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Old 08-02-2010, 05:31 PM   #1
bvardi OP
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Chasing Jack

I was sitting on the seat of the motorcycle, ducking to the left and watching a house fly by at 80kph, about two feet from my head.


Thinking all the while “A few inches over and the insurance company would be getting a report they'd never believe.”


But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first.


And the first thing in this trip.... well that would be this fellow.





That's my grandfather, Jack. Born in 1920, left home at age 14 to work as a lumberjack. Felling trees with a saw and axe, most of them destined to see a life as telephone poles across Vancouver island.


This wasn't uncommon back then – young men striking out on there own, both to send home money during the great depression and also to relieve the family of the burden of another mouth to feed.


He worked at this until the start of the second world war, where he became a despatch rider. That's something I won't go into here - if you want, you can read more about that (and my Uncle Lennox who was also a despatch rider) at this link

http://cmgonline.com/content/view/2458/57/

I will include, however, a few pictures to round things out. My grandfather on his bike during training - showing that you NEVER tell a DR "You can't jump that thing that high".



And him taking my grandmother out on a date, in England on his DR bike.



After WW2, he worked as a firefighter for a while in Victoria– then eventually left that to go to work running his own chimney sweep business. He purchased an army surplus bike, restored it to civilian colours and specifications in his spare time.



Eventually this was sold (as his family grew) but his fascination for two wheels just took – other directions.


Antique bicycles – especially Penny Farthings.



Now a Penny Farthing isn't your ordinary bike – 6 foot tall front wheel and a miniscule back wheel. Pedals fixed to the hub so don't expect any gearing to help you out. Brakes? Pedal slower. A machine you had to start moving BEFORE you mounted it, via a small step along the tall sloping metal tube at the year. Basically you pushed it to start it moving, jumped up on this tiny step, jumped up further into the saddle and started pedaling.



I drove one once as a kid alongside my grandfather – a child sized version – and I still marvel at the way he could make that machine move. (No that isn't me in the above picture, but it is the same mini penny farthing so far as I know.)


He did over 50 years of Victoria Day parades in his home city of Victoria, BC, Canada riding that thing. Dressed in bowler hat, usually with handlebar moustache, suspenders, topcoat, he looked somewhere between a gentleman and a cheerful lunatic – and that would probably be the best way to sum up his personality.


He raced, jousted, won balance contests where he would stay in place for several minutes at a time – balancing precariously on the leather and steel seat, 6 feet above the ground. On one of the several machines he built from scratch.



He also restored bikes – at one time he had a collection of hundreds of bikes, selling restorations to collectors and museums.


Last December Jack passed away, peacefully. The family, knowing what Jack was like – didn't want just your typical funeral.

He would have hated that.

Instead, they wanted a celebration – scheduling it for June of this year.


Now this left me with a bit of a decision to make – I could do what I always do and fly out to Victoria for a few days – but that didn't seem right. Not for Jack, who was a bit of an adventurer, a despatch rider, a lover of anything mechanical.

I had to get there.... in an appropriate way.

Which meant taking this - my 2007 Ural Tourist. 5000km just to get out there. From Toronto to BC, in June - not always the best month for weather going across.



And the first thing I had to do was to tell my wife I was doing this....

(To be continued...)
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Old 08-02-2010, 05:50 PM   #2
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This doesn't sound like such a chore offhand – people drive motorbikes that distance every day. 5000km. Doesn't sound like much in a day of air travel, high speed highways, GPS and cellphones. Practically a walk around the park.

Granted, one freaking huge park - but still, not that much of a challenge, right?

Except the Ural isn't that far removed from it's roots in 1939 – less than a decade ago the quality control was such that making it 5000km without a major mechanical breakdown was an accomplishment.

And I wasn't exactly an ace mechanic - I'd had a few vintage machines, and learned how to do some of the basics. (Here's me working on a CB125 cottage rat bike I learned a fair bit from - especially electric work, which would come in VERY handy riding across Canada... but more on that later.) I'd owned a vintage Vespa which had a habit of needing roadside clutch cable changes, and still own a CD175 which occasionally reminds me just how far I still have to go on figuring out how motorcycles really work.)



Now my Ural is a 2007, with updates and huge reliability improvements – but I'd still be cruising at 90kph (given low to medium headwind), checking bolts, tires and spokes every other day, and changing oil and checking valves halfway along.

Also, being a sidecar rig, I'd be pushing it through turns and manhandling it to go where I want to go – a lot more work than an ordinary bike.


And I'd be doing this to a schedule shorter than I liked to do it at all – I had just over two weeks of vacation I could use for the trip – and I'd need several days of those in Victoria, so I had about 9-10 days to make the trip.


But this trip was something that he'd relish – something that felt right, something that fit. Even down to the clunky, slow and mechanically primitive Ural. I knew he'd have loved that machine if he had ridden it – the thunk of the gearshift, the sewing machine on steroids noise the engine makes as it ticks, clicks and mutters it's way along. The way the performance varies according to weather, temperature, wind, and I'm pretty sure phases of the moon.


This would be more than a drive – it would be me getting to touch some of his bravery, his spirit, and taking the long route across a country he loved. I'd be chasing his shadow all the way, chasing his memory, chasing his ghost in every mile moved and every mechanical tick, tock and click.


I'd be chasing stories, chasing distance, chasing time and chasing memory. I'd be chasing a ghost, chasing a rolemodel, and chasing someone who taught me a lot about the important things.


In the end, I'd be chasing Jack. All the way across.



(To be continued...)
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Old 08-02-2010, 07:46 PM   #3
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sounds fun!

In
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Old 08-02-2010, 08:57 PM   #4
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Great story ...
Thanks for the sharing.
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Old 08-02-2010, 11:39 PM   #5
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So the next step - telling the wife.

This isn't as bad as you might think. She's a rider herself, drives the Ural when we go on trips and is up for anything that involves getting away from home for a while.

Heck, I remember a ways back when I decided to do the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally and told her I was going, but that she wouldn't have to attend with me her reaction was something along the lines of "Oh no, you aren't doing that without me!"

(You can read more about that if you wish at http://cmgonline.com/index.php?optio...1646&Itemid=51)

So she wasn't entirely against the idea. Though she did have some concerns - we could only start rough planning until a firm date for the memorial was picked by the family out west. I settled some of her Ural concerns by scheduling a full mechanical inspection at the dealer (OVC in hillsburgh, ON) and getting new tires and extra parts just beforehand.

We also changed my original concept - which was for almost 3 weeks and riding both ways - to 2 weeks and riding one way (She couldn't get the required vacation time, and didn't want to have to rush the trip.)

We tossed back and forth route plans - debating going partly through the US versus all across Canada - up and over the great lakes.

The US route had the advantage of more gas stops, better roads, more hotel choices and easier terrain when we hit the Rockies.

The Canada route had the advantage of her not needing to get a new passport, having perhaps more scenery since we'd be doing secondary highways and avoiding the Trans-Canada if we could, and also it just.... felt right.

Jack was always quietly proud of his country after all - and I think he was an example of what every Canadian should be. Doing this trip, which was to be in his honour - it just should somehow be through the country that he very much stood for.

So we came up with a rough route - that looked something like this



(It didn't end up being quite like that in the end, as we decided we would retain the option to change things up "on the fly" - but we kept generally to this direction anyways.)

Then we got date confirmation from the family out west - and planning started in earnest.

I bought Max Burns' book "These are a few of my favourite roads" http://www.worddust.ca/pages/faveroad.html
- basically a book about crossing Canada while avoiding the Trans Canada whenever possible. Not always easy.

I read and re-read Lornce's ride report on the forum here about his vintage BMW trip.

I bounced parts and supplies lists off club forums, we got paper maps and went through google maps and mapquest and gas and hotel listings.

I crunched the numbers - figuring out how much we could travel each day (without getting tired to the point of it not being worth the trip), how much we would need for gas and lodging, etc.

We found a shipping company to haul the rig back - so we could take more time driving out. (TFX International, they specialize in vehicle transportation - and did quite a good job. They even suggested we look into renting a storage unit at the other end, to make picking up the bike easier. Which it did.)

I setup a blog site - so we could update friends and family about the trip. I setup google lattitude - to share out our location live through my blackberry with GPS - so that they could "see" on a live map where we were at any time.

We consulted my wife's uncle - who has done the trip cross country many times, if not on a motorbike - and he gave us several pointers. And hinted we were possibly a wee bit nuts.

Which was more than likely true.

We did have one disappointment - the original plan had my daughter flying out to meet us for the memorial with my parents. But due to school schedule and a dance recital that couldn't be rescheduled - she ended up being unable to come out. And I had wanted her to be a part of this trip.

So I found a way to make her feel involved still.

Meet Katie.




Katie the Koala to be precise. My daughter's stuffed toy. Who would be making the trip with us - and emailing my daughter with regular status updates and a diary of our trip.

From a Koala's perspective of course.

So we had a motorbike with a mostly 60 year old design and a sidecar, two people of questionable sanity, even more questionable preparation, and a stuffed Koala along for the ride.

Jack was waiting out there for us, somewhere.

Laughing no doubt every step of the way.

(To be continued.. again... with us finally getting underway....)
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Old 08-03-2010, 10:40 AM   #6
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So the day came when we were leaving on the trip. Slowly, the clock and calender reluctantly ticking their way closer to the date we would be leaving - until it finally arrived.

We'd decided we'd head out straight from work on a friday afternoon - so the thursday night before we got all the luggage ready to go, I went to work - and my wife did her work day and packed up the Ural and came out to pick me up.

It was, if anything, probably overpacked. 2 netbooks, extra clothes, tent, two sleeping bags, jerrycan on the side of the sidecar, parts and tools in the trunk. Plus camera gear (Nikon D60 DSLR and a cheap Nikon point and shoot for backup.) The tent and sleeping bags were more for emergencies as we planned to stay in hotels to maximize driving time.

In retrospect we could have shaved off a fair bit of weight and bulk if we'd picked things out better but thats how retrospect works unfortunately. It doesn't give you much help beforehand.





My brother also came along for the first part of the ride out - appropriate as he was riding one of his 70's Nortons (and Nortons were Jack's favourite bike during his DR days.)



Here we are with my brother (about to perform English bike escort duties. Which, as I pointed out in my helpful way would likely consist of him riding ahead and pelting us with parts flying off his bike and the occasional spray of oil or magic wiring smoke.

(I kid, I kid, his machine is very immaculately setup.)

We headed off onto the highway... up the 404 towards Barrie, where we'd stop for dinner and stay goodbye to my brother.


(My wife leading off with the driving, we swapped out every two hours or so during the drive.... unless it was raining. Or rough going. Or really cold. Then it was somehow my turn.

But hey, I can't complain.

She might read this after all.

Traffic was heavy - stopped for a bit even as a big black SUV motorcade with full motorcycle escort zoomed by. (Practice for the upcoming G20 and G8 conferences I imagine.)


(My brother, on his unoil spewing and all parts intact and in place Norton)



The day was hot - Toronto was experiencing quite the unseasonal heat wave and the traffic didn't help things much. Leaving on a friday probably didn't help, with hordes of people looking to escape the city for cottage country - probably even more than usual due to the weather and the impending G20 and G8 disruptions as the security fence was put into place around the downtown core.

Not to mention that we were right in the middle of one of Toronto's two seasons - Winter and Construction. And it isn't winter I'm referring to.

To break from the photos of us dying of sweat (I was in fear of drowning in the sidecar) - here's a picture of the subject of the trip.



(That's my grandpa Jack giving a boost to the then Mayor of Victoria, during one of his 50 something Victoria day parades. I suspect he's coming close to laying accidental hands on the mayor's "political seat" but probably best not to speculate.)

After a bit, things finally began to move - we picked up speed and made our way out to Barrie, stopping for a thoroughly unmemorable meal at a Boston Pizza outlet. Not bad, just not.... interesting. I was hoping we'd find something better along the way - those oddball little family places and secret hideaway restaurants that are diamonds in the rough. Or diamonds in the backwoods as the case may be.

But for now, it was more important to get some liquids into us and take a break, before continuing on to Parry Sound.

We waved goodbye to my brother, who revved up and rode off back towards home.



We were off somewhere entlrely different.

We were on the road, off our rockers, and all gassed up on chain restaurant pasta and ethanol laden premium.

And we still had miles to cover before nightfall.

(To be continued...)
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Old 08-03-2010, 05:44 PM   #7
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We continued on - through the normally somewhat boring stretch on toward Parry Sound. (Where we planned to stop for the night, not terribly far but keep in mind we had started the day after a full day of work.)

Normally this would be a boring drive - not that much scenery. Roads straight, level for the most part.

But of course, the Ural always adds it's own commentary in ticks and clicks and whirls and whistles.







The sun went low, and we hotel'd up for the night. Dragging the enormous amounts of luggage off the bike into the hotel room.

Something that would become a nightly ritual. The unsnapping of bungee and blanket straps, the undoing of a tangled cargo net - the tired back and forth carrying of many small pieces of luggage.



One day down... and from here... it was just about to get.... interesting.

We hardly slept - for we were just beginning to realize that for the next two weeks, we'd be out on the road. Really out on the road - exposed, elementwise.

Gloriously hot, sweaty and cold. Dry and wet, bug splatted and dust driven.

All the way west.
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Old 08-03-2010, 06:07 PM   #8
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Next morning, it was bye bye to the cheap hotel and back onto the pavement.


(Bye bye Parry Sound, we hardly knew ya. Actually we never really went into you at all - but I hear nice things from other people.)


(We made sure to follow the sign and turn our heads if any moose or deer showed up during the day.)

Things were less hot.

There was less traffic - cars were fading out for the occasional long haul truck.




Ok, perhaps even a few trucks, here and there.



Ok, so there was a lot of trucks, ok? But for the purposes of this narrative let's just pretend we were in pristine wilderness. It just sounds better than saying
"We sucked down so much diesel exhaust that certain countries have bought our petroleum exploration rights."


(We thought it best to bypass this, as paddling a Ural is notoriously difficult.)


(Unfortunately we were too busy not looking at moose and deer to pay attention to vehicle sizes.)



Aha... Sudbury... which leads us to the legally required photo all travellers going overland to the west MUST take on the way. You get searched on your way out of the city and if you haven't taken the photo you will get escorted back and handed a camera by a heavily armed gentlemen with no sense of humour and an excellent sense for lighting and depth.



And of course, you need a picture of yourself under the Sudbury big nickel.




And of course, we couldn't miss Katie the Koala.


(Katie later emailed my daughter, saying how she may be a very small Koala but she was surprised by the sheer size of the pocket change we humans feel we need to carry about.)

It was right about here, that we had a mini-mutiny, with Katie announcing something along the lines of "Let's get freaking moving and stop taking random shots of an oversized undervalued coin that some bloody knob has set on end."

That didn't however, make it into the nightly emails to my daughter.



Time to get moving. Jack was waiting for us somewhere on ahead.

And also the Koala was beginning to intimidate me.



(To be continued...)
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Old 08-03-2010, 06:22 PM   #9
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An interesting thing... I never quite managed to stop and get them on film... but past sudbury it was all level roads, blasted out of rock - with rock walls and hills rising up.

Like a knife through hot Canadian shield.

And on these rock walls - every once in a while, regular was clockwork - were Inukshuks.

Little rock people - marking the edges of the road. Marking the trip were were making.

Like stone spirits - guarding the edges of the forest.



The other thing you would see is the signs of a changing north - or possibly a changing economy. Shuttered hotels, abandoned houses - little marks of decay where things were going back to wildnerness.

It's the tradition of the places outside the cities - boom towns and bust towns. Places that 80 years ago were huge bustling communities, and now were the odd building - or sometimes just a foundation left in the forest.





Soon enough we began to leave the straight, compass and ruler blasted road with the stone guardians. And we began to get hints of something.... rather big popping up on the left. Positively superior in fact.









And this.... this is where the scenery gets interesting as you are driving. The section of the Trans Canada going up and around lake Superior. Curving roads cutting up and down through hills, with almost a continuous view of the water.

Just don't expect gas to be available around the next bend.

Or your cellphone to get any signal.

And yes, we were ESPECIALLY glad to have that 10L jerrycan attached to the sidecar right about here.

(to be continued....)
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Old 08-03-2010, 06:39 PM   #10
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Just a quick hint of how nice that road is - we should have taken more pictures, but it was too much fun to drive the thing!







(The pictures aren't the best - but I was still learning how to use a crappy point and shoot held over my head above the sidecar windshield. My wife insisted on driving the pretty curvy stretches as much as possible. Though I did get my own share of pilot time along the way.)
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Old 08-03-2010, 07:02 PM   #11
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Wow, looks like a great trip bvardi!

Its cool that you and your wife travel on the Ural together so well.

Looking forward to more.

PS. I like the writing style.
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Old 08-04-2010, 04:17 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kyle the Jerk
Wow, looks like a great trip bvardi!

Its cool that you and your wife travel on the Ural together so well.

Looking forward to more.

PS. I like the writing style.
Definitely was a great trip - I think taking the slow side road way across Canada is the best way to see things.

And yep - having a wife who can not only do this, but enjoy it - thats a definite lucky thing!

The writing style is just a natural development of the way I think and speak. Which should likely be of great concern to some mental health authority somewhere or other.

Lots more to come (though it might take me a week to get it all written out the way I am going!)
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Old 08-04-2010, 04:55 AM   #13
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Great stuff!

I'll be looking forward to more of your RR.
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Old 08-04-2010, 05:27 AM   #14
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Great report so far, really enjoying it...cheers!
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Old 08-04-2010, 05:34 AM   #15
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I'm loving this tribute to Jack and the whole chasing his memory thing. Where are the men of his calibre today?

I also the the Ural hack part. I rode one of those for the first time recently at a blowout Texas BBQ at my place. What a hoot to drive.

Also, not too long ago, I rode around Lake Superior, counter-clockwise, in June of a classic summer. Forever memories.

Ergo, there are many pieces of this story I'm connected to. But the best part of this for me is your story of Jack, your tribute to a great man.
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