The Last Ride of the Honda Shadow
by Tom Serine

The Planning Stages
It was during the summer of 2011 that I was thinking of taking the Shadow on a final big run for 2012. At first, I wanted to take it back to Deadhorse, Alaska like I did in 2008. The basic premise being I wanted to see if the bike would make it again, despite having twice the milage on it. But people that knew about my last Alaska trip were asking why I was going to the same place. Then I remembered in 2009 on the ferry to Newfoundland, a guy asked me if I was planning on taking a ride through the Translab. At the time, I didn’t even know what the Translab was. I discovered the Translab was short for the Trans-Labrador Highway. It’s a mostly gravel highway that goes from Blanc Sablon, Quebec; through Labrador, Nova Scotia; and ends in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. The total distance is over a 1000 miles. A plan was coming together. I did a quick calculation of the miles going to Newfoundland, taking the Translab; heading northwest to Alaska; and coming back to North Carolina; the total milage was approximately 15,000. It would take over 30 days of travel. It was time to ask for a vacation.
   

When I requested vacation time that would last from late July through Labor Day weekend, my manager looked at me and asked, “What bike trip are you doing this year, Tom?” I had to ask special permission for this vacation because of the length of time, meaning that for my vacation to be approved, it needed to be signed off from the top. I put together a memo of why I needed this many days off; where I was going, and basically pleaded my case. After several weeks, my request moved up the chain and it was approved by the head manager. I think it helped that he was transferring to another regional office so maybe he was in a hurry to get stuff done before he left. With my vacation approved in the early spring, there was no turning back. I started planning my route and making a list of everything I wanted to take. I made of list of every piece of equipment, tool, clothing, all the way down to a book of matches. It was very extensive and I found myself wondering if I would be able to fit everything on my motorcycle. The second task was putting the route together. When I plan my travel routes, I usually do not make reservations for places to stay. I knew in the United States I could travel longer distances than I could in Newfoundland and Alaska. For most of the entire Canadian route, it would be mostly two lane highways. I would be going through many towns and cities which I was actually excited about instead of just doing the interstate thing all day. There were also people I knew that would allow me to stay with them (but not for too many days). I had family in New Jersey; as well as friends in Alaska, Seattle, and South Dakota. There was also bike maintenance that would need to be done at some point on the trip. I could change the oil and spark plugs myself. But with the miles and terrain I was going on, there was a good chance it would be a lot more and I needed to be ready for that. I know I would need a new tire and possibly a new chain and sprocket. I looked in the Yahoo Yellow Pages first for a mechanic in Fairbanks, AK. But the ones I talked to either only dealt with dual sports or ATVs and would not be able to take a reservation to work on my bike. I was trying to time it so that I had everything lined up when I arrived. I couldn’t make repair reservations in Anchorage either. I knew the bike would have over 10,000 miles on it by the time I went to Deadhorse. The Metzler tires I usually run for long trips would be good for that distance but I wasn’t sure about the chain. I decided to take my chances and try to make it the additional 2000 miles to Seattle where I found a mechanic I could set up an appointment with. I ordered a tire through them. My old chain and sprocket I currently had was only 5,000 miles old. I was going to send it to the Seattle mechanic to put on the bike when I arrived. This was to save some money on purchasing a new one based on the fact that I was going to sale the bike when I returned. I was told by the mechanic in Seattle that this was okay to do.
There are two ferries you can take to Newfoundland. One will take you to Port Aus Baux which is about 7 hours and you land in the west part of the province. I had taken the ride before in 2009 and it wasn’t that bad. The other takes 14 hours and goes to Argentia. This is closer to the east part of the province. I decided to take the 14 hour ferry since there were parts of Newfoundland I had not seen and this would be a good way to do that. Since I was trying to save money, I elected to not reserve a cabin.
With all of this put together by May, I felt I was good to go. I would depart the middle of July and come back late August before the Labor Day weekend. Just a matter of tying some loose ends. I was in the process of finalizing my route at home when the movie “Into the Wild” came on. For those of you not familiar with the movie or story it’s about Chris McCandless. A young college graduate who in the early nineties, hitch hiked to Healy, Alaska. Meeting people along the way and surviving on his own. What I found fascinating about the film and the book was the bus that Chris McCandless stayed in for several months just outside of Denali National Forest. That bus is still there. Being that my trip to Alaska was essentially the same route I took in 2008, I thought I needed to hike to see that bus. Simply riding a motorcycle 15,000 miles just wasn’t enough. I did my research and discovered the bus is off of the Stampede Trail. A hike that would take 20 miles through the Alaskan wilderness. Being that it isn’t located in Denali National Forest, there are no signs to follow. Just a trail with no guides. Though not hilly or mountainous, there were many creek and two river crossings. One being the Teklaneka river. A very rapid river which you may or may not be able to cross depending on the time of year and how high it is. This was also the river that prevented Chris from heading back to civilization and one of the reasons he starved to death on that bus. Although I have ridden thousands of miles on my motorcycle, I’ve never hiked more than maybe 7 miles my entire life. 10 years ago, I could run 10 miles in a day but that was 10 years ago. I’m in good shape and do workout still but nothing of a long distance endurance type. I did find a forum about the Stampede Trail and what you need to prepare for. I signed up and posted about possibly hiking it and what was the best time of year to do it. I admitted I was a novice at this. Of course, the first response was the “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” type. Which I hate. So, after that response. I felt that I really needed to do this hike. Being that I had friends in Palmer, AK (about 4 hours South of Healy). I could mail any items there. Richard and Debra were more than gracious to let me stay with them and even better. They said I could borrow their truck to drive up there and do the hike. That way, I could leave the bike at their place and it would be one less thing to worry about. I gathered the items I needed for the hike to include a first aid kit, four pairs of socks, good hiking boots, and a rain poncho. Richard said he would loan me his gun and I was also going to purchase bear spray when I got there (I would be in bear country). Along with planning my trip, I also started hiking on the weekends. I found a good trail a few miles from me that was over 20 miles long. I purchased a new pair of hiking boots and I purchased a backpack and hiking pole from Ebay. For the months of May, June, and early July. I was spending my weekends hiking. First starting slow with 5 miles then increasing it to 10. Eventually, I was able to hike 20 miles in what took about 10 hours. I was sore as heck in my legs and feet. But I felt confident that if I could hike 20 miles here in the heat of North Carolina then I could do it in Alaska. I was concerned about encountering a bear. However, there had been no attacks in that area on record. Of course there have been bear attacks throughout Alaska. Which always make the news just as much as shark attacks do. I had also lived on the beach half my life but the occasional shark attack never stopped me from going swimming. Something I was trying to relate to my folks about my hike. They still didn’t like the idea of what I was doing. I was most worried about crossing the Tek river. People had died trying to cross it. On a whim, I called a bed and breakfast near the start of the trail and had a nice conversation with a man named John who took the time to tell me about the hike and to be ready for the river. He recommended waiting until late August to early September when fall is approaching. The weather is cooler and there isn’t as much of a snow melt that causes the river to rise. He also told me to be very careful on crossing that river. He said if the water gets above your waist, don’t try to go across. There are plenty of Youtube videos of people crossing the Tek; even by ATV and they didn’t make it. That’s how powerful it is. The bike trip alone was going to be an adventure. But finding this bus was really pushing things. I decided to adjust my days to take off near the end of July and come back after Labor Day. That way, I would be hiking the third week of August. Hopefully late enough that I could complete it.
I had finalized my plans with all of the people I was going to stay with. Every other day of travel I would either camp or get a motel. I mailed my hiking gear and extra bike stuff to Alaska in early July. My dates were set, the bike was packed about as well as I was going to get it (it was still loaded). It went to the shop for a full work up including new tires, brake pads, chain, sprocket, and an engine and control check. I purchased a netbook to bring with me on the trip to download any pictures and to post on Facebook. Copies were made of my passport, driver’s license, medical card, credit cards, bank card, and registration. One set of copies were stored on the bike, the other given to my sister for holding in a sealed envelope. I brought $1000 in cash which I had taped around my lower shin inside my boot in a small money holder. The night before I left I washed the bike and did a final inventory. The bike had 155,709 miles on it when I departed the morning of July 27.
July 27, 2012: Off to Jersey
I was still in a hurry the night before packing and rechecking my lists. Trying my darnest to simplify the best I could. The bike shop finished the work just a week before so the only road testing done was just to and from work. It seemed to handle okay but the bike would jump when I cold started it with the clutch in. I never had that happen before. They assured me it was common with new clutch plates and to simply start it in neutral. The plan was to leave no later than 7 in the morning but I didn’t wake up until 7. Already starting late. I hurriedly spent the next two hours figuring out how to pack my bike. Despite several practice packs before, it was still a problem. This would turn out to be a real chore every morning for the next month. It was already humid out and there I was in my driveway sweating, pulling bungees tight and trying to make sure everything was secure. My final decision was not to bring the sleeping pad. The bike was just too loaded. I left at nine. Aired my rear tire to 40 PSI with the added weight and after refueling, I was ready to go. At the gas station the attendant could see my heavily packed bike and inquired about my travel. When she asked me where I came from I said “about a mile down the road.” Looks like the fun was already starting. Although hot, it was a beautiful day. Back in 2009, I vowed to not take interstate 95 to Jersey if I could avoid it. I had no trouble riding through the cities of DC and Baltimore but the traffic was a pain and it was always stop and go literally all the way from Richmond to the Jersey turnpike. It was just a little longer but much more scenic to simply take Interstate 81 up to the Pennsylvania turnpike into Jersey. The bike ran good this first day. The only trouble I had was trying to stay awake through North Virginia. And after my head dropped while going 70 mph it was time to refuel and get something to drink with caffeine. I ride year around but I don’t average 10 hour days. It takes some time for the body and mind to adjust. The traffic picked up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as the interstate went to 5 lanes heading just south of Philadelphia. It was just after 5 so prime rush hour but moving. I refueled one last time at a rest stop and from there it was just over a 100 miles to Asbury Park. Of course, I hit more traffic on the Jersey TP but I slowly pushed through and soon I was getting off the interstate onto the “Shore Points.” exit. I arrived at my Aunt Di’s just after 7. Around a 10 hour ride for the first day. Her husband Tom was there and my other Aunt Joy came over later with Uncle Bobby. I had not seen them in several years so it was nice to have dinner and a cold beer with my Jersey family. This was day one of many to come and it started out good. I knew I would have good riding days and bad riding days. I hoped they were all good riding days. .
I stayed Saturday and spent most it relaxing and watching the Met’s baseball game with Aunt Di and Uncle Tom. I was suppose to go with Tom to his son’s birthday but it was raining and he didn’t want to go. Which was fine with me. We ended up getting beer and watching baseball. Aunt Joy works for the local police as a dispatcher and was doing a late shift. My Uncle Bobby was recovering from a leg infection that had very much drained him of energy so he was resting. Once Aunt Joy was off work, I went to her house and stayed there. They only live 5 blocks from each other. I was also able to do my laundry. Granted, it was only a couple of days worth but I wouldn’t know the next time I was going to do it again. My clothing consisted of 6 pairs of socks and underwear, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, four T shirts, one long sleeve thermal shirt, and four bandanas (On this trip, I discovered I didn’t need all of that clothing).
July 29, 2012: Destination Maine
In order to catch the ferry departing for Newfoundland Monday evening, I had to leave on Sunday for Maine. The plan was to make it close to the Canadian border and either camp or cheap motel it somewhere off of 95. I was already off to a late start sleeping until 7 and after showering, packing, checking, saying goodbyes, and refueling, it was 9. Joy was up already and made me three sandwiches for my trip. That was so nice of her. It was one less purchase I needed to make while I traveled and her food was much better than anything I would buy at a gas station. Luckily, being that it was Sunday. The Garden State Parkway wasn’t very crowded. Despite it being four lanes, it’s a very nice, clean, and well made highway. The toll booths are a pain. Some years ago, you would drive 10 to 20 miles, pay 50 cents, drive another 10 miles, pay another 50 cents. They streamlined it where you could drive 50 miles and pay $1.50. As a motorcycle rider, toll booths are not fun. Mainly because I must stop, put the bike in neutral, and duck walk it to where I need to drop off my change or pay the toll person. I have a waist pack (I can’t say fanny) that I hide under my shirt which holds any small change and bills I have. I then have to get that out and pay hoping I grabbed enough and didn’t drop anything. Many times I’ve dropped quarters and maybe a dollar here or there that I didn’t screw with picking up because it’s just not worth it. Instead of heading into the heart of New York City (a place I’ve ridden though before) I stayed on the GSP through Newark across the border into New York. I then took a right going over the Tapan Zee Bridge (one of my favorite bridges) which connects back with 95 toward Connecticut. As I neared Bridgeport, I was having trouble looking out my right mirror because my bags were starting to lean over. This is where I do the “hey, I’m going 70 mph in heavy traffic lets see if I can push the bags back with my right hand and the throttle lock on.” It never works and it’s not safe. I don’t know why I even try it. I needed to refuel so I took an exit and refueled at a small gas station and ate one of my sandwiches with a Gatorade. Then, I could rearrange my stack. While refueling, a guy in a truck just looked at me and said “good luck.” I took it as a compliment. After doing some rearranging and adding some additional bungee (you can never have enough), I noticed it was looking like rain so I put on the gear. As you head north, you can bypass 95 and get on interstate 84 to 90 which takes you through more of the country part of Massachusetts before connecting with 95 again into New Hampshire. I was lucky to avoid the rain for most of the trip before hitting Maine where a light shower began. I arrived at the rest stop where a guy asked if I was on vacation. I told him what I was doing and he just looked at me and said in a his thick northern accent “I really hate ya.” He was being complimentary. The rain was steady heading through Portland but I could see okay and the traffic wasn’t heavy. It cleared up right before Bangor and that was good enough for me. If I had left a couple of hours earlier, I would have tried to go further near the border. But I was tired and I knew the ferry was a little over 10 hours away. I could make that in a day. I planned on staying at the Motel 6 I saw. As soon as I parked, a young man walked out scratching a lot and started asking me if I was staying here tonight. I looked at him and said, “Maybe?” and then proceeded to look at my GPS for other motels nearby. He started going into a diatribe about how his car was broken, he lost his wallet, he didn’t have any money, etc... with every other word being an “F” bomb. Either the guy was crazy or he was on meth. Without looking up I said I couldn’t help him and got on my bike. I checked two other motels before finding one that had a good deal and it was right next to three guys from Halifax, Nova Scotia riding their Honda tourers. The first thing they did was offer me a beer. I was their friend for life. I proceeded to unload the bike and then go and get something to eat and some beer for myself. Came back and chatted with my new friends just discussing traveling by motorcycle and why we do it. They were all older guys with wives and kids and this was something the three of them planned every year. It’s great to have life long friends like that you can hang with. I downloaded my pictures on the netbook and posted some on Facebook. I was going to try and maintain a traveling diary on it. I then wrote in my journal about the day, before going to bed around midnight. This was going to be my pattern for over a month.
July 30, 2012: The First Canadian Crossing
As usual, I wanted to get up early but didn’t get up until 8. My Canadian brothers stayed up for awhile. Even though I went to bed at midnight, I could still hear them talking. Maybe when they’re at home with the wives, they all go to bed at 10 or something. They even woke me up briefly at 3.

I knew in Canada I wouldn’t be able to make any calls so I called the folks just to let them know and I would try to send them messages when I get the chance. By the time I got done packing, it was 9. I had a 10 hour drive in front of me and I would lose an hour going into Atlantic time. Not to mention a border crossing that could cause more delays. The ferry was leaving after midnight but I needed to be there by 1030 that evening. I started off going the wrong way when the GPS was taking me to Bar Harbor, Maine to catch a ferry to Nova Scotia. I realized it after only a few miles and proceeded to turn around and then catch 95 North. I will say that interstate 95 north of Bangor is the only part of this interstate that I enjoy. There is no traffic. It’s just woods and more woods on either side of the highway through very small towns. The weather was a nice 70 degrees. However, my drive wasn’t going to be so leisurely and I felt pressured to keep going without having the time to stop and take photos. Crossing the border was somewhat of a pain (not surprising). They had one border agent about 10 yards in front of the booth who looked at my passport and asked me the basic questions: Destination? Where are you from? Etc.. I thought, “OK, good to go.” But then I got to the booth and there was another agent who asked me the exact same questions. I had never seen that from my previous border crossings. I wanted to ask them what was the deal but one thing I learned about crossing the border. Only answer questions asked and don’t ask questions yourself. And even though I work for the federal government. It doesn’t quicken the border crossing process. I stopped and refueled after 50 miles in Canada and met some people from New York riding their cruisers. One of them was happy to point out that I had more crap with me then one of their friends....awesome. I was able to find a bank and turned 500 bucks in American to Canadian which was $480 or so with a ten dollar trade fee. That was an adventure in itself as I parked the bike, walked into the bank. And proceeded to sit on the floor in a corner, take my boot off, untape my money holder around my shin and get the cash out. I then put the boot back on. Waited in line. Got my Canadian cash. Got back to same said area, take the boot off, taped the cash money holder back around leg. Put the boot back on and left. From that point on, I was stopping only for gas. The highway was good and I could go 70 no problem. Looking for gas, my GPS took me to a station that looked like it had been closed for five years. I hate when it does that. I was able to locate one 10 miles down the road. From there I had a panic moment when, after refueling, and back on the highway, I couldn’t locate my wallet. I immediately pulled over to the side of the gravel shoulder just a few feet from the highway. I felt around and remembered I put it in the front of my jacket. That gave me a near heart attack and woke me up for the rest of the ride. The last 100 miles are scenic through small towns, rivers, and lakes. But because of my laziness in leaving late. It was getting dark. I was hungry and needed to get to my destination. I don’t like being in this frame of mind because you get inpatient, take chances, and get frustrated for something as simple as stopping at a red light. It can just lead to careless mistakes that you otherwise wouldn’t have made. I finally made it to Port Sydney. It was 9 and dark and there was a line to the ferry terminal. I slowly crawled the bike through and picked up my ferry pass. I was tired, sunburnt, and a little scatterbrained.

I parked the motorcycle in the front with the collection of other bikes there (motorcycles can go first). It appeared I was the only one from the US. I met a couple on a Goldwing from Quebec that could barely speak English. They complimented my packing job and the fact I was from North Carolina. Which they knew where it was. After getting a couple of sandwiches and some sodas I was full of energy and able to hang outside on a beautiful night talking to other Canadians about trip plans and where they were going. Everybody was so friendly. I also realized I was slowly jinxing the bike discussing how it had over 160,000 miles (although I told them 300,000 in Kilometers; it was a guess but I think I was close) and no engine repair. Within an hour, tickets were scanned and we proceeded to board the big ferry where I would be spending the next 14 to 16 hours on. I remembered how to strap the bike down to prevent it from rocking and even helped out another biker unfamiliar with the process. Because I didn’t get a cabin, I proceeded to the bar area where to my horror, it was not open. I just wanted one beer to relax with. I brought up my tank bag and my carrier bag containing my GPS, netbook, and other personable items. The area where the vehicles are kept is locked but these were all items I didn’t want to get stolen. I was able to use the wifi to post some pics and check out emails. I had to use the restroom so I carried all of my stuff with me there. Even though I was only gone for 10 minutes, it was enough time for another person to take my couch. I found another one close to the middle. Making a pillow with my bag and using my jacket as a blanket. As the ferry departed, I eventually was able to sleep by 2 am listening to the man snoring on the other side of me and the three young people talking and listening to music. The ear plugs I wore on my bike helped some. Next stop, Argentia, Newfoundland.
July 31, 2012: The Longest Ferry Ride Ever
Although the ride was very smooth, I was only able to get 6 hours of sleep before the breakfast crowd arrived and woke me up. Eventually, I was wide awake and no longer able to get on my computer since the wifi hook-up was back at the Sydney port. The schedule was showing the ferry to arrive around 4 in the afternoon. After getting a small snack and an orange juice at the bar, I went outside to get some fresh air. It was cool and cloudy but felt good. But I wasn’t in the best of moods. I hadn’t slept well and hadn’t taken a shower since Monday morning. I hadn’t even changed clothes or taken my boots off. I had been in a continuos state of travel for 24 hours and I so badly wanted to get off that ferry and get on the road. All you can do is just sit there and wait. Eventually, an acoustic guitarist came and starting singing some songs of Newfoundland that dealt with fishing, fishing, more fishing, and women. I think if you played the music backward, you’d get your fish back. There was one part where the singer started naming Canadian provinces to see where everybody was from. I think he named every province but didn’t ask if there was anyone from the US. Even if he did ask, I wouldn’t have spoken up. I hate being put on the spot. I embarrass easily. I was able to meet up with one of the other bikers and we spent the next couple of hours discussing trips, plans, types of bikes, etc. Despite all of my travels, I’m always amazed about how little I know. Finally, we get the call to go downstairs and board our bikes. I didn’t have time to tie my bag down so I balanced it on my lap against the tank bag as we rolled out to a cloudy windy day in Newfoundland. I went a couple of hundred yards down to the “Welcome to the Newfoundland Labrador” sign to repack my gear, lubricate my chain, and check my oil. I also put on some warmer gear since it was in the low 60s. In that 20 minute time frame, the biker couple from Quebec honked and waved at me as the rode by and 3 different cars stopped to see if I needed any help. The people of Newfoundland are just great. By the time I left, it was close to 5.
The plan was to get to the other side of Grand Falls-Windsor but that was 5 hours and I was not going to be driving into the night in a province known for its abundance of cars hitting moose. Gander, was three hours away so that was my goal for the evening. I was tired and in need of a hot bath and meal. It started slow as I was still hitting ferry traffic for the next 20 miles along with some construction. Once I got onto the Trans Canadian Highway it was much smoother with four lanes most of the way. The bike was running okay. It didn’t like fighting the wind and it was running somewhat rough. With the miles it had on it, every time it did something odd, I would get a little more paranoid. I made it to Gander around 8. Not in the mood to camp and it was late. There are only 5 motels in Gander so your choices are limited. I looked for the cheapest one which was still 90 bucks. The room was on the second floor and there was no elevator so off I go back and forth up the stairs with all of my stuff. I think I took five trips. They were nice enough to let me park the bike on the front porch area instead of in the back. There was a bar in the hotel that also served food but there was no one in there. It did look nice and it was made in a way that I think in the 80s, this was the place to hangout. Now, it was just an empty shell. I decided to stretch my legs and walk to another restaurant for a burger and some Molson beer. That first draft beer in a frosty mug after a long day is always the best. Now that I was full, I went back to the hotel and checked my messages on the netbook. I had one message from the shop in Seattle explaining that they couldn’t put a used chain and sprocket on the bike only a new one. I found that a little odd since I was told they could. I explained in my reply I was doing it this way because I was planning on selling the bike when I got back and didn’t want to have spend the money on a brand new chain and sprocket that would only have had a few thousand miles on it. I couldn’t call them so I just had to wait for their reply. It would still be a month before I would be there. Plenty of time to figure things out. I finally took a warm shower and was able to get to bed around midnight. I had to head west and then north up the peninsula to St. Barbe the next day. I wanted to get up early and catch the last ferry of the day.
August 1, 2012; Off to Sant Barbe
On this first day of August I slept until 9. Apparently, the previous 48 hours had really taken a tole. I hurriedly packed making my five trips up and down the stairs again but still didn’t leave until almost 11. So much for trying to making it to St. Barbe in time enough to catch that ferry. But I wasn’t too worried about it because there was another ferry that left the next morning at 8. My only hope was that it wasn’t sold out since I didn’t make any reservations.
The morning was beautiful and I found myself cruising along through the center of the province on a nice 75 degree day. The bike ran well although I was little disturbed by the amount of oil it had consumed. I had some extra with me and put in a half quart but if it was using this much for the trip, I would need to purchase more. As I turned North up the peninsula, I enjoyed going through the small fishing villages and gazing down at the Atlantic ocean 50 feet below. I also found a Napa autoparts store and purchased another container of oil. And just like that, I arrived in St. Barbe in seven and a half hours. The ferry terminal was closed but opened up at 6. There was a lodging place but it was $100 to get a room. A campsite was right across the street that the town owned and it was $20. Time to camp with the cheap tent I got off Ebay. The place was mostly for RV travelers but I was able to get a corner lot. It was fenced in to protect from bears and moose. I didn’t think bears were that abundant in this area but I guess they were. And there were no fires allowed. There was an RV convention going on and I was the only tent. I met a number of people traveling from the US that were all polite and fun to talk to. I even met one couple from Durham. I purchased a 6 pack of beer and two small pizza dinners from the little store across the street. I was able to cook, do my laundry, and hook up my netbook on the Wifi. Guess you could say I was “roughing it.” I could only get one radio station on my portable radio. The radio I purchased was suppose to be powerful to get all kinds of stations. I’m guessing there is only one radio station in Newfoundland as I listened to research studies on baby speech. After a shower (where the water would get extremely hot every time a toilet was flushed in the restrooms. I went to bed in my small tent barely able to stretch my body (I’m only 5'8"). Tomorrow, I needed to wake up early to get to the terminal at 6 and get on that ferry.
August 2, 2012: The Lone Traveler Gains Two Partners
My first night in the tent was uncomfortable. It was windy and I woke up several times through the night wondering if my tent would collapse and blow away. It was on top of grass but with no pad (remember, I decided to leave it) I woke up sore and stiff. Not to mention the dew would gather on the inside and rub against my shaved head. At least that woke me up. Nevertheless, I still slept until after 6. Since I slept in my clothes, I simply got up and walked the 50 yards to the ferry terminal to get my ticket. There was already a line and I waited another 15 minutes. The total was $25, Canadian cash only. After that, I was told to report to the ferry down the road by 730. It was 645. I rushed back and even though I was averaging an hour and half packing, I was done in less than 30 minutes. I would say it wasn’t my best pack job but everything was there including a badly rolled tent and sleeping bag. I hopped on, got it started and made it down right at 730 where I proceeded to wait for another 45 minutes.
Alas, my delay to leave in the morning turned into a great blessing. On this lovely sunny morning waiting for the ferry to arrive I met two people I would get to know very well the next four days. John from Oklahoma and Brian from Ohio. Both of these men met each other the night before on the other ferry that goes to Port Aus Baux. John drove a 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650. It was a nice looking dual sport bike with all the custom work designed by himself. He was a man in his early sixties, a retired mechanic and pilot with a thorough knowledge of motorcycles and engine components. Brian was a younger person in his late 40s who was a professional welder and motorcycle mechanic hobbyist. He was driving a 1991 Kawasaki Ninja he had for over 20 years and modified it with an extra 5 gallon gas tank and panniers. I was amazed at the bike he had and what he was doing with it. More than mine (although mine had about 40,000 more miles on it). Just talking to them briefly I could tell they knew there stuff. It started with the usual questions about where we were from, how long have we been riding, jobs, etc... When they asked me where I was going, my plan was to take the ferry over to Blanc Sablon and get on the Translab at Red Bay, take the Translab to Port Hope Simpson, and find a place to stay there. They both told me they were going another 64 miles past that to Cartwright, a small town along the northeast coast of Labrador. They were kind enough to invite me along. These two guys had been riding for 30 plus years and it may be a good idea to go with them for this part of the trip and see how things go. And it was good to have riding partners on a road known to be dangerous. Of course they enjoyed making fun of all the stuff I brought and I’ll never forget the look they gave me when I told them I watched a video on fixing a flat so I should know how to do it. Yeah right. As we boarded the ferry, the weather was very calm and we enjoyed a nice two hour ride to Blanc Sablon. A two hour ferry ride I can do. I was able to grab a small breakfast and Brian explained to me the mechanics of jetting an engine in high altitude. The talk was about five minutes but I went into another world right after he stated “this is how you jet an engine.” I don’t know if I have ADHD but my mind really does just wonder sometimes. Looks I needed to be focused cause I was going to learn a lot in the next few days.

We arrived in Blanc Sablon and John had actually planned on just riding to Red Bay with us and turning around. Brian had been pressuring John to take the Translab with himself since the previous night and with me coming along, maybe we could both get him to go. John did have the most ideal bike for the trip. The road was good for the first 50 miles to Red Bay. We arrived within an hour and stopped at the exit for the Translab. Which turned to gravel. And when I mean gravel. It was some deep gravel with potholes. I knew from there this was going to be a long day. Sure enough, John told us he had to come along cause he couldn’t pass this adventure up. I was very grateful. So off we started.....very slowly. The Translab highway is gravel and the road itself is 5 to 10 feet above the ground. When they made the road, they packed piles of sand on top; installed drain pipes, and then covered the top with gravel. It reminded me of a longer version of my driveway. The road was long and straight between small wooded areas, rivers, ponds, streams, and the occasional lake. For the first 25 miles, I couldn’t keep the bike past 3rd gear as I bounced around and felt apprehensive about even attempting to go any faster. With just street tires and a low clearance, the Honda Shadow was not the best to take on this road. But I felt I could do it. It would just take awhile. John was fairing better on his KLR but Brian had no problem keeping up on his Ninja. We would make constant stops for pictures and started developing a routine of regrouping every 50 miles or so. Most of the time, they were waiting on me. We still had 160 miles to go and although the scenery was beautiful. It would take us all day. Luckily the weather cooperated and we stopped many times for photos. I had a bad habit of putting my feet out like a young boy riding his bicycle through a mud puddle every time the bike got a little squirrely. This is actually the opposite you want to do as Brian explained that you should speed up and keep your legs in against the bike when you get out of control. So, at least I had something to practice the rest of the day. I got a little more confident but still wouldn’t take the bike above 35. Meanwhile, John and Brian were starting to ride by me and then wait...and wait...and wait. I was thankful those guys were there. They could have just said, “Hey, we’re just gonna keep going and when you get there we’ll be staying at this place, just come find us.” But they didn’t. They were awesome guys. We made it to Port Hope Simpson, and my face was covered with a combination of sunscreen, sunburn, and dust. We got fuel at the one store and some food and had another 100 miles to go. I already had enough for the day but I did say I was going with them and we continued. Along the way, a car coming from the opposite direction at a high rate of speed (the limit is 65 kilometers) kicked up a rock landing perfectly on my windshield hard enough to crack it. I was upset but it could have been my face or headlight. And I told myself, “if this is the worse thing that happens on this entire ride, I’ll be fine.” Man, if I only knew. By the time we made it to Cartwright, I was beat. The constant riding on gravel, bouncing around, down and up shifting, stopping to make sure nothing was falling off my bike, and basically trying to stay upright; had really taken a toll on my day.
Cartwright is a very small town, there was not even pavement there. We found ourselves driving the gravel roads throughout the town for the next several miles asking directions on were to stay and eat.. We ended up just circling back to the motel and gas station we passed when we arrived into town. This turned out good because there was a restaurant there and for 40 bucks a piece, we had our own rooms normally used for the construction people. The showers and restrooms were public. Nobody else was staying there except us. We went to the restaurant where I proceeded to inhale a triple cheese burger and four beers. It was great. I looked the bike over, lubed the chain and checked the oil. Besides the crack. My ear plugs were torn but I had a spare. All was good. When darkness fell, I went outside with a cigar and tried to take pictures of the four owls I saw all around us. But the flash on my camera couldn’t reach them. The mosquitoes are bad in Labrador but they didn’t bother me as much as they did John. Brian was already asleep and soon John went to bed. It was only 10. I wrote in my journal and downloaded my photos on my netbook (no wifi) as I watched the summer olympics on the little 13 inch TV the room had. I was also able to do a load of laundry. I went to bed at midnight. Tomorrow was going to be an even tougher day. I couldn’t recall the last time I missed pavement so much.
August 3, 2012: 230 Miles of Gravel to Happy Valley-Goose Bay
Before I went to bed I was thirsty and the only glass I could find in the bathroom was a glass that looked like it had once held detergent. After a couple of rinses in cold water I though it was fine and had a few glasses of water from the bathroom faucet before hitting the sack. Either I didn’t clean it or the water was bad and I found myself getting up three times in the night to use the restroom. I was worried I would wake the guys up with my numerous bathroom trips. I’m glad we weren’t all in the same room for the first night. They may not have wanted to me to ride with them any longer. I finally felt better at five just in time to turn around and get up at 6. This was way early for me but it was the time we all agreed upon and both Brian and John were early risers. They went for breakfast while I went ahead and started packing. I usually don’t eat breakfast but I should have this morning since we wouldn’t be seeing anything until we arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay (seven hours away). By the time they were done with breakfast, it was time to go and I was done packing (they could pack and unload in one trip). We left at 730 for the all day ride of gravel.
The day was nice and with the ride yesterday, I had more confidence in my abilities, but it was still going to be slow. About 50 miles in, a bird flew across and hit my helmet. When we stopped for photos, Brian asked if I saw that bird on the side of the road that looked hurt and was trying to fly. Great, I’m killing wildlife now and destroying the ecosystem of Labrador. I was still cautious and had my close calls where the bike would weave but nothing serious; trying very hard to not hold my feet out. It was the curves that got to me because I didn’t feel confident in my lean with the fear of myself sliding. Even though I was going only 30 mph, it would still hurt. After 150 miles I stopped and refueled with my portable gas cans. The Rotopox gas containers I purchased worked great for this trip. I was able to put two on the back of the bike that held a total of four gallons of fuel. And they took up the same amount of space that a portable two gallon tank would. I was amazed how all of the stuff I packed would stay on despite bouncing along. John said my stuff always looked like it would fall at any minute but it would just lean to the right and not go any further. I know cause I could always see it all in my right mirror. John also had extra fuel just in case even though his gas tank was over 5 gallons and Brian had a total of 10 gallons or more in his modified bike, so he didn’t need to refuel at all.
With about 20 miles to go before getting into Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the road actually became smoother and I found myself taking the bike to 60 mph. I felt like I was on the interstate. Finally, on the other side of the bridge we found pavement. Hooray! We all parked are bikes and posed with the road behind us like it was some amazing discovery. With that done, we arrived into town at 330. So, 230 miles in 8 hours counting stops and pictures. This time, we decided we could all share one room that had two beds with one of us sleeping on the floor. We all know who that was. I didn’t mind really. I was the youngest, John was the oldest and he would make the call and pay for the room with his card (we would then give John our share in cash) and Brian was the guy who would ask the directions and find the places to eat and stay. I liked being the comedy relief. That was my specialty. In the time we found a motel and unpacked it was close to 5. I made my trips to the room and piled all of my stuff in one corner. I then went to the convenience store across the street and got a 6 pack.

After a long day of riding. The last thing I want to do is get back on the bike and go somewhere to eat. There were restaurants within walking distance but both John and Brian wanted to get a pizza so after unpacking, we all hoped back on our much lighter bikes and rode to a pizza place the front desk recommended. I ordered a huge pizza for myself (I hadn’t eaten all day) with a couple of beers. It was great. Brian and John would go back and forth talking about motorcycle mechanics while I ate. They spent 10 minutes talking about sag on a motorcycle set-up. I still have no idea what that is even though they said the word in every sentence. I would just sit there and then make a joke or an observation. They would look at me like I had two heads, then continue talking. I found it quite fun actually. Our waitress rode a Harley and was asking us about our trip so far. She told us that the people that have cruiser motorcycles basically ride around the city where there is pavement, a total of maybe 50 miles. If they want to go anywhere else, they’ll trailer the bikes to other locations. By the time we got back, we were full and tired. I checked the bike over per my usual routine. Nothing out of the ordinary. In the time we were out there, three different people pulled into the parking lot from the street just to say hi and ask us about our journey. Still fascinated about the great people of this tiny area. Eventually, we made it back inside and I shared my six pack. John and Brian went to sleep around 10 again and I stayed up downloading my photos and writing in my journal. I had wifi so I was able to send emails and surf the internet. I laid in my sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of the beds. I hope I don’t get stepped on in the middle of the night.

August 4, 2012: Off To Labrador City
Another morning of waking up at 6. Ugh. Brian was already laughing at me as I borrowed the motel cart to carry all of my belongs to my bike (still leaving a trail of bungee cords along the way). The morning was very nice again and we left at 730 after a quick breakfast (I just got orange juice). It was a little chilly and breezy as the pavement turned back to gravel beyond the city limits. We were lucky though to see a bear crossing the roadway. We tried to catch up to it and get a photo. It actually paused and looked at us for a second and then it was like it said, “to hell with this” and went into the woods. Still awesome though. We made it to Churchill Falls around noon to a line of cars at the only gas station. We discovered the electricity went out for a few hours that morning. Glad we got there when we did. Since it was around noon. We went ahead and got something to eat and relaxed for an hour. Then it was back on the road through some construction where the gravel become more of a sand mix with long mounds of dirt where it was plowed. I found myself crawling through in first gear. We also discovered a couple of wrecked cars along the way lying upside down. There are no guardrails on the Translab and like I wrote earlier, it’s 6 to 10 feet above the ground. There is no tow service or even a police officer for that matter. I think people just leave the cars there instead of spending the money to get it hauled back to their home. One car looked like it had been there for a year.
We arrived in Labrador City at 5. It was one of the best days of riding I had. Although there was a good amount of gravel it was nothing like the day before and when we were 100 miles from Labrador City, there was some nice brand new pavement to ride on. Labrador City was a very nice place and we found the best hotel of our trip. It had a king size bed and a couch that folded out. The hardest part was finding a place to eat. We decided on Chinese and the front desk gave us directions to one place that wasn’t there. My GPS had this other place which we went to and that wasn’t there. We were all getting frustrated and finally, we were able to find the place sort of nestled in a mall area behind a sports bar. It wasn’t that good and it sort of put us in a bad mood. After that fiasco, we got back to the hotel to relax. I did my usual downloading of pictures and checking the internet. Being that the room was larger, we could move around without being on top of each other. And Brian had some good videos he took with his camera of us cruising. He also let me download pictures from his camera (he takes much more than me). I always wondered what I looked like when I ride (yep, nerdy). This put us all in a better mood for the evening.
Tomorrow was going to be the last day we would all ride together to Baie-Comeau and the end of the Translabrador Highway. Personally, I was looking forward to getting back on the road by myself and continuing my quest to the Alaska. I had only been on the road for a week but the trip had already been amazing. I went to bed at midnight amongst snoring looking forward to getting back into a little bit more of civilization.
August 5, 2012: A Bridge Too Far
One thing about going on a motorcycle journey is that you really don’t know what the day will bring. The thousands of miles I’ve put on my bike have been mostly fun. Today, was not one of those fun days (well, maybe it was depending on your point of view). It started out with us waking up to clouds and rain. I had the gear to wear. But I was more worried about my open face mask with my goggles fogging up and just not feeling in the mood for a wet ride on more gravel and dirt. At the same time, this was the last day of riding on this type of terrain for us and I was looking forward to pavement. The rains subsided some and we were able to pack the bikes and get ready. And when I tried to start my bike it didn’t want to turn. Eventually, it just stopped turning all together. Brian and John both thought it was the battery. Which I couldn’t figure out because a new one was installed before my trip. Both of them pushed me down the road while the bike was in second gear (always keep it in second) as I popped the clutch and it started. I had never done that before so it was something good to know at least. With that issue resolved for now, it would still weigh heavily on my mind as we would stop at least four more times to refuel and eat. My original plan was to split from them in Baie Comeau and go another 50 miles south to Forestville, Quebec. However, with this going on, I decided I needed to hang with my co-riders for another evening. With this bad start, I was hoping the rest of the day would get better and the clouds would clear. As we proceeded to leave Labrador City, John’s GPS could not be used (he had a GPS that wasn’t water resistant) and I was the only other one who had mine. So Brian looked at me and said, “Tom, you have to lead us out of here.” No sooner than he said that, the rain started falling harder. Great. They followed me as I looked at my GPS telling me to go this route, then this route and we made it out of the city in a nice downpour. Then the gravel started. Once they knew this was the route to take, I stayed behind and followed. The road was muddy but not bad and I felt fine going 25 to 30 mph. John was ahead of me and I watched him cross a wooden bridge. No problem. What I didn’t realize was that John drove across the right side of the bridge. I took the middle and the middle had a 8 inch drop. As I approached, the bike dropped into the three foot wide gully. It took me by surprise but I was like, “no problem.” I then realized that if there is an 8 inch drop coming onto the bridge, there will be a 8 inch curb on the other side that I would hit. I was only going 20 mph so I grabbed the front brake to slow down. The front tire locked on the wet wood. I tried to hold it up but no luck as it fell on its right side and slide over the curb (at least I got on the other side). I wasn’t pinned underneath and I literally stood there as the bike slid over. I’ll admit I was shaken up but nothing was hurt on me (at least at that time). I tried to lift the bike but no luck. John finally came back and saw me trying to lift it and helped me get it up. The crash bar did it’s job but it still bent back and crushed my air filter cover. Other damage included a scratched up mirror, windshield, detached front brake cable and bent rear brake. I also broke my glasses. I have no idea how. The brake issue was bad. I had no way of stopping. It was that moment I thought this was it.
Brian eventually arrived and we all pushed the bike to the side of the road in the rain. So now, were stuck on the side of a dirt road, in the rain, in north Quebec. A couple of cars passed by and a worker on one of the trucks stopped. He was a supervisor and was also a biker and said we could use his shop just down the road if anything needed to be done. No charge, just offering to help. He gave us directions and then went on his way. I was ready to go but Brian and John looked at the bike and thought they could do some quick fixes. John reattached the front brake cable so I could use the front brake again and Brian used a pair of vice grips and a small metal crowbar to bend the rear brake back. He then removed a metal construction sign loosely planted in the ground and used the long metal stand to pry the crash bar out of the air filter cover. We then duct taped the cover up. The whole process took maybe a half hour. They then push started me again and away we went.

I wasn’t upset about the bike because I was planning on selling it anyway when I got back. But I was mad at myself that I didn’t pay enough attention. Not to mention the battery issue, then the damage, and you feel helpless without the help of some guys you just met a few days ago. And it just ruins the rest of your day and your riding confidence. After only a few miles, the bike started sputtering. It appeared the carburetor was clogged. We again pulled over and Brian took a screw driver to the carburetor adjuster on the side and drained some of the fuel. I didn’t know you could do that. The bike started without a push and ran like there was no problem. I couldn’t believe this day I was having. I was very thankful to have two good pros to ride with. The road became more hilly and there was one point I thought I would lose it again on the loose gravel around a curve. All I could do is down shift and put my right foot down hoping I didn’t fall again. And I recovered thankfully, but I was so pissed and aggravated about this day. At one point, when the pavement started again, I was cruising so far ahead of the guys I didn’t’ want to stop. But I decided to pull over and wait and just look at what I had done to the bike. I also knew the rest of the day that Jon and Brian would give me a hard time. It goes hand in hand. I also noticed that my right saddlebag had become totally unzipped. The zipper was shot on it so I had to bungee it to the side. Add it to the list of stuff to do this evening. We met up again and while we were resting, another biker came riding a BMW GS Adventure with his wife. He asked us about the conditions and was one of the first bikers we had met on the entire trip. Of course, they pointed at me to show what can happen if you aren’t to careful. Sigh. As we continued, the winds picked up and the bike was using up fuel. We made it to the Manic 5 damn. Which is this huge structure that just pops out of nowhere when you go around a corner. Brian got a good photo of me in front of it while he was going down the hill. It really showed you the size of this damn. None of us had seen anything like that.
But by this time, we had been on the road for 10 hours and we still had many more miles. I also passed a gas station which I didn’t know they had stopped at. Eventually we hit permanent pavement and I remember sitting there on my damaged bike for 20 minutes wondering if they were coming or if they decided to take a different direction so that I lost them. But, they showed up and I followed them before we all stopped and John was nice enough to loan me some of his extra gas to make it the rest of the way. I didn’t’ have to unpack my damaged bike with bungees all over the place trying to hold things up. By the time we made it to Baie Comaeu, we had been on the road for 13 hours. After refueling for the evening, the bike again didn’t start and they both pushed started me for the third time that day (I thought they were both going to have a heart attack) as we rolled into a motel. Once we got there, we were all beat but we went to eat at a Subway across the street. You forget your in French Quebec so no one speaks English. Ordering a subway sandwich became an adventure. All I could do is point and the server would grab that item. I found it quite comical on such a long day. I don’t think John and Brian liked it too much. After dinner, we went back and popped open the bike to see that there was not a new battery but the same old one. It looked like the shop hadn’t replaced it after all. That was a nice surprise. So the good was that we knew it was a battery. The bad was we needed to find a battery for a motorcycle in a small city in Quebec. The yellow pages showed there was a Walmart and Brian and I called a cab to take us there. All we could say was “Walmart” to the cabbie, but he knew where it was. He started talking in French so I showed him the battery and said “Battery Kaput.” He actually understood that. Of course, unlike in the US, the Walmart closes at 9 in Quebec. We would have to go tomorrow. We came back and saw that there was also an auto supply and a bike shop within a two mile radius. We all felt good that we could find a battery the next morning. But our departure would be seriously delayed. My crap was preventing my new friends from completing their journey. The one thing I was able to fix was using the zip ties I had to hold the leather saddlebag on the bike. At least I fixed something.
That evening, my head was spinning with the day I had, not to mention freaking people out at home about my wreck. I also didn’t realize until later but as the day progressed, my right shoulder was starting to hurt pretty good. I probably strained something trying to hold the bike up when I wrecked. But I could move it so it would eventually get better. I didn’t need any sympathy. I went to bed at midnight hoping the day I had was just a dream. All things considered, I was very lucky today as well as very thankful for Jon and Brian’s help.
August 6, 2012: A New Battery and a New Start
We all woke up at 6 for the free breakfast and even I ate this time. John and Brian both rode to Walmart. I knew they were coming back since their stuff was still at the motel. Although I wouldn’t have been surprised if they just took off and didn’t come back. I paid the motel for all three of us. It was the least I could do. And I’m only mentioning this not to brag, but so no one thinks I didn’t do anything for the help these guys gave me. They were gone for 40 minutes and I was so nervous, I peed three times. Maybe they couldn’t find a battery? They arrived with a motorcycle battery from Walmart. But before we could hook it up, it needed to charge. This would take another hour. So they took off again to the auto supply store where they charged the battery for free, even though we didn’t purchase it from them. All of this to help me out and get me on the road. I’d like to think I could have done this on my own, but it would have taken much longer and much more of a hassle. After the battery was hooked up, the bike started with no problem. We were all ecstatic. Now it was time to pack and get the hell out of here. We finally left at 10. But not before I was able to take a photo of all of us in front of my motorcycle. It was a surreal moment. And I just remember them laughing when I reached into my bag and pulled out a tripod. All the way to the end, they were amazed at all of the crap I brought for this trip. We traveled another 100 miles along the St. Lawrence river. There was a spot I wanted to pull over and take a photo. I didn’t notice the deep sand. The front tire hit it and turned and down I went on the left. Literally doing a back roll. All I could do was laugh as I fell right in front of this french couple picnicking. I tried to pick up the bike before the guys arrived but too late. Brian even has me on video trying to pick it up. John helped me out and there was nothing wrong with the bike. We all had a good chuckle at my expense while Brian was asking me if I was trying to even out the damage on the other side. We rode another 100 miles before saying our goodbyes. Brian was going to stay and get something to eat, I was continuing south, and John was heading west. We wished each other luck and all the best. It was great for both of those guys to tell me “keep going, you’ll make it.” At no point, despite the last couple of days did they tell me to just give it up and not go any further. That really meant at lot.
For the first time in five days, I was going solo again. Excited about continuing my journey but also wondering what else would happen. I had only been traveling for just over a week. For the rest of the day, I wanted to make it out of Quebec and hopefully, somewhere in Ontario.
Another 10 miles down the road I had to take my final ferry ride across a small bay off of the St. Lawrence. It was only a mile long. It was free and with no traffic, I was on in no time. I watched as the ferry left with everyone speaking french around me. I was able to get a lady to take a photo of me by saying “sei vu plea” and showing her my camera. I also saw a small whale. I had never seen anything like that before. After landing on the other side it was back on the highway. Eventually, the two lane roads became four lane roads and I found myself going 75 for the first time in a week as I approached Montreal. My GPS was very helpful, all of the signs were in French and it was difficult to locate the correct highways. Without it, I would have been totally lost. While refueling, I noticed that I couldn’t take my key out of the ignition. So, that was stuck for the rest of my trip. Then in Quebec, my right highway peg started coming undone while cruising. I had to pull over on the busy highway and tighten it. Not only that, but I noticed the right crash bar had a hole at the bottom where it was bent back after my wreck. This caused it to move rather easily whenever I just pushed my foot on it. I just knew it would eventually break all the way through. At my last gas stop just inside Ottawa, the bike started sputtering again as I rode down the highway. I couldn’t believe it. My motorcycle was literally falling apart. It would ride fine, sputter some, then continue. There was no way I would be able to do the rest of this trip without getting some things looked at. But for tonight, I wanted to get to someplace and stay. My GPS showed me a small motel at one of the exits about 8 miles down and as nighttime approached I looked forward to resting. I was tired and hungry. I had not eaten since breakfast. It turned out the motel was now a bar. I turned around as my GPS took me down some back road for 10 miles in the dark before merging back onto the Canadian highway. I ran out of gas and was on my reserve when I finally spotted this one small truck stop motel by a convenience store. It was after 9. They had a room available but the restaurant was closed. It was $90. I dragged all of my stuff in as I talked to a couple of bikers on Harley tourers from Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. One of the guys use to live in Raleigh. They said it rained where they came from and I may see some tomorrow....Great. But they did suggest that I enter the US border because everything was cheaper and I could get some work done on the bike. It sounded like a good plan. I went to the convenience store and loaded up on some frozen burritos, chips, and mountain dew. I didn’t know it but it was explained to me by the clerk that in the province of Ottawa all beer is sold in liquor stores only. No where else. That was actually the worse news I heard all day. I went back to my room and proceeded to situate myself and still catch up on my journal and download some photos. I also found a Honda dealer and repair shop in Sault Ste. Marie. I didn’t get to bed until one with a new plan that I would be going back into the US wondering if I would continue my journey or head back home.
August 7, 2012: Back in the USA We Go
Despite the long day before I woke up at 7. By 830, I was on the road. As I was loading up, I talked to several nice people asking me about my trip. They were all friendly. Even the two police officers I spoke with. The key was stuck for good and I wasn’t going to try and remove it. I had some fuel cleaner enhancer and I added that to the tank and I drained the carb screw like John and Brian showed me. After refueling, I was back on the highway. The ride went from four lanes to single through small towns across Ontario. About noon, the rain started coming as I entered one of the small towns. For a couple of hours, it was steady. I remember going through one town and a truck coming the other way hit a puddle throwing dirty rainwater in my face. It actually warmed me up since I was little chilly. The dye from my riding gloves had turned my hands purple. However, the rains eventually stopped and the day became sunny as I headed toward the Michigan border. I was excited to get back in the US for at least an evening. I wanted to call the bike shop back home and find out what happened to my battery. I needed to check out the Honda dealer there and see about getting an oil change done as well as my key and stuttering issue (although the bike was running better today). Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to check to see if they had another air filter cover for an 2002 Honda Shadow. I wanted to get with a welder about my crash bar. And I had an urge to go to a Taco Bell.
As I approached the border there was a biker and a car in front of me. The biker spent at least 15 minutes talking to the border patrol agent. He had to get off, open up the back of his suitcase and show the agent what was in there. I knew it was going to be awhile. Finally, he let the guy go and the truck ahead of me went in literally 5 seconds. So here I come loaded up with all of this stuff. I just knew I was going to be here forever unloading everything I had for customs. I showed the agent my passport and got the usual questions, then he asked me about what stuff I had. I explained it was clothing and assorted items I have for my bike. “What other stuff?” he asked. I had to try and do an inventory in my head of every item and reiterate this to the agent. After that, he asked me how much money I had. Then he asked me if I knew the guy on the motorcycle that was ahead of me. I told him I didn’t. But I made the mistake of saying, “I saw him pass me about 20 miles back.” That opened up a can of worms because the next question was, “So you did know him since you saw him 20 miles back?” Oh Geez. By that time, I figured I was going to be there awhile. So I just said, “I have no idea who that guy is.” His only other question was about the attachment to the top of my helmet where I put my Gopro camera. I then had to explain to him what it was for and what a Gopro camera is. After that he gave me my passport back and said, “Get outta here.” Thanks Agent Dick (I didn’t say that).
Before I could officially cross I had to pay an entrance fee of five bucks. I forgot about that and all of my American cash was still in my holder taped around my boot. I had to spend a few minutes holding up the line undoing my boot, and taking the tape off to pull out a $20 to give to the toll clerk. After that, I was in the US. Yay.
My goal was to find a motel, make sure I know where the motorcycle shop was, and go to Taco Bell. Not necessarily in that order. There were plenty of places to stay but I was looking for that right one. And I found it at the corner of an intersection downtown. I knocked on the door and was immediately barked at by the owner’s dog. He came out looked at me and said, “Yeah?” I asked him if he had anything available and he said he had one room upstairs for 60 bucks. After looking at me and the bike, he could tell I had been traveling far and started asking me about my trip. His name was Kurt and he turned out to be a really great guy. The room was awesome with a couch and living room area along with the bed. Refrigerator and microwave included. Walgreens was right across the street and I was able to get there for some beer and some small food items. I then rode right to the Taco Bell and loaded up on some bean burritos (they’re my favorite). After that, I found the bike shop so I knew where to go tomorrow. I made it back to the motel and hung out in front smoking a cigar talking to Kurt. You know a guy is cool when the first thing he wants to talk about is football. I went back to my room and did my usual routine before going to bed. With what I had to do tomorrow, I decided I would be staying an extra day to determine where I would go from here.
August 8, 2012: Another day in Sault Ste. Marie
The bike shop didn’t open until 830 and it was only 2 miles from the motel. I got there in plenty of time. Before entering I called my bike shop back home to find out about my battery. At first they said they installed it and it was on their checklist of things to do when I dropped it off. I asked if they were sure and upon a search of their place, they discovered my new battery was still there on the shelf. They were very apologetic and of course would reimburse me. Of all the trips I’ve taken on this bike this was the first time they had ever forgot to do something. So, I couldn’t hold a grudge against that. It was bad at the time but I came out okay (maybe they should repay John and Brian for helping me out). Brian had suggested that I should always look at repairs that were made by a mechanic. That’s easy to do for any exterior type repairs but for something like a new battery, I just took it for granted. With that mystery solved, I entered the bike shop. I spoke with the mechanics there about what I was doing. They changed my oil and filter, and checked the fluids. They suggested that I just leave the key in the ignition because after WD40, there wasn’t really anything else you could do. Anything stronger can be corrosive and ruin the starter. They didn’t have another air filter cover and it would have taken a few days to get a new one. As for the stuttering, they couldn’t tell me anything unless I left the bike and that would be a few days before they could actually look at it. I decided on just the tune up which they did in less than an hour and I was on my way. I could tell the duct tape just wasn’t doing the job of holding my air cover. I went back to the motel and removed it. Once I removed the busted cover, I could see water settling at the bottom. It was from the rains I went through and probably had something do with the stuttering because water was coming in. Kurt was more than helpful. He fabricated a new cover out of some pie pans and then duct taped it over my broken air cover. I now had a nice hard exterior for an air filter cover. He then gave me a number of welder friend he knew who came and looked at the crash bar. He said this was something easy to fix in a matter of minutes. He was a young guy named Bryan who was a professional welder. I followed him and his father back to the shop where he prepared the bike. Bryan was also a biker and had made a chopper. He was also working on repairing his stripped Harley he recently laid down. I felt his pain. In 15 minutes, he had the hole filled and the crash bar was good to go. He refused any money. I thanked him profusely and told him if he ever took a trip NC, he had a place to stay.
When I returned, my other saddlebag zipper was broken so I zip tied that one to the bike as well. They were now both permanent fixtures. My turn signal switch was also getting stuck so a combination of WD40 and a rubber band (I actually brought a bag of these also) fixed it. And with that, I knew I had to continue my journey. There were too many signs out there telling me I must continue. That evening, I relaxed watching the olympics and told my folks I was continuing on. As long as the bike can go, so can I. I went to sleep with the excitement of continuing to Alaska.
August 9, 2012: Thunder, Thunder, Thunder Bay, Ho!
I woke up refreshed and after packing and loading (something I felt I had become a genius at now). I was ready to go. I left at 830. The border crossing this time was much easier. The border agent was interested in the trip and he started asking me questions about where I was going and my plans. He seemed actually interested in what I was doing and we had a nice conversation while traffic was backing up behind us. The weather was nice and once I was out of the city, it was a two lane road along beautiful Lake Superior. You forget sometimes that you’re actually in Canada. Some of the little towns and farmlands you enter look just like any place in the US. It isn’t until you see a street sign in kilometers that you realize you’re in another country. The bike was running great. No stuttering. Turn signals worked. The “Pie Pan Air Filter Cover” holding nicely. Key was still stuck and it was gonna stay that way the rest of the trip but as long as it would turn, I didn’t care. I met an older man riding a Vulcan whom I talked to several times when we refueled. He was a nice guy and it was good to just talk to somebody after you ride for 100 miles or so straight. I made it to Thunder Bay in 8 hours.
I went to the visitor center there and was able to see the Terry Fox Memorial and got some info on some of the motels to stay at. I cruised the downtown area which I really didn’t think was that nice. I should have camped but for some reason, staying in motels had spoiled me. I was looking for some place cheap and you get what you pay for. I found a place for $60. It had everything I needed but I honestly didn’t feel safe. Even for Canada. I unpacked and ended up eating a huge cheeseburger at a Dairy Queen. I couldn’t even find a beer store. Ontario had the same rules as Ottawa as far as the purchase of alcohol. So, no beer for me tonight. Oh well. Back to the routine of updating my journal and using the wifi. It was also coming clear I needed to actually save some money and start camping. There was no reason not to this evening. It was a nice day and I arrived in plenty of time. Tomorrow, I would start heading northwest.
August 10, 2012: Into Winnipeg
I slept good and didn’t leave until 9. I wish John and Brian were around cause they would have made sure I got up early and we would be on the road by 7. The temperature was a nice 60 degrees and sunny. I felt slightly chilled during the ride that day but I didn’t mind. Even though it had been 4 days since my wreck, my shoulder was still sore but it was feeling better each day. The ride went from the lakes and twisty roads to nothing but farmland and small towns. I didn’t mind, it was nice and serene. As far as I was concerned, it could be like this everyday for the rest of my trip. I felt I’d been through enough already. The streets turned busy as I approached Winnipeg. Soon I was in four lane roads with stop lights and intersections. For my GPS, I just put Winnipeg so it took me to the center of the city. That’s why I had to input my next destination for the following day so that it would take me outside the city. I know it sounds complicated but there is a pattern to my madness. I wanted to camp. Which can sometimes be a problematic because my GPS will actually take me to camping and RV stores. Luckily, I found a KOA that was just on the other side of the city. Perfect. I arrived at 6 after a nice 9 hour day of riding. After setting up my tent. I was able to hook up my wifi in the little dining area there and catch up on my computer stuff while also getting something to eat from their store. This consisted of some sandwiches, chips, ice cream, and a bag of skittles (I eat so bad when traveling). No beer though since they didn’t sell it and I was okay without it anyway. I was also able to catch up on my laundry. I had not washed anything for a week. And I met another biker from Ottawa riding a 1980 BMW named Steve. He was a really good person to discuss travel and bike tips with. I was amazed he was able to take that BMW all around like he had. As darkness fell, I went to my tent which I put up over gravel. Wishing I had brought an air mattress with me. Tomorrow, Saskatoon!
August 11, 2012: North to Saskatoon
Despite the rocky bottom, I was able to sleep okay for the second time of the trip in my tent. The weather was nice and I was comfortable. When I’m in my tent, I just sleep in my clothes without the boots on. That way, I can get up and walk to the bathrooms to take a quick shower. Dress there and come back to start packing. This morning took a little longer since I hadn’t quite mastered the way to wrap the tent and sleeping bag up quickly and correctly. While packing, Steve came by and we talked some more about our trip plans. He would have been a good guy to cruise with. Unfortunately, he was going the opposite way. But he’s now a Facebook friend and we continue to keep in touch.
After the usual morning preparations and refueling, I left at 9. Soon as I sped up the bike would start to sputter. It was going to be one of those days. I was still able to maintain speed but it sounded rough. Since my first gas stop was close to noon, I went ahead and grabbed a sandwich wrap that I just really had an urge for and a Mountain Dew. After that, I added some more fuel cleaner and turned the carb screw to see if getting some fuel out would help. It actually did and the bike ran decent the rest of the day. Go figure. It was another nice day with more farmland and small towns to ride through. I just missed a wreck that happened a couple of minutes before me when I stopped to get more gas. Which I couldn’t figure out since it was a two lane highway and the speed limit was 40 kmph. Guess they weren’t paying attention at the small intersection. By the time I was done refueling, the police arrived (no Mounties) and I had to take the back way through this small town before getting back on highway 16. It was actually kind of nice seeing the school, churches, and community center. Wondering what it’s like for those who live here and their daily lives. As I approached Saskatchewan, I was able to get a nice picture in front of the “Welcome” sign. I continued on before hitting some construction where I had to stop for 20 minutes. But that was okay, because I was at the front and I just got off the bike and started talking with the workers. I started asking them about what they were working on and how long it would take. They looked like they were barely over 18. Then another construction guy came up in the gravel truck and got out. He was older and all four of us were right there just talking like we were at the bar. I had my helmet on so I guess that counted as a hard hat. The road was reopened and I hopped on the bike and continued on as they all wished me luck on my trip.
The rest of the trip was uneventful as the lanes doubled heading into Saskatoon. The city was actually bigger than I thought. I did a search on my GPS for campgrounds as well as motels. I did find a Motel 6. For some reason, Motel 6's are like the Hyatt of Canada. Rooms were over a $100. So that was out of the question. I was able to find a small RV and tent site just on the outside of the city. Before settling, I spent the next 40 minutes looking for a liquor store for some beer. This became a maddening quest with a combination of my GPS and me asking for directions. It was such a pain but I had gone this far, I had to continue. I finally found the place and I walked into a refrigerator the size of my house with see through glass. If I ever have a mancave, this is what I want down there. I just picked up a 6 pack of Coors Light which totaled $16. Yes, $16. From there, I balanced the beer on the gas tank of my loaded bike and then rode back the 8 miles to the campsite. After unpacking, I had to take care of some business only to find that the two toilets in the mens’ room were clogged. I had to go to the front office and tell them. After 20 minutes, they hadn’t come. By this time I ran to the office and told them unless you want me to go in the driveway, you need to fix this. They let me use their bathroom as they went to fix the problem. I started writing in my journal but the mosquitoes enjoyed my shaved head. Into the tent I went for the rest of the evening. Sometimes, you just take your chances with camping. I hoped wherever I stayed at tomorrow would be nicer.