Why Nova Scotia?

Why not Nova Scotia might be the better question. It's one of those exotic sounding places that I've never been to and that's reason enough for me. I plan on leaving around the 8th of May and spending several weeks on the ride. Along the way I'll be camping out, visiting unsuspecting friends , and maybe getting to ride along with them for awhile. Let me know if you're up to either!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31 – Steinbach Manitoba & it’s getting chilly….

The longish ride through Saskatchewan farm lands was pleasant and it saddened me to leave. It must be a very wealthy Province as many of the ranches and farms boast meticulous yards and entrances to their properties.
Along the way I saw lots of hawks plus a big coyote with the bushiest tail I’ve ever seen. I've seen some interesting road signs too, including today's winner "Forget". I waited for a follow-up but there was none, however the graffiti on a roadside brick building declaring Joe Erickson is a wife beater gave it a run. Shortly after those finds I encountered a construction zone not unlike some of the ones in Alaska, complete with watered down mud and rocks. I was glad for my experience in riding through them but the bike now looks like crap and really needs to be washed.

The final few miles through Saskatchewan's eastern end began to lessen in appearance and when I crossed over into Manitoba the change was dramatic, especially the condition of the roads. The closer I got to Winnipeg the nastier they became; to the point I was tempted to stop just to give my innards a rest from all the jarring and bumping. I decided against that as it was getting late in the day and I needed to find a place for the night. Have I mentioned I carry a can of Anti-Monkey-Butt Powder? No? Well I do, I use it and I highly recommend it. Those who are interested can find it on Aerostich's website: http://www.aerostich.com/catalog/US/index.html
Anyway I’m in Steinbach for the evening, sequestered in the newer Days Inn, better of the two choices in accommodations available. It’s pricier than what I’d like but the other place looked scary and I didn’t feel like slumming it tonight. There’s a Pizza Hut conveniently located next door so I’ve topped off my acid indigestion tank and will await the predictable outcome.

On the downside the weatherman continues to deliver grim forecasts, particularly regarding the eastern seaboard area. Last night snow fell just above Ontario and cold rain was the norm beyond that all the way to the coast. Ugh. I’ll be watching it closely for the next day or so and may decide to take a more southerly route if it doesn’t let up.

Overall today's ride was comfortable for the most part, less frantic winds but late afternoon temps dropped and I stopped to add a light pullover to the mixed bag I’ve been wearing. I also traded the summer gloves for the winter ones and switched on the heated grips. Nice and toasty stuff.
The good news is my tiny little notebook PC is working just fine and I had no trouble getting on line. Last night it was impossible and I was afraid I’d pushed the wrong button and really screwed things up. This room I'm in comes with a fine refrigerator and the ice machine is conveniently located. I think I like this place.

May 30 – On to Cadillac and Weyburn, Saskatchewan

The weather people have been predicting nasty weather in a couple of days, especially in the direction I’m heading so I’ll enjoy the sunshine as long as I have it. Today started off with a gourmet breakfast at the motel (Raisin Bran, what else?) Then I discovered that sometime between last night and this morning the zippered bag that holds the bike cover disappeared. I left it under the cover on the bike’s saddle and I suspect it fell out and blew away or maybe one of the kids from hell who were still running around at midnight adopted it. It doesn’t matter, it was a cheapie and not worth worrying about.
On the road early, I headed south on 4 towards the intersection with 13 and the curious little town of Cadillac, Saskatchewan. The ride seemed to take longer than I’d expected and the constant heavy cross winds took some of the pleasure out of the ride. Cadillac is another time warp town from early last century. Small ramshackle houses mixed with dilapidated buildings set the stage for what must be the quietest existence imaginable. The little town is clean and tidy in spite of the gravel streets and its citizens show their sense of humor in their street signs, most named after cars. Several of the buildings are for sale or abandoned and now that I’ve moved on I wish I’d inquired about their asking prices. The Catholic Church, perhaps aptly named Our Lady of Confidence was especially inviting. One Mass, Sunday at 1:00pm. How could anyone resist a schedule like that? Catholics like to sleep in, especially on Sundays. Trust me, I know these things.
For the next couple of hours I struggled against the wind, not having a particularly good ride but the views were great and that made up for it some. It was around that time the low-fuel warning light came on and I noted I had put a little over 150 miles on the tank. The reserve factor allows for around 35 miles so I kept a sharp lookout for a gas station. Right, wishful thinking LL. I fully expected to run out at the 185 mile point as I’d been pushing it pretty hard while dealing with the wind factor. When a small Co-op facility showed up on the horizon I was thankful as all get out, the odometer had hit 190 miles and the fumes I’d been running on were fast disappearing. I’m clueless what the cost-per-liter was but at that point I’d have been willing to pay top dollar as pushing a bike doesn’t qualify in my world of entertainment. The guys were friendly and asked questions about where I was headed, etc., but the earplugs I was wearing prevented me from much in-depth conversation so with happy manly waves all around I rode off into the sunset. Or was it mid-morning into the wind storm?
Then it was lunch time. Why do I look forward to eating so much when I’m traveling? What I call highway food hardly ever qualifies as a gastronomical delight. But there it was, the little village of Lafleche on the left just down a short road. I couldn’t resist and after taking the full one-minute tour of the town I chose The Lafleche Café as my preferred place to eat. It was also the only place to eat. Ordinarily I tend to avoid cafes that leave their doors open, especially in small towns with dusty streets. Seems like a small concession to health standards, sort of like the 30-second rule, but in this case I was hungry and ready for a rest break.
Entering through the always-open door I noted the lady who was probably the proprietor, an elderly Chinese woman who looked as dour as could be. She was giving me an unsmiling look over and didn’t say word one when I entered. I was the only one there and for a moment I wondered if they were actually open or if I’d arrived just as they were closing for the wake. She continued to say nothing as I perused the black chalk board listing the lunch specials and turning to her I asked, “Do I give my order to you?” She came very close to moving, I could tell as one of her eyes sort of blinked. I took that as a yes so I said “I’d like the hamburger steak please.” She continued to say zip but turned and headed towards the rear which I presumed would be the kitchen. What if she’d just gone home? I sat down at one of the little tables and awaited my fate. I had a perfect view of the Ninja parked in front of the open door, looking for all the world like a lonesome dog who wanted to come inside. Inside the front window a huge bee buzzed in frantic circles non-stop, looking for an escape route. Occasionally it would start in my direction but then turn back to familiar territory and continued banging against the glass. I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t decide my helmet sitting on the chair next to me looked like an inviting place to reside.
Lunch arrived; a generous sized hamburger patty smothered in brown mystery gravy and fried onions, the shortest French fries I’ve ever seen, a wedge of watermelon, and the requisite orange slice. A buttered hamburger bun poised on top of everything served as the garnish. Odd little touch there but maybe that’s how it’s done in Lafleche? The silent lady deposited my plate of food and spun on her heels to leave. “I’d like coffee too” I said, probably sounding a little frantic. I was hoping not to offend her and although she didn’t reply I was pretty sure she’d heard me. Back she came in 30 seconds or so with a cup of freshly brewed Farmer Bros, my favorite alternative to Starbucks. I thanked her and as expected her response was silence. Had she taken a vow I wondered?
Then low and behold, another customer came in and sat himself down across the room without so much as a grunt. I heard him mumble his order to the lady and as she apparently treats everyone the same, responded with dead silence. A few minutes later she buzzed by my table and topped off my coffee which surprised me. I said “Thanks” and of course by now you know what she said back. Finished with what was a pretty tasty lunch – exclude the hamburger bun thank you – I headed to her station at the rear of the café. She rang up the bill and noticing the small sign stating “no credit or debit cards” I paid with the only cash I had. Lucky I had enough, I usually rely on plastic. And then guess what? She said “Thank you” in the softest quietest little voice.
The wind continued to wear me down and I found myself pausing for rest stops more frequently. I was getting tired so I decided to look for a place to hole up earlier than usual. Fortune smiles on the weary traveler sometimes as I pulled into the sizeable town of Wayburn. Noting there were lots of big-name businesses I tooled along through town looking for a motel and there it was, OMG, Motel 6, my favorite place in the whole world! It looked different from the other Motel 6’s I’d stayed at in the past but I was tired and just wanted to crash for the day. While filling out the registration form I noticed a stack of business cards on the counter bearing the name Circle 6 Motel…. uh oh…. What’s that all about I wondered? “Isn’t this a Motel 6?” I asked the lady. “Oh no, we are Circle 6 Motel, very good, very clean, you like.” Hmm… “How much are the rooms?” I asked. “Oh, very reasonable, only $65.” “That’s a bit higher than the other Motel 6’s I stay at” I mumbled as I handed over my plastic. She gave me my key – yes, a real brass key boys and girls, no fancy electronic security locks to deal with in this place. From the outside the motel looks dated but inside this is one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in, either totally restored to 1970's specs or maintained in perfect condition. It was just as she said, and yes, “I like.”
Dinner was a rare treat; McDonalds Big Mac, fries, the lot. Most of the people were old folks yelling at one another hoping to penetrate waxy build up on aging ear drums. The only other diner was a middle-aged pot bellied guy wearing a sleeveless Harley T-shirt who was wolfing down a Big Mac. My kind of dinner companion I thought so I sat at the table next to him and opened up the conversation with “You steal the shirt or just find it lying around?” I really know how to impress Harley guys. We hit it off and for the next half hour we had an enjoyable time trading lies and bike stories. Sometimes I can lie with the best of them.
Then it was back to the non-Motel 6 motel where I managed to do something fatal to my Internet configuration. That means this little ditty will have to wait to be posted until I can get in touch with the support people, maybe tomorrow.
Thank God the ice machine works.
May 31 Postscript: Evidently there was something wrong with Circle 6's connection as my PC works fine at the new location today. Or tomorrow? Whatever it is...

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29 – Crowsnest Pass Alberta to Swift Current SK

I didn’t mention it in my last report but the Immigration officer manning the Canadian border crossing recommended I avoid crossing Canada via highway 1 and take highway 13 instead. This he said would take me through all the little towns along the way and I’d get a better feel for the real Canada. My kind of border guard; a fellow biker and in fact one who rides a Kawasaki Versys, the dual-sport version of my Ninja. Bet the guys waiting in line behind me thought he was really running me through the wringer. Little did they know.

Taking his advice to heart I laid out a route on the GPS to do just that. I was ready for the road early but first I stopped for one of McDonald’s Big Breakfasts…. Mmmmm…..yummy. While there I was entertained by one of the local retirees who crabbed endlessly about the high cost of Canadian gasoline. You meet some interesting folks at the Golden Arches. I told him it was $1.50 a gallon at home. Mr. Nice Guy here.

Sunshine followed by more sunshine made for an outstanding ride once I got going. I chose a route that would take me east via Crowsnest Pass Highway to Medicine Hat and then drop down via 41 to 13 which I would then follow east nearly all the rest of the way to Nova Scotia.
Crowsnest is a huge area and absolutely gorgeous, lots of mountains, beautiful lakes and small towns that smack of local history. It took me a long time to get through the area as I kept taking side trips through the towns just to see what they were like. Most look like something out of old west history books and I couldn’t help wondering how the townspeople earned their livings. At one time there were a lot of active mines but I think most of those have closed down, and although there are lots of cattle ranches I doubt there are enough jobs to employ everyone who lives in the area. Maybe they’re all old retired geezers like me? Maybe they go back to the Mother Ship at night?

Lunch was not the greatest; I stopped at a chain restaurant called Smitty’s where I ordered their lunch special, fish and chips. Duh. Think about it LL, fish and chips in the middle of cattle country? At least the service was good which I mentioned to the waitress when she asked the usual “How was everything?” Being an honest patron I told her they might consider removing that item from their menu or maybe rename it as something without the “fish” word in it. She looked a bit crestfallen so I reassured her I thought her service was great and I was from the west coast where we had fresh fish available all the time, yadda, yadda. That seemed to cheer her up and I left her a nice tip to seal the deal.

On that note there was an older couple checking out ahead of me who were struggling with the entire tip concept. He was in his big beard and bib overalls livery and she had her black granny dress and bonnet on. If I had to guess I think they belonged to one of the local religious sects that live in the area, probably the one that begins with Mmmmennno… Anyway, he caught me watching him just as he asked his wife how much she thought he should leave to which she shot back “Nothing!” I guess that suited him so he paid up and they did a fast stage left without so much as a thank you. Praise the Lord. Cheap bastards. Oh well, that’s how it goes I guess.

Back on the road again I must have been dozing as I completely missed the turnoff at Medicine Hat and ended up riding to Swift Current on Highway 1 where I am for the night. Tomorrow I’ll head south via Highway 4 for a few miles, then hook up with Highway 13 where I’ll be back on track.

What about dinner you ask? It was really a no-brainer as there’s a Tim Horton’s place next door to the Thriftlodge motel where I’m camped for the night. I opted for their Turkey & Swiss sub accompanied by a donut and washed down with diet Pepsi. Bark. Urp. Ummm. I wonder what I weigh these days?

Ah yes, the ice machine works...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 28 - Canada Oh Canada…eh? Eh?

One of these days some Canadian is going to punch me for making fun of that. Eh?

This has been one of those longish days that when it’s over (the riding part) it’s difficult to look back and link it all together.

I started by having breakfast at Frank’s Diner in Spokane, same place I had meatloaf dinner last night followed by a generous helping of heartburn. Their menu declared they’d won the “Best Breakfast in Spokane” for 11 out of the last 12 years so I chanced it this morning. Some folks might have wondered if the year they didn’t win was 2009 but not me, I’m the one who believes in fate, heartburn or not. It was great, French toast, eggs, bacon just the way I like it, and lots of decent coffee. I sat at the counter where I could watch the show going on as the cooks and wait staff performed their magic. One waitress buttered and sliced two huge pieces of toast with her left hand while holding two loaded platters of food in her right hand, all the while dodging other workers who scurried through the narrow confines they had to work in. From watching her I don’t think she was left-handed. I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes back there.

It's odd how sometimes you notice people and form opinions about them based on their behavior. The young couple sitting next to me seemed to be in luuuv…she was pretty and he was handsome. He picked his nose. I mentally screamed at her “Get rid of him, he’ll only get worse!” Doubtful that she got my message though. Karma I suppose.

Following the commands of the GPS God I rode out of town in a northerly direction, missing a turn or two which gave me the opportunity to see parts of Spokane most likely reserved for bus loads of Mormons on holiday. Eventually I got back on course and enjoying the sunshine and 65 mph speed limits I flogged on. Sometimes I flogged even faster.

Along the way and well into northern Idaho (I think) I spotted a great junkyard of mostly older American cars. I love those places so I had to stop and eyeball a few of their offerings. Finds like that are part of what makes traveling around so much fun, especially on a bike which allows you to reverse course quickly. Sometimes suprisingly so.

Crossing the border into Canada at Rykerts I followed the Crows Nest highway, meandering until it reached Elko where I stopped for lunch. There were two choices of eateries and I went with the second, mainly because it was on the far end of town and I didn’t want to retrace my route back to the first one. Besides, they had a $5.00 hamburger-fries-medium drink thing going and I find those hard to resist.
After lunch I spent a few minutes in the parking lot washing the bugs off my visor, then climbed aboard and headed out, presumably to resume my ride east. Not. Along comes this tiny little yellow jacket and he decides the inside of my helmet looks inviting and all he needed to do was sting me and I’d vacate leaving the entire helmet to him. He was partially right, I was moving at walking speed and it soon became apparent that if I let go of the bike to swat the bee the bike would go into her lie-down for a nap routine. If any of you happened to follow my blog of three years ago you’ll recall how the Ninja took two similar naps in one day? For some reason she likes to lay on her right side which is exactly what she did today. While I was busy doing “there’s a yellow jacket in my helmet” boogie a lady came out of the restaurant and decided I might need a bit of help. Through sign language and lip sync she came to my rescue and together we managed to move el-Nino off her butt and back onto her kickstand. I thanked her profusely and as the show was over, remounted and once more resumed the eastward journey.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful other than stopping for photo-ops a couple of times, once for an on-going and seemingly unattended forest fire. Whoa, did I say a forest fire was uneventful? As it happened I was the only camera geek stopping to take pictures, all the other motorists pressed on, probably late for a golf date or something.

Around 4:45pm I arrived in the village of choice, Fernie, where I checked into the local Travelodge for the night. Not a Motel 6 in sight so what else could I do? Dinner was at the place next door called Rip & Ricks… I admit, I had a few reservations about eating in an establishment with the letters “RIP” emblazened in the name but it turned out to be a good choice. Their focus is mainly on pizza and ribs but they also offer chicken enchiladas so I opted for that. Have you ever had an enchilada prepared by a pizza guy? No? Well let me tell you, the making of one must require a pretty bazaar combination of talent and creativity. In this instance you end up with a huge tortilla – about the same size as a medium pizza crust rolled up and with a similar texture – filled with rice and smoked chicken looking suspiciously like pizza ingredients. Except for the rice of course, I’m clueless where that came from. Rice pizza perhaps? Slather a glob of sour cream across one end, add a handful of thin chopped lettuce which resembles Cilantro in appearance but loses something in the taste department and there you have it, enchilada ala pizza man. It was actually quite good.

Now that I'm finished with my evening repast I find myself once again cloistered in my tiny cell, about to pry the stopper off the remains of an extremely small vial of McNaughton’s finest Elixir & Cough Suppressant which I intend to consume along with an equal portion of left-over 7-Up, all in the interests of the advancement of science and personal edification.
Eh? Eh?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 27 – Beaverton to Spokane – 350 red hot miles today

George and I had breakfast one last time at Tom’s Gastronomical Hotcake Palace this morning, then I packed it up and jumped into the morning traffic heading east. I crossed the Willamette River and rode out I-84 in the opposite direction we’d taken on our way home from the Klickitat run the other day. The Cascade Salmon Hatchery at Cascade Locks caught my attention so I took an early break to stretch and look at the facility. They’re doing a pretty good job I think, without them helping out Mother Nature we probably wouldn’t have any wild salmon left.

Lunch break was in Arlington where I enjoyed the best club house sandwich I think I’ve ever had. It was at one of those little hole-in-the-wall places where the locals eat and it couldn’t have been better. I also gassed the bike, cleaned the bugs off my helmet visor, and then changed out of Big Red into jeans and my 35-year old leather jacket. The temperature had risen steadily all morning and I was beginning to roast.
Turning north just shy of Pendleton I continued on into the inferno heading towards Kennewick, WA. After riding awhile I realized the heat was too extreme for even the lightweight leather jacket so I stopped at a rest stop and changed into one of Fast Company’s Draggin Kevlar shirts. Underneath it and my jeans I put on a set of Bohn Body Armor and it made all the difference in the world. The Kevlar has a very open mesh weave to it and allows maximum air flow while providing great protection.
Later in the afternoon I stopped off at the Honda dealer in Kennewick, WA. I was hoping to buy one of those clips you use to keep the hose at the gas pump from shutting off constantly. They’re a simple device but by using one you can fill your bike’s tank all the way up, otherwise the damn things shut off early and you end up shy a gallon or so. On a 4 gallon tank that’s not so good. The dealer knew exactly what I wanted but they don’t carry them so I’ll keep looking. As a note of interest they also stock a good selection of Aprilias. He said the locals apparently don’t seem to be ready for sporty bikes yet so they’ve got some great prices if anyone’s interested. I had to drag myself away from there.

After leaving his place I continued straight on to Spokane, arriving at the local Motel 6 around 5:30pm. The room looks like a clone of the last one I stayed at and the ice machine works great so I don’t have to drink my whiskey warm. Unfortunately I had a meatloaf sandwich for dinner so now I have heartburn to deal with. Maybe the whiskey will help?
PS – Did I mention George has a guard cat named Traveler? One of the biting kind? He even bites George on occasion. Jeeze… Maybe he should take him to the fish hatchery once in awhile.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gorge – Hood River Windsurfing & Map Reading 101

George, being the considerate host that he is had programmed the coffee maker for 6:15am this morning. I, being the consummate devotee of accurate timekeeping awoke at 5:15am and wandering around in my usual fog failed to understand why the hell the coffee wasn’t ready. I poked all the available buttons on the coffee maker without success and giving up spent the next hour trying to figure out how his TV remote worked. The end result of all this was the coffee came on and perked as scheduled while I suffered through an hour of independent TV programming, aka the religious nuts channel.

Sensing that the coffee was ready my next venture involved pouring from the mystery carafe. Eventually I figured out the right combination on how it works and had my coffee in hand. George arrived on the scene a few minutes later and asked why there was a totally wet dish towel hanging on the counter edge and why I’d gotten up so early. I think my response was something on the order of “That’s really none of your ##!@%$# business!” to which he responded with a polite stare. Sometimes early morning conversation goes like that.

After breakfast at Tom’s hotcake emporium we headed north to the Washington side of the Columbia River and turned eastward. Neither of us had been on that side of the river for years and George wanted to run his Mini Cooper S through some twisty roads and scare the Jesus out of me so that’s what we did. Running at breakneck speed and occasionally stopping to watch wind surfers on the gorge and prowling through antique shops along the way filled in the balance of the run.

At one point, a gas stop in the middle of nowhere we honed our command of Slavic languages by attempting to answer questions posed to us by a family from God knows where. Bulgaria? Both of us failed miserably and they left, no doubt wondering why I kept pointing at my chest and saying “Tourista” over and over. Hey, I don’t do directions OK? That’s why I have a GPS.

The terminus of our ride eastward was the town of Goldendale which we reached via Klickitat and the twisty road from hell. At that point we drove south over the bridge connecting Washington to Bigg’s Junction and hooked up with I-84 west. A late afternoon stop at The Bridge of the Gods and lunch at the Charbroiler burger joint recharged our batteries and we headed home with a million other tourists. The Mini Cooper drew as much attention as the Aprilia/Sputnik sidecar rig had in CA and lots of photos were taken.

We arrived home in late afternoon and I spent a few minutes programming the GPS for the run to Halifax while George washed the bugs off the Mini and ran a load of laundry for me. We finished just in time for happy hour and re-heated pizza left over from last night’s festivities. Beer too. Manly food.

What more is there?