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shaweetz 10-06-2010 06:55 PM

6 week 10,000 mile NA Bonneville looptastic
I just returned from a six week, 16,554km (10,286 mile) North American tour on my 2001 Bonneville. For three of those weeks (7000km), my wife joined me on the back.

The route:

- north shore Lake Superior
- prairies!
- Alberta badlands
- Kananaskis Trail
- Jasper Icefields parkway
- Mt. St. Helens
- Oregon Pacific Coast Highway
- Oregon Crater Lake
- Tahoe region
- Nevada Highway 50
- Utah!
- Colorado Rocky Mountains National Park
- Kansas, Missouri, Illinois
- Tennessee and the Country Music Hall of Fame
- Charohala Skyway and Blue Ridge Parkway
- West Virginia
- PA Allegheny forest

Beginning and ending in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I kept a live blog going for close family and friends, and for a long time I debated whether I would go to the trouble of editing this down and posting it up here for a general, and much more off-road-ish audience. But I know how much enjoyment I get out of reading other people's ride reports, dirt track or not, so I'm going to go ahead and make a contribution even if a lot of the readership here has been there, done that, and much, much more.

This is my first tour of this length and distance, and I've been riding for a little over two years. It was a pleasure getting the bike set up and figuring out how we were going to manage for three weeks 2-up with our camping rig along. In hindsight, there's very little I would change.


shaweetz 10-06-2010 06:57 PM

Packing for two is tricky
Weíve got all this crap pre-packed in the living room so we can stare at it and figure out what has to move and what has to go. There isnít exactly a ton of space left over, which is unsurprising. Solo, it would be a piece of cake, but camping two-up on a Bonneville is tricky. Thankfully, the 55lbs on the panniers is well balanced, and the bike feels great with the weight down low and centered on the rear axle.

I recently installed Ikon shocks on the rear, which handled almost this much loading without issue on pre-load #2. If I have to, I can raise it to #3 but it will make for a stiff ride.

We discovered a couple of problems last night during a dry run around the city, with the fully packed bike: as in, we donít have enough space for all of our crap.

Itís not a question of weight; itís a question of volume, and needing enough cargo space for a worst-case scenario, which is a hot, dry day. Warm and waterproof stuff takes up a lot of space. Our pack list in not significantly different from anyone elseís. But we canít set out already packed to the gills when there has to bit of spare room for unforeseens, snacks, food, artifacts, etc.

Also, it turns out that packing cubes with real clothes in them take up a lot more room. Mrs. Shaweetz has done an incredible job of packing her stuff, but Iím tired, so we end up arguing about her four T-shirts, which is a ridiculous argument in fact. I'm being stupid, and plus, her shirts are like half the size of mine. I'm lucky enough that she's game for this trip, given that most people, you know, fly and rent cars and bring suitcases and stuff.

So time to cull some junk and shuffle some things around.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:00 PM

My contract is sort of wrapped up and handed off to a colleague. So, now it’s weather-watching, and waiting with nervous anticipation time.

I have a few small things left to do, but the list is getting nice and short. Woo-hoo!

At 3AM I’m woken up by a rain that's coming down pretty hard. I’ve already decided to delay the departure one day, first off because the weather was not great (although not that bad in Ottawa), but mostly because I was feeling pretty crappy after a stressful week of work. I managed to get in a morning slot with my buddy Brian the RMT, who promptly demolished me. No more crappy office chairs for me…

This is both encouraging and discouraging:

(That’s us, Ottawa, to the right of North Bay) Encouraging because I can see the edge; discouraging because the whole thing is swirling on itself and taking its sweet time moving out east where it belongs. Messy low, slow moving, a couple of fronts chasing each other. A wet start to the day, but it should improve. Some craziness is coming over the prairies too; something to contemplate another day. I decide to finish up some exciting accounting that I’d put on the back burner until my return, which usually helps with the sleeping.:)

One more attempt to see if he'll fit:

And I'm off.

Not 20 minutes out of town, the rain broke, the sun started to shine and the pavement dried up, a fabulous start. I snapped this otherwise unremarkable photo to kick things off, in Arnprior as I was shedding my rain gear:

My big rubber overgloves work well, but they’re too tight over my insulated leather gloves. Good to know for next time.

I didn’t stop for many pictures, though I would have liked to snap one of the stretch VW beetle limousine at the side of the road that's a familiar sight to anyone who has done this Hwy 17 stretch to North Bay...

I hit my stride after Mattawa, having fuelled up on caffeine and sugar. The Country Style girl decided on her own to keep the change, which was a bit unusual. The Hwy 17 surface between Mattawa and North Bay is recently surfaced and pristine, which makes my rear very happy. The new sheepskin is helping a lot, but the old saddle is still under there. I didn’t expect day 1 to be a cakewalk.

Rolling in to Sudbury a bit ahead of schedule, I head over for some obligatory tourist shots of the Big Nickel:

My great-uncle and aunt extended some warm hospitality and a place to sleep at their home north of town. My uncle was at the end of the driveway waving me in, and directed me straight into the garage. Service! The evening capped off with a nice visit at my cousins'. A nice way to kick off this trip.

Day 1: rolled from 10:30am and arrived at 7pm, exhausted but stoked!

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:03 PM

Sudbury to Agawa Bay L. Superior
Old house near Iron Bridge:

These places fascinate me, but also creep me out, since you always have the feeling that someone is in there. From the construction, this house has been there for quite some time, and in quite a pretty spot too. Lesser houses would have gone completely back to the earth long ago.

I pass three dudes on bicycles, heading west, and dressed in business casual. And not close to any particular town. And not loaded for touring. Huh?

Later on I pass a crew running for cancer with a chase vehicle:

I grab some quick lunch in the Soo and, looking around the mall parking lot, I realize I’ve hit hair salon pay dirt (three to choose from!), so I head for the sketchiest looking one and walk in for the fastest haircut of my life. She was done in like 4 minutes flat. And, surprisingly, did not too bad a job.

My first ever sighting of Lake Superior is everything it’s made out to be. Traffic is heavy, but it's a beautiful day. The flip side to enjoying all of this pristine blacktop is that now and again you have to wait around while they’re installing it. I nearly melt, twice, in Pancake Bay waiting for the flagman to switch the traffic direction, awesomely decked out in full gear, in the baking sun, on my inferno engine. Shortly afterwards, I’m settling in at Agawa Bay Lake Superior PP where I am recovering from the $36.75 sticker shock camping fee. ***??? To sleep on the ground beside the highway? Clearly I am missing something.

My mood is lifted when I manage to see and photograph the impressive Agawa rock pictographs:

I didn’t see them all, as my touring boots aren’t lug treads and those rocks are as slippery as they look. I wasn’t quite ready for the swim, and despite many warnings of drownings I still manage to slip and just about go ass over tea kettle into the lake anyway. That woke me up fast. As it was, I was very fortunate that the lake was calm and I was able to go down for a closer look. Leaving the site, a light rain finally comes, so I hightailed it back to the campsite about 5 minutes down the road for some dinner and a spectacular sunset.

Garry and Ryan from Michigan are here for the 11th straight summer, camping with their grandfather Larry. They are next door and kindly invite me over for the fire and some snacks. I chat for bit, nice folks, but am pretty tired and ready to hit the sack. They will be the first of many kind strangers who approach and offer their hospitality, a highlight of the trip.

It's starting to rain a little harder now; a bummer since the laundry I did won’t be drying any time soon. Why am I doing laundry on Day 2???

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:06 PM

Agawa Bay to Thunder Bay
After a blustery evening. Superior is frothing up, and it’s going to be one of those buffeting, get beat up kind of days.

At my cousin's recommendation, I grab a photo of the giant Wawa goose. And then another one. And another. These people really like their giant geese mascots! And my uncle was right about the state-of-the-art Tim Horton's. Shiny! Modern! Spacious! Double double!

Sorry about this one:

I have had many agonizing evenings thinking about this stretch of the trip. I am a long distance touring noob, and I've never been to this part of Ontario. I'm worried about fuel, and isolation, and cell phone service. But I needn't have worried, at all. The Wawa to Marathon stretch is long, rolling, and sparsely populated; about as expected. But I have good tunes, and stopping to don and doff rainwear for the frequent microbursts breaks things up nicely.

Old Woman Bay:

Marathon is mostly an unwarranted detour and a waste of 8km of fuel, but I'm sure I really didn't give it its due. A quick snack and I’m back out, into another dark rain shower. For this next stretch I though it might be cool to check out a couple of abandoned rail towns I'd read about. But then I hit reserve about 35-40 kms before I expected! Checking the map, I see absolutely nothing between here and Terrace Bay, zero, and for sure I don’t have enough to make it, and I'm carrying an extra litre. Ar. So I double back to Marathon, which is a 40km round trip detour, through the rain shower I just punched through. And back again.

Three minutes over the hill from where I made my decision to double back, is a gas station, at Neys Provincial Park.


I never did check out those abandoned rail stops.

In several places after Marathon, the highway crests a hill and reveals the most incredible vistas. After checking the mirrors, I slow down to take it in. You can’t stop for everything, but you can go slow if there's nobody around!

The weather has turned for the better, so made it all the way to the enigmatic Thunder Bay International Hostel. There's quite a crew here tonight, though a large number seem to be visiting relatives of the owner. There are some from Columbia, and a threesome of young ladies from Geneva I think, to brighten the place up.

The quirky but fascinating hostel owner shows me my room, in the next breath informing me that the man who stayed here last night was killed in a car crash this morning. Very sad.

But with Mexican wrestling posters and yes, a Hilary Duff pillow, I can't go wrong.

Shortly after arrival, lady rider Cat pulls in on her BMW; now there are two bikes here. She’s up from Texas via Alaska, and we have a lot to chat about over a light dinner of couscous thingy, tea, and some generously offered carrot sticks and some victuals from her stash. A great way to end another day.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:13 PM

Thunder Bay to Sioux Narrows
I woke and rolled out at a good time thanks to not having to break camp. I didnít sleep that well, but it wasnít on account of the creepy story about this room, I don't think. I looked it up: a middle-aged fellow. They figured heíd had a heart attack and driven his pickup straight into a retaining wall at a downtown church. Very sad indeed. I wonder if the strong mothball odour in this room had anything to do with it. It sure makes me a bit light-headed.

I rode into Thunder Bay for coffee with Cat (and got lost), whose rear tire is totally squared off so sheís trying to get a new one from the local Kawasaki dealer. On the way in, we stopped for a moment at this very beautiful monument:

For non-Canadian readers, this is the monument to Terry Fox, a young man who lost his leg to cancer and electrified the nation by trying to run across the country. He never made it, losing his life in 1981. Today millions run in his name to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. He is probably the closest thing we have to a national hero.

1981 seems like a very long time ago.

My new acquaintance, heading, actually, for my hometown:

New friends, great motorcycles. Life is good.

So out of Thunder Bay there is a choice: the direct route via 17, or a detour down 11 that takes you to Fort Frances. A rather glum fellow from Winnipeg on an old Goldwing is not much help when I ask for some local insight about which route I ought to take. I choose 11. I hear Quetico is quite nice.

Now, I know there is a lot more yet to come, but out on 11 to Fort Frances, there is nothing. And more nothing. The tarmac is great, traffic is light, the weather is beautiful. They stick this up to keep you interested:

You know itís bad when thereís a sign announcing the approach of another sign, in 2km. This one (rocking my new $4 haircut):

I meet up with Mr. Goldwing at the Atikokan gas stop. He has little to say. I guess he's falling asleep too.

Och. I catch myself nodding off so nap time is a priority. At an overlook, thereís nowhere near the bike for the hammock I brought, so I lay out in the only shade, a patch of grass next to the bike littered with old butts and other questionable items. Nothing smells funny or is sharp, so it is the perfect spot to nod off.

Tea would be nice. I go into the pannier to get the fixings.

Now, Iím still figuring out that the camera has to be handy, and furthermore you have to remember to reach for it. I open up the pannier to get the stove and am welcomed by a full-on yoghurt explosion. :-(

I picked up some yoghurts this AM and stuffed them in the box, loose, which made good sense at the time, but not so much anymore, now that I squished the lid closed and blew one out. About half of one is all over the gear inside the box. Feck! It's tough to take photos when your hands are covered in yoghurt, so I don't. Blech. I skip tea.

Just past Fort Frances, this:

I met some kids here at the gas bar, and Iím disappointed to say they were not hipster poseurs. Iím sure they are there somewhere, in their healthy safe commune community whatever.

Finally the Lake of the Woods area starts to get interesting and very pretty, but I'm too tired to care. At long last, I arrive at the Sioux Narrows PP, where my exhausted self discovers I have to drive up this

to get to my site: 6 to 8 inches of fluffy brand new road dirt. Road tires don't cut it, and I get stuck even with a good run. One serious rooster tail and a filthy bike later, I get unstuck; not bad. Remember I am an ADV noob. This is really something. The super-nice warden lady feels bad for me, and later gives me more than one lift back to the parkís pay phone (a 10 minute walk) in the park's golf cart, a ride that apparently requires the donning of a helmet.

My aunt was wondering why Iíd sacrifice valuable cargo space to bring a can of Plexus. Hereís why:

Soon enough, I will learn that this is NOTHING

A glorious night, quiet campground, no neighbours, nice temperature and no fly on the tent. Perfection.

The upside of this soft road is that the following morning there is deer sign all over it.

Taking it easy, waiting for some laundry to dry, and hopefully tonight Iíll manage to stay with a friend in Winnipeg. Manitoba.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:26 PM

Such a nice campsite, would love to stay, but I'm itching to move.

I gave the bike some tlc by filling the dry bag with soapy water and cleaning it up. I messed it up good getting up the hill, and there's sand and gravel in every nook and cranny. With my shiny new machine I hit the road and promptly hit 5km of muddy gravel under construction at Kenora. But then it's 5km of perfect new tarmac. I guess you have to pay to play. Itís a beautiful morning. The bike is now filthy. I guess it's supposed to be like that.

The Trans-Canada is totally ripped up at the Manitoba border. Deep deep grooves make for funky riding, so I get on to the 44 almost right away after stopping for a quick break. I see the Cyclebetes entourage again, a bunch of spandex-clad cyclists on a ride for juvenile diabetes. They seem well funded with their fancy chase vehicles and logo wear.

All these people, running, cycle touring, etc, across the nation make me feel like not much of a bada$$ anymore. That little pain in my back? Pshaw.

Hwy 44 is a hoot for the first 45 minutes. Bad surface keeps things honest, but itís a nice narrow windy road through some scrubby backcountry. Little do I realize this is probably the best riding in southern Manitoba. And then, it's over. The route is now ruler straight, itís getting hot, wide open, and a wild cross-wind has me swearing and canted over the whole way to Winnipeg. Thankfully I will be staying at a friend's place tonight, which will be easy to find, hopefully a no-fuss destination. I think my friend wanted to whoop it up a little, and she put a big effort to show me around the town, white-knuckled though I was in the passenger seat of her car, the closest following vehicle I have ever been in before or since. But despite the terror I was ready to sleep from the afternoonís heat and wind, completely beat. I don't think fairings would do much for me in that kind of wind.

I have some small missions here. The first: snap a few pics of one of Mrs. Shaweetz's childhood homes in the burbs. The next is to do a yoga drop-in class to try and straighten out my screaming back; it seems I don't have the ergos quite down yet. I will spare the readership the photos of those exciting things.

On the way out of town, I managed to visit Wildwood Motorsports, who has had the Triumph brand here for less than a year. They've got a nice collection of old Ducati scramblers from the 60′s here, some restored, some original. It was a nice visit and I chatted briefly with one of the salespeople, but I was disabused of the idea that I was going to get feted at the dealerships just because I happened to be from out of town. I'm not sure where I got that idea from.

Speaking of wet, it rained rained rained until Portage la Prairie. Even better, deep tire ruts on the Trans Canada were beautiful troughs of standing water. The center is dry, of course because itís the oil line... But visibility's good and I'm still managing to enjoy myself despite the excitement. Manitoba smellsÖ earthy. Then manurey. Then sweet. All within a few minutes. My Triumph-branded touring boots have decided they are no longer waterproof. At least they are warm.

But the thing is, only the rarest of weather patterns lasts forever. After Portage it breaks, and itís a perfect riding day, smooth air and smooth blacktop, from there on out. For the first time, I feel the space as the land opens up around me. In some places I swear you can see the earthís curvature (you canít, of course). The space floods in when I stop off the 10 to take pictures of some exciting hay:

I could walk out there forever, and just be. There is no stress here.

This kind of space stands in stark contrast to the usual lack; the physical kind, but more importantly, space in the mind that is always there, if we ever cared to notice, or stop cramming it with the mostly totally banal details of day to day living. People who ride motorcycles seem to know about this space. Sometimes they talk about it, if theyíre that kind of person.

And suddenly, unexpectedly, a small town, a pretty tree-lined boulevard:

Neepawa. Home of Manitoba Person Of Note Margaret Laurence. I roll on.

After Neepawa, low rolling hills, perfect weather, perfect sightlines, and the most perfect road, anywhere. You could land a jet on it. At this moment in time, in this world, there is only one right thing to do, in fact, is requested to be done, from where I know not. And that is to roll it on.

120Ö 130Ö 140Ö 150Ö 150. She will not do the ton with all of this un-aerodynamic heavy crap lashed on, tuck or no. And that is ok; I empathize. She did her best and it was good enough for me. Relenting, I drop it back off to something more reasonable. For the next hour, the bike runs better, happier, and so do I.

Going 160 on this bike is a special event, and itís not normally something I really care about; nor are there many truly safe places to do it, at least where I live. For this moment, every condition endorsed it. And then, back to what she does best, driving at the usual speeds and posing for photos in front of quirky barns:

I get a kick out of the many ways the small towns try to make themselves stand out:

Riding Mountain National Park is nice enough, but $35 camping fees are really getting to be a drag. The place is kind of like a camping theme park, with events and shows and park staff that whiz around on electric scooters. But I found a nice site with no neighbours. They have covered cook areas, in case itís miserable, with nice woodstoves:

I hadn't realized that this, and many other National Parks in North America, were built up as huge depression-era make-work projects.

At night I awaken to loud, deep snoring :eek1 . The thing is, there are are no occupied sites within 300ft of my tent, and this is maybe 30ft away, tops. Not human. Three loud grunts and huffs at intervals of 28 seconds. When my adrenaline goes away, itís replaced by curiosity, but the tentís zipped up tight and the iphone is not accessible for recording right now. So I drift off, together with whatever monster it was. The huffing goes on for perhaps an hour, maybe more. In the morning I walked around the site in increasing circles and found no sign of anything.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:32 PM

The prairies, the prairies, the prairies.
I'm determined to get my money’s worth by visiting the bison enclosure at Riding Mountain. Well, it’s 20km down some of the nicest backcountry dirt road ever, in a nice hardwood forest. A coyote, skunk, and several whitetail deer spook as I drive by. What a glorious morning.

But there's a little issue with the map, or more likely, the map reader. I'd understood that you drive *by* the enclosure, with the option to go in. No. You must go through to reach the road that veers south back towards my planned route.

I have passed not a soul on this road. I really want to see bison. But given that I've heard TWO first-hand accounts of bison aggression toward motorcycles, and the lack of anyone else here, I opt out and double back down 20km of dirt road. I know, big wuss. But I'm not too disappointed, as it’s a glorious day.

So instead, I headed north towards Dauphin, and past an odd abandoned Ukrainian amphitheatre/theme town. I seem to recall my friend mention a massive Ukrainian festival happens here. The prairies are chock full of Ukrainians.

After a pit stop at Tim Horton's, its due west to Saskatchewan. At the border starts the driving, relentless, rain, straight up misery all the way to Saskatoon. It’s all about figuring the gas stops, every 200km; about trying to keep warm. The bike is misfiring at idle in the heavy rain, not that I blame it. So am I. A resolution is made to not leave Saskatoon without buying a heated vest. The grips have been on full blast all day and it's barely keeping me going.

The big potash mines on the way into town are really something. I try to get the bike into position to get a shot of the enormous, enormous mountains of tailings (30 stories says a buddy) but it’s not to be.

At times the smell of Saskatchewan is overwhelming. Manure? Fertilizer? Especially past freshly tilled fields. It keeps my interest when there is otherwise not much else.

A funny scene unfolds at the first 7/11 I see in Saskatoon, where I stop and ask the cash girl for directions to the motel malls. While examining the map, some old guy has come in and is just standing there, staring at me. Funny. I guess I am a soggy mess, quite a sight in my awesome yellow Miami-Vice argentinian sniper glasses.

Finally, I arrive at a suitable hotel. load in, and audit everything. left boot: soaked. Sleeping bags: damp. Rider: pooped, frozen. I boot up CSI Miami and run the bath.

Why do they have road signs in Saskatchewan announcing every upcoming village, 1km ahead? You can see the thing coming for miles.

I'm having a great time. But tomorrow, things start to get way cooler.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:39 PM

Saskatoon to Drumheller
Sad that prairie weather is just not cooperating with my photo interests. Hour after hour goes by of interesting landscapes that would capture better if the light were not a flat, dull gray, eveywhere. Luckily my yellow glasses lend the day substantially more joy than is due. I consider taking some photos through a yellow filter, as I am seeing the world. There is no lack of interesting things to take photos of out here. I drive on.

The vastness of the place is still stunning to me. It's as though driving on the landscape of another planet, another earth. I have heard about this vastness my whole life. Seeing it is more moving – and less boring – than I might have expected. Moreso when I think of the people who live out here, and how they work this land so that we can eat, and so that they can eat too. These people are surely made of different stuff than I am. For the first time in my life I have actually seen wheat, growing, being harvested. But the cacophony inside the helmet is no way to appreciate this. From time to time, a rare rise in the earth provides the opportunity to stop, be still, and contemplate what forever looks like.

The weather of the next few hours is laid out for consideration. Off in the distance, some trees, a house of the family who works this land. If I start walking now, I might be able to knock on their door today. Maybe. What does this space mean to the people who live here? Do they even notice it any more? Cities must make them crazy.

With a hoot I cross into Alberta, and feel like I’ve done something. Coming into Saskatchewan on a minor highway, there was no Welcome To sign, so I’d been robbed of this moment on the other side:

An hour or so in, the first sun in two days breaks out of the sky, to a great deal of hooting inside my helmet. And with that sun comes slow, rolling ranch lands, cattle, a subtly different world.

They’re paving the 7 in this stuff called chip seal, which is very textured, but I can only imagine it’s shaving precious days off the tires (this stuff was new to me, it's rare in Ontario. Now I know it's EVERYWHERE). At a long construction stop, a shaggy fellow in a completely beat Ford Escort (ah, the memories) drives up next to me and starts talking. Of course, I have music blaring in the headphones, so I have to pause him for a moment. He’s rebuilt a '69 honda something for a friend. He wanted to know about the bike, like everyone. While we wait, he recommends a better route to Drumheller to escape the chipseal and get some better views. It turned out to be a great route.

Later, I learned that I’d gassed up in Hanna, home town of under-appreciated and much-maligned band Nickelback :lol3 .

I know I have an obsession with helmet bug paste photos. Every time I think it can't get any worse, it gets worse. Only a few more, I promise.

(click to enlarge)

Suddenly, the badlands! Holy crap, what a cool surprise after days of flat waving grasses.

(click to enlarge)

Alberta's badlands, a gash in the flat earth, appears, out of nowhere. And I am in Drumheller.

(click to enlarge)

I swear I didn’t shop the sunburst on the mirror. You can go up the azz of that thing and take in the view from it's maw. I didn't.

On the way to camp:

I fall asleep to the sound of yelping coyotes in a beautiful, cheap, $5 self-serve campsite in the valley, next to some grazing cows. It's cooling off FAST, but I layer up in anticipation of a crisp night.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 07:46 PM

An early rise, and there is ice on the tent. Feck! It's not even September yet.

Wandering into the pasture, but not too close, since I’m afraid of cows. Will they attack? The grasses are crunching in the frost underfoot.

I consider, seriously, making a morning fire out of dried cow dung, it is that f-in cold. Standard procedure in many parts of the world.

The calves are bellowing and running in their funny way.. Who doesn’t like calves?

Breaking camp I decided to wash the filthy bike while waiting for the rising sun to burn the ice off the fly. It's a handy time for a deep inspection, and restore a bit of pride.

Now, everyone knows dinosaurs are a kid thing. You know, cool ferocious monsters and all that. And certainly, many museums and books about them are pitched primarily at kids. For some reason, it’s not as cool to be into paleontology as an adult. And that’s a shame, but it probably has something to do with the kid sell, the family-friendly vibe.

The fact of the matter is, examining fossilized remains of ancient animals requires facing some very mature, challenging and perhaps uncomfortable existential questions.

The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, AB does a very nice job of providing kid friendly content, while including more advanced exhibits such as the excellent presentation and displays on Darwinian evolution. Whatever your opinion on the matter, you will see it, and you will think. I spent several hours at the Tyrell before moving on; it was time and money well spent. The collection of real and cast skeletons is exceptional, and of course the dioramas are always a hoot.

(click to enlarge)
I burn out of Drumheller, backtracking a bit, because I want to go to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO heritage site.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 09:27 PM

Life's Work Well Done
East of Drumheller, the Hoodoos, or at least what they look like when the white balance is messed up:

The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, the last wooden one still standing in Canada (with a bit of help from the looks of it):

And then the road rises out of the valley and it’s flat grasslands forever, as though the badlands never existed.

It feels somewhat wrong to be moving east right now, but Dinosaur Provincial Park is not too far to backtrack, and I've got two days left until I meet Mrs. Shaweetz at the Calgary airport. It’s all ruler straight, low, rolling fields with which to focus my thoughts.

A small rise, nothing for miles. Some bushes. A cemetery. What? Here? The photo drill: to stop or not to stop? Evaluate. Yes. A mirror check. A U-turn. A shimmy through an opening in the barbed wire. The Lone Butte cemetery. A dozen grave sites, perhaps a few more.

As far as the eye can see, there is nothing, maybe a house or two if you squint, a couple of bobbing oil wells. Rustling grasses. The sound of my own breathing. And here, penned in this island square of barbed wire, are a handful of unmarked graves covered in gravel, some aged markers, and a few modern ones.

Here they were born, here they worked, and here they rest.

A few benches have been provided for quiet contemplation, of the memories of family members interred here, of the vast surroundings, the waving grasses.

I could rest in such a place.

Approaching Dinosaur PP, I have an idea of what to expect. The approach looks completely ordinary, but watch out for snakes:

And then the badlands open up underneath me again:

(click to enlarge)

This is getting a bit tiresome… my visor rag is black with the paste:

A camp. Here I was absolutely attacked by hordes of ravenous mosquitoes. In September! Didn't I FREEZE last night??:

A public road loops through a small area of this incredible park. Most of the place is off-limits to the public, being chock full of dinosaur fossils, and new stuff being found all the time. I try to take a video, first by taping the camera to my helmet (a poor plan from the outset, doomed to end in tears but thankfully the tape didn't stick at all) then by bungeeing the camera around my chest. I succeed in getting an Oscar-grade shaky video of my speedometer.

At the apex of the loop, there is a small glassed-in building. Inside, on the ground, a partially excavated skeleton of a hadrosaur, maybe 15 feet long. It is not a recreation, as some of these things are. This is where it was found in 1957, partially revealed, and this is where it was left.

Walking down a trail, the day is late and the light is cooperating for capturing some scenes as the sun is sinking in the west.

As I return to the hadrosaur enclosure, the sun is beginning to disappear. I’m alone with a sweeping vista of some of the most stunning landscape I have seen, with only wind and crickets for company. And it suddenly occurs to me to lie down, on the ground; lie down, still, in the dirt, ten feet from this thing that has laid down in this spot, unmoving, for 75 million years. And I think about that.

shaweetz 10-06-2010 09:50 PM

There is something illuminating to me, a connection I have just really made, about what I've recently seen and the land I've ridden across.

An anomaly in the landscape erodes the earth in a funny way, and reveals a treasure trove of fossilized remains of the life that was once here millions of year ago.

For hundreds of miles around, the byproduct of this life, the sludge it became, is being slowly, slowly pumped out of the ground by the bobbing wells that dot the grasslands.

I see all of this, thanks to the endless ribbon of smooth pavement that is glued together with the same oil, the same oil that I stuff into my tank and light on fire so I can have the privilege of seeing it all.

And I think about that too.

Peashooter 10-07-2010 08:55 AM

Looks like a great trip!:D I was wondering about the set up on your Bonnie. Looks like Happy Trails boxes, but whose racks are you using? Any chance of you posting pics of the bike w/o the boxes?

shaweetz 10-07-2010 09:07 PM

Thanks, I documented the setup at the bottom of this thread:

They are indeed Happy Trail boxes, Tetons, mounted using their kit to a set of Norman Hyde Rails. I love the boxes. The rear rack is a Renntec.

In retrospect it probably would have been simpler to shell out the extra $$$ for the Hepco & Becker rack and side rails, since you can see I had to go through some hoops to get the NH to play nice with the Renntec. And in the end it gave me no trouble, but I still feel that the NH setup is a little weak for the load I put on it. I think I measured 32-ish lbs a side.

shaweetz 10-07-2010 09:19 PM

Phase 1 comes to a close
The change machine does not give quarters, which the dryer requires. So today’s plans are altered to allow for a public viewing of my underwear etc. drying on the line, since, as luck would have it, I hand washed everything when I woke up, before discovering the quarter problem.

There are worse places in the world to be stuck waiting for a few hours.

This is an easy day for making my way closer to Calgary, within striking distance so I can meet Mrs. Shaweetz tomorrow morning to begin the next leg of this trip. Easy, that is, except for the hellacious wind that is ripping across the plain, and the nasty weather brewing, dissolving, brewing overhead.

Having picked the closest provincial park I can find, I am almost there when I see the sign:


This, people, is what it’s all about. I’m about to make a 1.5 hour detour, because, there is no way I’m not going to Vulcan Alberta, wind be damned.

And a nice fellow at the service station to chat with about old Nortons and BSAs.

Check out those flags, if you will.

My first glimpse of the mountains comes through a wall of black, threatening sky that presently opens up on my head, and then just as quickly dissipates.

Mildly thrilling to think I’ve driven to this point, all the way from my home. Since leaving, I’ve ridden 4500km. I know many have done it, but it's cool for me, I never have. Now, more than ever, I know that driving across the country is a defining Canadian experience, and I am somewhat more than when I left.

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