Feck the Itinerary

Motorcycle adventures and other stuff …

June 27th – Kelowna, BC (BST -7hrs)

June 28th, 2009

Those of you with local knowledge – or a map – will immediately recognise that Kelowna is some 300 miles southeast of Williams Lake and nearly 750 miles away from Dawson Creek … where we were meant to be today. We have hit a snag. Potentially, a trip buster.

While fuelling this morning, we suddenly noticed a tablespoon or so of clear brown oil leaking from the BMW’s swingarm.Given that the service manager in Portland had told us to keep an eye on the final drive after cleaning off all the muck and corrosion, we could not continue north with the possibility of it seizing completely in the middle of nowhere. What am I talking about? Williams Lake is the middle of nowhere! Amongst other things we discovered this morning, our US cell phone doesn’t work in Canada. The closest BMW dealers were in Vancouver or Kelowna. Neither carried spare final drives, which could mean a wait of 4-5 days for parts.

Having spoken to both dealers, we opted for Kelowna on the basis that it is an attractive tourist destination in its own right, and the British service manager did a great job promoting the town. It has to be said though, we are both quite depressed at the prospect of a $2.5k+ repair, and the very real possibility that we may not reach Alaska.

June 26th – Williams Lake, BC (BST -7hrs)

June 28th, 2009

Today was a rest day. Since we wont get to Calgary in time for their internationally-renowned Stampede, we took a day out to see the (not quite so) Famous Williams Lake Stampede. In comparison, both Williams Lake, the place, and the Williams Lake Stampede, are a fraction of the size of Calgary. Bronco riding (bareback)Bronco ridingIn fact, we struggled to identify the “downtown” area, until we realised that there wasn’t one: just a string of motels, stores and other businesses, strung out along the highway. Paired Calf RopingThe Stampede, nevertheless, attracts professional competitors from all over Canada and the US, and one from Australia lending an international flavour to the proceedings.

Rodeo is nothing if not unpredictable, and the action is fast. Wagon Racing We took plenty of photos, some better than others. Here is a selection of the least blurred shots. (Hover over the photo for a description, and click for an enlargement.)

 

 

June 25th – Williams Lake, BC (BST -7hrs)

June 27th, 2009

In the cold light of day, we began to have doubts about some of our fellow residents. Amongst the obvious tourists in the hotel foyer, there were a number of thin and unhealthy-looking types with ragged clothes, who blended remarkably well with the trolley-pushing bag people, drug addicts and other misfits who populate the area’s streets. Since we could neither connect to the hotel’s wireless network, nor make an international call using our American pre-paid calling card, we had no reason to hang around any longer than it took to pack the bikes.

Hwy 99 from VancouverWe took Hwy 99 out of the city, through Squamish and Whistler. It is a great road. Vancouver will host the 2010 Winter Olympics so they have been making great strides in improving access. Almost as far as Whistler, a new dual-carriageway winds its way around the coastline, offering wonderful views of islands and inlets. Past Whistler the work continues. Hwy 99 beyond WhistlerAt one point, John and I found ourselves unexpectedly dirt-riding over several miles of twisty unsurfaced road in a construction zone. Then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves back in open countryside, with more stunning views.

It was a slow ride. It seemed that every time we were tempted to speed up a bit, we caught out by degraded road surface, a sneeky bit of construction or a narrow wooden bridge under repair. Best we get used to it though, as I am sure we will find much worse over the next couple of weeks.Wooden Bridge on 99

We got in to Williams Lake at about 8pm, slightly damp, after being caught in a brief, but vicious, downpour. View from our Drummond Lodge Motel roomAfter our Vancouver hotel room, the Drummond Lodge Motel was pure luxury. Our huge room even had a balcony overlooking the lake. We changed into some dry clothes and went to find dinner at the Laughing Loon pub down the road.

June 24th – Vancouver, BC (BST -7hrs)

June 27th, 2009

John and Finnish TimoThe guy shaking hands with John is Timo. While we were waiting for Portland Motorcycles to put my bike back together, he brought his Finnish 1200 GSA in for service. Timo was midway through his own, solo, “Long Way Round” adventure. He left Finland in April, and has crossed Europe and the Balkans, Russia, Mongolia and Korea, before flying his BMW 1200 GSA into Vancouver for the start of his North American leg. Now, that’s a real trip and a half. Timo had been on his own for the majority of the trip, except for crossing Mongolia, and his only technical issue had been a punctured tyre – caused by riding over one of the many broken bottles discarded on the road by Russian drivers.

My bike was only in for a routine 24k inspection but, as luck would have it, when they dropped the final drive, they discovered a gunky mix of dirt, oil and water, along with a leaking seal and, inevitably, some corrosion. The service manager had never seen anything like it, and assumed I must have been doing some extreme off-roading. I didn’t want to disappoint him, but the presence of red-coloured soil suggests to me that it has been there since our last US trip in 2006 … (The Wilde brothers will remember our back roads tour of the cemetary in Erick.) Anyway, the technician polished off the rust as best he could and replaced the seals, but the extra work meant that the bike wouldn’t be ready until lunchtime, so John and I were left twiddling our thumbs all morning.

We eventually got away at about 2pm. With a minimum five and a half hour ride ahead of us (without any rest breaks), we didn’t bother with any sight-seeing. In addition, John had promised to look in on a family friend, so we needed to get a bit of a wiggle on.

As it was, it was nearly 9pm by the time we arrived at the Hotel Patricia. We certainly do pick ’em. When we mentioned where we were staying to Claire, she laughed and warned us to look out for the crackheads. She was right. What a place! We didn’t dare leave any luggage or accessories on our bikes overnight, so took everything up to our tiny room Tiny room at Hotel Patriciabefore meeting Claire and Steve next door in Pat’s Pub. Great place. It was film night, and they were playing some sort of Australian slasher movie about vampire zombies. It was extremely hard not to be distracted by the sight of our hero brandishing a lawn-mower as he defended himself against the undead masses. Very messy.

Despite our closet-sized room, we liked the hotel well enough. Comfortable bed, good linen and friendly staff and, after a few pints of the pub’s micro-brewed cream ale, we were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.

June 23rd – Troutdale, Oregon (BST -7hrs)

June 26th, 2009

George’s group moved out at 6am, and we were awakened by the unmistakable sound of half a dozen Harley exhausts farting away outside our bedroom window.

We said goodbye to Doug and Joanne too. They are now on their way back to Michigan, with their trailer loaded to the gunnels with our surplus luggage.

After breakfast, John and I delivered my ailing BMW to Portland Motorcycles for its 24,000 mile service. Then we went shopping for camping equipment and mosquito repellent for the next leg of our trip. For the moment, at any rate, we are all alone. However, there are now, effectively, four separate groups of Mother Road riders going to Alaska, so it remains to be seen whether any of our paths will cross along the way.

We couldn’t very well leave the Portland area without, at least, telephoning Brad and Gina. But it must have been 4pm by the time we got back to the motel, so we couldn’t honestly expect them to alter their plans to meet us with so little notice.

As it happened, Brad was only too glad to be let off a small construction job in the back yard. They cooked us an al fresco dinner and we ended up spending an extremely pleasant evening catching up on each other’s news over the last 3 years or so since the last time we all rode Route 66 together.

June 22nd – Troutdale, Oregon (BST -7hrs)

June 26th, 2009

We rode the Pacific Coast Highway from Eureka to Crescent City, stopping for breakfast at Klamath. It was, perhaps, not the most interesting stretch of this road, with most of the coastline being hidden by the redwood forests. But we did catch the odd tantalising glimpse of the sea before we headed inland to link up with the I-5.

In addition to the malfunctioning servo, I had no brake light, so it was decided that it would be safer for me to lead the group – with the others watching my ass, as it were.

Being principally an Interstate day, there is little to tell. We got into our motel in Troutdale around 6.30pm, put some washing on, and went out to dinner. George’s group had arrived earlier and had gone to look at a waterfall. They caught up with us at the restaurant. This is probably the last time our two groups will coincide. From tomorrow, we will gradually fall behind, as we stop over for a bike service in Portland and a rodeo in Williams Lake. But, with the ever-present possibility of mechanical problems, it is possible we may pick up some stragglers along the way. Willie has already encountered a final drive problem with his Harley, so he and Jim are still around 500 miles behind us in Redding, getting it fixed.

June 21st – Eureka, California (BST -7hrs)

June 26th, 2009

Rather than eat a third successive meal at a Denny’s Restaurant, we decided to put some miles on early in the day and find a café in Hollister, 70 miles north on Hwy 25.

 

Marlon Brando mural in HollisterHollister is the birthplace of American biking. Marlon Brando’s classic movie, “The Wild One”, depicted a much sensationalised account of a riot that occurred in there during the Gypsy Tours Motorcycle Rally in 1947. “The Boozefighters”, a group of WW2 veterans, who were reported to have started the fighting, were one of the country’s first motorcycle clubs and proud to be labelled the one-percenters, i.e. the one percent of bikers who were bad-ass troublemakers!

 

As such, one might have expected Hollister to be a Mecca for modern-day motorcyclists, and certainly the place to find biker-friendly bars and diners for a slap-up grease fix on a Sunday morning. But, in reality, Hollister is a rather sleepy town, with an attractive main street. It does, indeed, have a number of appealing cafés and restaurants, and a mural of Marlon Brando … But, on this particular Sunday morning, there wasn’t another bike in sight.

 

Joanne spotted the Knife & Fork Café as a likely breakfast venue. The bright and sunny ambiance was further enhanced by flowers and a huge, cleverly positioned, mirror in which the whole street was reflected. We installed ourselves at a window table … next to a table of authentic-looking, though slightly elderly, biker types. We got talking.

As they finished their meal, a tall guy with a grey beard stooped low to introduce himself. “Hi, I’m Roger Grimsley. Welcome to our country. I have just paid for your breakfast.” Taken aback, and in our haste to thank him for his generosity, we thought we might have misunderstood as he continued “… eat slow. I’ll be back with T-shirts.”

It turned out that Roger runs the Gypsy Tour Motorcycle Classic event, which took over the town’s 4th of July celebrations, when the local authority refused to continue policing them. Ah … so the notoriety of the town isn’t, perhaps, entirely forgotten. Roger did, indeed, return with T-shirts for all of us. Not just T-shirts either. He brought a huge box containing half a dozen shirts, leather hats, embroidered patches, and pins commemorating the Gypsy Tours’ 50th Anniversary.

The Knife & Fork Café in HollisterSo, duly re-fuelled with bacon and eggs, we bade farewell to the café’s owner, Sheila Stevens, and headed north again. Sorry to say, after so pleasant a start, our day went steadily downhill.

Having stopped for gas on the outskirts of San Francisco, I put my right foot in a pothole while trying to change into first gear at a Stop sign. With the all the weight of my luggage, I had no hope of saving the bike and, being close in to the curb, I couldn’t free myself in time. Luckily, my ridiculous-looking motocross boots took most of the weight of the 1200cc bike and, though trapped for a moment or two, suffered no more than a bruised foot. My bike, however, suffered some damage to the braking system and, although I had a regular service booked in Portland, I rode the rest of the way with no servo, using the gears to slow the bike. Coming to a complete halt was like stopping a tanker with bicycle brakes!

On top of this, we had various navigational difficulties getting out of the city, partially caused by a traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge (so no photos this time), and partially by human error. Suffice to say, it must have taken over an hour to find our way across the bay and rejoin Hwy 101.

With 220 miles to go to Eureka, we pulled over for an ice cream and a drink. It was already 4pm. The shadows were lengthening and the cold had set in. Impressive though the redwood forests were initially, we were freezing and hungry by the time we got to our motel. All local restaurants within walking distance were closed, so we made do with a takeaway coffee and Domino’s pizza.

 

June 20th – King City, California (BST -7hrs)

June 24th, 2009

Leaving Oatman after breakfast yesterday, Tony’s bike had gone down, leaving him with a broken wrist and a suspected head injury, and leaving the group without its photographer. Given Gary’s accident, this came as quite a shock to all. Up until now, during the fifteen years that the Rally has been running, there had not been a single serious accident to a participant. The odd broken wrist or ankle, but nothing life-threatening. Now, suddenly, this year, we have had two. The fact that these things happened to two experienced riders affected everyone in some way.

End of the Road - Santa Monica PierThe ride into Santa Monica was as smooth as I can remember it, despite the morning LA traffic, and we all managed, eventually, to park on Ocean Avenue, close to the Pier. Without Pat’s wife to organise the al fresco buffet on the sea front, breakfast now takes place in an Italian restaurant across the road, with pictures taken at the Pier afterwards. It was a good spread of toasted ciabatta, muffins, fruit and muesli, and the prize-giving was fun, as always, but – if anyone wanted my honest opinion – I prefer the outdoor option. There was something much more relaxed about the donut and coffee buffet, and the long-suffering organisers were always on hand to snap the same group photo on dozens of cameras.  Everyone had a chance to exchange contact details and recount their favourite memories of the week and the whole thing was appropriately unhurried, after a week of early starts.

In any event, John and I always want something a bit more substantial for breakfast, so as soon as everyone had dispersed, we made our way to the Broadway Deli for bacon and eggs with Doug and Joanne. By about 9.30am, we were on the road again. Bound for Canada and Alaska.

Highway 33Highway 33 is breathtaking. 40 miles of spectacular twisties that belong to bikers – come up behind a car, and the drivers will, almost without exception, move over as soon as they are able. Oil fields on Hwy 33Beyond the mountains, the road passes through the oil fields, a strangely surreal landscape: barren desert littered with countless electricity pylons and rusting nodding donkeys. Then come the fruit farms: millions of trees in perfectly geometric rows, each with their own irrigation system. A lonely Café on Hwy 33And, all the while, the westerly wind pummels the bikes and whips up the dust from the reclaimed farm land. In a hundred miles, it seemed we had passed through several different continents.

We spent the night at King City.

June 19th – Ontario, California (BST -7hrs)

June 24th, 2009

Today, John had his bike booked in for service at Doug Douglas Triumph in San Bernardino. So, unusually for us, we were up before dawn and on the road half an hour before the rest of the group. We had to try and get the bike there by 2pm. Earlier, if possible.

Old Gas Station on Golden HwyIt was very liberating, riding the Golden Highway to Oatman all alone. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the pink light of the early morning sun perfectly complimented the desert landscape. The road was ours. The only traffic to watch for were the occasional startled rabbits.

Actually, that isn’t quite true. We did come across Tony and the New Zealanders, Brian and Barbara, who had taken some time out to do some target practice in the wilderness. But they would wait for the rest of the group to join them for breakfast in the Oatman Hotel, so we just exchanged greetings and rode on.

Despite our early departure, we more or less followed the itinerary: stopping, briefly, at Roy’s Roy’s Café at AmboyCafé in Amboy; the Bagdad Café at Newbury Springs, and Peggy Sue’s Diner in Daggett. We made good time and, though we were unlikely to be able to get to the dealer before 2pm, we wouldn’t be late.

 

Peggy Sue’s DinerKnowing the technician would have to remove the fuel tank, John did not want to arrive with any more than a bare minimum. Mme Garmin said that we had 78 miles to go. John’s fuel gauge showed that he had 91 miles worth of fuel …

However, at 1.50pm, with just four miles to go, the Triumph wheezed to a halt on the southbound exit ramp of I-210. Ha!

We remedied the problem fairly quickly. I simply went to the nearest gas station I could find and bought a plastic jerry can and 2 gallons of fuel. It took me a while to rearrange my luggage to find two bungies to strap the can on with, but I was back with John within 30 minutes or so, and 15 minutes later the bike was being wheeled into Doug Douglas’ workshop.

 

Triumph’s new 1600 ThunderbirdDoug and Joanne arrived a few minutes later to keep us company. A generous gesture, for which we were grateful, especially as nobody could seriously want to sit around a stuffy bike showroom for hours on end. Even the technician apparently decided he couldn’t be bothered to hang around on a hot Friday afternoon to complete the scheduled service. They were nice enough about it, the staff. Friendly and hospitable. But, nevertheless, I was annoyed. OK, so we were a little late but, to me, it had the whiff of yet another typical customer service let-down from a US Triumph dealer. Luckily, John is more tolerant than I am and, besides, he was distracted by the arrival of a brand new 1600 Thunderbird, one of the first in the US, on a trailer outside the showroom.

 

We got into the Quality Inn in Ontario at around 7pm. Oddly enough, John had mislaid our new jerry can. Disposal of evidence, if you ask me …

June 18th – Kingman, Arizona (BST -7hrs)

June 19th, 2009

The El Rancho is billed as a former “home of the stars”, as many westerns were made in the area during the 40’s and 50’s and numerous actors had stayed there. The bedrooms may be a little on the small side by today’s standards, but the hotel retains a lot of its retro charm. It also serves good steaks and Mexican dishes, and has a bar of its own. Not staying in the ‘official’ Rally HQ hotel (the ghastly Red Roof Inn) meant that we were pretty well free to choose our own itinerary for the day.

I was concerned that Mum would be worried if I didn’t call again today, so borrowed John’s mobile and left him to order breakfast. It was a beautiful morning as I sat outside in the sun, listening to birds nesting in the eaves of the hotel. It was quite warm compared with previous years, but there was still a pleasant cool breeze.

Standin’ on the Corner …We blew through the Painted Desert but stopped in Winslow, Arizona. The Eagles’ famous ‘corner’ has been reconstructed after a fire last year, and it was now cordoned off with a police escort awaiting the main group. Again, very impressive organisation from George for his first year as Rally Master. I put some postcards in the post and posed with John for the obligatory photo, with the bronze statue, in front of the mural of the girl in the flat-bed Ford. We then speeded on to Flagstaff to sort out Joanne’s spectacle issue and had lunch while waiting for the new glasses.

 

The Gallup to Kingman day is one of my favourites of the Rally. The next stop was in Williams, Twisters, WilliamsArizona, for a chocolate malt at Twisters. Then we joined I-40 as far as Seligman, where John had hoped to get Angelo Delgadillo to cut his hair. Here we met up with fellow stragglers, Willie and Jim (“the Irish”), Mark and Cathy, and Karen and her group.

 

Karen has been riding as much old road as possible due to Ed’s nephew, Mike, having the ropiest bike on the Rally. At speeds over 60, it develops an expensive-sounding knocking, so they have been keeping off the Interstates, with occasional comical consequences.

 

Red Corvette - HackberryToday’s adventure began when a stretch of road they believed to be original Route 66, turned to gravel. They stopped and asked a police officer whether they could ride through. Reassured, they ignored a couple of warning signs, and found themselves in a flooded underpass, which was supported by scaffolding. The bikes, including Mike’s ancient Goldwing, made it through, but Bill’s trailer was simply too wide to pass between the supports. Determined not to be outdone, the four of them, Bill, Dave, Karen and Mike, unhitched the trailer, tipped it on edge, and carried it through. Sterling stuff, you might think. However, a few hundred yards further on, the gravel road petered out and became dirt … Reluctantly, they came to the conclusion that this was not Route 66 after all, and so began the painful process of retracing the 16 miles or so to where they had started.

We arrived in Kingman around 6.15pm: earlier than usual, but just slightly too late to join George for his night-time ride to the ghost town of Chloride.