An interview with Russell Gragg, National Managing Editor and Host of “Morning Edition” on Canada’s Accessible Media. This interview was recorded in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Sept 21st, 2013 and was broadcast on Wednesday September 25th, 2013.
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.
Monday September 9th to Sunday September 15th
Day 70 – Monday September 9th
Woke up in Wawa, Ontario on the eastern shores of Lake Superior. It’s the middle of nowhere. Vast stretches of wilderness between towns. Eighty miles or more between gas stations. The weather is cold. It was cold and raining last night as I arrived in town. The sun is setting earlier now, around 8pm. The numbers of hours I can ride in a day are shortening.
Didn’t sleep well last night and woke up at 10am. Felt pretty darn grumpy this morning. I promised I would call the office and speak to the owner of the company– to let him know if and when I would be returning to work. I told him I would be returning on November 18th. That will give me about two weeks to sort out a new place to live in Miami upon my return, and get as much of the move done as I can. Not much time but I don’t feel I can afford to take any further time out of the office. We spoke for a short time, perhaps 5 minutes. He asked how the trip was going briefly. It was a very short and to the point conversation.
My plan for the day would be to try and make it to Sault Ste. Marie. I heard there’s a big storm the size of Lake Superior coming in.
I didn’t expect to have to need it again, but there is a long stretch after Wawa with no gas stations, so I had to fill up the extra fuel container and ride 100 miles or so with the added weight on the back. Perhaps an additional 20 pounds or so. It makes a difference.
Ontario is incredible and a surprise. It is such a vast province that takes days to cross. After Calgary I was under the assumption that I was back to civilization, that the days of no cell service were behind me. I was wrong. Ontario is even worse in some sections, this being one of them. No cell service, no texting, no gas, just wilderness. It’s wonderful. Peaceful. I love it.
I ride through rugged granite strewn and forest covered lands, with roads dropping down to rugged harbors and mist rolling over them. There’s a mix of trees: maple, silver birch, and fir.
The roads in Ontario are well maintained. Long sweeping curves. The road rises and falls. It’s great driving. Makes you feel great to be alive. Lake Superior seems to reach up into the sky as you go down hills. It’s quite a strange phenomenon.
The maple trees are turning color. Some of the them are laden with bright red leaves. They are gorgeous, tucked in amongst all the green surrounding them.
I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie and was greeted by my Couch Surfing host, Jill. We went out to The Pub and had probably the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. Jill is a big advocate and raves about their burgers. She introduces them to everyone. We named the burgers that evening, the “Adventure Burger”, because you get to build you own using a wide selection of options. All on a homemade bun that was incredible. For $10! Can’t beat that.
Day 71 – Tuesday September 10th
Jill woke up and left for work at Sault Ste. Marie College and left me to get ready in my own time and walk her dog, Jazz. Jazz is a cross between a German Shepherd and a Husky– a big, beautiful and gentle dog.
It was a very foggy morning. Visibility was low and the visor on my helmet kept steaming up in the cool air. I had to press on to North Bay, Ontario, where I had more couch surfing hosts waiting for me– Kim and Terry. I’ve learnt to just get on with the ride, no matter what the weather is. So far, there hasn’t been a day of weather that’s stop my riding. I’ve chosen not to ride on days that I could afford to, but when I need to get somewhere I have ridden no matter what the conditions are. Today was a prime example.
There was a lot of rain and thunder last night. Jazz was shaking and pacing. I heard this morning that there was a section of the road that I will be taking that washed out and collapsed. Apparently a motorcycle rider lost his life when he rode into it. I can’t imagine what his family is going through.
There was a detour around the washout today– the Trans Canada Highway is closed in that section, close to Thessalon. The detour added perhaps an hour to the days journey. There aren’t many roads out here so the detour went along way north, before heading east, and then south again. The country back roads through the woods and farmlands was a lovely break from the Trans Canada HIghway.
I listened to the locals in Thessalon talk about the rain last night. Several houses were flooded.
The fog hung around all day, the sky was grey and overcast above the forests, but it was dry and warm. And there is a yellow cast to the sky, perhaps the smog coming up from Toronto someone suggested to me. It’s a combination that makes the day a dark day. At 5:30pm cars are using their headlights. This is an ominous sky.
I made it to North Bay around 7pm. Already quite dark, even though it was still daylight. I was greeted by a police lady in uniform standing outside her front door. Turns out my couch surfing host is a police officer. Kim greeted me and introduced me to Terry. Kim cooked a great dinner and made us ‘special coffee’ (her own recipe) afterwards. Kim went to bed later and Terry and I stayed up having ‘guy time’. I joined him in a tipple of scotch, which thrilled him because good Scotch and company is something he very much enjoys, but doesn’t get to do that often.
Day 72 – Wednesday September 11th
Kim was off to work early– a court appearance in Maple Creek. Terry and I chatted the morning away over breakfast, talking mainly about the USA, guns and 9/11. Today is the 9/11 anniversary. I mentioned the TEDTalks series of seminars to Terry. As I was packing he had pulled up the latest TEDTalk video on YouTube, about 9/11 and the Museum of You. It was fascinating and a fitting tribute to place on the ARFD Facebook page today. Never forget. Here’s the TEDTalk video:
It’s a fitting video for the Arctic Ride For Dreams because more and more I realize that this journey and our lives are about our stories. Our stories are all that we leave behind. The Museum of You I just that– a museum of stories. Lives lived, courageously.
Today I rode to Ottawa. It was the last day of riding through the Ontario wilderness. It has gone on for days. I will miss it. I wanted to savor each minute, so at one point I pulled off the Trans Canada Highway and rode the bike into the woods down a small forest road. I had the forest to myself. Peace. Ahhh.
I arrived in Ottawa in the early evening. Gail (my host in Kenora) had arranged for me to stay with her cousin: Tom, his wife Christina and their son, Johnny (10). I found their house easily. We chatted over dinner and then Tom took me for a very informative drive through Ottawa for an hour or so. We looked out over the Ottawa River at a garden of Inukshuks– a huge art project of balanced rocks placed in the Ottawa River. Tom showed me the apartment building that started the cold war. We drove through the scenic Rockcliffe area with big houses, the Prime Minister’s residence, and embassies. We came back through Chinatown and Little Italy– wonderful sections of town with what seemed like a year’s worth of dining establishments and pubs to try. Foodies would not be bored here!
Day 73 – Thursday September 12th
A day in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I started my day by riding down to the edge of the Ottawa River to see the Inukshuks in the daylight and photograph them. The artist balances rocks on top of each other to make the remarkable artwork. There are possibly a hundred of them. Each year the winter elements tear them down, and each summer he returns to make new ones.
I rode through the city, past the Parliament buildings, all Gothic Revival style architecture. It reminded me of Westminster in London. A little bit of Europe in Canada. I continued on up the Rockcliffe Parkway– a little nature in the middle of the city that rises up above the Ottawa River. Rockcliffe is the wealthiest neighborhood in Ottawa, with big houses, embassies and foreign government officials. On the way through you also pass Canada’s Prime Minister’s residence.
I’m very much enjoying Canada’s mix of UK and USA cultures. It’s a perfect balance for me. Canada offers the best of both. I would consider living in Canada, without question. Ottawa is the best city in Canada yet that I have visited (Montreal and Quebec City still to come at this point). There are businessmen walking around in suits and my mind goes back to my days in London when I was one of them. I miss wearing a suit to work.
They are building condos in Ottawa at a high rate of knots. Since marketing luxury condos is my career at the moment thoughts begin to enter my head of moving to Ottawa.
Ottawa’s architecture is beautiful. I’m impressed by the Parliament buildings and Know Presbyterian Church downtown.
I head to the Canada Museum hoping to catch an exhibit of Canadian Arctic photographs. I am missing the wilds of the north. It’s barren but you become attached, perhaps because it’s only you and nature, without any other influences. It’s pure.
Unfortunately the Arctic photographic exhibit had ended, so I walked around parts of the museum, taking in all of the dinosaur and whale skeletons, etc. I had been requested to get a photo of a moose (real or fake) in return for a donation to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church. Moose sighted in the museum! That’ll do! And I find myself not interested at all in the dinosaur exhibit. I’m having conflicts. The skeletons are wonderful, but the informational plaques I have a hard time with. It’s conjecture by scientists. Theories. They don’t know these facts are certain, but they are mostly presented as certain. I found myself wishing they would be more honest. I believe in creation not evolution. I believe that there is more scientific evidence pointing toward creation than evolution.
I returned to Tom, Christina and Johnny’s house for a wonderful evening spent talking and spending time with them. Great, great people! Johnny totally floored me. As he said goodnight and “good luck with your trip” he handed me $5 out of his own money to go buy a snack on the road. Accept? Don’t accept? What do you say to a 10-year old, who’s $5 must seem like $500 to him? I was so touched. I accepted because I knew how much it meant to him. I couldn’t refuse. And I will buy something special with it. Something very special. Some kind of small keepsake for my trip, not a snack. An amazing young man being raised by two amazing parents. It still touches me to the core when I think about his empathy and generosity.
Day 74 – Friday September 13th
Montreal! A dream come true. I have wanted to visit Montreal for many years. I’ve been enamored by the beautiful photographs online of Old Montreal, especially in the Autumn.
It’s a bitterly cold and rainy day. Montreal is a heaving metropolis. It reminds me of London for all of it’s bustle and pace, traffic and people. Ottawa’s architecture reminded me of London, Montreal’s madness reminded me of London. The city made me nervous. It’s been some time since I’ve been a city like this. The traffic is nuts. The driving is crazed… rush, rush, rush, and “I really don’t care if this motorcycle is on the road as well.” I was cut-off several times by cars needing to be somewhere quickly and barging their way through. It was a shock to the system.
I found the tourist information office in the heart of Montreal. Got myself a map and a place to stay for the following night. I would be staying tonight with Linda and Mario, couch surfing hosts. I ate lunch in MacClean’s Pub close to the tourist info center. Then rode the Bonneville through the busy streets to Mont Royal– a huge park at the top of the hill overlooking all of Montreal. It’s a large city!
Then I headed to St. Joseph’s Oratory, which turned out to be a huge slice of peace in the middle of all this madness. I stayed in the church for quite some time. The architecture is breathtaking. The sanctuary/chapel is over the top, brilliantly done. All of this work that man has put into worshipping God! It’s incredible! I walked the gardens. I sat in the pews. In peace until it was time to head to my hosts’ home.
I headed for Linda and Mario’s. Little did I know that I would be staying in the hippest and sought-after section of Montreal. It’s like The Village in New York. Linda wasn’t home just yet, but Mario greeted me at the door with a huge smile. They are both such warm people. Linda’s a singer, Mario is an actor/director/stage-presence coach. Mario and I sat and talked for a while before Linda got home. We spoke of philosophy, dreams, psychology, of over-thinking, of being authentic, that the world and dreams are all about relationships and stories. And that stories are a facet of our relationships. It’s all about relationships… Which makes sense with who God is… His being is all about relationships. It was a happy and celebratory conversation. Mario is all smiles all the time. Linda arrived home and they obviously love each other very much and are so happy being together, still after 12 years. It was a joy to be around.
Gail Row had challenged me to eat real Poutine in Montreal– Poutine’s real home. Linda and Mario told me that one of the two best places to eat Poutine in Montreal was in walking distance. So off we went. The Poutine was fantastic– cheese curds, french fries, gravy, cranberries and pulled pork. It may not sound appetizing, but it is!
Day 75 – Saturday September 14
Woke up at Mario and Linda’s. They prepared a gourmet oatmeal for breakfast. A great start to the day. Miriam is with them too. Miriam, a new roommate, is from Switzerland working with a new start-up company. Linda sings and she played me a couple of her songs. Linda could be famous. She has the voice and the songwriting talent. Both Linda and Miriam dream of some kind of fame as recording artists.
We all went for coffee in the morning. Across the street was a small grocery store. Linda had woken up with an idea that was a stroke of genius. I had been challenged to buy something in Montreal for $0.66, in return for a donation to UrbanPromise. Linda woke up and announced “grapes!”. We could buy a small bunch of grapes, weigh them, get the exact number of grapes to equal $0.66. Mario led the charge into the store and caused a small stir as he announced to everyone and anyone that we needed $0.66 of grapes! Linda grabbed a small bunch. They were placed on the scale, and it was $0.63! One more grape! Would one more do it? Yes, it did, on the nose… $0.66! We all cheered. The store clerks laughed. We all explained what was going on, what my journey was about.
Shortly after I left Linda, Mario and Miriam and headed for my hotel for this evening. I checked in, unloaded all my belongings into the room. I was belonging-free and able to head off to Old Montreal without concern for items being stolen off the bike. I could leave it somewhere without cause for concern.
Montreal is young. Young people, beautiful people, all speaking a beautiful French. Is this what Paris is like? I’ve never been to Paris, but it’s easy to imagine Paris’ romance in Montreal. Just close your eyes. I rode through and through the Old city, filming video as I went and trying to figure out where and where I could not park the bike. I found a spot eventually and spent the afternoon walking around the Old city, feeling like I was back in old Europe. It was Saturday– a day full of weddings. Every church and garden seemed to contain a bride and groom, and a horse-drawn carriage.
Day 76 – Sunday September 15th
A drive through the wine country of Quebec. Everyone speaking French. The sun shining. A slight chill in the air. I find myself going along a National Geographic “Drive of a Lifetime”. And it is a drive of lifetime. Rolling hills, country towns and villages, old quaint houses, old stone restaurants and pubs with courtyards. I must have chosen the right route because there are hundred of motorcycles out today– a good sign that I’m on the right motorcycling roads. The best of the best, if the locals are out here too.
The drive takes me about 5km (3 miles) from the USA border. I see signs for Vermont. I’m not ready to leave Canada yet. Beautiful country. Corn fields, red wood barns, horses, wooden houses, country lanes. Motorcycles everywhere. Little villages with lots of Harley’s parked and enjoying a country lunch speaking French. Am I in France?
Lunch is Poutine with blue cheese and bacon. Not healthy but very good. This is a day to celebrate the trip. This is what it’s all about!!!
I arrived in Quebec City a little late, around 7:30pm and stayed with more couch surfing hosts– Annie and her son Samuel. They speak French but their English is good. As always, we sat and talked to almost midnight. I would be staying another night, and visiting old Quebec City tomorrow. Annie would give me a tour of Ile d’Orlean later in the afternoon. I’d been told that if you like Montreal, Quebec City is even nicer. I was looking forward to seeing it for myself.
Day 49 – Monday August 19th
It was a rainy morning in Haines Junction in the Yukon Territory. It was also Discovery Day– Yukon’s big holiday. So many people traveling in RVs!
A thought struck me today, that sin could be defined as doing bad and unfavorable things to ourselves. God wants only good things for us, so stepping out of His will brings us only hurt, even if we’re numbed to it and don’t realize. Why on earth would we want to do that?
I ended up in Lead Dog Hostel in Whitehorse in the evening. A private room since all the dorm rooms were so tiny and cramped. Would have been a struggle to find anywhere to put my stuff. Everyone congregated in the common room in the evening and we all chatted around. There were four German people in the room, not traveling together. If there are a lot of RVs, there’s a matching number of Germans in this part of the country. There was an older gentleman who didn’t fit in with the young people, and he was trying to so hard to be a part of the conversation. I began to feel quite sympathetic towards him. He’s human too after all and I’m sure has great things to offer. He should be included, not snubbed.
Only a 93 mile ride today and I rode along at 55mph the whole way. I took it really slowly and just enjoyed the day, besides it being very cold.
I visited the Old Log Church in Whitehorse and was taken aback by the commitment of the clergy in the 1800’s. Rev. Isaac Campbell, a young man in his twenties, just graduated from seminary in Toronto, came out to the Yukon to set up a church along with other missionaries. They came on foot, by oxcart, traveling thousands of miles often through the snow. Poor Rev. Campbell and his companion are now famed partly for running out of food on the journey and surviving by eating their sealskin boots, which they toasted over the fire. There was no reference to how they continued the journey without them. Perhaps they had a spare pair.
I saw a lone wolf on the side of the road today. He looked at me. I looked at him. Right in the eyes.
Day 50 – Tuesday August 20th
After an evening of conversation about how wonderful Dawson City is I considered heading south per my plan, or throwing the plan out of the window and heading northward towards Dawson City. Because I saved two days not camping out in the Arctic Circle, I had time to go. I woke in the morning and made a spur of the moment decision to go to Dawson City. A long 331 miles up the Klondike Highway, with very limited fueling spots and no cell service for most of the way.
It was a beautiful day to Pelling Crossing. Fox lake was stunning– clear and turquoise. I met some Scottish people from Dundee at the lake and we chatted for a while.
There was kilometers of terrible gravel part of the way up. Perhaps 14 kilometers of gravel, deep gravel in some sections. It’s like riding on marbles. Cars can handle it pretty wel with four wheels, but two wheels don’t really know what to do and they start “squirrelling.” The handlebars wobble and you dare not turn them. I prayed that the journey to Dawson City would be worth it. I prayed for joy. I felt like I needed some. And I got it!
Dawson City is a step back in time to the gold rush era. All of the buildings and streets are of the 1800’s. It’s very easy to imagine life here over one hundred years ago. Stayed in a great hotel cheaply– the El Dorado. The town is like the Yukon’s Key West– old, with charm, authentic, and up for a good party (which I avoided). I did not drink the famed Sourtoe Cocktail, which includes a real human mummified toe. Dawson City was worth the journey and I was glad I had a day or so to soak it in without having to rush off somewhere else.
Day 51 – Wednesday August 21st
The Top of the World Highway. Amazing! So good to be alive! Tore up and down the dirt roads. I never thought I would make it. It was a dream to ride the road and I got the best of it on a beautiful day. Stunning scenery. Rolling mountains. And a couple of rainbows!
I stopped after 39 miles along the road– almost on the edge of the Alaskan border. I didn’t want to go through customs etc again. I stopped on a bend with a view of an amazing half rainbow. I’ve never seen rainbows like I have seen up here. They tend not to be full arches, they tend to be like defracted light coming out of a prism. Very Pink Floyd.
I prayed. Gave thanks. This was the apex of the journey. There would be no more going north from this point onward. This was the turning point. I asked God for a certain something, and I’ll keep that to myself.
I walked leisurely around Dawson. Went to Jack London’s cabin. Photographed 10-year old churches. I took my time. Well, worth the 600 miles out of my way to come to Dawson City.
Day 52 – Thursday August 22nd
The drive back from Dawson City to Whitehorse. I’m noticing that the fireweed is changing from pink flowers to dandelion fluff. It the sign that summer is ending. You can feel the drop in daily temperature. The fireweed knows. Summer is done. I’m beginning to be able to judge what I can expect temperature-wise from the fireweed. Fluff = colder weather is here to stay. Flowers = summer is still storming along.
The lady in the Dawson City Dempster Highway Information Centre said that there’s snow up the Dempster HIghway at Old Crow. It’s come early they say. That’s not too far away, perhaps 100 miles north. I feel like I have pushed my timing to the limit, the cusp of autumn/winter. There’s not much space between the two seasons. Snow could potentially come any day. I need to keep heading south as quickly as I can. I feel as if I need to outrun winter.
As I rode through miles and miles of fir trees my thoughts turned to God– He has built an amazing self-sufficient machine. God built a machine! The perfect machine. The planet fuels itself, regenerates, revolves (materials). Look at the science of it! You cannot evolve a self-sufficient, self-sustaining machine. It’s impossible. It’s brilliant!
Construction crews were paving sections from Dawson south. I ended up with another muddy bike. I need a heavy section of rain and sunshine to clean the bike!
The rattling of the dirt road on the Top Of The World Highway had loosened and lost a bolt on the back rack of the bike– the rack that holds the fuel tank, my sleeping bag, air mattress and pillow. I had to get bolts for the back rack this morning. I bought 4 spares and glued them in with bolt adhesive. The back rack has been a big worry since Fairbanks. I need to carry 20lbs of extra fuel back there and the rack is not designed for it. I’m constantly checking it and concerned that it’s going to snap off.
The ride back to Whitehorse was uneventful. I wore as many layers as I could including balaclava and two pairs of gloves. Sun showers on the way down. About 30 miles out of Whitehorse the sky stopped being cloudy and changed to bright blue skies, and the temperature rose. I cheered. I went back to the Lead Dog Hostel.
Received an email from MSPC about UrbanPromise that cheered me up as well, and an email from work saying that I should probably call. It’s time to start thinking about my career when I return from the trip. What’s next?
Day 53 – Friday August 23rd
Oh my gosh, cold! I rode from Whitehorse to Watson Lake. I had to keep stopping to warm up. The day was overcast. It makes a big difference in the temperature. You may be fine standing around but when you ride at 70 mph for 2 hours, the wind chill and time drop the temperature by quite a few degrees. Probably at least 10 degrees or so.
I rode through Teslin– full of First Nation peoples. Up here you really do feel like you’re in native lands. This is their home. They are the majority.
Cell service is back for the most part. Cell service = Civilization. Love it. Civilization = no extra gas or having to ask where’s the next fill up. I broke my sunglasses getting off the bike at a gas station and the lady there (full service fueling up here) laughed along with me as I stood there with two separate parts, a lens in each hand.
In Watson Lake I reached a sightseeing stop I’d been looking forward to and didn’t want to miss– the Sign Post Forest. 75,817 signs! All started by a man who was missing home and who put up a sign from his home. And someone thought it was a good idea and put up another. And then another, and another, until there are now 75,000 signs from all over the world. While I was there a man pulled up in a minivan, pulled a stepladder, sign, and drill from the back and went off to post it somewhere. There’s now 75,818 signs.
I stayed with Couch Surfing hosts Anell and Jorge. I was their first couch surfing experience. They were super sweet. They came from Mexico for a better life. Nothing for them in Mexico City. Young, in their 20’s and obviously don’t have a lot of material possessions. Anell was trying to do her first ever jigsaw. I really hope they are blessed and prayed for them and their house. Wrote them a great reference and hope it brings them great experiences.
Day 54 – Saturday August 24th
The cold had been a lot to bear on the bike. I prayed for warmer weather and thank goodness it arrived.
On the way Watson Lake to Fort Nelson today. On the way down I stopped at Liard Hot Springs. Provided changing rooms allowed me to get out of all the motorcycle gear and enjoy the waters. Water temperature was 110°F and hotter. In some places in felt like it was burning. It felt therapeutic. Anell and Jorge had shown me photos of the hot springs in the winter with the snow on the trees. It looked mystical, magical, from another world.
As I left the Hot Springs I filled up with gas across the road, and as I did there was a young black bear on the other side of the road. I knew enough about it’s size to know that it was probably the equivalent of a teenager, and there was probably a wary mother bear around somewhere close by. The gas station attendant said the same and thought that the other tourists, out of their RVs, trying to get a photo was a pretty stupid idea. He said, “those things’ll rip you apart given the chance, someone should call the ranger.”
There was a big flashing warning sign above the road: “Caution: Bison On Highway for next 200km.” And the lady in the Contact Creek gas station told me to go slowly. “Why?” I asked. “Because there’s a herd of bison around here and they’ll be all over the road.”
The road from Liard to Fort Nelson was amazing. Rugged mountains, emerald rivers, a black bear, mountain sheep, and a road like a roller coaster. One of the best drives ever. Went on for at least 150 miles.
A little rain as I came into Fort Nelson. There were farm fields and I figured its been a month since I saw anything like that, before getting on the ferry in Prince Rupert. The weather tomorrow is forecast for in the 40’s. I was concerned and not looking forward to it.
Day 55 – Sunday August 25th
Sure enough, the temperature was in the 40s and it had been raining all night, and was continuing to rain. I was a little perturbed by this. I had ridden in the coldest and wettest weather from Anchorage towards Fairbanks with Chase and both of us were suffering. It was pretty miserable. But today was even colder. The coldest it’s been anywhere. And raining too. I honestly didn’t know if I could ride in those temperatures. Remembering that with the wind chill on the bike, I would be experiencing temperatures that felt 10 degrees cooler– somewhere close to freezing.
But it was Sunday. I checked out of the motel. And went to a church I had Googled– St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, at the 11:30 service. The congregation were all women, about 10 or so. The lay minister was Mark, very quietly spoken. They all greeted me warmly. They all knew each other. I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb! St. Mary Magdelene– a small but living church. I was the only man in the pews.
It was a traditional service, similar to Presbyterian. In the announcements I told them what I was doing and collected two dreams from ladies there. I spoke to one of them, Stephanie for a while. She has a disabled son. He’s now walking steps. They said he he never would. She took him to California, the church there said he was going to be important in God’s work. She’s now been told this 3 times by different people in different churches in different cities, and that her son will be completely healed. She glows with the Holy Spirit.
Stephanie invited me for stew with her husband and family at her house. It was very appealing on such a cold and wet day. So wet the bike was making a squealing noise I’d never heard before. Bonnie does not like the very cold, apparently. Sadly, I felt I had to turn Stephanie down. I want to remain on schedule for UrbanPromise Toronto.
I left Fort Nelson with as many layers on as I could get. It was very cold. As I rode through wet fog I had to keep taking my hands of the handlebars and putting them (and my feet) on the engine block to warm up. To warm up my right hand I took my hand off the throttle and coasted in neutral as far as I could, before I’d have to take my right hand off the engine, put it back on the throttle to keep going. Thank goodness there were no other cars at all– it meant I could coast almost to a stop before having to take my right hand off the engine. I needed every second to thaw out my finger tips.
I hit a huge bump and bent the back rack with the gas tank on it. Straightened it back out at a gas station by pulling it up again as hard as I dared without breaking it off. When I got to Fort St. John I emptied the fuel container into the bike’s tank to lighten the load on the rack. I won’t fill the container up now unless I have too. I shall have to be very careful not to run out of fuel.
I stayed in Dawson Creek, Yukon. I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired by the trip now, somewhat. Kinda want it to end. I’ve already thought that I won’t do another trip on a bike like this. This is the last one with Bonnie. Maybe a car for the next trip and not so long. Maybe with a companion and not alone.
Header photo: The Hottle family gives me a very warm welcome at Faith United Presbyterian Church in Monmouth, Illinois.
Week #2 contained much better weather once I reached Michigan. It included a visit to Humble Design in Detroit, staying with MSPC member Carol Spangler in her beautiful lakeside cottage on Pickerel Lake, feeding the homeless with St. Benedict The Moor in Milwaukee, and visiting Rev. Hallie Hottle’s hometown and family in Monmouth, Illinois. It was a very special week indeed. Read more details below….
Day #8 – Sunday July 7th – Detroit. I stayed with old friends and work colleagues Treger, Rob, Hensen and Tuesday Strasberg. It was the day of the Wimbledon final and we all enjoyed watching Andy Murray be the first Brit in 77 years to win. I felt a sense of national pride and for a moment I wished I was home in England with everyone. After the tennis final I headed to the Cranbrook Institute and to take a photo of the Architectural Building, which was Petra Ives von Huth father’s alma mater. The campus is stunning and I recommend a visit. Then I headed downtown for The Heidelberg Project where one street has been turned into an art project. All the houses are decorated with crazy paintings, messages, plastic dummies, burnt down buildings etc. I talked to Otila at the Yellowhouse Guestbook– a yellow house that everyone is writing all over. You donate $1 to write on the house. She’s trying to get her house rehabbed. Yesterday Anthony Bourdain signed the house. After that I rode to the Grand Michigan Station, which is completely in disrepair and has been used in movies etc.
The Cranbrook Institute in Detroit, Michigan
Day #9 – Monday July 8th – Had another of those blessed moments trying to replace a rain cover on my suitcase (which I had ripped apart on Friday and had taped back together with duct tape). In the morning I searched online and called across Michigan for a rain cover. Eventually was told that there was only one in stock in Michigan, and that it was 8 miles down the road from the Strasberg house. I quickly went to pick it up. Amazing! Spent the afternoon with Treger at Humble Design, visiting the warehouse where they stock all of the furniture to furnish houses for those coming out of shelters and homelessness. Humble Design has furnished 260 homes so far, but they do need your support to be able to continue their work. It costs about $1,200 per home to furnish it. Humble Design is an A-rated charity and 98% of donated funds go to furnish the homes.
Day #10 – Tuesday July 9th – I departed Detroit and headed for the center of Michigan to a small town called Newaygo. As it happens Carol Spangler, an MSPC member, has a lovely cottage on the lake there and had kindly offered me a place to rest, relax and revive. And another MSPC member, Ross and Windy Johnston, have a brother there, to which they wanted me to deliver a package of family photos to. But first, I had been set a goal of visting Benton Harbor First Presbyterian Church. It was a bit out of the way, but I set off. I arrived there soon after lunch and rang the front door bell– announced and unexpected. A lady came to the door and gave me an uncertain look. I explained who I was and that Peter Helm had sent me. She immediately lit up and greeted me. The lady was Laurie Hartzell, pastor of the church. Laurie gave me a tour of the church, I told her about me trip, I meet the youth group and answered all their questions– they were excited to have this odd and unexpected visitor. We took photos and promised to stay in contact. Then, I headed for Newaygo up the coast of Lake Michigan, past farmlands and through wooded roads. I made it to Carol’s house by 6:30pm, and a stunning Lake Pickerel. Her cottage sits high up on a bank surrounded by trees and looking right over the lake. The lake is large surrounded by holiday homes, boats, floating decks and jet skis. The weather had finally changed and it only rained around Grand Rapids. The days began to change from mostly rain to mostly beautiful dry sunshine without the Miami humidity I’m used to. Carol showed me around and we sat and talked all night. Carol was wonderfully welcoming and rightly proud of her little cottage.
Day #11 – Wednesday July 10th – I had arranged to deliver the package of family photos from brother to brother. I set my GPS on my phone (one of the best items I bought before the trip was a waterproof case for my iPhone– kept in dry as it’s mounted to the steering column of the bike and I can read the directions as I drive). Rob Johnston’s house is set on 20 acres of farmland, 14 acres of which is being farmed for corn. A beautiful house set at the end of a dirt driveway, with a barn, horse and a beautiful labrador that likes to chase tennis balls. He was pleased to see me and it felt great to be delivering a package to him from Ross, his brother in Miami. A fellow motorcycle rider, Rob and I talked for quite some time. I went back to Carol’s and chatted with her and Nancy (her cousin who also lives on the lake) for a while. Carol had breakfast waiting for me– pancakes and bacon and coffee, all prepared out on the patio overlooking the lake seen through the trees. A very pretty setting indeed. I got my GoPro charged up and packed up the bike for an afternoon ride. I rode the bike in the afternoon along M-20 west toward Lake Michigan and then northward up Route 31. Then I set the GPS on the iPhone to take me home via the back roads. It was a great ride at 70 or 80 miles an hour through the fields, the forest and the rolling hills, past lakes. All beautiful countryside. Then I got back to Pickerel Lake and went for a swim and kayaked around the lake a bit. What a privilege to be so looked after by Carol and blessed by God. We went out to dinner in Newaygo at Sportsman’s Bar where we met a lady named Kathy. Kathy, a minister, came over and talked to us about her dream of moving to California to be close to her daughter, her life-changing experience in Alaska where she began to believe in God and also became pregnant. Kathy said that she needed some photos taken for work (job interviews etc in California) and so we went across the street behind a building, against a brick wall, and I took photos of her. In return she pledged to donate $100 to Miami Shores Presbyterian Church. Lovely!
Day #12 – Thursday July 11th – up at 7am to catch the ferry to Milwaukee. The earliest start so far on the trip. Carol very nicely cooked me eggs and toast and coffee for breakfast as I took a shower and packed my bags. I’m definitely getting quicker at packing. It took me four hours when I first tried packing. The first day on the trip took me an hour and a half to get out of the door. I’m down to about 20 minutes to pack and load the bike now. I said goodbye to Carol. It had been lovely and a privilege to stay with her. It takes an hour to get to the Lake Express Ferry in Muskegon, and I needed to be there by 9:30am for a 10:15am sailing. Google Maps GPS took me along country roads for a beautiful ride in the morning. Bonnie flew like the wind through farmlands. Perfect. There was a short-ish line to get on the ferry. Time to learn how to tie-down a bike. The Lake Express Ferry provides free tie-downs, unlike other ferries. With a little help from other motorcycle riders I tied my bike down for the first time. I sat outside at the rear of the boat with two other motorcyclists, looking up at the sky. It’s a 2 and half hour ride across Lake Michigan, with a time change from Eastern to Central time zones, and a change of state half way across the Lake– from Michigan to Wisconsin. Milwaukee came into view at 11:45am CST. Beautiful clear day, no clouds, calm lake, smooth waters. Perfect photo op of the harbor with the city behind. I set a course for Gitta Pazar’s house– my couch surfing host for the night. We met and sat and talked a lot. At 4:30pm we went to St. Benedict’s The Moor and feed the homeless together, along with her 19 year-old son, Beni. There we met Brother Rob, David, Jim, Robert and the Maitre D’ for the evening, Mike. Mike told the homeless where to sit, and showed the volunteers what to do and when. I got to sit for a while and eat with the homeless– Sue, Freddy and Chris. They were all very welcoming and we chatted about Milwaukee, where they had come from and my trip. Brother Jim filmed myself, Brother Rob (who runs the whole place) and Brother David about my trip and the homeless feeding. They are the biggest operation in Milwaukee, providing 100,000 meals per year. They are very organized and run a tight operation.
Day #13 – Friday July 12th – Gitta, Beni and myself got up in the morning and ate breakfast. I had a FaceTime conference call with Rev. Hallie and the summer camp kids back at Miami Shores Presbyterian Church. About 50 children in all I would imagine. They seemed really happy to be speaking with me and they all brought me a big smile. They lined up in front of the camera, with their dreams wrapped around their heads on ribbons, and told me their dreams (to become a vetinarian, an ice skater, etc) and asked me questions about my journey, like “what do you eat along the way,” and “have you seen any snakes yet?”. I loved the moment. Then Gitta and I went to the Milwuakee Museum of Art, an amazing building with wings that go up and out, and then back in again. We stayed til noon to watch the wings move, along with the crowd and then it was time for me to get going. I’d decided to ride to Monmouth, Illinois, Hallie’s hometown. Hallie had set up a scavenger hunt for me to complete and to stay with her family. I never expected to be staying with her family! It was a 260-mile ride to get to Monmouth. 4 hours Google said. But it took me 6 hours. All along epressway mostly. Another beautiful day. Perfect weather. Only a bit windy on the expressway. Hallie’s family and church members were waiting for me to arrive. Hallie arranged for me to pick up flowers at the local grocery store for myself and her mother and grandmother. So sweet. I presented Tammi (her mum) with flowers as I arrived on the bike. The local newspaper was there to interview me and take some photos– the Monmouth Review Atlas. (Click here to read the article.) I joined Hallie’s family inside Faith United Presbyterian Church for pizza, and they asked me questions about my journey. So lovely to get such a warm greeting. We went to Wyatt Earp’s birthplace and completed a scavenger hunt challenge– have a finger gun fight outside the house with Dalton (her brother). He shot me down. We took photos, sent them to Hallie and made her laugh. Then onto the Warren County American Cancer Society Relay for Life. There we lit luminaries, I got to meet the organizers and spoke to them about their work and my journey. I learnt that Hallie’s mum had breast cancer. That was an emotional shock. I learnt that a deep love formed out of it– the way her family supported her and looked after her. I walked 3 laps with Tammi Hottle and another lady. We came back to Hallie’s home and I went to sleep in great peace and happiness. Must not forget to mention Mumble their little doggie that dances with his two front paws. Haha, so cute.
Day #14 – Saturday July 13th – Another beautiful sunny day outside. Tammi Hottle went to work and Buff (Hallie’s dad) stayed home and took me to Rainbow Riders just 400 yards down the street from Hallie’s home. I spent the morning helping and watching and learning about the therapeutic riding sessions given to specially-abled kids. Was lovely to see their smiles, clap as they got things right like catching a ball, riding horses backwards etc. It was very moving and so happy to see them having such a good time and accomplishing things. They had lots of young children learning to help them out– trainee volunteers helping the main volunteers who were all teenagers. There were a couple of children with sensory disbailities, one blind child and one child with celebral palsy. Some sat backwards on the horses, clanged tubular bells and sand “I’m working on the railroad”, they went along a sensory path, through the grass and over a bridge. Afterwards Buff and I drove the SUV out to Oquawka to see Ye Olde Fish House that Hallie had wanted me to eat at– another scavenger hunt challenge. Buff and I both ordered the fish sandwich which was quite good. Before that Buff drove us along the river (that separates Illinois from Iowa) and to their cabin up on the bank overlooking the river. The cabin was at the end of a dirt path at the end of the road in a state park. It’s a one-bedroom cabin with a pontoon boat sitting outside and a john boat for fishing. They have an electric chair to transport people or coolers down to the riverside. Very cool! Wished that I got to ride it. We returned to the house and after an afternoon nap it was time to try and complete Hallie’s challenges. First one was to use her Zippers pompon and do a cheer outside her high school. Then to her grandparents house where I had a tour of all grandpas woodworking and grandma sat with an old fashioned fly swatter. A lovely time with Vicki, Tammi, Buff, Gma and Gpa, and Matt (with his new car, Vicki’s son). Only thing to complete… go to the Bijou Club for a beer. No one wanted to go, so we all went, except for Buff. Hallie cheered as I sent her a photo of the last challenge completed with most of her family. I was introduced to Chris and Carey there– boyfriend and his girlfriend who teaches kick-boxing and other classes at the YMCA and who is legally blind. Dr. Edwin Stone called her at random having looked at her medical records and said that she is a good candidate for new steps in medicine with stem cell research and gave her some hope she might see again. A strong lady, she breaks down when she talks of some hope that she might see. She hides that she’s blind reallty well. After an emotional talk at the bar about dreams we left for another very peaceful and happy night’s sleep.
Day 15 – Sunday July 14th – got up and got ready early to go to Faith United Presbyterian Church– Halllie’s church. She preached her first sermon from this pulpit 6 years ago– on the same subject that she preached on when I left MSPC on June 30th. Amazingly I got to be an usher for the morning– greeting the congregation, handing out the bulletins for the service, collecting and taking the offering up to the altar. Buff and I walked the offering to the altar and Tammi later said that she almost cried– it was touching for us all. At coffee hour after church I explained to the congregation who I was and what the journey was about. I collected their dreams and answered questions. Told them “hello!” from Hallie and that they should be really proud of Hallie and all that she is doing in Miami. The whole town of Monmouth, Illinois greeted me so warmly. So often I get, “ohhhh, you’re the motorcycle guy!!!” It always brings a smile. After church we went to the Maple City Diner to eat breakfast with Janie (Buff’s sister) who has Downs Syndrome sister, who’s 55). Then home to pack up the bike and head out. Buff cleaned my headlight and mirrors and led me out of town so I’d find the right way. Tammi gave me a stone with a cross on it to keep in my pocket along my journey. It was a difficult parting for us all. I had felt so at home. Hallie’s family had welcomed me into their arms so warmly, we had so much fun, it was difficult to leave. I still get a little emotional now when I think about having to depart from them. Hallie sent me a text to say that her mum was crying after I left. It was a very special weekend that none of us will forget. Dalton sent a text to say it was great to meet me. I left Monmouth (wearing the t-shirt) and headed west along Route 34 to Burlington and then north along Route 61 to Tipton (about 54 miles south of Cedar Rapids). When I got to Tipton Bonnie refused to start. Completely electrically dead. I waited for a tow truck for a couple of hours. I met Terry Maynard– a fellow motorcycle rider on a Harley who was taking 4 weeks off to ride from Indianapolis out to South Dakota and Yellowstone and then down through Colorado to Florida for a family member’s graduation at UF, and then down to Fort Myers and then back home to Indianapolis). He had no real schedule. We’re two birds of a feather and have stayed in contact via text since meeting.
It’s been a wonderful and emotional week. This trip was never about the destinations. This trip is about the people I meet and the journey along the way. So when Bonnie broke down again I wasn’t perturbed at all, I knew that it had happened for a reason and something great would come out it. I’m always brought into the lives of people and I hope that their lives are touched by God in our short time together.