Into The USA
From Friends at Red Deer to the US Border
Stephen and I are very alike in many ways, we both approached each other cautiously, wanting to learn something of each other so as not to cause offence. By the weekend we were firm friends. Stephen is a good cook and it was exceptionally pleasing to eat good home cooking once more. Like most Canadian homes there was a basement, and like most Canadians Stephen had turned his into a self contained area with bedroom, bathroom and lounge, so I was able to have my own private space if required, the cat permitting of course, for like most cats, this one also owned the whole house and we mortals were only there to provide for him/her.
The weather was warm and I sat in the sun most afternoons catching up on emails or working on my bike in the garage while Stephen was at work. I hoped that my replacement windshield would arrive from the UK so that I could also fit that. New parts were ordered from Edmonton so I also hoped that by the weekend I would have my speedometer working again.
The parts duly arrived at the bus station, a popular method of sending packages from one town to another over here, and I walked downtown to get them. Like most North American towns, Red Deer is built for the motorist and sprawls out along the two major trunk routes, so it was quite a hike from one end of the town to the other. Package in hand I returned to Stephens garage and was able to repair the speedometer by salvaging the input gearing from the rev counter. Wonderful, I now had confirmation of my speed once again, although my guess based on the engine sounds was pretty close I must say.
We also found some red duct tape to tape over the damaged area and across the space left by the windshield.
Stephen took me to the local bike dealers and other stores where I replaced the camera and hummed and hahed over a replacement GPS unit. In the end I just purchased the camera figuring that, if I did need one, they would be cheaper in the US.
We also had a couple of meals with Annette, his friend and a splendid evening at the Legion, where I met Stephens’s good friend Dave. It was their habit to buy and consume several jugs of beer there while partaking of the in house lottery and food raffle. They told me that they had often won small amounts, but that night I think we cleared $160, an all time record for them. The beer, the winning and the superb company made it a night that I shall never forget, including the enjoyable and late, long walk home by two tipsy Canadians and one tipsy Englishman. I wear the Canadian Legion badge that was presented to me with pride and remember that happy night.
The weekend came all too soon and I had to be on my way, windshield or not, requesting that Stephen hang on to it until I could confirm an address in Dallas where I was to meet my brother Norman in a few weeks time.
Fortune would have it that Stephan wanted to travel a good deal of the way I was headed, so we set off and he guided me by back roads to where ‘the best jerky ever’ was made. I have never had jerky, dried beef or buffalo meat, so another first for me. You will often see North American Motorcyclists chewing, don’t assume that it is gum, often it is jerky. To those who have never tasted it you can get a rough idea by leaving a slice of corned beef in the sun until it goes hard, then break of a piece and chew it for a while.
Stephen and I said our goodbyes and he headed west while I headed south.
The back roads are long and empty, but the ever present Rocky Mountains to my right reminded me where I was.
This was to be my first camp in a long while and I looked forward to it with anticipation. The camp ground was in XXX PP and as there were few campers now, I got a prime spot overlooking a small woodland meadow, hopefully with the chance of seeing some wildlife. Unfortunately, apart from a few coyote howls during the night, I saw nothing apart from the ground squirrels.
The views all around me were superb.
In the morning I packed my kit and headed south east for Waterton National Park, of which I had read and heard so much about. Despite getting lost once or twice in small towns, I eventually found the right road and headed down the valley to Wateston Lake and Village. Apart from the majestic mountain backdrop, the first thing you see is the magnificent hotel perched on a hill overlooking the lake. Unfortunately closed at this point in the year, I say unfortunately but truth be told I probably could not justify the price of staying there anyway; instead I opted for a motel in this smashing little village.
Now here was a place that was built more on traditional European lines with a nice little centre area for shopping and houses for the residents spreading outwards from it. One thing about the motel, it had beautiful patchwork bed covers and pillows, each with scenes depicting salmon, quite the most desirable objects I had ever seen in a motel room, anywhere.
I took the opportunity to wander around the village and see the beautiful scenery of mountains, lake and waterfall that makes this place special. On the lake shore many have erected small obelisks, setting stones one on top of another, I have noticed this phenomenon elsewhere in America, and much more so than in Europe, perhaps we have so many standing stones that we don’t feel the need for any more. I really don’t know the answer, but it is pleasing to see.
In Waterton Village deer wander around at will, another way in which this park show how wildlife and man can live in harmony if given the chance.
The next day I left Waterton National park and headed the short distance up Chief Mountain and the US Border crossing.
Despite the fuss concerning tighter security on the US Borders, crossing could not be easier. Now it may be that this is due to the sophisticated infrastructure that the authorities have bought to bare, including my ‘chipped’ passport. Driving up to the boarder post, I parked the bike 2 yards from the door and went in with one of the Border Guards there. After scanning my passport he took a digital photograph of me and electronically scanned my finger prints on a little gadget. That was it, apart from $6 or $7 for the photo, or something, and then I got a green card attached to my passport and warned, in a friendly way, to make sure I booked out of the USA when I left or the records would list me as an illegal alien. They were not the least bit interested in my bike, insurance or any of its documentation. I had a big smile as I rode down the mountain road, noticing the change of road sign styles and speed restrictions now in mph again. The road was not as well maintained as the Canadian side of the border, but it was the end of the summer and in a few weeks this border post would be closed for the winter and just the Native American Blackfeet and their cattle would be up here.
I had hoped to travel ‘The Road to the Sun’ that would have taken a spectacular mountain route through Glacier National Park, but it was closed as earlier in the year a landslide had taken away part of the road and now the temporary repairs were being replaced by more permanent ones. So I carried on down the main road, following river and rail track through the mountains, and it was cold and wet most of the way, but I had dried out by the time I found the campsite at Apgar.
The camp site was very large, but broken up into discreet sections with not that many campers this time of year. There were bear warnings everywhere and you are warned that food hampers and cooking gear left unattended could be confiscated, as ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’. Once bears find easy pickings the return again and again becoming a nuisance, so have to be shot! Bear proof food storage and trash cans are situated close to most sites. I had the usual chipmunk climbing upon the table in search of food and a couple of deer wandering past during the twilight, and also early next morning, but my sleep was interrupted firstly by the cold night, then after I donned a few clothes, by the train whistles, lorry horns and howling of coyotes, so not much changed there then.
I stayed a couple of days, cooking my evening meals over a wood fire and enjoying the forest. Then I packed and headed south past Swan Lake toward Helena and another contact who had invited me to spend a few days, some of the most interesting and valued days I would spend on my journey.
Now I had Bills address and a rough remembrance of a Google map in my head, but knew that coming of the Interstate Highway I had a snowballs chance in Hell of finding it. Having negotiated the town in the afternoon rush hour, I pulled into a gas station and went to see if anyone had a clue as to where the road I was looking for was. The guy behind the counter looked puzzled, then grabbed a phone book to check out the city map, while people queued up behind us to pay for their gas. I offered to look while he served, but he dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand saying, ‘They’ll wait’. He found what he wanted after what seemed an eternity but was probably just 20 or 30 seconds, all the while the queue was getting longer. ‘It’s off Montana Boulevard,’ he said closing the phone book and sliding it under the counter. ‘Thanks’ I replied thinking, ‘I passed Montana on the way through the town.’
Returning the way I had come was not that easy, firstly because the gas station forecourt was on a steep slope, I was parked into the kerb, there was a 9” drop into the dirt road I was facing, and the duelled main road, which I had to get to, went through a one way system leaving me lost again. Bright idea time; go back to the interstate, back to the junction I came in on, find Montana Boulevard and turn right onto it. I found the Interstate, retraced my way to the junction I came off at, and was patiently waiting for the lights to change so that I could retrace my route through the city, when a multicoloured rag tag of a motorcycle drew up next to me, and the rider looked across and said, ‘Hi, how ya doing?’ ‘I’m lost.’ I said. ‘You must be Derek’, he said, ‘I’m Bill.’ We shook hands, ‘Don’t worry’, he said to my disbelieving look, ‘happens all the time with me. It’s synchronicity. I’ve come out to pick up some parts just arrived at the spares shop, follow me.’
I followed my conductor to the spares shop, close to the gas station that I had enquired at, then back through the city to his house. ‘I do a little motorcycle servicing for some of the guys in the area, and sell the odd bike or two to try and earn a living. My wife should be home soon, make yourself comfortable, you have the basement room but we got to move the racks of tobacco leaves drying first.’ I immediately took to this man, who just seemed to absorbe me into his world as though it was the most natural thing in the world. The later circumstances showed me that to him, for me, it was.
His wife, Julie, arrived later in a whirlwind of questions, phone calls, (her phone constantly rings, I believe she is indispensable in several peoples lives), and answers to unasked questions about the Native American Arts and Crafts that are liberally strewn about their house. She showed us a wonderful handmade blanket depicting a horse that she had been given as a gift by a First Nation American woman in payment for a service rendered. She had been offered an actual horse, the traditional gift, but had to decline that as she could not look after it, so this was the alternative gift. A beautiful piece of art it was too, very close weave from traditional materials.
We went out that evening for a meal at a Mexican restaurant, and I believe the young waitress would have liked to join us as she seemed to be fascinated by my Englishness.
During the next few days I had a chance to exchange my pagan English views on the Cosmos, while Julie told me of the First Nation beliefs and I was very honoured to meet and talk with a shaman whose name translates to Shaking Spear.
All too soon my time was up and I had to continue my journey, and Bill and Julie had to get to Utah where another shaman had been taken ill, and they had offered to look after his needs for a couple of weeks.
Once more I had to say, ‘It is not the destination, nor yet the journey, but the people you meet on that journey that are the prize.’
A truly memorable episode on my journey.
I now had to travel east towards one of my set goals, The Little Big Horn Monument.
The route comes out of the mountains at Billings and after a short journey along the Interstate, I found a motel in the town of Harding, set among the rolling hills of east Montana. I exchanged pleasantries with a couple who had English connections and homes in both India and Turkey, with an offer to look them up if I found myself in either country. From Harding I had a choice of two roads to reach The little Big Horn Monument, either the Interstate, or the country road that leads to Crow Agency. I chose the later, with romantic visions of First Nation Communities set amongst the rolling hills.
The road I needed turned off the main road some 15miles out of town and headed east, the hills rising slowly in front of me like a series of gentle folds. About 5 miles along the road I saw the dreaded orange signs, ‘Pavement Repairs Ahead’ and then the even worse ones, ‘Loose Gravel’ and then what for me was a nightmare sign that read ‘Loose Gravel for 7 miles’. They meant it too, having ripped up both carriageways simultaneously and turned my nice country road into a gravel track. I safely made it through and was feeling pleased with myself when I passed through a small Crow village. How disappointed I was, these shacks, surrounded by dead cars and pick-ups, trash littering the streets and driveways, was not my picture of the ‘Proud Redman’ I had in my head, but just confirmed to me that those of them who have not become 100% white, or remained true to their traditions, had been cast up into a no mans land. Enough said, I continued on.
I was pleased to see that they have over the last years changed the name from ‘The Custer Monument’ to the ‘Little Big Horn Monument’ and now include an area where the First Nation Peoples who took part in this battle are also respected. In my younger days I read many works on battles, from the Greek Wars, to the Vietnam War, so I knew roughly what had happened here. How Colonel George Armstrong Custer had split his forces, giving Major Reno an impossible task, and how Sitting Bulls’ war chief, Crazy Horse had, among others, wiped out his command. To see the lay of the land and the markers scattered across the hill sides is however, to pull it from the dry pages of a book and dump it into your eyes and head. These were real people of flesh and blood, with hopes and dreams, why do we keep doing this to each other?
Fearing other local road works, I headed south down Interstate 90 coming of at Ranchester and heading west once more towards Yellowstone National Park. The mountains loomed once more in front of me and were signed as to each geological strata as I progressed higher. An interesting concept, a pity more places have not carried out this innovative practice.
Along the route was signed a ‘Medicine Wheel and I pulled off along a small chalk road winding upwards, gaining in confidence at my ability to negotiate off road conditions since my confidence had been shattered a couple of months earlier. Negotiating a loose road surface with a fully loaded bike is not the same as with an unladen one! I was pleased that there was a cool wind, because at the top there was a mile walk up hill, and my clothing was making me sweat a bit.
A Medicine Wheel is a bit like our henge, a sacred area laid out with stones to N,E,W and S, with lines of stones marking the energy rays leading in and out of the circle. They are not set up just anywhere, the shamen often having dreams as to where they are to be located. I was on my own up here looking across the mountain range, and took a moment of prayer, it was not until a few days later, checking the dates in my diary, that I realised that this day was the Autumn Equinox, synchronicity had put me at the right place at the right time!
South to meet my twin bro Norman
I motelled in Cody, a pleasant small town repleat with the images of ‘Buffalo Bill’, and headed into a cold wind once more towards mountain peaks.
Continuing on I crossed the mountain pass into Yellowstone in a snow shower, along with a long line of traffic. All of us had been held up by road works there on top of the mountain. Coming once more into the warmer air of the valley, most of the queue peeled of at Lake Village, but although I was close to my fuel limit, but not yet on reserve, I headed for West Thumb, further around the lake, where my information told me there was a campground and gas station.
Except the camp ground was closed, only an RV park open, and they were digging up the gas station forecourt. Not much of a decision here, since I was now on reserve, either go and check out ‘Old Faithful’, 17 miles there and 17 miles back, or carry on to Jacksons Hole. I have never regretted missing ‘Old Faithfull’ especially when given descriptions of the circus it is, and besides I saw many smaller mud holes, steaming fissures and other vented examples of how hot the ground is just a few metres under the ground at Yellowstone. I seldom turn back now, believing that I see what I was meant to and more important things await. This philosophy does not apply to motels however, where my usual practice is to drive through a town checking out the motels, then turn back and pick the one I like best. Too often in the past have I stayed at a noisy hotel at the crossroads only to find the next morning that there was a much better one just down the street.
From now on I followed Hwy191 south, through Rock Springs, that no longer has a spring due to mining, Then Hwy40 across the Roan Plateau where it again snowed, to Fruita.
Now a short length of I 70 coming off at the ghost town of Cisco and along a fantastic road that goes down a valley alongside the Colorado River to Moab.
Rejoining Hwy191 again I then turned off to camp in Canyoinlands, Where Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and The Tall Texan ran with The Hole in the Wall Gang. It was a beautiful setting for a camp, even though the road was covered in deep red sand in many places.
Once more following Hwy191 I headed south across the bleak Navajo lands to stay the night in Chambers. Next morning I nearly had a disaster, assign through Sanders I ignored the fuel station as I was not yet on reserve, and continued up the hill out of town. The engine spluttered and I leant down to turn my fuel tap to Reserve, only to find that the last time I fuelled, I had forgotten to turn the tap back to its normal position. I coasted to a stop, cursing myself for my stupidity. Two things saved me, the 1.5 litres of fuel I carried in metal bottles attached to my panniers, and the down hill slope back to town. Must remember not to do that again!
Leaving Arizona on Hwy60 and travelling east through New Mexico, access several landscape types I came to the famous town of Roswell. This town plays up the hype surrounding its famous UFO crash to the max, and after visiting the UFO museum I much preferred the plaza dedicated to the great cattleman John Chisholm.
On the road out of Roswell I saw a fellow biker standing by his BMW on the opposite side of the road and stopped to offer help. Clifford’s bike had unaccountably stopped, but he had already called out a motorcycle dealer from Roswell. I talked with Clifford who was on a ‘4 corners of the USA’ ride, to help pass the time, but as help was on the way, I continued on eastward,
Now in Texas, I was a few days ahead of schedule, and spent a relaxing couple of days camped by the lake at Possum Kingdom
I hate cities, but now had the twin cities of Fort Worth and Dallas to negotiate to try and find the Hotel in which my twin brother, Norman, was staying. After a couple of hours I gave up and parked in the car park next to the Remand Wing of the jail, looking at the Dallas skyline and wondering what to do
I asked several people for directions, but even though, unknown to me, we were only a few hundred yards from the road I needed, no one could help, then it started raining. I asked the car park attendant if I could park the bike next to his booth, while I got a taxi to Norman s Hotel. It was a mile or so up the road that the car park was on, and Norman gave me a warm welcome. A short while later I had collected my bike and sat down for dinner and a long talk with my brother, we were going to spend the next two weeks together while my bike was serviced, and high on our priority list was a visit to our namesake, Rick Fairless and his Dallas chopper shop of ‘Strokers’.
Posted by Derek Fairless at 12:20 AM