Monday October 21st to Sunday October 27th
Monday October 21st
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I was staying with a wonderful family: Laurie, Ellie, Terri, Tom, Julie and Josh. They kindly took me to the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center to see the multiple exhibits they have there. And then toured me around the area, taking in all of the battlefields which cover a large area.
At the Visitor’s Center they show an excellently produced movie about the Civil War & Gettysburg’s role in it. They also have a Cyclorama room– a 360° painting of the battlefield which lights up in sections when the story is recounted over the speaker system. The first version of the painting by Paul Philippoteaux was completed exhibited in 1883. It was then lost and rediscovered in 1965. To think that one man painted this massive 360° extremely detailed painting is incredible.
The Gettysburg battlefields, the movie, the cyclorama– it all saddened me. Men and women killing each other, the pain, the lost limbs, the destruction of families, towns and cities. How can we do this to each other? How can we stand on a battlefield and shoot someone, bomb them, tear them apart and possibly leave them mangled for the rest of their lives? I watched the scenes and thought of these young soldiers– terrified, standing courageously under orders, fighting for what they believe in. I understand that sometimes war is necessary– to prevent a holocaust, torture and slavery– the extremely honorable sacrifice of lives for the benefit of humankind. That is amazing! What courage! But I wish war and armies weren’t necessary and I wish that we only went to battle when absolutely necessary. There are too many wars fought for causes that aren’t absolutely necessary. And I realized that I’ve led a very blessed life not to have ever faced war firsthand.
A bright, sunny day with good company. I felt a part of the family I was staying with. They all made me feel so welcome. But I have to keep going. I left Gettysburg and headed to Washington, DC, where Phill and Britt were waiting for me.
In the evening Phill, Britt and myself went for dinner and then a very amusing and wonderful tour of Washington, DC in Phill’s Jeep Wrangler, with the top off. Britt and I would jump out at various sights– The Jefferson Memorial, The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, The White House, the World War II Memorial– and Phill would drive around until we were ready to jump back in again. It all felt very SWAT team… Go! Go! Go!… Jump out, tour… “Pick you up on the corner”… Jump back in… Go! Go!Go! It was a great tour, lot’s of fun and all of the monuments were so beautiful at night. Added to that: an almost-full moon, bright white, shining mistily through the clouds above. Surreal.
Tuesday October 22nd
A sightseeing day in Washington DC. I rode the motorcycle to see the White House– amazing to think I got here! I wasn’t sure that I would. I never am sure that I’ll get anywhere. Every day is a present to be opened and to see what’s inside.
Meanwhile, the embers of my relationship back at home were slowly dying out. It didn’t look like our relationship would survive the journey. It’s been a struggle with me being gone.
After the White House I headed to the Newseum– a museum focused on news and media. I enjoyed the Pullitzer Prize Winning photo exhibit, Ethics in Media exhibit, and the 4D movie with my chair moving and wind blowing. I spent some time in the museum as I wanted to understand how stories are told. I have ideas. Throughout the museum I wondered why we focus on the bad news and misery. What about the good news? News and media has to be truthful, unbiased, and report hapeenings in the world, but must it focus on the deadly, the sadness, and the shocking? Couldn’t it focus on the heroic for example?
Then I went to the Old Post Office Tower and made the climb to the top to see the view over Washington DC, and to see the bells given to the USA by Britain to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities.
In the evening Phill, Britt and I decided to go Geocaching– something that my host Gail in Kenora had told me about. It’s a scavenger hunt via an App on your phone. “Caches” are placed around your city and you hunt for them via the App which provides GPS coordinates, mapping, a description of the location, hints and clues. We found two Goecaches that night and had fun reading the clues and hunting for the small packages left behind by others.
Wednesday October 23rd
I headed out to see the Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of grave sites. I wondered around for about an hour taking it all in, then headed towards Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
On the way I was riding along country roads and came across Bull Run, or First Manassas as it’s also known. This was the site of the first major conflict in the Civil War. Much like Gettysburg there is a large area of fields preserved from the battle site. I toured the visitor’s center and wondered why I am visiting so many sites of war recently.
I headed for Luray, Virginia. It was cold, in the 30’s with a severe weather alert: a freeze warning for the night.
I stayed in a nice B&B overlooking the mountains of Shenandoah. Such a beautiful view– whole mountainsides covered in multi-colored trees.
My relationship back home comes to an end. It is sad. We’ve been best friends for two years.
Thursday October 24th
Now that the journey’s end is a little over a week away and my relationship has dissolved my thoughts are turning more towards how I would like the future to look. Certainly a journey like this makes you not want to return to life as it was. A journey like this shows you other opportunities and possibilities. It makes you realize we are all human and each on our own adventure– no better or worse than any other, just different and unique. It gives you a sense of community.
I headed out to Luray Caverns to hunt down the organ and hope that it would be playing as I went through the caverns. Arty had challenged me to post a video of the organ playing in return for a donation to charity. I’ve been in a few cave systems and I would say that Luray is one of the most beautiful, with thousands of stalagtites and stalagmites. I recommend a visit. The organ was playing (it plays for every tour group that goes through). They hold several weddings here each year in The Cathedral– the cavern that contains the organ. It’s quite a unique place to get married. I threw coins into the wishing well and made a wish.
My only goal today was to make it to West Virginia, only a few miles away from Luray. I had figured out that West Virginia was the last US state remaining in which to ride the Triumph on the North American continent– a goal I now wanted very much to achieve. Little did I know it would take me right into the cold weather system that was coming through.
Driving over the Shenandoah Mountains and through George Washington National Forest was a dramatic experience in the Fall. Stunning tree-lined roads, mountains roads that climbed and fell steeply with sharp curves. Long straight roads in the valleys with trees that formed multi-colored, natural road tunnels. Beautiful! I made it to the top of the mountains. It was so cold. I kept putting my gloved hands on the engine to warm up my fingers and letting the warmth flow through the rest of my body. It was there that I crossed into West Virginia. Goal achieved! Every single state– me and the Triumph Bonneville.
I had looked at Google Maps and really couldn’t see any town to stop in. I had no plan. It was the afternoon. The plan became: ride through West Virginia until I found a place to stop for the night. I rode through Franklin. The weather was getting colder and colder. The next town was Monterey (back in Virginia), then Hot Springs and Warm Springs. One of these towns should have a place to stay hopefully. 21 miles to Monterey. It was dramatically colder on this side of the mountains and getting colder. I guessed the temperature was in the 40’s and dropping beyond 4pm. By the time I reached Monterey I had been riding through a snow shower for half an hour. Finally snow had caught up with me.
I pulled into Monterey and asked a lady walking across the gas station lot where the next town was, if there was anywhere to stay and eat in Monterey. She advised it would be best to stay in Monterey– not much of anything further on. I realized I was standing there with my teeth chattering. Ok, I was done for the day.
I headed to the motel a block away and booked myself a room. Turn up the thermostat and keep all the layers on. I stepped outside– still snowing. More snow predicted through the night. Temperatures below freezing predicted and into the morning.
I was concerned about the cold the next day and riding in it. I had two days to ride 270 miles to Raleigh, North Carolina where my friends Todd and Meredith were expecting me. The plan for the next day: bundle up as much as possible, get out of Monterey and try to ride at least 50 miles to the east where temperatures promised to be around 15 degrees warmer. If I was lucky I could perhaps make it 135 miles– half way to Raleigh.
Friday October 25th
29°s in the morning, with a high forecast in the 30’s. Six layers of clothes on the top, four layers on the bottom, balaclava, two pairs of gloves, and two pairs of socks. I’d stay as warm as I could. I just had to make it 50 miles over the mountains to the other side. It was the coldest day of the journey so far.
No snow this morning. I half expected the bike to be covered in snow when I woke up but it wasn’t. Blue skies and the sun is shining. Thank you!
I made it over the mountains and I felt relieved. I had stayed warm. I could keep going. The only cold parts of me were my fingertips and my nose. Everything else was A-ok. The journey was beautiful along Route 250 east towards Staunton– a drive I would rate very highly. If you’re ever in the area take Route 250.
I kept going. My thinking was ‘get as far south as you can today and maybe head into warmer weather.’ 135 miles, half way to Raleigh and I still kept going, just in case tomorrow was also a frigid day.
The roads I took through Shenandoah were amazing. Tight mountain switch back turns, 15ph stuff at points. Gorgeous tree lined roads. Then through farmlands. Virginia is gorgeous. I was heading east and then south. Got to keep riding and get as far as I can.
I kept sneezing. I hoped I wasn’t coming down with something. Orange juice. Vitamin C. If I kept going I would also make the 21,000-mile mark. I kept going. 21,000 miles! Made it! And Raleigh– I made it the whole way! 270 miles today. How on earth did I do that?
I found a room at La Quinta because I was now a day ahead of schedule and Todd & Meredith hadn’t received my message in time that I had made it to Raleigh. I didn’t want to inconvenience them at the last minute. I was feeling more ill. I headed to Walgreens to buy cold medicine and then went to bed hoping I would sleep the symptoms off.
Saturday October 26th
I woke up with a full blown cold and feeling run down. I didn’t want to get Todd & Meredith sick so I booked another night at La Quinta, stayed in my room, slept, watched a movie (“Craigslist Joe”), blogged a little, ate, rested and rested more– as much as possible. Tomorrow I had to be back on the road to keep on schedule for the finish line in Miami. My hope was that I would wake up feeling well enough to ride 250 miles as planned.
Watching “Craigslist Joe” I felt some affinity with his journey. We had very different journeys and I would say his was harder than mine since I never had to sleep in such rough conditions or stay up until 4am with nowhere to lay my head. I’ve been very blessed with comfortable rooms in people’s houses and motels. But there are certain commonalities– the sense of community, the not knowing where you are going to stay, listening to people’s stories, the generosity of people, inspiring people and being inspired, touching moments, gifts, feeling you’d been with someone for a month when it had only been two days, the sadness of poverty, having to leave people behind– all this is the same.
Sunday October 27th
My plan was to go to church. However, because my cold had prevented me from seeing Todd & Meredith yesterday as planned I made them the priority and headed to their place for breakfast with them before setting out on the road. We caught up and spent a few hours together, after 6 or so years of not seeing each other. I was wonderful to see them.
Day #3 of my cold. Not feeling great on the road isn’t very much fun. I managed to ride 150 miles or so before the light of the day set behind the horizon and I quickly found a place to stay. The temperatures were up in the 60’s today and I can’t tell you how good that felt after the recent cold weather. There’ll be no more cold weather from here on out. It’ll just get hotter and hotter. And I am looking forward to it!
Exactly one week until I cross the finish line. It’s beginning to feel very close and very far away. Right around the corner but a world away from mine for the last four months. It’s going to be very strange, very different, and it’s going to take some getting used to. I arrive in South Carolina. This is the final stretch towards home.
Monday October 7th to Sunday October 13th
Monday October 7th
Feeling miserable in a cell of a motel room on the outskirts of Boston. I felt unsafe in the area. I’m increasingly disliking the feeling of being in cities whilst on the journey. The motel has was fenced in. I wonder, is it time to move out of the big city I live in and move to a simpler place? There’s a certain fear and standoffishness that pervades a city. In a city I need to keep on eye on the motorbike.
I was headed for Hyannis on Cape Cod, not knowing that it is the home of the Kennedy family. I randomly chose a town half way up the island for convenience. It has often happened on this journey that I find myself in the perfect location without putting any great planning into it. Prayer is often all the planning you need.
Boston’s rain was still hanging around in the early part of the morning and then changed to a mix of sunny and overcast. The rain has been the worst to deal with. The rain makes the days colder and stops you from doing so many things, like jumping off the bike for that quick photo op. It’s even difficult to put gloves back on when your hands are wet.
I set the GPS to take me along the back road of Massachusetts, heading through small towns such as Plymouth. Plymouth, a lovely little town. I noticed lots of signs about pilgrims. I was about to leave town when I saw a sign for Plymouth Rock. Ohhh, really? That’s where I am? Wow. That changed everything. I parked the bike and took a wander around. I went to see Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower from across the water.
I arrived on Cape Cod and loved how pretty it was. “I could live here,” I thought.
Tuesday October 8th
Mia, my couch surfing host very nicely toured me around Hyannis, showing me all the sights, telling me all the history, showing me where the Kennedy’s live. Then I set off for Provincetown on the end of Cape Cod, and then back towards Rhode Island. A beautiful sunny day. At last.
I stopped along the northern shore of Cape Cod and watched the seals playing in the ocean. There was a sign advising swimmers that Great White Sharks inhabit the waters.
Provincetown turned out to be Cape Cod’s answer to Key West in Florida. Quaint old homes and streets with a main promenade of boutique shops. The Pilgrim Tower is here, celebrating the probable site of the pilgrim’s first landing (not Plymouth Rock). I didn’t find the town to be motorcycle friendly, i.e. the parking lots nearly all said “No motorcycles”, so I rode around and left. The town was full of tourists. The roads leading into town lined with old seaside motels. I imagine in the summer it’s difficult to get around due to traffic congestion.
I stopped outside of Provincetown to see where the pilgrims first found, fresh water. I took a walk through the woods amazed that I was walking where the pilgrims first walked in this strange new land. There was a sign warning of the presence of poison ivy. I’ve never really seen poison ivy or felt it. Part of me wanted to brush up against some to see what the reaction would feel like. But I didn’t. The woods were much like those in England and I wondered what the pilgrims thought of coming thousands of miles to find landscapes with such a familiar feel to them. I love the peace of being out in the countryside alone.
That evening I arrived in Warren, Rhode Island. My hosts cooked loin and roasted vegetables. I was staying with Artemis, Alan and Katerina. Artemis had found out about my journey from a blast sent out on Facebook by Triumph, and had followed my journey for a while on Facebook and then kindly extended an invitation to come and stay with them.
Wednesday October 9th
Ran a few errands with Artemis and then to the mansions of Newport and a walk along the cliffs. It’s amazing to think that some people can amass such wealth to build homes like the mansions of Newport. And they are just the summer homes! They are huge with beautiful grounds, all lining the cliff’s edge, looking out over the ocean.
We took a walk around Warren to look at some of the churches. We stopped by St. Michael’s. The church was closed but there were two ladies standing outside. Artemis knew one of them and asked if they were waiting for the church to open. Yes, they were– for a yoga session. The church provides free yoga sessions. The sanctuary inside is stunning. I can only imagine how moving yoga in that sanctuary could be.
Thursday October 10th
I headed from Rhode Island towards Torrington, Connecticut. There was a couple of National Geographic “Drives of a Lifetime” that I wanted to do in Connecticut.
I rode along Route 169 in eastern Connecticut, through autumnal trees and woods, and New England wood-paneled homes. It was beautiful and cold. I was feeling fed up of feeling chilled to the bone. But the drive along perfect roads, that bent and rose leaving you feeling like you were riding a roller coaster made up for the chill factor.
I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and someone left $10 on my bike for me. I think it was the guy who walked passed and asked what I was doing and where I was going. I went inside and when I came back out he had departed and $10 was sitting strapped to my bike. The generosity of people sometimes is really heartwarming. It’s not all bad. In fact people are mostly good.
Friday October 11th
A cold night but thankfully a warm day. No chills to the bone on the bike today, thankfully, at last. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I took a National Geographic “Drive of a Lifetime” in a circuitous route from Torrington in western Connecticut, down to New Milford and back up to Canaan, via Routes 202, 109 and 7. The road was truly like a roller coaster taking my stomach with it. Perfect roads and sharp bends through woods. There were times that I felt slightly out of control, just like on a roller coaster. But still, I knew it was going to be ok. “Whooaaaaaa!,” I said sometimes and laughed. I hit 19,000 miles today (or 30,500 km).
I rode into Liberty, New York. Liberty and the nearby towns all looked like they had seen better days. It seemed that businesses had been moving out. Buildings looked dishevelled and run down. The day was wearing on. No time to go anywhere else. Liberty it was for the night. I searched Yelp for a place to stay and found the Lazy Pond B&B. I decided to head there and was delighted by what I found– 12 acres of wooded lands, three wood-paneled buildings and rooms that made you feel like you were sleeping in your own house.
That evening I watched a Diane Sawyer 20/20 Special with Malala. Malala said, “Girls should be able to realize their dreams too.” Malala’s dream is to become a politician.
Saturday October 12th
I was very thankful to be staying at Lazy Pond B&B. Two nights somewhere is always good because you can settle in and leave your belongings and explore without them for once.
I readied for the day with the plan to head to the site of the Woodstock concert. I went out to the bike, looked at the chain and… Oh my word! Droopy! I had planned on a day riding around the Catskill mountains after going to Woodstock. Well, that ride wasn’t going to happen.
I found Rockwell Cycles on the Internet, about 60 miles away. I called and spoke to Nick. He said he could fit me in if I got there between 3 and 4 pm. I looked at my watch. This was now going to be a rushed day with no riding through the Catskills. Technically I was staying in the Catskills so I guess I’d have to be satisfied with that.
I headed to Yasgurs Farm in Bethel about 20 mins away, the original site of the Woodstock concert. I met three ladies there and they told me their dreams of finding that one special relationship, and health and success for one of their daughters. They said my journey was inspiring and that it made them want to do something for charity.
I looked at the fields and tried to imagine 450,000 people in this small place. It was a 600 acre farm but where I stood it looked just like a big field, not nearly enough room to fit that many people. The surrounding roads are small country lanes, bendy, hilly, and narrow. How on earth did they get all those people, the bands, the trucks, everything here? It seems physically impossible. No wonder surrounding houses became islands in a sea of people.
I had about an hour remaining, enough time to visit the museum before I had to leave for Rockwell Cycles in Fort Montgomery, close to West Point. I met two big, burly guys on the way to the parking lot who said “that takes guts” when they heard about my journey. I hope it inspires them to dream big.
The ride to Fort Montgomery was very windy, like struggling through glue. Traffic was horrendous by Bear Mountain. Traffic was backed up for miles– Octoberfest plus a football game. After sitting in traffic for some time it became obvious I wasn’t going to make the appointment and I’d have to wait two days until they re-opened on Tuesday. A group of four motorcycles cut down the center of the two lanes of cars. I decided to follow, using them in front as a shield for any motorists that took exception and tried to cut us off. There were a few of those motorists trying to squeeze us against cars in the other lane thereby stopping us from proceeding. Their plan didn’t work and thankfully our motorcycles were able to make it through safely.
I made it to the appointment late but Rockwell Cycles were still able to do the work I needed before they closed. It was a relief to get there. The dealership informed me that I wouldn’t have been able to go too much further with the existing chain without breaking it. Two more days riding to another dealership could have meant a breakdown on the way. I was very thankful that a new chain was installed just in time. I also bought a new, brighter headlight. The headlight I had supplied very poor visibility at night, dangerously so I thought. I was also able to purchase a new right hand mirror to replace the one that had been precariously glued on and lasted since Anchorage (with some re-gluing and falling off along the way).
Sunday October 13th
I was still in Liberty, NY and had arranged with the B&B to go to church and then come back and collect all my gear. I had chosen First Presbyterian Church of Liberty because it was the first church I saw coming into town, because it was Presbyterian, and because they had a sign outside announcing a fish ‘n chip dinner in a couple of weeks. Sounded like the perfect place for a Brit to go to church!
In the pews was a single blue welcome card for visitors, right next to where I chose to sit. I couldn’t see any more of them around me in other pews. The card announced on the front “I Wish…” and inside “”We want to make your wishes comes true.” It was a nice welcome. I felt at home. It was a message very similar to that of this journey– dreams.
I had come to yet another church with an interim or guest pastor. I’ve visited so many of them on this trip. I wonder why. The Rev. John H Jenner was the itinerant pastor for this week. I learnt later in speaking to him that he was homeless for some time. I wished I’d had time to spend with him and hear his story. Again it was another service full of the word “endure” and a theme of endurance. I felt for the third time that I was getting confirmation that the journey must go on. “Keep going!” is the message I received. If God keeps telling me to keep going then it must be an important journey to Him.
I collected some of the dreams of the congregation. One person’s dream focused on the revitalization of the area and Liberty itself. He said that Liberty was a poor town with very few job opportunities. He seemed to be suffering from the lack of opportunities.
I left Liberty and headed down the beautiful tree-lined Pallisades Highway through New York City, along a very long Long Island, all the way to Montauk at the end of the island. I arrived after dark on a cold night and was thankful for my new headlight.
I would be staying with Courtney and Tim in Montauk for a couple of nights before heading back west towards New York City. A young couple. Courtney wise beyond her years and Tim a light-hearted soul who’s mission it was to catch his first fish. It was a house full of laughter and happiness. They were always giggling. It made me smile. It’s so wonderful to see a happy couple enjoying each other so much.
Monday September 23rd to Sunday September 29th
Day 85 – Monday September 23rd
I was staying one night in one of Debbie Eden’s apartments in St. John, New Brunswick. The day started with Debbie giving me a walking tour of the city and the market. It’s an historic city. All the houses built in the 1800’s. Like a lot of port cities (Seattle, San Francisco, etc) the city burnt down and had to be rebuilt. It’s a gritty and authentic city with plenty of character. It still has the feeling of an old fishing port. It’s real. I like it.
Debbie’s Japanese daughter-in-law and grandson joined us for breakfast at Cora’s restaurant– her and her husband (Debbie’s son) have just returned from living in Japan. Michael is now helping to run the family business of apartment buildings. Debbie gave me a tour of one. They are all big historic brick buildings and they’ve done a great job renovating them– wood floors, high ceilings, interior design at it’s best. From talking to Debbie it seems that St. John would be a good place to buy property, renovate it and sell. St. John used to be the biggest city in Canada at one point. Now it is past it’s glory days but I still like it.
Debbie took me on a driving tour of the city which I was very appreciative of. We headed up to the Reversing Falls. They are not falls, it’s a wide river with rapids. But the unique thing is that the tides rise in the Bay of Fundy so rapidly, and so high, that the tide reverses the flow of the whole river!
Later in the day I rode from St. John, New Brunswick and headed to Maine. I crossed the border at a town called St. Stephen’s. I was back in the USA. I had also crossed the last of 10 time zones, and completed 16,000 miles.
I was sad to be leaving Canada. I felt right at home there. I entered the USA with some reticence and was greeted by a surly immigration person. I aimed for Bar Harbor just outside Acadia National Park. What a lovely surprise Bar Harbor is! Quaint. Lots going on. Swish hotels and B&B’s. I think it’s Maine’s answer to Key West, except a bit more upscale.
I had Maine lobster for dinner. I was dying to try it. I’d been told it’s so succulent here– it just melts in your mouth. I must have chosen the wrong lobster restaurant because I found it to be just as chewy as in Florida, and not as melt-in-your-mouth as the hype had suggested. I hope one day I come back and find a restaurant serving melt-in-your-mouth lobster.
Day 86 – Tuesday September 24th
Up at 7am ready to go! Jumped on the phone at 8am– TicketClinic to pay a speeding fine from before the trip, called and sorted out the water bill at home, called two Triumph stores in Toronto to set up a service appointment, and sent out some Couch Surfing requests for Toronto.
A freezing day outside and damp. My goal– to ride to the top of Cadillac Mountain, Maine and then get on the road to Berlin, New Hampshire so that I can ride the Mount Washington Auto Road tomorrow.
I hoped I would stay warm. Bad fogging of visor and glasses in the morning’s wetness. I could hardly see a thing. It was too wet and not there wasn’t enough grip on tires to go to Cadillac Mountain. I arrived at the park entrance and decided not to go any further. My rear tire needed replacing. It was causing the bike to squirrel (wobble) on corners. So I missed Acadia Nat’l Park and Cadillac Mountain and headed southwest, hopefully out of the rain.
Kids being kids, I have been asked by a couple of UrbanPromise children, “where do you go to the bathroom?” You’ve got to love them. Good question. Today was one of those days I couldn’t find one. If I could have ridden cross-legged I would have. “At a gas station,” is usually the answer. Today it was a few “No, sorry.” Ugh! It’s fine when you’re in towns, but when you’re riding through miles of countryside you have to wait for either a town or a secluded copse.
I arrived at the bottom of Mount Washington. It was around 5:30pm. The road was closed for the day. I booked a room at the Top Notch Motel in town. It was a cold day today but according to the guy at the motel it was worse up on the mountain– snow, ice and hurricane force winds. That didn’t sound promising. Tomorrow was forecast for a clear day but only 36 degrees as a high. Brrrr.
Day 87 – Wednesday September 25th
Waiting. Waiting for the prognosis from the weather station on top of Mount Washington. Would I get to ride it today? Waiting, waiting. I’m the last one to leave the motel. Only my motorcycle in the parking lot. The answer comes: “too windy, we’re not letting motorcycles up on the mountain.”
I needed to stay on schedule for the UrbanPromise visit in Toronto. I couldn’t wait another day. Time to head west towards Toronto.
Through New Hampshire, with the leaves turning color, and into Vermont. I stayed as north as I could because I didn’t want to repeat roads (I’d be coming back to the Auto Road for another attempt). When I return it will be eastward along more southerly roads.
I stopped in Johnnysburg to fill up with gas. The guy running the station, Earl, had his Harley parked outside and proceeded to tell me he’d ridden 160,000 miles on it, just in the local area! I grabbed a coffee and a snack bar. “On the house!” he said. “Thanks!” I replied, shocked.
Somehow I rode too far north and landed at the Canadian border. It was a small town. I turned around and rode south. As I did so I noticed that one residential street in town was blocked off with planters and next to them was an official Canada sign. The border– guarded by flower pots.
As horrible as it may sound I’ve discovered that I like the smell of skunks as I drive by. Just a whiff is ok. Three wild turkeys crossed the expressway. I see plenty of moose warning signs but no moose. The trees are all colors going through Vermont. Beautiful.
I go south and west, right underneath the Canadian border, as close as I can get. All day long I see customs buildings at regular intervals. I make it all the way to Ogdensburg, in the dark, and find a motel. The days continue to get shorter. It’s dark now by 7pm.
Day 88 – Thursday September 26th
What an an absolutely fabulous sunny and warm day! I departed Ogdensburg after having a little exploration through town. Old wooden houses. The town seems to have had better days. Perhaps a population of a few thousand. On the outskirts of town, along the main highway, there’s the usual big box stores situated in big parking lots. Today I was happy to see them– a new pack of long life lithium batteries for the Spot Connect GPS tracker.
The Canadian border was just outside Ogdensburg. I had to cross a long, metal grated bridge to get there. The bike weaved the whole way across (reaction of knobbly tires on metal grating). Unnerving to say the least. 25mph was my top speed.
I crossed the border easily. The official was very nice. I set the GPS to take back roads towards Whitby, just outside Toronto. I headed through the town of Perth– gorgeous stonework on the buildings! Reminds me of Kendall in the Lake District in England. A little piece of home. The country roads were perfect and so was the weather. I was glad to be riding today. An absolute joy! A guy on an ATV says, “safe travels man, that’s awesome” as he checks out my loaded bike. Today I cried out, “I love Canada!” And I do.
Day 89 – Friday September 27th
Off to GP Motorcycles in Whitby to get a new rear tire, the chain tightened, an oil change and overall check up. I took a fully-loaded bike to get serviced and unloaded everything in the work bay.
I sat in the waiting area until 3pm, mostly working on preparations on what to say to the children at UrbanPromise Toronto at 4:30pm. I left at 3:15. It takes an hour or so to get to UrbanPromise. Perfect. Except… I leave and two blocks away the right hand mirror falls off the bike and bounces down the road. Great! I quickly turn around and we super-glue it back on at the dealership.
I fight the traffic across town. Toronto traffic is bumper to bumper. There seems to be no end to the cars for all of the hour-long journey. I arrive 15 minutes late but it’s ok. The children are not quite ready.
The children are all pleased to see me. I speak to them from the stage. They sit below on the floor. There’s a big screen behind me with my route map on it. We talk geography– where I’ve been. And animals– what I’ve seen and could have seen. They ask me lots of questions. They were all so inquisitive. “How much gas?”, “Where do you sleep?”, “Are you going to show us your motorcycle?”, “Can we see it?”, “Will you ride it for us?” I told them how I came up with the idea for the journey, how we’re all doing something for them because they are special, I asked them about their dreams, and then the best of the best– we headed out to the parking lot with great excitement to see the bike that had been to the Arctic. They knew about the brakes, exactly where they were. They wanted to know everything about the bike. “Please, will you ride it around?” And so I did. Down the parking lot and back. “Yayyy!” “Again! Faster!” So I did. “Yayyyy!” We all took photos together before I departed.
I left the children and headed towards my host’s house in Burlington– Jennifer. I arrived to the irresistible aromas of dinner cooking. I hadn’t eaten since 9 in the morning. It was a welcome arrival. I met her potential new roommate and we both agreed he wasn’t a good fit.
Day 90 – Saturday September 28th
Jennifer has her motorcycle license. No motorcycle though, not after an accident where she fell and skidded across a bend in the road and received the bruises and road-rash to show for it. But today we were going to get her back on a motorbike and go for a tour around the Burlington area.
Jennifer pointed out the highlights of Burlington from the passenger seat and I was careful to take the bends slowly and not do anything that would make her apprehensive. I was hoping she would feel more comfortable about being on a bike again after such a long while. We headed up to Rattlesnake Point– a steep road with hairpin bends. We went down, and up, and down again. Jennifer did well with the steep hairpin turns. A successful trip!
We arrived back around 4pm and quickly got ready to take the Go Train into Toronto. I had a challenge to complete– eat a burrito at the Big Fat Burrito in Kensington Market. We arrived in the city and were flooded with hundreds of people on the streets, most of whom were wearing Toronto Maple Leafs hockey shirts and were off to see the game at the stadium a few blocks away. We met Brett from UrbanPromise (wearing his Maple Leafs shirt for the game) and he gave me a “Free Hugs” t-shirt that had been shipped to me from Miami. That challenge is yet to be completed– “give 100 free hugs.”
Jennifer and I grabbed a taxi and headed towards Kensington Market. It’s a funky, artsy area with murals on walls and a car with plants in it. There’s also a car covered in butterflies. All sorts of restaurants and shops– a mixture with an artsy/healthy/social flare. It’s the kind of place you expect to find a poetry reading going on in some cafe. We found the Big Fat Burrito and when I got my burrito… well, they are not joking, it’s huge. And good! Challenge completed we headed back on the train. It reminded me of my time in London, heading home in the dark on a full train on a Saturday evening, all sorts of socializing and conversations going on.
Day 91 – Sunday September 29th
Ahhh, I slept great and woke up refreshed. I got ready and headed out to Knox Presbyterian Church for Sunday morning service. Emma is the pastor there. She’s new. So many of the churches I’ve visited have new pastors. It’s great to see the new, fresh faces coming in.
The prayer of confession was perfect this morning. It really came from the pastor’s heart. It was wonderful. The church is full of old people as most seem to be these days and I wondered why. I wondered, “is it because they have accumulated knowledge and wisdom throughout their lives and this is where it’s brought them to? This is where they know they can put their trust– in a relationship with God. They come because they are wise. They know.”
The sermon was good. It focused on the pastor’s first mission trip to Cuba. I got a lot out of it. The service ended in an unorthodox way– a pre-arranged fire drill, the first for them in two years. We all headed out to the parking lot in an orderly manner and waited to be counted. Great! All present! We all got out alive! Emma gave the parting benediction in the parking lot. It was great on a beautiful sunny day. I spent quite some time with the people at coffee hour exchanging stories.
Then I headed to another “suburb” of Toronto, a city called Etobicoke, to meet my old friends Dana and Rebecca McArdle. I hadn’t seen them in about 7 years. We spent 4 hours catching up with our lives. It was great to see them. They are really good people with good hearts. Dana wants to start a free athletic club for children, giving them a place to go. Since meeting he’s begun working on his plans. I hope his dream comes to fruition!
Monday, September 16th to Sunday, September 22nd
Day 77 – Monday September 16th
Woke up in Annie and Samuel’s house in Quebec City. Annie had very kindly left me a key to get in and out. She doesn’t normally do that with couch surfers. I felt honored that she felt comfortable with me to give me a key to the house, so I could leave when I was ready. Annie and Samuel had both already left for work for the day.
I spent some time in the morning reading (2 Corinthians 9:6-12) and I noted in my Journal the verses. It struck a cord. It encouraged me. I hope it encourages others. When the time has come for a need to be supplied on this journey it has been provided. I want to recognize that and say “thank you!”
Thoughts followed on… Mario (in Montreal) said the world is all about relationships. It all comes down to that. That’s why prayer is important. It’s relational. And our dreams… they become our stories, our stories become relationships, our lives are relationships built of stories. The best stories begin with our dreams because our dreams are the seeds that sprout from our core, the essence of us.
Mario also said that there are reflections in everything. He said look at the lightening in the sky and look at how brain synapses fire– they look the same. There are repeated patterns all around us.
I headed out to wander for a few hours around old Quebec City. It took me about four times of driving around the old walls before I found a parking spot, because they don’t allow ugly, loud motorcycles in the quaint old city. Good for them! It makes the old city such a tranquil place.
I visited the Notre Dame Basilica. So much gold above the alter! It’s huge! I walked most of the city and loved it. Such a beautiful place. You feel like you’re in old France. I sat in Plaza Royale and had a big bowl of cafe latte (the French way) and a chicken and Brie sandwich. Ahh, old Europe! Here it is in the middle of Canada.
I walked down the picturesque Champlain and back up the steep hill to see the Chateau – the most photographed hotel in the world. Annie told me later that there is a race (or challenge) each year to see how many steps each person can go up– who can last the longest. Old Quebec City is built partly on top of a cliff, and partly below it. It’s a tiring climb from the bottom to the top.
Around 4 I headed back to Annie and Samuel’s. They were both home from work. Annie had very nicely offered to drive me over to Ile d’Orlean. I had heard that the island (the size of Manhattan) was very picturesque. And it is! Out of all the places I’ve seen, it is Ile d’Orlean that I would love to move to. Historic houses and farmlands everywhere. All of the houses must be kept up to standard and of the period. Red tin roofs, matching shutters on the windows, white wood paneling, farms, apple and strawberry fields, views of the St. Lawrence River and the mountains beyond. We bought fresh apples and blueberries.
Then Annie took me to see Montmercy Falls. I was impressed from the observation decks and suspension bridge over the falls. The falls were all lit up at night. Annie said that people will ice climb the frozen portion of the falls in the winter, are they mad?!? And that people die in the undercurrents in the river above the falls each year, where you’re not supposed to swim.
Day 78 – Tuesday, September 17th
It was a cold night last night. Close to freezing. It feels much better this morning. Annie and Samuel have already left for work. I get ready. We leave each other “nice to meet you!” notes. They’ll always be welcome in Miami, along with everyone else that I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
I head out towards Woodstock, New Brunswick. I started with the intention of taking the expressways out of the city, but somehow managed to find myself right in the middle of Quebec City again. A wrong turn. But as always, a wrong turn brings pleasure. I got to ride all the way through the city and see more of the other residential areas. I would definitely consider living in Quebec City. It is charming.
It was a chilly 16°C along the St. Lawrence River and it began to rain. From warm clothes to piling on the layers and the waterproofs. I stop at Tim Horton’s for a warming cup of tea. I love hearing “Bonjour!” when I walk in. It sounds great.
Back on the Trans Canada Highway. I’ve ridden almost the whole length of it now! Getting closer to the end of it.
I crossed the border into New Brunswick– the only officially bilingual province in Canada– and discovered that I’d crossed a time zone and lost an hour. It’s much better going west and gaining hours. I had incorrectly expected the time change in Nova Scotia. Oh well, better get going before it gets dark on me!
It did get dark before I reached Woodstock. I had misjudged. I don’t like riding in the dark for a couple of reasons– the headlight on the Booneville is honestly pathetic. It gives light for about 10 yards. I need to do something about this when I return to Miami. And secondly, the wildlife starts coming out and visibility drops. I do not want to be hitting a moose, deer or bear. I would never see them coming. But this evening I did end up riding in the dark for about an hour.
After dinner I stayed in my room and watched “Into The Wild”, the story of Christopher McCandless and his adventure into Alaska, where he ultimately died. I wondered, “what do our journeys have in common?” Travel, Alaska, not the way of living, introspection, people that we met in our separate travels. We have very different stories. He really was in the wild. I wasn’t. Not like he was. He was gone for a couple of years. I’m gone for four months. I noted in my journal some of his last thoughts that he wrote as he was dying alone in the wilds of Alaska… “When you forgive you love, when you love God’s light shines on you”, “happiness is only real when it’s shared”, “to call each thing by its right name”, and finally he writes “I’ve lived a good life, thank you Lord. God bless you all!” He died at the age of 24 after 113 days living in a abandoned bus in the Alaskan bush outside of Denali National Park. I did not know until now that that my journey took me within a few miles of where he died.
Day 79 – Wednesday, September 18th
A lovely sunny day! A bit chilly, but beautifully sunny. Autumn trees of all colors through New Brunswick. Wild, I didn’t expect it. I visit the world’s longest covered bridge in Hartland and blow through it twice. Great fun! I head towards Prince Edward Island. I think I can just about visit the island for one day. I spent the day just focused on riding to Prince Edward Island and I made it to Summerside. I don’t know why I decided to make a left and go to a smaller town, rather than going right and heading to PEI’s main town, Charlottetown. To get on the island I rode over the Confederation Bridge, 8 miles long!
At one point during the day a wasp flew into my helmet. I couldn’t quite figure out where it was or how it was stuck there. All I could see was it crawling across the lower rim of my visor. If it was outside my visor– great! But how could it stay there at 60mph? Perhaps it was inside my visor? If it was inside it was highly likely to blow up into my face. It freaked me out and wouldn’t leave. It was a few miles before I could pull of the highway. By the time I stopped it had vanished. I don’t know when or how it vanished, but very thankful it wasn’t sitting on my face or stuck somewhere inside my helmet.
Day 80 – Thursday, September 19th
Yesterday Alison Etter, a minister at Greenward United Church in Cape Bretton, accepted my couch surfing request to come and stay with her in Baddeck. Funnily enough, Alison had seen Rev. Hallie’s Facebook post at the beginning of my journey on the Young Clergy Women’s Facebook page. Alison immediately recognized my story and wrote back, “yes, come and stay! I read about your journey a while ago!”
Before I set off for the 250 miles or so to Cape Breton I decided to ride around Prince Edward Island and see as much of it as I could. I definitely wanted to see Ann of Green Gables’ house. It was here that Ann of Green Gables was set. I followed what I thought were the signs to the house on the other side of the island. The signs took me on a very scenic and roundabout journey around the northwestern end of the island, down country lanes, through farmlands, and no towns or villages until much later.
On the way I blew past a church that looked like something from Disney World. A Cinderella’s Castle of a church. “What was that?!?!” I turned around and went back to take photos. It was in the middle of nowhere, tucked in the midst of fields. It turns out it was St. Mary’s Church where they hold the Indian River Music Festival, and according to the infallible Internet, “due to the acoustics it is one of the top 10 places in the world for concerts”.
I found Ann of Green Gables house. I snuck a peek around the Visitor Welcome center and took a photo that way, but didn’t want to pay the $7 or so to get in. It was more important to me to see the villages and the surrounding countryside of Cavendish– that was what inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write her novel.
It was a beautiful, perfect day. Prince Edward Island is a rural heaven. At times I found myself riding along dirt roads as I tried to find my own way back to the Confederation Bridge without the use of GPS. Quite a few wrong turns later I arrived at the bridge and left PEI. The toll for the bridge is $17.75 for motorcycles and $44.50 for cars. It made me wonder what the residents of the island do– never leave the island?
I took the advice of the gentleman at the front desk at last night’s motel, and I took the Sunrise Trail along the northern coast of New Brunswick towards Nova Scotia. Small fishing towns along the way and tiny country lanes. Great riding. This is what it’s about– seeing real life as lived by others.
I arrived in Cape Breton around 7:30pm and Alison greeted me with a big, warm smile. A great feeling to be somewhere that you feel that you’re meant to be. Alison had work to do– it never ends for a minister! It’s 24/7! And Alison is housing a Japanese student for a few months as well. I had blogging to do. So we all sat in the living room and worked on our “homework”. Alison helped and tested Moe on her studies, in readiness for tomorrow’s exam. Alison is bright and cheerful and full of energy. However, I have no idea (having seen the life of a minster for a day or so) how any minister/reverend/pastor keeps going. Alison never stops. There is no such thing as downtime for herself. I am amazed at the energy that all ministers have, constantly giving to others. It is is truly a life you’ve been called to and gifted for. A life full of love for others and giving. Alison told me she had wanted to be a minster since she was 7 years old– she sat in church and knew what she wanted to do. She loves it and she’s always smiling.
Day 81 – Friday, September 20th
Alison kindly said that I could stay another night because I wanted to ride The Cabot Trail. It would take me 8 hours to do so, not allowing me any time in the day to head off to another destination.
What can I say about the Cabot Trail? It is perhaps the quintessential driving road– about 180 miles of sweeping road along rocky-cliffed coastline overlooking the Atlantic ocean, through forests, over the top of mountains, through coastal fishing towns, past lighthouses and beaches, past forested lakes, switchbacks with drop-offs, steep climbs and drops. I don’t think I’ve ever driven a better “driving road”. I returned to Alison in the evening totally in awe of it all and overexcited. I bounced into the house and exclaimed, “you didn’t tell me anything about it being the best road ever!!!” Alison laughed and agreed that it was quite the adventure. If you ride a motorcycle, or love your driving, you have to drive this road. And do it counterclockwise– that way you are on the side of the road overlooking the cliffs.
Annegret, another couch surfer from Germany, was staying the night also. Alison went out to Gaelic class. (There’s a big Irish influence here.) I tried to help by cleaning up the dishes an sorting out the recycling bins, making Annegrets bed and my own. Alison is so busy that the house comes second to everyone else. I had to help! It’s a big, old house. It’s so big that I slept the night in the closet– it’s as big as a room, with enough space for a twin bed and more! First time I’ve ever slept in a closet!
Day 82 – Saturday, September 21st
Alison was up and out of the door first thing in the morning. Annegret was making smoothies and I was making tea. Annegret left shortly thereafter to return her rental car to Sydney, Nova Scotia. I followed soon afterwards, heading towards Halifax. I had an interview scheduled with Russell Gragg of Canada’s Accessible Media, Inc. at 4pm.
I headed out along the Trans Canada Highway, doubling back on myself slightly. I had ridden almost the entire length of it, apart from a couple of sections here and there. And then onto the winding south shore coastal road. More small towns and fishing villages. Some parts of the road were badly damaged from frost heave. It sends the motorbike bouncing and dancing down the road. Ive encountered frost heave everywhere that it gets cold. It’s unpredictable where the pavement will buckle. You can be flying along on smooth roads and all of a sudden come across patchwork quilt of road, with bumps and dips here and there. It then becomes a project to find the path of least resistance for the bike’s shock absorbers.
Halifax was quiet on a Saturday afternoon. Another city with an obvious long history, as seen in it’s architecture. Another young city with a vibrant nightlife and expensive hotels downtown. I arrived early, at 3pm. Then I discovered that the bridges over to the south side of the harbor (the second biggest natural harbor in the world after Sydney, Australia) were all toll bridges. I don’t like having to stop at a toll booth, remove my gloves, go fishing for change, pay, put back on my gloves and ride off. It’s not as easy as passing the toll out of a car window. You hold people up. So, I decided to take a 45 minute drive the long way around the harbor, without any bridges. I arrived at the coffee shop Russell and I had arranged to meet at, at 3:55pm. Five minutes early. Perfect.
Russell strolled up. We grabbed coffee and tea and began chatting about the interview. It turns out that Accessible Media is the Canadian equivalent of the Radio Reading service that NPR provides in the States. I have read for the Radio Reading service for almost 17 years now, hosting an hour long show of Esquire Magazine. How perfect! I had not known, nor had Russell, that we both have shows on the same kind of radio channel. Russell is the Managing Editor for all of Canada, and hosts the Morning Edition program.
We headed into the studio to record the 12 minute segment for radio, that would be aired on Sept 25th or thereabouts. It wasn’t live, so we could both mess up and take the best parts. Fortunately, it was only I who really messed up, stumbling for a second or three before continuing on, and no other hiccups. We recorded 15 minutes worth. We were probably all done in 20 minutes.
We parted company and I headed out to find somewhere to stay after stopping by the Citadel perched above the harbor, and driving around town to see what it was like. I spent the night doing laundry and writing a blog.
Day 84 – Sunday, September 22nd
For some reason I had a bout of insomnia and couldn’t get to sleep until 3am. I woke up tired and frustrated with myself for not being able to get to sleep. I had a long day ahead of me. I was frustrated that it would be a lot of riding, already tired before I began.
In the parking lot was a KTM motorcycle, all decked out with gear for traveling long distances and stickers all over it. Someone was on a big ride. It was an Australian couple, Sharon and Craig, who had been on the road since April 2012. We talked for quite some time, comparing notes and stories about Alaska mostly. “Did you do the Top of the World Highway?”, “Oh, you did the Dalton? I didn’t want to face those trucks,” he said. I’m surprised he didn’t want to do the Dalton Highway as he’d done much worse– riding across Canada off-road! Sometimes along railroad tracks. They had begun their journey in the UK, dashed across Europe in five days, then across all of Russia. They left the bike there because it needed too many repairs, flew to Alaska and bought the KTM they had with them, then headed across Alaska and Canada. We compared dates– “when were you at?” and “what was the temp like then?” etc. We swapped info so we could keeps tabs on each other, and then I headed out. They had decided to spend another day in Halifax, catching up, resting and a bit of sightseeing.
It is an extremely windy day. It’s a battle. The expressway is a pure fight. On the side roads it’s not much better. I get on and off the Trans Canada when I can’t take it any more. But I have to be in St. John, New Brunswick by 7pm to stay with another couch surfing host– Debbie. I battle on.
I thought about taking the 3 hour ferry from Digby across the Bay of Fundy. I did the maths. It would cost me a lot less to ride the long way around the bay of Fundy instead of crossing the Bay on the ferry. I decided to make the 8 hour ride. That would also take me by the Hopewell Rocks– the site of the highest tides in the world (40 to 50 feet), which is a place I had wanted to visit.
I made it to Hopewell Rocks at 4:15pm. The park closes at 5pm. 45 minutes to run down and take some photos. Perfect. It was all I needed. And it kept me on track for getting to St. John by 7pm.
St. John was very quiet on a Sunday night. I can usually sum up my feelings about a city in the first 5 or 10 minutes. St. John had character. It was real. Blue color. Historic. This was an old fishing port for sure. The houses were all 100 years old or more. Brick and wood paneled, square-shaped. Very appropriate for an old fishing town. It all seemed to fit perfectly. St. John has a good feel to it. Not the most polished of cities. but it’s welcoming and I liked it. It felt quite similar to Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
Debbie greeted me warmly, showed me the apartment I would be staying in. The coolest place I have seen on this trip, complete with street sign, designer furniture, etc. Very well decorated and I had the place to myself! Debbie owns 5 buildings on the street and rents apartments out to tenants. I had Debbie’s apartment to myself, and Debbie was across the street with her son Mitchell, daughter in-law and grandson. We went out for dinner and talked a lot about my journey and how Debbie and her late husband, Dominic, came to St. John when they were 20 and bought their first building (29 rooms) for the ridiculous sum of $3,500! That decision set them on a course for the rest of their lives.
Day 37 – Monday August 5th
Is it August 5th already? Contrarily, “Day 37” out of 120 days seems like I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the journey. “August 5th” feels like I am well into it. Before I know it I will have completed Alaska and I will be heading south again. It feels close and just around the corner.
I arose at 7:30am and began to get ready to leave Seth Krasnow’s house in Ketchikan, Alaska. I had to be at the ferry terminal by 9:15am. Departure time: 11:15am. I packed up. There was a surprise for both Seth and I– a girl named Leah sleeping on the back patio in a sleeping bag! She was another couch surfer who had arrived earlier than Seth was expecting. I packed up as quickly as I could so that Leah could get into the room I was vacating. Seth, Leah and I talked for a while, but mostly I packed my bags as quickly as I could. I’m always concerned that I’ll leave something behind when I pack up quickly. But I always check around at least 3 times before I finally leave a place.
Leah is going up to Anchorage on another ferry. She will arrive there on Wednesday. I will arrive there on Thursday even though I am leaving before her. We exchanged cell phone numbers so that we could get in contact in Anchorage if neither of us have a place to stay. (Update: both of us found separate places and we never did get in contact again.) Leah is a sign language interpreter who lives in Terrace, BC, one of the towns I had passed through on my way to Prince Rupert. She is hoping to get a contract in Anchorage. Until she does get a contract she is traveling. I left Seth and Leah and headed to Safeway to pick up as many supplies as I could for the ferry. It’s expensive to eat on the ferry and everyone buys as many supplies as they can carry and bring them onboard.
I arrived at the terminal at 9:30am. Not many people around. It was a grey day with misty rain coming down. Good job I went flying to see the bears yesterday because Seth reckons that it might not have happened today with the weather like it was this morning. I was on the ferry by 11am and the bike had been strapped securely down to the deck. It was wet and slippery on the car deck. I lifted luggage off the bike and carried the heavy weight, struggling to carry it up to the Purser’s Office to check in to get my cabin. Cabin 15C on the boat deck, forward. A long corridor walk but at least there wasn’t more flights of stairs to go up. I offloaded into my cabin and walked the ship to get oriented. So glad I have a cabin with a bed. I’m going to be on here for almost 3 days. There are others sleeping on the deck under the solarium heat lamps, on the deck chairs, but I enjoy my privacy and a place I can be quiet, relax, sleep and change clothes without the world watching me.
I felt alone in my cabin. Cut off from the world. I went to the observation deck to be around people. I have sat writing this journal for the last two hours. It takes a while. There will be plenty of time for reading, thinking and time for praying. I would imagine that I will be very ready to get off after 3 days on this boat.
The day was bright sunshine– remarkable. We all spotted a humpback whale splashing his/her fin against the water. I wondered what behavior pattern this was. There were several whales sighted but my head was buried in my computer. It’s a fine balance between looking out of the window and combatting boredom by working.
The thing about Alaska is that everyone seems to be on a journey from somewhere. If I were to go around the ship and ask people their stories, mine would just be a run of the mill story, I am sure. Everyone has come a long way from somewhere.
Some niggling thoughts about my journey so far… I haven’t had the time to explore in a relaxed manner as I had hoped. I’m always looking out for the bike and my belongings strapped to it. If I go to a lake and want to go for a swim I can’t because everything is packed up on the bike and would require a while to unpack. Or, I’m not prepared to go through all the work and time it would require. There is nothing that happens quickly on this journey.
My prayers right now are: “Lord, is this trip a big mistake?”, “What on earth am I doing?”, “Please give me wisdom.” Sometimes you wonder about what you are doing, no matter what kind of conviction and affirmation you had in the beginning. Completing dreams doesn’t come easy. There are moments of wavering. And I want to be doing a better job of raising funds and awareness, of collecting dreams, blogging and perhaps making profound statements. But sometimes the details of daily living on the road overtake all that and I take moments like these to re-focus myself.
Recently I have been reading Paul’s account in the Bible in Acts– him setting sail, being under arrest, and being taken to Caesar. His account of his journey seems much like my own blog in it’s tone and it’s wording– giving us details of the journey itself. But then you start reading Romans and Paul is being directed by the Holy Spirit and speaks of things unseen– a revealing of God. Romans is quite different than the details of his journey recounted in Acts. It makes me consider the content of this blog.
Later in the evening (much later because it’s getting dark around 10pm now) I watched the beautiful red sunset over the mountains and water of Alaska. Absolutely stunning and I was thinking that a trip like this shouldn’t be experienced alone.
I had gone to bed, along with everyone else onboard, between 10 and 10:30pm. As soon as the sun had gone down there was not much to do. The beautiful scenery had gone. A little light still in the sky at 11pm. The mountains were outlines in the distance. I played with the temperature in my room and set it at 65°F which felt just a little cooler than warm. I curled up in bed and slept soundly until 6am. Early to bed and early to rise.
Day 38– Tuesday August 6th
We were due into port at Juneau by 7:30am. We pulled in at 7:15pm and were all ready to disembark by 7:30am. I spent the time before that by praying, getting my things ready for a short few-hour journey from the ship and into Juneau. Trip Advisor recommended the Mendenhall Glacier.
I was nervous about taking the bike off the boat, getting back in time, and securing it down again with ties. As usual, everything went just fine. I got the bike off the ship and rode along winding, good roads, in the sunshine to Mendenhall Glacier. It is stunning and impressive, with shades of white and blue. It slides into a glacial lake at the bottom. I walked to the water’s edge for an unobstructed photo of the glacier across the water. Small icebergs floated in the water. The further away from the glacier the smaller the icebergs were. There were some large ones that were several yards wide close to the glacier’s edge.
I have a knack it seems of arriving just before other people. It happens in restaurants and other places I go. And so I arrived at the glacier just before bus loads of tourists arrived, most of whom were East Indian. I had the place almost to myself for a little while. It was lovely.
After the glacier I rode through downtown Juneau. It’s small, especially for a State Capital. It’s quaint restaurants, pubs, tourist souvenir shops, etc. Like Ketchikan, the cruise ships dock here. As you get closer to the cruise ships the stores nearly all become jewelry stores, and I wondered why there is always jewelry stores next to cruise ships. Do people get antsy cooped up on the ships and really want to get off and spend all their money on jewelry? Why jewelry? Is everyone proposing on the ships and boyfriends need to buy rings for their girlfriends? I wonder about things like this.
I rode around town a couple of times, including going the wrong way down a one-way street (a gent nicely shook his head at me and pointed in the other direction). I saw all of Juneau from the bike. I had no desire to shop. So I rode out of town, away from the ferry. The road was winding and very smooth– perfect riding. The mountains climbed to a blue and cloudy sky above. There is a sky lift/tramway that goes almost to the top of the mountains above Juneau. It leaves directly from where the cruise ships let out. I took the road for a couple of miles and then hit a construction zone. I turned around, back towards the ferry.
I rode the Glacier Highway for a little while and then got on the main road again. Stopped at the gas station to make sure I had a full tank when I got off at Whittier, because there wouldn’t be a gas station for a while before Anchorage.
There is one more ferry stop along the way– at Yakatut– then it’s Whittier arrival in a day and a half from now. That will put me about 600 miles south of the Arctic Circle. So close but it feels like a big gap because I don’t know what to expect along those 600 miles. If it was mainland America I would have no qualms about 600 miles– I could bash that out in a couple of days with easy riding. This might be a lot more difficult– 600 miles of adventure, adversity and a hammering. Who knows.
I’m back on the ferry now. It’s mid-afternoon. The weather is perfect. The sun is shining, the water in the Inside Passage is like a millpond (not a wave in sight at this time), the snowy mountaintops are more prevalent now. There’s a tall snow-capped mountain ahead (among others) and I wonder if that is Mount McKinley, but it can’t be because Mt. McKinley is hundreds of miles away. The water sure is cold around here. Where am I going to take that “dip somewhere really cold” for a donation to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church? It’s always on my mind.
We saw two porpoises and a humpback whale. The mountains are beautiful on the horizon. Working on movies on laptop, snowy mountains and glaciers outside the window and Lou Reed comes on random iTunes shuffle: “Caroline Says”… “It’s so cold in Alaska, I think I’ll ask her.”
As I go to bed, close to midnight, I look beyond the bow of the ship and it’s still light up ahead. There’s an orange glow on the horizon where the sun is still present over the northern curve of the earth. The clouds are wisps that seem to bend with the earth’s curvature. The mountains are dark silohouettes against the sun’s glow.
Day 37 – Wednesday August 7th
I’ve been completely thrown off my morning’s thoughts by the current view out of the window. Just west of Yakutat we see a range of glaciers and snow-capped mountains. It’s one of those sights that made me say “wow” and wish I had my camera with me.
The sky is blue, there’s a thin layer of clouds, the sea is calm (as it has been for most of the journey so far), and the mountains descend right to sea level and the ocean’s edge. The mountains really don’t look that tall, perhaps 1,500 feet, no more. Because of the chilled outside temperature at the water’s edge, the mountains obviously remain covered in snow year round.
We’ve just departed Yakutat. It’s 8:32am. The ferry arrived in port at 7am (two hours later than planned) and departed again by 8am. It was a quick stop for the ferry. People took their dogs for a rushed walk, hurrying down the gang plank and back up again 15 minutes or so later.
I look out of the breakfast room windows and note that this is the Alaska that I wanted to see. In a day I will be riding a motorcycle through this terrain. I wonder what it will be like. I have been studying the map this morning, looking at mileages between towns and planning routes. I thought that everything looks manageable by distance. I do wonder what is in store in regards to gas stations and when they are open. For example, it’s 93 miles from Whittier to Seward. I’d like to see Seward, but I wonder if I use up a whole tank of gas getting to Seward, will there be a gas station that is open and have enough gas to get back? This is the adventure part. This is where I am glad I have a tent and a sleeping bag, just in case it’s needed.
The mountains are spectacular out of the breakfast room window. My automatic time setting on my phone is going crazy. My phone doesn’t seem to know where it’s located– it keeps changing time zones from GMT to Alaska Time. One minute the clock is correct, the next it is about 12 hours ahead. It’s like being in the Bermuda Triangle with all the compass readings going haywire. There’s no cell service here. How is cell service going to be in the rest of Alaska and the Yukon Territories? This is where it gets interesting. I am kind of excited to be part explorer, I am part anxious. As I read Shackelton’s account of his journey, a passage struck me this morning, “…and there was nothing to be gained by allowing one’s mind to struggle with the problems of the future, though it was hard to avoid anxiety at times.”
This journey is giving me a desire– to settle down. A wife, a family and a home. It’s important that my wife support my dreams. It makes all the difference to me. I am already feeling that a journey of this nature should not be done alone. I am already thinking that the next journey (if there is one) will not be alone, and will not be like this. And I pray, “Lord, give me direction.” I am beginning to feel the sense that I am ready to settle down.
“Lord, I thank you for fine weather all the way so far. The weather has been with me.”
At around 4:40pm a pod of 6 killer whales was sighted. The captain announced it. I was half asleep in bed. I got dressed. The killer whales were gone by the time I got up to the deck. But I had seen two on the first day of ferry travel.
The ferry is rolling now. The water is calm but there are probably 6 foot waves coming toward the bow. We’re going up and down in a forward motion. Felt a bit sea sick for most of the day. I have never been seasick, but for some reason it affected me today. So I slept on and off all day. I bought some dramamine around 5pm, and after a sleep I felt better.
By 9pm we had rounded a spit of land and headed into towards Prince William Sound. The water became smoother and I began to feel better.
Day 38 – Thursday August 8th
Another early start. The ferry was due to dock at Whittier at 6am. Right on time. I got up at 5am to get myself ready, packed, eat breakfast, and check out of my cabin. I had visions of being the last one on the car deck, struggling to get the tie-down’s off and all the luggage back on. I figured it would take me a while. It didn’t. I was the first motorbike off the ferry.
It was an overcast morning, chilly, with a light mist of a rain. About half a mile from the ferry terminal is the tunnel through to the other side of the mountains. I figured it would be a big tunnel. It wasn’t. A policeman stopped me and told me to pull over under the nearby shelter– it would be about a 45 minute wait until the vehicles finished coming through from the other side, and then he would let the cars and trucks through the tunnel first, before the motorcycles. That’s for motorcycle safety, as it ensures that motorcycles aren’t being pressured by tailgaters to go faster.
The tunnel is narrow with bare-hewn rock walls. It’s similar to a long cavern or cave. The train goes through here also and the rail tracks go all the way through. Motorcycles have to ride along a grooved road (grooves always throw your tires off and you feel like you’re weaving) and you ride between the train tracks. It takes concentration especially when the road is wet. You do not want to hit the rail tracks because it’s likely to throw you off the bike.
We congregated in a group of 5 motorcycles, waiting in the rain. The rain was getting harder and harder. At 6am it was chilly and wet and I was not looking forward to a day of riding like this. We were given the signal by the policeman to proceed, with instructions to keep 100 feet of distance between each bike. With trepidation we all entered the tunnel one by one.
It wasn’t as bad as the policeman made out, but we did need to keep our concentration and it’s not really possible to safely go any faster than 25 miles an hour. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long. It’s concentration all the way. We all burst through safely into the light and rain on the other side of the mountain. It was cold. I was not prepared properly. It was time to break out the warm and waterproof gauntlet gloves for the first time on this journey, and to put on another sweater. I had already put on all of my rain gear before entering the tunnel while we were waiting.
I stopped at the first gas station in Girdwood, about 12 miles from the ferry. I unpacked the gloves and a sweater at the gas pump and put them on. It felt better. Taking the rain cover off the suitcase wasn’t as much of a mission as I suspected it might be. Then I rode around Girdwood.
Girdwood had been described as one of the few main towns on the way to Anchorage. It was tiny– hardly a town at all. There’s the Aleskya Ski Resort at one end of town– a hotel with Swiss-style chalets. There was a bakery, a bar, a couple of shops and that was about it.
Chase (and Chelsea) my hosts for this evening (from a post by Roger Rom on the Adventure Riders web site) had texted a recommendation of taking the Crow Creek Road to the mine, and then onto the pass beyond. I rode out to the gold mine, founded in 1898, along a wet dirt road for 3 miles. When I got to the mine’s parking lot and looked at the bike it was covered in mud, along with myself. Ooo, exciting off-road stuff! The road was smooth for the most part, a few potholes filled with water that I managed to splash my way through.
I paid my $10 and walked around the pretty gardens and 100-year old buildings of the Crow Creek mine. I met Spencer who worked there. He’d come from Atlanta, Georgia, and moved here to experience something different. Eventually he wants to own his own business and move to Hawaii with his wife. I left the mine, didn’t go up the Crow Creek pass, and rode the 3 miles of wet, slick dirt road back to Girdwood, and then on the main road towards Anchorage. The road winds along the base of the mountains. Mountains are on one side and Prince William Sound is on the other. A beautiful ride which I took slowly in the wet weather. As I neared Anchorage the rain stopped and blue skies appeared. It was warm enough for other people to be wearing t-shirts, but I was still in my 5 layers of top clothing, happy to have it and not feeling too hot at all.
I stopped at Potter’s Marsh just outside Anchorage and walked around for a while. Then rode around town, slowly searching for Chase and Chelsea’s place. I found it ok, after riding around for a while, and arrived at 12:45pm.
Chase, 25 years old, good looking and I learned later that he’s one of the stars on the reality TV show “Wild West Alaska” on the Discovery Channel. I don’t know what his name is on the TV show, perhaps it’s the same. He’s very intelligent. He has a double degree– one in medieval English literature and one in botany/geology (or something similar). He comes from an Irish family of gypsies and carnival people. His family owns the only traveling carnival in Alaska. And they protect their territory– his grandfather had shot out the tires of competing carnival trucks trying to cross the border into Alaska. Chase has done everything– gunsmith, cadaver lab, welder, now going to be Marketing Director for a roofing company. He was born and raised in Alaska and his dream is to open up a bed and breakfast (with about 4 bedrooms) here in Anchorage, with a “telling room” (where travelers can tell their stories and socialize), with good food, and affordable. Somewhere for like-minded motorcycle travelers to stay.
Chase has been married to Chelsea for one year. They have a puppy (much to Chelsea’s surprise, as she wasn’t a dog lover) called Ayn (after Ayn Rand). The dog is a Sheba Inu. A very cute breed. Chelsea is a fun loving sort, grew up in Las Vegas. They met each other in California at university. They are both born-again Christians. Chelsea was Chase’s first girlfriend– he waited. Chelsea seems to be perfect for Chase and his family since she wants to be a big successful business mogul– a carnival mogul. She could be the new matriach of the family company one day.
They are curious people, especially Chase, who wants to hear stories. He drove me around town in his rare Isuzu VehiCross 4×4. Chase is a gun maniac. My room had ammo in it and a case full of guns. I got to hold an AK-47 for the first time, and an antique musket.
Went to sleep on a blow up mattress with a blow-up pillow. Not the most comfortable for a good night’s sleep.
Day 39 – Friday August 9th
Right on schedule for a bike service at The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage. Needed– new chain, sprocket, rotors. Kenny helped me out. God answered a prayer about it being less money– Kenny surprisingly came up and said the rotors aren’t that bad at all, that I should wait until I got back to Miami to replace them. That’s a savings of $600 or so. Wow!
I sat at the Triumph dealership talking to Raheel who had just come back from Prudhoe Bay. I got a good sense that I could make it to Coldfoot okay with the road conditions. We’ll see. Whatever God wants. I have to give it all up to Him. We chatted for a while about road conditions, especially in the Endicott Mountains (don’t think I get up there, sounds too bad), cell phone service and things going wrong with motorcycles. He’d had a couple of near misses (loose battery cable and a rock in his tire) but everything turned out okay. He only had a Spot GPS device with him just like me. It seems the road is pretty well travelled up to Coldfoot at least. That’s good.
I also met Francesco and Aurora– they are newly married and on a bike trip up from Seattle, up through British Columbia, up to the Arctic Circle and back again. They are planning to hit the Arctic Circle about the same time as myself, maybe a couple of days before. It would be good if I had someone to ride up there with.
In the afternoon, I rode up to Eagle River and The Chugach State Park, which is about 15 miles outside of Anchorage. I had planned to ride to Palmer and the Independence Mine but I ran out of time because I had to be back for dinner with Roger Rom at Olympia Pizza in Anchorage. I bought them dinner, they bought me nectarines. We talked for two hours about travel stories. Roger has some good ones including an accident where he broke his collar bone driving a new bike back from Boston to Minnesota. He decided to go via the Great Lakes, north side, and ran out of gas towards Thunder Bay. And then they asked him a lot questions when he got to the US border– why was he coming out of Canada with Alaska license plate. Roger and Cynthia (who rides motorcycles too) seem like a good couple. I liked them both. Roger would like to build a trailer for his three motorcycles with which you can drive in one side and drive out of the other– easy loading and offloading. It would also have a eating/sleeping area in the back of it. He’d travel all around the USA with it after retirement, visiting family.
I headed back to Chase and Chelsea’s place.
Day 40 – Saturday August 10th
I am sitting on Kenton Curtis’ futon, finally warm after a day of riding in the rain (the afternoon was mostly nice but I was still wet). Kenton is my Couch Surfing host for tonight and tomorrow night.
I got up at 8am at Chase and Chelsea’s house. They made oatmeal for breakfast and Chase and I got ready for a ride towards Fairbanks. He was going all the way. I was riding to Trapper Creek with him as support (115 miles) and then turning around and coming home. We set off, made it to Kenton’s house 5 minutes later, dropped all my stuff here, said hello, and then head of Alaska Highway 1.
By the time Chase and I arrived in Wasilla, 40 miles up the road, we were already cold and wet, and had to stop to get Starbucks, to put on extra clothes and get warm. The rain continued all the way to Trapper Creek– 115 miles. We stopped again (I think in Caswell) at a store because Chase’s hands were getting wet and very cold. Another chance to warm up. Chase told the lady that he found a dead man in the shower in Trapper Creek about 8 years ago when he was 17. And the lady said, “oh, that was you!” as if it were a famous occurrence in town that everyone knew about.
It wasn’t far past there that we got to Talkeetna– finally a place to fill up with gas and the last chance for 95 miles. We had past a few gas stations and waited until I hit 99 miles on the tripometer– almost all out of gas. I will be fine up to Fairbanks, but I will have to fill up when I get the chance.
As soon as we got past Wasilla we were into a two-lane road that looked like it could go on forever. There were small villages, towns and hamlets along the way. The countryside was pine forests. No mountains. This was more like flat Alaska, almost like a tundra, but it was forested. There is one road up and one road back. Thankfully when we got to Trapper Creek the rain stopped, and stayed that way for most of the journey back to Anchorage.
Kenton is friendly, tall, young at 29 but already has salt and pepper hair, and green eyes. I can see that girls would think that he’s good looking. Originally from Denver he wanted to move out to Alaska, as so many do, to experience it. And as so many do, he loves it here and says that he’s happy to live here permanently. He is an environmental scientist. He studies the hazardous toxins released into the environment from various sources, whether it’s buried military waste or a crashed F22 fighter jet. In the evening he made lentil soup which was very good and needed to finally get me warmed up from the inside.
There was a moose loose in his garden, eating the vegetation. Funny how they just let them roam around town. I guess that there’s nothing that the city can do about it.
Day 41 – Sunday August 11th
Got up after a great night’s sleep on Kenton’s futon in the living room. Got ready for church, at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage. The service started at 10am. It’s raining again. It was 51 degrees this morning. It’s been raining all day and will probably rain all day tomorrow. I got my wet-weather gear on and rode through the rain to church. A bit cold but I wasn’t going far. I arrived and was greeted warmly. They have a cloakroom so I took off my rain jacket and trousers, helmet and cloves and placed them there. Then I looked like a regular church-goer in my nice trousers and shirt.
The pastor is a young guy in his 30’s with a wife and 3 children– Matt Schultz. He gave a great sermon on being reconciled– reconciled to God and with your fellow man and the surrounding community. I also singing one of the hymns and there was a line in there about being looked after by God’s grace– that He got you here and will get you home again. I almost cried when I read/sang this because it felt like a promise that God was making, to get me home again. And home seemed like such a welcoming place that I wanted to be at. I am looking forward to being home.
The pastor preached in slacks and button down shirt– kind of casual, and he preached using an iPad. He represents the new generation and I suddenly realized how much the Presbyterian Church and the church in general needs the younger blood to come up through the ranks now. I learned that he had only been there as pastor for a month and a half. The church had had interim pastors for the last three years. Everywhere I go it seems to be the same story. Every church that I visit seems to be about interim pastors, just got a new pastor, or looking for a new pastor. It’s not strictly true but there is certainly a lot of it going on. And each church I visit seems to be touched by God– that it’s going in the right direction. Every church that I visit I feel God saying, “I care about this church and I am moving within it. I am doing good things.”
I met an elderly gentleman (81) at coffee hour, called Paul. He’s not a member but seems to be quite involved and vocal and has been going there for 5 years. He invited me to breakfast after church and we went to the City Diner on Benson and Minnesota Drive in Anchorage. He bought and we talked for a long time– about the division that happened in the church but now it seems to be back on the right path with the new pastor. We talked about his wife Kimmie (of 57 years) who just died in Dec after a 5-day illness, of his son who is 58 years old and has just suffered a major stroke (he’s in rehab and progressing slowly), we talked of his hunting Caribou and that Reindeer and that Caribou are basically the same thing. He takes a boat out to the lakes, sets up a hide, camps out, shoots a Caribou he likes and takes it home. It lasts for up to two years in the freezer.
Afterwards I came back to Kenton’s and got ready to go to the Alaska Museum. It was either that or ride to Seward. But the rain and the cold was too much. In the end I decided on neither and went to the REI store to buy items to get ready for going up north– bear spray, bear bell, bug net, insect repellent, a holder for the bear spray, and some rope to hang food in a tree if I need to. The bear containers were huge and there’s no way I could take it on a bike. I’ll hang food in a tree if I have too. I hope I don’t have to camp out, period. I like my comforts too much. 😉