to 130kph in first gear. Not my cup of tea. I was thrilled when the test ride was over and I could unfold myself from my crouched position on the rear “seat.”

We’d never been to a motorcycle rally and weren’t sure if we were even going to stay in Digby for the night. But after spending a few hours downtown by the Wharf, watching an seemingly endless string of new bikes roll into town, we realized that this was a special weekend: the atmosphere was already awesome by early Friday afternoon, with 3 days left to go.

So we turned around and headed back out of town where we had seen a small sign advertising for free backyard camping. When we pulled up, there were already several tents pitched in Nicki and Kendall’s back yard, and there were about a dozen motorcycles in the driveway. They had outfitted their yard with a massive fireplace, a porta-loo, a wash basin and already had the bbq going. Nicki, Kendall and their three children (even their toddler Allie, it seemed) are passionate about motorcycling, and wanted to support the Wharf Rat Rally and its participants – they were amazing hosts for the weekend.

We set up our tent, had dinner, made use of the coin-op showers at the Town Center and went back to Main St. for a drink with Bill and Cindy, a couple from Halifax whom we had met at the Honda test ride tent. A drink turned into hours of conversation and wandering between the live bands downtown, and this lovely couple (along with their sweet little dog, Foxy – who rides along with Bill in a harness) sort of adopted us for the course of the next few days.

Back at Nicki and Kendall’s later that night, the karaoke machine was cranking and even more bikes and tents had arrived. We chatted into the wee hours with the other riders and gave another young biker there some advice on how to let go and travel while he had the opportunity.
Bonding over Bacon Bits

Bill whipped up an amazing breakfast on Saturday morning – omelets with bacon and toast – quite an upgrade from our usual cereal with powdered milk! We parked our bikes downtown, which was already packed with motorcycles of all sorts.  We had planned to catch the stunt show, but upon parking, Roel immediately had folks all around his bike, commenting on his massive box and interested in his map showing his route. 

Roel discussing his amazing journey around the world.

So, Cindy and I snuck away and caught the last few minutes of the stunt show. Quite an impressive array of tricks. As a new rider, I couldn’t quite fathom being able to do most of them, much less, willingly drop my bike several times a day!
The rest of the day was spent chatting with folks who were interested in our never-seen-before Hondas, Roel’s amazing journey and admiring the incredible array of bikes that had come from near and far to attend the Rally. There was a good number of “new” female riders, and I really enjoyed trading stories of embarrassing moments and triumphant moments with them. We even had two different TV stations interview us! 
Interview w/ CTV Atlantic

One of which actually played on the news that night, so when we were out and about later that evening, we actually had folks recognize us – fun to be a celebrity for a few days : ) Oh, and never mind that I had a silly American moment – for some reason I thought that maybe the province of Nova Scotia was smaller than Vermont – er, wrong! Oh well, I think the folks of Digby took my erroneous comment as the compliment it was meant to be. 
Interview #2

 We watched the ‘Parade of Lights’ with Bill and Cindy – a parade of the bikes that are decked out with LED lights. Very cool safety feature (ahem, Dad!). And then we headed back to Kendall and Nicki’s where the bonfire was lit and a couple dozen bikers and their families had gathered around and were singing along with a couple of guitarists. Awesome way to end the evening.
Nicki & Kendall's Backyard filled up nicely
It had rained on and off throughout the weekend, and unfortunately Sunday was pretty much a loss. It poured on and off throughout the day and most of the bikes had left by noon. After a pancake breakfast with Bill, Cindy and Foxy, we attended a unique local church service with them (yes! the dog attended church, too!). The service began with several songs, with the lyrics showing on a large screen at the front of the room so everyone could sing along. And then a bearded, leather wearing Harley rider reverend gave an interesting sermon about wisdom he had learned on the road. Before we left, another local biker reverend blessed our bikes.
Cindy, Bill & our pancake breakfast :)
All in all, it was an amazing weekend. On the way out of town, we stopped at the grocery store to stock up on a few items. A woman approached us in the produce section and said, “I recognize you two! Thanks so much for all you’ve done for Digby!” Even though we had been riding in the rain ever since, our spirits have been buoyed by the experiences we had and all of the lovely people we met. I never expected, as two Honda riders, to have so much fun and be so well received at a bike rally, but chrome or no chrome, we felt very welcome and had a fantastic time!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nova Scotia, Part 1: Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail and Riding the Coastal Route

Although we’ve ridden through the pouring rain all day, we’re coming off of Nova Scotia on a high. What a great province! 

Upon arriving here 10 days ago, we stopped at dusk at the not-yet-opened East Wallace Motorcycle Campground. The owner, Mark, came out and welcomed us to stay for the evening… a free preview of sorts : ) His amazing vision is hopefully open by now, but it really is a bikers dream and is conveniently located between the major attractions of Nova Scotia... one of which is just down the road: Jost Winery.

Late the next morning, we set off in the direction of Cape Breton, making a quick stop at Jost, to indulge our palates. Interesting cool-climate varietals. They are mostly famed for their brief appearance on Letterman, featuring their award-winning 4 Skins wine. Hah.

Made it to Cape Breton late in the afternoon and found a nice spot to pull off the road just before dusk. It was our first really chilly night so we’d bought nice fatty sausages and instant mash for dinner. Snuggled in the tent later, we fell asleep listening to coyotes howling in the distance. 

Had to capture this site the next morning... I wonder where the coyotes were hiding.
Ready to ride the Cabot Trail
It was still quite cold the next morning, so we slept in for a while to give the sun a chance to warm everything up. The ride to the Cabot Trail, one of the most famous scenic routes in Canada, was brisk, but it was a stunning clear day, and the views soon distracted us from the temperature.
We stopped countless times on the 300 kilometer “trail” and even took a detour to Meat Cove along an awesome dirt road that wound around atop massive cliffs, giving way to incredible cerulean blue waves. In my humble opinion, those who do the Cabot Trail and miss out on Meat Cove, are missing the most beautiful spot on Cape Breton… AND the best riding… as long as you’re not on a Harley ;)

Meat Cove, Cape Breton
The weather forecast only gave us a two-day window of clear weather, so we set a steady pace riding south on Cape Breton, through Sydney, Louisbourg (and it’s Fortress) and into Halifax. That way, if the weather was absolute rubbish, at least we could spend the day wandering around shops and museums rather than soaking up water alongside the road somewhere.
Fort Louisbourg
But every morning, the sun would break through the clouds by10am, and we spent a beautiful sunny day in Halifax. It’s a cool city – great atmosphere, very walkable, lovely waterfront (we even saw a submarine coming into port!), and it has an awesome outdoor store to boot. We checked out the local Army/Navy surplus shop, as we’re still in search of a nice big, sturdy top-box for my bike, and then headed to YMCA for a shower before we met up with Brendal and Scott, a couple we had met at Jost Winery, for beers. It was great chatting with them – they’re potentially looking to do some traveling to gather some experience/know-how for setting up their own B&B someday, and wanted to get an idea of how we are making this traveling lifestyle work. Whatever they do, I’m sure it’ll be a smashing success – but I hope they make it to Australia for a year ;)

Although we’d only had small beers, we gave them a chance to settle and had a walk around the waterfront. The Maritime Museum was having a special free-entry/live music event, so we stopped in to indulge my lifetime obsession with the Titanic. There was a fascinating exhibit about the Halifax Explosion and a haunting exhibit about the sinking of the Titanic and the recovery efforts that ensued, which were based out of Halifax. In a macabre sort of way, it would have been interesting to check out the Titanic Cemetery, where they buried the unclaimed victims, but it was getting late, and I’m not the biggest fan of visiting cemeteries after dark. 

Spry Bay Park (our tent is just behind us)
Thanks to BellAliant for such a nice moss patch!
Gravel Pit Camping. Meh.
Up until that night, we’d had amazing luck with camping spots. One night was next to a mobile phone service building on a perfectly flat, sumptuously mossy patch. The next was an expansive park on the ocean, with sheltered picnic tables, water taps, toilets, and lots of flat grassy areas. But that night, it started misting just as we rode out of town and after our first encounter with a porcupine in the middle of the road, we began to look in earnest for a site. There was nothing. No parks. No picnic spots. No logging roads. And then we found a gravel pit. Not perfect, but hidden from the road and reasonably flat. We’ve got great air-mattresses, but it’s not a site I’ll miss. 
We woke to more mist and heavy fog the next morning. Found out our gravel pit that looked out of the way and hidden by dark, was actually directly in front of a house. Oops! Fortunately, it appeared to still be under construction, so hopefully we didn’t bother anyone. We rode along the coastal road to Peggy’s Cove, supposedly the most-photographed fisherman’s village in Nova Scotia.

The picturesque Peggy's Cove
Though foggy, it was definitely picturesque, and the tale of how it came to be named was fairly interesting… A ship had wrecked just off shore and the only survivor was a young woman named Margaret. She became a figure of note in the region and so they named the Cove “Peggy” after her. After having our breakfast at the Visitors Center, we continued on through Mahone Cove – a really beautiful little town – and then on into Lunenburg. Lunenburg was as lovely as everyone had said and we enjoyed stretching our legs a bit before getting back on the road in search of a Honda Dealership. 

Roel had been carrying a spare front tire that he had picked up at Twisted Throttle in Rhode Island, and it was finally time to put it on. He had also noticed a slight change in the sound his chain was making, and was thinking it would be good to order a new chain and set of sprockets. Down the road in Bridgetown, we found out that this would be more difficult than we had thought and given that it was nearly closing time, we decided to delay the tire change until the next day.

Mother Nature seemed to be slowly amping it up as the next morning was dreary, blustery and misty. Not a day that either of us wanted to spend a significant amount of time riding. The guys at the GW Sampson Honda dealership in Kingston were great – they spent some time looking into Roel’s parts and let him use their compressor to make his tire change a bit easier and a heck of a lot quicker. I enjoyed checking out their ladies apparel as they actually stocked not one, but two of the Joe Rocket jackets I’d been interested in! I’ve found it really difficult to find anything in shops that is suitable for women who want something beyond a pink-ish, leather, fashion riding jacket, so I have to give props to these guys for stocking the Alter Ego AND Ballistic Series 11.0… they appeared to be really well-made, extremely versatile with lots of venting options, rain-proofing, layering options, etc. They weren’t a perfect fit for me, but for someone with a shorter (read: normal length) torso, they’d be great.

The guys at GW Sampson also convinced us to head South to the Digby Wharf Rat Rally that we’d first heard about from Mark at the East Wallace Motorcycle Campground. Since we still hadn't had any luck finding Roel's sprocket/chain, we thought it might be good to have a chat to the folks in Digby to see if they had any ideas.The ladies across the street at the library where I logged several hours online and editing photos, were also very helpful and even suggested a place along the way to Digby where we could camp. So the decision was made, and instead of heading out of Nova Scotia, we headed in the opposite direction to Digby. We were thrilled that we had gone… it was an awesome few days, but more on that in my next entry…