Friday, July 23, 2010

22 Jul - Thursday
It bucked down last night for about 6 hours. My new tent held up beautifully. Thankfully it is no longer cold since I am now way south of the lake. Today will be boring (I am writing this over breakfast) - simply follow I35 south to Des Moines then West on I80 to Omaha, 250 miles I guess. Piece of cake, will be there by lunch time - yeah right.
Tomorrow it is clean up time and prepare for flying home on Sunday. It's been a great trip.

21 Jul - Wednesday
Fine again and back into the States and this time a great ride next to the lake. The Yanks don't seem so attached to the three as the Canadians - they cut them down so you can see the lake. It is also quite cool. The lake is apparently very cold and it definitely has a chilling effect on the surrounds.
The traffic in Duluth was hellish on account the whole roading system was being updated and all at once. It was detour after detour, thankfully the car in front seemed to know where they were going. I'm without GPS or map so the suck it and see method of navigation has its moments.
This navigation method got me in trouble later on as I approached Minneapolis/St Paul. I'm following I35 South and suddenly I'm given the choice of I35E or I35W - no south. I take West - wrong - that took me through the larger of the two cities and into the 5pm traffic. Spent ages crawling along at a snails pace and again not helped by road works.
Spare ribs for tea tonight - yum
20 Jul - Tuesday
It rained for most of the day and these next three days have to be big mileages so there is no whimping out. I am now in Canada again and riding the Ontario side of Lake Superior. Sadly I can't see much of the lake either on account of the trees or the fog so it's all a bit of a letdown really. Hope tomorrow improves. Had intended to make it back into the States by nightfall but instead stopped at Thunder Bay and stayed at the KOA. Big mistake - ripoff best describes the experience. Won't ever stay here again.
Earlier in the day I filled up at a place called Wawa. It's a small town which has a huge statue of a goose with wings outspread stuck on a plinth. In lieu of an old aeroplane they used a duck. There was also one on the gas station roof and I saw another one of similar gigantic proportions just down the road. Seems the goose is called a wawa. I was left the the overwhelming conclusion that a 3 year old won that discussion - look mum a wa wa, no honey that's a goose, alright.

Ah ha - fine weather so it's off to the ship wreak museum at Whitefish Point which I bypassed yesterday on account of the rain. Superior is the largest of the great lakes and Whitefish Point light house guides the ships into the bay of the same name. Not all have made it - "Superior it is said never gives up its dead when the gales of November come early" - so say the words to the song of the Edmond Fitzgerald. Some ships were lost to collisions but the vast majority seems to have fallen victim to storms. It's a very nicely set out museum featuring not only the wreaks but life in general of the lighthouse and boat station.
In the afternoon I rode over to Sault Ste. Marie (Sault pronounced Soo). The locks at Soo lift the ships 21 feet to compensate for the different water levels of Lake Huron and Superior and of course there is a tour boat that will give you the experience for a mere $23. Sounds cool and it was - I thought it was a great trip. It would have been nice to see the locks with some commercial traffic transiting through. In fact I arrived in town just as a ship exited the lock and rode parallel to it for some distance. It was so close to the road I could hear the noise of the ships engines over the motorcycles' and aside from it being a most unusual traveling companion I was surprise how fast it was going.
Stayed the night in the RV park just down the road from the tour boat dock and whilst it was quite expensive it was right on the banks of the St Mary river so we can watch the big freighters go by as they head to the locks- if any will on my watch. As it happened one did.
18 Jul, Sunday
Rained all day today, without let-up, for the ride north. My objective was to visit Munising on Lake Superior to take a glass bottom boat ride to view a ship wreak. No luck today so I read up on the sinking of the 729 foot long ore carrier Edmond Fitzgerald. I recall the Gordon Lightfoot song of the same. It went down in a severe storm on Lake Superior in November 1975 taking with her the lives of all 29 crew and 29,000 tons of taconite pallets (iron ore). It lies on the bottom in three pieces, the likely result of breaking her back in the huge seas. And she was just 17 miles from the relative safety of Whitefish Bay.
Stopped for the night with some other bikers in some dump of a motel, rain still bucketing down. So no tent tonight and right now it is off to the Lumberjack Bar & Grill over the road for supper (dinner). I can tell you what is on the menu before I even leave the motel door - *!#@ burgers. That's the Lumberjack Bar in the picture.

Sat 17 July
The bike park here in front of the HD Museum is as to be expected, full of Harleys. There is a sole Victory, a BMW RT and slightly dirty ratty looking trail bike festooned with ill-fitting panniers and drying laundry consisting of towel, socks and underpants. And there are no Harleys parked next to it.
The museum building is impressive and gives a sort of new heart to an industrial wasteland. This area is past its manufacturing prime - the once busy buildings now stand quiet and empty, their tall chimneys now the domain of pigeons. Inside this spectacular building is a no less spectacular display. It is all about Harley Davison of course (and a little bit of Buell) and mostly it is the story of the Motor Company in words, pictures and metal. It devotes space to WWII, competition through the ages and in all its various forms, customs, movies and finally as you walk back into the lobby a chance for your own Kodak moment on your favourite bike - me, the XLCR. In another building there is a seperate display devoted to the life and times of Evel Kenevel (billed at $16) but given away free with a standard admission ticket. I guess Evel is not the draw he once was. I did not take up their kind offer either.
This afternoon I ride up the Michigan peninsular following the shore of one of the great lakes, Lake Michigan, as I head towards Lake Superior. I will be in the land of the Yoopers as the Upper Peninsular inhabitants are called.

16 July - Friday
The National Motorcycle Museum was excellent and had a bit of everything. Evel Kinevils Harley was there along with some memorabilia relating to his exploits. Also on display was the only surviving Captain America bike from the picture Easy Rider. It was the one used in the crash scene at the end of the movie and rebuilt some years after the movie. This museum used to be at Sturgis, SD and was moved to Iowa to improve its fortunes. A brave move I would have thought but it has paid off apparently. They get around 150 visitors per day and more on the weekends. They had on display a Yamaha TY250 trials bike - I used to ride one way back in the 70's - never thought it would be a museum piece.
Visited a covered bridge in Madison County - remember the movie of the same name with Clint Eastwood and Meril Streep - well stick to the movie.
I will make Milwaukee today and visit the HD museum tomorrow morning.

Harley Davidson Museum Tour

15 Jul - Thursday
Frank came with me to Baxter Cycles in Iowa to view their extensive collection/stock of classic British bikes. There was a huge range of Triumphs padded out with A65's, Norton twins (mostly electrics start 850's) , Velocette and a couple of Vincent twins. They were nicely restored or in excellent original condition commanding what I thought were quite high prices. Anyway my pick of them all was a 1958 Ariel HS looking brand new even down to its 20" Avon front tyre.
Followed I80 East for the rest of the day to arrive at Anamosa, still in Iowa and the National Motorcycle museum which I will visit tomorrow. Tonight I am camping in another mostly empty State Park - and it's a pretty one as well

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 24
A very long day today but we made it back to Omaha.
First up it was breakfast in Sturgis which is clearly gearing up for the August Rally - the welcome banners across main street are mostly up and cafes are advertising for staff. Also 2010 T shirts are available in gas stations. You can get lasts years ones 3 for $10. There are quite a large number of bikes around as well, most notably BMW's so I suspects they have an event organised.
Entering Nebraska I was pleasently surprised to see rolling hills of grassland much the same as you see in NZ. Turns out they are sand dunes left behind when the sea receded a million or so years ago.
A couple of hundred miles before reaching Omaha we got rained on big time - thunder, lightening, the lot. As impressive as the forked lightening was against the gray sky, it was not until dark that the show really started. There were two lightening storms. The closer one, which light the whole area up like daylight, was actually behind us and not so easy to see but there was one ahead of us way way in the distance and which had a cloud bank between us and the storm. Constant flashes silhouetted the clouds in a most spectacular way and to add to the awesome display of power was the occasional exchange between the clouds of bolts of lightening. I tried videoing the display and take the occasional picture but they did not come out.
We pulled into Franks place at around 1 in the morning for a 550 mile (880 km) day. My speedo says we had traveled 8,200 miles and to misquote Ed Hillary - 'we knocked the bastard off'.
In the remaining few days I think I will pop up Wisconsin and have a look over the Harley Davidson museum.

Day 23
Not much to report because today was much like yesterday - transiting through vast grassland plains with every new mile looking much the same as was 1,000 miles ago. All the farmers are mowing for hay including on the long acre next to the road. There is no visible signs of stock so what the bailage is for is beyond me. East Montana looks much like Saskatchewan and North Dakota is no different to either. I am starting to get the reason why some guys trailer their bikes. It's a bit of a mission crossing this type of country in 200 miles chunks. There seem to be a large number of abandoned houses and out buildings. And it is not as if there is a new house close by either. Tonight we are in South Dakota just near Spearfish. Tomorrow we take a look at Sturgis without the thousands of bikes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 21 Lost Frank today for a short period but we reconnected later in the day just in time to bid farewell to Alberta and say hello to Saskatchewan. Much of today was on the Transcontinental (hwy 16). This Provence is awfully flat and the land so far has been devoted to crops - mostly wheat and rape (canola oil). The rape is in flower so there is a lovely yellow tinge to the landscape. We are in Battleford tonight.

Day 22
We are back in Montana after pretty much another day riding through vast area of crops on roads that disappear into the horizon. Frank wonders whether there is enough machinery in the world to harvest the stuff let alone ponder as to where it all goes. Houses are all tucked behind belts of trees presumably as a shelter from winters arctic blast. Towards the border suddenly it all stops and you enter grassland prairie. The info board says it goes from here to mid Texas. It also informs me that the temps range from -55 to +45 degrees C. I don't know about +45 but is is 95 degree F at 7 PM.

Day 20
"They bike like crazy - ah" - says the Canadian about no see ems. Seems we have swapped the mosquito's for these bugs. It got dark by 11.30 tonight so things are sort of back to normal. In Slave Lake 'Jewel of the North' tonight - very nice town so the promise might just be true. We had a surprise return to the gravel when the tarmac ran out for 130 miles. Thankfully we have seen the last of the boreal forest. It is interesting for a while but after a while it gets a bit much. There is a wood pecker in the trees around here this evening but I can't see him but he sure makes a noise.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 19
Today we turn south and go back home - it's a good 5 days away yet however. We have had some remarkable strokes of luck on this ride. The first was the family that helped us push our bikes up a steep loose gravel bank, the second was the KTM rider who happened across my flat tyre problem. Without his tools and spare tube my predicament would have been unenviable to say the least and today it happened again. Frank bought a tyre in Yellowknife 'just in case' and within 40 miles of leaving YN his rear tyre delaminated. We had two problems - getting the bead to release and the prospect that 3 gas bottles may not inflate the thing. The knight in shining armour this time was Greg, a trucker hauling two bulk cement trailers behind his Western Star tractor unit. He had tools that fixed the bead problem and the air system of the truck inflated the newly installed tyre. And he will dump the old tyre, and handed out the Coca Cola and hand cleaner and towel. You are a champ Greg and we are enormously greatful for your help. We missed you at MacKenzie River ferry but we caught up with you (or at least your truck) again at Indian Cabin. I trust you got rid of the mosquito's from your sleeping berth.
Must also make mention of the wonderful hospitality shown to us by Leon at Indian Cabin Fas Gas store. While Greg was asleep in his truck cab we were drinking beer and telling tales over in the store.

Day 18
We have arrived at Yellowknife and have ridden all the gravel that is possible up the north/south continental divide. We finished the last of the gravel this morning - about 3,100 miles of it since we left Antelope Wells. Petrol stations are few and far between up here and we were all but out of petrol by the time we boarded the ferry to cross the MacKenzie river. Frank must have been running on fumes. This is the same Mackenzie river we crossed going to Inuvik a couple of years ago. It drains north to the Beaufort Sea from the Grate Slave Lake on which Yellowknife is located.
It was a cold ride this afternoon and we are tempted to stay in a motel but the prices are way beyond our budget. Even the locals are moaning about the spell of cold weather but for me it's a question of what do you expect when you are the equivalent of 2,700 km south of Invercargill.
Yellowknife is a surprisingly large and established modern city - nothing like I was expecting. The uninspiring nature of the architecture is probably necessary to combat the winter cold - this is ice road trucker country after all. Lots a Bison grazing the roadside - these are woods bison and are larger then their plains cousin.

Day 17

It rained last night and all day today till about 2pm so todays morning ride was cold and miserable. By 2pm we were in Fort Nelson and the weather picked up a little. The afternoon was a dirt ride up BC77 to NWT7 and eventually onto the MacKenzie hwy. This is the long way to Yellowknife and we took it to keep the dirt road theme alive but also to avoid retracing our steps on the return south. Tonight it is camping in wet tents in this beautifully set-up camp ground with virtually no one in it. Maybe no one is here because of the kazillion mosquitoes that are driving me nuts as I write this. It's 11.45 pm and the sun has just set. It will not get dark tonight at all – we are not in the land of the midnight sun but you can see it just down the road. Just over 500 miles today so we should make Yellowknife easily tomorrow.

Day 16

Today we crossed back into British Colombia from Alberta en route to Yellowknife. Just long straight roads through dense forest. An obligatory photo at Dawson Creek which is mile '0' of the Alaska Highway. Fine today and at one point temp up to 23 degrees C but for the most part it was a cold ride. Rain this evening so staying indoors at workers camp at mile marker 101. Addresses on the Alaska Highway are stated as “mile markers” so just down the road at marker 100 is the general store, Blueberry. I think we might be in for some more wet weather tomorrow.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 15

We have made it to the Canadian border and hope to make Hinton in Alberta by tonight. It rained again last night and we had to pack up wet tents this morning, It rained most of the day and got very cold especially in the Icefields National Park. Thank goodness for the warming influence of a Tim Horton coffee and donut. I got to see most of the Parkway because the weather cleared in the afternoon. We pulled into Hinton at 10.30 PM and it is still day light. It wasn't so long ago that it was lights out at 7.30. Frank has a nail in his rear tyre.

Day 14

The Canadian border is in sight and we have finished the gravel for the time being. Made it to Polebridge, with its little bakery, for lunch and a good lunch it was to. Polebridge is in the middle of no where and is something of a must stop place for adventure riders doing this route. None were there. In fact we have seen no other bikers on the whole route save for a group at Pie Town who had clearly made a lot of shortcuts. Went to the Canadian border but it had been closed for the last decade so we moved over to Eureka. At the moment we are in Rexford having a steak sandwich for dinner and drinking a beer from a glass screwtop jar.

Day 13

Yesterday a storm came through town toppling trees onto vehicles and generally creating havoc with tents etc. We saw nothing of this except for the cleanup operation. We got our turn at midnight, first with a magnificent lightening display, followed by horrific winds that flattened our tents and finally the rain. Flooded tent, wet sleeping bag and clothes – not a good night at all. We got a break in the rain about midday so shot through. Many trees down in the forests but the forest service had cleared then by the time we got to go through. At one point the road was closed but we noticed a track between the boulders so squeezed our bikes through and followed a bit of single track to a broken bridge. We clearly were not the only bikes to have got through. Tonight we are in a delightful lakeside camp at Bigfork. It's a Queenstown style town. The camp is completely full – something we have not encountered before. Most places are reporting slow demand this year.

Wild life seen today: turtle, rabbits, squirrel and a black bear.

My bikes needs some maintenance: loose head bearings and a rear wheel bearing that needs repacking with grease.

Day 12

Lincoln, Montana is only a short 210 miles from where we were this morning. The Helena Forest was our undoing. The map and GPS instructions were to vague and of little use once in the centre of the forest. Despite searching around for a route forward we gave up at around 2PM and took the pavement to Helena. More forest tracks in the PM to arrive at Lincoln. For a part of the day we followed an old disused railway track bed (rails long gone) next to the interstate and went through an old tunnel dated 1911.

We are in a public park campsite on the edge of town and now at 9.45 PM the deer have invaded the town. Some are wandering around the front lawns of houses and some are amongst the trees in our camp. There is one 10 metres away happily chewing the grass and occasionally looking up to see what I am doing. Prior to this it was watching a family as if wanting to be invited in and feed.

Day 11

Montana, Marlboro Man country. It's big blue sky country, snow capped mountains in the distance and vast grassy plains in between. Wow this is really spectacular country. The splendor of Colorado, while I never tire of it, is close in so much the mountains are “just over there”, kind of at arms reach but the mountains in Montana are way beyond arms reach.

We have two more days of Montana but for now are holed up in a little spot that is probably not on a map but for the moment they have cold beer and country music on the juke box. Tonight we washed away the smell from our gear.

Day 10

Short day again today (180 miles) mostly because I had to find a solution for the broken top box. We are heading north and after passing the Grand Titons enter Yellowstone National Park ($20 thanks) and yet another National Forest. Now the delay is a nail to my rear tyre – ah crap Frank has the tyre gear and he is ahead of me. Lucky me when a guy on a KTM 950 burbles into sight so I borrow his gear to fix the puncture. Actually I bought his spare tube so that fixed the problem. Frank and I mounted the tyre and wheel and we were off. Must say that the task was way easier than it is on my DR. Frank will like this but I will never tell him – I think the KLR is perfect for this ride and way better then my DR would have been.

Mack's Inn, Idaho tonight (it's a place not a pub) and another night in a forest park camp ground. After lying in the dirt and hot sun fixing my tyre I kind of would like to have had a shower. Our gear is getting a little smelly also. Frank is still suffering the stink from his sojourn into the bog hole – me, well I ride suitably far to the rear. I blame the dust. After taking our money ($12) the park ranger warns us about the bear in the woods. Ah crap, I will be awake all night now.

Day 9

It is 132 miles from Rawlins to Atlantic City – all on gravel and not a tree in sight. Vast plains of sage brush and hardy grass with the occasional beef cattle and antelope. Atlantic City is no city, just a collection of old buildings left over from the gold rush. We had lunch here but for me it was the sight of a white guy carrying a side arm trying to erect a tee pee. He is having no luck at all so occasionally refers to a set of instructions which seem not to help – possibly they are written in Apache. Never figured what the gun was for. By nightfall we had made it to Dubois for a total of 317 miles for the day. Top box gave up the ghost this afternoon – just to much pounding from the trails.

Day 8

To date we have ridden 2621 miles since we left Omaha and have made it to Rawlins, Wyoming where we are staying at a KOA camp ground. Very nice it is to. Rawlins looks to be a harsh town with a railroad that bisects the town with a good number of double wides (trailer homes) on the wrong side of the tracks. Lots of coal trains in town. Anyway it was goodbye to Colorado today. Colorado is such a visual delight despite their colour coded houses - seems you can chose from a standard set of plans and get to paint your place in either or both of two shades of brown but the roof must be green. Reminds me of Switzerland actually. Being on back roads you get to see the state like no one else does and I loved it. I never get tired of riding Colorado.

Entering Wyoming we rode into an avenue of Aspens (a scene that appears on every web site of this ride) and then onto a vast rolling plain of grassland. I have mentioned that this is actually a route planned by cyclists. Well I take my hat off to them and have a new respect. We clip through 200 km of dirt road in an afternoon and think nothing of the wonderful but never changing environment but for a cyclist the scene must be interminably long winded.