Solo To Sarnia – The Return – Day 2

The day started out looking kind of grey, there was a thunder storm last night and everything was wet.  This morning I had to add air to the tires, first time this trip. Getting the bike loaded and ready to go became a spectator sport with a lot of people watching and asking questions.  The maintenance guy at the hotel has a GS 1200 so we talked roads for a while, but eventually I was ready to leave and try the Tunnel of Trees road.

The road looked promising when I saw a sign saying twisty road next 20 miles – sweet! It was a very narrow, maybe one and a half lanes wide road with no centre line. First thing I noticed was that the rain last night had washed some sand and gravel into the corners, not one of my favourite things, so I just took it at my own pace.  

The road wasn’t extremely twisty with mostly gentle curves, but it did have a few 90 degree turns, with some going uphill.  I did pretty well until on one of the 90 degree turns I met a car that decided to drive into the corner before trying to turn, I’m pretty sure my pannier just missed his front end. I had to stand the bike up and then lean it back into the corner, and then remember to breath. The rest of the road was okay but as I was coming out of one of the last corners there was a tree down across 3/4 of the road, I avoided that and decided that I would stop at Cross Village at the end of the road for a break.

I decided to have lunch at the Leg Inn in Cross Village.

It gets it name from all the stove legs that go around the top of the building.  The decor was pretty interesting with lots of wood carvings and interesting things, and the food was pretty good too. They specialize in Polish food so I had a cabbage roll, and it was pretty good.

After lunch I took some more pictures and headed back to the bike.  When I had parked I looked for a spot that would be easy to get out of and nothing was around me.

When I came back I saw that I had started something.

After leaving Cross Village I headed for the I75, I was starting to think that the voice in my head was just playing with me with all the turns onto little roads but eventually I came to the Mackinac bridge.

Today was really windy and they had speed restrictions on the bridge for big trucks and motor homes, so my luck I was behind a motor home doing 20mph and to make for more fun the had closed down the right lane so I had to ride on the metal grating in high winds at less than 20mph behind a motor home that couldn’t maintain a speed.  Fun times, when I reached the other end I decided to take a break and breath, so a nice lady took my picture with my bike.

The rest of the ride was slow, as there was construction on US-2 for pretty much the whole distance I had to travel it, so I pulled into Munising at about 4:30ish and day two is done.

Off to Superior tomorrow.

Solo to Sarnia – The Return – Day 1

Today I left my sisters’ in Sarnia to start heading home.  I left about 8:30 and Trish, Jessica, and Rachel helped me get the bike out and pack, and were my send off party. We all managed to hold it together pretty well, Trish tells me the water works started after I left, and I found out if you cry in your helmet the microphone gets really soggy.

After a quick stop for gas I headed over the Blue Water Bridge, and having a Nexus card, the border crossing was really quick because they have a special lane just for Nexus holders.

Once across, I headed through Port Huron and took some back roads to Bay City – this is a place I’d like to come back to and explore the amazing old victorian houses. I’d just like to stare at them for a while – creepy huh?

Anyway, after Bay City I got spit onto the I-75 for about 150 miles, even though it is a major highway the scenery was pretty nice with lots of trees and the road even has some curves.

So today I tried to stop more and I think I managed to stop 3 or 4 stops, not including lunch – yes I actually stopped and ate real food. Well maybe not real food, I had a salad at McDonalds, but I stopped. So now that I am stopping I’ll have to work on taking more pictures.

After all the stopping and eating and then some more small roads I arrived at Harbor Springs my destination for the night.  Why Harbor Springs you ask? Well two set of bikers that I talked to on the way down told me that I have to ride a road called the Tunnel of Trees, one of the best roads on the peninsula so as I have been getting bored of straight roads I’m here to try the twisty road. Any body who knows me will be surprised at this as I’m not a fan of really twisty roads, but man these roads have been really straight and my tires are going square so tomorrow it’s the Tunnel of Trees.

Today was a meh day of just riding to get somewhere, I enjoyed the riding, but I was really down about having to leave Trish, Manny, Jessica, and Rachel. I tried to steal their dog Jelly Bean as she fit in my top box, but they found her, and so I had to leave without any of them.  Besides Buttercup would have missed the pup.

Run to the Hills 2012 – Day 4 (July 22, 2012)

July 22, 2012 – By 10am or so most of us had gotten up, had coffee and breakfast, then got packed up. Most of us were heading home, but there were a few lucky dogs who were continuing to ride around. There was a pretty large contingent heading back to Calgary that were ready at the same time so we headed out together.

After, gassing up at Pincher Creek, we continued on up to Highway 22 (AKA the Cowboy Trail) …

… to Turner Valley & Black Diamond. Instead of taking the usual and boring route from here to the city, a smaller number of us took some backroads north to 22X and then on to home.

Run to the Hills 2012 – Day 3 (July 21, 2012)

July 21, 2012 – This was by far the best day of the trip – it was the partial circumnavigation of the south edge of Glacier National Park in the US, followed by doing the Going-to-the-Sun highway west to east through the more northerly part of the park. I also managed to get some culture in during the evening!

Most of the VStrom guys were looking for some more adventure today and one of the guys had identified a long stretch of gravel road up in the mountains. So most of the crew went that-away. Trent and I were the only ones going south – one of other guys wanted to come with us, but hasn’t got a passport which he needed to cross the border.

So by about 930am or so, Trent and I had entered the US at the Chief Mountain Border Crossing.

We were going to stop first at St. Mary for gas, then head south on Highways 89 and 49. It looked really twisty on the maps and I had heard that the road and views were pretty scenic. We’d hit US Highway 2 which runs along the south edge of the park, before heading back up north to West Glacier and western side of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and Logan Pass.

Most of the road south from St. Mary was nothing special, but when we turned onto Highway 49, I began to suspect that it might be pretty cool. There was very little traffic on the road and so where it was open I used the whole road to crank through the twisties, until I popped up over what I thought was a little rise while in the middle of the road to suddenly see pickup truck coming right for me! Yikes – I cranked the FJR over to the right hard to get back over onto my lane, and decided to slow it down a bit for the rest of the way. We stopped at a scenic overlook for a drink of water and some pictures.

I had managed to get my GoPro camera working for the run over Highway 49 and I managed to get some pretty cool video, once I have it edited, I’ll post a sample.

We carried on, eventually reaching the freeway, Highway 2, that runs around the south side of the park. We did a quick stop for a bio break, otherwise we carried on …

… eventually stopping for lunch at the West Glacier Restaurant.

One of the things that really struck me on this particular day was not being able to talk to the person I was riding with, while riding. Trent and I, obviously talked lots while stopped for lunch or whatever, but since Trent doesn’t have radio or Bluetooth comms, there was no talking. I really missed talking to Louise and I actually felt a little lonely and sad that I wasn’t riding with her.

Stopping at the gas station in West Glacier, dodging RVs and other forms of tourists, we fueled up and headed back in to the park proper, rolling thorough the Park Gates east towards Logan Pass.

Trent and I stopped at Bird Woman Falls to take a few pictures …

The next stop was at the Logan Pass Visitors Center. The weather, while still sunny, wasn’t as nice up here as it was lower down. The wind was blowing and it was a bit chilly. We did a quick wander about, then went back to the bikes and carried on.

We made it back to the campsite around 430pm after an uneventful return from the US. Since we were staying at the Crooked Creek Campground, I went off in search of the crooked creek. I found it. Small, and likely pretty crooked …

And now for the cultural experience – while in town the other days getting supplies, I had noticed a sign advertising a musical event …
… A celtic music festival! In Waternon! Excellent!
Since it started at 7pm, I figured I’d roll into town for about 6pm, get some dinner, then head over to the church. I had an excellent lasagna at a little restaurant in Waterton served up by a rather indifferent waitress, then rode over to the church. Paid my $10 and walked into a full house! And the band had already started in on the first song, so I just took a chair at the back of the church and enjoyed the music. Since I was in my motorcycle jacket, boots, and carrying my helmet – in a small town – I really stood out and almost everyone in the audience turned to watch me as I slid my helmet under the chair and sat down. Thankfully the band didn’t miss a note.

The players were pretty good, a bit rough in places, but the fellow on the acoustic guitar was really really good and I enjoyed watching him play. I stayed to end, took a couple of pictures …
and some video, then zoomed back to the campsite. Some of the guys were a little nonplussed at my cultural and musical tastes, but since I like being eclectic and eccentric, it all fit.

Drinking beer then ensued.

Since some were drinking rum and stuff, there was some laughter, loud laughter and such. So much such, that the campground manager came by to ask us to tone it down – at 10pm! What! Apparently, there are some Pincher Creek, Milk River and Fort Macleod residents who have semi-permanent sites at this campground and we were disturbing their peace. So we toned it down a bit and revelry continued on till after midnight.

This had been a great day, great riding and roads, excellent company, some celtic music, capped off with drinking Alexander Keiths Pale Ale with fellow riding buddies, swapping stories and telling lies. Great fun. Too bad I had to head home the next day.

Run to the Hills 2012 – Day 2 (July 20, 2012)

20 July 2012 – I woke up when I woke – no alarm clock. I had a pretty good sleep, but as usual the little travel pillow I’ve been using is barely adequate – even when bulked up with my fleece jacket. So I’m looking into a new one for the big trip in August.

After a breakfast of PopTarts, instant oatmeal, and a couple of cups of coffee, I was ready to ride – somewhere – although the weather looked a little dicey with clouds all about and the forecast calling for some rain later. The rest of the group was kinda slow in getting ready as well, but eventually there was some consensus – we’d go for a ride around Waterton, up to Cameron Lake, and then to Red Rock Canyon.

By this time there was 9 bikes all lined up and folks getting ready to roll …

The first stop of the day was at the only gas station in Waterton, since a good number of the folks who arrived later in the day yesterday didn’t stop for gas before coming to the campsite, including me – the last time I filled up was at Pincher Creek, 45 minutes away to the north.

From the townsite, we headed up the Cameron Lake road which ends at the north end of the lake. The south end of the lake is actually in the US, just across the border. We hung around the lakeside and some of us took pictures. Being a somewhat dull day with heavy overcast, the view wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been, but it was still awesome scenery.

We took up a fair bit of the parking lot with the bikes …

Eventually we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the main road, but first we stopped at a wide part of the road for a staged group picture …

Blood or oil? What's your call?

Blood or oil? What’s your call?

As we all started to pull out, I noticed some red stuff below “Smurph’s” (Scott’s) bike. It looked like blood, so called out to “Smurph” to see if he was bleeding. He stopped and checked himself out and no, he wasn’t. Next thought was oil seeping out of the rear shock, so “Smurph” stopped his bike and a few folks started checking out the underside of the bike. There were a few more red drips found, but it was still unclear what it was. BigDan checked out the first drip more closely and figured it was in fact blood. There was a rabbit roadkill further back the way we had come, and “Smurph” figured he might have added insult to injury and hit the dead rabbit again, splashing some blood onto a fender or the skid-plate. But checking out the underside of the turned out to be a possible lifesaver – the bolt holding the center-stand onto the bike was loose and was ready to let go! If that happened at speed, it could have caused a catastrophic crash. So I believe that I saved his life.

With Scott’s bike fixed up and with no other apparent issues, we gathered up and continued the journey back down the road to main park road. Back at the main road, we went up the road to the Red Rock Parkway for a fast zip up to the Red Rock Canyon parking lot. That road is a lot of fun on a bike, but it really sucks when you get stuck behind some road whales (RVs). We made it to the parking lot and agreed to head right back to town. When we got back to the main Waterton road, BigDan (who was in the lead) decided to go to the Prince of Wales Inn for some more photo opps.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton, AB looking roughly NW

A few of us decided to get some lunch while we were here. This young fellow …
Bar Manager at Prince of Wales was the Bar Manager and graciously allowed a large of number of adventure bikers to crash his swanky bar. At first we were in a small anteroom off the main bar area …
… but we became too many to fit as more and more of our group wandered in. So we took up about half of the available chairs! The meal itself wasn’t all that great – not bad – just forgettable. But the views down the lake were very easy to look at.

After lunch we pretty much all headed back to the campsite. A few of the guys zoomed off to Pincher Creek to get some junk food, while the rest of us stayed to keep the entire site from blowing away in the storm that rolled in! Later we all ate junk food and BBQ hamburgers, drank some and went to sleep.

Hopefully the weather next day would be better …

Run to the Hills 2012 – Day 1 (July 19, 2012)

19 July 2012 – Last year at this time, Louise and I rode out to Boulton Creek Campground in the Kananaskis for a bit of a wet weekend with a number of VStrom owners from around Alberta. We’d only met these folks online on a web forum dedicated to the VStrom and took a bit of a chance going out to see them. Our fears were unfounded – they turned out to be a great bunch of folks and we clicked pretty quickly.

So earlier this year, with snow still on the ground, we were excited to learn that there was going to be a Run to the Hills 2012, July 19-22. The location changed from 2011 – it would be held in the Waterton Lakes / Waterton National Park area in SW Alberta. So we patiently waited for July 19th to roll around.

In the meantime, Louise decided to go off on an adventure on her own – see the blog posts on Solo to Sarnia for her story. So it was up to me to represent Team Stephens and mix it up with a bunch of VStroms on my FJR. Lucky for me, they tolerate non-VStroms and welcomed me happily.

I had booked the time off almost as soon as started my new job, but work has this insidious way of trying to screw things up. The Wednesday before leaving, we got into a bit of scrap with a vendor over a project engagement and I wound up having to complete a project engagement document before I left on Thursday morning.

By 11am I had the bike packed, gassed and ready to go. During the morning while working and checking the Run to the Hills webpage, I found out that a couple of the guys were meeting for lunch at Marv’s Diner in Black Diamond, which is about an hour away from our place here. I figured I could easily make there to meet up with them and tag along the rest of the way to Waterton. Finally my work was done and I headed out!

Along the way, just west of the town of Okotoks, I spotted something I’d never seen before! In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never driven Highway 7 west from Okotoks to Black Diamond – I’ve been to both towns many times though, just never driven between the two towns. So when I spotted this huge pile on the side of road, at first I thought it was a huge pile of hay bales that had collapsed, but as I got closer I realized that it was actually a big rock. I didn’t stop to take any pictures, but in retrospect I should have. Anyway, here’s a pic from the web and click here to more information on the Big Rock.

Shortly after pondering the Big Rock, I arrived in Black Diamond, found Marv’s, and discovered that I had timed it perfectly … … BigDan and Kay (not sure of the spelling) had just arrived and were already there waiting for Trent. Dan was happy to have me join up, so we all had the special of the day – Cheeseburger and Fries and a milkshake.

Then it was off to the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) south.

After a couple of hours on the road, we stopped at Pincher Creek for gas, where I discovered I had forgotten to bring micro-fibre cloths for cleaning the windscreen and helmet visor. I suspected the store in the gas station would have some and sure enough – there they were – for all of $1 a piece! I bought two – disaster averted!

Another hour of riding and we were at the Crooked Creek Campground, discovering that Stoney, another non-VStrom owning participant (he has a Suzuki SV650, a close cousin of the VStrom 650), was already there with his trailer setup back in a corner. The campground manager had allocated three tenting sites to the group, which was cool, but the sites were right out the corner of highway and right by the campground sign, which was not so good.

Anyone who knows the area in southern Alberta knows about the wind, so being one of the first on the scene, I decided to pitch my tent right behind the campground sign, hopefully providing a bit of a windbreak. It did and there was also some shade in the late afternoon.

This trip was the first use of the new Redverz Adventure tent. It’s a mid-sized tent with the very cool feature of having a “garage” for the bike! I did’t park the bike in it, but was pretty nice to be able to get dressed standing up straight.
I’ll write up a more detailed review of the Adventure Tent later, but although a different tent than our larger, yet smaller KeronGT, it compares quite well. Might not replace the KeronGT, but it’ll come close. Certainly for solo camping it’s much easier to use than the larger Keron.

Anyway, with the tent set up, Dan, Kay, Trent and I headed into Waterton townsite for supplies. I got some beer. The others got chips.

Back at the site, some more folks arrived and were extremely disappointed that there were no trees for their hammocks. There were attempts to try to make it work …
… but it’s tough to sleep in a hammock when your butt is on the ground.

Eventually, with the riding done for the day, we starting drinking, a couple of beers for me, and lots of various Rums for others. Here, Big Dan sets the fashion standard for the group:

Later, I crawled into the tent, finished blowing up the air mattress and went to sleep.


Solo To Sarnia Day 5

I pulled out of Superior around 9:30 thinking I got away early, but again I forgot to factor in the time change.  So my first stop was at the Michigan tourist information centre for some pictures, snack and a map just in case the “voice” and I disagreed again.

Just in case your not sure …

Then it was off on Highway 2 for awhile, where I again got to see a deer up close, luckily she was considerate enough to jump out of the tree’s between the car in front of me with enough space for me to slow down.  I stopped for gas just before turning onto Highway 28, and met a couple on a Honda Goldwing going east, started talking about destinations and the heat, and the guy suggested that I should start out really early to avoid the heat – they start a 2 in the morning! With me and the deer already visiting a couple of times I don’t think I’ll push my luck and travel at dawn.

Then onto Highway 28.  There is probably the best corner of the whole trip when you are going onto the highway, but the road surface is pretty crappy and the front tire got into a nice crack that was following the corner and the front end went a little squirrelly. After thinking a bad word I just relaxed my grip and let the bike sort itself out.  About the first 15 to 20 miles of the road had a lot of tar snakes, at some points it looked like some one had just poured lot of tar allover the lane, it made for some interesting riding.

See the tar snakes on the roadway?

This road is one that Ian and I rode when we went to Ontairio and Quebec in 2008, unfortunately when we rode it it was pouring rain and pretty cold, not fun. This time it was a pretty road.  In 2008, we stopped at a little one pump gas station to warm up and it was kind of surreal, so I stopped at the same store for gas this trip. It wasn’t so menacing in the sun and I had an audience while I pulled in on my enemy – gravel!

An Audience! No pressure though …

After that stop and one more to take pictures …

… and have a snack, I continued on to Munising. The last 27 miles was in the rain, but I didn’t put the liners in – I stayed dry though.  After behaving herself all day the voice decided to play with me just before arriving at the hotel, and tried to have me turn left down a gravel road, I disagreed and decided to pull into a gas station to look at the map, but lo and behold there was my hotel on the right. Then the voice told me I had arrived, like she was right along.

The Lurv Tub

While I was checking in, the clerk told the couple ahead of me that unless the had a reservation they only had two jacuzzi rooms on the ground floor left. The couple didn’t want those rooms so I switched to the main floor room and gave my second floor room to them – yay no stairs!   When I went in to the room I discovered I didn’t just have a jacuzzi I had a lurv tub.

After unpacking and cleaning up I had dinner at the gas station – yum – nuked burrito. Then I played with, screamed at and finally called tech support about, Garmin Basecamp and finally went to bed to ride another day.

Solo To Sarnia Day 4

So this is day 4, and I think this is I have enjoyed the most so far.   I started off early for me at just after 9 and quickly crossed in to Minnesota and stopped to get a map and a pic.

Bison as seen by Timothy Leary

Then off back onto the 94 for a short while, then the voice in my helmet told me to turn left then right on to highway 54 (I think), but not as busy as the 94 not on there for long and the voice told me to go the highway 34, yes finally single lane roads and not very busy so I stopped to take pictures.

Minnesota is very green and lots of trees and a very pretty ride. And then the voice in my head decided to play with me.. Go left she said, so i did onto some side street in a little town. then she said go right, go right, then go left and I was back on the 34 the same road I left.  Now I am always telling Ian that I need to practice my slow speed handling and as he is the one who programmed my GPS I think he was trying to sneak some practice in on me. This was confirmed when the voice told me to turn left and do a u-turn, not likely so I stopped for gas instead.

She recalculated (man did she sound pissed) and I continued on and did something I rarely do.  I stopped for lunch.

Larry’s has it all!

After that the voice redeemed herself and directed me to highway 200, this road was awesome, not twisty and the surface was kind of crap with holes appearing out toward the edges, but the scenery was great and I had the road to myself except for the occasional  person who passed me.  Unfortunately there was no shoulder and all the spots to pullover were gravel, some thing I hate but am going to try to learn to love later.  But take my word for it, trees right up to the side of the road with the occasional break in them for small bodies of water.  From there it was onto the number 2 highway and in to Duluth and over their twisted network of bridges to Superior, and my stay for the night.

So all in all day 1 was great, I was with Ian.  Day 2 I was nervous all day.  Day 3 was just work to get across North Dakota. and Day 4 I really enjoyed and I’m starting to think I can do this.

Solo to Sarnia – Day 3

Louise is pretty tired after a long day riding across the entire state of North Dakota! So I’m just posting her pictures from today – Louise will add words tomorrow night, she promises!

North Dakota Information Center, just across the state line

Hills of N. Dakota – who said the state was all flat?

More N. Dakota hills

Scenic overlook near Bismarck

The view from the scenic overlook

Another angle

VStrom at the scenic overlook

Sleep Inn, Fargo ND

Solo to Sarnia – Day 2 (Ian’s Story)

I rode down to Havre with Louise yesterday, but that’s as far as I was going with her. While she was continuing on east, I was headed back to Calgary without her. It was hard to say goodbye and leave – other than a few week-long trips for work, we’ve rarely been apart and this would be the last time I’d see her for 3 or 4 weeks. We had a bit of a tearful goodbye at the gas station next to the hotel …

Louise went left and I went right, headed for Wildhorse Road north of Havre back to Canada. As Louise and I road in yesterday, we noticed a few little things …

One was the birds – I think they were Swallows of some sort, they would sit on the road and I don’t know, eat gravel bits or something, one or more every few yards and as I reached them, they’d burst up in small clouds of little birds. Yesterday I said to Louise that the odds were that I’d be hitting a bird, but I didn’t then. Today though, I managed to clip at least two of them. I’m not totally sure they bought the farm, but I gotta think that a little bird coming in contact with the bike at 75 mph is going to leave a mark. (Pretty sure I got a gopher yesterday though).

The other was an old schoolhouse about 25 miles north of Havre – we blasted right by it yesterday, but on the way up I resolved to stop and get a picture of the “old” Old Cottonwood Schoolhouse.

From there it was a few more minutes to the US/Canada Border, where, stopped at the Canada side, there were a couple of cars, one in the shade and Jag one back in line. The fellow in the Jag hopped out and we chatted for a bit – he’s Doug from Georgia and he and his little lady were on their way to Banff for a week, but he was pretty pissed off at having to wait 30 minutes already for the guy up front!

After waiting another 15-20 minutes, with more cars and plenty of pirates … I mean Harley riders lining up behind, the first guy stomps out of the building, yells out, “They’re not letting us into Canada, dammit”, gets in his car and pulls a u-turn, heading back to the US. Doug in his Jag pulls ahead into the shade, gets the 50 question treatment, with the Border Agent heading back inside with their IDs. Five minutes she comes out and lets them go – now it’s my turn! Finally.

I simply say that I’m heading home, I get the 10 questions and I’m on my way.

The next stop was lunch in Medicine Hat, but first I wanted a picture with the world’s tallest teepee. What the heck you say? Yes – the world’s tallest teepee. Here’s the description from Wikipedia’s entry for Medicine Hat’s attractions:

Just south of the Trans-Canada Highway and overlooking the Blackfoot buffalo jump is the world’s tallest teepee, the “Saamis Tepee”. Designed for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as a symbol of Canada’s Aboriginal heritage, it was moved to Medicine Hat in 1991. It stands over 20 stories high and was designed to withstand extreme temperatures and winds up to 240 km/h (150 mph). During a January 2007 windstorm, a portion of the tepee was damaged. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that extensive weathering was partially to blame. After repairs were complete, the Saamis Tepee now stands approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) shorter.

I went to the same place for lunch that Louise and I stopped at yesterday. Had the same waitress and the same meal BLT, coffee and and iced tea.

Fully fuelled, I hit the rode for the last leg home – all on the TransCanada 4 lane boring highway. I did manage to make it back on a single tank of gas.

Just as I stepped into the house, Louise called! It turns out that when I hit the “Reached planned destination” button on the Spot, she had just finished unpacking in Glendive! We arrived at our destinations just moments apart!

So that’s the end of my direct involvement in Louise’s trip – from now on I’m just a spectator along with all of you!