The road follows the Ottawa River to … Ottawa. The city is from my narrow first impressions a rather dull poor copy of other cities with a pompous air about it. Flags hang from lamp posts commemorating the English past – all designed to differentiate the place from the Francophonies across the river. I did take a rather fetching shot of this man in drag in the middle of the motorway holding a placard to promote a Levis sale nearby. On his T shirt it read ‘Support the Troops’ Anyway he was very cooperative when it came to posing for the camera. I had to risk life and limb taking it.
The contrast between the have and have nots continues to draw my attention. There was a particularly sad bag lady in the gardens of the cathedral whose inscription reads: ‘Marie Reine Du Monde’ and around the corner was a couple of tramps – I got one to take a picture of me and the other one.
Local elections coming up soon, in the US as well… this is the Liberal candidate in North Montreal.
And the Conservative…
I found a good place to have a coffee and it is 4 Km north of the centre on Montreal. I found it hard to find a part of the city that had ‘soul’ – still, a better city than Ottawa.
Past Montreal I found a campsite, heaving couple silhouetted, a light on in their tent …. 4AM – least said about this the better, suffice it to say – the Quebequians never sleep, I did not either and left at 6AM.
A sound nights sleep, washed some clothes and Sue marched out to my tent in her pyjamas with a lovely breakfast. So many people have been good to me on this trip, this was totally unexpected, I wish both Eppo and Sue good luck, they are really working hard to get the site cottages finished before the winter sets in and their visas run out. They told me they are setting off for Spain for the winter and hope to resolve the Canadian visa issues by the time they return to open the site in the spring. They have a very special spot and I am sure it will be a great success. I forgot to ask them the URL of their website, perhaps if you are reading this E&S can you post a comment with that info?
I am now in Petawawa public library; the Canadian library system is truly wonderful. A centre for information in a brand new building, air conditioned smartly designed, free internet access… hospitals too. I saw brand new ones on the road, eg:
Passing the military training camp, three jeeps with a machine gun on top travel along a dirt road parallel to the highway, I wave at them, they wave back at me. Lookout towers, then more armoured cars and military vehicles. Canada are involved with the war as well.…
sound collage from my minidisk player (contains some bad language)
Another day of travel, not really worth talking about except for how I ended up by the Ottawa river tonight. I passed through many towns with no idea where I was to stay.
Looking to find somewhere along the trans Canada Highway (route 17) – I came across a national park and the pretty blonde lady ranger said I could stay but the catch was I had to drive 40 Km of dirt road to get there. She suggested further on up the road (19 Km) …
Anyway, around the corner from the National Park was a signpost to Hilltop Campsite.
I trundle in, the place looked like it had just been done up with no-one around. Eppo, a Dutch guy about 30 appeared and said the place had not opened – it was due to open next year but I was welcome to stay – for free… and did I have any food? I said I had some rations of ham and cheese so before I could say anything he reappeared with 5 slices of brown buttered bread and some fried eggs.
I was going to let today pass without comment. Tonight munched my way through a packet of Doritos and tomato dipping sauce washed down with orange juice mixed with the remains of the Southern Comfort. Yes, I have become a tramp.
I have just finished off Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels which I have been dipping into at all through the journey. To be honest, I really have not had time to read, daylight fades and in a tent, torchlight is not a good way to read. During the day I am either too busy driving or looking around. So I have started Meetings With Remarkable Men by G I Gurdjieff, which I purchased in a second hand bookshop in Butte Montana. I read the last chapter first, about how he made his money, witty and surprising. Jupiter’s Travels was hugely enjoyable, not only it is well written but also it gave me tremendous moral support over the last 9,000 miles I have travelled.
Bus reads: This is Indian Land
Yes, 9,000 miles. I pulled the plugs on the Kawasaki and they were a lovely tint of beige, perfect condition. I also fixed a problem that has been annoying me since I bought the bike. None of the workshops spotted it. It was a loose bolt on the gear selector mechanism. I retightened it and oiled it and it is as good as new (almost). Until now, it was a real chore getting it in and out of neutral, also shifting into other gears.
The filth on the bike, my deranged beardy and sunburned look gives some cause for alarm to people on the campsite. I was trying out the newly fixed gear mechanism and I took a 5 mph tour.. It is mostly trailers with neatly tended gardens with 15cm high plastic fences. One or two have fairy lights or strings o of Christmas-style faux Victorian lamps. One with cute plastic animals, facing me is a painted wooden bear perched seated on a tree branch, if that was not bad enough the bear is wearing a red dress. A bear in drag? In another garden, purple red petunias. I am under fire from giggling children pulling back a huge elastic the width of a ping pong net, hurling clumps of day glo sticky string at me while I emerged from the lavvies. I leered at them menacingly through my dark glasses and they stopped giggling. The Canadian customs and practices of camping are quite similar to the Dutch.
I am finishing my dinner now with a banana and some home made chocolate fudge washed down with sobering mouthfuls of water.
After this morning which was a bit like setting out from a damp morning in Solihull the skies telling me it will rain… it will rain. Puttering along at 55-65, by lunch time I could remove my goretex jacket and my Dutch police waterproof over jacket to enjoy the rest of the sunny day. I stop off in one of the coves along the shores of Superior. It really is lovely up here. The only tourists are from Ottawa and Montreal it seems. Few of them at that. In the little cove, Sinclair Cove I sat for a while with the dozen or so sunbathers and canooists. The waters of Superior barely moving, fresh warm water, no currents or tides, dogs waltzing in to gulp at the fresh water.
I am 45 miles from Sault Ste. Marie , I buy some souvenirs and the basics for tonight’s meal and check into the campsite with my pitch nearest the beach.
To conclude, some snaps I took along the road today. I have noticed little piles of stones arranged along my route, particularly in Canada and Northern parts of the US. They are found at the top of rocky embankments and mountainsides. I think they have been put there by First Nation people. I need to investigate this further, meantime, here are some examples.
150 miles from Ottawa
although he did refuse that again at first. He and his wife Sue and brother in law are doing up the wooden cabins and putting up a public covered open dining area. Down the hill is a single railway track leading to Ottawa 150 miles east. A little further down the hill is a landing stage on the Ottawa River. It makes me think again, why return to London? I realise this will be a back breaking piece of work for the guy but what a location! He could always sell it when he has done it up. It brings a new angle to property development…
So tonight, I have a whole campsite to myself with the view of the Ottawa river. My laptop is being charged outside my tent. The bathrooms even have little wooden boats and shells for decoration, nailbrush and soap. It couldn’t be nicer. Sort of lucky, really.
Now just as I was getting ready to turn in for bed, a goods train honks past and as I look down the hill the driver waves up at me. I should write a koan about that.
Strange days, these. I spent a second night at Knife River Campsite 25 miles along Highway 61, actually on the scenic road that runs in parallel, right on the shores of Lake Superior. The site is run by Randy and his wife, as mentioned in a previous entry. Randy took early retirement, he was a Locomotive engineer, paid off with a good pension. He refurbished a boat, then with the proceeds built a house, sold it, moved into a motorhome with his wife and bought the site, now he has a small place but lives to enjoy life and plans to get another boat and live on it 6 months a year. He builds hot rods, just sold one to a guy in California. “C’mon, lets go for a beer” he said and we hopped into this contraption which is basically a 1932 model T Ford sitting on two thin steel rails and a 5 litre nailhead engine bolted onto the front. We catapult up the road, doing a quarter mile in a very short pace of time, slowing for a slight dip in the road as the floor of the vehicle we sat in was only inches from the road, the suspension crashing as it bottomed out. We were challenged by a Harley and Randy shifted the skull with a top hat gear down a gear and the little model T bellowed along. I helplessly gripped the thin door next to me. No seat belts. 1/8th inch of a metal panel between me and the outside world. The Harley lost the race and dropped back. Randy, grinned in the dimming light. On 61.
We reached the lighthouse cafe for our beer, meeting Deb, a neighbour and another friend at the bar, stayed for a bite to eat. All four of us lamented at the current administration and its effects. A man eating his dinner overheard us and said things have never been better, he did not understand what we were saying.
Later on we met Deb at the beach and built a bonfire under the stars while we sipped on a bottle of Southern Comfort I had in my bag. Deb has a cabin in South East Alaska, only way to get to it by boat or plane. She was a cheerful brave woman who had lost her husband from a heart attack 10 years earlier and was left with her 24 year old son and earns her living from her upholstery business. She tells us how she loves the solitude of her cabin by the remote shore in Alaska.
Next day the very same campsite owner refused payment for the site fee and insisted that he buy me breakfast, making me promise to do the same when he comes to London!
I really enjoyed my stay at Knife River – Randy made me think again on how life could be lived, of course I cannot do what he did but I seem to be on a similar wavelength to him, he envied my travels on the bike as well. A good sort.
I waved goodbye and headed back on to highway 61 up to Canada, Thunder Bay. Highway 61 continues on into Canada with the road signs on a crown graphic to remind us of the difference. 61 starts in New Orleans and connects to Duluth… Perhaps one day I will make the journey from Duluth and end in New Orleans.
how can a chicken be crispy and moisturised?
On, further on, the 17 to stop at mirror lake, at a shambolic campground by a delightful little lake with plastic paddle boats. My spot is just by the lake, very few people remain after a busy weekend so I choose the best spot.
People swimming in the lake, I share a morning cup of coffee with a woman who regularly goes to the UK, to Surrey and Newcastle. She said normally they get 100 inches of snow and temperatures drop to 30 C below zero, at Mirror Lake 70 degrees below. Last winter there was no snow at all. The tulips who are protected by the snow id not arrive and many bear cubs were lost. Another global warming anecdote. I read the local paper and learn about swimmer’s itch, a snail/bird/human vectored parasite wich you can do nothing about except cut off the tops of the pimples you get with a sharp knife to relieve the itching caused by the shistosomiasis: I thought you could only catch that in African countries.
In the lavatories, (marked MOM and POP) I find a delightful sight: two adult sized turds sitting comfortably in the urinals. I gaze at them in case the jump out and mug me. They were still there the next day. I was not going to be a hero and throw them into the cesspit toilet, thank you very much.
The old boy running this site was more concerned with building some steps down the hill to the lake than checking on the lavvies. He advised me to go back down the road and find a special spot which overlooks Lake Superior down a dirt road. I did not find it but I had a nice 50 mile ride into the forest down past lake Rita to Sleeping Bear Park. Every few kilometres another lake, so beautiful. I saw a cricket that when flying had yellow tips on its wings and it flew round me to show me how to fly. Wild raspberries, tiny birds bigger than a hummingbird, smaller than a sparrow, startled birds of prey with white markings on tail feathers jump up from the road in front of me into the trees… so many wild flowers – and silence.
Back on the road – a delicious lunch at Karens Kountry Kitchen by a little lake, the customers, tidy and polite people who had driven there in newish cars. They looked at me a little sniffily – what the hell!
More miles, followed by a weirdo who shadowed me though the mountains a few feet behind me for 50 miles. I stop off in a little village for a blueberry pie and coffee.
I meet Andy from Manchester who is cycling from Ontario to Vancouver, 4000 kilometres. Impressive stuff, makes my trip look like a stroll. He was exhausted after battling with headwinds all day yesterday and had the blueberry pie as well while we chatted. A lady entered the café and told us that a helicopter overhead was searching for a missing woman, 20 since Sunday.
The TV is advertising Levitra a pill to help men with diabetes get erections. I hope I never need that. A lot of pharmaceuticals are advertised on TV, to make people go to their (private) physician and ask for a drug by name. Lipid lowering, type two diabetes, hypertension you name it they sell it. Cialis and Viagra also compete for the erection market,
I checked into a motel in Marathon, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Superior as it was getting damp and my jeans were wet from road spray. It was not actually raining but it would not be fun to be in a tent again tonight. I am very fortunate and grateful to be able to make this choice.
“Duluth is where he learned to tie his shoes. Hibbing is where he learned to play the blues.”
Hibbing High School where Bob went
Lunch at Zimmys where they shamelessly exploit the genius of Dylan but was a nice lunch and good that I met two nice ladies drinking Mageritas and they told me where Bob lived. On Bob Dylan Drive… a.k.a. 7th Avenue (corner of 25th St)
A kind chap about my age called Rick who always lived in Hibbing took some photos of me outside Bob Dylan’s childhood home. Garage door painted with album artwork from “Blood On The Tracks”…
Set off from Mitchell 70 miles west of Sioux Falls on the I 90 – breakfasted on remains of last nights pizza and said goodbye to the group of intrepid bikers preparing for their final 300 mile run to Sturgis. I swear you have eaten off any of those machines, they were busy polishing them as we chatted with our cups of coffee. The hurricane baseball sized hail had gone north east, to the twin cities, where I was heading but fortunately had lost its energy as it went on up the country. Donning all my wet weather gear, I was to find it all unnecessary, I only had a little light rain in Minnesota.
So heading east back on the 90 and then turning north just after welcome on route 15 as I turn 90 degrees and cross the state line, the dry prairie turns into lush cornfields and green farmland. I pass by fields selling genetically modified strains of corn, each neatly labelled with its code number. Route 15 is also the veterans highway and every single road sign, telegraph pole, vertical object has a yellow ribbon tied to it.
The houses are better off and neater. No derelict trucks or farm machinery or children’s plastic toys littering the front yards here, thank you. Lutherian churches, crisply painted farm buildings and plastic lettering to welcome the troops home… I have to leave all this rural respectability behind as the 15 gives way to a faster busier road that takes me further north to Minneapolis. I notice that trucks are not popular up here, more traditional Lincolns and Cadillac saloon cars are preferred.
Minneapolis recently suffered the bridge collapse, with fatalities and the main artery that links the twin cities is snapped on the north side like a broken twig. I take the diversion around the scene, passing it on the north side. Hordes of obese morons are wandering around, so I join them. I am more interested in the schadenfreude people watching the scene. Two buses pass by coming from the scene with police escort, some weeping. I turn away I could not stay there any longer.
Swooping out of St Paul on the 35E on up to Duluth. When the Deal Goes Down played in my head and the clouds cleared for the first time in two days as I drove out from under the gloom into the sunshine. At the petrol station kids roar in and out on their quad bikes, this is more like it.
Duluth is pretty big, industrial and commercial buildings appear as I cross over the hill, a deep port for container ships coming in on the shores or Lake Superior. My bum aches from a 550+ mile ride but I continue onto highway 61 as it known for its beauty as it hugs Lake Superior shoreline. Expensive houses line the road, I cross onto the parallel scenic road on one side the twinkling blue waters of the lake, expensive motels – no vacancy, on further, 27 miles north I find Knife River campsite. The owner, Randy throws me a carrot, which I nearly drop, tells me I am lucky to get in, go an d set up and I will check you in. It’s the best place I have stayed at so far. Up the road I dined on elk with figs and mushrooms. On my return Randy had set up a little cinema in his garage, the floor was filled with kids, I crept in and sat cross legged, watched The Rookie with them. Popcorn and crisps were passed around and in the dark at the back of the garage were two hot rod cars under blankets. This felt like home. The next day Randy brought me a mug of tea and blueberry pancakes and I had a closer look at the cars, at the back he has an old rusty but intact Yamaha XS 650 motorcycle he bought from a guy in Florida for $200 on Craigslist. Randy seems to have a good life, I was quite jealous.
First of all I am grateful to Tim and all at Red Line Motorcycles for getting the set of tyres and fitting them. Thanks also to the lady at Red Line who lent me a scooter for the day so that I was free to do some sightseeing and get lunch. I got them to put green goo in the tyres … that is meant to stop punctures. I did not realise it took a while to spin the goo out around the tyres and the handlebars shook when I took my hands off them … after an hour at 80 it smoothed out.
A front lawn on the way to Ennis… some town… I forget… population 778 alt 1034ft
At seven in the evening I reached the delightful town of Ennis and entered the saloon. It was full of middle aged women laughing and using coarse language. I sat primly drinking my pint and this divorcee (who looked like a better version of Camilla Parker Bowles) kicked off a conversation. Readers, don’t jump to conclusions now, this was going nowhere – she kept going on about her boyfriend who knocks over bears riding his horse etc etc. She had spent some time on the road ‘full timing’ in her RV. She said it was not too hard to deal with being a woman on the road alone – she survived two winters in harsh conditions in the far north. Now in Ennis, she finds the people friendly and declared it to be the last ‘Western’ town before it all turns dull mid-western. We shall see.
She suggested the fisherman’s spot over the bridge out of town and I took that up after a delicious home cooked meal in a local place, served by a tall smiling girl that was the image of my daughter. <wipes tear from eye>
My tent was just a few feet from the rapid Madison river, rushing past filled to the top of the banks. Some fishermen nearby advised me of the best route to take me further East. Cook City, Cody, Chief Joseph Highway, Bear Tooth Highway (great views) Red Lodge, Belfrey, Sheridan, Devils Tower …
Thursday 2nd August
Off at 7AM the next day. I hoped to include a bit of tourism combined with some travel in an easterly direction. I headed for Yellowstone. That in itself was not a mistake but visiting Old Faithful was. This tourist attraction holds the world record for the greatest concentration of moronic people in the world (Sturgis comes a close second but more of that later). I covered 400 miles that day, climbed mountain ranges of 10500 feet. Ending in Bear Tooth campsite at 9,500 feet. That night I could hear bears yowling and claw marks on the trees next to the tent but I had a sound nights sleep, all for a very reasonable $11.
Another early start and on to Sturgis. A few words on Sturgis: it is the largest motorcycle meet in the world. It was due to start the following day, although the festivities had already begun, some photos are included. I can see the fun factor and many go there year after year for their annual holiday. For me, I found it shallow, brash and in some ways all the very worst of America.
Chatting to a few people, they have a peculiar take on the Sturgis dystopia. They accepted that the rally had its peculiar characteristics, dubbing it as “The Sturgis Trailer Rally”. I followed and was overtaken by countless Harleys on the back of pickups, on trailers and in covered horse boxes. Most of the bikes were hardly ridden, spotless and factory fresh. A precious few oddballs made it worthwhile, the man with train locomotive horns, the tattood lady, the sex addict pensioner showing 1947 photos of his shared girlfriend and handing out phallus candy to attractive girls on the pavement, the old timers with foot long beards, the girls riding motorcycles with postage stamp sized black tape over their nipples… the fat gawking loons (me?)…
Too many commercial stands, too much booze, noise, infected street food all drained my energy and I crawled back to the campsite just outside of town to have an ear plugged but restless nights sleep dreaming of hellish inescapable machine gun worlds as the machines blasted around the town.
Friday 3rd August
Breakfast at the Sturgis High School, all you can eat. I would not touch the gravy and biscuits but the food was served by students of the High Schools who eagerly asked me where I was from and pinned the location on a world map.
Off to Sioux Falls 375 miles East. On the way – a visit to Mount Rushmore.
Again I run across the precious strain of homo sapiens, homo tourisitus. This sub-species wanders around in crisp starched pastel coloured clothes.
I had a noisy, urgent but satisfying crap in the immaculate steel restrooms (really impressive) which made it worth the $8 entry fee. I cursed the food seller on the street in Sturgis.
Off onto the I 90 east, stopped for a sandwich at JR’s on the motorway. JR told me he had been there all his life and enjoys his time. He told me how he saw all sorts, cowboys, Indians, bikers black people, even. I tried to get past the last category. His dog looked up at my beard moving in a circular greasy motion and put its paw on my leg. Hes an Australian Sheepdog JR said, and then continued to tell me the precise geneaology of his family going back to the early 1700’s. In the background, George Jones plays across the huge empty hall-like room. On the shelf is a jar with a hand-written label ‘Suger’
I see a pale moon a-risin’
As soon as I remounted the bike, huge black spots on the ground appeared. These turned into the heaviest rainfall I have ever experienced on a bike ride. It was best described as monsoon rain, I endured it for over four hours. mighty crosswinds pushing the bike to and fro, tacking and grappling the machine in the tearing rain. Huge passenger coach-sized RVs trailing huge 4x4s pass me. Lorry sized 4×4 pickups pulling boats swaying in the wind overtake me at 75 over the slippery grooved concrete. Hardly any bikes on the road. An exceptionally wide load (normally requiring police escort and 50mph speed limit) screams past again at 75 rain corkscrewing behind leaving me bobbing about terrified in its wake.
I pass huddled groups of Harley riders under bridges and gas stations. The simple reason is that in Dakota and Montana you do not have to ride with a helmet and almost no-one had the forethought to pack waterproofs. Possibly this was not part of their imagined ideal of the biker lifestyle. To make it worse, some machines were hopelessly naked as well, unfaired.
After three nights outdoors, tonight I am damp and tired and a motel seemed irresistible. On the TV is a scrolling message the weather service has issued a severe weather warning, a tornado is expected in north eastern Nebraska and Sioux falls and Mitchell (where I am). I don’t think I should be in a tent. I nipped down the local supermarket, bought some clothes washing liquid and did my laundry, dried out my gloves jacket and helmet in the drier. I am glad to be indoors tonight.
Morning…Sorted out some field recordings – tedious.
Pastie uptown and a beer in Bar 13 – Many fights broke out late on Saturday, I was told one was at this establishment. I was tucked up safely in bed.
The owner is a English lady, said it was her pension fund. Outside a banner proclaimed Welcome BBC Top Gear. (for those of you not in UK, this is a programme that covers all manner of things relating to motoring.) They were here for Evel days, you will see it in the Autumn, no doubt.
Turned the corner at the stop light and there was Hamster riding up the hill on a rented Electraglide, following a van up the hill to the mines at the top. I yelled oi..pull over and he did and here are some naff shots of sad old man and younger man… but I can say the Hamster’s hair has been dyed. Thank god it wasn’t Clarkson, thats all I can tell you.
I rode off because they had to work…
Now what do you do with a roll of gaffer tape and a hamster?
I have just contacted a friend in Jersey City who tells me that the Title documents from the Department of Motor Vehicles arrived at WFMU. Thank goodness for that otherwise I would not be able to sell it or ship it back to England. I will be doing a Listener Hour on 18th August at WFMU but will arrive a day or two earlier.
I have had this on my mind all along the trip and its a great relief to hear that its safe now. Many thanks to Andy and Brian and Evan and DJ Trouble for all their help. Looking forward to seeing you in August.