Road trip days 2-4 (Calgary to launch aborted)

I spent the weekend resting in Calgary. Saturday, I hung out with Scott. Sunday, I got together with my sister-in-law Marianne for breakfast, then spent the rest of the day lazing about, until Scott & I went to his ex-wife Kathy’s and her partner Paul’s place to cook sausages over a fire pit. Well, we had sausages, Kathy, et al, had veggie dogs. Incredibly sad looking things – the veggie dogs, that is – but to each their own. Kathy is an excellent person, which you kind of have to be to teach junior high, and Paul is interesting and engaging in the unassuming way that many introverts are. Then we came back to Scott’s place and finished preparing for today’s start to the trip.

This morning we got up, loaded up our bikes, went for coffee and a muffin to break our fast at a local diner, then hit the road. We reached the city limits and accelerated to match the change in the speed limit – a very civilized 110 kmh. We were riding into an east wind. It wasn’t strong, but it was cool. Scott took the lead.

I noticed several times that Scott’s KLR began to wobble when he got it up to speed, and he had to roll off the throttle to correct the situation. We pulled into a rest area not far past Strathmore, and Scott confirmed the wobble, and confessed it was both annoying and worrisome. He assumed it had to do with the hard cases he had installed for the trip. The bike had never wobbled before, but he hadn’t had it out on the highway since installing the bags. He made some minor adjustments and we set off eastward again, but we didn’t get far before pulling over again. A few more adjustments and we gave it another shot. That, too, was short-lived. I googled ‘KLR speed wobble’, which demonstrated a) Scott’s is not the first KLR to encounter this kind of issue, and b) no one online has any useful advice on fixing the problem. We decided the best & safest thing was to head back to Calgary and try to figure things out there.

 A visit to Scott’s mechanic didn’t help a whole lot. They suggested removing the bags and riding on the highway again to make sure that was the problem. We did, and it was. So. Now what? In a little while, after frustration has subsided, Scott will attempt some configuration changes: removing the hard case rack, and using soft bags instead; changing the windshield; etc. If all goes well, we’ll start eastward tomorrow. If not, I’ll take a winding route home, spend the long weekend with Adele, and decide what to do with the rest of my holidays. 

But that’s getting too far ahead. First things first, then we’ll go from there.

Road Trip – Day 1 – Vancouver to Calgary (approx. 1,000 km/600 mi)

The prepping and packing are behind me now. Now the trip is real.
The day began, as always, with my alarm waking me at 5:45. I made coffee, turned on the morning news. I planned to wake Adele at 6:30, as I normally do on her work days, but she got herself up early. I made breakfast and cleaned up the dishes. I got dressed. Did a last check that I had everything I needed. Said goodbye to the cat. Said ‘see you in a couple of weeks’ to Adele.

And then I started off, into the morning sun and the East wind. Dodging traffic until I got to Hope. I made good time most of the way, reaching Kamloops in under four hours, Revelstoke before 2 p.m., Golden by five, and Calgary in under 12 hours total.

I’d be more expansive and poetic, but it’s late and I’m tired. It was an uneventful, almost boring ride, but a slog. More a test of will than anything. I expect I’ll take my usual, more southerly route home, and in the usual two days, rather than one. The Crow is a prettier route, and the roads are more fun. The TransCanada is just meant to get shit from one city to another with as little fuss as possible. Who, on a bike, wants that?


I’ll be in Calgary for another couple of days before day two of the road trip.

Numbers, etc.

15 days off, starting Friday

12 stops on the road trip (give or take)

5 more nights at home before I hit the road for just over two weeks

4 more days of work

3 of those days commuting to the office. (I’m gonna work from home on Thursday)

2 gallon jerry-can (rotopax) picked up yesterday, so I won’t have any excuse to run out of gas.

*****

Nearly everything is ready to go. A few things to pick up this week, and then there’s packing to do before I go. I’m looking forward to being on the road, although I’m going to miss my wife. I always do. She makes coming home worthwhile.

 The first stage of the trip will be solo, from Vancouver to Calgary. Not sure, yet, if I’ll do it in one push, or my usual two-day ride along Hwy 3. I have a few people to visit in Cowtown, and as always, I’ll want to visit my old man’s grave. Scott has to work Sunday, so we’ll point ourselves eastward Monday morning. The itinerary will evolve as we go, based on whim and weather, but so far a rough outline is:

  • Vancouver to Calgary
  • Calgary to Saskatoon 
  • Saskatoon to Portage La Prairie
  • PLP to Duluth, MN
  • Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie
  • The Sault to Fenelon Falls/Toronto
  • FF to Quebec City
  • Quebec to Erie, PA
  • Erie to Chicago
  • Chicago to Fargo
  • Fargo to Moose Jaw
  • Moose Jaw to Calgary
  • Calgary to Vancouver

That’s a little over 10,000 km (6,000 miles). I’ll need to arrange an oil change on my travels, and my bike will be due for it’s next service, and likely a new set of tires, when I get back. But that’s looking too far ahead. It’s time to start getting my mind into riding mode. 

When you’re travelling on a motorcycle, you need to focus on what’s immediate, and between you and the horizon. Everything else is too far away to think about. It’s a distraction and a danger. You can think about it later, when you’ve done with the day’s ride.

So for now I will put the itinerary out of mind. Focus on getting things done that need doing before I go. Focus on what and who is around me now. The horizon will arrive soon enough. Don’t rush it. 

Keeping My Cool

One of the challenges of a summertime motorcycle trip is heat. As someone who’s crashed in the past, I know first hand the importance of wearing all my gear, all the time. But motorcycle gear is hot. Or at least, mine is. And heat can cause you to crash. And some injuries just can’t be prevented by gear. So, what to do…. Wear my gear to protect me from injury, but risk crashing from overheat? Not wear my gear to stay cool, but risk tissue/blood loss if I crash anyway? Neither are very good options.

I could buy a mesh jacket, although this has some drawbacks. First, gear is expensive. Even a cheap mesh jacket will cost over $200, and I’ll still need a more robust jacket when it’s not crazy-hot. Also, mesh just allows the hot air easier access to my body. Riding at 100+ km/h in 35+ Celsius can feel like a riding in a kiln. And last, I’m not entirely sold on the safety of mesh gear. I can’t see it holding up all that well if I’m sliding down the road on my back.

What I’ve opted for instead is a cooling vest, which I ordered from FortNine last week, and which arrived in the post today. The idea is that on hot days, I soak the vest and wear it under my t-shirt. The gradual evaporation, combined with moisture wicking, will help keep my core cool. I’d heard from others that these work really well, so I’m going to give it a try. It has to be better than sticking bags of ice-cubes in my inner pockets, which works great – for about ten minutes. The vest is supposed to be good for several hours at a go. We’ll see. At any rate, it was less than half the price of a cheap mesh jacket, so at worst I’m not out all that much cash.

******

Only seventeen days till I hit the road.

 

Trip preparation

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. I need to make more of an effort in that regard. So, here is the first step.

In a little less than a month I’ll be embarking on a short, 12,000ish km road trip, from Vancouver to someplace in Quebec, and back again. The route will take me through Alberta (where I’ll meet up with my riding partner), Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec, maybe New Brunswick, parts of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Dakota.

And possibly some other places. You never know how weather, and other factors, might affect your route. I’m not too fussed about this. My riding companion will want to spend time with his family in Ontario, who I’m looking forward to seeing again. He’s also keen to stop for a couple of days in Chicago, which I don’t really object to, either. Apparently there’s an old U-boat there you can tour. And if we can get cheap tickets to a Cubs game that would be cool.

Trip preparations have so far been relatively minimal, although I recently picked up some maps (I still don’t use GPS), and I’ve ordered a cooling vest to wear under my motorcycle jacket, so I hopefully won’t suffer as much in the heat as I have on past trips. I’ll buy a small jerrycan, just in case. My BCAA is up to date. My bike has been serviced (at great expense, as you may recall).

The next step will be determining what to bring. I almost always over-pack. You don’t really need much in the way of clothes on a motorcycle trip. Mostly, you’re wearing gear, with jeans and a t-shirt, or something like that, underneath. Most days, it’s just socks and underwear, maybe the t-shirt, that get changed. A couple of extra shirts, a pair of shorts, a bathing suit, a pair of pants, should cover most needs. Even then, some of these things can be washed out and hung to dry overnight. A roadside emergency kit is a good idea. A basic first aid kit. An extra litre of motor oil. Rain gear. A power bank to charge phones. The maps I mentioned earlier.

In the next few weeks, more detailed planning will begin. Each step makes the trip more tangible. Soon it will be in progress, and then just a collection of memories, blog posts and photographs. But first, the planning and preparing will make it real, not just an vague idea of something hasn’t happened yet.

 

It’s only money (revisited)

The other day I mentioned that it was time for my motorcycle’s scheduled maintenance, and that it was going to cost me a big chunk of money, which made me sad, but what can you do.

I’ve been using the same mechanic for about the past ten years. Part of the reason I continue to ride a BMW, and an old one at that, is that I’ve had a good relationship with a mechanic I trust. Or rather, trusted. Last year, that trust started to erode, with what I believed was the final straw coming on my last visit there, to have fork seals replaced and some LED brake lights I’d purchased for my top case installed. My assumption is that this should have taken two to three hours, max, based on what I’d read of both procedures. Instead it took more than five, and what should have come to a few hundred bucks cost me over $800.

So the other day I took my bike to a different mechanic, closer to me, who provided a much more transparent estimate of the work, very much in line with my expectations. Expensive, but what can you do, as I said the other day. When I dropped the bike off, I said to call me if any additional work was required. It’s an old bike – 15 years old, to be precise – and things wear out, sometimes not in accordance with the maintenance schedule. I fully anticipated some working needed on my rear brake – possibly new pads, but nothing extreme. They assured me they would call me regardless, and I hoped (expected) to pick the bike up yesterday after work.

Unfortunately, their inspection turned up a need for more than just new brake pads. Apparently the old pads had worn more or less completely away, and the rotor was damaged as well. Both would need to be replaced. As well, part of my gear shift mechanism was in danger of falling off, and would also need replacement. The part was on order, and should be delivered by Tuesday. Both of these items should have been, in my opinion, spotted at earlier and cheaper-to-fix stages at my last scheduled maintenance. But what really took the cake, for me, was that my fork seals – replaced last summer – were leaking and needed to be replaced. Again.

One other thing they turned up was less urgent, and could wait till a future visit. And it will. The three fixes that can’t wait are already doubling the cost I’ll be incurring when I pick my bike up next week.

All of which makes me wish I’d switched mechanics sooner rather than later. It may only be money, but I’d rather it was mine than my mechanic’s.

The Old Island Highway

Riding down the Old Island Highway –
Misnamed, a two-lane road
Winding through the trees – and the sun
Catching in the leaves
Turning as they fall, swirl
Down onto the Old Island Highway, leaning
Into a curve imitating the curl of shallow waves
Lapping at the stones
Along the shallow water’s edge,
And now the sun is dancing
On the water between the boats
At anchor, lines drawn in
And I draw my line down
Through the curve, lean down and catch
The sun falling down, dissolving
The Old Island Highway.

 

© Mark Milner – October, 2014, Vancouver Island