Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Gaspé Region

11:30 p.m.

Camped at L’Anse-Au-Griffon – Gaspé, a private campground, as the National Park Campgrounds, we learned were all full as of 4:00 pm. We were a few hours too late. I was pretty ticked at Jeff for the constant complaining and negativity (constantly swearing “Jesus Christ!”). I’m regretting not doing this alone. It really changes the nature of the journey, having someone else along, especially someone who is so angry at the world.

Didn’t sleep much last night. The campground was well overloaded. Up at 2:00 a.m. to answer nature's call. The night still, with a wonderful starry sky, the Milky Way arching overhead.

***



Camping by the gazebo, La Luciole ("The Firefly") Campground, Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer, Quebec. The highway is just behind the bushes on the left. It's high season and they're cramming campers into every nook and cranny.


We were on the road before 9:00 a.m. A perfect day; a bit cool.

Harleys tend to be quieter up here – it’s refreshing. Jeff says there’s a law restricting muffler modifications. Many of them heading east this morning.

Breakfast at “Le Gaspésiana”. Great views across the mighty St. Lawrence. Watched a ship on the horizon, slowly making for the sea. Had a waffle with fruit salad; it came with a strange combination of fresh and canned fruit.

Climbed down on the rocks along the seashore to take some photos. Shellfish galore, though signs warned of toxins.

Jeff pulled into a service station at St. Flavie, and asked if his rear tire looked okay. He said he heard a tapping noise. I had noticed that it seemed a bit low. We had a look and found a large double-headed framing nail well-imbedded in the tread. It was probably hitting the inside rim. "Well, this will be good practice!" I said cheerily. (It's easy to say since it wasn't my tire.)

He was parked right next to an air hose, so you couldn't ask for a much more convenient arrangement. He was annoyed to find he had not packed his tire repair kit, but I reminded him that I had said I'd be carrying everything we should need. Following the instructions, we pulled the nail, roughed up the hole, slathered a plug with glue, the shoved it in with a special tool (sounds obscene!), then trimmed off the excess. The whole process took no more than half an hour, from the initial scratching of heads and wondering what to do, to getting back on the road. The next time, it should take half that.

Quebec flags everywhere out here; It seems nearly every house and farm is flying one. They far outnumber Canadian flags in this province. A very nationalistic feel.

As we drove out towards the Gaspé, the mountains on the far side of the St. Lawrence took on strange pinnacle- and plateau-like shapes. I could not understand what I was seeing. At one point, we pulled off the road into a large gravel area, so that I could take a photo of the odd phenomena. Three people emerged from a nearby house, one woman remaining on the porch, a man walking to a car between us, and a woman who approached us. She seemed to be asking what we were doing here. She was saying different things, but seemed to repeat "pree-vay” several times. We got the message and moved on. "Jeez! What a welcome."

Later, Jeff concluded the shapes were an illusion created by low-hanging clouds out over the water "cropping" the mountaintops.



Looking across the St. Lawrence River near Matane, Quebec, the clouds created an optical illusion. The opposite bank looked like a series of mesas.


Came around a bend near Cap Chat and before us lay the coastal town dwarfed by an array of huge windmills covering the ridgeline behind town. It reminded Jeff of "The War of the Worlds," giant aliens marching upon the helpless village.

I suspect these windmills will be found to generate a net resource loss, when total costs and impacts to the environment, and their relatively short lifespan are considered. Another boondoggle. Meanwhile, the natural beauty of this place is destroyed by these monstrosities, and people are conditioned to accept this as a benign use of THEIR land.



Windmills dwarf dwellings in Cap-Chat, Quebec.



Somewhere along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Everything's in French, so I can't tell exactly where!


At Mont-St.-Pierre, we came upon a large festival filling the streets. High above, hang gliders were sailing off the large mountain (the town's namesake) jutting upward from the coast. Later, we learned this is the hang-gliding capital of Eastern Canada.



Land's end, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.


High clouds moving in from west, I told Jeff "a change is coming."

After setting up camp, we decided not to go out for dinner. We had some bagels and cheese from the market, and then bought some soup, stew, crackers, chips and sodas from camp store. We were set!

For 25 cents, you can take a shower at this campground, but you have to be fast. Merely a trickle too. This made "Navy showers" seem luxurious.

The laundromat was pretty funny too. I think it took about two hours to wash and dry a load. Just kept feeding the drier coins. It had an insatiable appetite. Jeff and I sat in chairs outside the laundry, sharing stories. He told of some of his Vietnam experiences. I think we may have been the last ones up, as the activity slowly died out.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

"La Luciole" (The Firefly)

11:00 p.m.

Camped at "La Luciole" (The Firefly) campground, Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer, Quebec. For hours, rock music has been blaring from somewhere in the woods across the road; a DJ spinning songs for some party. Now it has finally fallen silent.

***

After checking out this morning, we agreed; the motel in Quebec, at $179 was a rip-off. I wanted to return to the Bagel Cafe, but Jeff was anxious to get across the river and on with our ride. We went to a "Tim Horton's" on the south shore. I was a little disgruntled, not having my way. A storm coming in from the west. We headed east away from it.

The town of St-Jean-Port-Joli is very artsy. We stopped here to look around a bit. Spent some time browsing a gift shop full of local, and not so local, crafts (many from China, Africa, even the U.S.) A small farm advertised fresh raspberries for sale. Walked over and bought a basket (about $2). What a treat. I had to take a peak at the local chocolate shop, but, amazingly, left without a purchase.

In Riviere-du-Loup we stopped at a "St. Hubert’s" restaurant that Jeff has been to. The extremely popular chain specializes in family-style chicken dinners, and serves very good food at reasonable prices. This restaurant was doing one "helluva" business this afternoon, with a line beginning to form soon after we arrived.

The one Provincial Campground along this stretch of coastline, at Parc du Bic, was full. Once again, I felt we had waited too long to start looking. (This tendency has plagued me throughout my journey.) In Rimouski, we easily found the Visitors Center down by the waterfront. I was amazed they were open this late (7:00 p.m.) They directed us up the road a few miles to this campground. We covered about 150 miles today.

Setting up the tent tonight, my sleeping pad cover materialized. I had considered it lost weeks ago - in South Dakota!

Jeff and I took a walk down to the beach looking for an open cafe. Found only one, called the "Super Soir Cartier". We took a table and started off with beverages. Looking over the menu, their specialty is seafood, especially shellfish. That wasn't going to fly with Jeff. And the prices were steep. Stuck with drinks. Amused by the view into the kitchen. An attractive young woman was standing idly by, chatting with the cook, throwing loaves of bread at someone else (who I couldn't see - only the loaf coming back at her.) Of course, as a former restaurant manager, I'm appalled at the dangerous behavior, with deep fryers, grills and ovens all around. Still, it was pretty funny.

Great views of the constellations tonight, and a satellite or two passing overhead.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Quebec City

At the campground this morning, I was up at 5:30. 47° in the tent. Everything outside soaked with heavy dew. After a run to the bathroom a couple hundred yards away, crawled back in my bag until 8:30. By then, kids were playing, families spreading out breakfast on picnic tables. (“maybe they’ll invite us over?”)

Overnight, the campground had added many campers. Waited for the sun to rise above the mountains and dry out our gear; there was no rush in breaking down the site. Anyway, at 11:00, the kennel would be open for visitation.

Learned that the entire province of Quebec goes on vacation the last two weeks of July, (ending this weekend.)

The families at the neighboring sites were from The Netherlands. They asked me to take a group photo of them. When one of the fathers inquired about directions to various locations, we got out the road atlas. The desire to be helpful to other travelers is pretty strong. Jeff, who knows the area fairly well, was able to answer many of his questions.

The wind picked up and things were drying nicely. At 11:00, we joined a couple other folks in walking over to the kennel. "Marcelle" greeted us and took us right in (no liability waivers to sign, no safety gear to put on.)



A tour of the kennel at Domaine la Truite du Parc, near Stoneham, Quebec.


The conditions in the kennel struck me as brutal. The dogs were tethered by a short, heavy chain to wooden posts stuck in the ground. The ground around, in a roughly eight-foot radius, was worn bare. Plastic 55-gallon drums, tipped on end constituted shelters. The was little if any shade (and it was already growing very warm.)



Jeff greeting one of the short-hair huskies.



I wonder what he's thinking?


They howled and barked as we approached, eager for attention. Marcelle called each by name and tried to give each a pat or a little wrestle. His wife, Veronique was following behind us, tending to their water dishes. Jeff's a big dog fan, so he especially had a great time visiting with the huskies and malamutes.



What a ham.


After an hour or so, we left for the city, a storm moving in rapidly. I hoped by moving to a lower elevation we'd miss the brunt of it. We wanted to go FAST, but the traffic heading for Quebec was very heavy.

Fortunately, we were only caught by a few sprinkles, and reaching the outskirts of Quebec, it looked safe.

We needed to find a camping outfitter, and luckily, at the first exit we tried, we found "Atmosphere", an outdoor shop with an impressive selection of gear. They have the largest stock I've seen of MSR camping equipment. Jeff picked up some warmer shirts (after this morning's chill) and nylon straps for better securing his packs.

Jeff has worked in Quebec as part of his D.O.T. job, so he knew his way around. He insisted on a motel for tonight. "I'm paying. It's your birthday present."

He took us to the "Best Western, L'Aristocrate" on the west side of Quebec. It was pretty nice (at $173.69!) and we could park our bikes right outside the patio door to the room.

After settling in and freshening up, we rode through The Sillery district, the streets lined with beautifully-kept old homes. Clearly, an upper class neighborhood, yet the homes are relatively modest; none of the outrageous opulence you might find in Beverly Hills.

After hours, when working up here, Jeff would jog through these neighborhoods. We found the "Bagel Traditional Cafe" in The Sillery's business district. Our waitress was friendly and attractive, and in a chatty mood. The baker was a bit more serious, and seemed to prefer the waitress talk less and work more. But once he found out where we were from, he had stories to share of his travels to both Vermont and California. He had worked as a rock climbing guide in Yosemite for several years. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting, the company and people-watching in this colorful neighborhood. Tried some "Griffon Blonde" beer (made by McAuslan Brewery of Montreal) - very refreshing.



Memorable little bagel shop in the Sillery District of Quebec City.


Late in the afternoon, we rode our bikes downtown, into "Vieux-Quebec", the immensely-popular old city on the hill. A wild mix of cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians made navigation through the narrow streets both energizing and nerve-racking.

Found a parking space right in front a Paris-style open-front restaurant. We were at the heart of the old city. Wandered over to a promenade along the bluffs, which offers wonderful views of Quebec's port and the St. Lawrence River.

The search for a restroom took us into the "Le Château Frontenac", Fairmont's grand historic hotel that dominates this corner of the city. Returned to the bikes as the parking meter was soon to expire. Suiting up, a policeman approached and asked if we needed assistance. Hadn't really thought about it, but Jeff asked him for directions to the Citadel, which he kindly provided.



Quebec's Old City


Then two couples came along. They too were bikers and had noticed our license plates. They seemed eager to assist in any way possible. After talking a while, one of the fellows said motorcycles are not allowed in parts of the old city, this being one of those areas. He was surprised we had not been cited. Their most important piece of advice, "regardless what others say, when you ride "The Cabot Trail" (in Nova Scotia), go clockwise! You won't regret it."

We found "legal" parking closer to the Citadel and walked along the old fortress walls above the city. The sun had just set as we reached a park overlooking the river. It actually felt good to get out and do some hiking about after so much time on the motorcycle.


Future rock climbers in Quebec City. You'd never see American kids being allowed to scale our monuments.



Downtown Quebec City.


Walking back towards the bikes, music could be heard echoing through the city streets. We followed it for perhaps a mile, until we came to a section of wall dividing the old city from the new. In a plaza surrounded by modern high-rises, a band was playing reggae and rock on a small stage. An area around the stage was cordoned off, as admission was apparently being charged. Few people were within the perimeter. Many watched from outside the barrier, including many dreadlocked young people sitting high on the precipice where we stood.

Behind us, one of the old city streets was closed to vehicles. It was now serving as as an arena for jugglers, gymnasts and magicians; people of all ages pressing in to watch the acts. We skirted around the throngs, stepping into an occasional shop, one of which was an excellent gelato shop - just like those in Italy. Jeff's first taste of gelato; now he's hooked.

Looked beyond the old city for a quieter place to have dinner, but by now most restaurants had closed. One of the few options was "Baton Rouge", only a couple blocks from the hotel. For the price, the food was underwhelming. Expensive.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Wilds of Quebec


Congratulations to Jeff on his first successful encampment!


9:30 p.m.

Jeff and I camped at Domaine la Truite du Parc, a private campground near Stoneham, Quebec and the Jacques Cartier Forest. It’s pretty cold already. It may drop into the 40’s tonight. The nearby Provincial campground was either full or doesn’t exist – the attendant sent us up the road to this one.

Getting further from Quebec City, I was reaching a decision point – write off seeing the city and move on, or turn around and try to find something (a motel?) closer to town. At 30 or 40 miles out, this campground is still close enough to consider returning to the city tomorrow.

We checked out the campsites before agreeing to take one. A horrendous racket from a nearby kennel – this is nuts! But our options at this point were few. Returning to the office, we learned the owners raise sled dogs and have 160 of them. They howl when it is feeding time, but settle down afterward. In winter, there are a number of dog-sledding packages offered, including one called “Dance with the Stars,” an overnight sled ride, that includes camping in a tipi. The owners (Veronique and Marcelle, I believe) are from Northwestern France and bought this camp a year ago. (see http://www.traineaux-chiens.com/index.html)



After the strenuous tent set-up, a refreshing beverage.


As we settled in, it felt more and more comfortable (a Quebecoise beer helped.) We even decided to have their “plat du jour” for dinner: grilled pork and vegetables. Jeff ordered poutine so I could try the local dish (French fries covered with cheese curd and gravy. It should be called “plat du heart attack.”) Testing his cell phone reception (and, thus, his connection to civilization), Jeff called the Whidbey Island Kampions.



Husky


***

This morning, awoke to a perfect day: a cloudless blue sky, temperature in the 70’s. A stop at the bank for Canadian currency, then “Tim Horton’s” for some breakfast. The fast food restaurant was crowded. Smartly-dressed locals, bikers in leathers, tourists. These restaurants, started by a famous Canadian hockey player (now deceased) are hugely popular. Jeff had the traditional beans (as in pork and beans) for breakfast. I stuck to a bagel. I take back what I said about their coffee. It’s not that bad. But it’s not that good either.

Coming up here, I was totally unprepared for a French-speaking Quebec. So close to the U.S. and it’s a real struggle to communicate. Fortunately, Jeff speaks passable French.

Drove northwest to the St. Lawrence River, traveling 50-60 mph along country roads (speed limits are mostly 90 kph on these roads, except in towns.) Each town (and there was a town every few miles) seemed to have its silver steepled cathedral. Turned east toward Quebec City on route 132 following the river’s south bank. Many motorcycles out today. Took a break at a roadside stand, sampling their pomme frites (French fries).

Into Quebec City, riding along the waterfront. It was overflowing with tourists. A beautiful "vielle cite", atop bluffs; narrow streets crowded with shops and pedestrians. It felt very much like “Sacre Couer” and "Montmartre" areas of Paris. I wanted to park the bikes in the heart of the old city, but I suspect it’s a prime area for theft. We kept on moving. Finally, I suggested we find a campground, set up our tents, and then we could come back into town. I was nearly nailed on the “freeway” as rush-hour traffic came to an abrupt halt and the car behind me failed to slow, swerving left at the last moment.

To make matters worse, my brake light failed once again. (I’ve determined this is a direct result of the missing mud guard. The rear tire kicks mud and water up into the lens, fouling the contacts.)

At camp, added another ¼ quart of oil, which is surprising, considering I just had the oil changed 300 miles ago!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Jumping off from Waterbury, Vermont


Mr. Big Pants "posing" by his more diminutive, less manly BMW. After about 150 miles of riding in the rain today, we've taken comfort in a Comfort Inn, in Drummondville, Quebec.


10:00 p.m.

Neither Jeff nor I were in any great hurry to begin the ride this morning. This time, the steady sound of rain was not particularly welcome. Weather forecasts called for this storm to pass through within the next 24 hours. It was just a question of how much we could avoid by postponing our departure (though neither admitted we were trying to postpone it.) Heading north, it seemed that we should miss much of it. Nothing left for us to do but mount up.

“Damn it!” Jeff exclaimed as he started up his bike. “What’s this? I’ve never seen it before.” He pointed to the yellow warning lamp on his display.

“It’s the low fuel warning…” So, our first stop was the gas station. This was his first opportunity to ride his bike loaded with gear. I also had to re-adjust to riding with all this “stuff.”

Refusing to believe that the rain might persist, I wore my Aerostich suit, which is good for about a half hour in steady rain. (I carry a Gore-Tex coat and pants that could be pulled over the Aerostich for those times I accept that it’s going to keep raining.)

Jeff led the way, since he’s well familiar with Vermont’s backroads. We drove north on state highway 100, winding through the countryside, passing through towns every few miles.

“This would be a lovely ride on a sunny day, but why the hell are we meandering along today, in this pouring rain???”

“Why is he passing those cars? They’re already well over the speed limit?”

“Thanks for giving me a two-second warning before that turn, you idiot.”

“Do you know you just ran that red light??? What were you thinking!”

“I want coffee. Where’s a ‘Tim Horton’s’?”

I had a pretty lively monologue going on inside my helmet. It may take a little while to get used to sharing the ride with another person.

After three hours of constant rain, I was saturated in several areas, and we were both getting a chill. Pulled into Drummondville, a city Jeff knows well. He frequently inspects motor carriers in this area. Waddled into “Tim Horton’s”, water dripping from our suits, the air conditioning just exacerbating the chill. Sat drinking coffee, staring out at the gray skies. “I think it’s lifting,” I said hopefully.

We discussed whether to continue riding or take a room here in town. Jeff weighed in with all the arguments for staying put.

Checked into the Comfort Inn. Laid out all our gear and suits to dry out.

Dinner at “Tim Horton’s” – “at least it’s within your budget,” he said.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Local Economy Thriving

Midnight

Rain falling as a front passes eastward. Hopefully, it will clear by morning and Jeff and I will be off to the Maritimes on our bikes.

Jeff actually began packing today. It took me over 6 months to figure out what would be needed and to gather it all together. Yesterday, he asked me what I thought he should take along.

This afternoon, I finally retrieved my motorcycle after eight days in "Frank's Motorcycle" shop (Essex Center, VT). When they took it in last Monday, they made no promises, but I was surprised and disappointed at their apparent lack of urgency. They started working on it late in the week. There is just a different sense of time here in Vermont!

Today's bill came to $1,155.

They performed a "major service" (the first one), replaced the front tire, replaced both front brake rotors and all front brake pads, replaced transmission output shaft seals and repaired the leaking drive shaft boot (which was due to strap left un-tensioned during a previous repair.) They were unable to locate a single rear mudguard in the entire U.S., so that remains outstanding (though Jeff has offered to give the guard off his bike, which “Frank’s” would then replace under warranty.) Only the guard and transmission seal replacement are covered by warranty.

I remain fairly neutral about all the problems I've encountered with this bike thus far. To me, it's a test – of the equipment and the person. But I must say, so far, the repair record on this particular machine is abysmal. Eventually, I will make a full report of this experience to BMW and to groups such as "Adventure Rider" and "Horizons Unlimited". If these issues are widespread, BMW will soon be well aware of them.

When we returned to the house, Jeff insisted that I wash the bike, though I preferred the "veteran traveler look." We spent the next several hours washing, polishing and generally fussing over it. I must admit that, in the end, it looked better than it has since leaving Santa Rosa in May.

Other business today included additional actions in support of the local economy: a visit to “Starbuck’s”, two visits to “Eastern Mountain Sports” and a “last supper” at the “Longhorn Steak House.”

Maintaining the blog has become remarkably difficult and frustrating in the East. Among relatives, it is for some reason considered anti-social for one to disappear into an internet café for eight hours at a time (every other day.) Such bizarre behavior has made me the brunt of jokes. But I’m undeterred in this noble undertaking, even when suffering the “slings and arrows”, etc., etc.

The program I’ve used for posting photos over the past month (Picasa2/Hello) is no longer cooperating and I’ve had to resort to an alternative program, which is rather “hit and miss.” I’m trying to resolve the problems through Customer Support (my personal therapy group.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Waterbury

Up at 11:00! After the propane truck, construction out back, numerous sirens and trucks passing down this residential street. It's a friggin’ construction zone!

Stopped by the Federal offices in Montpelier and visited with Jeff's assistant, Judith, his boss and co-workers. “I’d like to sign up for leave, so I can come into the office,” said one of them sarcastically.

We walked a few blocks to a barber shop that had three barbers (two men and a woman) working, and several people waiting. Haircuts for the both of us!

Over to Sarducci’s for a late lunch. Good food.

Later, rode our bikes to Capitol Grounds for coffee, Jeff in t-shirt and shorts, me in my riding suit.

Went into the Vermont State Employees Credit Union and wrote checks to pay off the balance on our property in Worcester. I figured it was a better use of our money than paying interest on a loan, while the cash sits in a bank earning virtually nothing.

Picked up Jeff's inferior yellow bike after its 600-mile service.

Looked over the map of the Maritimes, really for the first time. We probably should come up with at least a rough plan! I figure Jeff knows best how to get us up into Canada and to some of the interesting towns he wants to introduce me to.

Nascar Day

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A day in front of the tube, watching Nascar racing.

Washed Jeff's "Pilot". It was the least I could do for all the hospitality. Of course, my work didn't meet his exacting standards, and it required several inspections before I finally passed.

An early dinner at the "Alchemist": tried their Bratwurst this time!

Started watching "The Americanization of Emily", but I faded out at 1:00 a.m.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

East Aurora, New York to Waterbury, Vermont

11:30 a.m.

Rolled back into Waterbury, Vermont at about 3:00 this morning, the temperature dropping into the 50's along the way, getting downright chilly for me and creating a bit of ground fog. Jeff, Kyle and I had finally departed East Aurora yesterday around 2:00 p.m., after "pigging out" with Priscilla at Taste coffee shop. Drove out to Orangeville, where Kathy was preparing mass quantities of food in support of a basement-office cleaning project.

Lounged on Kathy's idyllic patio, watching hummingbirds, gold finches, doves and chipmunks play at the feeders and around the gardens. Visited with Kathy, Shawna and her son Joe. Priscilla, Becky and Charlie arrived some time later.



Shawna and Joe



Shawna's little guy, Joe



Joe and Priscilla: another annoying sales call



Cousin Kathy!



War of the Worlds: alien spacecraft descend toward unsuspecting Federal Agent



Timtraveler and Cousin Becky


When the real work began, our departure suddenly took on an urgency. Drove the rich rolling hills of Western New York, skirting the northern tips of the Finger Lakes. A brief stop at Wegman's, an amazing super market in Canandaigua, gave Jeff an opportunity to re-stock his supply of Jelly Belly jelly beans. $55 worth! They'll last him a year.

Delivered Kyle from our corrupting influence, stopping in King Ferry just after 6:00. He was just in time for a large picnic that Sharon and Roger were hosting. Jeff and I were, of course, invited, but bowed out, as there were still 7 or 8 hours of driving ahead.



Jeff's grandson Kyle with his new East Aurora hat


I was focused on food once again (probably the most important theme on this leg of the journey), and suggested we pass through Skaneateles. Jessica and I had visited a restaurant there four years ago, en route to Shawna's wedding.

On a second pass, we found Rosalie's Cantina, a brand new red Ferrari parked in the VMP ("View My Possession") Zone out front. But without taking even one step inside the restaurant, Jeff recoiled at the door. Seeing the coat-and-tie-attired host, he said "I'm not going in there." He felt his t-shirt, shorts, sandals and ball cap would draw attention. The wait for a table was running about an hour and 15 minutes, though we could have dined at the bar immediately.

"There's a guy in a t-shirt and shorts at the bar," I noted, but Jeff was emphatic. "Well, I guess we can find an Arby's down the road," I jabbed back.



Jeff's new wheels


In Syracuse, we undertook a near-obsessive search for "the perfect" dining spot. The Dinosaur Grill downtown looked like great fun. There was a long line of people waiting outside, 20 or 30 motorcycles parked along the curb. "Too long a wait..."

After at least half an hour of searching, found our way to "Carrier Circle" - motelsville. Settled on Justin's Grill. Our host said they prefer to be called a "chop house". That should have set off the expense alarm. Our server was ice cold; serving us was obviously abhorrent. "I bathed today..."

The food, was expensive and unremarkable, further tainting the experience.

When Jeff asked her "do you think this steak is 'medium'," showing her the dark purple cross section, she didn't even blink an eye.

"Yes."

Later, when the host checked in to see if we enjoyed the meal, we mentioned the steak controversy. She smiled and informed us that our server is the chef's wife.

I demanded a "Saratoga Springs Starbucks Stop," (a very special kind of coffee stop.) This is clearly the playground of "spoiled rich kids" off on summer break.

"I can play this game too!"

"Tall Dry Double Cappuccino" and "Vente White Chocolate Mocha" in hand, we walked the downtown sidewalks, checking out motorcycles lining the curb, revelers queuing outside the dance clubs, a party flowing down a sidestreet, the police scrutinizing one particularly scruffy rider's Harley, young couples' hormone-driven intensity. "What a party town!"

I'll be ready for the helmeted refuge of my own bike. Jeff and I never did have the same taste in music, so listening to the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, John Mellencamp and Joe Walsh eventually "got on my nerves." It gave our constant exchange of brotherly insults and criticisms just a little more of an edge.

He lost the bet about "Stewart's Old Fashioned Sodas" and Stewart's Shops being of one and the same corporate entity (we stopped at a Stewart's Shop to confirm this) and I lost the bet whether Tucumcari was on the east or the west side of New Mexico. These were among the highlights of our intellectual exchanges.

I have been growing quite anxious to resume my travels, fearing that I'm growing soft and fat hanging with good-intentioned relatives, and succumbing to my own inertia. I am certainly well-rested (but I felt so before reaching East Aurora the first time.)

My impatience this morning has turned to a slight anxiety; yes, the trip is about to continue. I will need to leave all this comfort behind once again. Surprisingly, I now detect some ambivalence!

Two months and about 14,000 miles since leaving "home".

Friday, July 22, 2005

East Aurora

Camped out at “Taste” from 10:30 until 5:30, working on my blog. Cousin Becky joins me.

Back at house, Priscilla’s friend Christy and her daughter visit.

Using a small rubber ball, played “catch” with Kyle, and then when Jeff joined in, some
“pickle-in-the-middle”.

Jeff and I went over to “Pasquale’s” for some take-out pizza. Not very good, in my opinion. Picked up a bottle of 2001 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon.

I have a sense of the world going by out there and missing it. Caught up in petty preoccupations.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

It's my birthday!



We checked out the lightning strike on Walnut Street!



Jeff and Priscilla survey the damage...



Kyle is doing a report on weather-related disasters. No doubt, "The Great East Aurora Lightning Strike" will warrant a chapter.



Jeff's grandson, Kyle


Spent much of the day at Taste coffee shop.



Kyle and Priscilla stare down


Jeff and Kyle went off to visit the world famous Vidler’s 5 & 10.

For dinner, tacos at Priscilla’s house!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Off to East Aurora

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Out in back of the house, demolition at the hotel and the flood of state employees arriving for work wake me up.

Blue skies and a fresh wind.

Today, we drive down to King Ferry, New York, where we’re going to pick up Jeff’s grandson, Kyle and take him along with us to East Aurora. At Kyle’s, we were of course invited for dinner with Sharon, Roger, Kyle, Destiny and Joey.

Jeff ill and hacking. Probably a bronchial infection. The stress of traveling is probably not helping.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Waterbury, Vermont

10:00 a.m.

A break in the action, hanging out here with brother Jeff. Eating, sleeping and watching TV.

Yesterday. Temperatures hovering in the 80's with humidity much the same (it's 80 this morning, with 80% humidity.) Took the bikes over to Essex Junction for service. Not the most enthusiastic reception. The staff didn't really want to be bothered with work (though I can't blame them in this weather.)

A laundry list of items to be checked on my bike:

- 6,000-mile service (at 19,000 miles now)
- Replace the front tire
- Check the brakes, which are grabbing (rode Jeff's bike to compare; his brakes are perfectly smooth). "Dave" wondered aloud if the rotors are bad, "which wouldn't be covered under warranty."
- Check out the loose top case
- Repair the leaking clutch housing (which better be under warranty)
- Check the leaking forward drive shaft boot
- Replace the rear mudguard if under warranty (it should be)

Too many things for an 8-month-old vehicle!

Went over to Starbucks for the morning buzz. Then to Eastern Mountain Sports to look at tents. Jeff preferred to wait to see what L.L. Bean had to offer on-line, so we went back home. Looked at Bean's and REI's sites. Finally, I brought in my tent and set it up in the living room to give him a better idea and to make sure he wouldn't be claustrophobic in the tent. He decided my MSR "Fusion 2" would do the job.

Jeff's hacking from a bad bronchial infection, which he says is diminishing. I hope he'll be well enough for our ride.

Late in the afternoon, we went to The Alchemist on Main Street. The place filled up as the dinner crowd arrived, and soon people were in line waiting for a table. It was encouraging to see a Waterbury restaurant doing such great business.

Too much food though. Feel like I'm getting soft here, lazing around. This is concerning. Surrounded by comfort - not good.

Watched too much TV: scanning the channels while Jeff napped; "Charlie Rose", a travelogue on Alaska, "The Bismarck" story on Discovery Channel, "David Letterman". The commercials are brutally incessant. Tortuous, but one just stays, sucked into the chair.

To bed at after 1:00.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Waterbury, Vermont


Pilot and Mr. Big Pants


A lazy day. Watched Tiger Woods win the tournament at St. Andrews.

Jeff and I went out for a 3.5 mile walk (his usual route). It's remarkably warm and humid here, 80's with 60-70% humidity. It got fairly uncomfortable on the walk. We visited the town's cemetery. Amazing to see so many graves of people who lived at the time this nation was born. Paused at a convenience store for a beverage, chatting with the clerk, a woman who had recently come here "to get away" from Bakersfield, California.

Checking in with Janie, Otto, Corey and Jaffer in Las Vegas, temperatures there are ranging from 110 to 120° today. Corey and Jaffer's air conditioning had gone out, so they were staying with Janie and Otto.

Jeff seems obsessed with the weather. He has a fit every time he looks at the local weather station, or his wall-mounted "weather station".

"This isn't helping. You can't change it."

Drove into Burlington this evening to have dinner at the "Sirloin Saloon". Mediocre at best. We had to send our steaks back to be cooked. As part of their policy, whenever a customer sends something back, a manager must come to the table.

Indeed, a manager delivered our steaks the second time, then walked away without comment. "I feel much better now."

A TV kind of night. Jeff wanted me to watch part of the series "Rescue Me" (about a New York fire house) and then we watched the movie Something's Gotta Give. Up past 3:00 a.m. - not good!

East Aurora to Waterbury

Saturday, July 16, 2005 1:30 p.m.

Up just before 9:00. Cousin Priscilla’s birthday, which she’d rather ignore. She’s off to a baby shower, then a Pfohl Family Reunion in Canada. She encouraged me to come to the reunion, but it doesn’t feel right. I'm not a part of the Pfohl Clan. I’ll head to Vermont instead, but assured her I'd soon return with my brother.

Left her house about 11:00 and drove a few blocks to "Taste" to check e-mail. Accidentally erased my blog entry from Cleveland, so I had to re-create it. My "brief" stop dragged out. Of course, I had to eat...cappuccino and a bagel, then coffee and a brownie!

Two young fellows set up with guitars. They led off with a barely audible "The Times They are a Changin'."

Rode east. A hazy, heavy day. Oppressive heat and humidity. Started out on highway 20A, but by Geneseo, decided to cut over to the New York State Thruway, leaving the sometimes-scenic Finger Lakes region. Passing an old Erie Canal lock, a song I hadn't heard in 40 or more years pops up: Tennessee Ernie Ford's (I think) "The Erie Canal."

A pretzel and soda at a Thruway Service Area (controlled access and contracted concessions.) Avoided storms all afternoon; encountered wet streets, but no rain. Took several wrong turns along the way. Maybe I should reconsider that GPS...

Looked forward to the Adirondack Mountains for some relief from the heat. It's a beautiful area (even more so if the weather were better.) That my brother Jeff expected my arrival in Vermont later today created some negativity; I didn't want to be bound by expectations. This prevented my stopping at places that looked intriguing, forcing me instead to just focus on time and distance.

Driving through the mountains in fading light, deer were a big concern. I've heard stories of collisions up this way.

Reached the picturesque Hudson River Valley, but the "mucky" weather made it uninteresting. Crossed into Vermont from Crown Point and almost immediately the air was filled with the heavy smell of dairies.

The ride became more frustrating the closer I got. Slow drivers(!), reduced speed limits, frequent towns, construction for miles leading into Burlington. Had planned to meet Jeff at the "Longhorn Steakhouse" in Burlington, but I couldn't find it. (I was to call him once I arrived there.) Instead, I drove all the way to Waterbury (watching out for moose along the way.)

He seemed relieved that I had arrived safely. Rolled the bike into his garage, alongside the other bikes, including the (slower) yellow version of mine.

Went around the block to "The Alchemist" brew pub, and took a table in their bar. The last time I visited, I had suggested we come here, but couldn't interest him. Great bleu cheese burgers and fresh french fries! It's exciting to have a good restaurant right here. We "stuffed" ourselves. Coffee with Bushmill's Irish Cream topped it all off.

Back at his house, watched the weather channel, hoping for some sign of a break in the weather (Jeff does not tolerate heat well.) Called the relatives to report my safe arrival. Watched a movie, Million Dollar Baby. Up past 3:00 a.m.

Friday, July 15, 2005

East Aurora, New York


After dinner at Tony Rome's Globe Hotel.


Priscilla was off to work before I awoke. Called cousin Becky at 10:30, then rode over to "Taste" in sandals, jeans and a t-shirt. Camped there for the day, with bagel and cappuccino to start. Worked on the blog. Becky joined me around 1:30. For lunch, we ordered sandwiches: a "Millard Fill Me More" and a "Dolly Pardon Me". Remained there until 5:30. She doesn't have a computer, and hasn't seen the blog, so I showed her some of the places I've been on this trip. The shop is busy throughout the day. East Aurora a real destination now.

Dinner with my cousins Kathy, Beck and Priscilla at the "Globe Hotel". Tried the "Fish Fry", which turned out to be a huge meal. Except for us, the dining room was quiet, the adjoining bar not so.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cleveland to East Aurora


With the wild and wacky Pfohl cousins in East Aurora, New York!


I asked to keep my room until 1:00 p.m., awaiting restoration of services (at 9:00 a.m., I was told they were working on it and it should only take an hour.") Phone service finally restored, I called to take care of outstanding Visa charges. Still no internet.

I have succeeded in keeping myself under all the same old laws: trying to keep track of receipts, record expenses in a spreadsheet, log the day’s activities, capture fleeting thoughts. I can't escape the mechanics, the habits. It leads to unnecessary frustration. I must ask, "to what end do I do this?" No answer.

Gave up and checked out. Taking advantage of my new familiarity with Cleveland, returned to Starbucks for breakfast: cappuccino and coffee cake, sitting in the loft above.

Outside, as I was leaving, I hear "You're getting on my dream."

Bill Borden introduces himself. From Asbury Park, new Jersey originally, now of Cleveland. In my road atlas, he shows me all sorts of places to go, from New England down to Virginia.

Nearby, I stop in at the library, hoping I can hook up my laptop. But all they offer is an "express computer," which I can use for fifteen minutes.

Without much thought, I leave Cleveland on Interstate 90. It's too hot and hazy to enjoy secondary roads much. I just want to get on to the next destination. Take a break at an Erie, Pennsylvania truck stop. I get some cheese crackers and a soda and take a seat inside the Subway.

Across the border, the freeway becomes the New York State Thruway, a toll road. Thunderstorms start rising rapidly in the steamy atmosphere, directly in my path. Looking up through the haze, a billowing mountain about to roll over me. It's exciting as thunder and lightning come almost in unison, but it's dangerous too. Waves of rain come and go.

Coming through a couple of these, I see the East Aurora exit ahead and hurry to get there, with another thunderhead bearing down. Exiting the Thruway at Hamburg, turned around by the exit's architecture, I'm disoriented, and the sun has disappeared in the clouds. No further mention of East Aurora as I work my way through a maze of intersections.

Pulled into a gas station to ask directions, but everyone was busy, and I was anxious to keep moving away from these storms. Made a wrong choice, and ended up heading south, discovering my error after about twenty miles of wandering the countryside. Get map out 4 or 5 times to figure out where I was. (Reconsidering that GPS option as I looked over the map.)

Pretty country, but I was moving faster and faster, driven by weather, and by some sense that I had to arrive at the time I had "promised". In Orchard Park, just a few miles short of my goal, my luck ran out and I was drenched my a deluge. Literally, buckets of water. Traffic bogged down, ensuring maximum saturation. So close!

An evening with my wacky cousins, Kathy, Becky and Priscilla. Kathy, of course, arrived at Priscilla's house with all the fixings for a complete dinner - ribs, salt potatoes, beans - apologizing that there wasn't more. It seems Becky and Priscilla's chief goal for the evening was trying to make Kathy "spew", which succeeded perfectly just after Kathy took a big swig of beer.



This is what living in a small town (and a bit of beer and wine) will do to you.



Yes, we are related.



I have nothing more to add.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cleveland, Ohio


Cleveland's skyline is a dynamic mix of old and new architecture.


11:30 p.m.

StudioPLUS Motel, Westlake, Ohio

No internet or phone service – a lightning strike in the area killed the circuits. So, I’m logging this stuff into a "Word" journal for later download.

Just returned from Cleveland. It's so enjoyable riding the streets of downtown Cleveland at night, wandering the “concrete canyons”, quiet in the damp evening. A fascinating mix of old and new architecture. Many of the governmental buildings reflecting the city’s heritage, while adventurous new architecture contrasts boldly.

I was in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four or five hours. Sensory overload, but I just figured that's the price one must pay (in addition to the $20 entry fee, that is.)

Outside the Hall, a marker told of "the birth of Rock and Roll." Local radio station WJW Disc Jockey Alan Freed coined the term “rock and roll” in 1951 (the year of my birth!) to describe the up-tempo black rhythm and blues music he was playing on his radio show. He started the “Moon Dog House Rock and Roll Party”.

To qualify for induction, it must be 25 years since the release of an artist's first recording. Then, a panel of industry "experts" vote. Over 50% must vote in favor of induction.

The exhibits begin with an exploration of Rock's history. A film entitled Mystery Train traces the roots of Rock and Roll.

We are now familiar with seeing displays of musical instruments, costumes, music scores, posters, etc. at places such as "Hard Rock Cafe". Here, there is much of the same. Fashion is a big focus, with MANY outfits from the major artists displayed.



Do you suppose this has something to do with the "Grateful Dead"?


I found it quite emotional to see videos of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley performing (I had never seen Bob Marley before. I've missed out on almost the entire MTV-VH1 phenomena by not having TV at home.)

The Jimi Hendrix exhibit featured his music AND early artwork. He was a pretty creative kid.

John Lennon’s 1957 report card (age 16) showed he was a difficult student. His science teacher wrote: “for a boy with quite a spark of originality, his work and effort are incredibly poor and slovenly. I suppose he despises school work.”

From an interview, Lennon speaks of the challenge of creating songs, and his elusive Muse. Sitting with his son Sean, he felt he should be able to write a song that expressed his appreciation of this child. He struggled to come up with something. Only when he had given up trying did the song come: "Beautiful Boy."

Most powerful, of course, were the images and video of musicians no longer with us: Hendrix, Marley, Lennon, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia, etc.

A special temporary exhibition titled “Tommy: The Amazing Journey” tells the story of The Who’s rock opera.

The Hall of Fame wing, came at the end of my tour. Entering the wing, you can watch a film collage from induction ceremonies over the years, often featuring artists performing one of their "greatest hits", joined on stage by fellow Hall of Famers.

Inside a theater, a multi-media review presents each year's inductees, counting down through the past 20 years or so. Often juxtaposing their youth and old age, compressing a lifetime into seconds, the show has a surprisingly sobering effect. Life is short. Learn what is important, then never lose sight of it.

A darkened spiral passageway leads away from the theater, its walls featuring inductees’ autographs etched in back-lighted glass.

There can be no doubt about the power of music in our lives. Yet this "Rock and Roll" genre to me feels all about the “Baby Boomers”, and I wonder if the phenomena will outlast that generation?

It must be an enormous undertaking to keep up with all that is really “rock and roll” these days, with so many venues and media outlets for music. The music scene has too many channels for an institution to survey. Can a "Hall of Fame" really represent the best of what's out there, or is it just one eddy in this river?

When I finally exited the Hall, I found Markey Ramone’s band performing on a courtyard stage. They were just being called back to do an encore. Walked around the waterfront as the sun sank into a thick haze and the city stated to light up.



Marky Ramone's band performing outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Driving back to the motel along Clifton Drive, a broad boulevard with grand old houses and towering trees, I saw the "City Place Diner & Deli”. Its appearance being similar to all-night delis in L.A, I was drawn in. This one was pretty quiet though. A radio station on the sound system, apparently broadcasting from the Hall of Fame, played "the most fun music from the 60’s and 70’s." And I ask myself “who wants to hear this stuff???” Virtually everything they play I’ve heard 100’s, some perhaps 1,000’s of times. “Give it a rest!”

Tonight at 10:00 they run down the Top 10 of July 13, 1964. The staff, almost entirely in their 20’s – what do they think? I ask the waitress. “I don’t mind. But I’ll listen to anything.” (By the way, do you know what #1 was? “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.)(Going back in my memory, I figured it was the Beach Boys “Help Me Rhonda” or Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’”)

The warning about the motorcycle tank bag only being waterproof if the inner liner draw-string is pulled tightly closed is accurate. I had been inside the Hall of Fame during a downpour. Returning to the bike, opened up the tank bag and found about a liter of water pooled atop the waterproof liner. But inside the bag, things were relatively dry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Alpena, Michigan to Cleveland, Ohio

At 6:00 a.m. this morning, out in the "wilds" of Michigan, I awoke to a vermilion glow. The sky on fire. "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning..." Hurricane remnants?

Last night and this morning, the birds have been incredible in their variety and intensity of song. This thickly-wooded area is their domain. It's so refreshing to be surrounded by non-human sounds!

I had tried a new twist: wrapping my air mattress in a cotton "Cocoon" and slept on that, using the sleeping bag as a comforter. I seemed to sleep better.

Packed up in 30 minutes; I didn’t want to be discovered by daylight. Felt some relief at escaping from the woods and reaching the pavement without detection. Resumed travel with the "normal" commuters.

Looked for a family-style breakfast place in Alpena, but settled on “Big Boy”, rather than the one that actually said "family restaurant." Ordered a strawberry waffle (which was remarkably good, with fresh strawberries and heavy whipped cream!) The Cranberries’ “Dreams” playing in the background; with its great intensity, their music represents a particular era in rock, (and it's sad to hear it sedated now as "white noise.")

Horribly muggy. A hazy, stagnant atmosphere. Lake Huron, dead flat, creepy. Virtually every foot of shoreline claimed, cleared, settled and posted “no trespassing”. Replacing the dense forest, trappings of humanity: houses, boats, cars, SUVs, motorhomes, jet skis, playground equipment, wood piles, and the myriad human conceptions of how a landscape should look.

Detroit drivers are the most aggressive I think I’ve experienced. Traveling 80 in a 45 mph construction zone; even to me that's extreme. I had to really watch my tail. Men, women, teens, seniors; it doesn't matter. Their message: "Get your butt out of the way if you're not a competitor."

Just the run into the city on the interstate was enough to leave me with such a bad taste, I had no interest in getting to know this place. The smell of ozone and the slight tightening in the chest, evoked comparisons to Los Angeles, yet without L.A.'s redeeming qualities.

Southwest of Detroit, in Canton, I easily found Erhard BMW, just off the highway. Kirk Groesbeck was concerned as soon as he saw my rear brake. "You just ate up your rotor." He conferenced with the mechanic and they took the bike in immediately, despite other jobs ahead of mine. I supplied the brake pads for them to install, which took less than half an hour. The rotor turned out to be salvageable.

Looked at some mesh riding suits while I waited. “This would be smart for riding in these warmer climates.” But I hesitate at buying anything more. (Rather than be sensible,) I'll just "tough it out," even if it kills me.

At my request, Kirk looked at and documented the oil leaks (clutch housing and drive shaft boot). They couldn't work on the these right now, but considered them non-critical at this point. I could address them further down the road.

Kirk graciously offered his home should I need a place to stay. I couldn't overcome my discomfort at imposing (especially given my nightly foghorn impersonation.) But I did ask his recommendation for dinner. He suggested “Don Pablo’s” across the street. Easy enough, I tried it out. An icy strawberry margarita (a strong one!) hit the spot. (Friendly people; good, fresh food. A bit surprised to learn this is a chain restaurant, owned by Avado Brands. They do a pretty good job - at least this location - which speaks well of the managers.)

Gave Kirk a "thumbs up" as I drove off. He made a motion, as if exclaiming "yes!!!"

Looking for a stopping point now, but the region was still too congested. Drove on toward Toledo. Construction everywhere on the region's interstates. Passed Chrysler's enormous complex near the Michigan-Ohio border. Surprised how quickly I reached Toledo. Having visited as a guest of Owens-Illinois six or seven years ago, I thought of stopping in to say hello to old acquaintances. The thought didn't gain much of a foothold though. The momentum and heat just carrying me along.

Passing billboards from several motels advertising an "as low as $39 per night" rate, I stopped at two: "Super 8" and a "Ramada". Both appeared to be recent buy-outs of some previously-abandoned motel. The advertised $39 rate "is only with a coupon."

"Then the sign out along the highway should state that."

"Yes, it should."

Well, I'm not falling for it, I thought, leaving annoyed.

Hot and wet, as thunderstorms moving in from southeast crossed my path. Cleveland was now becoming the goal as I once again found myself driving longer than intended. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was the only thing in the area that particularly interested me, so there was a limit to how far I would drive before stopping.

Rode through several storms, trying to slipstream trucks to reduce the soaking, but it didn't help much.

On Cleveland's outskirts, looked for a "Hampton Inn". It was full. Started to worry that I had overextended my luck. Up the highway, A "Courtyard". One room left at $149. Geez! The Desk Clerk volunteered a comparative rate survey they do regularly, listing their competitor's rates and the number of vacant rooms each had this evening. Theirs was the highest rate. "Red Roof" and "StudioPLUS" up the road were cheapest, with the most rooms left.

Looked at the StudioPLUS motel, asking to see a room. More than I needed, with a fully-equipped kitchen, but the $69 rate was now looking attractive. I took it. Once in the room, I scattered my gear. A family right overhead - kids running and jumping (off of furniture, by the sounds.) It was barely tolerable, but I was confident I'd outlast them.

Turned on, tuned it. Checked e-mails and the latest news on TV. Learned more about these remnants of Hurricane Dennis, now hovering over much of the east. They're not moving much. Did laundry, finishing after 3:00 a.m.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Neys Provincial Park, Ontario to Michigan


The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.


Long trains passing in the night, not far away. First westbound, then east, then west again. A busy track and a restless night.

Leaving camp, I crossed the railroad tracks. Why didn’t their significance register on the way in?

Inland from the lake it grew hot and muggy, but the landscape was improving.

Back on the highway, a sign says "Welcome to Marathon. 25 minutes ahead." Canadians are very considerate; they give you plenty of warning.

In Marathon, I looked around for the breakfast spot recommended by Christine, “Chez (something)”, but couldn't find it. Another mill town, their mill much smaller than Thunder Bay's. Stopped at "Robin’s Donuts" for a bagel and donut. All the other customers gathered in a glass-encased smoking room.

In Wawa, a giant talking Wawa goose greets you, Wawa being the name the Indians gave to the local geese. Looked up and down the main street for an advertised jewelry store, but couldn’t find it. Went into a grocery, and just walked the aisles, unsure of what I was there for. Wanted some peanuts in the shell, but they only had 3-pound bags.

At the Trading Post bought an Inukshuk, “an Inuit symbol of our dependence on each other and the value of a strong relationship.”

Next door an elderly couple served food from a trailer. A small order of fries took “forever”, but they were fresh cut, and a huge helping (customer’s laughed and joked when they saw the portions.) Everyone applied vinegar to their fries, using a spray bottle.

I sat outside with my fries, watching motorcycles come and go, many roaring through town. I'm so tired of all the Harleys, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I just don't get it. "How could one care so little about other people's 'space'? How can people be so self-centered?"

No interest in stopping, no photo ops – just keep moving. Too hazy for anything interesting. The heat was stifling, especially when standing still. Gotta get to the shoreline again, where there’s some cool air. I set my sights on Sault Ste. Marie. "There I'll log in and get some work done."

Approaching the border, progress slowed as the highway dumped us onto (Canadian) Sault Ste. Marie's city streets. The heat was starting to make me a bit dizzy, light-headed. The border back-up was not long; still I thought I might have to break out of the line and find shade. Visions of Mexico?

Over on the American side, I found the Chamber of Commerce building and stepped into the air conditioned space, pouring sweat. Asked about the library – “it’s closed Mondays.” Took my time, allowing a little cool-down. They told me of two coffee shops with wi-fi downtown. Asked to use their restroom and took the opportunity to thoroughly soak my head.

The bank downtown showed a temperature of 101°. “This is nuts!”

Went to the first coffee shop I came to. Ordered a cool fruit smoothie. Checked in on my e-mail. On the wall, a “Small Business for Bush” sign caught my attention. Then I noticed the radio program – a right wing talk show (Sean Hannity?)

“I’m in hostile territory. Just TRY to remain calm! Be polite.” The owner was closing the shop soon; he said I could still access their wi-fi outside, but I wasn't inspired to write anything under these conditions. Drove up by the Soo Locks; a laden freighter coming off Lake Superior was just creeping up to a lock (you could walk as fast). Too hot to stick around and watch. "Gotta keep moving!"

Took the interstate south toward the Mackinac Bridge. Just before the crossing, exited to "Bridge View Park." Wandered into a visitor's center. It was luxurious: air-conditioned to the point of being chilly, big clean restrooms, water fountains. And I had it all to myself (though the cameras overhead reminded me I wasn't necessarily alone.)

"What a waste."

Quickly banished the thought and washed up in the bathroom, leisurely re-hydrated at the fountain, then casually explored the exhibits around the perimeter, allowing time for my temperature to drop below the boiling point.

Took some photos of the bridge; I remember it from a 1957 (I think) postage stamp. The bridge crosses the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Back on the road, crossing the bridge, construction forced us to use the center lanes which were steel-grated. I was not too comfortable taking in the view, as the tires danced around on the rails.

At the far end of the bridge, Mackinaw City looked like a destination town. Lots of hotels and restaurants, with people strolling the sidewalks. I wanted to get back off the interstate, rather take U.S. 23 on a leisurely shoreside ramble toward Detroit. Passed through Sheboygan, a much more blue-collar town than the resorts back up the highway. Much of the population appeared to be down at the ball parks along the river bank.

My map showed only one state campground along this stretch of road, the Cheboygan State Park. I followed a dirt road for about 3 miles, arrived at the lakeshore campground. It was certainly far from the highway, a good sign. Checking in at the office I was shocked at the price: $26. When I complained that I've haven't even seen private campgrounds this expensive, the fellows sympathized. One took out a map and said that if I didn't need facilities, there were numerous unimproved State Forest campgrounds in the interior, and pointed out various locations.

Their eagerness to assist me was certainly refreshing, but I didn't want to venture far from the shore - believing, probably incorrectly, that it MUST be cooler along the lake. I kept driving, camping opportunities fading with the light, the risk of deer increasing. "This might have been a mistake..."

On the left, the shoreline was inaccessible, a continual stretch of private properties and homes. The forest on the right, less developed, but still clearly private property, many dwellings tucked into clearings. I was becoming desperate enough to just drive off into "the bush" and lay my sleeping bag in the foliage.

In one particularly dense section of forest, I noticed access roads going into undeveloped properties. Turned onto one of these unpaved roads, went up a few hundred yards, found a faint track leading off into the woods on the right. It appeared not to have been used recently.Crept along this path for another couple hundred yards.

Finally, just in case someone actually came down this path, I drove off perpendicular through the brush and downed branches until I felt I was concealed from the path. After killing the engine, I just stood by the bike for a long time, listening for any activity in the area. Somewhat assured I was not followed, I set up the tent in the twilight.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

On the shores of Gitche Gumee


For Drew: the AWESOME North Shore break (Lake Superior, that is.)

I estimated swells at 50 to 75...millimeters!


9:00 p.m. (Eastern Time Zone!)

Neys Provincial Park, Ontario

At "Aerostich", they have a t-shirt that states: “Ride. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.” Sometimes that’s how this journey feels.

Breaking camp early, the ranger, with perfect timing, pulled right up to my site.

“You were all out of (payment) envelopes last night," I offered as soon as she said "good morning.”

“There were some when we left. Must be the kids. You know kids…”

She only charged the $15 camping fee, not the vehicle fee, since I had paid for one yesterday.

Superior shrouded in fog this morning. It felt good to be driving while it was still cool. After 30 minutes or so, crossed into Canada (and the Eastern Time Zone.) Simple formalities. "How much time are you planning to stay? Are you carrying any firearms or weapons? Any alcohol or tobacco products? Anything you plan to leave in Canada?"

The landscape changed almost immediately, and I didn’t like what I was seeing: shabby buildings, junker vehicles, logged-over forests, a worn landscape. The thought occurred, "should I turn around?"

On so many occasions along the way, the first impulse was the better one, and often I would later regret not following it. Numerous times, I have reversed course, after an internal debate, to follow that original instinct. This time I did not.

Thunder Bay, Ontario was a big disappointment. For miles, the sickening acrid stench of pulp mills filled the heavy atmosphere. The city has over 110,000 people, according to the sign. I'm thinking "it's an outrage that they are exposed to this pollution." Then I wonder if people here even notice it.

I found the Bowater Pulp Mill (it wasn't difficult) where they make pulp, newsprint and corrugated. Of course, it's our insatiable demand for corrugated boxes and newspapers that creates this environmental mess.



The Bowater pulp mill in Thunder Bay


At "Strawberries Family Restaurant" in a gritty lower-middle class section of town, I was uncomfortable parking the bike and leaving it. "How much do I trust my fellow man?" Let's see...

Inside, I was back in Canada; the soundtrack is again "oldies". Even Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party!” (recalling Grand Prairie - which now feels like a lifetime ago.)

A huge breakfast: Eggs Benedict, with pancakes smothered in strawberries and whipped cream! About $11.00 with tax and tip. Gradually, the world seemed a bit brighter...



At a Thunder Bay car wash


Skirting Superior's North Shore, conditions alternated between sultry and chilling. Where the highway moved even a short distance from water, the heat increased dramatically. Along the shore, it ranged from cool to downright cold.

Camped early today, which actually allowed me to meet some people!

Out on the wide sandy beach, while taking photos of the "surf", I met "Christine", who had brought her two children out to play. We talked mostly of travel. She's been only as far west as Calgary, but has the desire to travel, once she has the money.

Bruno Nussbaumer approached my campsite with his daughter to admire the motorcycle, saying "I'd love to have one of these!" He's from Switzerland, now living in Chicago. We talked about travel, and in particular about Argentina, which he loved visiting. Later, he returned, after speaking to his wife, Jacqueline. "If you come to Chicago, you are welcome to stay with us..." Such kindness amazes me. We exchanged contact information.

Crawled into my tent around 9:30.

In the woods, there's a bird that sounds like it’s warbling through a ceramic pipe. Very odd! At these times, I wished I had someone like Paul Boyer around to identify the birds. (Later, Priscilla tells me this was probably a Veery.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bear Head Lake to Gitche Gumee


2,341 feet underground, this surreal complex detects neutrinos fired from a lab near Chicago, through the ground.


8:30 a.m.

Incredibly humid, a fog still over the land. Awoke about 6:30. Quiet. Tossed all night, but still felt rested.

Walking to the bathroom, other campers sitting silently, I imagined they’re miserable, kept awake by my snoring, thinking evil thoughts of me.

Clothes still soaked. I think I’ll need to find a laundromat today.

10:00 a.m.

At the Soudan Underground Mine State Park: it's already hot. I had to decide between the "Physics Tour" and "the historic mine tour". Since the physics tour is offered only 2 or 3 time a day, I decided to try that one. If I really wanted to go back down later, I could then take the historic tour. ($9.00 for each tour)

"Anybody claustrophobic?" Our guide says they're required to ask. Standing outside the nearly vertical shaft, I almost panicked as we were about to load into the tiny cage that would be lowered into the mine. I began looking for a way out, should I not be able to control the wave of adrenalin. “This is ridiculous!”

Fortunately, it subsided. The car arrived at the surface. A worker inspected the cage. "No bats." Six or seven of us stepped inside, the door latched behind us. We were lowered by a "very strong cable" into the darkness. The guide had a small light, which she directed outside to the shaft wall, just inches away. As the rock strata raced by, occasionally there would would be a snapshot of a dark void, the different levels within the mine.

The pressure increase caused discomfort in the ears. It took several minutes to reach the bottom of the shaft. Finally, we came to rest aside a small cavern.

"Okay. Try not to think about how much earth is over your head and what a tenuous connection there is to the fresh air far above. Don't think about power failures, or earthquakes, or flash floods." Of course, I didn't think about these things. I was very busy convincing myself that "people do this all the time" and live to talk about it.

A sign on the platform tells us we're 2,341 feet down, and 689 feet below sea level. From this same platform, the historic tour moves onto a small train and ventures off into the mine's recesses.

We, however, are led into a huge hanger-like space, an underground cavern-turned-science project. This is MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search).

"MINOS is a five kiloton magnetized tracking calorimeter designed to observe neutrino events from the NuMI beam. If the beam is different at MINOS from what it was at the Near Detector, the neutrinos oscillated in transit. Observation of these oscillations would be conclusive evidence that neutrinos have mass." Elementary, my dear Watson.

The "NuMI beam" is a beam of neutrinos sent from the Tevatron high-energy accelerator at Fermilab, near Chicago, about 420 miles away. The beam travels through the Earth's crust. The beam strikes the detector plates here at Soudan, and the nature of those strikes tells something of the particles in the beam. I guess.

The cavern is brightly-lighted and air-conditioned (the scientific equipment generates so much heat that, even though the ambient temperature is about 50 degrees, a massive air conditioning system is required.) Scaffolding, catwalks, offices, banks of electronic equipment, an enormous detector plate grid, masses of cable, educational displays, and on one wall, a huge, brightly-colored mural, full of scientific symbolism.

We are reminded that every piece of equipment, all the concrete, steel girders, ducting, machinery, vehicles - everything was transported down the same tiny shaft we traveled. There is no other way. And when the project is complete, because this space is actually being leased, everything must be taken back out. This is difficult to fathom!



Half a mile underground.


The physics tour was fascinating, but now I was really curious about the historic tour. Returning (safely!) to the surface, I learned I was too late for the 11:00 historic tour, which was just boarding. Took a break to have a cream soda and chips at the Soudan Market.

At 1:00, I had no apprehension about going back into the mine, even though the historic tour group was much larger. The shaft is at a 78-degree slope. It's no coincidence that this is the angle of the iron ore deposit within the mountain.



We rode down into the mine in a car just like the one on the left (but it was standing on end.)


This tour is led by a short, stocky middle-aged gentleman with a gritty blue-collar demeanor, but good sense of humor (the pony tail sticking out from under his hard hat kinda gives it away. If he had a crew cut, I wouldn't be s sure.) He tells us the rock is 2.6 billion years old – "there's no organics, so we don’t need a canary."

Again, he shines his light on the shaft wall as we sink into the depths. Everything's fine, until we step off the platform and onto the train that will carry us off. This is no Disneyland ride, this is the real thing! The scary part is heading away from the loading platform into a small dark tunnel and continuing for a VERY long time (though it was probably only 5 minutes), away from the only exit. My worst nightmare is to be buried alive. (I was reminded of one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen: The Vanishing - the original French version.)

I tried not to think much about cave-ins, breakdowns, panic-attacks, explosions and such potential disasters (after listing in my mind all the possibilities, that is.)



Not a great photo, but try to imagine the feeling of going off from the loading area, into this small, dark tunnel, knowing you're nearly 2,400 feet underground, there's only one way out, and you're going AWAY from it - far away. The train took us 3/4 of a mile off . It wouldn't have taken much to send me into a full-fledged panic at this point! We ended at the last, and deepest recesses mined before the operation ceased in 1962. An outstanding tour, and experience!


The train took us ¾ of a mile into a “drift” (horizontal tunnel), to the location of the last, and deepest working site when operations ceased in 1962. 50° down here, they say. It was very chilly, particularly when riding the train. But the air was fairly dry.

We came to a stop near an ant-farm-like chambered area. The last excavations. About 15 miners worked this cavern. Incandescent lighting strung overhead provided some sense of comfort.

The ore runs in columns, so the different working levels were stacked one atop another. The ore would be broken loose, then dropped through a shaft in the floor to a pile on the level below. From there is was loaded onto cars and moved to the elevator shaft.

At first, mining was done by candlelight, one person holding the steel "drill" bar, while two others took turns hitting it with a sledge. At first, no friends were allowed to work together (to discourage unionization.) The bosses even organized it such that teams were comprised of immigrants speaking different languages.

In those days, there was no train ride out the drift to the work site; they walked the tunnel, and probably in the dark. Candles came out of their paycheck, so they were used sparingly.

The guide moved over to a control panel and suddenly turned out the lights. For a few moments we stood in complete darkness. Then, he lit a candle to show how it might have been working this space by candlelight. Teams were widely scattered in the cavern, so that solitary candle was really the only light.

"Now imagine the candle resting on a ledge, you're holding the drill, and the guys swinging the sledges aren't your friends."

He blew out the candle, then flipped a switch. Manikins wearing headlamps suddenly appeared in different recesses. Later, headlamps were introduced. Still, it was not much brighter. Even with the advent of electric lighting, they never bothered to light the work sites.

"Now imagine it's winter. You go to work in the morning; it's dark. You come here; it's dark. You go home at night; it's dark. You work six days a week."

Pretty close to Hell, I'd say.

I had to admit that reaching the platform again was a relief. Once outside the mine, I breathed deeply.

"Okay. I've now been in a mine. I don't think I ever need to go in another."

(But it was an outstanding experience.)



Down in the hole. The loading area. Waiting for our ride up. (I like the one clear image in the group; assist provided by guy on the right - kind of like an "alley-oop" in basketball.)


A few miles away, in Tower, I stopped again for a drink. It was in the 90's. Across from the grocery, I spotted a laundromat and decided to take care of those wet clothes I had just stuffed into my top box this morning. Inside, there was a machine labeled “Mine Clothes”.

A grimy, muscular fellow came in and loaded his clothes into the machine. “You don’t wash these at home. You don’t even take them home.”

One final bit of business in this area: I wanted to visit the International Wolf Center in Ely, a short ride east.

Entering town, I was surprised to find it full of outfitters and guide services. A community with vitality, lots of young people and adventurers. This is the gateway to the "Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness" on the U.S.–Canada frontier. There are 1,200 miles of canoe routes up there. Bars, restaurants and coffee shops support the effort.

The Wolf Center is on the east end of town. A fairly new facility with educational exhibits, wolf mythology and folklore, video presentations on wolves in captivity and in the wild and expert talks. I was barely able to "scratch" the surface. As with the Indian homelands, the White Man, with his “European idea of property rights” was in direct conflict the wolf population.



At the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN. This is "Malik", a White Arctic Wolf (a sub-species of gray wolf.)



"Malik" with "Grizzer", another gray wolf.


Extermination of wolves (and other wildlife) was undertaken on a massive scale in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A local log showed bounties paid on wild animals (1907-9):

Crow $0.10
Hawk $0.25
Wolf $10.00
Wolf cub $4.00
Wild cat $3.00

At the "Front Porch Café" in Ely, I found a wi-fi hot-spot and friendly welcome. Good food and the first REAL coffee I've had in a long time.

Searching for a break from the heat, I looked for a campground once I reached the Superior lakeshore. Darkness falling, I started to see fireflies in the dense foliage. Wonderful creatures! 4 or 5 campgrounds I tried were all full. Resigned myself to driving all the way to Thunder Bay and taking a motel.

Then, just short of the border, I came upon the "Judge Magney State Park Campground." Didn’t even recall seeing it on the map, but they had a spot open!