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!


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jun 30 – It was a very strange day today Todo...

This morning I got an early start for some reason or other; doesn’t matter but I was on the road by 8:30am local time and headed north on highway 385. Alongside the highway there were more trains hauling coal than I’ve ever seen before. Maybe it’s because there are lots of coal mines in the area?

The weather was as good as it gets; bright sunshine, moderate temperature not too hot, not too cold and very little breeze. I’m still wearing the Bohn outfit and my odd suntan/sunburn patterns are becoming more intense each day. I think I may have to fabricate some cock and bull story about being captured by rogue Hindus and tortured with firebrands or something…

Nebraska has quite a lot of historic places marked with sign posts so I’ve gotten into the habit of stopping to read them. The general mix is split between cattle drives and gold rush trails plus a lot of Indian skirmishes tossed in for good measure. I like what the state has done plus a lot of extra information has been posted by the DAR organization. All told it makes it easy for the tourist to learn a lot about the local history as you go along.

An abandoned church (I think) called out to me and I spent awhile going through it. Although the doors and windows were open I was surprised to find an upright piano still in place on the raised stage. Birds roosting in the rafters above have pretty well ensured the veneer is done but it makes for an interesting photo op.

Cowboys were out working their cattle herds and I paused to watch them awhile. Their cutting horses did most of the work and it was fun to see them react to any strays that happened to challenge them. It would be a momentary stand-off but the cattle always gave in and headed off in the direction they were supposed to. I liked the whole idea of what I was seeing; it’s great that part of our western heritage is still alive and well.

Moving on I enjoyed the solitude of western Nebraska’s open rolling highway system; posted at 65 mph I was able to cruise much faster without having to deal with the usual truck traffic. Maybe it was the out of the way route I was following but it was pretty darn nice. Ultimately I crested a hill and half way down, maybe a distance of a mile or so I noticed a small contingency of vehicles parked alongside the road. I throttled back to the legal limit just in time to recognize two of Nebraska’s finest were flagging vehicles over for a safety equipment inspection. I obliged and El Nino passed with flying colors.

Next I came to Crawford which was one of my way points and I toured the little town from one end to the other. It’s a neat place full of old west charm and the assorted fringe element citizens just like we have at home. Some of the signs were pretty entertaining so I took a few photos of them. My GPS has this odd quirk about it that once I’m into a way-point it seems to want to run me around and around the same circle until I ignore its instructions and break out on my own. Very strange thing indeed but I can live with it I guess.

After leaving Crawford I moved on to Lusk where I stopped for lunch at a cafĂ© claiming to have “The best food in Wyoming”. Why do I get sucked into these things? The requisite hamburger I had was truly good, served up with a tiny bag of Lay’s Original Chips and black coffee. I’d rate the burger as very good albeit they left out the barbeque sauce which was why I’d ordered that particular version. The coffee was average restaurant fare and what’s to be said about a bag of chips? At $12.59 I doubt my old friends at the golden arches are quaking in their boots much but it was a nice lunch and the owners were friendly people.
Gassed up and back on the road to Casper I once more enjoyed a fair amount of solitude for a long distance. Then I hit Casper and that’s when my day started to get really weird. The city didn’t do much for me compared to other areas; it seemed stretched out in all directions seemingly without purpose or thought as to form or function and it was not a tidy place. Point in fact I found nothing attractive about it at all and I’m sad to say that as I like the people of Wyoming very much.

As I was leaving the general metro area I noticed what I thought to be a large whirlwind funneling down off towards the east a ways but when I got to where I could see better it was gone. The sky had darkened somewhat and the cloud structure was beginning to look a bit ominous so I expected either rain or more high winds. I got the latter just out of town; the air seemed charged with electricity and El Nino suddenly gave a severe jerk like I’d turned the key off and back on. Before I could react it happened again and this time it was a done deal, her fire had gone out and I was forced to pull off the road and park. I looked her over and could see no obvious issues and then I noticed the GPS had gone into a lockup format. All of its keys were dead including the off/on button. I tried all the tricks I knew to cajole it back into a normal operating mode but no luck, it was a done deal. El Nino however started right up and appeared to have suffered no ill effects at all; it was as though nothing had happened. I couldn’t guess what had occurred but I suspected there had been an electrical disturbance that had affected the electronics of both bike and GPS.

There are times when a solo rider has to decide whether to push on or fall back and regroup and I decided since the bike seemed alright I’d go on. I hadn’t the foggiest as to what the problem was; I’d seen similar things occur when the air filter had clogged on my Aprilia but I didn’t think this was the case, the filter was new and I hadn’t been riding in extreme dusty conditions.

Moving on westward I soon encountered the most violent cross winds of my ride so far, it actually became unnerving to continue but nothing would be gained by stopping. My only option was to ride slower and hope to find my way out of the area. Cars and trucks coming at me were swerving off the road and obviously having as difficult a time as I was. There didn’t seem to be any other traffic moving in my direction at all and I began to wonder if I was heading into an area of more violent weather. The severe winds continued for another hour or so until I must have reached the outer edge of their range and then things began to settle down to normal. I was thankful as it had been nerve racking to ride in those conditions but there was nothing to be done about it except go on.

Eventually I came to a rest stop and pulled over for a stretch and a drink of water. While there I met another rider from Michigan who had come the same way as I and although he had struggled with the winds he hadn’t experienced any issues with his electronics. His GPS mounting bracket had vibrated hard enough to break so he was carrying it in his jacket pocket but that was the extent of his damage.

I stayed long enough to look the bike over and tried to reboot the GPS but unfortunately couldn’t remember how to do it. Rather than risk screwing something up tinkering around I elected to run without the benefit of it and set out once again. Within a few miles the dreaded fuel reserve light came on and without the GPS I hadn’t a clue how many miles I’d traveled on that tank of gas. I knew I had around 35 miles on reserve but no idea how far it was to the next town wherever that might be. Eventually a signpost declared Shoshoni to be 28 miles away and given I’d already traveled 5 miles on reserve I knew it would be close. As luck would have it a slow moving group of trucks was holding a lot of cars up and the lower speed meant reduced fuel consumption.

As our group of vehicles approached Shoshoni there appeared to be an unusual dense cloud of dust whirling on the edge of town. The closer our group came the more intense it became and soon we were engulfed in high whirling wind gusts and rain splatters. Having no choice I rode through the middle of it and as soon as I cleared it I spotted the welcome sign of a Shell station. I pulled in without hesitation, whirlwind or not and parked the bike hoping the power was on and the pumps operative. By the time I dismounted the whirlwind had dispersed as suddenly as it had appeared and all that remained was a small cloud of dust particles falling on us. Grateful for not having to push her I pumped El Nino full to the gills with Shell’s finest and rejoined the fracas on route 26.

That was about as much excitement as I needed for the day and I pushed on to my ultimate destination of Riverton where I would spend the night. After splurging for a salmon dinner at the restaurant a few blocks away I returned to the Comfort Inn where I was staying and settled in. The good news for the night is the Garmin web site had posted a solution to the problem I was experiencing and my GPS is once again functioning.

Now if only El Nino behaves…

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jun 29 – The North Platte Canteen

Riding out of Broken Bow this morning I stopped by the post office to mail a few post cards and noticed many of the neighborhood streets were made of red bricks. I’d seen this same thing in a few other towns and regarded it as a genuine luxury. Homes and streets constructed of bricks seem to be the norm in many places but not in the Pacific Northwest; we’re a bunch of tree farmers and that means homes are made of wood and streets are paved with asphalt. Bricks, for whatever reason are expensive and rarely used for anything other than an accent trim on our homes. Why is that I wonder?

I arrived in North Platte mid-morning ready to visit the North Platte Canteen or whatever was left of it. Not knowing where it was located I popped into the main library and soon had two elderly ladies busy bringing me up to date on it. They told me its building had been torn down more than 20 years ago as it was on railroad property and no one had wanted to save it as a landmark. How sad that is but at least many of the original fixtures were saved and are now part of a diorama depicting the canteen as it was in the 40’s during WWII. Located in the Lincoln County Historical Museum, it shares space with hundreds of artifacts garnered from all over the area ranging from arrowhead collections to automobiles, farm equipment, livestock dioramas, restored homes, cabins, barns, a church, one-room school house, barber shop; even a railroad station complete with caboose. All of this took most of my morning to see but it was worth it, especially the Canteen.

After a quick lunch at Burger King (groan) I set out for my next destination, Lusk, Wyoming. I chose Lusk because it’s located on highway 20 allows me to ride at a bit more leisurely pace. Today’s afternoon ride was mainly on US 80 with its 75mph speed limit. As you might expect most travelers up the ante by 5-10mph and after a hundred miles at that rate I was more than ready for a slower pace. Highway 385 runs north from Sydney through Bridgeport to Alliance and the reduced speed limit of 65mph was a welcome change. The traffic volume on 385 also fell way off which made for a much more relaxing ride.

I stopped for photos in a couple of places, one a grain elevator system and a few miles after that I noticed the sky to the west had turned an ugly black. I pulled off the road to watch the cloud activity in the distance and it looked like there might be tornado funnels beginning to form. Just what I need I thought and since there was nowhere for me to hole up I scooted out of there in a big hurry. With a total disregard for the posted speed limit I might add, and in another hour I was well beyond the nastier looking thunderheads. Rain had started to fall in a couple of places but when I looked directly up I could see I was on the outer fringe of the clouds so I rode on without stopping to put Big Red on. Besides it was too damn hot and I’d rather be wet from a little rain than sweltering inside the suit.

BTW, if you look directly up while traveling 80mph on a motorcycle your butt sends weird messages to your brain. Sort of the same thing as hanging partially out of a 6th story window; very strange how that works. But I digress; this may be more observational material than you wish to know so I’ll move on.

The miles passed quickly and I arrived in Alliance where I decided to spend the night. Another Days Inn with a Chinese Buffet place within two blocks fulfilled my basic requirements making me a happy camper. Once again I’m stuffed to the gizzard with Chinese grub and feeling bloated. I wonder how much adjustment is left in Big Red’s waist line…

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jun 28 – If this isn’t Kansas Todo it must be Nebraska!!

Crossing over into Nebraska this morning I knew I was going to like this state. There just seems to be something about the way it feels, like the history of the place is just around the corner. Indian lore, open plains alive with tall grass, cattle ranches and endless fields of corn and soybeans overcome the senses. It’s easy to imagine harsh winters on the plains or vast herds of buffalo being hunted to extinction for their hides. And the Indians, hah! They’re out there somewhere just waiting for an old biker geezer to slip up just one time too many…
I rode the back roads again, taking my time and wandering through small towns and villages, stopping for photo ops or just to look at things. One of the towns was Spalding and for all practical purposes it was closed, today being Sunday and all. That’s how the town I grew up in was, roll up the sidewalks promptly at 6:00pm sharp and don’t open on Sundays. Road signs and old barns continue to intrigue me, they say so much about the people who live in a place. I’ve also been feeling a bit down for the cattle waiting in the feeder lots for their turn to be slaughtered. There’s not much to be said about it though, we’re meat eaters by nature and will probably always be so. I don’t think I’m ready to become a veggie but maybe someday I’ll have a go at it, maybe limit myself to just eating fish and bi-valves and plants. Tofu too? Nah…
This afternoon I rode into Broken Bow and as I was riding through town I spotted a nice looking motel without many cars in front of it. I’d planned on riding all the way to North Platte tonight and since it’s only another 75 miles it would have been easy but I decided I’d wait until morning. This is a nice place and although they recommended a restaurant where I had a truly DRY hamburger I’ll forgive them. There’s probably enough hamburger fat floating around in my system by now it’s a wonder any blood is getting through. Maybe I’ll try a garden burger sometime.
Tonight I met a couple who are also staying here and they’ve been riding around on their Harley quite a lot. They’ve managed to put 20K miles on it in the two years they’ve had it which must be some kind of record. He claims the bike’s been absolutely reliable without any problems whatsoever. I wonder if the Harley folks know about his bike? Plus he doesn’t even have a huge beer gut.
Methinks there’s something fishy here...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jun 27 – Cedar Rapids to Missouri Valley, Iowa

Last year when Mac and I were preparing for our ride to Prudhoe Bay a devastating flood engulfed downtown Cedar Rapids and more than 10 square miles of surrounding property. This morning he drove me through the hardest hit areas where many of the homes remain unoccupied or abandoned. I recalled our trip was postponed by a couple of weeks because his new Ural sidecar rig was inaccessible due to high water. The floods of 2008 were declared the fifth largest state disaster in US history and it’s still possible to see why. What a tragedy that was, but as you drive through the area you’ll see lots of people working on their homes as they continue the rebuilding process.

After that we returned to Mac & Lisa’s place where we said our goodbyes and El Nino and I set out towards North Platte. A lot of today’s ride was difficult due to heavy cross winds and as a result I didn’t stop for many photos. My travel was generally on highways surrounded on both sides by rolling green fields of corn and soy beans, signs of prosperity in a land that has suffered its share of losses.
As I was leaving my lunch stop I was asked by an elderly lady where all the motorcycles were going today, seems she had noticed an unusually high number heading towards Cedar Rapids. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help as I didn’t have a clue but I proffered that she should avoid contact with bikers as much as possible, especially those who travel in groups. Am I gallant or what?
Around 2:30pm I felt the first unwelcome splat of rain and decided I’d better climb into Big Red before it got nasty. The sky towards the west had been darkening for the past couple of hours and I fully expected I’d get wet before the day was over. Spotting an abandoned service station parking lot I pulled over and did my usual gear change, then got back on the road. It sprinkled lightly for maybe 2 minutes and that was it for the day. I love riding around in Big Red when it’s warm out, it's so, uh, sauna-like.
The late afternoon found me in a town I’d never heard of, Missouri Valley, still in the state of Iowa but very close to the Nebraska border. Keeping an eye out for a decent looking motel I came across the nearly new Oak Tree Inn next to Penny’s Diner. To register you have to go to the diner which I did and checked in for the night. It’s the first one of this chain I’ve stayed in and I like their concept, they cater to the railroad crews so when you stay here they give you a voucher for breakfast at Penny’s. I ate dinner there – hot roast beef sandwich, mashed potatoes, GRAVY, followed by a slab of apple pie, and ice cream. Brrrap…
I’ve got to get this food thing under control a little better, maybe I should take up a hobby or something?
Maybe I'll trim my toe nails...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Jun 26 – Phone Batteries & The National Motorcycle Museum

Some of you may recall my cell phone battery went south after the beating it took in New Brunswick’s crazy rain storm. Since then I’ve been asking nearly every store about replacements but until today I’d had zero luck finding one. Mac knew about an outfit by the name of BatteriesPlus not far from his home so we drove to it and they installed a new one. The sales gal said to let it charge for 8 hours or so and I’m hoping it will do the trick. As I write this it’s been on the charger for nearly 4 hours yet still displays the message that says it needs charging… Guess it’s back to the store first thing in the morning. Bummer!
Mac had wanted me to see the National Motorcycle Museum which is close by so off we went; me with my camera in hand and Mac patiently waiting while I took shot after shot. It’s really a great place, two floors of older bikes of all types ranging in age from modern bikes to many going back to the turn of last century. There are street bikes, racing bikes, streamliners, dirt bikes, sidecar rigs, even motor scooters plus tons of collectable items like posters and clothing items. Some of the most interesting ones were celebrity bikes that were owned by Steve McQueen and Evel Knievel. Movie star bikes like the Easy Rider chopper were also present. We were there a long time but it would probably take a couple of days to see it all. If you’re ever in Anamosa, Iowa and love bikes be sure to add this place to your list of things to see.
After we left the museum we headed over to Joe O’Conner’s for a visit. Joe had ridden with Mac when he came to meet me in Bellingham for our Alaska ride last year. He was home dog-sitting his granddaughter’s fuzzy-faced little yapper, one of those hyperactive small breeds that are a ball of energy. I liked him a lot but he made Joe nervous with his running and jumping so he ended up in his crate. Poor baby. At least the weather is still very warm but not hot like it’s been for the past couple of days and it’s a welcome change.
I’m heading out tomorrow in a westward direction, again meandering to my next destination, North Platte, NE. A couple of years ago Linda and I listened to an audio book about the role women played in the North Platte USO during World War II. Later we watched a special presentation on TV about the very same USO organization and now I find myself directly in line with that city. At the rate I travel it will probably take me a couple of days to get there but I’m very keen on seeing it. If you’ve never heard about it here’s a link you can follow for more information. It was a wonderful group of people, both men and women who worked the train stop USO club and eventually helped thousands of servicemen feel better. http://history.sandiego.edu/GEN/WW2Timeline/canteen.html
Lisa fixed us another tasty dinner this evening so we’re all stuffed and kicked back relaxing. The chain on El Nino has been oiled, the GPS route for tomorrow has been programmed, and things couldn’t be looking better.
I even have new socks!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jun 25 - The Great Hot Ride to Robins, Iowa

Knoxville is the home of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and I was a happy camper to find it was open this morning. I was the first visitor so I had the entire place to myself for a couple of hours.
I’ve only been to one World of Outlaws race but it was one of the most exciting events I’ve ever seen. The noise and speed coupled with dirt flying everywhere gets your heart pumping like no other kind of racing.
After touring the museum I set out for Robins via as many small towns & back roads as possible. Places like Tama and Palo which barely make it onto the map offer intriguing sites and small restaurants for the casual traveler to sample. Cows were seen standing hip deep in river water in an attempt to beat the scorching sun. I wouldn’t have minded joining them. Old barns and bridges are one of my favorite subjects for photos and little towns provide lots of opportunities. Farm lands like Iowa cornfields are another. Small town main streets are always interesting too, you can’t help wondering what keeps some of them going.
Riding out of Palo I came to a road closed sign and that really threw a wrench into Garmin’s sense of directions. After spending the better part of an hour riding in endless circles trying to find an alternate route I found myself parked in front of the road closed sign again wondering what to do. Another rider soon showed up, a local guy on a sports bike and he stopped to talk.
We were thinking about riding around the barrier when all of a sudden a guy in a pickup drives through from the other side. He yelled at us that we could make it if we wanted to as they were only paving the road and no one was working right then. He’d no sooner left when a young gal came blazing through from the same way only instead of driving around the orange barrier she went over the top on one end, hooked up part of it on her bumper and was dragging it towards us as she sped by. We both yelled at her but she just gave us an evil look and kept going full speed ahead. Lucky for us the barrier detached itself a few feet from us. We decided it was time to make the run so off we went.

I’d only ridden a short distance when I became aware of a certain inability to focus and realized I was still wearing the reading glasses I’d donned to look at my map. Duh… With my sunglasses on I returned to the business of finding Robins. The GPS was still confused and I soon found myself in a huge nameless metro area. Stopping for a moment to reorganize I asked one of the locals where I was. You get some very strange looks sometimes when you ask that sort of thing. “Cedar Rapids” he said. OK I thought; I can do this so I set up a new trip on the GPS with Mac & Lisa’s address as the destination.

With only a couple of minor hitches it got me to their street but not their house. Seems that when the addresses and street names were established whoever does those things must have been in a joking mood. It’s one of those “you can’t get there from here” moments but eventually with lots of riding through different neighborhoods I found them. "You can run but you can't hide" came to mind.

Dang was I ever hot and sweaty. Dehydration is always an issue when temps run above 80 so I carry a couple of bottles of water with me. That paid double dividends today, without them I’d have really cooked.

After brief greetings I headed to the shower for a quick rinse off and then it was time for a long overdue G&T with lots of ice. Mac had been expecting me to arrive yesterday and had laid in an ample supply of all the right stuff. What a deal for me, friends like these two are the best. Lisa fixed a great dinner, pot roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, the works. This is what I call comfort food and after all the Big Macs I’d had lately it was most welcome fare. We sat around afterwards nibbling on ice cream with fresh strawberries and caught up on what we’ve been up too recently. I like these guys.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be hot again.