The Wish List, 2018

santa_motoIt’s that time of the year again, when we get to dream big with empty wallets. In an ideal world, one where either Santa exists or bank accounts are bottomless, what would you get to prepare for next year’s riding season? Here’s what I’ve been hankering for.

Let me say at outset that there are already a few goodies either arrived or en route for my BMW f650GS. I busted my rad in a stupid tip-over in sand so figure I should have listened to my intuition and bought those upper crash bars earlier in the season. I’ve looked at them all and, given that I’ve already got lower engine protection with my BMW engine guard (the cage), the only ones that would fit are by Touratech or by Holan. TT have only one anchor point at the front, so the bar is kind of floating and kind of useless. Fortunately, Holan make one that anchor front and back, and their customer service is excellent. After a lot of back and forth, I managed to negotiate a slow, cheaper shipping option from Poland, where they are made. Holan_bar

It’s those upper two bars that are currently somewhere over the Atlantic. They fix onto the centre spine and at the back on the frame by the preload adjuster. They will protect the fragile radiator and the faring without getting in the way of my leg position.

The other thing I got is an inline fuel filter. My bike’s filter is supposed to be changed every 40,000 kilometres, but since the filter and the fuel regulator are one unit, it costs over $200 to change. So I’m adding a Golan (no connection to Holan) Inline Peak Fuel Filter ahead of the OEM filter, which should mean I never have to change the expensive unit.

golan_peak_flow_mini_fuel_filter_750x750

Mine is the mini on the far right.  It’s not available in Canada so I had to order from Revzilla, and whenever I do that, I add a little something else to make the shipping worthwhile. In this case, it was a pair of Baja Designs turn signals. flashers

Seems whenever I drop the bike, those front flashers get the worst of it, and I’ve already glued them back together a few times, but they still look a little worse for wear. The Baja signals have a flexible stalk, which makes a lot of sense. And being designed for the Baja Rally, they are built tough. They look the same as OEM, but should stand up better when I and the bike do not.

I’m also building a more comprehensive travel took kit based on a great thread at ADVRider.com. I won’t bore you will every item, but just say I’m gathering sufficient tools to fix just about anything on my bike in the field. I figure if I’m going to ride to remote regions, I have to be able to fix pretty much anything that might break. The tools actually is the easy part; the tricky bit is deciding what spare parts to bring along. You can’t bring a spare of everything!

tire-wrenchSo I’ve already bought this wheel lug wrench/tire iron in one. It’s light enough to carry everywhere but is good to 90 ft/lbs. T-handles, steel-reinforced epoxy putty, a tow strap, etc. — I love tools!

chain kit

The one item that was a little out of my budget so went on the wish list is the Motion Pro Light Weight Chain Breaker and Chain Press Tool.

When your bike is chain-driven, like I said, you have to be ready for anything that can happen in the bush.

Okay, tools aside, I need a 50/50 tire on the front. I’m still riding a Metzler Tourance, which is fine for dirt roads but not for too much more. I’ll get and mount Heidenau K60 k60-scout-dual-sport-front-tireScout on the front to match the back, and this will allow me to GO ANYWHERE! Yes, I’m that confident that once I get this tire, no more tip-overs in mud and sand. Nature in all its awesome power and trickery will bow down before me and my machine.

Next up is some body armour. I know, I know: what happened to Nature bowing. Well, I may win the war, but that’s not to say the trail won’t win a few battles along the way. My new Klim Tourance jacket that I bought for off-roading is just a shell and comes with no padding. That suited me perfectly because I decided I’d rather get full-on armour for those spills, something like the Leat Body Protector, than the wimpy pads that are in most motorcycle jackets. Leat Body Protector

The nice thing about this option is you can wear it under a motorcycling jersey on those really hot days. That should complete my off-road gear necessities. I now have boots, Klim Dakar pants, the Tourance jacket, a LS2 Pioneer helmet, goggles, and gloves.

Montana

The other fairly big ticket item I need is a good, dedicated motorcyle GPS, or as they call them in Europe, a navsat. I’ve been making do with a combination of Google Maps on my phone while in Canada and an old car (i.e. non-waterproof) GPS while in The States, but neither is perfect. I’ve tried apps but none work reliably, and lord knows, navigation is an important part of any ride. The one on my wish list is the Garmin Montana, a unit designed specifically for off-road use. 

As you can see, it includes topographical maps, a glove-friendly colour touchscreen, access to both GPS and Glonass satellite fixing, HD camera (with the capability of taking geotagged pictures), a smartcard port, Basecamp, geocaching, wireless capability . . . it’s got it all and is the GPS of choice by most adv riders. It’s also got a price tag to match these capabilities, so I’m going to have to be extra good for Santa to spring for this baby.

seatosummitAnd really, that’s about “all” I need. One luxury item is a Sea to Summit mattress, something that was on my wish list last year too. Yeah, my Thermarest is pretty good and at the end of a long, hot day of riding, a bed of nails feels pretty good. But eventually, for the long tours, this premium outdoor mattress would be pretty nice. This insulated mattress has a dual layer construction, allowing you to inflate the top layer to comfort and the bottom layer to even out uneven ground. That jagged tooth of a rock under back will feel like a pea, and the whole thing weighs less than 1 pound 12 ounces and packs up to 5″ x 9″. And as I’ve said before, when you’re roughing it and saving money on accommodation costs, why not have the best camping mattress money can buy?

So that’s my list: some tools, a new front tire, a better GPS, and some body protection. But the main thing I wish for is another year of health and safe riding. That is all that anyone can ask for, and with God’s grace, receive if one is so lucky.

Got a few items on your wish list? Don’t be shy. Stick them in a comment and maybe there’ll be a few things there we haven’t heard of.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and safe riding in 2018.

 

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Setting Goals

GOAL-SETTING

It’s that time of the year again, when the bike goes under the cover for the winter. For me, this moment is like New Year’s Eve,  the end of one period of time and the start of another. I’m talking about the motorcycling season here in Canada but it’s comparable to, perhaps for bikers more significant than, the calendar year. And so I find myself reflecting back on the season, assessing whether I achieved my goals, and setting new ones for 2018.

Do you set goals for your riding? For some, it might be simply to get out more. For others (or the delusional), it might be to win the Men’s Senior TT, the Paris-Dakar rally, or MotoGP. A goal can be a particular destination or the decision to be a better rider, correcting some bad habits that have crept into your riding. If you ride recreationally in a club, a successful season might be determined by the number of new friends you have, or how much money you’ve raised for certain charities. And sometimes the goals can be physical, like trading up your bike or getting some needed gear or accessories.

I’m a very goal-oriented person, not just with my riding but with pretty much everything I do. I’m not obsessed with achieving my goals to the point of taking the fun out of recreation, and I’d hate to be judged as taking myself too seriously. But I hate doing things half-assed, and I like to have a clear idea of where I’m going. Goals help me with both. They push me to do a particular skill to the best of my ability and they help prevent me from directing my time and energy aimlessly.

Much of what I’ve learned about goal-setting comes from the field of sports psychology, but it’s applicable to any activity, including career goals. If you’re new to goal setting, here’s a primer on setting effective goals. We use the acronym SMART.

Specific: Make sure your goals are clearly defined. Don’t just say “I’d like to get out on the bike more,” but “I’d like to ride at least once a week.” While “I’d like to improve my riding” is an admirable goal, “I’m going to complete this specific advanced skills course” is a more effective one. Make your destination specific and you’ll avoid aimless riding.

Measurable: How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal? If you can’t measure your success, you’ll never know if you’ve achieved it. This goes hand-in-hand with having specific rather than vague goals. You need a clear target to know if you’ve hit it. More importantly, you need to know how close you are to achieving it. Some people say the M stands for Motivational because having a measurable goal helps you stay motivated. Improving my fitness is not a measurable goal; running 5 K in under 25 minutes is.

Achievable: You want your goals to challenge you but be within your reach. You’re not going to go from beginner to expert in one year, from a learner’s permit to the Paris-Dakar in one season. If your goals are too easy, you’ll get an inflated ego and over-confident, and if they’re too hard, you’ll lose your motivation. This is perhaps the most difficult part of goal-setting because it requires you to be honest with yourself about your current abilities and your potential.

Reasonable: Even if a goal is achievable, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s reasonable. I could quit my job tomorrow and ride to Tierra del Fuego if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t be the best thing for my finances or my marriage. Setting reasonable goals means considering not only capability but also common sense. My wife is very understanding and supportive of my endeavours, but finances and summer vacation time are limited, so I have to be reasonable about the commitments I make. A reasonable goal is one that fits in nicely with the rest of your life.

Time-Related: You have to set deadlines for when you’re supposed to have achieved your goals. As with defining your goals, be clear and specific—not “sometime in the near future” but “by the end of next season.” And you should have long-term, midterm, and short-term goals. For your long-term goals, think big. (Hey, dreaming is free!) You’ve got lots of time to achieve them. Midterm goals should be directly related to achieving the long-term goals, and similarly with short-term goals. You’re creating the stepping stones that will get you to your ultimate dream, breaking what seems now like an overwhelming goal down into manageable and achievable ones. Midterm goals keep you on course and motivated; short-term goals help you act today toward that ultimate prize. And while all this might seem a bit fixated on that final destination, keep in mind that, like riding, it’s the journey that matters most, not the arrival. Enjoy the process, or should I say progress?

Some books also talk about the importance of making your goals public. “The more people who are aware of your goals, the more people who will be there to support you and hold you accountable along the way” (Sports Psychology for Dummies 11). So . . . here are my goals for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

In 2017, I decided to focus on developing off-road skills that would enable me to ride to some places not accessible otherwise. Toward that end, I had gear to buy, accessories to add, and courses to complete.

Here were my goals for 2017:

  • To buy off-road gear. This meant boots, pants, jacket, and helmet. I achieved this goal, and thank God it’s done because my pocketbook and marriage would not survive another season of expenses like this one.
  • To make my bike off-road ready. I added some crash bars, lowered the windscreen, added off-road pegs, and changed to a 50/50 tire when the back tire was finished.
  • To take a full-day class at S.M.A.R.T. Riding Adventures in Barrie. I accomplished that. I also took a 2-hour beginner class with Jimmy Lewis as bonus. These two activities did more toward improving my riding than anything else I did this summer.
  • To do a long solo tour. As you know if you’ve been following these blogs, I accomplished this with my ride to Cape Breton. My original goal of Blanc-Sablon was not reasonable, and I’m glad I changed it to something where the predominant surface is asphalt and help is relatively near in case of an emergency.
  • To do a lot of off-roading practice. I did some, but I broke my radiator and cut my season short by about a month. I’d say that goal was not accomplished but, overall, I had a successful season.

My goals for 2018:

  • To finish making my bike off-road ready. I have some upper crash bars (currently in the mail from Poland) to add and will swap the Tourance front tire with a matching K60 Scout.
  • To join an off-road club named Moto Trail Aventure, the largest off-road club in Quebec, and participate in as many of their rallies as possible. (This will have the added benefit of improving my French since it seems this club, unlike the WIMC, is predominantly French.)
  • To buy an annual membership to FQMHR (Fédération Québécoise des Motos Hors Route), which gains me access to a large network of trails. I’ll be doing most of my riding on these trails to gain the practice missed this summer. The idea is to reinforce what I learned this summer and develop muscle memory.
  • To participate in the 2018 La Classique, an off-road rally held each spring here in Quebec. I’ll probably start with the beginner rally.
  • To return to DirtDaze Adventure Bike Rally at Lake Luzerne, NY.
  • To lead at least one or two rides again with my street club. I already have one destination in mind—a large collection of vintage bikes in Maine.
  • And another solo tour. I’ve discovered I love solo touring. I loved every minute of my tour through NS this summer and would love to repeat again next summer. But somewhere new. I very well may be going back to the Maritimes in a car with my wife next summer, so I’m not sure what I’ll be able to afford to do on the bike, but I can’t imagine a summer without some kind of a trip. It really depends on how things shape up. Like I said, most of my riding next summer will be on Quebec trails, so whatever trip I take will be a bonus. Stay tuned.

My long-term goals? Okay, since we’re on the topic, I have a few big ones, all tours.

  • To ride across Canada. This has been a goal of mine since I was a teenager. Once I hit the west coast, I could go north to Deadhorse or south down the Pacific Coast Highway to Baja, then across to New Orleans and up through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Another destination is South America. I’m not sure if I’d ride through Mexico because I’ve heard it’s very dangerous or ship my bike partway.
  • Okay, and since we’re dreaming big, I’d love to do some riding in Africa. These big trips might have to wait for my retirement, but all the off-road riding I’m doing now is toward being able to handle these terrains.

So what are your goals for next year? Make them public and bring yourself a step closer to realizing them.

I’ll be going into my usual winter hiatus with the blogs, but will post when inspiration strikes.

My Favourite Motovlogs

I didn’t know what a vlog was before I started riding. As a writer, I was more interested in blogs, and YouTube was a place where you could see your dear friend’s child act in the school play, a compilation of the sexiest ice-bucket challenges, or the footy game you missed last weekend (if you were willing to follow the sketchy link). Then GoPro entered the market and it changed everything. Suddenly you could get a rider’s-eye view in HD with sound that didn’t seem like the guy was riding underwater, or through Hurricane Katrina, or both. Companies also woke up to the idea of advertising for free under the guise of providing product reviews, and a generation of unemployed video editors found work. The video blog, or vlog, was born.

Perhaps I’m already thinking of those long winter months when the bike is up on a jack in the shed with a 40 watt bulb pointed at it. If you’re like me, product reviews midwinter is like a balm to a wind-chapped itch to ride, and a helmet-cam is the closest thing there is to throwing a leg over said motorcycle stored in the shed. I spend a lot of time during the winter on YouTube, learning stuff, buying stuff, or planning on buying stuff once spring hits. In prep for those regrettably not too distant months ahead, here are my favourite motorcycle vlogs and YouTube channels. Enjoy!

Because I subscribe to the free (i.e. cheap) version of WordPress, I can’t embed videos. You’ll have to click on each hyperlink to have a sample vlog open in a separate tab.

Weekly Rides With Rueben was my entrance into not only vlogging but also motorcyling in general. Before I even had my full licence, I went searching one day for tips for newbies, and after a few scattered hits, I stumbled upon Reuben’s vlogs. Reuben (I don’t know his last name) worked for Competition Accessories in North Carolina, and they decided his vlogs would be a good way to generate traffic to the store, I guess. A new video was uploaded every Wednesday and together they were, as he says at the beginning of each video, “a random collection of motorcycle adventures, life on two wheels, and product reviews.” If that sounds eerily familiar, I guess Reuben’s videos heavily influenced my thinking about this blog. Topics covered included riding in the rain, riding at night, avoiding obstacles, and preparing for fall riding, for examples. Then his store started partnering with a nearby dealership and he started doing bike reviews. Reuben also did product reviews from the store in front of the camera, but I think he was more comfortable behind the camera. He never seemed at a loss for words, and was articulate and knowledgeable. I learnt a lot from Reuben over his 74 posts. The posts abruptly stopped without notice because, as rumour has it, the store was bought out. A new guy from another location took over, but it was never the same. Hope you’re doing well, Reuben!

The ancient Roman poet Horace wrote that poetry should both “delight and instruct.” The same could be said for a good vlog, so while I might find it “delightful” to watch Rosie Gabrielle ride through Oman or Ottawa, if I want to learn how to ride, I go where the experienced riders are. Sorry Rosie! Zack and Ari, co-editors at Motorcyclist Magazine, have been riding together for a long time! (Like, since childhood.) They are good riders. In fact, I’ve watched Ari break a track record on a KTM 390, and Zack is no slouch either. Just watch his MC Commute, where he rides a different bike to work each day and gives a review en route. Their show On Two Wheels (again, a rip off from yours truly) is a lot of fun with their humour keeping things light but rarely stupid, and always the bikes are front and centre. One of my favourite episodes is the one on the BMW GS, yeah, the bike that opened up the adventure touring market and spawned my f650GS. But even more than On Two Wheels, I love MC Garage, where Ari walks us through some simple maintenance of our bikes. I have a lot of respect for people who are both good riders and good mechanics. I’ve used some of Ari’s tips to fix not only my bike but also my car. I think Horace would agree that instruction for a hungry audience is also a delight.

If Ari and Zack are good riders, Lyndon Poskitt is a great rider! How great? Dakar great. Podium finisher in Baja great. And he knows his way around a bike too. In fact, he built his bike from the frame up. In Races to Places, Lyndon travels around the world, stopping at various rally races like the Mongolian Rally, The Baja Rally, and of course the Dakar, to try his luck and skill. His key sponsor, Adventure Spec, put together the vlogs of his adventures. Production quality is high, which is especially impressive since Lyndon does all his own filming. I’ve done enough adventure riding to know that when times get tough, the last thing you want to do is stop for a photo (or cutaway, or take 20 minutes to set up a 20 second shot), but Lyndon is committed loyally to his project and followers. I’ve also learnt a lot about different countries vicariously from Lyndon. I’ve followed him across eastern Europe, down into Asia, and now over to Australia. I’ve really been enjoying this series, now starting its 7th season. I’m trying to savour them because I’m almost entirely caught up and will soon have to wait for each new episode.

If you are more into street riding, or rather street racing, you want to check out Lockk9 TT Racing’s channel. Nobody does video editing as well as this guy. I can’t get enough of this video: great editing, great music, not bad riding. It’s a shot of adrenaline on a cold mid-winter morning to get you out the door and to your job.

For product reviews, I go to two sources: Fort Nine and Revzilla. I love Fort Nine because the reviews are thorough and I know that whatever RyanF9 talks about I can get from this Canadian-based online store without the hassle of cross-border issues. I bought my 50/50 tire based on his rave review of the K60 Scout (i.e. “I’m not even going to say this is my favourite pick of the video because the K60 is my favourite tire on the motorcycling market right now”). He’s knowledgeable and funny, and tells it like he sees it, which is not always the case with product reviews. Usually they end up being positive, pointing out only the merits of a certain product. In fact, many so-called “reviews” are really just product descriptions, with very little if any evaluative comments thrown in. Ryan also does pretty good vlogs. In his vlog about how to legally ride off road in Canada (his split infinitive, not mine), I found out about Chemin Scotch north of Hawksbury, and checked it out, and had a blast. In a recent vlog, he talks about having a degree in Art History (Art History!) which really is evidence that what you study in school doesn’t have to be what you do in life. And no one does bike reviews like Fort Nine. They are creative works of art. Apparently Ryan writes the scripts and some guy named Steve handles the editing. Just check out this review for example, in rhyme, of the new BMW 310R. I’m so old I can’t say exactly what he’s parodying, but I think it’s hip hop videos. In another, he says he’s heading back west to BC to start a new chapter with Fort Nine. I hope that includes more vlogs.

For more in-depth product reviews, I go to Revzilla. I don’t know what Anthony drinks in the mornings but I know I want some. A 19′ review of the Klim Badlands jacket? Really? He strips that bad boy down inside and out. Meanwhile, world population has increased by 4,750 by the time he’s done. It’s thorough! How much do Klim pay him to represent their product? How long does it take him to learn all the details of that jacket? Because of the currency conversion and cross border brokerage (motorcycle gear is duty-free, however), Revzilla is not always the cheapest option for me, but I never buy a product without checking out the Revzilla review and user reviews there. Thanks guys! And just to show my appreciation, sometimes I do buy there and have it shipped to Burlington and ride down to pick it up. I especially like their Gear Guides, where they compare a number of select products in the same review. You can salivate all winter long, and drop Christmas hints to loved ones by sharing, or create a wish list of your own for when you’re stinking rich.

I’ve saved the best for last, but I’m going to cheat because it’s not even a vlog. It’s a podcast, but I’m including it because I’ve probably learnt more about the adventure touring experience from Adventure Rider Radio than from any other single source. Yeah, the show caters to adventure riders, but host Jim Martin is always careful not to exclude other types of riders and riding, and much of the information is relevant to motorcycling in general. I’ve learnt everything from the esoteric (e.g. the nitty gritty of motorcycle chains) to the mundane (how to prepare tasty meals in camp, or first aid). One of my favourite things to do during the winter is run a hot bath and listen to ARR on my iPad while I soak away the chills. I’m always keen to learn new skills, especially if it’s from the comfort of a hot bath, and one of my favourite segments is the rider skills segment with Bret Tkacs of PSSOR. The show functions on a donation and sponsor basis and it’s pretty impressive that Jim and his wife churn out a show every week. I’ve been meaning to send a token of my appreciation, and will, because while the show is obviously a labour of love, these kinds of shows don’t survive if not supported by those who enjoy and profit from them.

There are a few others I cruise past from time to time, but I’ll stop there. Drop a comment about your favourite motovlog or channel and I’ll check it out. Or let me know what you think of some of these. Happy fall riding, while it lasts.

 

The Comfort Zone

Do you remember when you learned how to ride? I do. It wasn’t that long ago. I remember there was a lot of nervous excitement. Mostly there were a lot of nerves. I remember how worried I was when all we had to do was roll out in first gear a few feet then stop using the rear brake.Comfort_zone I don’t know what I thought might happen, but in a worst case scenario it was something like accidentally hitting the clutch instead of the brake, then popping the clutch, popping a wheelie, flipping the bike, and landing on my back, the bike crashing down on top of me to the laughter and applause of all the other students and even a few instructors. But that didn’t happen, and I survived. Then we had to actually ride in 1st gear [gasp!] in a circle, stopping at each of four cones, and that was outside my comfort zone. Eventually we were changing gears, counter-balancing, countering-steering, and emergency braking. Then we left the lot and headed onto the road. Then we went on the highway. Each time we completed a new exercise or ventured into unfamiliar territory our comfort zones expanded ever so little. Before we knew it, the course was over. Now what do you do?

Without the pressure of an outside source pushing you out of your comfort zone, you have to push yourself. For me this year that has meant developing off-road skills, and every time I pull on my Klim Dakar pants and Sidi boots (as opposed to my Dainese jeans and Tourmaster touring boots), I feel it in the pit of my gut: that nervous anxiety in anticipation of possible danger. I’ve been going over to a small undeveloped area near the airport; it’s a space only a few hundred feet across and contains a mixture of dirt, loose gravel, and sand. I warm up with some slow-speed stuff to develop balance, then set up a few cones and practice brakesliding and powersliding. There isn’t much chance of getting hurt doing this—not seriously—but I still get a little nervous while riding over. I’m heading out of my comfort zone.

What’s the worst that can happen there, seriously? I drop the bike, maybe damage it in some way, or get a foot caught under it when it falls. It’s all pretty low-speed stuff. But that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the perception of danger that brings those feelings on, and that happens any time we are doing something new. Perhaps it’s evolutionary. Ever wonder why students always sit in the same spot every class, even if they come early and have so many more to choose from? The theory goes that we are animals and our first concern is survival. We sat in a particular spot last class and nothing bad happened to us; we’ll trust that spot again. Change, however innocuous, is scary.

This should be distinguished from real danger. I’m not suggesting pushing yourself into The Foolhardy Zone, when you ask yourself to do something well outside your skill set. The Comfort Zone is like a muscle: stretch it a little and you’re fine; stretch it too much and something bad is going to happen. The instructors at my school didn’t stick us on bikes after introductions and take us on the road. It was a slow, incremental development of skills from the most fundamental, like how to get on and off the bike, to what we needed to pass the closed circuit test.

I’m thinking of this now because, after having a fear of the water my entire life, I’ve decided to take a swim class and finally get over it. The class is Thursdays at noon and by Wednesday evening I’m already thinking of skipping the class. As I drive in Thursday morning I’m thinking of getting a mouthful of water mid-stroke and choking, gasping, suffocating, and as I walk in from the parking lot I feel like I’m walking to the gallows. I have to steel myself, psych myself up, reassure myself, promise myself it’s all worth it in the end. And on Tuesdays, when there is the free swim time, I have to push myself even harder without the commitment of a class to get over to the pool. So these past few weeks I have had very concrete awareness of the need to push myself out of my comfort zone. But so far I haven’t skipped a class and have gone to the free swim the past three weeks. Each time I enter the change room and smell that distinctive urinous chlorine smell, it gets a little easier. Just a little. Nothing bad happened to me last time.

The motorcycling, or any other skill, for that matter, can be a metaphor for life. It’s only outside your comfort zone that growth happens, and it’s up to each of us to push ourselves into uncomfortable situations. I remember a guy I knew years ago who admitted that, if he had the resources, he would stay inside his bedroom and live his entire life there! Apparently his comfort zone extended only as far as the bedroom door. (It’s not clear how he would meet women, but maybe that’s covered in the “resources” part of his fantasy.) I have a different fantasy: one in which I’m swimming laps, the kind of complete-body, zero impact training I’ve wanted to do for many years, and another where I’m powersliding out of a corner on a dirt road somewhere far from Montreal. There are others, one for each of my “hobbies,” and I use these to get me over to the pool, my sandbox, off the couch in the evenings and pounding the pavement. Instead of imagining the worst, I’m imagining the best, even if a part of me knows I might never get there. But if I never get close, I’m closer than if I never pushed myself at all.

Pursue your dreams; life is too short.

Going Home

detour-sign

I left Katahdin Shadows Campground in central Maine after breakfast. I was looking forward to my ride along Highway 2 and to getting home and seeing my wife and dog. The trip had been full and exciting, but also exhausting, and I was ready to sleep in a bed.

I came out on the 157 and headed down to Highway 2. I can’t remember what signage was at that T-junction but somehow I turned the wrong way. Looking at it on a map now, I can only imagine that the options were 2 North and 2 South, and I, naturally, took north. Only I was supposed to take south, which is counter-intuitive since I live in Canada and was south of the border. But because the 157 intersects the 2 at an odd angle, I think that must have been what deceived me.

After riding happily for an hour, I came to a split in the road, with 2 and 2A as the options. This doesn’t look right, I thought, and checking my GPS, discovered I was further from home than in the morning. Yes, I’d been going the wrong way; I had to go south first before I could go west. I’d lost the morning and my GPS was saying I was 12 hours from home! Damn!

Knowing I was now in a fix, I changed the settings on my GPS from “Avoid Highways” to “Fastest Route.” It promptly took me to the I95 and I bombed south for what seemed like an hour and a half until I came to Augusta, which I recognized from my ride down. I knew I was now near the section of Highway 2 that I wanted, but getting through Augusta to that road was not easy. If I hadn’t had that GPS, packed almost as an afterthought (thinking I could “easily” navigate by paper map in the US), I would have been in a bigger fix. Maine’s road system resembles a spider’s web, and getting from Point A to Point B involves passing through Points R, M, X, and C first. Clearly, the Romans did not make it out to Maine.

Now finally on a road that looked familiar, I stopped for lunch at a roadside general store that also contained a diner. Knowing I had a long way to go, I powered up with a cheeseburger and fries. Then it was the long ride back along Highway 2 west out of Maine, across New Hampshire, and into Vermont.

Riding for me is like running. When I ride or run, I’m very meditative. Perhaps some people would say I should give the road my full attention, but I’m still concentrating on the road even if part of my mind is wandering, reflecting, processing, purging. I’ve had some of my best ideas while running or riding. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never worn ear buds or installed a radio in my helmet; for me, that meditative quality, that state of mental calm and presence is part of what I find therapeutic in both activities.

And similarly to when I ride, when I pass by a section of road that I’ve run recently, because my thought was so present in the moment, I can remember exactly what I was thinking at a given place. It’s like each particular of that geography has a thought attached to it, like the mnemonic to remember a poem by heart in which you think of a very familiar place, say, a local park, and as you walk though that park in your imagination, you associate a line of poetry with a particular object, a specific tree or lamppost, for examples, so remembering the poem later becomes merely a walk in the park, so to speak.

I’m mentioning this now because, as I rode west along Highway 2, I was remembering my thoughts and feelings vividly from when I rode east that section of road 12 days prior. All the feelings of expectation and promise and adventure came back to me even though my trip was almost over. And I remember feeling, I admit, a little apprehensive as I ventured out on my first long trip, not knowing exactly how it would go, what kind of problems I would encounter, and if I’d be able to solve them. But it had gone well and I’d managed; in fact, I’d done better than managed. I had ridden over 5,000 kilometres and met some wonderful people, seen some beautiful places, and learnt some new skills on the bike. What had I been so apprehensive about? Rather than a sense of sadness for my trip coming to an end, I had an urge to get back on the road again as soon as possible. Realistically, that won’t be until next summer, but I was already starting to think of where I might visit next year.

I turned north on the I91 that took me to the border at Stanstead, then I was on the familiar bumpy, pot-holed roads of Quebec. The 55 took me to the 10. The light was fading, and as I approached the Champlain Bridge the Montreal skyline rose up on the horizon. It was Saturday evening so the traffic was heavy, everyone driving in to town from the south shore. And then something else familiar: the winding tunnel of construction pylons lining the makeshift highway, lane-closures, douche-bags cutting in at the last moment at those lane closures, the ramp to the 20 Ouest unexpectedly closed, forcing me up the Decarie Expressway to loop around at Queen Mary (or was it higher?), then more lane closures on Decarie south, heavier, aggressive traffic, someone angrily leaning on a horn. It was all sadly too familiar.

I was pretty exhausted and now did have to devote all my attention to the chronically disrepaired and clogged roads of Montreal to get these last 20 kilometres home. I found it ironic that in the over 5000 kilometres I’d ridden the past two weeks, I never felt as unsafe as on those familiar roads so close to home. Once I was finally on the 20 Ouest after my detour and breathed a sigh of relief, some idiot cut across three lanes in front of me, passing a few feet from my front tire, his buddy close behind doing the same, getting off at the 13 probably to go to Laval. There are some things I love about this city, and some that I hate.

I always remind myself at the end of a long ride to concentrate right to the very end; I know it’s easy to lose your concentration and that’s when an accident can happen. But even knowing this and reminding myself in that final stretch of highway did not prevent a near accident on one of the last turns of the trip. As I came down the Des Sources ramp in 3rd, I went to shift into 2nd for the curve at the bottom of the ramp as I have done a hundred times, only when I shifted into 2nd, for some inexplicable reason, I forgot to pull in the clutch! What the hell?! The bike lurched and I immediately pulled the clutch and coasted. I found the bike in neutral and upshifted to 2nd, then took the curve, apologizing profusely to Bigbea. I can only think that these kinds of slips happen because you are already thinking of what you’re going to do when you get home. Another lesson learned: concentrate to the very end means to the very end. I think in the future I will associate the end with kickstand down, the signal that my brain can shut off now, or turn its attention elsewhere. Like my wife and dog that greeted me on the driveway. 😊

Day 12

Fundy Coastal Drive to Maine

Covered Bridge

If you want a good point of comparison between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, just take a look at their tourism offices. The first time I passed through New Brunswick, I was fresh off the ferry and rode up the 172 and joined the Transcanada Highway (Route 1) at St. George. No sooner was I on the highway when I saw the ? sign indicating a tourism office. I decided to pull off and pick up a map. It was the 176 heading down towards Blacks Harbour. I rode for about a kilometre but it was early morning (in fact, I saw a few deer cross the road ahead of me in the mist) and I was sleepy and after a while I figured I must have missed it. So I turned around and headed back toward the highway, keeping a closer eye out for the office, only when I reached the highway again I realized I hadn’t missed it—it was just further from the highway than I’d expected. So back I went, down toward Blacks Harbour. Surely the tourism office isn’t this far from the highway, I kept thinking, but it was, and more, a good 5 kilometres at least, and when I got there, it was nothing more than a shed, really, with a girl not out of high school the single employee. She had some maps, and I was happy to take one, but she didn’t know much about them. “How long would it take me to ride the Fundy Coastal Trail?” I asked. “Hmm . . . I don’t know,” she replied, “but I’ve been to Moncton on the highway and it takes a few hours.” Gee thanks. I didn’t ask if she was the one driving.

Contrast this with when you cross the border into Nova Scotia. At the side of the highway is not only a ? sign but a lighthouse announcing the office. You can see it from the highway and the exit ramp takes you to the parking lot, which is huge, as is the modern building, with flags in front, and gardens, and picnic tables, areas to run your dog, poop bags for those dogs, and the lighthouse across the field, which you can tour at certain hours of the day. You walk in to the main building and no less than five employees are waiting behind a massive desk to answer your questions. And then there are the spotless bathrooms, and the wall of documents. I didn’t venture deeper into the tourism office but there are other rooms waiting to serve you. Nova Scotia knows where its bread and butter is.

So the first time I passed through New Brunswick, with less than reliable information, I did not ride the Fundy Coastal Drive. But heading back, I figured I’d do it no matter how long it took. I left Fundy National Park and headed up to Sussex for a second breakfast before doubling back to the 111 where the drive begins. It cuts diagonally down toward the coast and offers a pleasant if not inspiring ride through farmland and rolling hills, over a mountain range and, at one point, about 15 kilometres of unpaved gravel since, like everywhere, it seems, they are repaving. Good thing I have a dual sport bike. What would other riders do?

The trail is clearly marked and even includes some tourist attractions. At one point, I saw a sign indicating a covered bridge a short ways off the main road and decided to go check it out. If you’re a motorcyclist, you have to ride through a covered bridge at least once. In this case, it had to be twice because the road led to a dead-end so I turned around on the other side and experienced another century a second time.

Bridge Bracing

I didn’t take a lot of photos on this ride. I was acutely aware of how far I had to go and how ignorant I was of how long it would take me to get there, so paused only briefly, such as when I rounded this corner overlooking a beautiful bay.

Bayview

But really there is just the one road through New Brunswick and, as the saying goes, all roads lead to Route 1. A section of the Fundy Coastal Trail is Route 1, through and just west of Saint John. It’s not exactly the coast, nor a trail, but it gets you further west, if that’s where you’re headed. They are crazy about their ATVs in New Brunswick, and there will be several parked at the local Tim’s. I was eyeing the ATV trails that run parallel to the highway and, to my disbelief, cross the highway! One kid scooted in front of me as I nearly shit my pants; his buddy showed more prudence and waited until I passed. Perhaps it would have been safer if I’d taken that trail instead of the official one.

Soon I was at Saint Stephen and it was time to cross back into The United States. This meant no more data and no more Google Maps. Fortunately, I’d packed an old car GPS that would prove to be a huge help getting through Maine.

Maine. Before this trip, the word conjured associations with Stephen King, cedar shingle homes, charming coastal towns, and seafood. But now I realize that is just one part of Maine, namely, the coast. The interior is very different, and since I was cutting a B-line through to Montreal, the interior is where I was headed—in particular, Big Eddy Campground, somewhere on Golden Road. Draw a line between Saint Stephen and Montreal and Big Eddy will be on it, which is why I chose it when planning. The only problem was I didn’t really know where it was. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was in the Maine bush.

These parts are not very populated. You can ride on open, straight roads for hours. It’s a good place to see what your bike can do (which I didn’t do—fearing those state troopers of Smokey and the Bandit fame), or to learn clutchless shifting, which I did do. I’ve been upshifting for some time now using a technique I read about last winter in Lee Parks’ Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques. You put a little upward pressure on the shifter and when you pull in the clutch the bike pops into gear. It’s a lot quicker and smoother than rolling off the throttle while pulling in the clutch, lifting up on the shifter, then rolling back on the throttle while letting out the clutch. In fact, with my adventure boots on, which feel like ski boots and are about as flexible, it’s pretty much necessary for me to do this to get from 1st to 2nd and avoid false neutrals. So while riding the empty straight roads of Maine, I got to thinking: what if I put that upward pressure on the shifter and rolled off the throttle but didn’t pull in the clutch? I don’t know if I’d read this somewhere or seen it on You Tube or if it was by pure genius but when I tried it, to my surprise, the bike popped into the next gear. It only works for upshifting and you have to be easy with the roll on otherwise the bike will lurch, but you can upshift in the blink of an eye this way. After some practice it feels like you are “flicking” the bike into the next gear with the throttle. (I have since seen conflicting videos on You Tube saying this is harmful/harmless to your gearbox, so do at your own risk. Perhaps a subject for a later blog?)

At one point, I came upon civilization. Actually, it was just some cars parked at the side of the road and lots of people gathered for some kind of event. I stopped to check it out and discovered it was a pow wow. I’ve never been to a pow wow so was curious. The women were doing a traditional dance where they kind of walk arm-in-arm in a circle to a simple double-beat. I found it interesting how easily you can see, even with such a simple dance, who has a sense of rhythm and who doesn’t. As I was standing alongside several others minding my own business a little girl, playing with her friends, suddenly pointed at me and asked “Who are you?” I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie but I was actually just in Maine. I thought it was time to push on.

Soon I came to another attraction that looked like it was from another century. Willard’s Garage. It was a garage in the middle of nowhere that looked like it had been abandoned for 100 years. I pulled off and took a look around. Had I just slipped through a time hole like in The Twilight Zone and landed in a 1950’s gas station? There were cars from the mid 20th Century abandoned there, and what looked like the skeleton of a Model T, the first car ever mass produced. Then I looked inside the windows and there were more surprises there—old oil and other products, books, what looked like bookkeeping, was that tobacco?, and hot rods!—it was bizarre. But then, I was in Maine.

 

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The folks in Maine like their ATVs even more than the folks in New Brunswick, so much so that they use them as their primary means of transportation. When I stopped for gas, along came two ATVs with four people in each, a canopy overhead, heading somewhere for their Sunday outing. And observing them, I have to say, I could see how someone like Trump could get into the Oval Office. These people seem to have a few  abiding values—freedom, independence, patriotism—held so strongly they become a guiding ideology, almost a religion. Anyone or anything that appears to challenge those values is deemed an outsider, an enemy. Is it coincidental that the fashion de rigeuer in these parts is combat camouflage?

I was so fascinated by this hillbilly culture I missed my turn and had to loop around to the 157. This turned out to be fortuitous because in doing so I happened upon Highway 2, my favourite highway and one I knew would take me to the Canadian border at Rouses Point the next day. I followed my GPS but I didn’t have an exact address. I did, however, have the name of the road, so took my best guess for the number and followed the directions. (Note to self: write down the full address of your destination before crossing into The States and losing data.) It took me to a dirt road that deteriorated into gravel, then loose shale. I ventured a few kilometres up Golden Road before realizing that it was not so golden and any campground further down that road is not one I want to stay at. I turned back and while topping up my gas I struck up a conversation with some guys who had just come from Golden Road. Yeah, they knew of Big Eddy Campground, but it turns out it is about 17 kilometres further along, and they got two punctures in their truck tires from the shale. I’m glad I turned back. With my back tire balding fast, I could easily have ended up with a slit tire.

I’d seen another campground earlier so decided to head back to it and hope they had a site. It was Katahdin Shadows Campround. By this time I was beginning to get a hate on for Maine. I pulled into another ubiquitous RV campground but didn’t care, was only happy they had a site because I was hot, hungry, and tired. The only thing I craved after such a long hot ride was a shower so I grabbed a change of clothes and headed to the main building. Unfortunately, for some reason, when I got there the power was out, but I was craving cleanliness so much I decided to shower in the semi-dark anyway. Then some guy in knee-length camo shorts and some cryptic heavy metal black T-shirt (the dress code for Maine) with his hairy gut sticking out the bottom waddled in behind me and proceeded to throw a wreaking, groaning dump in the stall next to my shower. That’s pretty much how I now feel about Maine.

That evening after dinner I decided to light a pipe take a walk through the campground. These RV parks are popular everywhere now, but this one took the prize. They actually had named the lanes and one was called Paradise Hill, but was far from Dante’s Paradiso. The Maineiacs like to accessorize their RVs by stringing up LED lights, adding lawn ornaments, a roof, a deck, a bar, and firepit. Someone bombed past me on an ATV with a martini in his hand. Somewhere a baby was screaming relentlessly. As I was marvelling at this paradise, from out of the dark a voice asked “How’s she goin’?” I didn’t answer truthfully.

RV

Day 11

Peggy’s Cove to Fundy National Park

Day 10

At 120 km/hr., Bigbea is buzzing at 5000 rpm. It’s not meant for the Autobaun but the rolling twisties of Bavarian mountain roads. So I usually avoid the freeway. Of the 12 days during my tour, I only devoted myself to the big road twice—once to get through New Brunswick, and this day, because I had somewhere to be by early afternoon.

As I said in an earlier post, I miscalculated (i.e. did not calculate) the distance of my tour so was surprised when I needed to do an oil change en route. The BMW Motorrad (motorcycle) dealership in Nova Scotia has been converted to an auto dealership and services only cars. I think it was someone at advrider.com that suggested Adriaan’s Cycle Service in Moncton, and the comment was they are nice people, willing to chat about bikes. I liked the sound of that so made an appointment for Bigbea for Friday afternoon.

The shop is named after the woman in this mom and pop and son operation. Adriaan handles the phone and invoicing, and it was clear over the phone that she knows her business. “Do you have the filter?” she asked. I was puzzled, but she explained that many riders carry their preferred filter on tour for just such an occasion. When I asked if they carried synthetic oil, now she was puzzled. “You put synthetic in that bike?” She said they don’t carry any synthetic oil. I wasn’t about to launch into my rationale for synthetic over mineral but said that mineral was fine, I would change the oil again at the end of the season, and I’d be interested in hearing their argument against synthetic when there.

After I saw the lighthouse, I left Peggy’s Cove, went back to the campground, packed up, and headed off, following Googlemaps fastest route, which got me into Moncton shortly after 1:00. When I arrived at Adriaan’s, only Adriann was there. She said she knew I was coming because the men had seen me while trailering a bike that had broken down, I guess on the road I came in on. Their workshop was a sight to behold; it was clear this is an old shop that has seen some bikes.

Adriann's

Yes, that’s an R80 on the right, restored and it looked great. Outside were a couple of other 1980’s-era bikes, which turned out to be theirs. Soon pop arrived and when he heard I was in Cape Breton he got out a map—I don’t know how old—and showed me the routes they had taken. They’d ridden Highland Road too, and I suspect at a time when it was even more rugged than it is today. He’s been servicing bikes for over 60 years—20 years with BMW, over 40 with Honda, and if I’m not mistaken, all from this little garage. I knew Bigbea was in good hands so headed off to find some lunch.

When I returned, the son was just putting the crash guard back on and it was time to refill her. Adriann said synthetic would produce clutch slippage and I’d burn out my clutch. She told me about another customer who had been using synthetic and was surprised when they showed him his clutch, which was badly deteriorated and had to be replaced. Now I’d heard about clutch slippage and have discussed the synthetic versus mineral debate at length in a previous post. It’s a complex issue but Adriann simplified it for me: synthetic is too slippery. It seems that slipperiness is not the same as viscosity, which is how thick or thin an oil is, not how well it lubricates. At any rate, they didn’t have any synthetic so mineral it would be.

I also learnt how much oil to put in. There’s a range on the dip stick with a low, a high, and a middle mark. A parts guy at Motointernational had told me to keep it on the low side, that it was better low than high, but Adriann’s son explained that if it’s low, sometimes in hard riding while off-roading, the pick-up can miss and you can get air in the oil. He likes to put an extra .2 L from the middle mark and showed me where on the dipstick. They also discovered I was half a litre low on coolant. I like to do all my own service on the bike but was glad I paid for this one because I learnt some important things about the bike from people much more experienced than me. Sometimes all the reading and research you can do won’t replace experience.

Service

With the job done and the bike reloaded, I headed off toward Fundy National Park. I immediately noticed a difference in the bike. The clutch had been slipping! Perhaps only because I had been on it all day for the past eight days, I immediately noticed a subtle increase in power, as if I’d gained a few ponies. Sure, shifting was not as silky smooth as with the synthetic, but it was more definite, and I suspected I would get less of those annoying false neutrals I sometimes get when tired late into a ride. So for Bigbea here on in, it’s a good quality regular oil every 4,000 K.

The trip down to the park was short, and when I arrived, a sign at the gate said it was full. Good thing I’d made that reservation. It’s a popular campground. My site, however, was not so great. No wonder it was one of the last available. It was narrow, all gravel, and sloping downhill, which meant I had to back the bike downhill about 30 feet to the site.

Funday Campsite

I’d picked up some Talapia and garlic butter in Moncton and it fried up great in the pan. A little rice and even a caesar salad from a bag kit made the best meal I’d had all trip.

Fundy Meal

The only thing it needed was a beer, so I headed down after dinner into Alma and found The Holy Whale Brewery and this porter.

Porter

Next day, the Fundy Coastal Trail back into Maine.

 

 

Marine Drive to Peggy’s Cove

Lighthouse

I left Boylston Provincial Park early and headed south along Highway 16 that hugs the coast and curves west. Given how hot it was the day before, I did not make the same mistake but wore my water and dressed lightly. But this is Nova Scotia, after all, and you never know how to dress. In fact, mist hung along the coast and the air was cool, which on the bike is cold. I was freezing. I stopped in Canso for a coffee and to zip the liner into my jacket and change my gloves. I think I might even have turned the heated hand-grips on.

I doubled back along the 16 then turned left onto the 316 that took me west along the southern coast. The ride was magnificent, with inlets and bays on either side of the road.

 

 

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Sections of Marine Drive carve inland through forested terrain as well, and I was keeping a watch for moose and deer. I took a break at the interpretation centre at Goldboro, where I struck up a conversation with a local who told me the local mine had been bought by a large company and was going to re-open. I can’t remember what kind of mine, but given the name, I guess it was gold. He wasn’t too happy about the prospect of massive trucks rolling past his house at all hours of the day.

Shortly after leaving Goldboro, I turned left onto the 211 and caught a ferry across the inlet. Ferry at Issacsville As I started the bike again when we shored, my gas light came on. I was surprised because I thought I had about another 90 km left in the tank, but then remembered I was off by 50 km. My bike doesn’t have a gas gauge, so I have to keep track of how much gas is left in the tank by using the trip odometer; every time I fill up, I reset it so I know where I’m at. At least, that’s what I always intend to do. For some reason, often I forget this crucial step in the filling process. I don’t know why; it just hasn’t become habit yet. And often there’s a distraction of some sort—the receipt doesn’t print, someone starts asking me questions about the bike, I’m dying to take a piss—and only remember after I’m back on the bike riding. Then I have to reset it while riding, which obviously isn’t ideal.

In this case, it was 50 km into my next segment before I remembered. I made a mental note to add 50 km onto whatever the odometer is reading, then promptly forgot . . . until the gas light came on 50 km “early.” Now I’m in the middle of nowhere running on reserve. I rode for a while but there were no signs that a town was near so I stopped to consult my phone/GPS. Not only was there no gas station, there was no cell service. I was beginning to worry. I had a litre extra on the back of the bike that was good for another 30 km. Then what? I guess start walking.

Just then a guy pulled out of a driveway in his truck. I waved him down and asked where the nearest gas station is. To my relief, I was close. I just had to go a little further, turn left at the T-junction onto Highway 7, and there are two in Sherbrooke. Boy, was I happy to pull into that first station; I’d dodged another gas scare. On this day, I abandoned my goal of finding a nice lunch spot and sat on a public bench at the gas station, de-stressing with my Lunch of Champions.

Lunch spot

The ride in the afternoon was along Highway 7. It really is, as Eat, Sleep, Ride describes, “twisties galore.” But now inland, it was hot, and it got hotter as I neared the end of Marine Drive in Dartmouth. I stopped in Lawrencetown to see the famous beach and, a little further on, the kite-surfers.

Lawrencetown

Kite Surfers

By the time I entered Cole Harbour, thinking of hockey, it was easily 30 degrees Celcius and who-knows-what on the humidex scale, probably upper 30s. Then I hit traffic. Ugh! It was rush hour so I decided to skirt Dartmouth and followed a route that looped over the top through Bedford on the 213 that took me to within 15 minutes of Peggy’s Cove at Wayside Campground.

I’d found Wayside online when I changed my plans at Baddeck and decided to visit Peggy’s Cove. The reviews said it was a campground run by the same family for generations and was very family-oriented. In fact, one reviewer had given it a bad review because his group had apparently been refused a site on the suspicion that they were there to party. (Is that a negative or positive review? I guess it depends on if you like peace and quiet at a campground.) At any rate, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up on my motorcycle. I was greeted at the office by several of said family members sitting on the porch. The manager was super friendly, and as I was filling out the paperwork, her son showed me a photo on his phone of a cousin’s BMW ADV bike (I think it was the 800GS) and told me a story of an aborted trip to Alaska. Seems I would not be refused a site for being a trouble-maker biker, and good thing too because I was hot and exhausted. The manager clearly knew a thing or two herself about bikes because she warned me about the rocky hill to get to some of the tent sites on the plateau.

Remembering my dismount mishap at Deer Island, I made sure to concentrate right until the kickstand is down. Not long after it was, another camper named Walter wandered over from his RV and handed me a cold can of beer. I’d say he must have read my mind, but his knowing my needs actually has a simpler explanation. Turns out he used to ride a Kawasaki KLR 650, so knows every biker’s first thought at the end of a long, hot ride. He was retired military from the Air Force, and he and his wife Barb summer in Nova Scotia.

The next day I woke up early (like, 6 a.m.), and although I planned to leave that day, I decided to drop everything and head to Peggy’s Cove after a quick breakfast. I have to admit, I wasn’t all that drawn to Peggy’s Cove, but thought I should check it out because it was such an iconic tourist spot. I envisioned busloads of tourists crawling over the rocks (if the sea doesn’t wash them off first) and tacky tourist shops filled with plastic replica lighthouses. Thankfully, that vision was entirely wrong! It’s actually a very pretty little fishing village that has been carefully preserved. I did manage to catch the lighthouse before the throngs, and the image above is my proof.

The rest of the village is almost as pretty.

 

 

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The memorial to the passengers of Swissair Flight 111 is also tastefully done. It’s just on the other side of the cove in a quiet spot more suiting to reflection and remembrance. Two disks are placed on end and angled such that if you look down them, one points to Bayswater and the other out to the crash site on the horizon. The three geographical points, including Peggy’s Cove, form a triangle that was instrumental in the investigation as the area covering the debris field.

I’m sure the final moments of those unfortunate passengers were terrifying, but there are few prettier places to leave this Earth in bodily form. I’m glad I went to Peggy’s Cove. My prejudice of it and private campgrounds like Wayside were happily quashed.

Day 9

Next day, Bigbea gets an oil change in Moncton and we head to Fundy National Park.

Goodbye Cape Breton

Great Bras D'Or

Great Bras d’Or Lake overlooking Boularderie Island

One of the nice things about travelling solo is that you can play it by ear, so to speak. My wife likes to have a trip planned out before leaving home, with reservations for each night made weeks in advance. I decided to reserve when needed (i.e. weekends) and keep the week open and flexible. Yeah, the trade-off is that when the sun is setting and you don’t have a place yet to lay your head, it can be stressful.

I had planned to go from Baddeck to Meat Cove, a campground at the eastern tip of Cape Breton. It’s a pretty spectacular place and popular amongst bikers, if only to be able to boast about doing the dirt road required to get there. My wife and I were there with our dog a few years ago. The campsites are literally on the precipice of cliffs overlooking the ocean and we were worried our dog would make a false step and plummet to his death. But when we were there we realized that, as a border collie, he is in his element. Meat Cove is like the true highlands (not that I’ve ever been there)—rugged, raw, and a bit dangerous. Just the type of terrain to herd sheep.

But I digress. I did not return to Meat Cove this time. When I left Montreal, I had 3000 km before I needed an oil change. Surely enough, I thought, to get me there and back. Except it took 3000 km to get to Cape Breton so I started to look for a place that services BMWs. Turns out there are none in Nova Scotia, but a biker forum pointed me to a mom and pop operation in Moncton called Adriann’s, so I decided to start heading that way instead of further east. Besides, I’d already done the Cabot Trail, and going to Meat Cove and back would basically mean riding it again.

First I had to go to Sydney to the nearest Best Buy. The micro-USB cord I use to charge my phone off the bike when riding was acting up. Sydney is a port industry city and a fine place to pass through when picking up a phone cord but I wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, it appears that most places that were built on mining and are now transitioning to something else are not very nice. I picked up Highway 4, the same Old Highway 4 I took to get to Cape Breton, at Sydney and took it back to the causeway. It was hot and I had decided that morning to not use my fuel pack, which was a bad decision. A fuel pack is a 3-litre bag of water you carry on your back either under or over your jacket. There’s a tube you can tuck under the chin of your helmet to sip water all day. It’s great, but 3 litres of water starts to feel like 30 after a several hours, so in the interests of comfort, knowing I had a long day ahead, I packed it instead of wearing it and bundgied a Nalgene to my bags instead. I chose the wrong day to choose comfort over hydration. Lesson learned: I made a note to myself that the discomfort of carrying water is preferable to the pain of a 2-day headache, which is what happens when I get dehydrated. To make matters worse, I suffered my first sleeve bee sting. And the traffic was bad getting off the causeway because the trucks have to be weighed..

But once off, things improved. I turned left at the first junction onto the 344. This is the beginning of Marine Drive, 7 hours of twisties and the best motorcycle route in NS according to Eat, Sleep, Ride. By this time I was looking for a lunch spot, and I pride myself on finding good ones. Heading along the 344, I saw a sign for Port Shoreham Beach Provincial Park and decided to check it out. It led me to another magnificent lunch spot.

Beach

It also provided an opportunity finally to swim a bit in the ocean and cool off. There were even change rooms.

By this time it was getting on in the afternoon, so back at the parking lot, I asked someone if there was a campground nearby. Boy, did I luck out! She used to work for the tourism bureau and recommended “the most beautiful provincial campground in Nova Scotia,” just a little further along the 344 at Boylston. You climb and climb up from the road to a spectacular view of the bay.

Boyston PPSites are administered on an honour system at a whopping $21.60 a night tax included. They are grassy and private and quiet. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stay at Boylston. She then proceeded to tell me where to find a micro-brewery pub with “the best fish and chips in the province.” If I hadn’t already been married, I might have proposed.

With my site chosen and the tent up, I rode into Guysborough to The Rare Bird. The terrace was open out back and it looked out onto the wharf where they have live music. A young man was playing an acoustic version of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” and I couldn’t help thinking, as I sipped my amber ale, I am having the time of my life.

Guysborough

Day 8

Next day: finishing Marine Drive and going to Peggy’s Cove.

Taking the High Road

Quarry

After riding the Cabot Trail, my plan was to stay in the area and explore a network of trails in the interior. My instructor, Emily, at S.M.A.R.T. Riding Adventures in Barrie had lived in Cape Breton for a few years and told me about them. Highland Road is a dirt road that joins the Cabot Trail near Wreck Cove and cuts across the island toward Cheticamp, opening up into a network of trails. There’s no one around for miles and there are no speed limits, little signage, and no asphalt. It’s an off-roader’s paradise.

But such riding should not be done alone. Fortunately, I spotted a 1200GS at the campground and struck up a conversation with the owner, Yannick. He is from Sherbrooke and was travelling with his wife and daughter with the bike in the back of their pick-up. It was a stroke of good luck! I don’t know whose second-language was worse but we managed. He decided to change his plans to ride the Cabot Trail that day in order to ride with me instead. His wife and daughter took a boat cruise in a tall-ship that was in port and Yannick and I headed off into the bush.

It took some sleuthing to find Highland Road and when we did, it was closed at the entrance due to some construction. Yannick used his Garmin Montana, an off-roading GPS that shows trails and topographical maps, to find a way around the construction and soon we were blasting along a gravel road . . . until we hit deep gravel. I almost lost the bike! We decided to stop and let air out of our tires. Looking up at the mountain before me and thinking of the recent near-accident, I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the riding ahead. But Yannick reminded me of a few basics that proved to be extremely helpful:

  • Don’t hesitate. If you hesitate and brake, you fall.
  • Braking off-road is opposite to on-road. Instead of 80/20 front/rear, it’s more like 20/80.

Once we headed off again, I immediately noticed a huge difference with the lower tire pressure. I no longer felt like I was riding on ball-bearings. The back end was squirmy, but the front held its line. I also found myself drawing on my training at S.M.A.R.T. earlier in the summer: peg-weighting to turn; squeeze the tank with your thighs; counterbalance on turns; feather the clutch (2 fingers) to regulate speed. But above all, I kept reminding myself of the rear braking lest muscle memory get the better of me.

By the time we made our first stop I was feeling more confident. Credit to Yannick for letting me go first and determine the pace. He took a lot of dust and stones for that! We discovered the reservoir for the area. There were some signs of warning, but thankfully everywhere was accessible. The network of trails was ours to explore.

Reservoir

We decided to take a side road that we thought led back to the reservoir; we were looking for a nice lunch spot. But the road narrowed and narrowed, and got gnarlier and gnarlier, until it was a single-track ATV trail that challenged even our GS’s. I was going super slow over these huge rocks and bumps, feathering the clutch in first gear, but I still hit the skid plate several times on large rocks that jutted from the earth. It led to a rocky hill climb that took us to the precipice of a quarry. This is why the instructors at S.M.A.R.T. had said you coast to the top of a hill: you don’t know what’s on the other side. In this case, it was a 100-foot drop!

We had found our lunch spot and photo-op.

Bigbea and meYannick

After lunch we had 37 kilometres of dirt road to cover to complete the loop back to the Cabot Trail. We were cruising at 80 km/hr but in the straights sometimes hit 100. The Metezler Tourances, which Yannick had too, were fine for this sort of riding. My confidence was growing but I reminded myself not to get over-confident and make a mistake. In some of the curves, at 60 km/hr., I swear the back end was sliding out. I was getting the hang of this! Then to make sure I didn’t get too cocky, Yannick blasted by me on his 1200GS, spitting stones and leaving me literally in his dust.

Still, I was doing what I’d been preparing to do for the past year and what had been my ultimate goal for this tour: off-roading in Cape Breton. The winter reading, the training with Jimmy Lewis at Dirt Daze, the full-day course with S.M.A.R.T., the practice at a local sand pit and, not insignificantly, the investment in off-road gear, all culminated in this day of off-roading. It was even more exciting than the Cabot Trail and I wrote that evening in my journal that this trip just gets better and better.

GSsBreak

Next up, the Marine Drive to Peggy’s Cove.