Monday, December 31, 2012

Still Using a Pencil in 21st Century

Last summer on our two-bike travel out to the west coast, we took along two new electronic "toys": the Android phone and a bike-to-bike bluetooth communicator. So basically I went from the eighties into the 21st century on this trip.  And it was actually fun and probably safer too.

The main reason I took the Android phone and helmet communicator along was to enhance the safety of the trip. But each of these devices offered a huge variety of functions, many more than I would want to use while riding. I did some experimenting before the trip, and settled on a safe way to enjoy the motorcycling experience, while getting some valuable use out of the devices.

The Scala Rider communications headset was actually capable of interacting with the Android phone, doing such tasks as answering phone calls, dialing the phone through voice commands, playing music from the Android device, and piping the Navigator commands through the earphones.  I decided that none of those functions were important enough to me to risk fiddling with on the road.  It's not that they weren't easy to use - just not easy enough to be safe.  And in my opinion these capabilities did not contribute enough extra safety to the ride to compensate for the extra fiddling that would be required.

All I wanted from the Scala Rider was simply to be able to speak with Mary Ann while we were riding, so that we didn't get lost or separated, and so that we could warn each other of situations.  The Scala headset was capable of doing this job with a minimum of fiddling. Mostly it involved turning the devices on or off, adjusting the volume, putting the headset in standby mode to save the batteries, or putting it back to ready mode to communicate.  We also needed to adjust the microphone position as it was very critical and sometimes got bumped while riding.  Once I set the volume to hear through my earplugs, the device could adjust the volume itself to compensate for background noise at speed. But a few times I put on the helmet without earplugs, and I just about jumped off the bike when Mary Ann said something to me with the volume set on max.

I would put the communicator device on standby when we didn't need to talk. But even out in the middle of nowhere, we would occasionally see something that we wanted to talk about, for example the dust devils in Washington state.  Either one of us could put both devices on standby or reactivate them at the touch of a button on the helmet pod.  It was quite simple, although there was a few seconds time delay.  Ironically the buttons were much easier than the hands-free "voice activation" system that required major amounts of yodelling or funny noises to finally get it to work.  Anyway, Mary Ann left that job mostly to me once she discovered how tricky the voice activation was.  The batteries were good enough that we could ride for a day always in active mode, and a couple of days if we using the battery saving standby mode.

There are many motorcycle handlebar mounts available for Android phones.  Apparently riders use these things while riding, which I think is a bit dangerous.  I have seen many of the arguments on rider forums, and usually it comes down to the fact that some people think it's as safe as talking on the phone.  Simply put, I disagree with with using phones while riding, and surfing the internet is no better.  So I would only feel safe if these things truly provided minimal distraction, while providing maximum safety.

Safety, in my mind, partly depends on navigation.  When you get lost, and are driving around looking for the correct road, you are not as safe as you could be if you simply knew where you needed to go.  So a good navigation aid that does not distract while riding is a safety feature. If I needed some navigation, I used the Android phone and Google maps before getting on the bike.  Usually in the motel or campsite, I would check out the route and write down large step by step turns on notepaper, which I then put in the tank bag's clear map pocket. I don't even like looking at paper maps while riding.  But step by step instructions, can be seen clearly in less than one second, are helpful.  Usually I write the route number or road name and L,S, or R. (left straight  or right). I don't often get lost that way, and when I do, I pull over and check Google maps on the Android phone.

Google maps was really impressive a few times, for example coming out of the Norwood Hotel in Winnipeg, which was on a one-way street going the wrong direction.  It routed me down a back alley out of the parking pot and back to a street going the right direction to get on the Trans-Canada going west.  I would never have seen that even on a detailed city map (which I didn't have anyway).  I didn't even see the alley while standing in the parking lot (at first).

I also wanted the Android phone for weather radar and weather forecasts.  I usually checked the weather in the morning before setting out.  But while on the road, I would pull over onto a side street and stop if I saw some unexpected dark clouds.  The phone was always carried next to my wallet and passport, and I only let the phone out of my sight when I was recharging it.  The neatest thing about the Android phone weather apps (I used "The Weather Network" app mostly) was that they would show your position on a map with both the roads and the current precipitation.   A few times I or Mary Ann would be tempted to just scroll the weather map around to see where we were and where we were headed.  But the weather map is not an ideal replacement for good old Google maps, because the scrolling speed is very slow due to the precipitation download (I guess).

The weather radar did not prevent us from getting wet once.  It only rained three times on our trip, because of a record setting drought.  But one of those times, it was a sudden thunderstorm that hit at rush hour while we were on the Malahat highway coming into Victoria.  It's a narrow mountain pass type of road with no safe places to pull over, and so I just kept going until we reached the first traffic light.  Then I tried a left turn into a gas station, but the left turn traffic light refused to work, so we got soaked before deciding to continue on to the next intersection.  Altogether, I guess it was not a brilliant test of the radar weather app, but I am still looking forward to using it again if we go east, where I'm sure it will get a proper test.  It is very useful to help judge when to put on a rainsuit, and when to take it off.

It was also handy to have a cell phone a few times, and I've never even used one of those while motorcycling.  It's also a good emergency device.  And the Android cell phone's camera was also very handy, as it was almost always with us.  If I could have seen all this electronic stuff in action twenty years ago, I would have been very impressed.

Picture: Mary Ann in BC using a pencil despite the modern technology available.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Vacation is not Over Until I Decide it's Over

An important part of our motorcycle trip to BC in 2012 was being open to new experiences.  By that, I mean you just do things, without really knowing what to expect, then see what happens.  If you have the right attitude, good things will happen.  If you don't, well, you know.  One example would be the Motorcycle Show last Friday.  It started 2 hours later than we expected, so we went for a walk outside and found free beer being served across the street.  I never would have imagined it, but that's what you get for just going to see what's there, and taking advantage of what's on offer.

Today we made another attempt at being open to new experiences, and it also worked out better than we could hope for.  I wanted to go to Zdeno's to buy some pant clips, and Mary Ann decided to come along, and we would also have a coffee at the Tim Hortons next door, then we planned drive over to the new bridge that was just completed in Fairway Road, and hike the trail that goes under it, and do some bird watching.  (We did not know at the time that this portion of the trail was still blocked by construction, but that's not important now).  So I got my pant clips, and we headed out of Zdeno's parking lot to go for coffee at Timmie's right next door.  But that meant a left turn onto a busy four lane road, so Mary Ann suggested that we go right instead, and see if we could find a small cafe in the nearby village of Breslau, since we were eventually heading to Breslau anyway.  Just as I suspected, there was nothing in Breslau but a take out pizza place, so we were stumped for a few seconds until I remembered the restaurant at the airport, just a bit further down the road.  Neither one of us had ever been to the Waterloo-Wellington Airport restaurant before.  When we got there, all the free restaurant parking spots were taken, and Mary Ann was not keen on paying for parking in addition to paying for coffee.  So I began to back out of my temporary turnaround spot, and suddenly I almost hit a pickup truck.  He came out of nowhere, I thought.  As I looked around to see where he really did come from, Mary Ann noticed one of the free parking spots was suddenly empty.  So that's where he came from.  We took the spot, and went in for coffee and cake.  Their outdoor patio next to the runway was closed due to cold weather.  So we sat inside beside the windows and observed the bustle of small plane traffic.  It turns out that Dec. 12, 2012, is a "Fly-out" day according to the Internet.  So that's why there were so many takeoffs and landings.  Then I saw a stubby red biplane taxi past our window, piloted by an older man (I think).  I was interested to see if this ungainly thing would be able to get off the ground, so I watched him taxi toward the other end of the runway, until he was out of sight.  I waited quite a long time for him to come back, knowing that he had to turn back into the wind to take off.  That's what all the other planes were doing.  Just when I had about given up, I saw a stubby red biplane shoot straight up vertically from behind the fence blocking our view to the right. Then he spent about 20 minutes doing rolls, dives, flying upside down, and a bunch of other tricks that I don't think have names.  The whole acrobatic show was right in front of our window, but not so close that I was actually worried for our lives.  Although I'll admit I was a bit worried for his.  We also had Mary Ann's bird watching binoculars along, which gave us an even better view.

So was our experience this afternoon good luck alone, or did the right attitude help?  I think we had a lot of practice this summer in improvising our vacation experiences, and it's likely that this practice is still helping us have an interesting time in normally uninteresting places.  It's kind of like this: you just dive into a new situation, even if you suspect this is going to be a colossal waste of of time.  Then regardless of the fact that some things you hoped for didn't happen, just keep an eye out for something really interesting to turn up, even if nobody else seems to be interested in it.  For example, at the restaurant we were the only people watching the air show.

Picture: I think this might be the plane we saw this afternoon.  I got the picture from this web page

Sunday, November 18, 2012

About Getting the Very Best Equipment

Admittedly, there is a good feeling that you can get by owning the very best.  When you know that you have paid top dollar for a recognized upscale brand.   This feeling happens in motorcycling as often as anything else, and this feeling can be addictive.  However, it can become a treadmill where you are putting out a lot of money for not much extra value.  This can happen where you have already laid out a large sum for a top quality piece of gear, then find out that something better has come along.  To get those few extra little improvements, you need to pay for the whole thing all over again.

I was kind of thinking that last week when I saw that there is a new version of my helmet on the market.  I have a Scorpion EXO1000 helmet. While it is a very good helmet, apparently it is now obsolete.  There is now an EXO1100 helmet, with several improvements.  One significant improvement is the weight - it weighs about 4 ounces less than the EXO1000.  That may actually be the only significant improvement, and it comes with a change of test standards.  While the old EXO1000 was Snell approved, the new one apparently no longer can pass the Snell test, and is now qualified under a different test system, which we are assured is "just as good as Snell".   I'm not too much of a believer in these tests anyway, I figure if it passes DOT it's OK by me.  (Except that the Department of Transport does not actually conduct the tests, it's on an honour system, but oh well what can you do.)  One way the new helmet seems to have shed a bit of weight is by reducing the size of the chinbar.  That may be a good thing or it might not be.

Now to get back to the main idea of this blog, which is, do I shell out another $400 to lose four ounces, or do I save a bit of space in the landfill and keep wearing the scratched and dented 2 year old helmet?  I'm keeping it, but not as is. I reduced its weight by about half an ounce by cutting off the old d-rings that I don't use any more since I bought a quick release catch.  And another half ounce of dirt from our six week summer trip might have come out when I washed the liner in the sink. And a tenth of an ounce by removing the clunky scorpion logo.

As bad as it seems to waste $400 just to have the latest helmet, it can be worse with motorcycles.  Last year's $20,000 motorcycle suddenly becomes unattractive when a new model appears with more power, more cylinders, new colour schemes, bluetooth electronics etc.  The only silver lining is that at least you can sell the old motorcycle, and recoup some losses.  (Helmets are much harder to sell.)

Funny thing is, it's all in your head.  Because if you didn't know that there was this new helmet, or jacket, or motorcycle, you wouldn't feel bad.  The way I play it safe is that I try to avoid being addicted to having the very best.  Instead, I try to get addicted to having the most sensible.  Most of the time, anyway.  I know it doesn't always work, but I start with the big ticket items like a house.  I tell myself this house is sensible, I will save money on a house to buy a kick ass car.  Then when I need to buy a car, I get a sensible Toyota Matrix without an air conditioner, and tell myself that's OK because when it's hot outside I'll be riding my new $30,000 BMW six cylinder touring bike, that I bought with the money saved buying the car.  But when I go to get the bike, instead of the Beemer, I opt for a sensible Kawasaki 900 with windshield and non-lockable saddlebags.  Thinking I will use the money saved for a top quality helmet.  Then instead of getting an Arai for $999.97, I go for a Scorpion EXO1000.  And just when I'm getting those warm fuzzy feelings of having a good quality helmet with all kinds of bells and whistles (even though I don't need them and they weigh a ton), along comes the Scorpion EXO1100.

Now finally I can see why rich people think they need to make $10,000,000 per year just to make ends meet.  I just noticed a very nice jacket and pants combo for motorcycle adventure touring (Hey, that's my type of touring!)  at Crazy Al's in London Ontario.  But then I noticed the price.  Oooops. 

Picture: "The Long Way Down" stars Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman with all their expensive stuff.  (Arai helmet, Belstaff jackets, BMW adventure touring bike, and much more.  Even their neck scarves are about $25)  It's great to be a movie star.  And even better, when they get some of that stuff for free because the movie (titled "The Long Way Down") that they are filming about the trip will help other people decide to buy the same helmets, jackets, or gloves.  I'll bet KTM wished they had provided the bikes for the first trip.  Instead KTM turned down Ewan and Charley, and BMW stepped in to provide the bikes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Yes I have Taken Trips Without My Motorcycle

I got asked the question once, about going on vacation.  Do I ever take a vacation without riding my motorcycle?  Well, yes, I have taken vacations without my motorcycle, and in my opinion it is not an improvement.

In the summer of 1971, I flew to Dakar, Senegal, and left my motorcycle at home.  I could have driven there, as I was living in Sierra Leone.  I just looked it up on Google Maps, and apparently today it would be 1484 km, in a time of 18 hours and 41 minutes.  But 40 years ago,  sure it would have been three times as far - with the country of Guinea blocking the way.  Back then, Guinea was like North Korea today. So going around Guinea would have made the trip 2596 km, and 43 hours.  And allowing for the roads of 1971, that may add up to several weeks, if I made it at all.  All along the way, it would have been a problem finding restaurants, gas stations, or hotels.  Fighting poisonous snakes, malarial mosquitos, getting lost without a map, stopped for days at border crossings.  And the biggest threat of all was crashing my motorcycle so far from medical assistance.

So I didn't even consider taking my Honda CD175, and I booked a trip that went by air from Freetown Sierra Leone to Dakar, Senegal.  Then a train ride from Dakar to Bamako, Mali.  And finally another airplane from Bamako back to Freetown.  I figured this would be an easy way to make the trip, but when the trip was over, I wondered if the motorcycle might have been easier and more fun.

I guess it started OK, a simple flight to Dakar, got off the plane and took a taxi to a downtown hotel.  Stayed about ten days and enjoyed the sophisticated French colonial city with outdoor cafes, markets, and historical sights.  I made two trips to visit the island of Goree, an infamous slave trading stop off.  The trouble started when I took the train to Bamako. I was expecting to spend the weekend in Bamako, then board my flight early Monday morning.  But first, the train broke down in the middle of the desert.  I was travelling third class, which admittedly, in hindsight, was stupid.  In third class you are not guaranteed a seat, and even if you get one, it is only a wooden bench.  All this to save the equivalent of about ten bucks.  But then I had counted on the advice of a fellow CUSO volunteer from Sierra Leone who had made the train trip first class, and according to him it was not worth the extra money.  Being only 22 years old, I guess I was not smart enough to ask "So do you have even the foggiest idea what third class is like?"

So after the train broke down, we had to spend the night in the desert with no power after the locomotive drove off. There were no towns around either, so the passengers on the train were really on their own.  We made the best of it, though.  Next day the new locomotive finally arrived, but by this time we had already lost half our weekend in Bamako. I was also getting a bit hungry, as the food I brought had run out and there were no dining cars (in case you couldn't guess.).  So I was interested in stopping at the next town for some oranges or bananas.  As soon as we stopped, the train was mobbed by food vendors, but I was shocked to hear the prices being called out.  Three million francs for one orange!  In Sierra Leone it was two for one cent, where Sierra Leone cents were similar to Canadian cents.  In Dakar, Senegal it was a thousand francs per orange (which still worked out to about two for one cent).  But I wasn't sure I had enough cash on me for an orange in Mali.  Anyway, I found out that Senegalese francs were worth far more than Mali francs, so I still had enough money for oranges and even some other food, which I can't remember anything about other than it didn't kill me.

Anyway, it was not over yet.  We had crossed a border into Mali, and border guards armed with machine guns got on the train and were making the rounds looking for passports.  They confiscated my passport, and told me I could pick it up at the ministry of tourism on Monday.  Well, that didn't work for me, as there was only one flight a week to Freetown, leaving 8 AM Monday, and at the time I didn't feel like spending another week in Bamako.  In fact I'm not sure I could afford it.  The hotels were (I had to do some math) approximately 15 billion francs per night.  There was another delay before reaching Bamako, because a young child had fallen to his death off the train.  Finally we made it by nightfall on Saturday, then all day Sunday was spent retrieving my passport from the Ministry of Tourism.  I paid no bribes, but I had to make a trip by taxi to the other side of the city to get one stamp, then return, before a sympathetic official returned my passport in time for my plane on Monday.

The funniest part of the plane ride home for me was trying to get off when we landed in Freetown (which was just one of the many stops).  The stewardess rushed over to me as I headed for the door "No, no one is allowed off here!  Please return to your seat."  I was puzzled: "Then why does my ticket say Bamako to Freetown?".  The stewardess was now the shocked one. "You're getting off at Freetown?  Why?".  I said "Because I live there."  "Oh, sorry.  It's just that usually nobody gets off here."   In those days, Sierra Leone was not a big tourist destination.

Picture: I wish I had spent the ten bucks for first class. I don't know if this is first class, but it's a heck of a lot better than what my car looked like. (from this website, which also has other pictures of Kayes, one of the stops on the route)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Refuelling Oddities

Although the trip is over, I still have a few more comments, this time about gas fillups.  We made 50 stops for gas this summer.  The usual routine was for both of us to park at the same pump.  I got off my bike and put a VISA card in the pump while Mary Ann remained sitting on her bike, removing the Burgman's gas cap.  Once I had the pump working with the correct grade of fuel, I handed the nozzle to Mary Ann, and she refuelled while I removed the gas cap from the Vulcan.  When she was finished, Mary Ann recorded the Burgman's litres, while I continued filling the Vulcan from the same pump without resetting the amount or the grade.  When I finished, I got the receipt, reset my trip odometer, and then both of us were ready to hit the road again.  It was quick, because neither of us had to remove helmets and earplugs, and I didn't need to walk into the store, or line up to pay for gas.

Of course, in 50 stops there would be some variations.  For example, in Powell River, the attendant remotely shut off the pump and ordered Mary Ann to get off the bike.  Apparently it is illegal to refuel a motorcycle while sitting on it, because of fire danger.  We already knew this, because we were told the same thing by a gas station attendant in Rainy River, Ontario.  We ignored the advice, or at least Mary Ann did. Because of the location of the Burgman filler cap, it is much easier to fill up sitting down.  A few times on the trip we actually saw other motorcyclists refueling while sitting on the bike, which is a bit tricky when you are alone, and have to also reach the pump's control panel while sitting on your bike.

Another time, in Washington state, we came across some pumps equipped with rubber boots, like they have in California, to prevent gas vapour from escaping while refueling.  I handed the nozzle to Mary Ann, and she exclaimed, "What's this?".  She tried to fit it onto the Burgman, but no luck.  So I suggested she just hold the rubber boot up and refuel as usual.  It kind of defeats the purpose of the boot, but what else can you do?  It was the only pump we encountered with a boot on the whole trip.

Another time we were out on a remote highway in North Dakota, hoping to find a town with a gas station soon.  We stopped at the first station we saw in a little town, even though it looked weird.  Actually, by weird, I mean it looked exactly like stations used to look sixty years ago.  No overhead canopy, no instant pay at the pump, and an attendant that came out to do the fillup.  I have been caught this way before in some US stations where the "full service" costs 10 cents more per gallon than the "self service".  I know its not a lot of money, but the principle of making me pay more when I put my own gas in anyway is annoying.  So I checked the other pumps, marked "Self Service" and saw that they did indeed have a lower price per gallon.  So I got back on the bike and was trying to push it over to the cheaper pumps, when the attendant said "Don't bother with those pumps, we'll give you the self service price at this pump."  So we filled up at the expensive pump, then when I paid the bill, they calculated a discount and gave me the self service price.  OK I admit this story is not terribly interesting, but to people who have to fill up every 250 km, it is riveting.

In Sudbury, we were only a few days from the end of our trip, on the way back.  We pulled into a gas station where there was another rider and his wife or girlfriend on a Harley at the next pump.  He said hello and we were kind of chatting while I went ahead with the refueling routine, without really thinking about what I was doing.  After all, this was the 47th time we refuelled the bikes on this trip, and it was becoming second nature.  But he was watching Mary Ann do the Burgman fillup, and he commented, "Wow she really knows what she's doing."  We never heard a comment like that anywhere else, especially at home in Kitchener, where I see women going to self service stations all the time.  But maybe it was more a reference to the teamwork than just surprise that a woman could fill up her own tank.

Picture: Mary Ann and Burgie in northern Ontario, looking for gas.  I have no pictures of actual gas stations for this trip, because apparently when I am on my own, all my vacation pictures end up being gas stations.  So I compensated this time by avoiding all pictures of gas stations.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Kind of Boots to Wear Motorcycle Touring

 When Mary Ann and I went out west this summer, one of my last minute decisions was to wear hiking boots instead of motorcycle boots, to save space.  Otherwise I would have to bring along a pair of hiking boots in my luggage, a huge space waster.

Normally, I ride with motorcycle boots, and I don't usually bother with hiking boots.  I used to pack along a pair of running shoes for comfortable walking after I found a place for the night.  This time, I wore hiking boots while riding and packed along a pair of sandals that were for walking.

There are many issues to consider when gearing up for a motorcycle ride, the first being safety. I have never crashed wearing hiking boots or motorcycle boots, so I don't know  the difference.  My motorcycle boots are not really expensive, so I am not sure how good they would be in a crash.  But I know that they are uncomfortable to walk in.  When I was young, I could walk long distances in flip flops.  Not any more.  I need comfortable shoes, my motorcycle boots hurt to walk further than the length of a parking lot.

A few years ago, I bought a pair of hiking boots that proved to be very comfortable. At first I wore them for walks in the winter slush, and then used running shoes in the summer.  Eventually I found the hiking boots were so comfortable, I wore them all summer as well. Not just for hiking, mostly for walking in the city. They had begun to replace the running shoes. But the boots were bulkier than running shoes, because they came up to my ankle.

On this trip out west, I wanted to bring along my comfortable hiking/walking boots, but they were gong to take up a lot of space, so I started wondering if I could forget about the motorcycle boots and just wear the hiking boots.  Motorcycle boots are about 3" higher than my hiking boots, and motorcycle boots use no laces, so they can't get caught.  Otherwise I saw no advantages to the leather motorcycle boots.  Maybe they are safer, but I have no proof of that.  But I have proof that hiking boots are more comfortable.

My Vulcan has a heel and toe shifter that is easier to use with hiking boots than a toe shifter.  Mary Ann's Burgman has no shifter at all, and you could probably ride it with stilletto heels if you felt like it.  Mary Ann normally rides it with hiking boots.  Her hiking boots are about 1" higher than my hiking boots, so are a little more protective.  And there is very little on the Burgman to snag laces on, so no worries there.

I don't want to make this sound like a product endorsement, because I don't really know what's available on the market.  Anyway, I have an old pair of Keen Targhee II light hiking boots (not the low-cut shoes), which cost about $140 a few years ago.  Before the trip, I bought a new pair of laces for them, as the old ones were shredding.  Then I wore Keen  boots for the entire trip, except when I was wearing my sandals that I also brought along. We never had a crash, so not much to say about safety.  However, this was not one of my higher speed runs either, so maybe I was about as safe overall.  The boots were comfortable, and once I even wore them wading in the Pacific.  We were at a rocky beach that hurt my bare feet so much that I simply put my Keen boots on to go wading.  They took a few days to dry out, but we weren't actually travelling by motorcycle during that time, so it wasn't an inconvenience.  If I had my sandals with me at the rocky beach, I would have worn those instead, as they are better designed for wading.

When we got back from the trip, the Keen Targhee boots were just about worn out. I had come to really like them, so I went back to the same store to buy another pair.  Luckily, they still had a pair for sale my size, but not the same color, and with no reflective threads.

Picture: (1) My Keen Targhees under water at Powell River. (2) A dog belonging to one of my relatives, not sure what the dogs name was any more, there were too many dogs to remember.  The dog is wondering where I'm going in my hiking boots.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lost is Stranded

 The one big disappointment of our trip, it seems, was the lack of any real breakdown to spice up the story. Coincidentally, today, I was answering an email from a fellow Vulcan 900 owner who followed my trip out west on the blog.  We were discussing the fact that the VN900 does not have tubeless tires, and would be hard to repair on the road.  I replied this morning that I have never had a flat on the Vulcan, or on the three bikes before that, for a total of 330,000 km without a flat tire.  Consequently this afternoon I had a flat tire.

Now I have a breakdown to write about, and although it did not happen on the trip, it almost could have.  It was this close.

The flat tire story starts with me taking the Vulcan out for a ride, of course not checking the tire pressure, and leaving my emergency tire pump at home.  About 4 km from town, I experienced a vague feeling in the steering of the bike, kind of hard to describe, but it felt heavy and I had to use a lot of force on the handlebars to turn.  So I pulled over, and the rear tire was visibly flat.  I decided to drive slowly back 4 km to the last gas station on Homer Watson Blvd, to fill it up at the coin operated air pump.

Next, I rode 2.5 km to the next gas station/air pump at Homer Watson and Pioneer Drive.  The tire was losing air so fast that it was flat again when I reached the next pump, but the bike did not appear to be dangerously out of control.  So I pushed my luck again, filled the tire and drove another 1.5 km to the Esso station on Homer Watson and Manitou.  Thinking I was lucky there were so many gas stations on Homer Watson Blvd - almost as many as the Tim Hortons.  Anyway, here  my luck ran out.  I put a loonie ($1 coin) in the slot, nothing happened.  But right above, under the "Have a nice day" sign was a hand written sign that said "Out of order".  By the time I figured this out, the tire was flat again, and I was thinking it was time for plan B, if I had one.

I took about 10 minutes at the Esso station to come up with another plan. The motorcycle shop was closed, so I settled on loading the Vulcan on my little bike trailer, and bringing it home.  So first I needed to get home to fetch the car and trailer. Mary Ann was not home, but I called one of my sons who lives in town and has a car.  Jon volunteered to come and get me and help me out loading the bike on my trailer.  But my car with the trailer hitch was gone with Mary Ann.  So I told Jon to drop me off and I would call him again if I needed him.

When Mary Ann got home, we connected the trailer to the car and headed back to the Esso station to get the Vulcan.  The main problem was that this trailer was built for a bike of half the weight and smaller dimensions. Also, my trailer is built backwards, so that I need to unhitch the trailer to load the bike.  This works OK for a little bike, which I can actually load single handed. But not sure if the Vulcan would fit, or if it did, could I lift the hitch to put it on the ball.  Luckily a teenage boy and his friend offered to help, so we got the bike loaded and the trailer hooked up to the car, and I was ready to roll away when someone noticed that now the trailer had a flat tire.

There was an electric pump in the back of the car, that Mary Ann had purchased the last time she had a flat with the car.  We have never used this thing until today, and as you might guess, we have still never used it.  The cord was too short to reach the trailer tire, and we all agreed that unhooking the trailer again was not an option.  So the young man volunteered to walk home and bring back a complete air compressor system, which he did, and then we plugged it into an outlet on the outside of the Esso station, which I thought I had a right to use due to the lost $1 coin before I saw the "out of order" sign.  The tubeless trailer tire still would not hold air, as the bead was distorted by the weight of the Vulcan motorcycle.  But jacking up the trailer solved that problem and the bead seated itself.

Next problem (you knew there would be a next problem didn't you?  Or are you not a religious person.)  The car's rear hatch would not close.  So we drove home with the hatch open.  Besides, the Vulcan was so long that the rear tire overhung the bed of the trailer, and the rear fender almost touched the hatch of the car when closed.  But later we found that it actually does not touch, and we probably can drive with the hatch closed.

Finally, we got home and went out for a beer and pizza.  Tomorrow I will call Zdeno's to see if I can get a new tire mounted.
A last note.  I found a fresh chalk mark on the front tire of my bike, which I think means that someone was timing me to see if I parked too long in front of the Esso station "out of order" air pump, with a flat tire.  Even though I had talked to the cashier about their pump being out of order, and my bike being stuck there with a flat tire until I could get a trailer.  Or maybe there's another explanation for the fresh chalk mark right in the centre of the tread of the front tire.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thinking about Going East, and Rain Gear

After wrapping up our once-in-a-lifetime trip out west this summer, I was amazed that within a few days, Mary Ann and I started talking about another trip next year, but out East. And that naturally brings me to this topic.  Rain.  Because the only other time I ever tried to do an eastern tour, I got so much rain I made a beeline for the interior, where it is usually dry in the summer.

This summer of 2012 was very dry for us.  We got rain only three times in six weeks while motorcycling.  The first time, in Saskatchewan, we put on our rain gear for about an hour, then stopped for lunch and put them away after, because it had already dried up.  Second time was approaching Victoria BC, where there was no place to pull over and we got wet before stopping at Boston Pizza.  The third and last time was the second last day.  We put on our rain suits, but the rain was long and hard enough that Mary Ann got wet, although I didn't.

Now if we are to go East, we can't expect this much good luck with rain.  So I would like to figure out what was wrong with Mary Ann's gear, and get it right next time.  And this brings me to a discussion of rain gear for motorcycles.  I am going to need a separate paragraph, because my ramblings will not fit in one sentence.

Where are we going with high tech rain gear these days?  One trend I find very disturbing is putting the waterproof layers UNDER the regular jackets and pants.  To the manufacturers, this seems very sensible, I guess.  To me it seems very stupid.  The theory is that you will not have to stop and put on your rain suit, and then stop again to take it off, and I understand the appeal of that logic, but lets get real for a minute.  I do not want to wear a rain suit all day every day in case it rains once on my trip, especially when the temperature is in the 80-100F range or 30-40c range. So that means I have to take off my jacket and pants at the side of the road, when it starts raining, to put my waterproof layers underneath.  Now the jacket is OK, but I'm not doing that with my pants, and neither is Mary Ann.

The fact is, it is impossible to have a cool, protective jacket and pants if they also need to be waterproof.  Gore-Tex or no Gore-Tex.  I just don't understand why the motorcycle gear manufacturers are forcing us down this route, which so far, anyway, has not worked.  I am even doubtful of the use of zip-in thermal liners.

I think it makes sense to wear armoured, protective gear all the time while travelling by motorcycle.  Armoured protective gear can be designed to be cool as well, and I am OK with the gear we have already - except that it came with waterproof and thermal liners, which I am sure boosted the cost.  To prepare for this trip I stripped out all the liners, if any, and instead packed along a few sweatshirts to put on under the jacket if it got too cold.  Those sweatshirts are more versatile on vacation than the jacket liners. In case of rain (or possibly extreme cold), I packed a two piece rain suit to go over the motorcycle jacket and pants. That way I can put it on and take it off beside the road with no embarrassment.  And, even more important, the rainsuit can be more waterproof than the "breathable water resistant" liners that they replace. I say "can be more waterproof" because a lot depends on the material, and the quality of the seams etc.  At any rate, for a rain suit I do not worry about "Breathable" material. It can be totally waterproof non-breathable plastic for all I care.  When I'm riding in rain, I just want to keep the rain out.  When the sun comes out, I will take it off.

Another advantage of stopping to put on rain gear, is that you can also put on protective hand covers and boot covers. It does not take much longer to do, and is very worth while in the rain.  But the trick remains in knowing when and where to stop.

About a decade ago, it was actually more difficult to decide when to put on a rain suit, and when to take it off.  So difficult in fact, that the idea of being able to wear rainproof gear all the time sounded appealing to me, because I hate stopping when I'm going long distances.  And I often was wrong about when to put on or remove the rain suit anyway. But in the year 2012, with radar weather available on my smart phone, some of the guesswork is gone about rain patterns.  So now I'm once again a believer in stopping to put on the rain gear.

Picture: Our first stop to put on rain gear, in Saskatchewan.  Since I already had the smartphone out looking at the weather radar, it seemed like a good idea to also make a phone call home.  And take a picture of what we were doing.  BTW, that is just a side road, not the Trans Canada Highway (Yellowhead Route)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Questions about the Burgie 400

The bikes are too dirty to clean up in one day, so I started by getting the bugs off.  I have tried most of the tricks I read about, but once you get a thick layer of goo, and bake it on for several weeks in the hot sun while adding still more layers, none of the tricks work.  It takes time and elbow grease to scrub off the bugs.

While we were on the trip, several times we ran into grasshoppers on the road.  They sit on the road then jump up just before you get to them.  They have lots of goo in them.  Also, they are big enough to feel like rocks when they hit your legs.  It happens on back roads without much traffic in the west.  So when that happened, I asked Burgie to go in front and clear the road, as it has good leg shields and Mary Ann would not even feel the grasshoppers hitting.  But it did make a mess of the front of  the bikes.

Speaking of good uses for a Burgman.  The picture shows Mary Ann and Burgie parked in front of  Hudsons in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  Whenever we wanted to go into a city, and it was too far to walk from where we were staying, usually Burgie got the job.  Comfy seats, (Important after a day of riding!), automatic transmission (Ditto), and room to lock the helmets under the seat. The Burgman was the right tool for that job.

Was the Burgman 400 the right bike for a ride across Canada and the USA? People had lots of questions about the Burgman on the trip.  "Is it comfortable?" "where are the pedals?" "Where do you put you feet?" "How many times have you replaced the engine?" Well, it seemed to suffer no ill effects. and was running just as strong when we got home as it was on the first day.  It climbed all the hills, took all the corners, and managed an overall average of 82.88 MPG (Canadian gallons).  (or 70 mpg US or 3.41 l/100km)  We had to top up the oil a few times and add air to the tires once, but that was also true of the other bike.  It suited Mary Ann just fine.  I offered to get Burgie an Air Hawk seat cushion, but Mary Ann didn't think it was necessary, after trying out mine for a day.

If it was just me, I might want a bike that could go faster.  Although Burgie has a top speed of 140 kph,  for long distances I might prefer a top speed of 180, so that I could cruise reliably at the average speed of traffic out west, where the highest speed limit I saw was 75 mph, or 120 kph.  And that's the posted speed limit, not the average speed of traffic. Also I like to go on freeways. With Burgie  along, I tried to limit our cruising speed to 100 kph.  I think the Vulcan could have managed 120 travelling alone, and there are many sport touring bikes that could comfortably average 160 all week long. But Mary Ann prefers to go slower and avoid the busy highways, and poke around the back roads. For that, and for city traffic, the Burgman was actually more than adequate.

The one weakness of Burgie's might be handling on loose gravel.  Sometimes you get that in construction zones.  My plan to handle that was to go in front and radio back any problem areas (potholes, deep gravel, slippery sections).  But after the first shocker in Thunder Bay, we never had any really bad gravel again on this trip.  And, anyway, most street bikes have a bit of a problem with loose gravel, not just Burgie.

At first I was a bit disappointed with the fact that Burgie's fuel range was less than the Vulcan's.  But it could actually go about 300 km if you wanted to push it until it was running on fumes, and we finally got into a routine of gassing up whenever we found a convenient station after 200 km, and that worked well.  The Vulcan can go up to 350-400 km before running dry, but I usually fill up at 300 when on my own.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Have You Ever Eaten in Beeton?

We are home now, I am using a real computer.  After 6 weeks, the mouse feels strange and I can't believe the size of the screen.

So yesterday, our last leg was from Midland to Kitchener. We stopped for lunch in Beeton, a first for me, though I have been through the town many times in the past. We parked, looked around and saw four open places to eat, and chose the Muddy Water Hotel and Home for Wayward Girls, as the most interesting.  I cannot define what is an interesting restaurant, but I definitely know one when I see it.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable experience, in case you were wondering, but I'm not a food critic so I will leave that to someone else.  Some of the critics on the internet are hilarious, though a bit harsh at times.  I mean who writes "I would only stop there if I was dead and my hearse driver had to go" or something like that?

When we reached home, Mary Ann, who has been recording all our petrol consumption at every stop on the trip, took the last odometer reading.  Total for Burgie was 10,697 km. total for Lost was 11,002 km.  The discrepancy could be odometer error, and maybe Lost did a few side trips that were longer than Burgie's side trips.  Or maybe Lost did more weaving while riding along while Burgie went straight.  I don't know, but the difference is bigger than I expected.

Now that I can add pictures from our camera, I will include one of those, from back at the summit of the Beartooth Pass. It's higher resolution than my Samsung phone, if you click on it it should fill the screen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Midland, Ontario

We stopped in Midland last night, and because it's the last day of our trip, we went out for a celebration meal. Also, because we could not find the Thai restaurant at the mall. So we ended up at a fancy restaurant, the Library Restaurant. This restaurant is preserving the historic Midland library building. I found it interesting that it was built with a grant from an American millionaire, Andrew Carnegie, who apparently funded hundreds of public libraries all across the USA and Canada in the stated goal of supporting the principles of democracy.

"There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration." — Andrew Carnegie

This ideal is quite a contrast to the way things work today, where money is the sole consideration in winning elections. Is it significant that today this building is used for filling our stomachs and not our minds?

Pictures: I normally think there is something wrong with a person who takes pictures of their food while travelling. Obviously I am running out of ideas. Yes, I got spaghetti and meatballs again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

This One Is Really About North Bay

The previous blog, while written in North Bay, did not mention anything about North Bay. So I will correct that situation here.

North Bay was home to Mike Harris, a famous right wing conservative Premier of Ontario. Apparently the guy at the motel office is a friend of Mike's. So now I'm back to my own local politics. The desk clerk grumbled loudly about "McGuinty's" tax. I said, to be fair, all premiers had sales tax, it was not [the liberal] McGuinty's fault. "He made it bigger.".

Apparently, McGuinty combined the federal and provincial sales tax into one single tax of the same total value, which means to this person,  he increased the tax.

I understand voting for a friend, but voting for bad math? I don't get it. Has our educational system failed us?

OK I still have not really said anything about North Bay. Here I go.

We ate supper at the Chief Commanda. There is also a Chief Commanda II, a tour boat
The other one is the first boat, which is now a floating restaurant. But are you really floating if you are stuck in solid concrete? Anyway, we went in and sat all alone on the top deck. I felt sorry for the waitress, who had to climb a flight of stairs and walk half the length of the ship every time she needed to come to our table. Mary Ann asked for a glass of milk.  No milk. We ordered the pickerel dinner, advertised on the sign at the street. She returned to inform us they were out of pickerel. We didn't want steak, so she went to get the menus again. Then came back to get our second order. Then we ordered dessert, a banana split which was on the menu. Soon she was back up the stairs,and half the length of the ship again. I said "No ice cream?". No bananas. Amazingly enough, we did enjoy our meal, and not just because it reminded Mary Ann of a four star restaurant in the Ukraine. We liked the food and drink we ended up with, the atmosphere was nice, and the final price less than we are used to.

Pictures: the Chief Commanda I.

North Bay, Ontario

Anyone with a map of Ontario could point out that North Bay is not on an optimal route from BC to Kitchener. I don't know if it's because we're having too much fun, but Mary Ann suggested extending the trip a little by pushing on farther east to North Bay, instead of turning south at Sudbury. We did stop for a few hours in Sudbury. Browsed the Farmer's Market, walked  to the Old Rock cafe, went to a Garlic festival, walked back to the bikes and rode  on.

Pictures: in one picture you can see Lola, a cute little dog also doing a cross Canada trip. The others are Sudbury.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

TV or no TV

Everyone knows that, when you get a motel or hotel room, you get free TV. I have never seen a motel so cheap that it had no TV. I don't think it's possible to get a discount for a room with no TV. I usually watch it.

When Mary Ann and I go camping, we do not bring a TV. Some campers do. Or should I say  "campers", because I'm not sure the word camping is being used properly for 80% of campers in north America.

Because this trip was going to be six weeks, and Mary Ann dislikes TV, and with many nights in motels, we worked out a solution. I brought along the internet in the form of an Android phone. This arrangement is working out quite well. I have watched almost no TV for 6 weeks.

Recently, I have watched a little TV. One night I checked out all 45 channels, including HBO. There was nothing worth watching, so I turned off instead of my usual behaviour, which is to flip through the channels in an endless loop. I may be getting off TV for good.

Picture: our balcony at the water park hotel in Duluth, watching traffic on I-35 instead of watching TV. Mary Ann had binoculars, so she could watch stuff further away, like the other shore of Lake Superior.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Yoopers do not Believe in Socialism

We left our hotel/waterpark this morning, and made a pilgrimage to the Aerostich Riders Wearhouse. It is famous among long distance riders for their one piece riders outfit, one of the first to appear, I think it was the early nineties. It was sort of interesting, but not the spiritual experience of Pirsig's picnic table.

Next we stopped for coffee. Rant begins here > There was a TV in the coffee shop. It was tuned to Fox news, sound was off.  Nobody was paying attention to it, except for two aghast Canadians, sitting at the bar, sipping coffee. Somehow, possibly subconsciously, right wing propaganda was spreading it's message. By reading the captions, I consciously was aware of the sign off message. Which said.  "Remember, making money is not a bad thing." The whole scene reminded me of 1984 where big brother decreed that TVs be turned on at all times, broadcasting his slogans, this bad, that good. Then the people start repeating the slogans Making money good, giving handouts bad. The next time we went out was to a pub next to our motel near Marquette Michigan, for pizza. Again, a huge TV was turned on, again Fox News. Again nobody paid attention. If nobody is paying attention but me, why does it have to be on, and tuned to Fox News? Do they see me coming, run over to the TV, and turn it to Fox News so that I may become like them? <End of rant.

After the pizza we went into town on the scooter, where Friday night activities were going on at the waterfront. A live band was giving a concert. The sign said Pink Floyd. I don't know what Pink Floyd sounds like, but there was a guy up the street playing an electric guitar behind a hat with some coins in it, that sounded a lot better.

When we got back to the motel, we had the opportunity to meet some more people. As Mary Ann calls it. People from Michigan's Upper Penninsula are called Yoopers. We had the chance to talk to some Yoopers about Canada, and how socialized it was, and how America would never let it be invaded. My question was, why not tax rich people? Answer: because they provide jobs. Rebuttal: They do not: they shut down plants and send jobs overseas. Smackdown of rebuttal: People overseas need jobs too. You have to think globally, not locally. Apparently we had run into a broad minded right wing conservative.

Pictures: The Marquette cathedral. The statue is St. Francis, I wanted the hat on his head, Mary Ann said no.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Duluth, Minnesota

Last night just after Milnor ND, we stopped for the night just across the border in Minnesota, in Breckenridge. The motel was the least expensive so far; actually cheaper than our most expensive campsite. $45 for the Select Inn, $49 for the West Yellowstone KOA with no hookups. The inn also had free HBO and free continental breakfast, and obviously, walls, roof, floor.

Breckenridge happens to be the start of the Red River, where the Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux rivers come together to be the Red.

Today we crossed the state of Minnesota. This was maybe our first day with uninteresting scenery since we left home. Very flat, farms, trees, traffic; in many ways a lot like home. But still unfamiliar enough that I had to break out the GPS twice just to stay on highway 210. The scenery finally picks up again, as the road comes down the hill into Duluth. Actually, we had totally lost highway 210 by that time, and came in from the northwest.

Once in Duluth, I found a room at "The Edge" Waterpark Resort. I checked in just after a motorcycle gang, so it must be biker friendly. We have a balcony overlooking Lake Superior.

Picture: me, with Duluth in the background. Standing on the rocky shore of Lake Superior. Moon in top left.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pirsig's Picture and mine

When Robert Pirsig* made his trip in 1968, he stopped at a roadside picnic table and took a picture of himself on his bike, with his son, Chris on the back. I did some research to find out where the picture was taken, and decided it was at Milnor, ND. After leaving Bismarck this morning we headed south along the Missouri River, then followed rt 13 all the way to Milnor, located the roadside picnic table, and I lined up for a close to identical shot. The original picture and mine from August 22, 2012 are shown for comparison. The picnic shelter and table look original, though a bit dinged. I'm glad there is no museum built around it, but when two motorcycles passed by without slowing down, Mary Ann yelled "Don't they know anything about motorcycle history?"

* Robert Pirsig is the author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Bismarck, North Dakota

It was almost noon before we left "the Dive". (Apparently the affectionate name for Glendive), but we still made it all the way to Bismarck today.

Before I get into all the holdups, or as Mary Ann likes to call them, opportunities to meet people, I feel the need to comment on the Creationist museum. First the good. We got the senior discount. Although the lady at the desk diplomatically told Mary Ann that she didn't look 61, apparently I looked old enough for them to practically pay me to go in. Secondly, they were very friendly, I don't want to say over-friendly, but then where do you draw the line? Third, I was relieved to NOT see any material accusing Darwinists of causing the Nazi Holocaust. But then I didn't see all their material, otherwise we would never have made it to Bismarck today. Anyway, good for them to not make it too obvious.

Now the criticism. I don't want to get into debating the creation vs evolution thing, so criticism is limited to points of order. They had a display of eminent scientists who supported creation. I don't have a problem with that, but most lived before Darwin's time. And one of the handful of others, was a Nazi whose inventions killed thousands of British civilians even after it was obvious the war was lost.

Now on with the trip. We have been trying to follow the old highway 10, the road that got replaced by interstate 94 soon after Pirsig wrote" Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". As we were driving along, enjoying the slower pace and character of the road, a road crew flag man (actually a young lady) stepped out to say something. There was a 19 mile long construction area ahead, that required a pilot vehicle. So we had to stop and wait for the pilot vehicle to lead us through. There were no other cars around, it was just us and the flag girl. It was also about 90 degrees F. So while we waited, we tried to stay cool by removing our motorcycle gear, and Mary Ann (you must be able to see this coming) struck up a conversation. We were there for maybe 20 minutes in all, not one other vehicle showed up, other than a construction pickup truck. At one point, the flag girl left Mary Ann with the stop/slow sign, to pop across the road to an ancient Greyhound bus station, to buy a lunch. I was amazed they were still serving lunch! Several other cars drove by, as we were actually in the middle of a village, and the flag girl seemed to know all their names. How long have you been on this job? I wanted to know. " This is my first day".  So are you from around here? No, I'm from South Dakota.

At last, the pilot vehicle arrived leading all the traffic going west, which amounted to exactly zero cars.

Pictures: I took some pictures of our stop, including the flag girl, I wanted to ask her boss to snap the pic of the three of us, but I didn't know him very well and he seemed busy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Leaving Glendive

It's 9:11 AM, and we are packed up to leave the inn. Ordinarily, we would just go, but we have some time to kill before the museum opens. So I checked all four tire pressures, and they are still good enough, last check was Victoria BC, I think. Soon we will gas up both bikes, and go to the museum for 10:00.

We have enjoyed the time in Glendive so far. We have talked to an older couple who own an old Harley. We shared a table with them at supper last night, in a very crowded local restaurant. Then while walking over the pedestrian bridge on the Yellowstone river, we met a schoolteacher watering the flowers and talked to her so long, that her family drove by to see if she had fallen off the bridge. And then this morning at the hotel, we sat for breakfast beside an oil explorer/rodeo roper from Arkansas, who is here to look for oil. apparently an oil boom is starting in this area.

Now I hope the museum is worth the wait, as I am feeling the pull of the open road.

Picture: off the internet, I didn't have time to get another picture before it got dark last night, too much talk not enough walk. This picture is in Glendive, but it's not where we go to fill up.

Monday, August 20, 2012

T-Mobile SIM Card

Was it worth while getting the T-Mobile sim card for $50? I have not been able to get any use from it yet, although I might be able to call 911 in an emergency, but I think my Koodo card could have done that too. The first problem is speed. 2G speeds are ten times as slow as Koodos 3G. Also, coverage has often been missing. The result is that I have not yet been in a situation where I needed the internet, and actually waited for a successful download. Then, this morning, I tried calling home, thinking I might get some use out of the rest of my prepaid $50. But no, I was informed that my account did not have enough money to cover even one call to Canada.

But sometimes the Wifi is good, so I can use that. (But I dont need a plan for that) And I did make one local call so far, to see if a place was open.

Dinosaurs Were Here

I was surprised to find out that Glendive is the location of the dinosaur/young earth creationist museum. And actually just a stone's throw from our room at the Day's Inn. (If I could open our window). But then didn't Jesus say something about throwing stones?

We extended our stay in Glendive to two nights, it is a nice room, and there are things to see here. The "Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum" is the "museum" run by Bible literalists, I need to refer to it as the GDFM, just to save typing, and to avoid having to put the word museum in quotes every time.  There are two other dinosaur museums, the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, and the Makoshika State Park interpretive center.

We started this morning at the state park, because the heat would be a problem in the afternoon. The interpretive center is at the edge of the park, and a road goes into the park, so we went on my bike, as it is a difficult road, partly gravel, with 15% grades and switchbacks. But the scenery was worth the risk.

The Makoshika Dinosaur Museum was our next stop. It is a combination museum, music store, and comic book store. But the mix does not detract from the interest, any more than the Frisbee golf course detracted from the state park. It was begun ten years ago by the store owner's daughter, and with his help and enthusiasm, has become a worth while stop on the dinosaur trail. Many original fossils, and at Mary Ann's request, he took us to a back room, where he showed us a couple of real fossils he was working on. That means removing the" matrix", or surrounding material to expose the actual fossil.

The GDFM is closed today, so we will stop there on our way out of town. Can't miss that, because of its widespread press coverage.

Pictures: a few I took today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Glendive, Montana

Billings was actually quite nice. The KOA tent site was not very private, but sometimes that can be more interesting.

I noticed the site next to us had four Indian teenagers, with no adult supervision. I was a bit worried that they might not be well behaved, but they appeared quiet enough, and a few minutes later the mom and dad appeared. We spent about an hour, and had a chat with the father, who recommended that we go to Glendive, as they have a dinosaur park and a badlands viewing area. Mary Ann believes in recommendations, and so here we are. He also told us he is from a reserve in north central Montana, and Mary Ann was interested in finding out what life was like. Some of it is like our lives, for example languages. He and his wife are from different tribes, and although each can speak their native language, they speak to each other in English. And their kids speak English, but only very little of the mom's language. He is a school custodian/bus driver, but also does a lot of hunting. I asked if his teenage kids went hunting with him, and he said yes, even the girl liked it. They would go by truck, with a trailer for the horses, taking riding and pack horse for the meat. He used bow and arrow, or guns depending on the regulations. He cleaned and cut up the meat, used the pack horse to haul it back to the road, then went to get the truck. Then he butchered most of the meat as hamburgers, because that's what his kids like.  Maybe all this is normal for all hunters, but neither Mary Ann nor I know anything about  hunting, so it was quite interesting.

Picture: in front of a drive in restaurant along the road, a metal statue.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Billings, Montana

We made it over the Beartooth Pass and as far as Billings, where we decided to camp again. We are at a KOA, not just any KOA, but the first KOA, established in 1962. I was immediately impressed by the signage. You literally can't miss this KOA. You're never out of sight of a sign, a big sign, telling you to turn or to keep going straight, and how far to the next turn. All the way to the camp office.  This is so much better than the usually one sign, then figure it out for yourself. OK, rant about signage concluded.

Both Mary Ann and I were a little nervous about the Beartooth Pass, but it was fine. I guess all the previous mountain curves and grades from Jasper on have gotten us used to this type of road. In fact, we both admired not only the view, but the well designed lookouts, especially Rocky Creek Point. I imagine it would be so much more shocking going west, to hit this pass after a thousand kilometers of straight flat road.

Dealing with Big Animals

Yellowstone park has big animals like Grizzly bears, elk, and bison. The bigger animals are dangerous, particularly to motorcycles. We watched a movie at one of the visitors centres, that helped explain the danger by showing a collection of videos of elk ramming cars, and a bison attacking a young girl. We missed the beginning of the show, so I didn't know if they also had some bear footage. But the facts are that about 100 large animals a year are killed in collisions, and a number of visitors are hurt from trying to approach too close.

Just before we left the park, we encountered bison herds. The cars in front of us stopped in both directions, entirely blocking the narrow, shoulderless road. Then the herd began to slowly cross the road, and I mean really slow, like stopping in the middle of the road, you could only tell they were crossing by waiting ten minutes to see the numbers of bison had increased on one side compared to the other. We were close to the crossing point on our bikes, and having seen videos of what bison can do, we decided to turn back and wait a safe distance away, at a scenic pullout. After about ten minutes, traffic started to flow, so we tried again. The lineup of cars had disappeared, but one bison walked back to the road to nibble on some grass right beside the road. Immediately, two cars stopped, right in front of us, again totally blocking the road, as one was going in each direction. And the bison was right beside them. This time I attempted to force my way through between the stopped cars. The car facing me pulled to the side a little, giving me just enough space to squeeze through. But the car driver going my way had not seen me and started to move forward. So I continued on, keeping the moving car between me and the bison until I got past it, then fell back and resumed following that car. In the end I don't know which is more dangerous, the animals or the other cars that don't follow instructions, as it was clearly marked as a no stopping zone. I understand if there were animals on the road, but not for animals near the road.

Picture: Paul is showing me his gun collection in Victoria BC. This vintage Russian gun might have been handy to clear the animal-related road blocks in Yellowstone.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Out of Yellowstone

In this picture, I can't remember which one of the hundreds of geysers hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots at the park Mary Ann was looking at. But I do remember her talking to that young couple in the background, who told her they were moving from Ohio to Alaska, on the theory that at least it wasn't Ohio.

That was yesterday, and we found a campsite in the park for $12. It must have been one of the least popular places, 17 km from the nearest store or restaurant, at Lewis lake. Just outside the park are abundant accommodations, but a little pricey, e.g. the KOA at $49, priciest campsite yet, and still no decent Wi-Fi. Lewis lake is run by the Department of the Interior, and has no fancy pretences. Pit latrines, no shower, no Wi-Fi, no laundry, no pool. But there was a raised flat pad for the tent, which we didn't use. And it was dark at night which was great for seeing the stars but bad for finding the latrines.

Today we drove to Cook City and took a motel with Wi-Fi (if you walk around hunting the signal source.)

Facts I learned about Yellowstone. It is a giant volcanic crater called a caldera. It moves under the crust of the earth and every few million years erupts, wiping out a whole mountain range. The Beartooth mountains are next. We're going there tomorrow, hopefully at a faster speed than the volcanic area (about 4 cm per year).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yellowstone Kamping

We are staying the night at the West Yellowstone KOA. Right now the weather is perfect, 22c, sunny and no mosquitoes. The heat wave ended suddenly during the night. We woke up to cold, cloudy skies with a chance of rain. We were still in Butte, and Mary Ann wanted to drive around and give Butte another chance. It did seem better in the morning, also we drove through some residential areas that were better maintained.

Before leaving Butte behind, we stopped at an espresso stand. This one was across from our motel, and despite the small size, had two drive through windows and a free delivery car, and it served Smoothies. But their coffee was not too good and we had to pour out the rest.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Butte, Montana

In my twenties, I was a fan of Evel Knievel. After all, he rode a motorcycle, and was not a criminal, so I felt like a kindred spirit. And because he came from Butte, this city took on some of the significance of Jerusalem. Evel has passed away now, and my enthusiasm for his stunts faded with the Snake River Canyon jump. But now for the first time I can walk where Evel walked and see what Evel saw when his name was just Bobby. And my conclusion? It looks a bit run down from the glory days, or to put it a different way, it had to look better than this when Evel was around.

Pictures: some of our motel, some taken on our walk this evening.