The Shakedown Run
Frustration was building. I wanted to leave. I was ready and waiting to leave. Why wouldn't someone buy my house, so that I could leave??
Frustration won. I decided to go to the US/Canada for 6 weeks to attend the finish of the Iron Butt Rally, amongst other things, while waiting for the house to sell.
Last minute packing completed, I was booked on the ferry to leave the island of Tasmania bound for Melbourne on the Australian mainland, from where I would ride about 2000km to Brisbane, and fly from there. But as the Fates would have it, a mere 3, yes THREE, hours before I was to embark, I signed a contract of sale on my house. But this couldn't and didn't change anything, as settlement of the legal and financial matters would take place on 12 October.
So I left, on what turned into a 6 week shakedown run. As things panned out, I'm glad it happened this way.
A quick ride north, with short detours to Two Wheels Tyres at Blacksoil Qld to get a new rear tyre, then to Dangerous Goods Management Ltd, near the airport, for the all-important "Dangerous Goods Certificate" and on to Qantas Cargo, where I confirmed that the bike would be flying on the same flight as I. Packing/loading requirements were rechecked and verified. The next day was spent getting a new seat made, then it was Saturday - D Day. Delivery Day. After a quick wash at the local car wash, the bike was delivered to the Qantas Cargo loading dock, where I disconnected the battery and taped the leads, then wrapped the HID lights, headlight, front "beak" and windscreen in bubblewrap, as had been suggested by the staff, to ward off any accidental scratches. The staff would later roll the bike onto a pallet, and strap it down for the flight.
Paperwork completed, payment made. It was all done. Brutus was ready to roll, on Flt QF175 the next day.
After a delayed departure, we landed into Los Angeles (LAX) a little after 8am. LA taxi drivers are like those anywhere - they'll rip off a tourist or foreigner if at all possible. Yep, I got "done", but he didn't get the expected tip! Walked into Qantas Cargo, picked up some paperwork, headed off to Customs in the Qantas provided car/driver, got the Customs stamp of approval, back to Qantas, paid $30 and was pointed to my bike. Reconnected the battery and reloaded the luggage, geared up and I was off. Refueled (gassed up) at the closest servo, as I had less than a litre of fuel, and was on my way at 12.30pm. Not too bad - just over 4 hours from when the plane landed.
Yoiks! The GPS didn't work, and I had no maps with me. But I had studied the northern route out of LA so many times that I had remembered it. I managed 400km before the excessive heat, tiredness and jetlag finally caught up to me, and a motel became home for the night. An early start saw me arrive in Moxee, WA, about 10pm, having ridden another 1300km through the heat.
It was great to see Roy Willson again. We had met at BMW rallies back in 2005 during my previous trip. Roy and his wife, Shelley, had very kindly offered their home as a base while I was in North America.
Next day I set up a local bank account [to avoid the fees when using Australian cards] , did some shopping, spent heaps of time talking bikes with Roy and sorted my gear, preparatory to heading east the next day.
Disaster! I could manage only 200km. It felt as if I'd pinched a nerve in my back. I was in agony. I blamed it on the new seat "settling in". So began the motelling. I was too sick and sore to even think about putting the tent up each night, and would collapse, exhausted from the pain and the heat, onto the motel bed and crash out for the night. It was all repeated the following day, and the next, and the next.
In an effort to keep my mind off the pain, I'd decided to do a Iron Butt Association "National Parks Master Tour", which requires one to purchase a "Parks Passport" from any National Parks Visitor Centre, then have it stamped at each National Park one visits, until one has stamps for 50 parks in at least 25 different states. It's actually a great way to travel, as one gets to see some brilliant scenery and historical buildings in places often passed by when travelling on the Interstates and major highways. My first Nat Park was just over the Washington border, in Spalding, Idaho.
But I was still in great pain, and had already drastically revised my plans for the weeks ahead. Nope, I couldn't see myself riding 1,000 mile (yes, miles) every day as I'd planned. I was barely managing 300-400km a day! I wanted to go to Wisconsin, to Russell Moccasins, to be fitted for a pair of bike/walking boots, then be down in St Louis for the finish of the Iron Butt Rally. It would be an effort to make it in time, but I was determined. Also, I now wouldn't make it to the BMW Club rally at Galena, IL, as I'd planned. No way known.
Some days, fearing the pain to come, I just didn't want to get on the bike, but knew I must, as time was passing. I couldn't "wuss" out of it! We struggled eastwards, grabbed NP stamps where possible, enjoyed the Black Hills [there was a twisty road!!!], and eventually stopped to camp at Hot Springs, SD (South Dakota), as I was really hanging out to cook some "real" food. How do people actually "live" on take-away food all the time?? I can't do it! I was getting desperate. But it's difficult to cook in motel rooms, so I needed to camp. Ahhhh - pork chops with steamed carrot and broccoli. Wonderful! It was a lovely little RV (recreational vehicle) park, relatively quiet, out of town, so I took another "rest day" and enjoyed the break.
Ever eastward, on Hwy 44, which parallels I-90 but lies to the south, all the way across SD - and it's a big state. Visited Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre, and Badlands NP. Rode through the Ogala Sioux Reservation areas. Visited Blue Moon Saloon, in Witten, SD. And that's a story for another time!
It had been hot all the way, and I'd followed the rain and thunderstorms which had lashed the mid-west just days prior. This changed as I entered Minnesota. It bucketed down! Aqua-planing is fun, isn't it? Right across MN in the rain, heading into the ever darkening clouds of the thunderstorms over Wisconsin. The lightning stopped me. No way was I going to ride straight into a lightning storm! I holed up in a motel, and watched the lightning slashing blazing paths across the sky in the direction I'd been headed.
It was still raining the next morning when I set off for Russell Moccasins, in Wisconsin, and my boots were a little damp when I arrived some time later. The staff at Russell Моcs have a very professional attitude to making boots, taking about 13 measurements per foot/leg, to get the exact fit for each boot. Hmmm, what strange feet I have! Hopefully I'll be able to walk comfortably in my new boots, which take 18 weeks from ordering to delivery. A nice Christmas present. Shame I won't be around to collect them till April next year!
South through Wisconsin, Iowa and into Missouri, heading for St Louis. One of the main reasons I'd wanted to make this "quick trip" was to attend the Finishers Banquet of the Iron Butt Rally, held this year at the Doubletree Hotel, in Chesterfield, St Louis. It was a great weekend, wandering around looking at all the farkles on all the bikes. Met lots of people who had been, until then, just names on email lists. It's much nicer to be able to put a face to a name. Took heaps of photos of the rally bikes. Amazing efforts by the winner and all finishers. Don't think I'd ever be able to do it.
Had the bike serviced in St Louis, then headed back west across Missouri, gathering NPs as I went, then into Kansas, the "sunflower state". Miles and miles of not very much of anything, altho I did notice that the architecture had changed a little, the preferred building material now being brick, rather than the weatherboard (or siding, as it's known) which I'd seen all along the route. On advice from the Ranger at Fort Larned, I took a slight detour to visit Greensburg, KS, which had been hit by a tornado in May 2007. The devastation was almost total, with 95% of the houses destroyed. Very few structures remain, chiefly the grain silos. Rebuilding has begun, and the people seem upbeat and positive, and vow to rebuild and remain in their town. How lucky we are that Australia doesn't see the constant tornados, hurricanes and cyclones that batter the USA each year.
From Kansas, south into the Oaklahoma panhandle then west through the Texas panhandle, also to gather NPs. Then it was further west, up into the cooler mountains of New Mexico, to Sipapu Ski Resort, near Taos, for the Land Of Enchantment BMW Club rally. Caught up with Voni and Paul Glaves, whom I'd met in St Louis, and also Bob (aka "Smellybiker") from England, who created the Wanderlust GPS software, with whom I'd swapped emails. Bob and his partner Angie are travellers, and are now back down in Peru. No doubt I'll catch up with them again on my way south.
I did the obligatory "four corner stretch" at the confluence of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, altho didn't get a photo of myself doing it. Oh well, another time. I then headed north into Colorado, and rode some great minor roads, some with a few twists at times, and all with superb scenery. Gathered up a few more NPs, including the amazing "Colorado Monument". Now, you'd assume that this would be an edifice of some kind, wouldn't you? Nope - it's 19 miles of road, twisting through the most absolutely STUNNING country. Actually, it's downright dangerous - trying to keep one's attention on the road when surrounded by such splendour is extremely difficult, believe me. So many photo opportunities, but it's impossible to stop at every vista, altho I would have liked to have taken more photos.
Still further north through Colorado, on a day on which I missed 3 NPs because they were closed on Mondays! No happy, Jan! West into Utah and just made it to Heber Valley RV Park at night fall. I'd stayed here in 2005, and knew that wireless internet was available. All day, as I'd been riding towards Heber, I'd been thinking of pulling the pin on the whole RTW trip - I just couldn't stand the pain in my back any longer. How was I going to tell everyone that it was all over, before I'd barely begun? I fell asleep, mulling things over.
Morning brought a whole new day - and with it, almost freezing weather! Bewdy!! I'd had the best night's sleep of the whole trip, camped in my tent, snuggled up in my warm bed. And I could now face the trip with renewed vigour, as I felt wonderful. Amazing what a good night's sleep and some cold weather can do, isn't it? An early start saw me hitting Salt Lake City at morning peak hour, but it was great twisting through the spaghetti loops from I-80 east-west onto I-15 north-south at 75mph, barely keeping abreast of the fast moving traffic. Exhilarating! Northward, to Idaho, and I-84, for a fast run to Caldwell, ID, where I wanted to check out an outdoor fabric store I'd discovered on the 'net. Doncha just love GPSs? No way would it find or take me where I had to go! Eventually, I wussed out and asked at a local shop, where a very kind lady rang the fabric business, to be told that she would see the building, if she looked diagonally across the street! Oh well, these things happen! Even the locals didn't know it was there, apparently.
After drooling over the wonderful range of fabrics, it was back on the road, still heading west, over the border into Oregon, when I camped for the night at a nice State Park, near Huntington. Moxee was looming closer, but I still had another stop to make, in Kennewick, WA, at the REI camping/outdoors store. But, typically, what I wanted wasn't available, altho the website of manufacturer of the Trail Sling chair had indicated that REI, Kennewick, had the chair in stock. They'd never even heard of the chair!
Onward, "home" to Moxee, to dump some more gear, and grab a good night's sleep. Then off the next day headed to Canada, to visit friends made back in 2005. Stopped some way north, at a rest area which advertised as having WiFi (yes, some rest areas over here DO have WiFi provided!). I was a bit taken aback to be confronted with a sign near the entrance - "Beware - rattlesnakes are active in this area" OMG! I didn't stay long, as I couldn't get the WiFi to work properly (any excuse!) Camped for the night near the Grand Coulee Dam, an enormous and imposing structure, harnessing the waters of the errr, ummmm, Columbia??? river. OOPS! will have to check this.
Into Canada at last, and on to Salmon Arm, British Columbia, where it was great to catch up with Chris and Arlie, whom I'd met in 2005 at some BMW club rallies. I spent several very restful and relaxing days enjoying the company and hospitality of my friends. (Thanks, guys) But I had to get moving again, as I wanted to go on to Vancouver, to catch up with some other friends. It rained, and it rained, all the way to Lilloett, my destination for the night. I camped at the first RV park I could find, which looked great, with views up to the mountains across the river. Into bed, with a slight breeze blowing. Woken at 3.30am by the tent vestibule collapsing in on to me! It was blowing a gale and pouring rain, and a huge wind gust had literally ripped the "front" 6 pegs out of the ground/gravel and dispersed them in all directions.
So I had to dress then stumble around with a torch looking for the pegs, and bang them all back in, all the while getting wetter and wetter. But at least it must have subsided during the rest of the night/morning, as I'd fallen asleep at some stage. Morning brought a calm new day, with the surrounding mountains covered in fresh new snow. I managed to dry the tent off in the strengthening sunshine, and made a late start for Vancouver.
The road from Lilloett to Whistler (Hwy 99) has to be one of the most magnificent roads I've ever ridden. Glorious scenery, twisty roads, not a lot of traffic, snowy mountain tops peeking above the rocky outcrops. Brilliant. Through Whistler, home to myriads of expat Aussie snowbirds, and the venue for some of the 2010 Winter Olympics sports. Because of the Olympics, major roadworks are in progress between Whistler and Vancouver, which meant dribbling along slowly for about 105km!!!! Frustrating, to say the least. But at last I arrived in Vancouver, found a motel and fell into bed for a decent night's sleep.
Shopping the next day at MEC (camping store extraodinare!) then out to West Vancouver to stay with Derek and Barb Ward, Derek being the organiser of the Nakusp Hot Springs Rally. It was good to catch up with them again, and Barb and I had long chats about her show dogs, and my re-homed show dogs. [Dogshowing and bike riding aren't really compatible - the bikes won!] After another relaxing interlude, it was back on the bike, and back into the USA, where I called in to see Tommy Ryser in Blaine, just across the border. I'd met Tommy, his wife Allie, son Nick and Quattro the dog at some rallies in 2005.
Tommy had returned, just half an hour before I arrived, from a GSing trip down through Oregon, cut short when one of the group of riders came off and broke his neck, necessitating a chopper retrieval and carriage to the hospital. [All the memories of my accident in August 2006 came flooding back!] I wish him well, and hope he regains his health and strength quickly, and returns to riding. It was just a brief chat with Tommy, but it was good to see him again.
I'd been told that Hwy 20 through the northern Cascades was brilliant, and well worth riding, so turned off the Interstate and made camp in a State Park a short way along Hwy 20. These Park camps are wonderful, set in forests with towering conifers, pines, firs etc all around, and usually very quiet, expecially now when the summer tourists had returned home. It was so peaceful and quiet that I declared a "rest day", as I had no real reason to hurry back to Yakima, and I wanted to enjoy the serenity of it as long as I could. I wandered through the forest, and strolled along the river, the winter home of many, many Bald Eagles who come to feed on the salmon following spawning. A delightful park.
The next day's ride took me along some glorious country road, very little traffic, stunning scenery, as is usual in this area. Managed to grab a couple of NPs through here, also, which were bonuses (bonii??). Stayed at yet another State Park that night, to again be confronted with the "Beware - Western Rattlesnakes are active in this area" sign! OMG! And I'd walked over to the toilet block in the falling dusk before seeing it!
The Park Ranger eased my fears, though, when he called in to collect the fees, saying they'd all be snuggled down for the winter by now. Phew!
Can you imagine a river SO still it is perfectly glass-like? This is how I found the Columbia River when rounding a corner later the next morning, so serene, unmoving, not a wrinkle marring its surface, until a small waterfowl ventured out and caused an ever widening bow wave, which spread so rapidly it was amazing.
The apples, I must mention the apples! Vast orchards along both banks of the river, with mountains of picking/packing crates in which they are shipped off to market. And "pickers' huts", the likes of which used to abound in Sunraysia (Mildura) for the grape pickers many years ago. Of course, I must also mention the trains, those mighty snakes wriggling their way across the country, hundreds of carriages long, double stacked with 40' containers. I had "measured" one, as it stood chuffing at a station, and it was 2.2km long from engine to tail. So how many fewer semis would we need if everything possible was transported by train ...?
And so I'd now returned to my "home" in Moxee, and the end of my shakedown run, a little wiser, but still a little worried about my back. I had to now return to Australia for a few weeks.