Thursday, June 30, 2005

Little Bighorn, Montana to Devil's Tower, Wyoming

11:30 p.m. KOA Campground, Devil’s Tower Wyoming

$25.00 to stay here, but at 10:00 p.m., I was lucky to find anything.

Montana highway 212 from Broadus to Alzada, about 60 miles, was one of the most dangerous I’ve experienced. Tall thick grass encroaching on the road’s shoulder and more deer and elk than I’ve ever seen in a stretch. The grass was so high, I often could not see the animals until they raised their heads.

From the markings on the pavement, collisions are common. I slowed to 60 in the 70 mph zone, then a semi came up on me. Realizing I would be unable to make an emergency stop with him there, I pulled close to the shoulder to encourage him to go around. Once he passed, I stayed fairly near. The truck was effective in flushing out the animals. At least then I could see which way they were moving.

20 miles of construction, with gravel and freshly-laid chip made other parts of 212 "interesting".



Outside the Custer Battlefield Museum at Garryowen, Montana. I hadn't realized that in a move of political correctness, Congress authorized the renaming of the site from Custer Battlefield to Little Bighorn National Monument, in recognition of the Indian tribes who also fought.


THIS MORNING

A warm day in store.

Stopped in Garryowen, 3 miles from the campground. Filled up on gas, then paid $4 to see the Garryowen Museum, devoted to the Indian Wars, particularly the Battle of Little Bighorn. I'm starting to learn some of the history, most of which was omitted from school studies. Watched a video from a TV series "Unexplained Phenomena." A gallery features photos from the era, military gear and Indian clothing, weapons and tools. "Garryowen", an old Irish tune, was 7th Cavalry regimental marching song.

Followed Chip's advice and visited the Trading Post prior to heading into the monument. The Crow Tacos are made with a shell of Crow Indian fry bread. Pretty tasty.

As I was dining, police from the Crow Agency came in and took a table. It is interesting to be a visitor on THEIR land.

The entrance to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is at the north end of the battlefield, just below "Last Stand Hill." The ill-fated raid actually started 5 or 6 miles south of this point. (It is interesting that the National Battlefield focuses on the locations where soldiers fell, and does not include the site of the Indian encampment, where the troops initiated the assault.)

A road follows the ridgeline to the southernmost point, abreast of where Major Reno's troops first engaged warriors in the valley. From here, you can work backwards, following the chronology of the attack.

It is said that 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho, including 1,500 to 2,000 warriors camped below “Greasy Grass” (Little Bighorn). They had refused to remain on reservations and wanted to pursue their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

One chief stated that when his people "crossed the divide" (the mountains to the east) they believed they would live in peace, the white man in his territory and the Sioux in this valley. They never thought the military would attack such a large encampment.

Custer ordered Reno to charge the village from the south, but instead of advancing into the village, Reno established a "skirmish line" below the village. Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, led by Chiefs Gall, Crazy Horse, Two Moons and Sitting Bull ("Tatanka Yotanka") rushed out to meet the attack, and quickly sent Reno's men into retreat, warriors riding in among the fleeing troops, knocking many from their horses.



A view from "Reno Hill". Custer ordered Major Reno and his troops to attack the Indian Village from the south (left side here). The village was in the far right distance. Reno's forces were overtaken and routed, escaping across the river and up this ravine to the hilltop I was standing on.


Surviving soldiers managed to ascend bluffs and gain a ridgeline position, where they were besieged for two days. Meanwhile, Custer had continued north with other companies. He planned to have part of his force sweep down "Medicine Tail Coulee," ford the Little Bighorn and charge the village, in a flanking movement to complement Reno's (failed) offense.



Custer's troops came down to the Little Bighorn along Medicine Tail Coulee, flowing out of the hills onto the plain.



At the mouth of Medicine Tail Coulee, the Little Bighorn is just before the treeline. This is where Custer's troops would have first engaged the warriors.



Being surprised by the overwhelming counterattack, the Custer's troops scrambled up this ravine to the ridgeline beyond.



The troops, who were under full attack moved north along the ridgeline. The marble markers show where soldiers fell.



The markers state simply: "A 7th Cavalry Soldier Fell Here June 25, 1876"



Memorials to the fallen Sioux were recently added.


Custer, with several companies, was to take a ridge further north. But the Indians reacted swiftly to news of advancing troops. They pinned Reno, then encircled both phalanxes of Custer's troops.



View looking southwest from "Last Stand Hill". Custer's marker is left center.



Custer's marker.


The Indians had new Winchester repeating rifles, supplied by the U.S. government for hunting buffalo. In close-quarter fighting, these proved devastating. The Cavalry carbines and pistols were no match.



Sculpture in the new Indian memorial.


Late in the battle, at least 28 soldiers made a frantic attempt to reach the Little Bighorn. They broke from Custer's command and ran down "Deep Ravine", where their bodies were found, mostly in a heap. According to one Indian account, this group was in a panic, running from "Last Stand Hill”, trying to reach the river. "They were moving their arms like they were running, but they were only walking."



This path leads from the ravine up to "Last Stand Hill". Over 50 markers line the path.



28 soldiers, trying to make a dash for the river, were surrounded and killed in this ravine.

In the desperate battle, all 200 of Custer's men were lost. Reno and Benteen lost 53 troops. It is estimated between 40 and 100 Lakota and Sioux died.

A powerful experience to walk these hills, so peaceful and pastoral now. And strange to think a nation memorializes one participant, while (until recently) overlooking the others' loss.

These were indeed the final days of the Great Sioux Nation. "Manifest Destiny" and the greed-driven "Gold Fever" were bringing an end to the nomadic tradition.

I had pulled to the side of the road to read one of the historical markers and take a photo when I knocked my glasses off the seat of the bike. They fell to the pavement and one of the lenses shattered. This was very disappointing. They go on and off many times a day – when taking off or putting on my helmet, taking photos, etc., etc. I expected this to happen eventually, just not this early into the journey. Though I carry two extra pair, these were my only "progressive lens" glasses.



This highway worker said she's from "the Crow Agony" - the Crow Agency.

7th Ranch RV Campground

Met Chip West this morning, the owner of this RV park and ranch, and an historic tour guide for the region (http://historicwest.com/default.htm). He was born and raised in the Little Bighorn Valley. He was interested in the bike, since he used to ride.

Chip found me this morning, asking if I got the code for the facilities okay. I asked him the fee.

"For a tent, $15."

"But I used a full hook up site, and plugged in and used your wireless."

"I'm not going to charge you for that. Are you a Triple A member?"

"Yes"

I handed him a twenty, saying I expected to pay more.

"I'll be back with your receipt and change."

"I don't need change."

He discounted the $15, so that it was $13.50, brought the change and a receipt.

He asked about my plans, and suggested Devil's Tower. He said it's not far from here. I hadn't considered it, but looking at the map, I see it will be simple to include in my itinerary.

He also recommended that I stop at the Trading Post across from Little Bighorn monument and try the Crow Tacos.

Last night, the stars were out, the "Big Sky" helping. It occurred that it has been a long time since I've seen them. I haven't had many DARK nights in the past month. And usually the mosquitoes would be chasing me to cover. And the chirping of crickets! Hadn't heard them in a long time.
Tonight I'm camped at the "7th Ranch RV Campground", about 6 miles south of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. An immaculately-maintained campground on a grassy slope, set back a mile or so from Interstate 90. I arrived after the office had closed, so I just occupied a full hook-up site.

It looks just like a hillside subdivision here: little "street lights" at each site, the motorhomes and trailers arranged neatly up the hillside, the glow of lights and TVs in the windows. I feel I have invaded some gated community.

Free wireless. So, I'm plugged in and on-line!

Discovered there's a railroad track out there as well, and it's VERY busy. At least a train every half hour.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Great Falls to the Little Big Horn

Up at 9:00, not well-rested.

The sky a uniform gray. Showered, checked the Tribune on-line. It contained a surprisingly graphic account of the murder. I reflect on the fact that someone was murdered just ten feet away, and I was too out of it to help. Incredible.

It was time to move on; I’ve been avoiding this. Loaded up, checked out. Asked at the desk "how is everyone doing?"

"Everyone’s doing just fine,” I was told.

Walked into Starbucks and looked at their display case - "too sweet" - and left. I went out to see the "Great Falls."


This is certainly not the vision that so awed Lewis and Clark when they first came upon Rainbow Falls.



But this hydroelectric power helped build the cities of Montana.



Great Falls? Well, maybe Good Falls, or Okay Falls.


Skirting around Malmstrom Air Force Base, it was impossible to see much, as it's situated on a plateau, hidden from view.

Strong winds carried me southeast. Almost from the start, I was combating drowsiness. The mind starts to wander, and soon one ceases to connect with the environment, which is so crucial on a bike.


I don't know the name of this flower, but there are fields of it everywhere in Montana. It's wonderfully fragrant.

***

In Stanford, I forced myself to take a break. I was drawn by the sign at Candel’s Byway Café, which advertised homemade pies and cinnamon rolls, and "awesome salsa". A refreshing, family-run business. On duty today, Mike, Sheila and Brittany Candelaria. Brittany served, while the folks worked the kitchen. I ordered a cinnamon roll and coffee. The roll really was fresh and tasty. Enjoyed just sitting at the counter, soaking up the local flavor, as townsfolk came and went.

But I couldn't leave without trying the "awesome salsa". So I looked at the menu. "Do the tacos come with the awesome salsa?" Sure enough. So I ordered some chicken tacos.

"I like to eat dessert BEFORE the meal. That way I know I'll never be too full for dessert."

Quite good. I left feeling totally satisfied in body and emotion. Really nice people. And at a total of $7.75, a bargain. No tax either!


It was hard enough to pull these two timid souls into a photograph, and then I go and blow it! (I have a hard time too, asking someone to pose.) Sheila and Brittany Candelaria. Brittany served me. A great personality!



Candel's Byway Cafe, a great little family-run cafe in Stanford, Montana. I stopped for the homemade cinnamon buns and coffee, and stayed for the chicken tacos with "awesome salsa". What a combo! Owned and operated by Mike and Sheila Candelaria, the whole family works here, except the five-year-old.



More grain silos...and lots of abandoned buildings.



Cereal Country!


Cruised south through some gorgeous country, especially the Snowy Mountains, Little Snowy Mountains and Judith Mountains. I could understand how someone would leave everything behind to come up here.


The Judith Mountains between Great Falls and Billings. This is a beautiful part of Montana.


In Lewistown, I stopped at the Ace Hardware store and purchased four small rubber o-rings for $2.94. Larry Saenz at BMW of SF suggested using these as a fix for the windshield rattle that has grown progressively worse over recent weeks. Fitting an o-ring to the two plastic pins attaching the windshield to the lower swivel mount completely eliminated the rattle. Thanks, Larry! (And to BMW: you need to find a better solution!)


Stock windshield mounts (plastic pins to which the screws attach) quickly wear out resulting in excessive windshield vibration and noise.


(Larry always has some endearing words of encouragement. A few days ago he wrote: "frankly I want to kill you both [Anne Girardin and me]. No. Really. I hate you both for your joy and enthusiasm." When I was starting out, he wished me well: "have the journey of your life you rat-bastard.")


I tried to bring them closer, but the sound I made came out like a duck call.



Happy, healthy horses.



Downtown Roundup, Montana.


Across Montana, small uniform white crosses stand by the highways, obviously marking the sites of fatal accidents. Not unusual, except in the standardized format Montana seems to have adopted.

Entering Billings, I thought my engine was misfiring, but then determined the sound was coming from a nearby trap shooting range. I had never witnessed the sport on this scale. I thought the nearby Lake Elmo State Park had campgrounds, but as I drove into the surrounding "yuppies" enclave, I realized I was mistaken. Camping would not be tolerated among the ranchettes. But I had to have a closer look at this trap shooting phenomena. Parked among the SUVs and pick-ups, then waddled out to the firing lines in my suit, camera in hand.


A hundred people blasting away!



I would not mess with these characters. There weren't many misses.



And they're enjoying their beer. Oh, that's comforting! (Actually, they were drinking after they finished shooting.)



Everyone's doing it!


A woman in her second year of competition came up and asked if it were a flight suit or motorcycle suit I was wearing. She explained they had over thirty teams in this club, and they were practicing for an upcoming competition. In answer to my question, she said they were shooting shotguns, not rifles (I didn't know these things!) They shoot at a clay target. The more accomplished marksmen shoot from 18 yards behind the launch point versus (I think) 12 yards for the beginners. Teens keep score and man the pit, making sure the launcher is loaded and operating properly.


Oops.



Pretty serious dudes, here.


What a strange pastime. It just doesn't seem very productive to me. But these people are passionate about the sport. And I wouldn't want to mess with them. I was amazed at the skill demonstrated.


It broke in half.



Obliterated!!!



Blasted it to pieces!



Missed!


After stopping to refuel and refresh in Billings, I turned east on Interstate 90. I've spent little time on interstates thus far. What a different pace! An almost frenzied, negatively-charged energy, in contrast to secondary roads. I would suspect "road rage" incidence is directly proportional to speed limit (and it's 75 mph in Montana.)

As the sun set, it became clear I'd be searching for a campsite near Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument with night falling.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Great Falls, Day 3

To bed around 4:00 a.m., I think, then awakened a little after 8:00, the radio alarm was on, playing some Christian station, but the volume so low, it took some other noise to wake me.

Not much time before I had to be at the station. Started to pack, but thought about how much I still needed to do (and how tired I was.)

Called and asked if I could stay one more day.

“I don’t know, we’re booked for tonight, in fact we’re over-booked.”

She managed to fit me in though.

Looked at Great Falls Tribune on-line and found article about the investigation. It said a woman had been slain in room 321.

After reading this, I remembered the couple standing outside the motel Sunday morning as I unpacked the bike. I said in passing “you two are up late.”

I think the man replied “we’ve been clubbing.”

But it’s all such a fog.

I called Detective McDermott and told him I could be there earlier, at 10:00, and he replied "I'll be waiting for you."

He was very cheerful and happy to see me. I admire this guy's energy and positivity. He took me into a windowless room, and asked me to have a seat at the table. He wanted to take a recorded statement. We went over the details again. When I said I thought the noise was coming from the neighboring room, he asked "isn't it possible it came from the room below?"

"Yes."

I couldn't add any more detail to the information I gave him last night.

I mentioned a few times to McDermott, I wish I had acted differently. He reassured me at several points (both last night and this morning) that one hears stuff all the time in motels.

"You can’t go reporting everything you hear."

After the interview, he walked me out. McDermott was very interested in my trip and sincerely suggested I try to visit Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico (on the Sea of Cortez). I said I would add that to my list.

Returned to my room and continued working on the blog.

A man down in the parking lot saying “help, I’m being kidnapped” pulls me away from the computer. He’s joking with a friend. “This is not funny…”

6:00 p.m. have to take a break! Been at this all afternoon…

Returned to the Mackenzie River Pizza Co. tonight. Much more crowded, with several large groups. Tried the “Penne Broadwater Bay” pasta, which was excellent, accompanied by a “Driftboat Amber” beer.

This time, I complimented the manager, as a manager's leadership makes all the difference in a restaurant.

Watching the sky, which was fairly clear when I arrived. Even though the clouds seemed to be barely move, it soon became dark and threatening. This is odd. I’m used to clouds blowing in from somewhere, such as the Pacific Ocean. But here they appeared to be forming right above.

Up very late again, 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., or so, working on the blog.

Great Falls, Montana

Monday, June 27, 2005

Around 11:00 a.m., it became apparent time was running out and there was still much to do. Housekeeping was knocking.

The thought occurred to remain another day. “Maybe I can talk them down to a lower rate?”

I went to the desk and inquired “since it’s so quiet here…”

“The rate is the rate. But it looks like they gave you the lowest rate, $84.60.” That Jerry!

They booked me for another day, a reprieve that offered more time to breath.

There are some heavy-duty fireworks in these parts! Every so often, what sounds like dynamite is set off, echoing through the nearby hillside neighborhood.

After 4:00, I started to think about getting something to eat. Looking at the sky from my window, the half on the right was black with storm clouds, to the left pretty sunny. I watched for movement, but the clouds seemed stationary.

Downtown was on the sunny side, so I ventured that way. No idea where I was going, just "cruising", looking for some inviting restaurant to draw me in. I've never seen so many casinos outside of Vegas or Reno. Scores of them. Most restaurants here include a casino.

Within half an hour, thunderstorms converged on Great Falls from all directions. The winds had risen and changed direction. Lightning was everywhere, rain pouring down. I was still puttering about, slowly getting saturated. But it was exciting.

After about 45 minutes, found myself heading south out into the rolling farmland, but towards light. It was apparent that this whole mass was now moving north. Looking back towards the city, a wall of black cloud loomed above, veils of rain reaching to the ground.

It was obvious I wouldn't find a restaurant out here. So, I turned back into the storm. Connected to Lower River Road, following the shallow-banked Missouri River back into town. The homes and farms I passed had a comfortable, country feel about them. Rich foliage, big spreading trees. It almost felt like the south, especially with this stormy weather.

Another pass through the downtown business district reaffirmed that it was pretty dead at this hour. My riding suit was leaking now, at the crotch and under the arms, so it was decision time. "I guess Applebee's isn't such a terrible choice."

Found my way toward the restaurant I had passed earlier. Arriving out front, I noticed another, more interesting one just down the street: Mackenzie River Pizza Co. Relieved to have another option. And, it appeared popular.

The staff was quite attentive from the moment I walked through the door. The establishment had a "good energy." It was basically a "theme restaurant", but if the food and service were good, I didn't mind. And such was the case. A draft "Moose Drool" dark ale (from Missoula), a small Caesar Salad, a thin-crust Chicken Pesto Pizza, a "Mudpie" dessert, and regular visits from staff. I was a (fat and) satisfied customer. As I left, I thanked them for "doing a great job." It's not all that common these days.

7:55 p.m. Returned from dinner a half hour ago to find a business card stuck in the door. From a Police Detective McDermott of the Great Falls Police Department, it had a hand-written note: “Please call me…very important.”

I walked back outside where a sheriff’s car was parked, the officer speaking to a gentleman. “I found this in my door. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

“Call that number and McDermott can explain.”

Called Detective McDermott and he sounded relieved. “I’ll be right up.”

“You’re in the building, in the hotel?”

“Yes.”

He came up and I invited him into the room. He took a seat on a bench inside the door, pad and pen in hand. I stared at the 45 caliber pistol strapped to his side. He asked me if, during my stay, I had heard anything unusual. I mentioned the demented-sounding voice yesterday morning. He was interested in the time, which I placed at around 11:00. He asked me to describe what I had heard. Could I recall what was said? I was shocked by the absence of detail in my memory. I had been in such a fog.

When I asked what happened, he said they were investigating a homicide in the room directly below mine, 321.

"McDermott" thanked me, saying this was valuable information, and asked if I would mind coming down to the police station tomorrow morning at 10:30 to make a recorded statement. "Not at all. I have to check out by noon, so that won't be a problem."

He was surprised that I had recorded the disturbance in my journal and asked that I bring the computer along tomorrow. When asked how I could be contacted later, should they need to, I gave him my e-mail address.

I began to question how I could have been so disconnected from reality that I failed to respond to the warning signs.

Throughout the evening, there was police activity outside in the parking lot. There was a constant watch on the building. What appeared to be a crime scene investigation van showed up. I assume they finally got the search warrant they had been awaiting.

I worked into the night, trying to make headway on a backlog of journal notes.

Just after 2:00, I heard a woman’s voice outside ask “do you need a body bag?”

“Yes,” came a reply.

It was quite chilling to hear the different teams moving about below, and to think the victim had been down there a day and a half. "They haven't even removed the body yet?"

A few minutes later I watched as they rolled out the white-wrapped body, strapped to a gurney. It appeared to be an adult.

Later, as the activity subsided, participants bid each other "good night", heading home from another job.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Great Falls, Montana

Holiday Inn Express, Great Falls

What a luxury! With my things strewn all around the room, I could now log in again and get connected!!! Sent out a "Greetings from Great Falls" e-mail at 5:14 a.m. and stayed up until around 6:00, the new day already begun.

Awakened around 11:00 by strange demented shouting in the next room. Was the person drunk? Mentally unstable? Quite a commotion, which I had, I think, tried to ignore as I slept. "Why doesn't housekeeping knock on the door?" It finally subsided, and I heard a man's voice say something like "let's go out and see the sights." I imagined a family with a mentally-impaired grown-up child.

I felt drugged after such a short rest. Exchanged e-mails with Jeff and finally gave him the room number so he could call. Discussed a general outline for our tour of the Maritimes and Eastern Seaboard. Showered. Put some laundry in to wash. Walked to a nearby Starbuck’s for coffee and a brownie.

Balanced my checkbook and accounted for credit card receipts for first time since late May. A tedious job that consumed much of the afternoon. Paid off my credit card balance by phone.

A very mild, overcast and muggy day in Great Falls. Considered going out for a look around, but figured I can do that AFTER checking out. I wanted to make use of the internet connection and "home office space" as long as possible.

Caught up on the news; violent weather reported in the northern plains. Exciting! I'm actually looking forward to some spectacular weather. The TV show “CNBC in Brazil,” caught my attention and I watched with interest. They showed some of the conditions I would be facing in the months ahead. Some, such as the muddy Amazon roads, the extreme poverty and crime, the congestion of Sao Paolo, these were admittedly a bit frightening.

8:00 p.m. Under lowering gray skies, and succumbing to a mindless, easy choice, walked over to "Tony Roma’s" for dinner. Walking across 500 yards of asphalt parking lots feels so strange. Our suburban shopping areas are not designed for pedestrians. “Only losers do this…” But to drive from the hotel would have been silly.

Ordered a New York Steak dinner. Someone told me their steaks were good, but this was disappointing. My "mushroom covered steak" came with three small shriveled black mushrooms, requiring an intricate operation to spread around. Expensive for what you get, and far inferior to "The Keg’s" dinner.

I was thinking about chain stores. They don’t inspire any curiosity, or thought process. At Tony Roma’s, I wasn’t drawn into conversation with the server about the menu, or the origins, or what brought people here.

Calgary, Alberta to Great Falls, Montana

It rained in Banff overnight. I was up around 9:00; the campground had been bustling for hours. Drove into town, under stormy skies. It was chilly. Found Evelyn’s coffee shop. Though there’s a Starbucks, Evelyn’s seems to have a lock on this small town with at least 3 outlets and a coffee cart. Outside, I saw a lean mountain climber, everything on his backpack. "Now that’s traveling the hard way."

A cold 70-mile ride into Calgary. Trying to approach this intelligently, I looked for the Visitor’s Center to help me locate the BMW dealer, an internet café, and maybe even use their computer. But the Visitor’s Center was little more than a small counter inside the Olympic Pavilion (which now seems dedicated primarily to a dirt-bike park.) The pair of seniors behind the counter did their best to help, but they didn’t have any idea about the internet world. There was no computer, and it took them quite a while to even locate a phone book. The three of us looked up the BMW shop and they patiently mapped directions. Surprisingly, the gentleman also knew of an internet café.

Found my way to Blackfoot Motosports, the biggest, busiest motorcycle center I’ve ever seen. About the only thing they don't work on is Harleys. Inquired about having my rear tire changed today. With 8,500 miles, it was due for replacement.

The young lady behind the service counter was (to me) clearly in the wrong job. I listened while she “helped” a perturbed fellow ahead of me. Then it was my turn.

“I’m not sure we can get to it. There are 4 jobs ahead of you. We have one mechanic. the other went home sick. The mechanic isn’t sure he can do it.”

“He’s not sure, or he can’t get to it? Because if he’s not sure, I’ll just wait around until he IS sure.”

“I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Can you tell me when I should come back?”

“3:00. But I can’t guarantee anything.”

“I understand. I’ll come back and then wait until it becomes clear. If he can’t do it, I’ll just have to do it myself.”

Left and found a car wash, where I unpacked the bike and gave it a fairly thorough cleaning. Returned to Blackfoot at 3:00.

“I can’t guarantee…”

“I know. But I’ll just get it all ready, just in case he CAN replace my tire.”

Unpacked all the gear again and left the tire that I had carried since Anchorage resting on the seat. Went to an upstairs lounge where I was able to plug in the computer and catch up on some notes.

A short time later, I was paged. “This is not a good sign.”

“It’s done.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, the mechanic was able to get to it.”

“Outstanding!”

Loaded up once again and rolled it out of the shop, and into a downpour. Asked a salesman named “A.J.” about my windshield rattling. He hadn’t heard any other complaints about this, but suggested using some silicone rubber to fill in the excess gaps.

The next order of business was to find an internet café, and perhaps a motel. Tried the nearby Holiday Inn, but their $120 price was too much. Headed towards the University of Calgary. "There must be some internet cafes around there.” Stumbled into an area not far from the university (I think it is "Kensington") that is refreshingly free of franchises. Inquired at two coffee shops and a bagel shop. Got the same puzzled look when I asked if they offered internet access, or knew of anyone who did. "Starbucks..."

Drove onto the University of Calgary campus. Relieved to find I wasn’t crazy, they do offer free access, "but only for 10 minutes more. We open again at 10:00 tomorrow morning.”

So, now I looked for a motel with high-speed internet service. On Crowchild Trail, I found a cluster of competing motels, but they were all booked up. I was amazed. "What's going on?"

"Nothing special. It's just busy," I was told.

Decided to try a Boston’s Pizza. I had seen over a hundred of the stores by now. "I should try them before criticizing." Now I can criticize. Simple, bland fare, and not inexpensive. But the "Big Rock Traditional Ale" was good! An odd selection of music playing, given the clientèle, which included many seniors: hard rock and heavy metal (though played at a subdued volume.) “What do the seniors think of all this?” I wondered.

After dinner, with showers rolling in from the northwest, I turned south. Canada has suffered in my estimation. Calgary has sold out. It is in the middle of a major boom, sprawling in all directions, and it’s model for growth is taken directly from the U.S.

Major corporations have captured every significant intersection in the “new neighborhoods”, lining them with McDonald’s, Subway, Boston’s Pizza, Dairy Queen, Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, Safeway, Starbucks, etc. In touring Calgary I must have seen 5 to 10 of EACH of these; and I only passed through a small segment of the city. It was very discouraging. We are peddled mediocrity to the point of saturation, drowning all creativity. It may not be what everyone really likes, but it’s easy, comfortable and safe.

In the new developments I saw, virtually no independent local businesses. Suddenly, I longed to see some of those quirky roadhouses.

Signs proclaiming such things as "find your dream”, “come home at last” and "your search has ended" direct us to the “new neighborhoods”, springing up by the dozens. As soon as they’re filled, the show will move on to the next plot of prairie.

Drove into one subdivision, just to confirm my suspicions. Over-sized homes crammed onto tiny lots, even out here in the "boondocks". They draw attention to how much house you’re getting, the amenities, not to how little land you’re getting. Building material is a high-profit product and people are forced to buy far more house than they need, simply because that’s all they're offered, and “everyone else is doing it.” It's like visiting Costco; you buy the brand and the size their buyers have chosen, not necessarily what you want or need. You see all the other carts piled high with stuff and regard it as normal, but, in fact, it's quite abnormal. The consumer society is growing worse.


Calgary suburb. Just like home. Wide open prairie and they pack them in. One owner seems to be taking advantage of the real estate boom.

(July 1, 2008 Note: I just watched the excellent 2006 Canadian film Radiant City. A Documentary About Urban Sprawl. Filmed in the Calgary suburbs, it analyzes the economic, social, cultural and psychological impacts of sprawl.)

Riding south, the sprawl resurfaced in Okotoks, well after I thought I’d left it behind. Then I realized the California standard: if it’s within an hour’s commute, no problem. Up here, however, that commute must be brutal in winter.

South of Okotoks, the wide-open plains took over, saturated from recent rains. Incredibly rich land. I could breath again.

From Calgary southward, I inquired at 8 to 10 motels; all were booked solid. Discouraged by this situation (I’m becoming dependent on my periodic internet fix!), my attitude further deteriorated. Cruising with the wind at my back, leaving showers behind, I began to long for the U.S. This Calgary experience had really “bummed me out.”

“I want to go home," whined a little voice. “You don’t have a home to go to. Just deal with it,” was the reply.

As darkness approached, I took a 10-mile detour to look at a possible camp site near Stavely. Arrived to find a lakeside campground on a grassy slope. It was fairly full, with the "wagons circled" and "fishing-types" sitting out in chairs, their camps all set up, fires blazing and beer flowing. Felt a little awkward about setting up tent in the open, while everyone looked on, so I just rolled around the loop and right back out onto the highway.

Being passed by some cars at high speed (the third time by one Mercedes), I cranked the bike up to 100 mph. The front end began an uncontrollable oscillation that gave me quite a jolt. Fearing the result of any abrupt input from the controls, I just held on and rolled off the throttle. It gradually subsided, and I took a breath. “That was interesting. Make a note.” But it makes sense, with the weight to the rear and much of the drag favoring the rear, the front tire begins to lose grip. “So that’s why BMW says ‘don’t exceed 80 mph while carrying luggage!’”

Tension and sharp back pains nagged me, but I kept going. Approaching Fort McLeod, the air suddenly became heavy, hazy and putrid with the smell of stockyards, many of them. (I have experienced this around the Harris Ranch stockyard near Coalinga, California, but this was on a vastly larger scale.) One price of the famous “Alberta Beef”. There was a campground outside Lethbridge, and I started to detour to have a look, but the air was so foul, I couldn’t imagine camping in this region.

In Lethbridge, I took refuge in the Cheesecake Café (similar to the Cheesecake Factory). Looked around and saw women out-numbered men about 8 to 1 in the dining room. “Does this seem strange?” I asked my server. “I hadn’t noticed,” she replied. Ordered some coffee, but in a glass mug, it looked like dirty water. “Do you make espresso here?”

“Yes.”

“Can you add two shots to this coffee?”

She did so, and I was much happier.

I tried one more motel, the Holiday Inn Express across the street. It too was fully-booked. So, now my goal was definitely Great Falls, a little over 200 miles south. I expected to arrive around 3:00 a.m., but would attempt to check into a motel early (on a new day).

Driving through the dark (against better judgment), few vehicles on the road (for an hour at a time I would see no one else heading south), my senses were heightened by the risks and the unfamiliar road. A long, quiet ride. Distractions had to be avoided. “No singing, no mind-wandering. Remain focused and keep the eyes moving.”

But I did reflect on the series of small decisions that led to my being placed in such a difficult and risky position. This could have been avoided at many points throughout the day.

Around midnight, I started looking for the moon. “It should be coming soon.” Within minutes, I saw the orange glow on the eastern horizon, and it was almost as if having a companion join me for the remaining ride.

Pulled into the Port of Entry, a solo traveler on the frontier. The agent noted “two licenses?”

“One’s expired” (I'm carrying the spare to hand to officers in Latin America, so should it "disappear", I'll still have my current license.)

(The border agents have noticed this at nearly every crossing, though I don’t make a point of showing them. These people seem very perceptive, watching your moves and scrutinizing your gear.)

She asked me about my travels and what I was bringing back (food? weapons? alcohol? furs?) After that, she asked what I did in California and we talked about wine. She likes Mondavi, but also Chateau St. Michelle. Very convivial, we talked for about 10 minutes (still no other vehicles arriving.)

I asked about deer up ahead. “The trucker who came through just ahead of you hit one south of here. Be careful out in the tulles.”

At night, the eyes play tricks while constantly searching the road and shoulders for any sign of deer (that telltale orange reflection from their retinas.) But reflectors, road signs, lights and on-coming traffic all send confusing signals. And fatigue compounds the problem.

One is more sensitive to temperature changes and fragrances riding a bike. Maybe it was imagination, but the air was cleaner and fresher on the American side; few if any stockyards. I enjoyed a sweet perfume from the wild vegetation. It reminded me of a natural soap shop. I could smell mustard, then a fragrance I couldn’t identify, that was oddly like a neutral boot polish I once used. In a few areas, a pungent ammonia or “mothball” smell surprised me. The most fragrant stretches were also the coldest, in some of the low-lying vales.

The electric vest and heated grips weren’t keeping pace with the loss of body heat, and I was anxiously counting down the miles to Great Falls. Attention falters when fatigue, hypothermia, or muscle spasms threaten. To my relief, I rolled across the Missouri River and into Great Falls around 3:00 a.m. Went straight to the Holiday Inn, the first motel I saw. Two gentlemen seated behind the counter, fresh Sunday morning papers in hand, said they were booked up.

“Could you call the Holiday Inn Express and see if they have anything?”

One of the fellows obliged. From the conversation, I could tell it was not too hopeful. The other hotel did have a room, but they’d have to charge me for a full night just through noon today.

"At what time could I check in for Sunday, without having to pay that extra cost? I’ll find a place to hang out until then.”

“It would be noon.”

I asked to speak directly with the person.

“I can’t hang out for 9 hours. Some hotels let you check in at 7 or 8, if they have space. Can't you do that?”

“Come over and I’ll see what we can do.”

One of the fellows behind the counter said “if you’ve been riding that thing for a month, they’ll give you a room.”

Found the Express back near the highway and approached a gentleman at the counter.

“I talked to a woman here a few minutes ago…”

“That was me.”

“Uhhh. I’m sorry. My mind’s playing games with me…”

“Jerry” agreed to let me check in immediately, but said he would have to charge me the $99 rate, though I could stay through Monday noon. I could have kissed him.

“That’s terrific! Thank you!”

The room was quite nice, even luxurious to my weary body. Quickly hauled my gear in, then returned to give Jerry a $20 tip. He asked “where is Kenwood, California?”

It turns out he had lived for years in Oakdale, California (in the Sierras, east of Modesto.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Tunnel Mountain Campground, Banff, Alberta

An Edmonton couple I met in town, suggested this campground, a few miles from the town center. It's big and crowded, and, at $24, the most expensive yet, but you can't beat the location. And, the shower's included.

They also pointed out a pub in town and said it was really good. After cruising the streets of Banff on the bike, getting an idea of the layout, I went to the "Rose and Crown" pub, above a downtown corner shop.

I asked the server, "what’s good?"

"Well, my personal favorite is the liver and onions, but it’s an acquired taste."

My mother got me started on liver and onions in my teen years. But it had been perhaps 25 years since I’ve had the dish.

“I’ll try it.”

It was excellent, and brought back memories. A hearty (livery?) meal, with mashed potatoes, gravy, mixed veggies and a pint of beer. Live music started at 10:00, but I couldn't stick around. I still had not sorted out my "living arrangements."

Pulled out my previously overlooked pocket radio tonight and tuned to Calgary and Banff stations. I continue to be impressed with Canadian recording artists – many are vocal Olympians, very powerful and acrobatic. Given the right message, they are truly moving. No idea when I went to bed or finally fell asleep. The music mostly covered up a boisterous camper who talked late into the night.

Banff, Alberta


Banff is a touristy resort set in a beautiful valley. A festive atmosphere permeates the town.



Well, whaddya know! I get to the town of Banff and the Fairmont has claimed its prime site as well. I had to take this photo in a hurry, for fear of being chased out by security guards.


9:00 p.m.

The low temperature last night seemed to exceed the rating of my sleeping bag. I consulted my "weather station" during the night. It was 38° inside the tent. I kept moving, to generate heat, and pulled the Aerostich suit over the bag, then waited for sunrise. But the sun wasn't coming. Crawled out at 10:30 again. The sky overcast and my little weather station showed a cloud with diagonal lines under it. "Crap."

A weird dream haunted me. It was time to die, and the act would be carried out by a Harvey Keitel-like character who had his gun out, ready to deliver my fate. Only I wasn't quite ready to go. I could not stop fate though. After I was "dead", just as others have said, my life passed before my eyes in images. "Wait! I wasn't hatched from a chicken's egg!!!" Things were not so bad. The troubling part was being unable to communicate with those left behind.

Checking out of Wabasso Campground, I chatted with the attendant, who was also at the gate house last evening. She was eager to converse, with anyone. I commented how quiet the campground is. She said yesterday was their first day being open. Many kids are still in school. With the long Canadian weekend the first of July, she said, things will get very busy.

Continued south on the Icefields Parkway this morning. Many stops, as the landscape was just too astounding. Despite the clouds partially obscuring many of the higher peaks, I could tell this landscape surpasses anything I've seen in the United States, save perhaps the Grand Canyon. But Jasper and Banff National Parks, for better or worse, are much more accessible than the Grand Canyon.

Then I reached the Icefields Centre at the Athabasca Glacier. Here was something the U.S. had no shortage of: tourist meccas. Quite unlike the quietly personal natural experience I expected to encounter at the glacier, here was a full-on Disney-esque operation. Parking lots full of cars, SUVs, motorhomes and tour buses; running, pushing tour groups (MANY Japanese tour groups); confusion and general mayhem; cameras and digital recorders everywhere.



Athabasca Glacier. In the lower center is a trail leading up to the glacier . In the center left are "Brewster Snocoaches" driving out on the glacier (about 6 more of them are in the center of the photo.)


"Brewster" appears to have the concessions locked up here, and runs tours out to the glacier in their huge knobby-tired "SnoCoaches". At any given time, I could see about eight of them out on the glacier. For those who don't want to spring for the $32 ride, there's a short hiking trail that takes you to the glacier's edge. I joined many others in making this little trek. The air was frigid, with a remarkably powerful wind coming off the glacier.

I kept my riding suit on, and waddled up the path, a surprisingly tiring walk, though the elevation was only about 5,000 feet. ("And you want to go play in the Andes, at three times this elevation?") Numerous signs along the path warn of the danger in straying, recounting tragedies in which visitors fell into crevasses. So by the time I actually reached the ice, I was fearful that the ground would give way beneath me and I would be swallowed. Took my glacier photo like everyone else, then did the "slip and slide" back down the path.



Approaching the glacier, numerous signs warn of the danger in straying from the cordoned path.



Whiteout! Overexposed on the Athabasca Glacier.


Such exertion warranted the reward of a meal, so I went across the highway and into the Icefields Centre. What a zoo! (Humans being the strangest creatures on the planet.) Partook of an outrageously overpriced sandwich, then moved on.



Just more awesome landscape...Jasper into Banff.



I believe this was Waterfowl Lake. Typical glacier meltwater, milky turquoise in color.



Head in the clouds


Came upon traffic congestion and glanced off to see a black bear on a slope across the highway. We are so afraid of missing something, that anytime someone pulls over, others slow and look all about to see what that person found. It's actually pretty humorous (and I'm no different from the rest.) Big tour buses rolled to a stop, people got out of cars and clustered together, cameras snapping away.



This fellow caused a traffic jam. A more interesting photo would have been of the silly humans.


Approaching the junction of highways 1 and 93, I realized that this was the farthest north I had reached on my little odyssey 35 years ago. I made it as far as Banff National Park. Jasper then seemed just too far north and out of reach.

At the time, I had a 1970 Honda CB450 and riding gear was much different. No electric vest and heated grips. I recall being cold and miserable, in search of warmth (which came in the form of a Calgary motel room, the first time I
broke down and paid for a motel while touring on motorcycle.)



Lake Louise, a popular destination in Banff National Park.


Followed signs to Lake Louise, the most famous attraction in Banff National Park. I quickly realized I had never seen it in my earlier visit.

In the large public parking lot, I met a gentleman from Colombia, who came over to look at the motorcycle. I told him I would be visiting his country. After a while, I asked “is it safe?”

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but it’s very dangerous. There are guerrillas in the countryside. And you can’t tell the guerrillas from the army; they wear the same uniform. Actually, the way you tell is the guerrillas have long hair. They don’t cut their hair. For us, it’s like living in a cage. It’s a beautiful country, but you stay in the city...but you’ll be fine."

He did recommend visiting the Caribbean coast. “It’s safe there.”

Lake Louise is a small glacial lake nestled in a beautiful alpine valley, a setting reminiscent of Switzerland. The Fairmont has built an imposing, grandiose, and in my opinion, totally outrageous hotel at the lake's edge, shunting non-guests along paths that skirt their property. "Enter here only the privileged."



This grandiose structure is, in my opinion, totally out of place on Lake Louise's shore. It's an obscene misappropriation of a national treasure. I did however stop in to have one of my favorite coffee drinks: coffee with Gran Marnier and Bailey's, with a dollop of whipped cream. What a hypocrite.



The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel occupies the prime Lake Louise real estate, making this another "exclusive" holding.



For $34 (Canadian) an hour, you can paddle on Lake Louise.


This aura did not deter me from wandering the lobby, shops and lounges. (I stopped in one lounge and listened awe-struck to a Spanish guitarist, playing a work from, I think, Albeniz.)

And, I settled into the "Walliser Stube" bar to enjoy a favorite hot drink: coffee with Gran Marnier, Bailey's and a dollop of whipped cream. (I can play both sides of this game!) It was quiet. I raised a silent toast to that adventurer of 35 years ago. A trace of him still lives on!

Enjoyed talking with the staff, who had some time on their hands. Learned that the Fairmont provided on-site accommodations for up to 700 staff! My server said she loves the job. Well, not the job, but the time off in this wonderland.



These viaducts allow the animals to cross the highway safely. I only noticed two of these in the 40 or so miles of fenced corridor. That certainly is taking the long way around!



First they cleared wide swaths of forest on either side of the highway to reduce wildlife-vehicle encounters. Then, a barrier fence has been erected along the highway through Banff National Park. Now we have in effect built a "Berlin Wall" through the animals' territory.