Day 1 / Thursday, June 12, 2008
The first morning, with only three hours of sleep, I was glad to note that I felt well-rested and was raring to go. As I do on the departure of every trip, as soon as I leave home, I started running through a list in my mind of things I might've forgotten (camera, phone, passport, etc) and I realized I had forgotten the title to the bike. All though not a required document for crossing into Canada, it's still a good thing to carry on long trips.
Route map of the first leg of the journey: Chicago across the US into Vancouver; 2,560 miles.
The plan was to take four days to get to Vancouver: two days on the Interstate and two days through the twisties of Montana, Idaho and lower British Columbia in Canada. Heavy rain started pretty close to home and kept going on and off throughout the next two days. I was pleased that my Motoport rain liners were working flawlessly and if you're gear keeps you adequately dry, then riding in the rain is no problem. I headed up I-94 across Minnesota and was aiming to get past Fargo, North Dakota.
As blasphemous as it sounds to the motorcycling community, I actually look forward to riding the Interstate (to get to where I'm going) because it allows me to listen to audio books. I've found that to be the best way to make the highway miles fly by and reduce fatigue as well, since you're paying attention to the book. I started off with Carl Sagan's book, "Pale Blue Dot" that goes into the philosophy of mankind's place in the Universe and the justification for human space exploration. Of course, I only plug in the audio books when I'm on empty stretches of highway. If I'm riding through a city or in really heavy rain or wind, then it's just back to music.
On the road in northern Minnesota heading straight towards this dark mass of rain clouds. I waited for a few minutes after a gas stop, but the storm wasn't moving from my perspective, so I rode through it. Rain isn't so much an issue, neither is wind really, it's lightning that I'm most worried about...
After about 700 miles, I found a nice quiet campsite near Valley City, ND on the shores of Lake Ashtabula, which was formed by the Baldhill Dam built by the Army Corps of Engineers. I had a nice conversation with a lady from Florida that was trying to fish for the first time from the pier and was having a tough time getting the line through the reel. She couldn't believe that I was actually riding to Alaska on that little motorcycle. She said I should at least do it on a Harley. I got that advice quite a few times actually while talking to people that came up to me at gas stations.
I started my campfire with a single matchstick, but couldn't really enjoy my dinner by the fire as the winds were picking up and blowing everything around. It was a clear night and I enjoyed watching the stars for a bit and didn't realize at the time that this would be hard to do in the coming days as the sun would be staying up longer and longer the further north I went.
Arriving at my campsite near Fargo, North Dakota after 700 miles from home. This is the Ashtabula Campground setup by the Army Corps of Engineers that built a nearby dam. It's about 9 pm local time.
Tent setup only takes about 5 minutes. That's the great thing about this 1-person tent, lightweight and easy to setup.
Sunset over Lake Ashtabula.
Nice flat Top Box works well for hauling additional loads, like firewood.
There's something I just love about setting up a campfire. Even if I don't need it for warmth or light, just having it going creates a sense of home. Maybe it goes back to prehistoric times...
A crackling fire. The fire pit was sunken in the ground maybe because this area is known to have high winds. The winds picked up at night and kept the fire going for a long time.
A halo around the full moon and look, you can even see some stars. Another reason I love camping is the ability to stare up at clear skies, but this trip in the peak of long summer days would mean un-ideal conditions for star gazing.
I thought the fire had died down enough in the fire pit when I went to bed, but an hour later, it was roaring again due to the constant supply of oxygen from the relentless wind, forcing me to wake up and put it out again. And then an hour later or so, it started raining and I had everything spread out on the picnic table seeing that it was going to be a clear night. I quickly stuffed all my gear into my one-person tent (sleeping on top of most of it) and tried to fall asleep as I knew I had another 700 miles to go the next day. But then the wind finally knocked down my tent, requiring me to re-stake it in the rain. This was not going good for being the first night of the trip. But I didn't let something like all this get to me. From my experiences so far, I know that keeping a positive attitude when things are not going well is the key to seeing it through. I knew tomorrow would be sunny and fell asleep on that thought.
Day 2 / Friday, June 13, 2008
It was still super windy the next morning and throughout the whole day. I knew one of the downsides of carrying extra weight on the bike would be decreased fuel efficiency; in calm winds I was getting around 40 mpg. With no luggage I usually get close to 50 mpg. But today, I was getting around 28 mpg and found out from a Camry driver at a gas station that there was a 25 mph headwind (going east) that was slowing me down. He was heading east and getting about 45 mpg!
Passing by the Painted Canyon near Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. The different layers are various sediment layers from millions of years ago. History Live. I passed through here with Rick and Andy two years ago when we were coming back from a Montana/Idaho trip.
I experienced quite a bit of rain and heavy winds in my two days on the Interstate heading towards Montana and I think this picture captures it well: the grass being blown sideways and the dark wall of a storm up ahead. My Motoport rain liners worked really well and I never got wet.
I got done with the Interstate a little into Montana and took Hwy-200 across the great plains of this majestic state. I feel there's some allure to Montana. I rode through here two years ago with a bunch of friends and we had a very positive experience.
At a gas station near Lewiston, a lady approached me and said I must be an engineer because it looked like I had prepared for everything (seeing the extra fuel tanks and the spare tire) and as we got talking, she said she was Linda Boltman, the secretary for ABATE in Montana, which is a motorcyclist's rights organization who are involved in motorcycle safety education, laws that affect riders and many other aspects of improving motorcycling in the US. She was excited for my journey and asked if I had a website going for my trip and I noted it down for her. And on her suggestion, I would try and get a sticker made of my trip's website to mount on my bike, maybe in Vancouver.
I would say more people approached me at gas stations on this trip then on my way to Mexico, because I think all my luggage, spare tire and fuel tanks gave it away that I was going on a long journey. I felt people were genuinely happy for me saying things like, "good for you, this is going to be a great experience, do it while you're still young," etc. After I told them I was headed to Alaska, I would get a few raised eyebrows and then nods of approval.
The only problem with riding west is having the setting Sun staring you in the face, which is not really safe. I took an extended break, waiting for the Sun to dip below the horizon before pushing on to Great Falls, ending the day with a beautiful two hour ride into the twilight.
Getting off the Interstate and taking MT-200 west across this great big state.
This is my favorite time of day to ride - dusk. Yes, there's more to worry about with animals on the move at dusk and dawn but riding with this kind of sunlight makes up for it.
And how can you beat this. That's the nice thing about riding west, you ride into the sunset. Of course, it's not good when the sun is just above the horizon because it's shining right in your face, but just after it sets, riding into twilight is a special feeling. This twilight here near Great Falls lasted about two hours up to 11 pm and notice the changing shades of blue of the atmosphere.
Next: Day 3, Montana into British Columbia, Canada
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