Monthly Archives: October 2009

Day 132 Eagle, Colorado

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The forecast morning snow doesn’t materialise, so after a quick motel breakfast of waffles and maple syrup I head back to highway 191 for a second attempt. Despite the bitterly cold weather it’s quite a nice ride with almost no traffic and some very nice scenery through Utah’s dinosaur country, with snow on the ground but a dry road with no water to trigger a recurrence of yesterday’s hicups.

By afternoon I’m into the Colorado river canyon and it’s one of the most dramatic roads I’ve ridden. So of course the bullet camera refuses to work. With clouds thickening, sunlight waning, and extremities losing the battle against the cold, I choose a motel in Eagle rather than the ascent of the rockies ahead. It’s going to be interesting to see how well the bike copes with a climb to 11000 feet when it already struggles at 8000. Might have to take the air filter out. I suspect the secondary carb isn’t kicking in soon enough either, but I don’t fancy working on the bike in temperatures near freezing. I’m neglecting the bike because of the cold, riding it hard before retreating to motel room warmth, ignoring warning signs and basic maintenance checks, hoping it won’t punish me for it further down the road. The cold takes over, all your thoughts become centred on bearing the discomfort and getting out of it. The whole day disappears without having thought of anything else.

I decide I need to keep up with things, so I wrap up warm, dig out the head torch, and perform a quick inspection. Good job, too. The chain is slack again, and there is noticeable damage to the teeth on the rear sprocket. The wheel will need adjusting before I set off tomorrow, but the chain looks like it’s not far off the end of its life.

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Day 131 Rock Springs, Wyoming

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Wednesday. I wake up to rain, and cold, grey skies. In theory I’m heading south for warmer weather, but as I ride it gets colder, wetter, and windier, until I’m struggling to keep the bike upright in 40mph side winds, the heated grips are being overwhelmed by the cold, and it’s snowing. Not really ideal conditions for riding a bike, and a real surprise after yesterday’s tee shirt weather. Just in time, a set of golden arches rises into view and I stop for lunch and to de-frost. Wherever you go in Albania you’re never more than a mile from a petrol station. In America you’re never more than the width of a burger away from fast food.

Once re-heated, I continue south and run into even wilder weather, with snow that gets heavier and heavier until, at just the right moment, in freezing snow, exposed on high open ground with no shelter, the bike decides it’s not going to play anymore. It coughs and sputters a few times, then dies altogether. Marvellous. Just then a car coming the other way stops and warns me that the snow is a blizzard further down the road. Wonderful. I can’t see anything obviously wrong and it’s too damn cold to start investigating, so I spray some wd40 around the electrics, cross fingers hoping it’s just water in the works, and hit the starter. It struggles, and though it doesn’t quite come back to life it is at least un-dead. I ride the zombie back to the last town, check into a motel and hope for better weather tomorrow.

Day 130 Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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Old Faithful is more much more impressive than I expected, and the Fire Hole Geyser is even more spectacular. Bored of mixing it with retired Americans and their RVs, I head off towards Jackson Hole. The roads are nice, the scenery is fantastic with all the simmering geysers and billowing clouds of smoke from forest fires.

For the first time since reaching Vlad I notice that I’ve fallen back into the flow of riding, where my attention is completely focussed on the movements of the bike beneath me, feeling the tiniest changes in grip, noticing every imperfection in the road surface ahead and adapting my line to potential hazards seemingly before my conscious mind is aware of them. Yet at the same time I’m absorbing every detail of the landscape, smelling the smoke, feeling the warm wind on my face, the roadside trees rushing past, birds soaring, mountains crowding the sky and storm clouds billowing. I’m back into that fully immersive experience where time passes without being noticed. It’s effortless, uninterrupted by internal or external distraction, just me and the road and the landscape, the bike purring, tyres scratching and squirming for traction as I bank it over to the limits with the kind of confidence that comes from this almost subconscious mastery of the situation. I feel like I could outrun the fastest sportsbike, and I’m not even trying. It’s the familiarity from spending so much time on the bike, and the relaxation of being alone on the road, and everything just falls into place. It’s perfect and I’m grinning and before I know it I’m arriving in Jackson and the spell is broken.

I find a motel and shortly afterwards Stephane arrives on a beemer. He’s a French-Canadian now living in Panama and heading for LA after touring Canada. We head into town for beers and bison burgers in a cowboy bar.

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Day 129 Yellowstone, Wyoming

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This morning it’s minus 3, icy and with a bitterly cold wind. Under the circumstances I’m glad to be in a motel with a warm shower and a hot breakfast, but if I could choose I’d be making my own breakfast in a campsite somewhere with a stunning view.

The road to the border is unexpectedly good, tight and twisty with a bit of deterioration to make the corners even more interesting. The border crossing is simple and painless, apart from a $6 charge for something unspecified. Then it’s a very long, very cold ride to Yellowstone, through the wide open spaces and big skies of Montana.

At Yellowstone. it’s much warmer and I’m starting to enjoy things when I discover that a road is closed by a forest fire. I face a 5 hour detour to get to the hotel I’ve booked. I call the hotel, and minutes later they’ve transferred my booking to a much nicer, much more expensive lodge right next to Old Faithful, at no extra cost. And it’s an hour closer than the original plan. Result!

As I ride round Yellowstone I see lots of wildlife. Big, impressive “megafauna” like Bison, Elk and Moose. But it’s utterly ruined by the lines of tourists with cameras. It’s like being in a zoo, it really spoils the effect of seeing such huge beasts in the wild. With all the people and cars and the perfectly tended road it all feels artificial. It is nothing like seeing animals in the wild. Seeing bears close up on a misty mountain trail, or having eagles swooping over your head in the wilds of Mongolia, or watching a stag cross the road in the middle of Siberia when there is no-one there but you – That’s impressive, that’s exciting, that’s awe-inspiring, that’s truly bone-tingling and unforgettable. Watching a load of retired americans point cameras at a moose in a wildlife park is feeble and pedestrian by comparison. As impressive as Yellowstone is, the user friendly parts are dull. In Mongolia you get the double joy of experiencing nature close up AND riding your bike. In Yellowstone you’d have to get off the bike and trek far into the depths of the park to really feel it, to see something unspoiled and wild.

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Day 128 Pincher Creek, Alberta

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Another lazy start, but it is icy cold early on, and doesn’t get much better. The scenery is still quite nice, though I’ve become a bit blase about it after where I’ve been. It’s a fairly uninspiring ride. The distances are too long, the roads too straight and well made. It’s too easy, even the twisty back roads are too good. It would be fun at 150mph.

Then I start to settle into it and realise that you need a lazy, laid back mindset to ride over here. Pretend you’re on a harley. It’s a country for cruising. Once you accept that the roads are good, there’ll be no problem finding fuel, food or lodging, and there’ll be no drama, then you can let go of all that and just relax, and then it sort of works.

But I’d still rather have the excitement than the bland relaxation. I’m not ready to retire and cruise around in a big RV. I want to ride my bike and feel that awe, excitement, trepidation and wonder. I need scenery to make me stop and stare, roads that make me really have to work, I want to wonder what the next meal might be instead of riding in sure knowledge that there’ll be a burger joint round the corner.

I stop in Pincher Creek (the middle of nowhere) and have a really bad steak for dinner.

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Day 127 Golden, British Columbia

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After 4 weeks waiting for Pacific BMW & Yamaha to replace my damaged wheels, I finally have the bike back, at enormous expense. This sort of thing wouldn’t have happened in Russia! I’m pretty disappointed with how this has gone, but glad to be able to get back on the road.

It’s a late start because I’ve fallen out of the routine of getting up and riding, and it’s much harder to get out of bed in a warm hotel room than it is to crawl out of a sleeping bag in the chill of a Siberian morning.

Before I can go anywhere I have to adjust the wheel because Pacific have made it far too tight. I wonder how much damage that did riding back to the hotel yesterday evening. It feels unusual to be getting ready to ride, but having to deal with technical problems before I’ve even started is somehow quite familiar…

It feels great to be back on road, it reminds me of the good times I’ve had so far. Visions of former campsites and memories of people, places and events come flooding back. It’s amazing how much I miss the little details of life on the road, like making coffee on the camp stove in the morning, and I’d started to get used to a different life in a month off the bike. But it’s all coming back to me, and I think hard about turning south and heading to Argentina. Eventually I decide to stick to my plan of saving that for another trip. I know with absolute certainty that I’ll need another trip to think about, to keep me going when I return to real life.

After 3 straight months on the bike, man and machine were working in perfect harmony, but after the time off I’m back to having a sore backside and stiff shoulders, and everything feels a little unnatural, so when it starts to get really, really cold I quickly relent and check in to a motel. While I was stuck in Vancouver without the bike there were record high temperatures for the time of year. Now that I’m back on the road it’s turning, predictably, into record lows.

I’ve enjoyed riding again, but it’s not the same over here. There’s no adventure, no excitement. The scenery is quite impressive but you’re just passing through it, you’re not in it. When you’re on dirt roads you’re involved in the landscape, you experience the land, the variations of the land, in a way you don’t when you’re on tarmac. In a place like Mongolia you are involved with the land and the nature in a really immersive way, but in canada you aren’t, you could just be looking at it through a window, which is how most people see it. It’s car country. In Mongolia in a car you would really miss out on the experience, but in canada it’s not so different bike versus car.

I saw a lot of harley riders today. Mostly they look like that one from village people, and almost none of them return my waves. The only other place I’ve been where bikers don’t wave to other bikers is Italy. It’s not right, Canadian bikers. When you see another biker, wave. Acknowledge them. We’re part of a community, and anywhere in the world (apart from Italy) you can be pretty sure most bikers are going to be friendly and helpful. In Canada I’m not getting that feeling.