USA – Part 1

So today is significant because I have crossed the halfway point of the US leg of my voyage;  both in days and distance. It’s Day 10 and I have covered over 2000 kilometers from Vancouver through the coastal and rocky mountains arriving today in Salt Lake City. About 100 km north of town it finally started warming up.   Apparently it is unseasonably warm for the 3rd of November, 17 degrees super sunny, reminiscent of summer or a at least a very warm spring day in Vancouver. I stopped at a visitor info booth to get some information on Zion National Park and spread my long road weary body out on the grass to bask. When I got back on my bike, I shit you not, the song that immediately started playing on my Ipod was Road To Zion- Damian Marley & Nas. You can’t make up stuff like that…but you should certainly write about it when it happens! It has been a very interesting journey so far in terms of weather conditions, the people I’ve encountered, and the learning curve accompanying a long motorcycle trip.

I departed Van-city on October 25th amidst a near-teary farewell from Tanya Christine. She stayed strong though and gave me the venerable and upright send off, befitting the girl of my dreams. I was actually fairly numb after mounting up and riding out of the driveway thinking about the comfortable existence I was leaving behind for who knew what. But even before reaching the border, the open road and metaphorical wind through the hair feeling, had combined leaving nothing but elation. All the apprehension preceding this trip and the stresses from running around getting everything ready had simply vanished. I was now completely engulfed with excitement for the unknown people, places, adventures and hardships which lay ahead.

Leaving Day

The weather held for the whole day and I wished I’d kept my sunglasses accessible as I waited in line up at the Peace Arch border crossing, my helmet perched on my bike’s rear view mirror. The border guard seemed dis-satisfied that I was travelling alone and had no plans to meet anyone in particular while I was in ‘America’. I told him my intended stay would be 3 weeks but of course I didn’t let on that it was to be a clean shot through with no particular plan on coming back.  His irritability and petulance, widespread amongst border personnel, was evident but he had no choice this time and he waved me through.  Except for a bit of traffic and some glitches with my GPS set-up, the ride to the foothills of the Coastal Mountains had been completely without discord. Exactly what I was hoping a Day 1 would look like.

Hwy 2 in Washington State

I had worked double time getting everything together to depart a day early and take advantage of the sunny weather projected for Thursday. This definitely paid off as the temperature was becoming increasingly more frigid as I followed Hwy 2 up the mountain pass towards Leavenworth. When I summited Steven Pass,

Steven’s Pass

just 35 km south of Mt. Baker at an elevation just over 4,000ft, the base of snow in the parking lot of the adjacent ski resort was a good 3 or 4 inches. My hands were fairly numb at this point and I was extremely thankful, I’d decided to get my new boots and snowboard gloves the day before departing instead of waiting to make these invaluable purchases in the US. Inspiring or auspicious songs that came up on shuffle during my ride:  Ice Cube- It Was a Good Day,  Blind Melon- Mouthful of Cavities, Nine Inch Nails- The Hand That Feeds, Bob Dylan- Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Goodie Mobb- Guess Who

Through Couchsurfing.com, I had hosted Courtney and Stewart at my place in Vancouver 2 and a half years ago during the winter olympics. This time the tables were turned, and Courtney graciously let me stay at their place in Leavenworth in true pay it forward Couchsurfing fashion. Stewart was in New Orleans for work but Courtney was hosting the local You Brew beer club meeting that night. I listened for a bit and cracked some jokes but these guys were pretty serious about their craft and their expertise about making beer went way beyond what I had picked up from years of intense consumption. I snuck away to send out some surf requests for the next few days of my excursion.

Just Outside Leavenworth, WA

Day 3:  The leg to Spokane was unfortunately not as tame. I endured freezing rain and fog for 5 straight hours. The rain just would not let up. This day my fingers were beyond numb. Even with hand warmers stuffed in my gloves, I was really just hooking my hands around the handlebars doing my best to keep pressure on the throttle. At no point did I think I was going to succumb and consider just tipping over into the ditch, but I was in a good degree of discomfort and was willing the kilometers to tick by faster. Making this day even more unpleasant were the scarce number of services along this stretch of interstate highway. When I finally came to a truck stop, I stumbled through the door, to the upturned stares of approximately 20 patrons. I tried to nonchalantly shuffle my 6’6” frame, soaking wet, shivering and cloaked in a high-vis jacket, over to the register. Quickly scanning the menu board, all I saw was hamburger this and chicken that. Not a really wide selection of healthy options. I spat out my order of a cheeseburger, fries and a very hot coffee. I had a feeling my mostly-vegetarian diet was going to get battered during this trip.  And here we were only on Day 3. I was thankful for the food and slowly began to rejuvenate. A couple guys came over to check out my bike in the parking lot. We stood under cover from the drumming rain and I gratefully accepted a cigarette while answering their questions with regards to the adventure I had embarked upon. Considering my fatigued body language, sopping riding attire and the still pounding rain, I thought they might snicker at my intended quest but instead they were super excited and encouraging. They said my trip sounded incredible and wished me luck. Then they told me that that they were on their way to go fishing for the day. Tough stock out here in rural America.

Day 4:  After a disgustingly oversize and expensive Denny’s hangover breakfast- $18 for a veggie omelette, coffee and juice totalling 11% of my total expenditures to date- I headed back to the interstate, thankful for the short ride from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene. I was fairly sure that Idaho was a red state after passing half a dozen giant auditorium-like churches with backlit marquees or scrolling LED signs summoning devotees to the next prayer service or evangelical performance. There was a lot of plastic siding, pick-up trucks and rusted out lawn-cars in this town. I started to envision my Couchsurfing hosts, at this moment, sitting at the breakfast table eating grits in greasy undershirts with some white supremacist anthem playing low on the hi-fi. I was stoked when pretty, dark haired Amanda cheerfully answered the door, starting off an entire day of intelligent and energetic conversation about politics, philosophy, relationships and our respective travel plans. I had absolutely the best day with her and was super glad that I’d decided to stop off here. Her boyfriend, Keith, is a firefighter and he was doing a 72 hour shift at the station. I got to hang out with him the next morning after Amanda left for her teaching job and was similarly impressed with his character and tales of adventure. They are planning a trip to Patagonia soon; hopefully it with correspond with my itinerary and I will have the pleasure of getting to hang out with these two again. Absolute Rockstars of the Couchsurfing community!

Day 5:  I had been trying to wait out the 30mm of rain that the weather network was predicting for the morning. Of course, by the time I decided to leave around 10:30am it hadn’t even started to rain yet. Keith, a dual sport enthusiast himself, watched as I loaded up my aluminum panniers, tank bag and 140L waterproof duffel. He told me he has considered doing some long-distance touring himself. He asked how I liked the new crash-bars which I’d had the guys at Burnaby Kawasaki install before I left. I responded that since I hadn’t dumped my bike yet, I couldn’t comment, but that they seemed very robust and I admitted that I was actually eager to see how well they would work. When I’d finished packing up, Keith bid me farewell and good luck and went back into the house.  I did my final checks of the gear and upon completion gave my duffel a hearty whack to express my satisfaction with the packing job. Before I could react, the bike started inching forward and CRASH, it rolled off its kickstand plunging sideways to the ground. I was terrified having never put down a bike this big (not to mention never having crashed without even being ON the bike.) I quickly ran to the front end and instinctively, perhaps invoking the reliable three-second rule of dropped food, grabbed the handlebars and launched the fully loaded motorcycle back onto her tires. Checking the downed side I didn’t see any damage at all. The fairings were untouched and the pannier boxes weren’t even dented. The crash-bars had done their job admirably. Considering Keith hadn’t come back outside, I assumed that either he hadn’t heard the accident or else didn’t want to compound my embarrassment. Thankful for the reprieve, I popped on my helmet and gloves and made tracks.

Of course the rain started falling as soon as I had gotten back onto the open road. And it came with a vengeance. An absolute torrential downpour was unleashed from the heavens without apology or regret. The drops of rain seemed to smash off my helmet like a death metal drum solo. It felt like I had just ridden into a wall of water. I had discovered a small leak in the right pannier that I had tried to patch before leaving Coeur d’Alene. In lieu of duct tape, Keith had offered a roll of athletic tape. This weather would certainly test how well the patch job would work. I was really anxious about this stretch of highway since there was a steep elevation rise from the Idaho/Montana border to Missoula. One of my prospective CS hosts had messaged back to be careful on approach because it had “snowed like a mofo” just a couple days before. I specifically wanted to do a stretch through Montana on this trip, evoking reminiscences from a childhood road trip of bikers cruising through the desert silhouetted against the buttes and imposing mesas. It all seemed very romantic to a 10 year nestled in the safety and comfort of his mother’s car- and I’m pretty sure that trip had been in summer. Considering the weather reports and what I had already experienced enroute to Spokane, I’d toyed with the idea of abandoning my Montana aspiration and heading due south to Boise. Upon investigating Google Maps it turned out the pass to Boise was at an even higher elevation and the weather reports weren’t any more encouraging. Essentially I was corned by daunting topography and inhospitable weather conditions so naturally I said, screw it, and decided to push through Montana as planned. It seems that the entire 30mm of precipitation had fallen all in one shot as I had left town. Auspiciously the ride through the Rockies was mostly dry. No snow either. Yessss!!! Besides some really cool views of the old mining towns along the way, the ride through to Missoula was entirely uneventful. I was beginning to toy with the possibility that I might actually survive this trip.

Big Sky Country Montana

Day 8:   Just south of Idaho Falls, I had the pleasure to stay at the farm of Arne and Joy Preece. They have hosted over 60 couchsurfers and have a very comfortable finished basement for this purpose. I was greatly inspired by the way their farm was laid out. On just 3.5 acres they had a lovely manicured back yard behind the house with a lush, healthy green lawn, fruit trees and flower arrangements set into planters made of stacked indigenous rock. There were numerous barns, sheds and fenced areas housing their dozen or so goats, 20 chickens/roosters, 2 sheep, 8 beehives. The farm was also home to 2 dogs, 2 cats, 1 dirty bird, and 3 caged zebra finches. Sometimes they keep pigs but there were none here at this time. Arne works as a nuclear engineer and is extremely handy. He is presently building an immaculate hay loft adjacent to the feed pens with an insulated chicken coop beneath. He had engineered the structure to a magnificent factor of safety to endure the strong wind uplift, snow loads and seemingly time eternal. As a construction engineer, I was greatly impressed.

They have parcels of land designated for crops and a homemade greenhouse for year round vegetables and herbs. The construction of the greenhouse was super simple yet effective and aesthetically pleasing. Wire mesh arches about 10 feet high covered with plastic sheeting. An elevated irrigation system running along each side connected to a sump pump in the canal outside. And an exhaust fan cut into one end. Joy works as a school librarian through the week, but has Fridays and summers off. She inevitably has the green thumb, enjoys canning and delights in the hard work related to running a farm. When I arrived she offered me a beer and then immediately put me to work clearing some tree limbs that their future son-in-law, Rian, was falling at the rear of the property. Rian and I got along really well. He’s in his early 30’s and had been living in Portland going to school for environmental conservation. He says he gets tired of the hippie culture there and enjoys staying on the farm and actually working towards self-sufficiency rather than just gesticulating about it. He had just completed a four month trek along the Pacific Coast Trail and his stories were very reminiscent to those in from Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’.

When the work was done for the day, I let Rian take my bike down the rough canal trail which cut across the various farms for some miles. I rode a little 250cc dirt bike they have on the farm. Super speedy and maneuverable compared to my 650cc KLR. Like a Tomcat pilot getting to test-fly a Mig. At the end of the road we traded off and I absolutely ate up the uneven terrain teasing the speedometer up to 80km. That’s the confidence that a straight week in the saddle brings I suppose.

The next day I helped Joy till and weed the greenhouse soil and plant some garlic. Arne and Rian went into town to grab some ply and rolled steel for the hayloft and we did a bit of work on the roof when they got back. My favourite part about the farm was how neatly and well maintained most things were. The pens were made of tubular steel cattle fencing poured into the ground with a concrete sill running along the perimeter and partially buried railway ties for thresholds beneath the gates. All the pens had shelters with cantilevered overhangs to provide shade and protection for the animals and the feed. Next to the house there was a huge wood shed with enough neatly stacked timber to last a year. They had 2 large, round, plastic containers for collecting rainwater from roofs and 4 x 1000 gallon square plastic compost bins. Another cool feature which Joy was proud of were the old refrigerator shells which they had salvaged and buried in the ground to act as root cellars. I told Joy about the documentary ‘Garbage Warrior’ and all the inventive recycling techniques that eco-architect Michael Reynolds had come up with. It was just very encouraging to visit the Preece farm and realize what was possible on a small parcel of land. I was especially chuffed about the bees. I cannot wait to keep bees on my farm someday!

While I was performing pre-checks the day before leaving Canada, my bike snagged a flower from the garden bordering Tanya’s driveway. I cannot fathom how it has survived the onslaught of rain and wind but somehow it is still resting comfortably on my dash. (-:

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