To The Canadian Shield and Beyond

 

To The Canadian Shield and Beyond

OR

The Ride Goes On Forever

 

June 2009

Things seldom work out as first intended as most anyone who has been around for any length of time will probably tell you.

There were several of the north eastern states as well as several Canadian provinces I had not been in. My daughter was to move to New York City from Philadelphia and with a little effort we could tie all of that together into a nice trip. It turned out that my daughter could not come along on the trip but that was no reason to abandon the trip. She was still moving so I needed to get to Philadelphia. As a much too large part of the trip was to be on the interstate the Goldwing was the bike of choice. So, with the normal little beforehand planning, other than deciding the direction of travel, I set off.

First, I was heading for De Smet South Dakota.

I hit a little rain about the Kansas line that persisted until a little past Nebraska, but nothing serious. After that, it was hot and clear. I went straight up Hwy 81 and for the most part, it was a pleasant trip. This year, there has been plenty of water so every thing was green and growing.

The Little House on The Prairie books are a great series of books written by Laura Ingles Wilder. When my kids were growing up I must have read them the complete set several times. De Smet South Dakota is where the family eventually settled, the girls grew up and where much of the action of several of the books takes place.

There is a marker at the actual homestead site, and if you believe the marker, there are some of the actual Cottonwood trees that Pa planted. It is possible, as there are some large Cottonwoods at the site and those trees can live a long time. Also, the Big Slough and Silver Lake are there both of which figure in several of the books.

Laura and Almanzo are buried in Mansfield Missouri, and the kids and I have been there. The rest of the family is buried in De Smet. This part of South Dakota and parts of Minnesota, where parts of the stories are based, is all into Laura Ingles Wilder.

After De Smet, I headed east across Minnesota and wound up in Mankato with a forgetful meal of some sort of fish. This was one of the longer days with a little over 900 miles covered.

The next morning, it was up and at the door at the crack of 7:30, heading for St. Paul. As it was Sunday, there was not much traffic and it was a nice ride along side a pretty river. Minneapolis/St Paul is a large city, not much you can say about that. Heading east it was a nice ride. This area was heavily glaciated the last go round and much of the soil originated in Canada and was left here in gently rolling hills, and it is quite fertile. The weather was warm and sunny and there were a lot of bikes on the road. Not so surprisingly, considering where I was, most of them appeared to be Harleys.

I was heading down the road and saw a sign that said “geographic marker”, nothing else, just a direction arrow. I had no idea what it was, but I had to see. So, several miles down a nice country road, here is what I found.

Sitting out in a corn field was a sign that said I was halfway to the North Pole and a quarter of the way around the IMG_0801earth. There is a little addition to the sign explaining that the sign is not the actual point. That point is about 1000’ east of the sign, but the farmer would not let them put the sign and the road there. And, as there was a fence around the site I don’t think the farmer wants you walking through his crop to the actual point. In the scheme of things, I doubt the 1000’ is much to worry about.

 So, it was back on the road, north east across the rest of Wisconsin into Michigan. Along the way I left the farming land and moved into the forests. This happened because there was much less soil as the glaciers picked it up and dropped it further west. If you have traveled much you realize while forests are pretty, it is easy to get all you can handle. Two or three hundred miles of a road with nothing but trees on each side get a little boring, not a lot of difference between pine trees.

Things changed with Lake Michigan showing up and for sure when I came into Munising on the south shore of Lake Superior. Coming into Munising I was doing the piney forest and it was quite warm. Then, over a very short distance the temperature dropped about 20 degrees and fog showed up. The person who worked in the store said they have interesting winters with lots of snow.

I left Munising in a jacket and within about two miles I was getting out of it. After that it was back in the piney woods and not much else until I called it a night in Sault Ste. Marie.

As a point, at Sault Ste. Marie there are a whole flock of locks connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron and the rest of the Great Lakes. Before these locks were built no large ships went into Lake Superior as the connection is very shallow with lots of rocks.

Monday it was into Canada. Originally, I was going to go around the south side of the lakes and over into Vermont and east. However, it is much straighter to cross over and come in from the north. I would also get to traverse part of the Canadian Shield.

As difficult as it is for me to understand, I have been told that there are some who have no idea what the Canadian Shield is. For the woefully uninformed, the Canadian Shield is an area where most of the soil and overlying rock was scraped away by the last glacier event and deposited to the south west, as in Iowa.

What is left are the Great Lakes along with rounded hills with striations on them from the glaciers. About the only soil present is what has developed since the glaciers departed. The vegetation is mostly grasses and small trees.

In Canada, the province of Quebec has tried several times to become a separate French speaking country, and has so far failed. In most of Canada they have two sets of road signs, one in English and one in French. However, this is not so in Quebec. Their signs are only in French. So, as I went through Ottawa towards Montreal navigating got a little iffy as my French is rather poor.

Towards Ottawa and east, you run out of the Shield area and get back into the farmland. Again, it is a very pretty and green area. I stopped for the night at a little place south of Montreal. I wanted to cross over into Vermont but the map did not show a good way to get it done. Outside of the motel was a sign pointing to a town to the south, the direction I wanted. Trusting to luck, off I went.

It was a very nice ride and did get me across into Vermont but not before I was wondering how far I would have to backtrack. There was one point where the road was hardly a one lane road with grass growing up through the asphalt.

 IMG00016This is what I found. It did not open until 8:00 and I was a few minutes early. One of the problems with crossing at places like this is that you get all of the attention of the workers. If they are busy, they ask one or two questions and send you along your way. While they did not get into opening saddlebags I was starting to wonder.

Anyway, as you can see by the photo it was a lovely day.  I was in Vermont and things were good. This is a very rural area, mainly small farms, a lot of them dairy. As I rode along at about 50 mph I thought about how much things depend on your prospective. In this instance you could either, decide things were good, in was a nice day and enjoy things. Or, you could decide you were making very poor time and the place smelled like manure. And, due to the cows and using manure for fertilizer, it did smell like manure.

 I much prefer the first way.

A little further on, I ran across Johnson Cold Springs which is what is says, a spring flowing straight out of the IMG00019ground. I stopped and got a good cold drink. Of course, there was the required sign saying that the water was not tested and if you drank it and died, don’t come back complaining. There was a guy filling up gallon jugs who said that the spring water was all he drank, and he was alive, and I still am, so I don’t think it was too bad.

I picked up highway 2 and kept on across Vermont and into New Hampshire. I was heading for Mt Washington but that was not to be this day. A front was coming in and the weather band said it was fogged in. I ran into rain right about the border with Maine, but not very hard.

I was gassing up and a woman asked if I were heading east. If so, she said, I was in for a mess. According to her, the road was torn up and nothing but mud. According to her, it lasted for almost a mile, considerably less than the 40 we had done in Canada. I thanked her for the advice and went on. It turned out to indeed be about a mile, but no where near as bad as she had stated. Again, there is that perspective issue.

And so, I crossed into Maine. I picked up the interstate to Bangor and then east to New Brunswick. There is not much population east of Bangor until you get to Calais where I called it a night. But, not before I had a nice lobster dinner. It was the whole lobster, about a 3-4 pound one. Nice.

The next morning, it was into New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy has the largest tidal fluctuations in the world. At certain times of the year the Bay totally drains and you can walk on the floor of the bay. This was not the correct time of the year and I had already resigned myself to not being able to walk on the ocean floor. About all I could count on was a 26’ tide, which isn't too bad. They have a road that wanders around down by the bay and it is well worth the ride. If you time it right you can see rivers running backwards as the tide comes in.

I was wondering what I was going to do so I stopped at an information office. I wanted to go to Nova Scotia and I liked the idea of taking a ferry back. There is one that runs from Yarmouth to Portland, but scheduling was a problem. Instead, I could ride to Prince Edward Island and then take a ferry back to Nova Scotia. That sounded good, so off I went.

You can take a bridge to get onto the island. It is free going in, but it costs to come out. Prince Edward Island is a pretty place. There are a lot of farms, small, but a lot of them. One of the things they grow is potatoes and hay and cows.

I made it to the last ferry of the day with about 5 minutes to spare. It true Canadian fashion, there was a road sign going into town and nothing until you get out of town. If you get off of the highway, you are just screwed unless someone tells you how to get back on it. Anyway, I made it out of town only to have a front blow through. In the course of 5 miles or less it dropped 15 degrees and started raining, then it stopped raining and the temperature went back up. But, I finally made it and strapped the bike down amid a bunch of semis. The ride was about 1 ½ hours and it was smooth, thankfully. I got off of the ferry and made it to a town named Truro in Nova Scotia.

Now, I was headed back. I crossed over into New Brunswick heading for Maine. Somehow I missed a turn and wound up quite a bit further north than I wanted. So, instead of crossing over again at Calais I would cross over at St. Croix. It turned out fine; the road to St Croix was very pleasant with little traffic. Again, the crossing was a small one and this time the US officials did have me open the saddlebags. I guess they thought I might be after the pills in Canada.

To say the road from St. Croix to Bangor was little used would be an understatement, and it was rough. In this part of Maine there were a bunch of little towns living mainly on lumbering or tourists. I looked out for Stephen King and Salem’s Lot but did not find them.

As I had missed Mt.Washington on the way up, I wanted to do it on the way back. For those of you who don’t know, Mt. Washington has the highest recorded velocity for wind in North America for sure, and possibly the world. There is a road you can take up it and I wanted to ride that one. I was primarily retracing roads I had been on earlier so I made some time. I was a little worried as I could see a front coming in from the north. If it got there before I did there would be little use in going up.

I made it to the road about 5:00, paid my fare and headed up. It was a very interesting ride. By Colorado standards the elevations were not much. The top of the mountain is not quite 7000’ but looking at the vegetation you would think you were much higher.

 IMG00023This is a view about ½ ways up. As you can see, the clouds were moving in. The road is mostly asphalt with some well packed dirt and gravel sections. It is narrow, rough and about the steepest road I have been on. It is sort of like Pikes Peak, steeper but packed better. When I went to Oregon I hit a short section of dirt road that was a 14% grade for about ½ mile. That might have been a little steeper.

 When I got to the top of the road the front had moved in. I didn’t bother with climbing the stairs to the observation platform.  I have seen fog before. Therefore, I felt no need to seen it again. The road going down was every bit as interesting as coming up. As an experiment I let the bike roll in second gear to see what would happen. The incline was too much. If I stayed off of the brakes I would have to stay in low. With the curves and gravel I was not about to hurry. I made it with no problem and shortly after the bottom I had a little surprise.

I had seen signs all over about moose and had seen nothing. In fact I had not even seen that many deer. Now, here was a full grown Bull Moose standing alongside the road eating grass. There were a bunch of people watching him, but he didn’t seem too concerned. Some of the folks got a little closer than I would have, but that is their neck.

I stopped for the night in West Concord and had a nice meal and a drink at the Muddy Moose restaurant.

The next day I would be in Philly. I figured to ride through Mass., Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York City and then down the Jersey Turnpike into Philly. I didn’t start early hoping to miss the rush hour traffic which worked ok until about 15 miles before NYC. Past that it was 4 hours to make it less than 40 miles. I was on I-95 and it would do no good to get off as I had no idea where to go, so, I stuck it out. It is a good thing the Honda is water cooled. An air cooled bike would have had a tough time as it was all stop and go. Mostly stop: very little go.

Finally I made it out of NYC and onto the Jersey Turnpike and only got in 3 traffic jams before getting off for Philly. I checked into a motel I usually stay in had a couple of stiff drinks and a decent meal and called it a day. Not too many miles, but a long day at any rate.

The next day I headed into Philly early and picked up the truck, a new Ford ¾ ton van with auto and AC. Then it was on to the daughter's place, load her stuff and head back into NYC. At this point, I should say, God bless GPSs. My phone has a GPS application so all we had to do was program the address and follow the directions. Well, that and deal with the traffic. Well the traffic and paying the tolls for the bridges. However, the AC was working well so we had time to talk. We followed the GPS to the right place and it was short order to unload.

Originally, I had thought it would take quite a bit longer to make the move so I had planned on spending the night it NYC or at least making it back to Philly late and turning the truck back over on Sunday. However, here it was shortly after noon and we were done. I decided to head back to Philly, drop off the truck and hit the road back to OKC, so, that is what I did. I only had to deal with two hours of traffic in NYC and one on the turnpike and that was that. Oh yea, that and the one hour traffic jam getting out of Philly.

After dropping off the truck, it was down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I had done this road once before, but it was at night in the rain and I wanted to see it in daylight. Turns out that western Pennsylvania is really pretty even from the Turnpike. Even after all of the mess with traffic I made it 200 miles before stopping for the night.

The next morning I moved out and made it to the end of the Turnpike and found out I had missed a turn somewhere. I was on I-76 and I should have been on I-70. Oh well, that was easily fixed and resulted in some pretty back roads in Ohio before I hit the big road back home.

There is not much to say about that except that it was the main reason I had taken the Honda. I hit I-70, the CB, the cruise and made it to about 50 miles west of St. Louis before stopping for the night. The next morning it was up early and back on I-44 and into OKC about 2:00.

And, that is the end of another nice trip. I saw a lot of country, had a good time, and covered a lot of miles. It would have been more fun with a companion along, but alas that was not to be. I was sad to leave the daughter in NYC, but that is where she wants to be. I have now had a bike in every state except Hawaii, most of the Canadian Provinces and a good part of Mexico. I still have not made the fall tour of New England and I want to do that. But, no fear, there is still plenty out there to go see.