Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Californ. I. A. Chain intact. So far.

Big golden bears welcome us back to California

Relieved to have made it to California, we allowed ourselves a bit of a sleep in the next morning. As I mentioned, what had begun as a slight “tick” in my chain (which we thought we would replace in Smithers, and then again in Vancouver, but oh wait, never did), had become a full-blown tha-wack. Not thwack, like my auto-correct wants me to say, a two parter: THA. WACK. Not a good noise. Yes, I could shush the chain for a little while with the nasty chain wax treatment, but by the next fuel stop, it needed more. And, yes, I know that we should have stopped and sorted this out somewhere, but with a Tsubaki chain and JT Sprockets that were about to hit 28,000 miles, I’ll admit we were harboring some gross curiosity to see just how long this chain would hold out for. This gross curiosity was paired with a fair amount of stress, on my part, the occasional wondering of what it would be like if my chain gave way mid-ride and on Roel's part, likely, how exactly he would coach me through the Sena headset, if/when that moment came.

Redwood Roots

But, now that we were in California, some of that stress had abated. Should the bike and I survive the chain snapping free from the sprockets, we would be able to trailer it to the winery we would be working at for the next couple of months with no significant dramas.

Look how TINY the Transalp is next to this redwood!

So, we had a sleep in and then we set out on one of the most incredible “park rides” either of us have even been on, through Jedediah Smith State Park. We had heard of the legendary California Redwoods, but nothing we had heard had prepared us for the miles of majestic, movie-like scenery we rode through. It was so incredible that we sent back a French rider we encountered a few miles farther down South who had missed this awesome route.

We touched base with a new friend I refer to as the Coffee Fairy, Mike, who I had met at the ferry landing in Haines, Alaska. He’d given me a tiny packet of the best ground coffee I’ve ever had, and we’d kept in touch. So, by nightfall, we were sitting around his family dining room table, enjoyed homemade lasagne and apple cobbler, fully ensconced in the awesomeness that is his family. Mike, the Coffee Fairy, is a wonderful guy, so full of life and energy and excitement, who happens to share a passion of mine: coffee. Namely, West Coast Coffee, which is awesome. His wife, Kathleen is a dedicated teacher, and his adult kids who entertained us with stories and heart-thumpingly insane car racing videos, are obvious products of a loving home.

It was a pretty cool way to spend what will be our last night on the road for a couple of months… Cementing for me that although I will treasure our ride through Jedediah Smith State Park in my minds eye, what made this day special, and what is unfailingly THE most unforgettable aspect of our journey every day, is the wonderful “strangers” we have spent it with.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Crater Lake

Covert camping, just how we like it ;) Minus the early morning roadworks next door.

After being told by the campsite attendant at Crater Lake National Park that the campground was full and “no, we could not camp at the walk-in site” although it was virtually empty, we’d found a nice spot to camp just off of the main road outside of the park. (Take that, lady!) It appeared to be national forest, so not a problem, until we woke up at 6am to the sound of work trucks and pilot cars guiding early morning drivers along the road next to our camping spot. We were well-concealed by the towering trees, so we were quite a surprise for the road workers when we came riding out of the forest. Fortunately we only had to wait a few minutes for a pilot car… it got a little awkward.

We spent the morning touring around Crater Lake, captivated by it’s beauty and the nearby aspects of geothermic activity.

Crater Lake Pinnacles

In the afternoon, we headed for the California border. Another rider had recommended a road that we ultimately could not agree if he had said he’d “ridden” or “wanted to ride,” as it eventually turned into a twisty, one-lane, pock-marked logging road that we seriously doubted he would have taken his Harley on. That is, IF we were even on the road he’d recommended, as apparently this county had neglected to post any signage in the last 30 miles. Our old GPS (that we usually only use for cities), was completely lost and as the road wound up and over the second high peak we’d encountered, the valley below showing no sign of civilization, we began to make fuel consumption/consolidation estimations. Like, given how far we’d already ridden, how much further could we ride before it would be necessary to pour all of our spare fuel into the Africa Twin (it has a larger tank) and siphon the fuel out of the Transalp in hopes that we’d make it to the next town on that.  Fortunately, before we did either, a house appeared, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. And then another. And then another. And then a “town.” Phew.

We made it over the border into California just as the sun was setting, and found a really nice campground next to a river… perfect swimming in lieu of a shower to wash off the stickiness of the day.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"And miles to go (420, to be exact) before I sleep."

We had 900 miles to cover in 6 days to ensure we arrived in Sonoma in time to begin our wine-making internship. With our usual pace that kind of mileage would necessitate traveling a little faster than we usually like to go, but it'd be OK. However there were three parks we wanted to visit along the way and my chain's "tick" had become a full-blown "tha-wack." My Scottoiler nozzles had been damaged by my slapping chain somewhere back in British Columbia, and no amount of coaxing could get them to begin working again, and happily lubricate my poor chain. So, every time we stopped for fuel, we propped up the TA on the modified walking cane we use in conjunction with the kickstand, in lieu of a center stand, and sprayed nasty gunky chain lube while thinking nice thoughts towards my chain to encourage it to get us all to Sonoma in one running piece.

By early afternoon, though, we were heading back inland in order to swing by Crater Lake. Between the early start we’d gotten that morning and the oppressive heat, I felt like I was about to fall asleep while riding, so we pulled off for about an hour and wound up both falling asleep in a lovely town park alongside a river.

Refreshed, we set off again in the direction of Crater Lake, and after soaking up the coolness and peace the wooded route there offered, we arrived just as the sun was setting.

The lake turned shades of purple that neither of our camera lenses could capture.

We eventually turned our attention to the sun setting in the distance through the hazy remnants of a blistering hot day… these moments made the 12 hours of riding sweetly worthwhile.

420+ miles in a day is really not my cup of tea. Sleeping while standing up, with my eyes open... a first!

But THIS made it all worthwhile.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mount St. Helens and Portlandia

We woke up just North of Mount St. Helens and after playing around on other gorgeous roads our friend Matt had highlighted for us, we headed to what is still a scene of devastation around Mount Saint Helens 34 years after the volcanic event that “produced the largest landslide-debris avalanche in recorded history.”

When Mount Saint Helens erupted in May of 1980 it sent volcanic matter 80,000 feet into the air and when it was all over, the volcano stood 1,300 feet shorter, while the lake at the foot of Mt. St. Helens depth was lessened by 295 feet.

Spirit Lake

The damage caused by this eruption is obvious today, but even so, it is hard to imagine that a 24-square mile area surrounding this volcano was covered in 150 feet of volcanic debris.

Still visible all around Mount St. Helens are the trees that laid down due to the force of the volcanic blast


While taking in the recovering landscape at the base of Mount St. Helens, we got to chatting with an interesting couple, about our parents age. Upon hearing our route was going to take us through Portland and that we were interested in staying in the area so that we could do some wine tasting, Pat and Chris invited us to stay at the apartment they are renting while Chris is on a medical rotation in Portland.

So this is how we came to be tasting wine in Portland’s Willamette Valley Wine Region with Pat and playing trivia (badly) at her son’s favorite Portland dive bar.

Tasting at Eyrie Vineyards, considered to be a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, as they were the first to plant Pinot Noir. 

Though we love beer, as a money-saving rule, we never stop at bars or buy beer while on the road. But in Portland, a city that is home to 56 breweries, we had to break our rule. When in Rome... you know ;)

Monday, October 20, 2014


(Awesome way to christen our first morning waking up in our "new home": peering out to see a fawn nursing!)

We woke up a couple of hours outside of Seattle with the intent to head directly into the city, but found ourselves to be completely exhausted due to the rigorous travel schedule we’d both been on and the stress of the “would we or would we not both get back into the US?” question. So we putzed around the lovely area we had been advised to check out the night before, wandered around arts/crafts fair and got an awesome idea for how we might go about making a living in the future, and eventually got on our way.

(Roel could fit far more ice-cream in his top box than this couple did in their sidecar... future career possibility, but pretty sure Roel would consume the profits.)

(The view near Anacortes)

We’d met Matt from Touratech US back in Long Beach, CA and had kept in touch (partly because he had sent me on my way back then with a Touratech fuel can which has saved my rear a few times but mostly because he and his wife keep an awesome moto-travel blog ( and seem like a couple we’d like to catch up with on the road).

(Pike Place Fish Co.: A MUST SEE on Roel's Seattle Tourist List)

Being in Seattle, we stopped in to see Matt and he warmly offered to play host during our time in Seattle. So, what we had thought would be another city drive-through with a brief visit to see Matt, turned out to be an awesome weekend, spent like a normal 30-something couple, hanging out with friends with similar interests.

(Lucky us: it was Fleet Week!)

Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill for most people, probably, but for us, this was a real treat. Matt and his wife, Brayde, showed us the highlights of downtown Seattle, introduced us to their favorite local watering holes and found us a killer spot to watch the Blue Angels perform over the Seattle skyline (we were lucky to arrive during "Fleet Week").

They joined us for our journey as far as Mount Rainier National Park, and we’re hoping we get a chance to ride with them again on some leg of their upcoming journey to South America.

(Mt. Rainier National Park Blooms)

(Pesky clouds over Mt. Rainier)

We rode around Mount Rainier for a while and found a campsite shortly before dark along one of the incredibly twisty and scenic roads Matt had highlighted on the map for us.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back in the USA, Baby!

Back in Vancouver, our new BMW/Ducati riding Brazilian friends that we met when Roel got to “rescue” the Ducati from the wilds surrounding Whistler, hosted us at their lovely home in the city.

Paulo and Cecilia are planning their own adventure and had lots of questions and queries. We spent a lot of time talking about gear and equipment, safety, etc. They thought others in their riding community might be interested to hear our story and so they arranged to have us give a presentation about our travels at their local BMW/Ducati Dealership, which was a blast. We got to reconnect with Susan and Grant from Horizons Unlimited and fielded a ton of awesome questions from those who joined us.

Eager to get back into the US and start our journey South, we headed to the border early the next morning. We would have 10 days to make it to Sonoma in time to begin our (paid) internship at Flowers Winery.

The hectic thing about the US border, or any border I suppose, for a foreigner, is that even if you have a visa, there is never a guarantee that you will be granted access to the country you seek to enter.

We waited in line at the Peace Arch crossing with all of the other cars to get to a little booth, whereupon Roel (and I) were sent to another area to park. And yet to another area inside a building to wait in line. And wait. And wait. To the tune of 3 hours. 3 nail-biting, pit-staining, silent "what-if" asking hours.

Quite possibly the longest, slowest-moving line I have ever stared down.

But alls well that ends well, and with Roel's passport freshly stamped, we were welcomed back into the US.

Cue "Giant Sigh of Relief."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home Away from Home

Upon our return to Vancouver, Roel jetted off to the Netherlands and I slowly made my way to the East Coast of the US, which included a night spent atop a bench in O’Hare. Roel’s trip to get his visa was a success: much ado about a 25 minute interview with the US Embassy in the Hague. And I had a wonderful time visiting my family and enjoying the seasonal specialties in New England. :)

While home, I anxiously anticipated the arrival of the UPS man, until he finally showed up toting a large box from NEMO. While we were at the Overland Expo, I had spoken with a really cool laid back guy from The Raven Workshop who reps NEMO, and told him how much we’d love to do some product testing for NEMO as:

1. NEMO is a super cool brand from my home-region of New England, which is (and has been since it's inception) at the forefront of innovation, environmentalism and general bad-a$$ed-ness.

2. Their tag-line is ‘Adventure Anywhere,’ which couldn’t be more apropos for us.

3. I am sick and tired of waking up to a soggy bed every dang time it rains.

Well, much to my delight, Eric apparently thought what we are doing is pretty cool and went back to NEMO and told them such. So, we have a new home: the Losi 2 Person tent which will keep us sheltered, dry and well-ventilated. AND as soon as NEMO has new stock of their incredible sleeping pads, Eric is going to send those along to us, as well!

So naturally I went about setting up the tent (on the deck), which I’ll admit was a bit more of a challenge for me than setting up our Eureka tent which I am now able to set up in pitch black darkness. BUT in exchange for a few moments more in set-up, we’re getting incredible head room, 360 degrees of mesh through which to enjoy starry nights and sunrises and what I’m sure will be a water tight camping experience.

SO MUCH head room!

While I refuse to believe that women are sold on cars because of cup holders, I will admit that a gear caddy to hold bear spray, flashlights, etc. is a pretty nice feature :D

Never mind that the NEMO Losi only weighs a bit over 4lbs (2.2kg), packs down to almost half the size of our old tent and the green fly will allow us to more easily pursue our wild camping escapades… unnoticed :) (Again, we NEVER camp on posted private property and we ALWAYS leave a site better than we have found it.)

The Losi Pack

Now THAT is a pretty small pack size... room for more shoes, me thinks ;)

I love sleeping in my own soft pillow-topped bed, but I could not wait to get back to British Columbia and go camping!!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Roel's "guest" Blog on Vancouver Island

Waking up behind the closed diner, that kept us out of sight from everyone on the road, I thought back on last night. We luckily made it to town over a long but beautiful logging road and found a gas station that was still open. The women working at the gas station tried to help us out with accommodation or a place to camp. It is always difficult, however, for "normal" people to understand our mindset of living cheap and not spending anything on accommodation. "That motel is only $60" is something we here so often. And every time I think; "wow that can get us about 400 miles further on our journey. And all that for a night of sleep in a strange bed. 
We were very thankful for the suggestions but decided for the safety of our tents and bikes anyway. Standing outside thinking over the next step to solve the problem with the bike, two guys showed up and we started talking. It was 1.30 AM! One of them was a biker and one minute later he drove off to get a battery out of his own bike to see whether it would work on mine. (the battery connectors were on the wrong side so this did not work)  The other guy offered to load the bike on his truck and let us stay at his place out of town. It was great to find all this helpfulness in the middle of the night. But loading up the Africa Twin would be no easy fast and we had already gotten comfortable with the idea of sleeping behind the roadside diner next door.

I was fiddling around with the battery again and really could not get it to work this time. The last times it had jumped back into action after pushing on different spots. No not on the connectors, but on random spots on the cell battery. I concluded that the inside of the battery must have had enough of the bumpy dirt roads like the Dalton Highway in Alaska and it decided to retire on beautiful Vancouver Island. I could not run any checks with my Made in China multimeter to confirm my thought since the cables had fallen apart. Note to self: Invest in good tools!!!

I robbed Azure of her Transalp and rode off to the local motorbike shop with my battery. We checked it and it was not charging whatsoever. It had completely died on me. Luckily they had one replacement battery sitting on the shelf. This could have gotten us stuck for a while, otherwise. Two hours later we were back on the road to Tofino.

Enjoying a rest in Tofino
Highway 4 was recommended to us by many people and we could see why. The winding road ran along Kennedy Lake and through Pacific Rim National Park. Though flooded with tourists, Tofino looked nice,  but was not friendly for our budget, so we headed back the way we had come. Given temperatures in the high 90's (35c), the clear water of the river along the road caught our attention. Knowing that a shower wasn’t likely in our near future, we settled the bikes and moments later, we were cooling down in cold mountain water.

 That night we found a beautiful place to camp near another little river.

The next morning we decided to make a run for Gold River via a beautiful road through Strathcona Provincial park. Unlike Highway 4 to Tofino, there was hardly any traffic on the road. While waiting for the ferry back on the mainland, several riders had advised us on what roads to take and what to see. One guy had mentioned this road but others had said that it was not worth it and that we should stick to the south of the island. Luckily we did not and we ended up in Gold River.

Here we went to the Tourist information and a young guy told us all the things we could do in the region, if we had the time. He started off with a 70 kilometer wildlife infested dirt road that would lead to this beautiful bay where orca's lived year round and where you could go on a small boat that would launch you in a canoe as soon as you would get closer to these majestic animals. This is where I stopped the guy from going any further. Our hearts were aching. We did not have any time to do all this stuff that I had been dreaming of all my life. We had to make it back to the mainland to catch a flight to The Netherlands to get my US visa.

Enjoying my office with a view before catching the ferry back to the mainland.