Saturday, August 22, 2009

Trip retrospect.

This trip was an experience of a lifetime. Denise and I enjoyed it so much, we could just have kept going. We missed the kids and couldn't wait to see them both. This trip was a test to see if we could live on the road for 2 weeks, and I must say it was fantastic. We both can (and will in the future) longer and more extensive trips.

As for the gear we picked prior to the trip, we were spot on with our choices. We had everything we needed and never during the whole trip did we miss anything that we should have packed. Our camping gear worked great, and we took just the right amount of clothes. We always had clean clothes, and only did laundry once after a week. With the gear we had we would be able to do a much longer trip without taking any more gear.

We covered 4125km in 2 weeks. That was too much distance covered in too short a period. Next time we will do less distance in a 2 week period or try to have more time to do a trip of this length. We passed interesting places but did not have the time to deviate from our route and explore a bit more. We planned on doing the Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, a must do for any motorcyclist, and just ran out of time. I guess that will have to wait for another day. We were 30 minutes away from Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and did not have the time to explore the area. I think in future doing 150km to 250km a day would be a more realistic goal and give us the freedom to explore more, and take some interesting side roads off the main route.

Camping. I am still in two minds about it. If the weather holds, it is always a great option. First off, you can save a lot of money on accommodation, and we both like the freedom of camping. Being outdoors in summer is also great. We both also find that you have a lot more privacy while camping. When you step out of your hotel or motel room, you are with other people. The only private space you have is in your room.

When the weather turns on you, camping can go pear shaped very quickly. Packing wet gear in the morning sucks big time. When your gear gets wet, you need good weather the next evening to give your tent some time to dry out. Camping is also time consuming. Getting a campsite is not always easy, and you can spend a lot of time driving around to find something suitable. The campsites are usually on the outskirts of town, and going into town and exploring and enjoying the night life is most of the time not practical. Packing up your gear in the morning also takes longer. On average it took us an hour longer in the morning before we could get going when we were camping.

On our trip we found that Ontario's accommodation is the most expensive. I personally think the most expensive in the whole of the American continent. So until we win the lottery, camping will always be in our future.

As for the bikes, they both performed excellently. The F650 was exceptional, on any kind of road. The KLR was great, seeing that it was loaded a lot heavier than the F650. The KLR had a bit of a hard time riding on the interstate highways. When it was revving high for and extended period of time it burned some oil. I knew this beforehand and took some motorcycle oil with, and topped it up when needed. Not a big deal.

Sharing the road with other vehicles. Drivers in the US are better than drivers in Canada, hands down. They stick to the speed limit, and generally are better, more relaxed, and more disciplined drivers.

Driving in Quebec is not as bad as everybody would like to tell you. Although Quebec drivers have a bit more aggressive driving style, they are generally better drivers and we did not have any issues with them. They kept their distance behind us, which is really important for a motorcyclist.

And then you get to Ontario, especially South Western Ontario. Here you have to be on the lookout for idiots all the time. They are always in a rush, aggressive and on their cell phones.

I have to agree with Herman's thoughts and wanted to add some of my own. I really loved the trip and Herman and I get along so well that most things we do together are fun. We have a balance where we allow each other to have our freedom even when we are doing things together, and it works for us.

Herman leads most of the time, mostly because he has the GPS, but in future we are hoping to get another GPS for my bike to switch this challenging role. It can ge difficult to check GPS and traffic and signs all in the middle of a busy Interstate, while taking care not to lose the bike following you, not to mention a little dangerous.

We would definitely do a blog (or website) again for our next trip. We would try to have more money as a buffer in case anything goes wrong.

Costs on this trip were what we budgeted and we were under on food and gas, we were over on accommodation, but overall we ended within $100 of our original budget - not bad for a first trip. We were spot on with "other", but this was mostly because of self control and limits on what you can take on a bike.

Accommodation was very interesting. We stayed in two really good motels - the Moose Creek Motel in New Hampshire, and the Skip Shipp Motel in New Brunswick. Their pricing was very similar. The three cheaper motels we stayed in, were what we expected and were adequate. The camp sites in New York State and Nova Scotia were much nicer than the site in Ontario, with more amenities. We stayed at the Coastal Inn in Dartmouth and that was a really great price and a good clean room with continental breakfast included and a small kitchenette in the room. They advertised a special rate if you stay at one of their other hotels in the Maritimes, but when we went to the next Coastal Inn in Fredericton, they did not know about this offer. In Port Hope we stayed at the Comfort Inn, which was the most expensive room we booked (we took a suite for our last night) and even though the room was great, the upholstery and carpet were more stained than the cheapest motel room we stayed in. Overall I can honestly say that the accommodations depend a lot on your own attitude.

It is really important to find someone you can trust and who has the same expectation from the journey as you. Try a few short trips before you pick a partner for a long trip where there is no escape. My riding partner is the best, but unfortunately not for rent or sale. Make sure you can ride your bike on all terrain for even just short distances. You will be challened with roads that you don't expect. I love my F650 and will recommend it for all types of terrain.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The End

When you travel through Canada, you always stop at Tim Hortons. It is the best known and best supported coffee shop in the country and often can be found south of the border too. Every man, woman and child know this place as the place to find coffee, tim bits (the middle of the donuts) and a lunch sandwich or cookie. We are not immune to the draw of Tim Hortons, and Herman is especially prone to make immediate left/right turns when he spots one on the way. I, on the other hand, am only interested in their peanut butter cookies, but not at the expense of safety. These off the cuff manouvres of his, have caused many an argument, but at least I am easily quieted by the purchase of one of their famous PB cookies... This time, on the way home, we decided it was time to take a picture of one such stop, at least this one was not at the risk of life and limb...

We found out late last night that there were several tornado touch downs and that Vaughan was declared a state of emergency after the storms that passed through. We were in the Inn only short while before the storm went through there, so we were once again lucky not to have camped last night!

We rode home this morning with a wet start, and went through the Durham region where a rather large tornado touched down, and the roads were already cleared of debris by around 11am. We saw some of the damage, but mostly were impressed with the cleanup that seemed to have achived quite a bit in such a short time.
We are amazed at the things we missed on the trip; I missed rice the most (I am sure I was oriental in a previous life) and Herman craved a toasted peanut butter sandwich (the man has no taste, except for marrying me). I didn't have rice for dinner, but Herman had the sandwich...
We're home now, and working out ways to do the next trip. I was really glad to see Konstanz and can't wait to see Dominique tomorrow. Herman was equally excited about seeing Konstanz and seriously misses his little girl. The german shepard is happy that some of her lost flock have returned, but the schnautzer was sleeping when we arrived, and was only excited once she realized it was us. The cats - well, let's just say, they're glad their staff have returned.
Sometime over the next few days we will summarize our overall indivual experiences of the trip and what we would keep the same or change on the next one, as well as the general thoughts on the service and driving in the four states and four provinces we travelled in. Overall we did 4,121km. We rock and we know it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 13 - Sad way home

We were both awake before 6pm this morning. We left early and headed west and home. Througout the ride, I kept on thinking of positive things to make the return less sad, but I couldn't come up with anything, except that we both really miss Konstanz and Dominique. If not for them, who knows...

The morning started with sunshine and warm weather. A little way into our trip, I was cold, so we pulled over and I put my inner lining back into my jacket and chaps over my jeans.

When we got to Ganagoque, we took the thousand island parkway and stopped for a few photographs of the St Lawrence and one of the parks along the road. It is a spectacular view of the river and the "cottages" along its shores and on the islands. The sky darkened and it started to rain, so we pulled off to put on our rain pants. Once in Gononoque we stopped again to change our biking jackets for our rain coats. We took highway 2 for a bit, but traffic was too slow and rain was tapering off, so we could rid ourselves of the suits, and stopped along a country road where a few cows were chilling in the fields. Back onto the 401 west.
We decided to stop in Port Hope at the Comfort Inn and treated ourselves to some royal living and got a suite to celebrate the time we had over the last two weeks. When we watched the weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow, this was a great decision, because storms are expected all night, and camping would have been a challenge.

Dominique sent me a text that she was at my sister's house until Saturday when my parents will bring her home. I called her just to hear her voice.
Tonight is our last night on the road and we are both sad to have to see it coming to an end, but we are also looking forward to seeing the kids, dogs and cats (our regular zoo). Now we can start working towards our next trip.
Tomorrow morning we will ride back home on the backroads to make it a little more interesting than just the 401 and also because they call for rain again tomorrow. Welcome back to the colder, wetter weather of "summer" 2009 in Ontario.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 12 - Europe or Quebec?

We headed out from our Motel early this morning, and arrived in the old city in Quebec at 7am. Luckily you don't need to pay parking until 9am, so off we went into the European-looking city.

We parked near the Frontenac hotel and walked along beautiful streets lined with shops and restaurants. Old Quebec is known for it's many museums historical buildings and parks and especially for its European feel. I knew Herman would love it, but I underestimated how much. He was like a little kid at Christmas in and toy store with a blank cheque. I was slowly walking along, while continuously waiting for his to catch up because he was taking so many pictures. It was definitely worth weathering the storm to get here.

One of the most important things to do, was to have a croissant and coffee at an outdoor cafe, so we stormed into the first bistro that opened. Luckily the locals didn't mind accommodating our lack of French and we were soon sitting outside watching people commute to work, and some other tourists walking by.
We walked further into the old town, and came upon a small entry that we assume were for very small people, because even I would not walk upright into this doorway. Perhaps Dominique can (ha-ha).
The building with the blue window frames is the Quebec Chamber of Commerce.

Down the steep stairs we walked to discover even more beautiful streets and came across a store that is framed with a yellow border and lots of flowers, which only sells glass blown art.
There is so much to see in the city, that you need at least a week to see all the interesting places, but if you don't know at least a little French, it would definitely be a challenge - all the signs in Quebec is only in French, and everyone speaks only French.

At around 9am we had to get going to make it back to our bikes on time for the parking meter, so we started walking back. I realized after a few minutes that the road we were on wasn't going back the way we thought, and we had to turn around. In the lower part of old Quebec, there is a tram that takes you up to the upper levels, and we hopped on this. I got to the meter
with one minute to spare. Our parking spots were just outside the US Consulate, where full time security staff monitors the sidewalks outside the building. The guard on duty came over to us and started telling us about his bike, and we ended up discussing the insurance rates in Quebec for motorcyles, and I was totally blown away by how low they are. It makes me want to learn French and move there - if only it wasn't colder than Ontario. He gave us some directions of a scenic road back to the highway and off we went.

On the way to Cornwall we stopped at a few rest stops and took a few last pictures. We hit serious construction and traffic in Montreal, and just passed by thinking that the traffic is pretty much as bad as that of Toronto.
Once at the motel in Cornwall we were both in the shower in no time, and then off WalMart to buy some more motorcycle oil for the KLR. Now we're "chilling" in our room, and catching our breath for the rest of the road home.
So far, the travelling was great and we are enjoying every minute and we can both just keep on going. We are learning a lot about travelling on motorcycles and what works and what doesn't, but that will be shared later on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 11 - Quebec

When you ride on a motorcycle you find many ways to pass the time when the road is boring, Charlie Boorman did wheelies and stood on his seat, I, on the other hand am a little less adventurous, but with my wonderful singing voice, I entertain myself with trying to sing songs as loud as possible without actually scaring the passing motorists. Herman and I don't listen to iPods when we ride, because we enjoy the feeling of being alone with our thoughts. Mine tend to lean towards the darker side, but that's another story. On with the road trip.
We realized that Herman's bike is less fuel efficient than mine, even though it's a smaller engine, but perhaps because of the gear and rider being a little heavier. We also realized that his bike gurgles down oil. Luckily Herman knew this and has oil with him on the bike. So when we stop at night, that's one more task to complete: check the oil in the KLR.
We said goodbye to New Brunswick and arrived in glorious heat in Quebec. Yesterday the temperature was 32.5 degrees C and today it was 31 degrees. Quebec features excellent rest stops along the retard highway, and the scenery is much improved with forests on both sides, and the inevitable signs of moose crossings. I am still perplexed by the evasive moves I will have to take, but I digress.

Sometimes when I stop, I check my cell to see if the kids have sent any text messages. When we crossed into Quebec it was the first time that I wasn't roaming for about two days straight. Most of NB was in a roaming area.
It was at one of these lovely rest stops (see pictures) when I noticed that there is a really dark cloud down the road, but with the heat thunderstorm or two can be expected. We both decided to head out and get wet to relieve some of the heat. A nice heavy downpour and some strong winds almost lifted me off seat, but the road was straight and with the roadworks making the road narrower and the traffic slower, we kept going. It lasted just for about 5 minutes and then the sun came out, so on we went. About 60km later another little spat, and then we were pretty much surrounded by dark clouds, and nearing Quebec City. Did I mention that it was now the middle of Tuesday afternoon rush hour traffic? Well, it was. Only now Herman is trying to navigate at the same time, and of course a car pulls inbetween us, and we cannot see each other. We have to go right, so I catch up with him again, and just then the skies open once again, and we pull off to the right of the highway under an overpass. Another motorcyclist (about 70 years old) is also there, and welcomes the sight of two other idiots on bikes in the storm. We spent ten minutes trying to communicate with our no French and his somewhat English and then the sun came out, so off we go into speeding traffic from the shoulder of a six-lane highway on a wet surface, but we all made the crossing over the bridge alive, despite the 1.5 m steel joints on the bridge (did I mention wet surface). I think some Country Singer can write a song about this...
Anyway, we head off down the other side thanking our lucky stars that we didn't skid out on the joints, when once again, traffic comes to an almost complete stop due to roadworks. There are now seven lanes of traffic reduced into five lanes of traffic, four different directions and the skies open again with the mother of all downpours. Rain suits were purchased prior to this trip, but they are on the back of Herman's bike, and you cannot stop in the middle of a highway to change gear, so we get soaked! I could actually feel the water run down my legs into my boots. Suddenly the traffic starts moving again, and the now four lanes are reduced to three and at least five cars cut inbetween our bikes, so now I cannot see Herman at all. It is still raining when I decide that the next exit looks like it has a biker on it, so I change lanes at the speed of pretty fast, and lo and behold it is Herman, but before I can catch up to him, a policeman on a bike cuts over the two lanes of the off ramp to get back onto the highway right in front of little old me, but we all make it safely to the traffic light. A few turns away, some more construction and we reach our destination. Needless to say there won't be any painting of the town tonight. We will head out first thing and see what we can see of the old city in the morning.
The motel owner was kind enough to let me dry our clothes in their dryer, so at least our jeans are dry. The boots and jackets will probably dry out on the road tomorrow.
Another adventurous day on the journey. And people ask me how we managed to stay married for this long...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 10 - The road ends - travelled 468km

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise on the Cumberland Bay -the picture is of the sunset the evening before... We stopped at the local Tim Horton's for a quick coffee and off we went - in the wrong direction. Not because we are retarded, but the GPS definitely is a little slow, so we turned around after about 20 minutes and turned it off, and followed the roadmap.

Our second stop was at a car repair shop on the way to the New Brunswick Nova Scotia border.

We opted for the Trans Canada Highway once we reached the New Brunswick border and drove on the highway with no exits for what seemed forever. We stopped at a gas station and sat under a tree to review our roadmap once again, wondering if there was another way to go. I decided that it was time to trade in my dual sport for a Gold Wing, because highway riding is about as interesting as watching paint dry. Once we filled up our bikes, we took the next exit to the scenic route and ended up on the river route #102 West.

The views were scarcely memorable, but there was at least a few nice lakes and rivers along the way. Just outside Fredericton, we came across this hydro dam which was quite impressive.

Once again, we were off and following highway 102, when we literally reached the end of the road. There was actually a sign! At the end of the road, there is also a Motel, which looked very similar to the one used in the movie Vacancy.

We travelled quite a while and didn't seem to see any accommodation anywhere, except for the motel from hell, and the areas through which we travelled seemed deserted. Not a family restaurant, or even a golden arch for miles... Guess you have to stay on the tourist routes, which I thought would be the scenic river route, but, whatever.
Our lessons learned for the day:
Lesson 1: Know how to make emergency stops on all types of terrain, i.e. next to a highway with uneven pavement, on gravel shoulders, and into unsuspecting people's driveways. These are often required when one forgets to close one's top box, or when one forgets to tie one's helmet, or just in general when one misses the often not-so-clear signs next to the high speed scenic routes.
Lesson 2: If you are using the driving for dummies routes, i.e. the Trans Canada Highway, buy a Gold Wing.
Lesson 3: Don't let your mouth drop open when you see a sign "The Road Ends", calmly make a u-turn.
We found a motel with a restaurant which was amazing and we paid a little extra to make sure we could update the blog and charge all the (now very low) batteries we need to charge.

Tomorrow we're off to do another fast long day of Trans Canada Highway riding to get to Quebec City for a cheap night on the town.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 9 - Tragic Tales and Tides

We found our forte's. Herman takes better pictures and Ilove writing the blog. It is now the one thing I look forward to at the end of the day - other than taking off my riding gear.

Today we headed out to Peggy's Cove. The ride from Halifax was really short and the coastal road was again picturesque. You can easily miss the town from the road if it wasn't for all the signs of restaurants, B&B's and gift shops riding the wave of Peggy Cove's famous name. I found it particularly sad that so much commercialization can be gained from tragedy. We took many pictures and here are just a few.

Because it's Sunday, the post office in the lighthouse was closed, but I paid for the postage to have a postcard mailed tomorrow. I mailed it to my parents in Ottawa, because they would really appreciate the fact that this was the farthest point east we have travelled.
After making room for the five bus tours coming up the hill, we drove for the rest of the day, and after some almost wrong turns and a few actual wrong turns, we found our campsite for the night. We were very lucky to find an RV park with some camp sites right on the edge of the sea. Since we are once again on the Bay of Fundy's outer edge, we could finally see a low and high tide, and the speed with which the high tide came in was astounding. On the pictures below, I am standing next to a rock on the beach one hour after low tide, and the next picture of the beach three hours later, where the rock has disappeared. One of the locals suggested I stand on the rock, but I am too chicken for that!
Herman ventured into the sea, and said it was as cold as in Cape Town, and that's very cold. Excuses, excuses (giggle).
We will head off to Moncton tomorrow and some more adventure. The journey is great!

Day 8. Day of rest: NOT.

Some of the challenges of touring this way, are charging batteries, finding time to update the blog, finding wireless connections, and planning the next day's route on the GPS in a tent in the middle of nowhere. But it's all worthwhile and we hope you enjoy reading about our progress.
We decided there was no biking today. It ended up being a hot day with lots of walking uphill both ways (no, really both ways). Anyone who has ever lived near the ocean will know this is true.
We woke up early as usual, and did some much needed laundry. After a quick bagel and coffee and the laundry done, we headed off on our 40-minute walk to the ferry.

Once in Halifax, the heat was really taking its toll and we had to stop for a beer at one of the many bars on the waterfront. We took a nice shot of Theodore the Tug Boat and the kids along the warf were cheering the little boat.

The Halifa Busker Festival is on and there is a buzz of activity all along the waterfront. There are many vendors and lots of gift shops.
After our beers we headed out into town to avoid some of the crouds and came across the international music area where a Cuban band was playing great Caribean tunes. Next to them the Australians were getting ready for their gig.
We happened to find the Alexander Keith Brewery and Herman had the privelege of being a little familiar with the gentleman.
On our way to the Citadel we were lucky enough to stumble across the parade of the Day of the Walking Dead. The parade was quite the show of gruesomeness and everyone went to a lot of trouble to look dead, groaning as they went.

The walk up to the Citadel was very steep, but it was a good way to work off some calories while anticipating a day of real meals for the first time on our trip.

Halifax has many little alleyways and in the historic area of the city we happened across the Brussels Restaurant. They had a special on Lobster and we decided to make a reseravation for dinner.
The rest of the day we walked along Halifax downtown from one end to the other, stopped in at the Casino for a taste of the dark side of Nova Scotia,with the most unfriendly service at the Cashier's desk that we have EVER experienced. We are still headed for Quebec, so this might still change.
After walking some more, we went to Brussels Restaurant for our Lobster Dinner. It was absolutely wonderful and messy. We squirted lobster juice on some NDP followers who sitting at a table next to us (the NDP conference was going on in Halifax) and Herman almost shot himself in the face with juices, but luckily just hit his neck... We both went to the washrooms to wash up with warm water and soap. We can really recommend this Belgian restaurant to anyone who visits Halifax.
After dinner we walked back to the waterfront. There were police and ambulances evewhere; someone fell into the harbour. The scene was a little grim, so we headed in the opposite direction. We listened to some outdoor music and headed back to the ferry. We weren't up for the walk back to the hotel, and took a city bus instead.
Herman's summary of our day: "It was the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 7 - Halifax here we come

When you ride motorcycles, it seems that you are more approachable and wherever we are people start conversations about riding bikes. We met a guy on the ferry who has a Gold Wing and has toured with his wife many times. Cyclists came over to chat at the camp site. They were doing a trip in Nova Scotia and were originally from central New York. Many interesting stories and people that we would have missed if we travelled in a car.

One of the people we met along the way mentioned the town of Halls Harbour and said this was a great place to detour to for a view of the tides and a great meal of fresh fish. We rode down this windy path through viniards that was beautifully paved (a smooth road in Canada is always a welcome sight) to reach this quaint little town. For the first time we met rural Nova Scotia charm and spent about an hour chatting, eating and taking pictures.

The best fish and chips we've had since coming to Canada 13 years ago, presented on newspaper as it was meant to be presented.

Herman ventured into the harbour floor to take this picture of the low tide.

From the dock it is quite stunning too.
Denise was standing next to the lobster cages.

Unfortunately we couldn't wait for the tide to come in to see the boats rise again, but this happens twice in a 24-hour period...
Once we left Halls Harbour, we returned to the 101 highway and took our course to Halifax. We rented a room in the Coastal Inn in Dartmouth which has a laundry facility and a small kitchenette. We were tired of riding and physically started to hurt. Once we unpacked, we took a serious 2-hour nap.
When we were well rested, we hiked the 40-minutes to the ferry to take us across to Halifax for a night of good food, a well deserved beer and some music. Herman got a nice shot of Halifax from the ferry.
The pubs were full and the harbourfront crouded, but we managed to score a seat inside at a pub that featured a group that played general folksy favourites and leaned towards the blues. Denise had the best Calamari and I once again went with the fish and chips. After a couple of beers we headed out into a warm summer evening.
The crowds were thinning a little, but there was still lots of activity. We followed he noise to another outside stage, and came upon a band who's drummer was the same as the one playing for Great Big Sea. He is taking a few days off before touring with his band again - next gig in Molson Amphitheatre - but for now, he is playing with his buddies in Halifax. On the picture of the Lower Deck Stafe, he can be seen (barely) way in the back.
Unfortunately the band's name wasn't mentioned, but they played many of our favourites and we were disappointed to leave to catch the last ferry back to Dartmouth.