Due to the higher definition and larger size of some of these photos please click on the bold type to see photos
Friday July 6th
The booking-in clerk at Heathrow asked me to place both of my bags on the conveyor. I knew they were overweight and fished for my wallet. He looked at me and asked me to take one case off, printed a label, wrapped it around the handle, gave it a shove to make it disappear into the Heathrow Machine. ‘Now the next one.’ Another label, another shove, a printer burbles and I have my boarding card. ‘No charge?’ I ask, ‘Nope.’ He smiles. ‘Well that all went smoothly’. ‘Just like I like it at the end of a shift.’. Comprehension dawns and I rejoin my son Adam who has driven me here today. After a coffee together we wait by the entrance to the Security Clearance and Departure Lounge watching the flight loading indicators. After a while Adam takes his leave, and I return to watching the flight details, except they look as if they are refreshing, but the time stays steady at 12:27. My God! How long have I been standing here looking at a crashed screen? I arrive at the departure desk perspiring, it is just about the furthest one there is, possibly in the next county I had mused, striding along the moving walkway. Funny how, when using them, it looks as if you are moving normally, and the people approaching are the ones hurrying.
My seat on the plane is opposite the entry door, so no shuffling down gangways and plenty of room to spread out. The flight is everything a flight is designed to be, bland with a little turbulence now and then, just to remind you that you are in the air and then the door opens in Canada.
As we queue for Immigration, I strike up a conversation with a cheery, bluff Canadian with a grey beard of about my age, by the name of Sandy Monroe. I explain my reasons for being here, and he has questions and advice. His own story is quite startling, he has just returned from London following the abduction and kidnap of his wife. She had been missing for 17months, had the onset of Alzheimer’s disease when he last saw her prior to the kidnap, and did not know who he was when he was reunited with her in England. How cruel to be robbed of those last flickering moments of cognition, to have missed the opportunity to say the things that husbands and wives say that make the journey beyond life’s gate a little easier to contemplate.
Saturday July 7th
The Dalhousie University logo has the words ‘Inspiring Minds’ written beneath it. Well all I can say is that The Gerard Hall of Residence is probably one of the most uninspired buildings in Halifax. Don’t get me wrong, the accommodation is fit for purpose, if somewhat industrial, the view is fantastic from my 11th floor window, the location, close to the docks is perfect for me; but this is an off the shelf design that 40 years later looks passé and ill judged.
The new Dalhousie buildings look as though they were designed by a man and not a machine though, so there is hope that soon this will be a pile of rubble through which elegant halls of residence will emerge. The architecture here is a delight to me. The painted clapboard and wood shingle buildings all oozing a message that says ‘men built me out of what they found here’. Wide tree lined streets, shady residential roads, open parks and gardens, all blend into a feeling of friendliness. Yes, this is a contented, friendly town where the people don’t rush headlong, have time to smile and greet each other in a laconic way.
Typical Halifax house
Mind you, the taxi driver did say that as it was the first week of the holidays, the streets were very quiet, just as well for I have been studying the traffic at the cross road junction where Hollis meets Morris, (sounds like a play). Ok, so if you are not European then this will be of no surprise to you, but some traffic ignores the red stop light, some don’t. Pedestrians are still crossing when the green light shows. A car draws up to the traffic lights, stops, decides he doesn’t want to go that way anymore and makes a u-turn to go back the way he came. All of this in a polite, well ordered and considerate manner. I think I get the hang of it. Pedestrians have right of way, always. They do in Britain, but everyone ignores it and the pedestrians jaywalk anyway. You may turn right, even with a red light showing, provided that your exit is clear and you yield right of way to cars from the left (who have a green light anyway.) That clear? No! I spend a couple of hours doing the Ontario Drivers Test online, and finally get the idea, they are a bit like a traffic light controlled roundabout, but not quite. Hmm not much use is it, I will just have to map my way out of town by the straightest route with the fewest turns, and once I get on the country roads I will absorb it all by example, a little at a time.
View from my window
If you are ever in Halifax I can recommend that Bistro on the corner of Hollis and Morris, The Wired Monk.(after Thelonius Monk, the jazz musician) It has a Chocolate Pecan Pie that is not for mortal man and fit only for Heroes and Gods. Since I am a Hero, at least in my own mind, I shall be going back for another helping before I leave Halifax.
Sunday July 8th
I have blisters, I walked too far yesterday, and now have blisters. My shoes are still too new and hard and my feet too soft. Perhaps if I soak my shoes in water and my feet in vodka, that would help. The easiest way to get vodka to your feet without making a mess is to drink it and let it work its way down from the inside. Trouble is I don’t like vodka so I might try beer later. I have walked up and down the board walk once more and taken some more photos.
I feel really guilty about leaving my son Adam and his wife Sam clearing up the mess I left behind me, but on the one hand I was getting desperate to leave, on the other I did not want anything to change. I think that if I did not have this Around the World Trip to escape to, I would eventually have committed suicide. That sentence looks hard when written down, but there is truth in it. A nice comfortable home and a smooth self induced exit from this life, or an uncomfortable, basic existence on the road yelling at the gods that they are all bastards, easy choice really, rock on.
Monday July 9th
I have spent all morning trying to find someone to insure the bike. Catch 22 is you can’t get visitors insurance unless you have a permanent address in N.America!!! If I had a permanent address, I’d already have frigging insurance, wouldn’t I, but it’s no use shouting at the computer, it just stares back with the same answer. In the end I email Motorcycle Express the details and pray that they can do all the business from my email, otherwise I’ll need to find a fax bureau and do it from there, may mean a couple of extra days in Halifax, but not if I can help it. My great fear is that Customs will want the Insurance paperwork before they release the bike, if so I will try and blag it with the Eagle Star faxed copy I had for Germany. Perhaps then I can get on with loading the bike up and final preparations while the insurance comes through
View from dorm corridor window
I walk down the hill to The Wired Monk for a coffee and cigar, to calm my nerves a little. I always take a pavement table so my cigar smoke does not create a nuisance for other customers. Of the three tables, the middle one already has an occupant. A slight, intellectual looking young man is reading a book, so judging the wind direction I take the first table. Since it is on a corner, the wind eddies and swirls, taking my cigar smoke straight across all of the tables as it follows the wall and drifts off down the street. I apologise and hope that it is causing him no bother. It is not, and we are soon talking together of many things. This is Dan Freer, poet and script writer. He has travelled quite widely for an American from New York, recently having spent time in Germany connecting with the art and literature circles there. Now he has rented a little cabin just outside Halifax so that he can work on a script without disturbance. After what must have been at least an hour, we exchange email addresses and head off in opposite directions, I to my supermarket of choice, he to his.
Tuesday July 10th
I have spent all morning and early afternoon in my room for two main reasons. Firstly I have been up and down the harbour boardwalk three times now, so don’t need to see any more of that, although it is pleasant, and secondly I am giving my feet a chance of some fresh air to help my blisters heal. Besides which there is a fret on (sea mist) and it’s a bit gloomy out. As I write, the midday sun is doing its best to drive the mist away, so I may either go up to the Citadel, or Point Pleasant Park, where I can see if the Ortello has birthed yet.
Later…. I have been for a walk through Point Pleasant Park, and it is, as the name suggests, pleasant. No sign of the Ortello though and a cool wind has sprung up, blowing from the sea. I return to my room and begin to read a book that I bought at the Camping and Mountaineering Co-Op, the book is called Backcountry Bear Basics, by Dave Smith. Hmm, I’m not sure if it has improved my feelings about an encounter with bears.
Wednesday July 11th
The Bike has arrived and been discharged from the ship!! Hurray, now I can get on with it. First a trip to the 17th floor offices of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. The Google map is a bit vague as to the exact location, as the pointer appears to be sticking out of the unpopulated grass verge opposite the Casino. Still, I’ve got a tongue in my head, I can ask. So once more down the Harbour Board walk, only this time two things have changed, some more of the Tall Ships have arrived, and the sea mist obscures the few to about 100mtrs. Reaching the Casino, I have two choices, there is an obvious looking building with a docks and fenced around, to the left a few hundred yards down, or there is a multi-storey Car Park next door. Obviously I take the obvious choice, the Navy Base!! Back to the Car park and behind it I spy office buildings, like 20 stories high office buildings.
At the reception desk on the 17th floor of 1959 Upper Water Street, Halifax; sits a very equitable lady who informs me that Gary is on the phone, but will be with me shortly. It is relaxing to wait in all this luxury, knowing that you helped pay for it. I expect that I paid for one petal of the bouquet on the table, and Audi paid the rest.
Gary inspects my way bill, leaves, returns with another version of it and extracts $170 ‘Port Charges’, not what I call an ‘all in’ price when I confirmed with Tony in England, so remember if you come this way, that there are ‘Port Charges’. Having paid I get three pieces of paper, the waybill stamped ‘Paid’, a map and a list of instructions. Next stop the Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA) for custom’s clearance.
The CBSA is just inside the doors of the Bank of Canada building, and is busy with people dropping in paperwork for clearance, fortunately most don’t stop and wait, just leave their paperwork in the ‘In Tray’. The lady officer, asks one or two questions about my visit, warns me not to sell or scrap my bike in Canada, and informs me that it is illegal for any other person to ride my bike while in Canada, and, reluctantly it appeared to me, stamped my waybill ‘Released’.
Next I have to pick up my bike at the Autoport Terminal which is across the harbour on the edge of Dartmouth. No wonder I could not see that the Otello had arrived, it is across the bay and the fog is getting thicker.
Ortello in the mist
So back to Gerard Hall, pick up my helmet, gloves and jacket and back again to the boardwalk. The ferry to Woodside will be about 3 hours, it only runs during the rush hour, but I can get the ferry to Aldeney Gate and then a free transit on the number 60 bus, $2 total. While I wait I pick up a free bus map but don’t have time to look at it as the ferry arrives just at that point. We sail across the bay looking through windows that are muslined in fog. At Aldeney Gate, no one knows where the No.60 bus stop is, so I hail a cab instead and we are soon at the Autoport Terminal. There another polite young lady examines my papers, declares that she has never seen a release note that was made out before the vehicle has been physically checked over, but arranges for the CBSA men to look at mine next. Ten minutes later and I am inspecting Christine and sign the waiver that everything is as it should be. The cab driver tells me there is a petrol station just a bit further on down the road, and I head up there to refuel. He’s right, about a mile up the road is the petrol station, I pull in and notice the temperature gauge in the red and the cooling fan on, and I’ve only come a mile!!
I pay for the petrol, drive to the side lot, and remove the seat to check the filler tank. It’s full. I changed the coolant before I left but didn’t have time to check it, now I’m paying the price. I expect there is an airlock or something.
While thus engaged another bike arrives and I meet Denis Beaulieu, who asks if he can be of any assistance, we chat a little and then another figure walks up in a Harley T-shirt and introduces himself as Kerry Adams, another local biker. We talk a while longer and agree that it’s probably just an airlock and should sort itself out. Saying good bye we exchange web addresses, and Kerry makes up for my lack of forethought by buying a small notebook so I don’t end up writing on scraps of paper again. Thanks Kerry. I ride off, get lost, use the bus map, and get stuck in rush hour traffic on the bridge, fuming about my temperature gauge, and what this may be doing to my engine, get lost again and finally arrive emotionally drained at Gerard Hall. Tomorrow I need to check the bike out. Hope it’s not a water pump strip down, they are a notorious weak spot.
Friday 13th July 2007
The problem with the over heating was indeed an air lock. In the end I took out the fan sensor in the thermostat housing and slowly filled it from there using my camelback. (Water container that fits on your back like a mini rucksack, but has a tube that you can suck from when you get thirsty.) Following that she was rock steady, even at fast tick-over, so I guess that’s another problem solved. Getting all the gear on the bike was a challenge, as I was on the 11th floor, but eventually everything was strapped in place and I nervously pulled out of the car park into the mid morning traffic. Having wasted an hour trying to find the outdoor sports shop to buy a mug and an axe, only to find that it had been open until 9.00pm the previous evening, when I was one street away, and now didn’t open until 9:30, I was keen to get started. The traffic wasn’t so bad, but a bit nose to tail here and there, and eventually I made it to, and past, the MacDonald Bridge Tolls. Now for a few miles the road was easy until turning off on the Cole Harbour Road I’m once more into commuter shoppers for three or four miles. The road slowly gets narrower and the cars fewer and at last I can relax and enjoy the ride. Oh, had I visited 40 years ago, I would have stayed. The space and housing that people live in out here is just wonderful. The countryside is similar to Scotland, as the name Nova Scotia suggests. The speed limits both frustrate and delight me. On the one hand I cannot make up for lost time at 50mph, but on the other I have time to admire the fishing villages and small hamlets along the coast.
Typical river view in Nova Scotia
The weather is beautiful, in fact a little too hot when I stop for a drink of water and a cigar, and the sweat is soon pouring off until I get moving again. I catch the ferry across the river at Sheet Harbour ($5) – (Canadian and US dollars are so close at the moment, so I’ll just say $) Leaving the ferry I reach a Tee junction and a sign says ‘Petrol, 2.5 km’ to the right, but I have to go left. Sure enough about 3 miles down the road the bike falters and I have to switch to reserve. After another 35miles through timber covered hills, with hardly a car passing me from the opposite direction, and none in my mirrors for the last 40 mins or so, I sweep around a bend into Seal Harbour, straight past a little shop with a petrol pump at the side. Making a U-turn, I pull up to the pump and a little old man with ginger somewhere in his grey hair, strolls out of the shop.
‘Do you sell petrol?’ I enquire.
‘Well I gotta petrol pump in the yard, and I didn’t put it there ‘cause it looks pretty!’ he said, with more than a hint of irony and a little belligerence if truth be said.
‘No, I suppose not,’ I chuckled, trying to win him over, ‘I really meant are you still open for a sale.’
‘I cost $100,000 to install so I need to sell every drop I can,’ he replied handing me the nozzle, ‘ here you fill her up, then you can’t blame me if it overflows and ruins your motorcycle.’
After a few more words about Cancer of all things, ‘D’yer get any of it in England?’ seems to be taking off a good deal of his old friends and his wife just had a tumour removed from her eyebrow, his attitude soften when I explain about Christine and before you know it he a) offers me a free place to camp just outside of town, and b) as the land is up for sale, did I want to buy it. Herman Doyle he says his name is, and he’s open to offers on the land. I decline both kindnesses and as there are now 3 cars backed up,
‘Must be the rush hour,’ I jest.
‘No, daughter of the biggest fishing fleet here abouts got married today, they’re having a shindig up at the Community Hall, these boy’s are out of town taxi’s, let ‘em wait. Did I tell you it cost $25 to get a lobster licence, he’s been buying them up ‘cause all the fisherman here abouts are on welfare. Get $6 or $7 thousand dollars during the season, but that ain’t enough for a man to live on.’
‘My son is a fisherman in England,’ I tell him, ‘the license is $12,000 a year.’
He looks at me not sure if he believes me or not, and I shake his hand and drive on to Boyeston, a little happier that I’ll actually reach the Provincial Park and the camp ground. Herman Doyles petrol smelt a little strange, like old diesel does, perhaps that explains the $100,000, he probably had to buy a tanker full at a time.
I pull into the campsite and the Ranger has trouble getting his computer to accept my telephone and postcode, so in the end he cancels it and we start over using his telephone number and postcode, no problems.
‘I put you in number 5 site, it’s opposite the toilets and water tap, but there’s only you up that side, so take your pick, whatever you fancy. Black fly are a bit of a nuisance at the moment though, hope you got some spray.’
‘Yep.’ I reply with the confidence of a chemical weapons expert.
Camp at Boyleston PP
Number 5 seems just fine and I soon have the tent up and scavenge unused wood from the other fire places and in the best Boy Scout tradition the coffee is boiling and the sausage sandwiches immanent. The atmosphere is humid and dank, and I strip off my Motorcycling gear, don my high ankle shoes and outdoor lightweight trousers, spray my exposed parts with DEET and sit back to enjoy my meal that has finished cooking while I was thus engaged. Isn’t modern lightweight fabric fantastic? It pulls the sweat away from the sweaty parts, keeps you cool, keeps you warm, washes easily and dries so quickly. Mosquitoes love it, they can pierce through its figure hugging layer with no trouble at all, I sat watching incredulously as one did it in front of me. A special feature of my expensive Knox wear, is the mesh that runs along the seams, to allow air to flow and keep you cool, the mosquitoes can’t get through it, but they don’t need to anyway, but the black fly can, and I have tracks up the inside of my arms that the most extreme junky would be proud of. If you are going into black fly country do not buy Knox underwear!!
That evening while the black flies were feasting on me, the fireflies were taking flash photos for the Boyleston Insect Gazette. I have never seen more than one or two of these increadible insects before, and here in front of me were dozens, flashing away in the bushes all around me. Well first day has gone reasonably well, but still anxieties creep in about the bike and my equipment.
Saturday 14th July.
I take the road from Boyleston and more by luck than judgement, (my inbuilt radar again?) arrive at the causeway linking Cape Breton to the rest of Nova Scotia. The day is very hot and every time I stop, I am immediately drenched in sweat. I pass through small communities that until now were names on the map, unfortunately most will be unsure memories of roads sweeping down to harbours and bays lined with well spaced clapboard and shingle houses painted in white and pale blues and greys.
The National Park kiosk appears in front of me and I pull in to purchase a ticket. This gains entry to the park, but camping is extra depending on the facilities. The road is spectacular, but I can’t get my helmet cam to work. I wend my way up and down mountain sides with the sea on my left waiting to pick out one of the camp grounds. The campground I picked out on the map at home has several RVs there, and is like a picturesque car park, so I travel on, maybe come back later if the next couple are not to my liking. The sign for a campsite appears as I cruise out of a left hand bend, and it looks ideal. Set beside a babbling fresh water brook, just a few dozen pitches at most, toilet and kitchen hut, and no one else there, perfect.
I struggle out of my very moist motorcycle clothes, and set to pitching the tent. These ‘Primitive’ sites are self registering, on arrival you retrieve an envelope from the box attached to the notice board, fill in your details, insert an appropriate amount inside the envelope and pop the envelope in a secure letterbox, keeping the tear off tab to display on your vehicle.
‘No fires’ says the sign, now does this mean no open fires or strictly no fires at all. A pick-up arrives with a couple and child, they back up to one of the picnic tables and within minutes a feast is spread out before them, including a billy can on a stove making hot water for the coffee. Right, now I know.
After a most agreeable day and nights camping, I load the bike and head to the campsite at Ingonish. This is a more civilised site with showers and washing facilities. I make the most of it and wash clothes and equipment and leave it to dry while I go for a rideout..
The Cabot Trail
Monday 16th July
The town of North Sydney is very pleasant, as I take my customary, ‘where the hell am I’ tour to get my bearings. The weather is very hot with a clear blue sky as I get into line for the ferry. The clerks always have a slight shocked look when you tell them that you have not booked ahead, but will issue you a standby ticket. With a standby, if there is room after everyone else is on, you get a place, if not you wait for the next boat. Anyway they squeeze me on as the last vehicle and I nervously ride across the steel gratings and ramps to the space indicated. Here they throw me a few straps and tell me to secure the bike, they will not in case it is damaged during the crossing, if it falls, it’s my fault. With the engine crash bars and pannier frames it is dead easy to dog down the bike. I bid her farewell for the time being, and head upwards to the passenger decks. At $68 for a 6 hour cruise, this has to be one of the best value modes of transport there is. After leaving the coast of Cape Breton behind a cool wind springs up and I retire to the restaurant to tuck into a plate of fishcakes and beans. Emerging once more onto the deck I smartly about turn and head for the lounge, it is cold and foggy in the twilight. We nose into Port aux Basque, Newfoundland, to the sound of fog horns and shadowy glimpses of the harbour.
Getting of the boat is chaotic and at one point either we are going the wrong way down a ramp, or those coming the other way are, whatever it is, no one gets excited about it.
Now a word of warning about the roads in Newfoundland. The main road goes up the WEST shore of Newfoundland, but it heads upwards in a north-easterly direction and ends up on the EAST coast, so following the signs for WEST, I end up in a cul-de-sac in the less spectacular part of town. After wandering back and forwards through suburbs of wooden houses and waste ground I find myself back at the docks and resolve to head in the opposite direction. Just out of town I come across the Visitors Centre, park and review my options. It is 11.45, foggy, cold and wet, I am tired and confused. Time for a cigar and a think. After the cigar and think I get out my emergency survival bag, and climb in it at the bottom of a shallow ditch, welcome to Newfoundland.
Having spent the night in a ditch at the Newfoundland Visitors Centre listening to a seabird with bronchitis coughing all night, I figured that an early start and an early finish today will give me a chance to catch up on some of the sleep I missed, although I do not feel at all tired. The mist has cleared, the cold wind dropped and the day has dawned bright and clear. I have just put on my helmet when I notice a young woman gingerly crossing the top of the car park. She is dressed in a short black skirt, white blouse and sky blue silk bomber jacket. I assume that she is from one of the two RVs parked at the other end of the car ark, perhaps there is a toilet open, and I need not have pee’d over the cliff edge after all. She shouts something to me that I do not catch, having the helmet on and all, so I walk towards her shaking my head and so that I can pick up what she is saying. She in turn walks towards me.
‘I don’t usually walk down the highway at 5 o’clock in the morning without shoes on my feet.’ she says.
‘I hadn’t noticed.’ I replied looking down at her bare feet.
‘Oh you’re Scottish!’ she exclaims looking somewhat elated.
‘Close,’ I reply, ‘I’m English actually.’
‘Oh I love your accent, I don’t suppose you have a cigarette?’
‘No, I only smoke cigars, but you are welcome to have one.; I say, fishing in my jacket pocket.
‘Let’s share one,’ she says, ‘I don’t think I could manage a whole one by myself.’
‘Oh right.’ I nod.
Her face lights up.
‘Say that again, it sounds so English.’
‘Oh right.’ I reply, and to my surprise she flings her arms around me and gives me a hug.
‘I just love the way you say that.’ She enthuses.
I disentangle myself and light up the cigar which I puff and pass over to her.
As we smoke she explains to me why she is walking down the highway at 5 o’clock in the morning. She had been invited to a party the night before and it had begun to get a bit wild, so she decided to bale out and go home.
‘Anyway the guy whose party it was hid my shoes and said ‘Now you can’t get home.’ Huh, that’s what he thought. So that is why I’m walking down the highway with no shoes on.
‘Oh right.’ I say without thinking and get wrapped in her arms for another hug.
‘Ha ha ha, the way you say that just gets me, I’m Natasha by the way.’
I just manage to stop myself saying ‘Oh right’, and introduce myself. We smoke the rest of the cigar as I tell her of my plans. As with most people so far, I cannot get past the trans-Canada bit without oohs and aahs and the rest of the world stuff gets ignored by her until I mention Russia.
‘Natasha is a Russian name.’ says Natasha.
I now have to make an important decision. There is no way I can get Natasha on the bike without stashing the camping gear somewhere, it’s still early, hardly a soul about and she only lives about 10km up the highway in ‘The Valleys’. Alternatively I could offer her the lightweight shoes I use when not wearing my motorcycle boots, and pick them up later, but that’s not in my route plan. While I’m mentally debating how I can help this damsel in distress, a car pulls up to the Visitor Centre and a man begins to open up the place. I expect he is either the cleaner or one of the staff wanting to get an early start.
‘Perhaps he will let you call out someone from there Natasha.’ I say pointing over her shoulder to the man who has paused at the door to unlock it.’
‘Good idea, you take my phone number in case you need a friend.’ She says, and I give her my diary to write it in, then she poses for a few photos, gives me another hug, says ‘Good luck Derek’ and jogs up the hill to speak to the man opening up. I climb on my bike and with a wave, ride north, er, east in a westerly type direction to get to Gross Mourn National Park.
The road runs between the mountains on my right and the sea on my left, and I pass by signs that signify that there are coastal villages less than a mile away, but the main road does not go through any of them. Feeling hungry and needing petrol I head off the main road for Stephenville. Pulling in the Co-op for petrol, (they are big on Co-ops in Canada) The petrol pump attendant asks why I am wearing my ‘snow suit’ in such hot weather. I explain that it is not a snow suit but a motorcycle suit. Just then a very nice man at the next pump comes over and asks the inevitable, but by no means unwelcome question, where am I from? He then goes on to ask if I knew anything about the town, I confess I do not. ‘You know a Cessna needs about 600ft of runway to take off, we got a runway several thousand feet long. You can land any ‘plane in the world on it! Used to be USAF bomber and interceptor base back in the days of the cold war, now just private planes and helicopters. The USAF built a whole town here for their people, including Hospital, Churches, shopping mall and water treatment plant. When they left, they sold it to the Province for $1, said they couldn’t give it away because of the rules.’
I said goodbye to the man at the pumps and headed for the big ‘M’ down the street, got something to eat and drink and took the quilting out of my ‘snow suit’.
The road got better and the miles whisked away under my wheels. At Deer Lake the bridge was being repaired and a long line of traffic waited each change of the lights. The roadwork lights had a really good idea built in to them. The traditional red, amber and green of course, but then a 4th light that counted down the number of seconds until the red light changed to green. I was 2 cars back when the lights went red against us, so knew that I could switch off the engine and get a swig of drink in the 3mins we had to wait. Then with 20secs to go I started up the engine and was ready for the off when it came.
The road to Gross Mourn Park heads NW leaving the main road to finally turn east towards St Johns. I and one or two others follow a low loader with a large earthmover into the mountains. I stop at a view point and let the cavalcade get out of sight before resuming my ride. About 3miles down the road there are a series of skid marks indicating that the load has kangarooed on this steep down slope and I pity the driver having to wrestle his large load down this mountain road. Sure enough at he next pull-off the low loader and his outriders are stopped having a break, the driver looks exhausted, but I expect he does it every day, and it’s just the hot weather making him red in the face.
After inspecting a couple of campsites I choose Green point. It is in my opinion, almost a perfect campsite, at least the spot I chose was. With hedges 75% around you, a picnic table, fire basket and waste water dump on each individual site, toilets and fresh water a 100 meters away, what more can you want? Oh yes, firewood, well just walk down to the beach, about 150 meters, and there is loads of driftwood just waiting to be picked up.
My campsite had the traditional chipmunk, sitting 6 inches from my hands waiting for crumbs to fall off my food, it is illegal to actually feed wildlife in Canada, but the site also had a private path through the trees to a small terrace overlooking the beach! It was a wonderful place to have my supper and look up as the stars came out.
But nothing lasts for ever, and although I paid for some extra nights here, on the 3rd day it started raining, grew colder and the rain got heavier. I packed and headed north looking for a B&B. I found one near Flowers Cove and the landlady, finding that I had not eaten, gave me a big wedge of home made bread and jam, followed by home made cookies and washed down with hot chocolate.
The breakfast was likewise homemade bread with scrambled eggs and ham, this more than set me up for the day. The only negative thing was that during the night the rain had softened the driveway, and the bike lay on its side when I peered out of my window. Still it wouldn’t go any further and at that time I still had my breakfast to look forward to.
Warren was the cheery warden who greeted me at Raleigh Provincial Park, and I pitched my tent and headed off to see the Viking Settlement at L’ainse aux Medows. This is the only physical evidence that the Nordic sagas about Vineland are true, and that the Vikings discovered North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The walk among the remains of structures and the reconstruction of the long house and workshops is very interesting, and well worth the effort of reaching this most northerly tip of NFLD.
On the return journey to the campsite I hit a patch of gravel on the last bend before the campsite. The road has a reverse camber and with all the rain a little patch of gravel has built up. The bike fishtails wildly, I recover and feel pleased for a second, but the maneuver has taken me onto the gravel shoulder. As I try and turn the front wheel back onto the road, it digs in and tries to high-side me. I wrench the handlebars back but have only milliseconds to feel satisfaction as the front wheel hits another soft patch and I am high-sided over the bike, through the windshield, across the 12foot deep ravine and into the boulders. I remember my left arm going one side of a boulder and my faceplate hitting the other. I don’t know how long I was out, not long, but when I came to a car had stopped and a young lady was calling to me. I clambered up the ravine desperate that my bike did not follow me, it didn’t but was laying on the verge. Funny that my left arm seems to have stopped working, I feel it, fearing it may be broken, my young Florence Nightingale ties a sling for it, and Wavey, one of the park wardens, arrives to take me to hospital. Warren is also there and when he says he will look after the bike, I know I can trust him and leave things in his capable hands.
The doctors at St Anthony’s Hospital are concerned that I may have broken my neck, then worry that the nerves have been irreparably damaged in my left arm. I m left to ponder my options.
The ward that I am in has two other patients, Dan and Jason. Dan, a man in his early 60s is from the mainland, just over into Quebec, and has stomach problems. Jason, in his early 30s, has a compressed disc which I surmise is due to lifting too many heavy loads, despite his muscular physique. We are joined now and again by ‘Buddy’, a carpenter who stuck a 4 inch nail in his thigh, while fixing wooden shingles to a roof with a nail gun.
The Doctor tells me that I will most probably never gain the full use of my arm again, and he wants me to fly home for an MRI scan. I ask him if this will lead to the doctors being able to repair the nerve damage, he says ‘No’. I tell him that in that case there is no point in me going home then. He replies with the chilling words, ‘You will never ride a motorcycle again.’
Having crashed in Newfoundland, and again in Nova Scotia, I now stood in South Porcupine, Ontario; beside my bike looking at the wrecked rear wheel axle that undoubtedly is the result of these two previous accidents. I am talking to the owner of the motel, and waiting for Rick to pass by. He said he would check that I was ok at the Bon Aire Motel in Timmins, but like I said, I never made it that far. While we talk Rick passes by but by the time I see him he is dead opposite and my yell and wave go unheard and unseen.
That evening I remove the rear wheel and survey the wreckage that was once spacer, shield and bearing. The rear tyre is also badly worn due to the scrubbing it took. I phone a local motorcycle shop the next morning and find that they can pick up the wheel and fix it, then Rick calls, he is checking around to find me, and advises me to go to the dealers in Timmins. He says he will call in to see me, but he and his wife, Jana, are going on a veterans rally over the immanent weekend.
Danni, the motel owner and her husband are gong in to Timmins that morning and offer to drop me and my wheel off at the motorcycle dealers, J&B Cycle and Marine. I also take my laptop with the parts catalogue on, and Tim and I sort out which parts are required. Unfortunately the weekend will hold up the work, but will give time for some of the parts to arrive.
I walk back through Timmins across the park and catch the bus back to the motel.
Since I will be here for a few days I take the opportunity to do a few jobs that I have not had time to do. The most important is to check out the fuel cap lock which has been getting more difficult to open over the past few weeks. After a clean up and greasing it works just fine. The other important task is to do some washing!!
Later that evening Dan, the mechanic from J&B, stopped by, he was off to fix someone’s hot tub, I have no idea how that fits into their mix of motorcycles, quad bikes, snowmobiles, and speedboats, but it does somewhere.
After a lazy, wet weekend, I call the workshop to find that the tyre has not arrived but everything else is; apart from the bearing shield which we knew we couldn’t get in time. Not such a problem except that my room is already reserved and there are no more available. Timmins is the worlds largest goldmine I’m told. There are many hundreds of kilometres of roads beneath us serving the gold mine. The amount of gold to rock is such that when the price of gold falls below a certain level, work stops and people are made redundant. Currently gold prices are high and miners, mechanics, service companies and health and safety experts (who were the ones who booked my room due to a recent mine death!!), this means that during the week many of the hotels and motels are full.
Rick phones and learns of my problem, then offers to pick me up in his van and take me to the Bel Aire. Danni and her husband say it’s fine to leave the bike outside my room until the wheel is ready, I really don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t said that.
We check with J&B and they are certain that everything will be ready tomorrow, Tuesday. Rick drives me across the road to the Bel Aire and I check at the desk for a room, yes one is available. Returning to tell Rick that I can get one, he looks at me and says that he would like to offer me a room at his house, I am embarrassed at his generosity, and accept; it will be good to get to know a Canadian family.
We drive to his house and I meet Jana, his wife, who has just returned home after working in a bakery since early morning, his crazy cat and gentle 3 legged dog who lost an augument with a snow plough.
Canadian houses mostly have basements, an excellent design feature in my opinion, and Rick has converted his basement into a bedroom for his son, an extra bathroom and a lounge. Later I meet his daughter and friends, they are curious about England and I wish I could whisk them home to show them around.
Jana and Rick prepare a chicken dinner for me and I sit happily talking with them through the evening. We then retire to Rick’s garage to down a few beers and have a smoke. Jana goes to bed early as she has to be up at 3.00am.
Rick tells me something of his childhood in Newfoundland, and all I can says is I was appalled at the treatment he received from his father. How he has managed to rise above his early life and raise such a normal and pleasant family is a tribute to him, his strength of character and his wife, and I regard it as a privilege to have been accepted into his circle of friends.
The next day we pick up the wheel and return to the motel at South Porcupine. It is raining. Normally it takes only minutes to refit the rear wheel, but for some reasons I find it difficult to get it into place. Maybe it’s the weakness still in my shoulder from my recent crash. Rick pitches in to help despite the fact that he too suffers pains in his body due to a serious crash many years ago. Eventually everything goes into place and I follow Rick back to his house. Another lovely meal and then we retire to the garage to remount my panniers and luggage. Jana patches my front fairing with red tape, which makes it look far better, and Rick donates some hose clamps to hold my panniers on more securely. Rick and I talk long into the night, and after another comfortable nights sleep I breakfast and mount up to continue my journey. Rick is my guide out of town and we bid each other farewell several miles up the road. I feel privileged to have been allowed to have spent time with this man and his family and wish them well for the future, but now I have to see how quickly I can cross the prairie, because autumn is on its way, and I already know that I cannot get to Dawson City and back through the Rocky Mountains before the snow starts closing the mountain passes.
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’.
The Dallas Interlude
Rick Fairless’s Chopper workshop, retail outlet and bar was just a short taxi ride from our hotel, so the next morning we went over to look around and introduce ourselves. The choppers he makes and sells are not just motorcycles, they are works of art, and it is hardly surprising that many will be transported by trailer by their owners, to be ridden for a few short miles before being parked up to be admired. As I said, they are works of art and deserve to be preserved in pristine condition. Rick, as I understand it, has a beat up old motorcycle that he gets on regularly to get the real feeling of the road under his seat.
Even the toilets carry motorcycle motifs!
We eventually met this very busy man and his lovely wife, before retiring to ‘The Ice House’ for a couple of beers and a chat with one or two of the regulars. All in all an enjoyable time at our namesakes business, and it was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.
‘Downtown Dallas’, the shopping area, was very up market, and most of the shops were international top brands in plush malls where simple clothes cost ten times as much as they are worth, IMHO, and the beautiful people go to shop and be seen, so sad.
I wanted to show Norman more of the country than just the city, so I hired a car at the airport and planned a few trips out of the hotel before leaving Dallas behind and doing our own thing.
The first of these daytrips was to Waco, to visit the Texas Rangers museum. As you would expect this museum was full of the apparatus for law enforcement from both the early period, when this country was untamed, right up to the modern day, which means that principally it is full of guns of all shapes and sizes. I, however, was drawn more to the saddles, statuettes and paintings than the guns.
Norman gets the feel of a Navy Colt
We also made a visit to the ‘Stockyards’ at Fort Worth. This was formerly the place where cattle were loaded onto trains to be sent off to the food processing factories of the industrial north east. Today it is a tourist spot; I hesitate to use the words ‘tourist trap’, because we all have the freedom to choose what we get out of this experience. We chose to move on.
Leaving Dallas behind we headed SW, towards El Paso, passing through Abaline and Odessa then swinging south across the desert/chaparral to Fort Stockton . Some people say that East Anglian landscape is flat and uninteresting, try driving through SW Texas!
Heading South through Texas
Coming out from Alpine the next day, we saw a lone figure trudging along a long straight desert road and stopped to give ‘Bill’ a lift. Bill was heading for his home town of
La Cruces in New Mexico, after being thrown in the slammer for being drunk. Since all his credit cards were in a questionable hotel, he chose to use his one free phone call to ring his bank and cancel his credit cards. Now with no money to pay a fine, and just being a drain on the local resources, they slung him out onto the road and told him to move on. He was a professional caddy and had visited Europe many times; I expect it was the environment surrounding the golf circus that led to his love of alcohol, and this unfortunate incident. He asked for a lift to Van Horn but when we got there and said we were heading for El Paso, asked if it was ok to go on there. What could I say, but when we reached El Paso I dropped him at the truck stop, gave him $10 for a meal, and we headed on our way.
It was really good to be able to travel and talk, and keep cool in the air conditioned cab as well. Also driving a car is much easier than driving a motorbike, the road surface, wind conditions and rain have much less effect on you, and you can easily pull off the road to take photos. On a bike this is often difficult due to the condition of the verge or the steep step at the edge of the road, but the pull-offs in Texas are very good with shade from the sun, tables and benches and a trash bin; often a BBQ pit as well!
Typical road pull-off in Texas
Soon we headed north into New Mexico, and the landscape now boasted mountains and desert, the white sands and salt flats of the USAF missile range to be precise.
Salt flats in New Mexico.
Heading into the Guadalupe Mountains there were several places we wanted to see, but since we also wanted a bed for the night we were forced to go past them, vowing to return the next day to see at least one of them. So we ended up in a motel in Carlsbad and had a very nice meal at a Chinese buffet.
The next morning we headed back the way we came so that we could explore the Carlsbad Caves. The winding mountain road led us upwards and eventually into a car park already half full with tourists, but thankfully no coach parties yet. There are two options for reaching the caverns, walk or take a high speed lift, we decided to walk the mile or so into the depths of the ground.
It’s ok I already have the weak knees, lets just have the exhaustion this trip!
Journey to the centre of the earth
Now this reminds me of something, but I’m not sure what!
The caves are just too massive to get a good picture with a simple camera, and require time exposure with a tripod and professional lighting, but I expect there is a web site with better pictures than the dozen or so we took showing black caves at night!!!
After spending the night in a motel in Ruidosa we continued on and further up the road I saw a sign to the site where there were ancient rock pictures; so we turned off the highway and after a mile or so came to a small car park with picnic tables and a few RV slots. Paying a small entrance fee we took the path up towards a tumble of boulders. I was expecting a cave or small rift in the rocks to have several cave paintings on its surface; instead no cave, but nearly every rock amongst the tumble of boulders had a picture hammered onto its surface! There were hundreds of pictures all around us, an incredible sight, and we spent an interesting hour or so trying to get good photos of those that took our fancy.
Just a tumble of rocks, but….
Every where you look here there are rock pictures.
Moving on through the mountains of southern New Mexico we next stopped at Fort Sumner, the town that has the grave of Billy the Kid, and wandered through the museum looking not only at relics of a time when a six gun was all the law a man needed, but also icons that we recognised from old TV programmes of our childhood. The owner tells us that his father was collecting stuff since the early 1900s when he fell off of a sled as a kid into a ditch and discovered a small cache of military arms still stacked in a wigwam shape, but now supporting a roof of dried grass for a family of rats! He became good friends with the family of the man in whose house Billy the Kid was shot by Pat Garret and later was given the furnishings for his collection, long before he opened his museum in the 1950s. Later he bought up items of interest at local sales, saddles, buckboards, old farm implements etc and added to his large stock of local items of interest. A great place for a stop off!
Billy the Kid relics.
and lots more besides
There is a replica of Billy the Kids grave here, but we pulled off the highway just out of town to see the actual site, which is in another museums garden, however we were both ‘museumed out’ and contented ourselves with a brief glimpse of it from the car.
Moving on again back into Texas and just south of Amarillo, (we can both now show you the way to Amarillo); to see the canyons at Caprock. They had so fantastic little cabins set among the vivid orange coloured arroyos, and we both wished we could have stayed in one for a few days, but with just a couple of days left before Norman had to fly back to England, there was no time.
Norman amongst the red rocks of Caprock Canyon.
So back to Dallas/Fort Worth and an emotional farewell as Norman headed back to England on a plane and I headed for my newly service motorbike, complete with replacement windscreen, in Plano. Except that it wasn’t; serviced I mean; the screen had arrived from Steven in Red Deer, but it was to be another five days before I headed west once more on my trusty steed. Five days in which I felt I was imprisoned in that motel, and even the $2000 price tag for new tyres & tubes, new chain and sprockets and 24,000 mile service seemed worth it just to get back on the road again, even those so frantic highways around Dallas!
New boots please
Next: Gila Cliff Dwellings, the Grand Canyon and Mexico!
It is now mid October and I retrace a route parallel to the one taken on my arrival, I headed out to get west of the Pecos, (sounds like the start of a western novel,) and although I thought that I might like to make Hobbs, I decided that it was just not worth the effort, so settled for Seminole instead. You get a lot of time to think when the road stretches on as straight as a line across a billiard table. Time to think about family and friends, your past life, what might have been, what might be. Are they really missing you as much as you miss them in the quiet of the evening in a lonely motel room that looks like all the other motel rooms you’ve stayed in? If only Scottie was around to beam me home for an hour or two with a pint of good English Ale and a chat with those I love most! I have fantasies about jumping on a plane and just appearing at their front doors, but I know that this is just idle daydreaming and I will carry on regardless I expect, until my journey is done. This will become a recurring fantasy as I become less able to contact them by email in the days ahead, I just hope that the little amount of communication I get through will be spread abroad and that no one will feel slighted because they heard the news second hand! My computer is right at the bottom of my panniers to keep the bikes centre of gravity low and keep it secure. The trouble is I often leave the bike parked, still fully loaded, and just take a few personal hygiene product that I keep in my coat pocket into the motel with me. To take everything off just takes too long at the end of the day. That’s the reason my blogs are so out of date.
Fully loaded; my world sits on a BMW f650
Anyway the next day I carry on west, again passing through Carlsbad and through the Lincoln National Forest to Alamogordo and another motel, this time in Las Cruces, I hope I don’t run into Bill the caddy!
Next morning while heading out of Las Cruses I see a lone Beemer on the hard shoulder and stop to offer help. The problem is that his generator has packed up and although he has bought a new battery in Las Cruses, the wires he is using to connect it to the existing battery will not carry enough current to work the starter motor. He will either have to dismount the existing battery, or the quicker option will be to bump start him, it doesn’t take much current to keep the sparks coming so his jury rig should be ok. He is travelling from Chicago to see family for a few days. Two minutes later the RO80 is purring but I worry about how far he has to go. ‘Oh only to Lordsville, my wife is waiting for me in a motel there, and luckily she decide to travel in our pickup truck.’ I follow behind for a mile just in case before turning off to head north.
So heading north past the USAF missile testing range I eventually pull of onto a smaller country road with only small rural towns of a few dozen houses a single store, to arrive eventually at the ghost town of Lake Valley. Once there was a thriving town here with a Silver mine and a railway, but now there are just a few shacks and a railway station with no tracks. It reminds me of a Glen Ford film I saw once. The sign board says that this mine yielded the largest single piece of silver ever mined, but then the vein ran out and the town no longer had a reason to exist. Nowadays in nearby Silver City the ore is strip mined, with bulldozers reducing whole mountains to rubble that is taken for processing in giant trucks.
The ghost town of Valley Lake
The road soon climbed out of the desert and into the pine clad mountains, Silver City appeared with the aforesaid strip mines and I headed into the mountains to look for a place to camp. High up in the mountains I found a deserted campsite by a creek and negotiated the ford to find a good spot. This was almost an ideal spot, it’s only fault being that the sun only reached it for a short period in the afternoon, and at night the cold air from the mountain peaks flowed down into the valley, by the end of the night I was sleeping fully dressed with my balaclava on. I wish I could have left my tent set up and returned to it the next day, but with no one else around I could not guarantee that it would still be there when I got back. Having packed everything on the bike I once more negotiated the ford and headed towards the pueblo cliff dwellings.
Idyllic by day but damn cold at night.
It was hot by the time I reached the car park at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park, o I shed my jacket, bought myself a water bottle and filled it for free at the tap by the bridge across the river that leads into the steep sided valley leading to the dwellings. The path follows a little brook trickling down amongst the pines, across small wooden bridges and around the last bend you get a glimpse of the caves on the opposite cliff face.
Gila Cliff Dwellings
Climbing up rough steps cut into the rock, I came onto a cliff ledge about 10 foot wide narrowing to about 4 foot in places, 100 feet above the little brook that trickled somewhere amongst the pine below.
Not for the nervous or uncertain of foot
Declining to join the guided tour just started, due to my urge to travel on, I explored these mezzo-american pueblos trying to visualize the little community that raised their crops, fished and hunted in this tiny hidden valley. They used the river as their highway, trading goods with other communities situated along the way. I wonder if it was as idyllic as it sounds?
Cliff Dwellings snuggle into cliff side caves.
I had an interesting talk with the Ranger who had stayed in the area of England that I had grown up in, then headed back down the road again.
I took a small detour to see the San Carlos Dam and could see the water level was low, reflecting the low rainfall this year that was causing hundreds of square miles of forest in California to burn.
Passing through Tonto National Forest, skirting Phoenix, I was heading for Flagstaff. I stopped for a break a little way off the main road, down a small minor road, and for some reason decided to follow it to the Interstate at Wynona. Probably because Wynona is one of the towns mentioned in the song ‘Route 66’. Anyway the track gradually got wore nd I nearly took a spill a couple of times. As I have bad knees I cannot stand up on the footpegs over rough ground, thus transferring my body weight lower down and making the bike more stable on gravel and sand. After about an hour I could seethe traffic moving on the Interstate and stopped with a sigh of relief for another short break before completing the last half mile. Please don’t fall off now.’ I prayed, but managed this last part with no trouble. Feeling rather pleased with myself I rode along the old Route 66 through Wynona and found a motel in Flagstaff.
A good bit of the track to Wynona
Now for the Grand Canyon, but before I got there we had to stop to let an air ambulance land on the road to attend to a car driver who for some reason had driven of the road and rolled his car several times. I remember him overtaking me on a bend at high speed earlier, perhaps he was drunk, it is a problem with the indigenous population unfortunately.
A short pause while the emergency services do their thing.
The Grand Canyon is a sight to see, and photos cannot portray adequately its size and grandeur. Not surprisingly it was quite busy, even in early November, I took lots of photos, but I guess everyone knows what the Grand Canyon looks like!
Me in front of somewhere or other
I needed a place to sleep and originally thought to camp, but the roads looked too difficult for me, so I continued on and found a motel on the main highway between Flagstaff and Page. The motel was in a small group of buildings, and looked quite nice with a dozen or so rooms grouped around a central garden. However these were all taken, and I had a room in the original motel just the other side of the gas station. These rooms were located in barrack style wooden buildings with about 30 rooms each. There were three blocks along three sides of the large car park. It could have been spooky that night, as I was the only occupant, but the thought just made me grin.
Plenty of room at this motel
I refuelled the next day in the neat little town of Page, shame about the chemical works in the background though, and headed west, north of the Grand Canyon, through spectacular scenery, to stop for the night at Hurricane. Unfortunately the road to the North Rim is closed in the winter so next day I began my way south, skirting Las Vegas, but stopping for a photo of the Hoover Dam and then continuing across the Mohave desert to Kingman.
The Hoover Dam
Before reaching Kingman my bike stuttered to stop a couple of times and I wondered if the fuel filter was blocked. After a few minutes wait everything was fine for about 20miles then it would happen again. I would try and figure this out in Yuma where there was more likely to be a motorcycle shop with parts I could use.
Route 66 still goes out from Kingman, and this was an important stop in both the Depression and the Dustbowl days of the USA for those seeking a better life in California. Route 66 winds up narrow mountain roads, and it is hard to think that these roads were once a main arterial route across the country. Following the mountains they then cross the desolate desert sands to Mohave Valley before heading west. I however have to travel south across more desert to Yuma. Before reaching Yuma there is the green oasis of Lake Havasu City with modern shopping plazas, hotels and lakeside vacation homes for the rich. Also here is London Bridge, removed stone by stone from the River Thames in London and rebuilt here. I think the owner thought he was buying Tower Bridge, the one that goes up and down, and not just a stone block bridge. Travelling on I reach Yuma and meet Bill and on his Suzuki at a gas station and ask if he knows where I might get my fuel filter checked. ‘Sure’, he says, ‘come round to my place, I’ve got loads of tools you can use.’ Once more the motorcycling brotherhood has come to my aid. Bill is a snowbird, wintering in Yuma before heading north again in the spring for his boatyard business on one of the lakes. Later I locate his house and meet the family over a beer. We check out the fuel flow and it looks ok, perhaps a little less on the ordinary setting than reserve, but possibly the external filter I have added is too low, causing the fuel not to reach the carburettor under some hot conditions. So I leave the setting on reserve and the problem is solved. Bill and his son offer to accompany me across the border into Mexico, but I did not realize that there were two Motel 6’s in Yuma, so perhaps they went to the wrong one. Whatever the reason, I offer heartfelt thanks for his hospitality to a fellow biker in need. And now into Mexico!
Bill and his new Suzuki
Next> South of the border, down Mexico way.
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