The Cunning Plan has had a gestation period about the same as an elephant's. But at last, here we are in CANADA.
The HU mantra of " do your own research" has been chanted from time to time, but its always felt like coming home to see how others have done it.
So far things have gone well.
Shipping. We wanted to start as far east as practical. I tried various shipping agents,It seemed like we would be paying very high prices to travel to the unwanted destinations.
Having looked at air cargo sites, it seemed that only Air Canada flew the routes we desired. When I phoned the London base, I knew that I had less than a little idea of what we were wanting. I explained that I was making "an idle inquiry". The slightly harassed voice at the other end said "hang on a minute... then came back with...Idle.. one of my favorite words, ..now how can I help?"
That was nearly two years ago.
Air Canada have given us totally superb service.
The bike needed minimal preparation to make it air safe. The tank drained and windscreen lowered a touch. (So it could fit in he X-ray scanner)
Arrival in Halifax has been delightful. The clearing the bike through the customs took about 5 minutes and the whole process of getting the bike from Air Canada Cargo took about half an hour.
We were even driven to and from the Customs department by Ted from Cargo. Everyone was smiling and helpful. Oh and shaking their heads and saying we must be crazy, but that seems part of the deal,
The first thing we did on our first riding day was to go to Halifax just so we can see the Atlantic Ocean from the other side. There we are by the Halifax Harbour:
Our initial impression of Canadian friendship and hospitality continues to be reinforced. We have now journeyed from Moncton through Quebec, and are having a "day off" in Niagara Falls. There are quite a few miles in between.
After we dried out in Moncton, we interrupted Sharon and Tracy on reception to find out how we might be able to get a meal without running the risk of drowning or being washed away in he torrent that was the car park. "We can call you a taxi and he will take you wherever" A fine nourishing fish and chip dinner was enjoyed. I thought how wonderful there is even tomato sauce and vinegar on the table.
Fish,chips and maple syrup wasn't what I planned. So much to learn.
The restaurant manager would not hear of us hiring taxi for the return journey (about a mile and a half) "Hop into my car!" and we were wisked through the downpour back to our roadside hotel approx (£50 B&B).
The next morning was cold at 6.00am.We packed and climbed into dampish gear. Yesterdays downpour was sudden. It was Macho-man who had decided that the inner waterproof layer was for sissy's. Tasha was dry and snug in her outfit. So I flung on my old waterproof trousers, and we headed north towards Quebec. We stopped a couple of times for fuel and numb bum therapy. One of the stops was in a place called Grand Falls.
There we took the time to get a mobile phone that will enable Tasha to stay in touch with her mum in Ukraine. (We have to ensure that she receives a call at a very specific time, and that we an tell her all about the garden and weather in England.)
We met a Dental Nurse in the phone store. She invited us to her practice, and a very fine one it was. We were offered tea etc, but THE SCHEDULE was against that. On heading away I noticed the front pannier was undone, and it appeared, that Natasha's secondary wet gear was not coming with us.
We trundled out of New Brunswick into Quebec. This place is great deal more French than France.Mercifully they seem to have altered their pronunciation of classic French language, so bad French seems to be understood.
Road signage is very mono linguistic, with English not getting a look in. But for all that It is easier than trying to read signs in Welsh.
Its probably us, but we have the feeling that most motorway signs are put up by some bloke who has never driven more than 40km from the site of the sign.They contain information about everything within the next few km's, but nothing like how far to the next fuel, or major town. I am also beginning to wonder if their cars have indicators, but more research is needed.
Our overnight stop was at a roadside cafe, that might have been run by a distant relative of Renee Artois. Very affable. We witnesses a lovely sunset over St Laurence inlet.
We had to respect the schedule, and another early start had us traveling alongside the St Lawrence river. It is impressive, Seeing at last, road signs for Quebec was both a relief, and a bit of a OMG moment. We really are on the way.
Quebec was circumnavigated as we sped towards Montreal. It wasn't the intention, but as there was no information other than highway numbers(which don't correspond to the maps) we kept on straighting on.
Here, we had another bit of luck. The confusion of the road signs and the dense traffic were taking its toll. Ahead I saw a police patrol car on the hard shoulder.Being old enough to have been taught to trust a policeman, it seemed a reasonable thing to do.We explained our challenge, and had a bit of a chat. I gave him a Wiltshire Constabulary pen, and thanked him for his help. Off we went, only to be overtaken by the officer, who indicated for us to follow him. We scythed our way through about 10 km of traffic, before he indicated the road to take and off he went, probably faster than a speeding bullet.
We then had to wend our way through Montreal roadworks until we were back onto the Trans Canada Highway. A half tonne of BMW is a tricky thing in traffic.
It is day 4 and Brendon got us to Niagara Falls. We were the only people to ride into the town wearing a full set of gear - everyone else on a motorbike was wearing just a T-shirt. No wonder - the temperature was + 34. So after getting to a nice hotel we did the same - rode around without heavy jackets and boots - that felt brilliant - a fresh breeze on the skin, sunshine gently caressing arms. I started to enjoy the trip. Niagara Falls was probably the only thing on my list to see in Canada. And what a sight it was - a breathtaking spectacle.
Moday, 9 June. Niagara to Sudbury
A planned early start slipped with the temptation of a Canadian breakfast at the hotel, also the internet connection that had been sporadic the day before was up and running. Chores needed time.
Still, we were on the road and bidding a farewell to the Falls before getting lost in the small streets.
We were given a tip by the hotel waitress who indicated a toll road that circumnavigated the Toronto motorway network. We expect that there will be a bill waiting for us on our return.
The weather forecasts for the area had predictions of hail and tornado storms. The temperature was already in the high 20's C and it was only 7.00 am. Further north, it seemed that the maximum temperature would be about 6 C the same day. Turned out to be a reasonable ride, certainly chilling down a bit as we moved north, but not with the extremes suggested by the weatherman.
We were treated to the sight of a black bear wandering across the road just in front of us. Photos might have been a nice thought, but so was the notion that we might have been an entree.
Our excursion into the center of Sudbury was brief, as it seemed to be home time for many folk and the road quality was quite pot-holed. I ran for cover in a tourist inn. To our delight, it had a laundry room. Hand washing is OK, but really dry clothes are a treat.
Tuesday 10 June. Sudbury to Wawa
So it was with a bit of disappointment that I discovered that the map, continued on the other side, was in a scale half the size of the main side. Bother. It didn't alter the route, just the distance. My,! Ontario is a big province.
In drizzle, we headed out of town looking for elusive signs and nearly being wiped out by a local taking a racing line through the traffic. West the sign said. The rain now coming down steadily. At least riding in England teaches you about rain.
We negotiated about 80 miles, with Natasha getting colder. Are you wearing your heated gloves? Yes. “Are they switched on?” I don't know, “Are they plugged in ?“ I cant remember. “Well it looks like another 50 miles to anywhere that there might be shelter.” There being nowhere to stop other than a not very wide hard shoulder, and with large Kenworth, Petter and Volvo articulated lorries thundering by, well over the posted speed limits it seemed safer to plod on.
The rain eased, and eventually sanctuary found in a Tim Horton's. While Natasha added another layer and attended to her wiring grid, an elderly gent started to ask me about what part of England I was from. “Wiltshire”, I was stationed there in the War he said. .. Blake 's Farm. “ In Cricklade?” Yes that's the one. I was able to tell him that it is now a Nature Reserve, and that there is a memorial to the Canadian regiment stationed there. Small old world.
The rain eased and although we were wearing our waterproofs we kept on. We decided to press on to a place called Wawa. Apparently in Ukrainian it means hurty place.
In bright sunshine, we were tottling along, and wondering what the memorial at the side of the road was about, and were happy that the road was deserted as far as the eye could see. About 100 yards beyond the memorial was a spectacular cataract on a river. Lets get a photo. A U turn was executed,and I thought I would pull onto the hard shoulder.
Oh no it wasn't, it was deep,soft sand and gravel, and over we went. Didn't move forward an inch in that stuff. A newly filled tank meant 30 kg of extra weight toppled us over. I was trapped by my left leg under a lot of BMW. Tasha scrambled out and managed to free my foot. She then took about three steps and fainted,just as two cars pulled over.Thinking they had just missed witnessing an horrendous motorcycle crash, at least three people phoned 911 in various networks.Within moments there were police, fire crews (two,complete with engines) and an ambulance.
Natasha had recovered a little, but wasn't looking too promising.Her left foot was causing some pain, but three handsome paramedics could not find any serious damage. Names, addresses, signatures and a heave up for the bike, and we were back on our way.The one thing Natasha really wanted was a drink of cold water. All that equipment and no cold water!
Oh and what was that memorial? The halfway point of the Trans Canada Higway. So we were over half way! (Just)
I thought we were at the end of our troubles for the day,...But all was not well with the bike. Whenever the brakes were touched, the hazard lights would come on for a while, then they stayed on permanently. After about 20 miles, there was a picnic area that seemed safe enough to stop in.(I don't trust had shoulders any more) I started removing fuses and relays, but they kept on flashing. After a very short while, three other bikers came along. They gallantly decided to escort us into Wawa which was still about 40 miles away.
A motel was located and Natasha was at last able to lie down.I wandered into town to “Canadian Tire” It is not some sort of rest home, but a bit like Halfords, and Kwik Fit combined, Could they help with a BMW motorbike with constantly flashing 4 way indicators. No.So back to the motel, and time to remove all the fuses, one by one. Did that fix it? No.
So it would have to be, remove a battery terminal or endure a dead battery.That meant off with all the tank bag, tank panniers,and the tank itself.Tools ready, seat off, and hey presto. The light show stopped. But I hadn't done anything. A short test ride seems to demonstrate that it has cured itself.
All this on the day I learned that BMW UK have sent a letter to the practice offering their support! Ah well better late than never.
Will we continue? I don't know. Natasha seems to have a great amount of pain and hasn't moved from the bed since we arrived here.The bike hasn't a scratch. I have a bruise or two and a dented pride.
Tomorrow is another day..
11 June Wawa to Thunder Bay
Today things seem a bit better.On the wildlife front, Tasha has seen a set of Moose, one large with a hat-stand on its head, and as we stopped in the Thunder Bay tourist centre, a chipmunk. Very cute!
We are now in a nice hotel with a view of the railway line and the yacht harbour.
So we have survived another day. Oh the 350 mile trip was with the flashers on all the way. Another thing to sort out.
13 June Thunder Bay to Portage La Prairie
Well we reached Portage La Prairie from Thunder Bay. A rather bum aching 862 km.
We stayed on another day in Thunder Bay because we were woken at 5.00am with the wind howling, and rain falling about 5 degrees from the horizontal.
It gave Tasha (we are speaking again) time to tidy the blog, and put a few photos in. And time to buy some wet gear to replace the set the got lost somehow.
The bike has behaved itself since about 20km before Thunder Bay.
Our journey has been through some of the worst weather ever. The forecasters go on about severe weather conditions, and I am beginning to agree. We are presently enjoying evening sun, while our gloves dry. Average temperatures should be 21. They have struggled to make double figures. We are holding up well. Tasha is still hobbling a bit and has a beautiful bruise on her foot.
We are heading to Regina. (Rhymes with China.) There is a family there that Natasha helped with the adoption of an Ukrainian girl, so we hope to see them.
Canada seems to be waterlogged. I get the feeling that if you were to leave the road that you would simply disappear into a bog.The rivers are all bursting their banks, and the amount of weather storms has all the locals telling us that it isn't usually this bad.
We were told by locals in Thunder Bay that we must see Kakabeka Falls - the volume of water in the river is the highest for the last 150 years!
14 June Portage La Prairie to Regina
We have made it through another time zone into the Provence of Saskatchewan.
Yesterday, Friday the 13th turned out to be not too bad for us. At times the going was a bit tricky, especially the bow wave and wake of the lorries. Most of the ride was through forested areas.
We managed over 800km, which meant that we left the forest and are now onto the plains. A bit like the Canterbury plains in NZ, but they are flat in all directions, and today is our second day.
Sometimes, the road has a turn or two but generally its straight for miles. Its not to say that it's boring. There are things that change along the way. Abandoned houses and machinery. And signs of flooding.
People we meet when filling the bike, or ourselves with coffee are genuinely friendly. We have even been spoken to by some blokes on Harley's. "Say that's really a big bike, did you ride it from Ing-ger-land?" Well, what would you say?
We haven't had any further woopsies of the falling over variety, But I really don't enjoy being in town traffic. It was that aversion that led us around Winnipeg and on to a small town Portage La Prairie. We stayed in the only motel in town that even had wireless internet ...every so often. So we could read ,but writing a reply was not so easy . This morning, I was talking to a Japanese gent who said he had tried 5 hotels in Winnipeg, and that the one we were in was the first he had found, so that was lucky.
We also met an elderly Ukrainian /Canadian, he was quite touched to see the Ukraine flag on the bike.
So today has been short, just over 300 miles. Natasha has made contact with some people she helped to adopt a little girl from Cherkassy 10 years ago. We hope to meet them later.
So, all seems well and we will continue toward the mountains.. eventually.
15 June Regina to Medicine Hat
Even the computer says PLAIN text.
So we have ridden another 300 or so miles and its still flat. Mind you, the road did cross the railway. That meant two corners, a bridge and another two corners. There were about six corners, not counting the ones necessary to come off the highway, fill up and get going again.
It has been quite cold, hovering around 12C. The road kill here is huge, like deer and moose.
On the still living front, just outside the hotel there is a colony of gophers. They have quite an establishment with burrows, sentry gophers, guard gophers, and one loopy one leaping about in long grass trying to see where everyone is.
We had a lovely meal last night with Tasha's adoption family. The sweet girl, Katya, was celebrating her 14th birthday, so it was very special. The family is lovely and quite comfortably placed. We enjoyed fillet steak cooked on their barbeque. Loads of it!
We managed to find a Comfort Inn that has guest laundry facilities and internet. So we now smell less like (OK I smell less like the inside of a gumboot.)
The sun has just set over the mall, we have the Canadian phone topped up with credits, ready for the call to Grandma tomorrow. Nerves are being shredded already. (For those who do not know - Natasha's Mum is very disapproving
of our trip and insists on terminating it straight away)
We will head to Calgary, its about 200 miles, and apparently we will have our first sight of the Rockies.
16 June Medicine Hat to Calgary
We have had a gentle day, from Medicine Hat to..... well just the other side of Calgary, then with the sight of the highway stretching into the distance, with absolutely no idea where the next fuel might be available, we turned around . We are in a VERY posh hotel. (Sheraton £75 pn b&b) Perhaps its not that posh, there is a drive thru' Mc Whatsits within walking distance.
We can see the Rockies!!!
They are still a long way off, but after over three days of the plains, indeed, since we have been here, these are the only mountains to speak of. So I hope that will mean that we can have a slap up meal with all the trimmings.Canadian cuisine is not European. It is very filling and there are looks of dismay if you don't want fries with it. No, we are not limiting ourselves to fast food places.
Tasha is having a haircut at the hotel hair salon. The madam of the establishment seems quite intimidating, but tonsorial emporia are not my field of expertise.
More up my line, was the car-wash experience. I treated the bike to a de-grime and insect purge. Considering the cold wet weather, which is supposed to mean no midges etc, the oil-cooler was well choked with skelingtons of a host of yellow and black stripey things.
There were more choices of cleaning options than coffee in a Starbucks. So the bike had the engine clean,shampoo and mocca latte to finish. The other little challenge, was the journey from the hotel, to the carwash and filling station and back. On foot it would have been about 100 yards. It took me about 3km.
The temperatures have been up in the twenties and sunshine all the way.
Tomorrow we will head towards Lake Louise, We have planned to be at the Horizons Unlimited Meeting on Thursday, its not too far away, but there are those hills to negotiate. Natasha is already muttering about perils of mountain passes,trolls and the like.
17 June Calgary to Jasper
Calgary was a relief as we could now see the mountains,
With that came a change in the weather. Perhaps it was just because we could see snow
We joined the throng heading west on highway? The pace seemed more frantic than on the plains. We had decided to travel north to Jasper and had plotted the road changes..., both of them.
The Garmin was staying in the pannier, There seemed little point in having any further distractions, what with the eccentric Canadian road signs. There just aren't that many sizable towns . Navigation does not require the constant attention needed in Britain. There aren't that many choices.
Trying to listen to music just doesn't seem to work for us. Even at slow speeds there is so much to take in that even familiar and welcome tunes get in the way of appreciating the changing scene. On the bike, we have admittedly ,rain and wind to contend with, but we are rewarded by the changing and at times seductive aromas. The wild sage when whipped by a heavy lorry releases a pleasant perfume. Freshly milled timber also tantallises.
We eventually made our way to Lake Louise, after back tracking to retrieve Tasha's glove that flew away as she managed to catch a road sign for yet another tourist lake.
We ended the day up one glove, as we found another one before finding Tasha's. Oh the joy of stopping, turning on such a fast section.
We had just entered the Jasper National Park where we were welcomed by a woman who must have failed the US Immigration Officers School of Charm. Its as easy to get into Poland, but you don't get the feeling you have been ripped off in Poland,
Being a National Park seems to mean that the road signage becomes even more challenging. Firstly they reduce the font size so the letters are about an inch high, then they are yellow on a brown background. That is in places where they bother to put signs.
But once you are in the park - it is worth every bit of inconvenience possible. The scenery is exciting and magnificent - snow capped mountains, lakes and glaciers.
We were treated to more wildlife. At first we thought there was an accident ahead, but we were to figure out that it would be a bunch of motorists crowding around a bear.
Mountain goats didn't seem to warrant interest to our boxed bretheren.
Lake Louise was pleasant and a break from the road. A bit too manicured perhaps.
We arrived in Jasper about 3 pm and headed to the Tourist Information Office. For the first time we came across someone who while very nice and friendly, seemed not to be the possessor of information useful for a tourist. We did discover that the Information Office did seem to exert a magnetic influence as we kept finding it. All we wanted was a room for the night.
Lobstick Lodge was welcoming, reasonably priced and available. None of these points were indicated in the Information Centre. The desk staff seemed to be young Australians who were great fun, and had as much local knowledge as the official sources. There was even a New Zealand wine on the wine-list. (Of course we tried it!).
18 June Jasper to Clearwater.
We had a few difficulties leaving Jasper, as the road signs can only be read as you enter the town.
We followed the route to Yellowhead Pass which led us through Mount Robson National Park. Natasha's concerns about the Rockies had receded, as we seemed to simply follow broad valley floors.
At last, the climb that started at Medicine Hat was over and we headed down. It did wonders for the fuel consumption.
We had decided that as we were not too far from Merritt and the Horizons Unlimited meeting that we would have a short day.
Natasha chose a Lodge in Clearwater. What a great choice. After we had unloaded the luggage, we headed off to explore a road into yet another National Park - Wells Gray - that led to three spectacular waterfalls. Unfortunately we were caught in a downpour. When we wandered to the viewing places, we just plodded along with our crash helmets on as rain hats. We explained to people that gave us inquiring looks that we were afraid of bears. The falls were all spectacular as the amount of rain had raised river levels considerably.
19 June Clearwater to A.P Ranch
The next day we had a comparatively short ride of about 300km to Merritt and beyond to the AP Ranch, the venue for the Horizons Unlimited meeting.
A relief to get there, and an even better surprise to find we had been allocated the best room in the place.
The HU meeting was splendid. there were at least 4 couples on UK bikes. There were also some ex-pat Brits. As usual, a good bunch, and there was plenty to learn.
22 June Penticton in Okanagan Valley
We were a bit sad to say farewells and get back on the road, but just a few miles down the road and we were both happy to feel the miles slipping away.
We have about two weeks before we leave for Japan. We “discovered” Penticton, while stopped in a queue of traffic waiting for emergency vehicles to clear a horrendous accident. The driver of a pick-up truck had failed to notice a stationary car about to turn into a viewing spot. The rear wheels of the car were under the drivers seat.
Penticton is placed between two lakes. The area reminds me very much of Central Otago. And the cherries are just getting ripe. We have decided to have a few days here and do day trips without all the luggage.
We have also shed some of our gear in an effort to lighten the load. It will probably get back to the UK after we do!
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