June 10th – Owosso, Michigan (BST -5hrs)

Today’s news is much more encouraging. I rang at around 10am and discovered that Mum is doing well and they are expecting to return her to a normal ward later today … which means I should be able to speak to her tomorrow.

We spent the morning doing various useful administrative things and searching, unsuccessfully, for a phone card to try and cut down the cost of calling home. Then, this afternoon, Doug took us out to his country club, and John got to play his first round of golf in three years …

June 9th – Beamsville, Ontario (BST -5hrs)

I think a note of thanks is due here, to Guy and Vickie, and to Theo and Alma, for allowing us to bend their ears. I don’t think we were exactly sparkling company and it is especially dull finding oneself discussing other people’s ailments ad nauseum.  But, from my point of view, it was a real comfort to be amongst friends.

There was no mobile phone reception at Theo’s farm, which was a particular worry, as I had no idea whether anyone had been trying to contact me. We left after breakfast and made a quick call to the hospital from a gas station outside Hamilton. The news was better. Mum was conscious and “doing well”, though still receiving oxygen and a little support for low blood pressure – normal, apparently, in older patients.

We are due to spend the next couple of days with Doug and Joanne in Michigan, before riding with them to Chicago to start The Mother Road Rally. Logistically, this is the first point from which we could, practically-speaking, abandon the trip, if necessary.

June 8th – Beeton, Ontario (BST -5hrs)

The talk all day has been around whether or not we can continue the trip and, if not, would the insurance cover our repatriation costs. The news from the hospital is that Mum is still sedated and on oxygen, but otherwise “comfortable” in Intensive Care. For the time being, there is nothing we can do except keep going. We spent the night with more friends in Beamsville, Ontario.11

June 7th – Brockville, Ontario (BST -5hrs)

As we were packing our bikes to leave, my mobile phone rang. Odd, I thought, that my aunt should be calling me. Surely, Mum would have told her that John and I were travelling …

It was bad news from home. My mother, probably my number one Blog fan, had been rushed into hospital. “She told me not to tell you and Sarah”, Margaret Anne said, “But I thought you ought to know”. I rang the hospital. It was not a reassuring conversation. A distinctly sickly-sounding nurse told me that, as it was Sunday, Mum would not be seen by a specialist until tomorrow.

For now, there was nothing John and I could do. We just made as good time as possible to our next destination, Beeton, Ontario. Thank heavens we were staying with friends.

It was about 6.30pm by the time we arrived. We overshot the driveway by a couple of hundred yards, and discovered that we had the wrong house number. The phone rang again. “Your mother is having emergency surgery tonight.”

Not the news we wanted but, at least, she wasn’t lying on a trolley in a passage somewhere, still waiting to see a doctor.

June 6th – Sherbrooke, Quebec (BST -5hrs)

Today was an Interstate day or, rather, being for the most part in French-speaking Quebec, an Autoroute day. We checked out of the hotel, had breakfast in a local restaurant, and hit the road. Apart from a nervous moment in Montreal as my fuel gauge showed 6 miles of fuel remaining in the midst of a stationary and, seemingly, endless, traffic jam, there were no delays or anything else remotely interesting until we arrived at our next overnight stop at Brockville, Ontario.

June 5th – Millinocket, Maine (BST -5hrs)

Millinocket is a charming little place on the Appalachian Trail. This is small-town America at its best.  Since we normally only do “chain business, just off the Interstate” America, this was a bit scary at first. We rode the whole length of the town looking for a motel but, five minutes later, on the third sweep of the main street, we realised there weren’t any, so settled on a B&B instead. True, the house reminded us slightly of the Bates residence. Still, at least it had a bright orange Honda Goldwing in the driveway, which was more than could be said for the B&B next door which looked …well … dead. The Young House was, perhaps, comparatively expensive, but the facilities were considerably nicer than your average Days Inn or Super 8. The owners were friendly and offered free wi-fi and an excellent cooked breakfast. We had home-cooked meatloaf for dinner at a mom-and-pop restaurant round the corner, and then wandered down the deserted street for a couple of beers at the Blue Ox Saloon.

There were a few regulars around the bar who, recognising that we were strangers in the area, took it upon themselves to recommend some local highlights. Top of the list seemed to be the Ripogenus Dam, a veritable “must see”, by all accounts. We asked if the forestry road was suitable for bikes. “No problems”, they said: an opinion shared by our B&B inn-keepers, and by the forestry service guy that John had emailed about possible trail-riding in the Appalachians.

The Golden RoadSo, the following morning we set off down the Golden Road, a rough haul road where, we were warned, timber trucks, up to 4 trailers long, stop for nothing. I suppose it was the fact that three separate sources (including a forestry employee) had recommended the Dam as a local attraction, and that each had said that we would be fine on bikes as long as we didn’t venture beyond, that blinded us to the apparently obvious signs prohibiting motorcycles and ATVs. Anyway, it didn’t cross our minds that we were doing anything wrong until, after 20 or 30 miles, we were pulled up by a park ranger just a few hundred yards short of Ripogenus Damthe Dam. “I could issue you with a ticket just for being here”, he said, “You need to turn right around now.” We apologised of course, and explained about the exchange of emails with the forestry company, while neglecting to mention the conversation with the reprobates in the bar. The ranger was clearly unimpressed. Nevertheless, he conceded that we were nearly there … if we were to take the next right and follow the gravel road down the hill. And so, amazingly, he let us go.

Trail RidingIn the event, I am not sure that the Dam was worth the trip. However, John and I did get to do a little genuine off-road trail riding to get there, and we got to see our first moose: a mummy moose, in fact, with her calf. Sadly, I didn’t have the right lens on my camera, and by the time I had got the camera out of its bag, the two of them had sauntered off to the side of the road.Appalachian View

Once back on the highway, we headed for the hills and the Canadian border, and civilisation …

June 2nd – Halifax, Nova Scotia (BST -4hrs)

The 6 hour flight to Halifax was, mercifully, eventless and, despite being delayed for almost an hour due to a technical problem with the onboard lavatories, arrived on time at about 2.40pm local time. The airport has a lot of charm. The baggage hall conveyors boast model boats and light houses, and visitors are greeted by a cheerful tartan-clad team of elderly volunteers. Even so, the woman running the airport shuttle desk and our monosylabic cab driver, should, perhaps, take a leaf out of their book.

The airport turned out to be rather further from the centre of Halifax than we expected. The drive into town was dull, disappointing almost. Forestry and shale embankments dominate the views. In terms of scenery, the M4 is probably more interesting. In the end, we arrived at the Haliburton Hotel too late to collect the bikes today.

We did, however, manage to speak to the shipping office before they closed at 5pm, and ascertained that our bikes had arrived. And, having tried unsuccessfully to connect to the hotel internet, we eventually wandered up to the nearest Starbucks and managed to receive an email telling us how to go about releasing them from customs … along with a bill for $Can 327 for doing so – just a wee bit more than we remembered from last time, and it will effectively clean us out of half our Canadian cash.

We had dinner in Maxwell’s Plum, a self-styled Engish “pub” serving 60 different beers and inexpensive steaks.

Canada and USA 2009

You were wondering what had happened to us, weren’t you?  The last few weeks have been pretty hectic.  We were back and forth to the UK three times since my last post, in preparation for our latest odyssey.  Now we are in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and what follows is the diary of our 8-week trip through Canada and the USA …

Before you ask, Tigger and Foggy are safe and well, and being expertly looked after. And, despite their waking us up at 5am while we were at my mother-in-law’s, I do rather miss them.

June 4th – Moncton, New Brunswick (BST -4hrs)

Blue CanoeStrong side winds were about the only note-worthy feature of our ride up to Moncton. As we began to get a little cold, we welcomed the opportunity to pull off the highway, even if only to don an extra layer of clothing. There was nothing exceptional about the little town of Sackville, but it landed us on a convenient loop and gave us a bit of a break. Had we but known it, route 106 also offered a shortcut of sorts to Moncton, and the little communities we passed through were marginally more interesting than the eternal pine forests, as far as the eye could see from the highway.

The light was already fading when we got in, so we had a quick shower and hurried out to find something to eat. Moncton is pretty well served for eateries. We had dinner in The Pump House, a popular micro brewery that also serves wood-fired pizza and a good line in grills, as well as its own home-brewed beers. In the morning, we discovered Cora’s, a French-Canadian restaurant chain, whose specialities are breakfast and lunch and whose dishes mostly include at least one type of fresh fruit. I’m not generally a great lover of fruit. Sticky juice, pips, stones and inedible skins are such a chore. Even so, such is the appeal of Cora’s, that John and I found ourselves ordering delicious, freshly made, fruit smoothies with our bacon and eggs.

Just as well we were in good humour, as we arrived back at the motel to find that John’s efforts to repair his puncture had been unsuccessful. That’s the thing about repair kits. They are great if they work according to the instructions, but having failed to prise the ‘removable’ cellophane strip off the rubber plug, we suspect that it had been unable to expand properly. There didn’t seem much point in trying again, so it was lucky that John was able to track down a motorcycle dealer with a suitable replacement tyre.

Our departure delayed, once again, we eventually left the motel around 2.30pm.

My arrival at the US border was somewhat less than dignified. The Borrowers appeared to have been at work. My current passport, driving licence and motorcycle registration document were where I had put them: in my pocket. But where was my previous passport, the one with the US Visa in it? Certainly not amongst my travel documents, nor in any of my pockets. The Homeland Security officer was not overly concerned. I could always have a Visa Waiver for the duration of our stay. The bike’s French registration plate was, however, proving to be a bit of a conundrum. The computer simply didn’t want to know and bounced each successive attempt as “invalid State”. John watched nervously from a distance, seeing the officer bobbing in and out of his booth, and me hunting frantically amongst my luggage. By the time his turn came, the officer had decided he needed a cup of coffee and a cigarette and handed over to his younger colleague. Meanwhile, inside the office, things were not getting any better. I filled out my green entry form, carefully ticking the boxes to reassure Homeland Security that I was not intending to engage in terrorist activities, kidnap babies or hit anyone. I can’t help wondering whether these forms work as, ignoring my rising panic concerning the apparent loss of my US Visa, the officer clearly saw me as no immediate threat. Without looking up, he stamped my form and clipped it into my passport. Job done. “That’ll be $6, ma’am”.

As I went to dig out the foreign exchange wallet containing my US dollars, I suddenly realised that it was not only my old passport that was missing. My foreign currency and travellers cheques had gone too! They must have been stolen! But where? And, by whom? In a few moments I had gone from Mrs Slightly Eccentric, to Mrs Dim and Disorganised, to Mrs Downright Paranoid.

Fearing I might be about to turn green and burst, John suggested that I should go and check the bike again. “I’ll hold on to your travel documents, so they don’t get displaced as well”, said a female officer, slightly disparagingly. So, making some sort of feeble protest about being normally so well organised, and being absolutely sure that I knew where I had put everything, I began to unpack … everything.

I found my old passport and money, would you believe, in amongst my t-shirts. Now how on earth could they have got there, I ask you? “Well wasn’t that a stroke of luck”, said the disparaging security officer, as I reappeared, slightly red-faced clutching my ‘stolen’ documents.

I meant to take a picture as we crossed the State line into Maine, but somehow I didn’t feel like hanging about …

June 3rd – Halifax, Nova Scotia (BST -4hrs)

Wallenius Wilhelmson’s office opened at 8am, so we were up with the larks this morning.  Fees paid, next stop was Canadian Border Halifax seen from the Metro ferryControl to get our papers stamped, then back to the hotel to pack.  Despite all our good intentions, time was getting on.  It was nearly noon by the time we boarded the little Metro ferry for the trip across the harbour to the Autoport, with the inevitable consequence that it was lunchtime by the time we arrived.  Needless to say, the one member of staff responsible for riding the bikes round to the office was on his break …

We had been pre-warned that John’s bike had been loaded onto the ship with a flat tyre, and so we were prepared to be spending the day looking for a new one.  In the event, things weren’t so grim. There was an obvious score mark in the centre of the tread, and the leak was slow. At least we could get back to the hotel before having to worry about it.

On the other hand, having only a couple of weeks ago ridden about 1,000 miles to deliver my BMW to Southampton, I wasn’t reckoning on a flat battery. But there you are, life is full of surprises. We just kept the motor running while John gave his rear tyre a quick boost.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it …Back at the hotel, John plugged his puncture, and we set about the challenge of packing s… is to get all that stuff on your bikes!ix bags’ worth of kit onto our bikes. It was getting late and we needed to put some symbolic mileage under our belts. At 4pm we hit the road, bound for Moncton, New Brunswick.