|10-08-2013, 02:25 PM||#1|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
Around the World in... as Long as it Takes
Greetings Fellow Nomads, Vagabonds, Ramblers, Dreamers, Riders!
I made a false start with my ride report before, but am now on board with how to do it, so, here we go...
I will use this page to as a link page to articles later on, so as time goes by check the bottom for added links.
Also, if you ever want to see more pics, maps, other writing, or my live location, feel free to visit my website: www.alexandertolchinsky.com
Where I am Now:Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela
Time on Road: 2 years, 5 months
# of Countries:12
What the hell I'm doing:
On August 8th, 2011, after a decision made 3 weeks prior, I bid farewell to my cousin, my niece and the last 7 years in New York City, and hit the road on my 1999 Honda Magna VF-750 (to be swapped for a 2005 KLR later ). In the weeks leading up to the day I had given up my apartment, sold most of what I owned, shipped a few boxes to my mom, and said good bye to all my friends and students.
I set out to circumnavigate the globe, via 100 or so countries.
I knew better than to predict how long it would take, or to pretend I knew exactly why I was going. The only thing I was sure of was that I needed to go. My 29th birthday was approaching, I had finally found my calling as a teacher, and also realized that I would never write the books I wanted to write as long as I taught public high school. As much as I loved what I was finally doing with my life, there was no room for writing, not after 12 hours of teaching and planning and grading and just being there for the students. I saw what happened to Frank McCourt (worked 40 years as a teacher, retired, wrote 3 amazing books, and promptly died), and I didn’t want that to be me. I also knew that as I was getting to be the age where I should start thinking about marriage and kids, and there was no way I could ever leave them for however many years it would take to go on this journey. So it was now or never, and I chose now.
With every passing day the purposes of my journey reveal themselves. My writing and ideas take shape, and the stories and messages I want to share with the world become more and more apparent.
The following blog is a record of my journey.
Mexico Starts Here, on Page 6: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?p=22929853#post22929853
steelhorsenyc screwed with this post 01-25-2014 at 10:23 AM
|10-09-2013, 06:43 AM||#5|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
Why The Motorcycle?
Though a lonely endeavor by virtue of space, motorcycles function to bring people together. It doesn’t matter whether you ride a sport bike, cruiser or enduro, or whether it’s a Honda, BMW or Harley, as long as you ride you belong. On the loneliest road, after hours of solitude you will pass a biker and he will extend his hand in greeting, engulfing you in a wave of warmth and camaraderie.
A thousand unspoken words pass through that hand, and there is only one way to hear those words: buy a motorcycle. Then, as you make your first fall, soak during your first unexpected downpour, blow a tire in the middle of nowhere, have your marrow frozen by the damp and wind, become happily lost on precipice framed switchbacks… then all of you will be shared in the wave and as the other passes he too will know and share your story.
This sounds like owning a motorcycle is an exclusive pursuit, but I would argue that it is one of the most inclusive activities in the world, capable of bringing together people from every corner of the world.
A motorcycle is the cheapest form of mechanized transportation available, and the most ubiquitous throughout the world. This means that rich or poor, 1st or 3rd world, you have access to the club. Doctors will ride next to teachers, and plumbers, and fruit vendors. Unlike so many other pursuits, regardless of whether you are seasoned or a novice, you are welcome in the club, and no grizzly rider of 30 years will scoff at the youth on his first steed when he waves “hello”. The motorcycle is the great equalizer; it eliminates the divergence of peoples that society inflicts on us. The motorcycle also means access. Access to parts of the world where cars cannot reach, access to people who are generally more empathic towards the traveler for whom safety and comfort are not a given. That degree of shared danger, like that of wars or other worldly struggles, creates a bond between riders, and those who understand their challenges.
Invariably motorcycles pique interest, arriving in a town or village on a motorcycle brings out the children and the locals. You are more likely to be invited into a home, more likely to be told stories and dreams of travel. You are therefore more likely to discover the underlying veins of similarity between yourself and the strangers you have met. In that manner a motorcycle functions to create ties of peace and understanding that few diplomats can achieve. You don’t need to go to college to learn how to ride a motorcycle and to understand the people you meet. All you need is an open heart and an open mind. And it is meeting real people which is the best weapon against ignorance and hate.
Futbol (soccer) has had a similar unification of peoples, as has art. But motorcycles offer even more as they bring people together who are further apart geographically, as well as financially or socially, and engage them in a shared struggle and joy which binds them ever firmly together. In the past, war has served as the great unifier, the creator of lifelong friendships. But these ties rarely cross borders, and the world pays a debt of millions dead for those sacred ties. Whereas bikers from every country will meet and share stories of their adventures, and open the door to sharing their lives, and friendships flourish quickly as people discover otherwise hidden similarities. No death, no hate, just a shared love of the road and of our world’s great natural gifts.
A secondary influence of motorcycles is that of natural preservation. The average motorcycle is as fuel efficient than the most advanced hybrid, at a fraction of the cost. The average biker seeks the road to witness in person our glorious mountains and forests and lakes and sunsets. This exposure, this removal from our encasement in houses and offices, makes bikers appreciate our world and work all the harder to see it preserved for future generations. I would argue that if every person on the planet were to spend just one weekend in a place like Glacier National Park, or in the Alps, or in the Serengeti, they would think twice before throwing something out the window, or voting to remove protections on wildlife refuges, or waste water. Bikers are witnesses to our nature’s beauty more often than most people, and if they are not environmentalists at first, they quickly become so.
The travel informs, the struggle unites, and the passion infects. Motorcycling is truly the next step in cultural understanding, the creation of the bonds of peace, the promotion of sustainable travel, and preservation of our planet.
Why The Pen?
It took a long time to figure out that the purpose of my
journey should be discovering the common bonds which
unite us as a people. We always focus on differences, and
even try to “celebrate” them, but we are still so far from
unified. What we have in common is often harder to see,
but I believe that if we can find these common bonds we
can truly start to appreciate the fact that we are all human
beings - beyond race, culture or borders - and respect each other
for that simple fact.
I don’t always write about this in my blog, as it will take me
the world before I encounter most of our cultures and am able
to draw any conclusions, so for now I hope you just enjoy
(trying to put a sticker together, any thoughts, suggestions or help is greatly appreciated, as my creativity starts and ends with the camera)
Next up: First days on the road!
|10-09-2013, 01:14 PM||#6|
Joined: Oct 2011
Location: Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Well, you've captured my interest with your writing in those first two posts. I know I'll enjoy this one.
|10-09-2013, 02:11 PM||#7|
No hay banda!
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: The Frozen North
Looking good. I look forward to reading more, as I'm on a similar wavelength.
One quick hijack, and then I'll be good for the duration: While I personally like your more (shall we say) broad-minded assertions about the m/c community. You may want to go hunt and peck around Jo Momma before getting too tight with your bear hugs, e.g.
|10-09-2013, 07:21 PM||#8|
Joined: Apr 2011
Location: Alajuela, Costa Rica via MN.
means ADV'ers start heading South!
|10-10-2013, 11:47 AM||#9|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
And so it begins...
New York City to Eastport, Maine
The first hours of my journey served as a good reminder for one of the reasons I was hitting the road in the first place. It took me almost two hours just to get out of the city. Once beyond the great span of the RFK Bridge the road was highlighted only periodically by moments of free riding, the rest of the way to Boston, small road or interstate, was riddled in traffic. It was not until after Boston that I really began to feel as though I had left the city.
My goal was Rockland, Maine, where I had arranged to stay the night. Unfortunately the wealth of excellent riding roads in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, do not lead to anywhere near Main, so I was stuck on the coastal roads which offered no view of the coast.
As the first day slowly descended into night, I got my first taste of just how unprepared I was for this particular August, and perhaps, I thought, for such a journey. It was unseasonably cold, and when packing I had completely disregarded just how cold the coast, and the forthcoming mountains could be. Though I have been riding for close to 10 years, and though I have ridden through every kind of weather you could think of, I still managed to overlook the most important reality of motorcycle travel: the variability and unpredictability of weather. I may have also forgotten my toothbrush.
The damp cold of the coast has the wonderful capacity to penetrate layers of clothing, so that by the time I arrived in Rockland my chattering teeth made it hard to formulate sentences.
I spent the next day wandering along the piers, visiting a lighthouse, looking for an affordable lobster roll, and diving in quarries turned swimming holes. There is an inexplicable grasp that Maine has on those who were fortunate enough to visit its shores. Maybe it’s the crisp, salty air, the sound of tugs, sails flapping in the wind, the friendliness of its residents, or perhaps that familiar draw of a simpler life. Whatever it is, it was hard to leave.
After a couple of days of shaking off the initial shock of actually having left everything behind, I was back on the road. I stayed along the coast on HWY 1, and detoured to go around Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park. In retrospect I should have camped, but instead I only dismounted briefly to breathe the air of our nation’s first national park east of the Mississippi.
From Acadia I continued on HWY 1 to Eastport, Maine, where I would catch a ferry to Deer Island, New Brunswick – a brief venture into Canada, before I would begin the world’s second biggest country in earnest a few days later.
|10-11-2013, 07:49 AM||#10|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
I was only a few days in, but was miserable, and experienced something that would change things forever...
From Eastport, Maine, the eastern-most point of the United States, I, and my Magna, caught a ferry to Deer Island, New Brunswick, Canada. It was getting late, and as usual I was planning on catching the last ferry out. I pulled up to the dock just in time to witness the boat pushing back from the dock! I crossed a time zone, a half-hour difference, without knowing it. I had but a moment to be distraught before I witnessed something I never thought happened in the “Screw you the doors are closed, you cannot get on the plane which is still sitting 30 ft. away” society we live in – the ferry started coming back - for me!
I was only a few days into my journey and had yet to learn the magic of the road, and the kindness people have for travelers.
The ride was quick and surprisingly painless. This was my first time putting a motorcycle on a boat, and I imagined every wave knocking it over. But the boat was steady and the steel horse didn’t even tremble.
By the time we arrived on the island dusk was upon us in earnest so I made my way to the closest campground. I pitched my tent facing the water and the sun setting over the bay. The time passed easily with whales, porpoises, jumping fish, and whirlpools. It was a stark northern beauty softened by the colorful warmth of the setting sun. It is exactly the kind of place one would come to to write in peace and breathe the crisp, clean, inspiring air of the north. But as I was still new at long-term travel and felt eager to get back on the road. Sadly I could not make myself stay for more than a day.
The rain fell steadily, and the fog horns kept me awake, for most of the night. In the morning there was a brief lull during which I rushed to pack everything and race around the misty isle, losing my bike cover in the process, to the northern ferry to mainland New Brunswick. And just like the one coming to the island, the ferry, which had already departed, reversed engines and came back for me – saving me from having to wait another hour in the rain.
The rain picked up after we arrived on land and stayed with me for the next 8 hours – soaking and chilling me to the bone. I had made the mistake of assuming that August would be a warm and dry month, and did not bring the proper long-distance riding gear. I hoped the rain was localized to the northern coast so I decided to take the shorter route to Montreal by way of Northern Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont (as opposed to riding north and switching back south-west by way of Quebec City).
I took the uneventful highway 1 to Saint Stephen and crossed the border back into Maine where I caught highway 9 to Bangor. Fog rolled heavily along hilly, sparse, granite plots of farmland. There was a deep smell of pine from the endless sea of evergreens through which the road cut long, sleepy curves. It was easy to see why most of the population lives along the coast – where the sea shares its bounty more rapidly than hardened northern soil. I passed few people on the road, there was no hint of traffic, not even in the towns, unlike the coastal road which came to a halt every 30 miles. The rain I was hoping to escape further inland only continued to intensify the closer I got to Bangor.
From Bangor I took highway 2 to highway 26 which brought me to tiny Errol, New Hampshire, 300 miles from Deer Island. I was still a few hours out of Montréal, somewhere between the White Mountains and Northern Woods, when I simply had to get off the bike. It was hard to see anything, the road was curvy and slick, and I was wet and freezing. Though it was August, this was not a warm summer rain wet, this was a suck the heat straight from your heart wet. So I pulled into a gas station across from which was a diner, and made my way, if not to warmth, than at least to food and a precipitation free environment. It was already late in the day so I couldn’t afford to stay too long, lest I would have to ride to Montreal in the dark.
To complement the weather perfectly, I was “greeted” by a waitress who stole no less warmth from the room than the rain from my bones. I needed some patience and understanding but instead found rudeness and curt backtalk. So I sat there, miserable, eating my mediocre burger and drinking my mediocre coffee, and feeling no less mediocre myself. And then a fine example of conversations I would have across the continent began with a jolly faced, goateed young man who sat down a couple of stools away.
“Where ya from?”
It is usually pretty obvious that I am not from wherever I happen to be.
“Well”, I said, “I started in New York. But since I no longer have a home or job there, I’m not sure I will return”.
He had a most peculiar laugh, a “ha, ha” with an emphatic stress on the second “ha”, such that it rang throughout the diner.
“Where ya headed?”, a couple of older guys joined in, Harley riders on days better than this.
“Tonight, I’m just trying to make it to Montreal”.
In a moment when New Englanders drop their typically laconic façade they become quite hospitable, and allow a glimpse into how their ancestors might have acted 400 years ago. The whitewashed colonial houses which are still the predominant structures lining the tiny Main streets and mountain roads of the great nor’easter land, help complete the picture. Though still cold, I was beginning to warm up as we continued chatting about the curse of the rain and the joy of riding.
In turn we started talking about books and the joy of holding and smelling a particularly old one. Mark, the young man, mentioned that he had found a history book from the 1870’s, and noticing my obvious and immediate excitement invited me over to take a look. I was eager to make it to Montréal, but dreaded continuing to ride in the rain, so I accepted his offer. We finished our burgers and drove a mile down the road to a beautiful estate where Mark was the groundskeeper.
Marks little cottage was sparsely furnished, with little more than two beds and a toilet (the shower was a house outside), but he managed to make me feel so at home. Still, he saw that I was still cold and dreading getting back on the road, so he offered for me to stay the night. He had a spare bed and said he would appreciate the company – he made it seem as though I would be doing him a favor by staying!
That is true kindness and altruism: making the recipient feel not as though they are a burden and should be humbled by the granted favors, rather as a fellow Man being treated as one should.
I leafed through the beautiful, red leather bound book for a while, then Mark and I talked, as long time friends might, before I was finally overcome with the fatigue of riding. I have rarely been so comfortable or slept as soundly as I did that night.
I left that day feeling the warmth that only making a new friend can bring.
The rain continued, but thankfully was much lighter than the day before. I kept to HWY 2 which skirts the White Mountains. The slickness kept my speed down, and the mist and clouds kept me from seeing the beautiful mountains. On a clear, autumn, day this is one of the most beautiful rides in New Hampshire.
Eventually I had to get onto the interstate in order to cross the border back into Canada. Those few minutes on Int. 91 reminded me why I never take interstates: they are straight, impersonal, and with the exception of a few stretches, very ugly. It did however mark the beginning of my ride across the world’s second biggest country.
|10-12-2013, 09:01 AM||#11|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
Canada: The Ride Part I
Canada: The Ride Part I
Montreal, QC to Lethbridge, AB
Crossing the world’s second biggest country felt like a daunting task: more than 4000 miles through at least 6 climate zones, the inevitable rain, wind, and snow, and incredible stretches of solitude. This was certainly no “easing into” my journey around the world. But I had to start somewhere, so off to the Great White North I went with the hopes that succeeding would mean a great beginning rather than an end.
Once past the border, the ride to Montreal, on HWY 10, was a pleasant jaunt through European looking country side – smaller farms, wooden fences, small groups of cows grazing peacefully. There was nothing breathtaking, but also nothing jarring like the sight of massive feedlots. On the approach to the city I was quickly thrust back into the realities of city riding: the final 20 miles took almost as long as the ride from the border.
I spent only a day in Montreal, long enough to dry everything that was wet, which was everything I had. I was too eager to keep going and was already late for the couch surfing I had foolishly set up beforehand. I had lined up almost all of the couches I would need before even setting out from New York. I was too novice to know that plans inevitably change, that time takes on a different meaning on the road.
To those unfamiliar with Couchsurfing.org: this is an on-line community of over 3 million people across the globe who open their homes to travelers. It is free of cost, and full of gain. The people I have met from Couch surfing have been some of the most incredible in my life, and I am friends with a good number of them to this day. There is no better way to learn about a place, its people, history and culture, than by staying with people, not tourists, and learning from them. Using Couch surfing has changed my journey completely, using the website and becoming part of this community was the single best decision I have made so far.
At Montreal I hopped on what would become my guide for most of Canada: the Trans-Canada highway (TCH). This is Canada’s great artery. Though mostly not interesting, it does have its breathtaking stretches, and serves the invaluable purpose of bringing people to the smaller roads which lead to Canada’s great natural bounty.
At first, between Montreal and Ottawa, the TCH was as most interstates are in the U.S, long, boring and riddled in traffic. But as you emerge from the ugliness which is city and suburb riding, the grandeur of lake country embraces you into its vast and glorious self.
I got off the TCH near Renfrew, and caught route 60 which cuts through Algonquin National park and heads straight for the shores of Lake Huron where it meets with the route 69 branch of the TCH. Most of this 300 mile day was spent cruising along the shores of small lakes and swaths of pine forest. The road had few straightaways, the weather was cool and conducive to riding, yet always threatening with ominous clouds in the distance.
The following day I began my ride along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior on my way to Sault Ste. Marie. I started on the 69 and then joined the main branch of the TCH, highway 17, heading east. East of Thunder Bay the Trans Canada is a beautiful road that curves and hugs the landscape. Her wide, windy lanes beg for speed, but the earthly granite sculpture garden, the vaporous heavenly one, the silvery endless waves of the great lakes and the deep green waves of pine and fir, arrest the throttle and calm the growing adrenaline. Time has little meaning along this road. The 350 miles passed quickly, as they always do when you are surrounded by beauty. I wanted to stop frequently to just sit and stare at the great expanse of the lake, but night riding is cruel to the biker and the sky was no less threatening than before.
If it were possible, the road from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay was even more breathtaking: 450 miles of Lake Superior falling away into the horizon to the south, and endless forest, undulating on the wavy hills left by receding glaciers, to the north. The road was in exemplary condition: well-marked, smooth, free of debris and potholes, full of curves from 30mph to 80mph, with plenty of shoulder space and scenic outlooks to stop and gaze. The shore, with countless little, rocky beaches, begged for my tent.
As I approached Thunder Bay at dusk I was treated to a fiery performance of the sun’s battle with the cloud’s futile attempt to block its last hurrah. It was one of the most moving and memorable sunsets I have ever seen – the perfect end to 800 miles of awe-inspiring, lake country, riding.
All of that changed, however, as the road straightened, as if by giant pliers, going westward from Thunder Bay. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and most of Alberta give the eye and soul nothing but bitter wind, endless fields, and what seemed like eternal flatness. Until the Rockies rise at the border of British Columbia, Canada becomes an endless prairie the second you leave the great watered mass of Ontario. Its winds sandblast your mind and leave it blank for the 1300 of straight miles across Big Farming’s backyard. In Saskatchewan I rode for a good 200 miles leaning my bike so far over to counter the cross winds, that had there been no wind I would have ridden in a giant circle for 4 hours. Not a thing to stir the imagination, the only landmarks were gas stations, and giant grain silos with Cargill signs reminding you of how long ago real farming ended. Whatever joy and impressions Quebec and Ontario may have left, the plains and prairies drained them and I felt as though I have forever trodden upon this listless, endless field. My only positive memories of those endless days of riding, is the time I spent couch surfing with wonderful people in Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina and Lethbridge.
It is on these stretches of empty, monotonous road, where we truly begin to face ourselves and the demons that have lain deep behind the veil of stimulation produced by city life. With nothing to inspire us, and no twisty roads to pump up our adrenaline, we retreat into the recesses of our minds. From here come our doubts and fears, and we begin to question our ability to go on, the wisdom of having begun such a journey, and so many memories of mistakes and regrets and losses come flooding to the surface. Thus I found myself on a bed in Regina, Saskatchewan, in pain from riding over 3000 miles in a little more than a week, and questioning everything. These are the true moments which test a person’s resolve to continue. Many people think that it is the difficulties which we encounter with riding or weather which make people turn back, but that is not the case. Difficulties, after they are overcome, are valuable lessons, and we feel pride in having succeeded. But when there has been nothing but a straight line of tarmac heading into the endless horizon for the last 3 days, it is our internal weakness which poses the greatest threat to our continuing. Thankfully I recognized this, said “screw the pain”, got on my steed and rode through another day and 450 miles of nothingness, knowing that I would end at the foot of the great Rocky Mountains.
I had planned on camping in the mountains, but neglected to set up a place to stay between there and Regina. My plans to camp in Cypress Hills Provincial Park were aborted due to yet another day of rain, so I continued on to Medicine Hat, Alberta. Before reaching Medicine Hat I had to pull over at a motel along the road, as I was freezing and starting to get wet from the endless rain. I asked the owner if I could use a room to take a hot shower – as that is the only way I could warm up. Surprisingly she said yes and gave me a towel and a key. It was yet another act of kindness from a stranger, which at that point I still felt was a rare thing to find; later on I would know better.
It was getting very late in the day by the time I reached Medicine Hat and as a last minute resort I went into a hotel to use a computer in order to try and find some people on Couchsurfing.org. I wrote a few last minute requests, and got back on the road full of hope – my goal was to only camp or stay in people’s homes while on this Journey, and I can gratefully say that I did not stay in a hotel once.
I began to ride west as the sun was setting behind the still distant Rockies. I had no idea where I would sleep that night or where I could pitch a tent since there were no campgrounds or parks on the way. All of a sudden, as the last rays of light disappeared beyond the horizon, my phone rang and a sweet voice on the other end told me I was more than welcome to stay in their home in Lethbridge, Alberta. Yet again, I found myself in need, and someone stepped up to make things right. This would prove to always be the case on the road – people will always step up to help a traveler. Kindness and generosity rarely shown to those close to them, is selflessly given to the weary wanderer (especially if he or she is on a motorcycle).
That phone call and stay in Lethbridge would prove to be quite fateful. From Lethbridge I ended up going to Glacier National Park in Montana with one of my hosts and his friend, meeting a wonderful girl who I would meet again in Oregon, witnessing mind-blowing natural beauty, and having my life threatened by moose, bear, rain and my own stupidity. But that story, Adventures in Glacier, will come later.
|10-14-2013, 06:42 AM||#12|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
Canada the Ride: Part II
Lethbridge, AB to Vancouver Island, BC
After returning to Lethbridge from Glacier, I spent a few days recuperating before heading off into the Canadian Rockes.
From Lethbridge I took HWY 3 west to HWY 22 north, before connecting with the TCH west into Banff National Park. The road was no longer straight, in fact a straightaway of more than a couple of miles would not come again for a very long time. As I climbed ever higher into the Rockies, my little 4-cilynder Honda made no complaints regarding altitude (I wish I could say the same of my KLR). With every passing mile the landscape became more arresting. By the time I reached Lakes Louise and Moraine in Banff National Park, I found it difficult to ride more than a quarter mile without wanting to stop and stare at the majestic granite peaks, turquoise and jade colored lakes and rivers, and ancient, quickly disappearing, glaciers. The silt from glaciers turns many of the rivers a milky jade color. No matter how many shades of green and blue you have seen, it is shocking to witness a river of milk. I spent the first night with a friend of a friend in Canmore and got a scary taste of a ski resort town out of season. I then continued north on highway 93 (Icefields Parkway) into Jasper National Park. The roads of the parks are very well preserved and twisty, lending them an irresistible draw to go fast, but just like the TCH around the Great Lakes, that is impossible to do without missing everything. So I continued north slowly, stopping often, until I found a cozy spot, opposite a glacier, for the night. As the wind howled from the slopes of the surrounding mountains, there was little my sleeping bag and tent could do to defend against the sub-zero cold which blew through the campsite. I shivered and couldn’t fall asleep – it was one of the coldest nights of my life. But my fortitude was rewarded when I met two other riders at that camp site – they are my good friends to this day. The following day brought more riding through this granite heaven which also helped make up for the sleepless night. I kept itching to go fast, I would lean on the throttle for a minute or so and just as my adrenaline would begin to surge, the road would open onto a valley and wildflower strewn field with a babbling branch of a river passing through, which would inevitably arrest my ride.
Thankfully there was plenty more excellent riding to come. Once the Rockies start in western Alberta, the mountainscape doesn’t end until you hit water at the far end of British Columbia. The next day I went as far north as the town of Jasper before turning around and heading south on 93, and again west on the Trans Canada into British Columbia (BC). This is one of single best tracks of riding I’ve ever done. Between HWY 93 where it meets HWY 1 (TCH) and Kamloops, BC, you pass the heart of the Rockies, numerous national parks, and slowly descend into the foothills and valleys below. While in the Rockies the 4 lane tarmacs are of impeccable quality and the curves large enough where you can easily go 40-60mph on some, and an exhilarating 80mph on others. The road begs for you to scrape pegs, overloaded steed or not. The scenery is no less beautiful than on HWY 93, but after so much temptation I could not help but open the throttle up full…
45mph speed limit – check.
60mph actual riding speed – check.
Back and abs tight, slight forward lean, arms loose, hands tight, big breath in, slow exhale… go!
Road curving right, position on far left of lane, the road falling away 1000 ft off the sheer face of the cliff, weight on left foot, leaning right into the turn, breath, throttle back – 65mph.
Leaning closer to the ground, right hand pushing the bar away, ass lifting off, adrenaline spiking, breath, neck tight, head up – looking for the end of the curve – 70mph.
Still can’t see the end of the curve, body off the bike entirely – getting closer and closer to the ground, breath, leaning on the throttle – 75mph.
Still no end in sight, heartbeat matching the trance in the eardrum – 100bpm…110bpm…120bpm, breath, knee almost to the ground – 80mph.
Face burning, the flush of adrenaline soaking me, beads of sweat running into my eyes, the sparks flying as the right peg scars the blacktop, I see the end of the turn, breath, almost there, throttle back, on the far right of the lane, stone wall of the cliff barely a meter away – it too is soaked from the tiny waterfalls covering its face, breath, throttle – 85mph.
G-forces subsiding, slowly sliding back onto the seat, pushing the bar back to the right, heart growing lighter, snow covered peaks revealing beyond – draped with skirts of pine, the sun slowly disappearing beyond a mass of granite… road curving left, speed – check, breath…
By the time you reach Kamloops, BC you are essentially in a giant valley between the Rockies and Coastal ranges. It is flatter, but the roads continue to stick to natural rises and falls of the earth as well as the shores of rivers, so the excellent riding continues. So much of the eerie rivers, with islets and bits of fog, reminded me of the western part of Scotland: big, rocky hills on one side of the road, the shares of misty rivers and lakes on the other.
Once you are down from the Rockies, and well into the Coastal range, the roads are lined with fruit stalls and dairies. You can pass one or two, but eventually their omni-presence becomes too enticing to not stop. The dairies are filled with local cheeses, milk, chocolate milk, and ice cream! The fruit stalls are also replete with the bounty of British Columbia, most notably – peaches. When in season, the right kind of peach can be the size of your face, but, unlike other fruit, the size only adds to the juiciness, sweetness and flavor. I have eaten many excellent meals in my life, but I still remember vividly the peach I had by the side of the road in BC… and now my mouth is watering.
There are two ways out of Kamloops if you are heading for Vancouver: Big Highway 5, which goes south and enters Vancouver from the east; and the longer, smaller and more breathtaking highway 99 (linked by highway 97 to Kamloops). You can guess which one I took.
HWY 99 enters the coastal range, and slowly meanders along the mountain passes, valleys, lakes, national parks and more fruit stalls. I want to say it is some of the best riding you can do in North America, but honestly, riding anywhere in BC is going to make you wish you were a motorcycle gypsy. There simply are no straightaways, it is a province of twisty roads and mountains, most of which are in excellent shape which allows you to take turns faster than what might be recommended. By the time I passed the world famous Squamish, Blackcomb and Whistler (you haven’t skied until you have skied there), I was right back on the western shores of Scotland as HWY 99 began to skirt the Howe Sound, on the way south to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver.
It was some of the best riding I have ever done. There was, however, a slight detour, to avoid construction, which strained me and my Magna a little more than we liked. Waiting for a road to re-open, another biker, on a DR, pulled up next to me and said he knew a short-cut around the construction. Because I am generally impatient I agreed even though he said it would be a little off-road. “A little off-road” turned out to be a heavily rutted single track which soon brought my bike and me to our knees. The stranger having ridden ahead was of no help as I struggled to lift the heavily burdened beast back to a vertical position. The ruts and slick mud and grass did not help, but, as often is the case when one is alone, I managed to get her back up. The rest of the ride was hairy, but I stayed up and eventually managed to get back to pavement.
With Vancouver came traffic and the general annoyances of riding through a city. However, as every person you will ever meet will attest, it is simply too wonderful a city to stay angry. The people are great, the food is excellent, and the nature is unparalled.
My fondest memory of Vancouver is Stanley Park – a proper rain forest, which faces the waters of the Strait of Georgia. It was there, with new friends form Couch surfing, that I decided to tip back a bottle of vino and watch the sun set for 3 hours, while lying on the beach, surrounded by bikes, boats, someone blowing bubbles, and the slowly changing vista of colorful sky, water, islands, hills, and container ships the size of cities lighting up in the growing darkness. I spent the next few days taking in the food, the positivity and the expense, before hopping a ferry to Vancouver Island to complete my trek across Canada.
From Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo: the ferry slides across the calm, teeming with whales, waters of the strait. I spent a few pleasant hours gazing at the tranquility of islands, fishermen, sail boats and dolphins.
On Vancouver Island I hopped on highway 19 heading north before taking highway 4 west. HWY 4 is a wonderfully curvy road which passes a number of lakes – each more enticing than the other. It was hard not to stop, pitch a tent and find a fishing pole with which to lounge away days and days on the shore. But I continued forward, taking care not to slip on the ever present moistness of the road. BC is many things, dry it is not. After traversing the Island, HWY 4 turns back north and becomes the Pacific Rim Highway, which ends at the Western Terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway in Tofino. It was a cold ride along the shore, but that did not detract from the stark beauty of pine forest set against a steel gray sky, with the tumultuous crash of waves ever present on the rocky coast.
I went into Tofino to find the end of the TCH, then found a nice place to camp with some friends I had made in Jasper a couple of weeks back. We enjoyed some of nature’s stimulants and contemplated the risk of being mauled by the prowling wild cat somewhere in our park. The following day we spent walking along the beach, climbing rocks, and listening to the song of the sea. It is one of those activities which I find never gets old – watching and listening to the ocean. The rhythm is soothing and almost regular. The crash of waves reminds you of the immense force contained in the ocean, the sight of the endless horizon frees dreams of sailing on the open sea, the smell of salt, the great sensation of being surrounded by water with no land in sight – freedom.
I was not prepared for the constant cold and wet, so the following day I headed back south to Victoria and the ferry to Anacortes in Washington. I repeated the ride of a few days before, but continued south into Sydney (just north of Victoria). I again found kind people who gave me a roof and a delicious meal – friends of someone with whom I stayed in Winnipeg. It is true that the more you travel, the smaller the world becomes, the more interlinked your life becomes with humanity as a whole, and the more likely are you to find help the further you go.
The next day I set off to the terminal at Sydney to catch the ferry to Anacortes. I spent a few hours writing in the beauty which is the crossing into Washington, past countless islands, yachts, schooners and whales. It was the perfect end to the unforgettable 4000 mile crossing of the world’s second largest country. Without pause I can easily say that this is a place to which I wish to return. The roads are impeccable, the natural wonders are the stuff of dreams… and I still have dreams of that peach.
steelhorsenyc screwed with this post 10-16-2013 at 08:56 AM
|10-15-2013, 09:01 AM||#13|
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Circumnavigating the world
Losing My Sense of Urgency
The next few posts will be about some particular moments from my ride across Canada, starting with Thunder Bay:
It was one of those carefree summer days that made you wish the season had no end.
I met Kyle and Evan, two musicians from Thunder Bay, and Damien, a couch surfer from France, at local diner. The accoutrements were of the 50’s and 60’s, the service at times so lacking that you had to get up yourself to fill your coffee cup, or even make your eggs, but no one left without a hug from the owner. We continued to Evan’s father’s home, which his father built with his own hands – already symbolic of, what I’m sad to say is, antiquated behavior. We then went to a cliff overlooking Silver Bay and the Sleeping Giant Peninsula, on Lake Superior. The frigid waters of northern Superior were no match for our audacity, which we proved by flinging ourselves from the cliff and falling 30ft into her icy body. A dull and persistent pain in my left leg and butt cheek was a healthy reminder of our flights.
To further soothe whatever malice life in the city brought me, we continued to live the dreamy Finnish summer day by buying smoked fish and going to a sauna on the shore of the lake. Once good and toasty, we ran into the cooling waters of Superior, and floated, staring for indeterminate amounts of time at the dancing clouds. Then we returned to heat, then water, and heat… again and again. If ever I dropped any latent sense of urgency, it was certainly there.
Being in a state of peace is becoming more consistent as the soot of the city is slowly dissipating from my soul.
|10-15-2013, 12:24 PM||#14|
Joined: Mar 2011
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
Wow! You really got up there!! How much is the ferry?
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