Leaving room

Some people don’t plan enough, and end up paying for it. Others plan too much, which can have its own costs. I tend to fall into the latter group.

Case in point, in preparing for my upcoming road trip, I had planned each day’s ride months in advance, booking hotels (and thus predetermining the route) for pretty much the whole thing. That felt pretty extreme, even for me, and the more I thought about it, the more my ‘planning’ began to feel like handcuffs.

So, I cancelled the majority of the hotels, keeping just a few bookings in place, mostly at the beginning and end of my journey. It may end up costing me a little more this way (although, that’s far from certain), and may lead to one or two dodgy moments when I feel like stopping but there aren’t any rooms available. But that’s part and parcel with an adventure. And that’s what I’m hoping to have.

I’ve been on road trips before where the place we’d planned to stop didn’t have any rooms – or only rooms at exorbitant rates – and we had to come up with a Plan B. It’s always worked out, and I have no reason to believe it won’t this time, too, even though this time it’s just ‘me’ in place of ‘we’.

The first time was on the first long motorcycle ride I did, a twelve day jaunt through seven U.S. states and two Canadian provinces with my friend Scott. We were both in our late 30s, and riding bikes not that much younger than ourselves. In the middle of our trip we had a string of three nights where accommodations were an issue.

The first night was in Phoenix, when the house we’d lined up – with air conditioning and a pool, two things we were sorely looking forward to in mid-August – turned out not to be available. After some scrambling, we ended up in a hotel that I’m betting frequently served guys fresh out of jail. It was conveniently located next to a strip mall containing a tattoo parlour and a liquor store. Sadly, not only was the A/C simultaneously loud and ineffective, the shower in my room didn’t work.

The next night, we rode for several hours to reach the small town of Kanab, UT, around supper time. After eating in a local diner, we decided that it was too early to quit for the day, and we pushed on to the town of Panguitch. When we arrived we encountered one ‘No Vacancy’ sign after another. Finally, we found one motel that had one room remaining – a room that could have slept eight or more – and we took it, as it was beginning to get dark. We asked the proprietor what was going on, and he said there was a high school rodeo in town. Who knew such things even existed?

The following day we set out in the hope of reaching Great Falls, MT. A trucker we met at a gas station in Idaho – who was hoping, back then in 2007, to vote for Hilary – said he thought we could make it. No such luck, though, as we rolled into Bute around 10 p.m., only to find that every hotel room in town was booked. Surely, in a city the size of Bute, this couldn’t be due to a high school rodeo! I asked at the Best Western, and no, it wasn’t that. They were having an “Irish Festival”, I was told. I tried vainly to convince them that Scott and I were the keynote drinkers, but they were having none of it. They suggested we try Helena, a mere 70 miles away. There was nothing else to do, so we set off again, into the night, which became foggy – not a good mixture for motorbikes. Every time I rounded a curve in the highway, I said ‘there are no deer here’, which happily turned out to be true.

About two-thirds of the way to Helena, we pulled into a gas station, mainly to let the adrenaline fade, and I asked the gas jockey if there were any places to stay nearby. Down the hill from the highway, he said, in Boulder, we could ‘try the O-Z’, and if that didn’t work out, there was a ‘resort’ another 20 miles from there. We rode down the hill, got a room at the O-Z, and a very late (but extremely entertaining) dinner at P.K.’s Pub. (It was nearly midnight when our pizza arrived. It had to be ordered in from the resort, as the pub’s kitchen had closed, and the kitchen staff were down at the end of the long bar playing dice with the bartender, Cricket, a former stripper who also worked part time at the women’s prison, she told us. She was particularly fond of Scott.)

I wouldn’t have any of these stories to tell if we’d booked all our hotels in advance and ridden from one to the next each day. And I want stories to tell at the end of my trip. It’s part of why we travel. To meet people, to do things unscheduled and unscripted, to deal with things as they come.

So while I will still plan, I will try not to over plan. I’ll leave room for improvisation, for discovery, and for adventure.

The plan so far…

Flights booked. Bike booked. Accommodations booked for 90 per cent of the trip. Routes (roughly) mapped out.

I’ll be starting my trip in Ireland, skirting the perimeter of the island for the most part, and spending most of my time in the south. After picking the bike up near Belfast, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Dublin, giving myself some time to get used to everything being on the wrong side of the road. I’ll ride to my first accommodations, just outside of Tralee, before swinging up along the coast to Galway, where I’ll spend another couple of nights. Then I’ll be off up the coast again before ireland route

swinging east through Sligo to Belfast.

From Belfast I’ll catch a ferry over to Scotland, and ride to Dumbarton, where I’ll spend the night before heading to Oban. This will likely be the first of several stops involving a distillery tour, although I’m not planning to hit every distillery that I encounter, and haven’t included stops where many of my favoHighland route pt 1urite distillers are located (e.g., Islay). From Oban, I’ll make my way to Skye, and then up the west coast of the Highlands. I’ll decide when I reach it whether or not to ride the Bealach na Ba, or the alternate, slightly less dodgy route to Shieldaig on my way to Ullapool. From there, I’ll skirt along the coast first northward then eastward to John o’ Groats, the most northerly part of Scottish mainland.

I’ll spend the night in Wick, then head down the east coast of the Highlands to Craigellachie, conveniently located near four (at least) distilleries. From there, it’s down to Stirling on my way to Edinburgh, where I’ll meet up with a friend and former colleague.

From Edinburgh, I’ll head south along the coast into England, through Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scarborough, and stopping in York. I am told some of the best motorcycling roads in England are to be found in Yorkshire, so I’m looking forward to those. From there, Highland route pt 2I’ll angle southwest towards Bath, where I’ll stop for the night before heading to Wales.

In Wales, I’ll ride through Cardiff to Swansea, on the south coast, former home of Dylan Thomas, where I’ll stop for the night. The next day I’ll ride up the coast to Snowdonia National Park, and spend the night in Colwyn Bay, on the north coast of Wales.

From Wales, I’ll head through the lake district back to Scotland, stopping in Moffat. I’m told it’s a beautiful town, by a good friend of mine who just happens to be named Moffat. I’m sure there’s no bias in her appraisal of the town. The next morning I’ll ride back to the ferry, and return the bike to the dealership in Belfast. A shEngland & Wales routeort bus ride will have me back in Dublin for another two nights before I board the flight for home.

If anyone has any advice – things that must be seen, things to avoid, to watch out for, and so forth, please leave comments. Over the next couple of months, as I get closer to June, I’ll talk more about the bike I’ll be riding, what I plan to pack, that kind of thing. If you’re really curious about any aspect of the planning, let me know.

If you made similar trips and want to point me to your blog, your YouTube video, or whatever, feel free to leave that in comments, too.

 

Best laid plans… part 2

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”  – Albert King

This seems to be the year of the failed vacation. 

The first attempt, as I wrote about recently, was a washout as a result of physics. Namely, a puzzling wobble that my friend’s bike developed that has, for the time being, scuttled a road trip we had planned. We’d likely be eating lobster in an east coast pub right now, if things had gone as planned.

To make up for it, my wife and decided to do a miniature road trip of our own – in a car, this time. After balking at paying nearly $500 a night for substandard hotels on the Oregon coast, we decided to pop over to Vancouver Island for a few days, and come home via Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. This time, it wasn’t physics but physical illness that interfered.

The first thing to know is that Adele is almost never sick. She never takes time off work for colds or the flu. The second thing to know is that she rarely takes vacations.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to go, Adele started coming down with something. She was determined, though, that she would fight it off, and we would have a vacation. She drank lots of fluids, took ridiculous amounts of vitamins, all to no avail.

After a couple of brave days in Qualicum Beach – nice little town, by the way – this morning she decided she needed to see if there was something more useful than vitamins she could take. We spent an hour or so in a clinic, and found out she has viral bronchitis & laryngitis. I cancelled the hotel in PR (hopefully they can fill the room so I can get a refund), and we came home after lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll pick up the cat, who has thankfully not been an asshole while staying at my mom’s the past few days. Beyond that, I’m not making any plans for the last few remaining days of my vacation. What would be the point?

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.