5.27.2011

Blood & Beer: The Cavalry Arrives


 
   The few days in Ontario were peaceful and warm. We frequented the coffee shops and cafes in downtown Kingston, and walked along the waterfront at Amherstview, where Juniper grew up. We went out for Indian on our last night, savoring delicious samosas and lamb korma over perfectly prepared Basmati rice.

   Early the next morning we crossed back into the States and rode together together until Watertown where we separated again. Juniper had taken a job banding the season's migrant songbirds in Kiptopeke Virginia and was due to start the following day. We shared a coffee and some gas station pastries before saying goodbye. I promised to come see her soon as I could, slipped on my gloves and rolled out onto highway twelve.

   I was only two days away from home myself, and the proximity was unsettling. After so long on the road, it was strange to know that I was at the end of my trip. As with every journey, I was fearful of the end, reluctant to let it go in case it should be the last.

   But for the moment my courage was mustered by the comfort of camaraderie. Porkroll and my brother, OneShirt, had decided to ride north together and meet me for the return trip home. I was excited for their company, and, after six months of riding solo, eager at the thought of having a motorbike posse by my side.

   They'd come from Philadelphia the day before, and had planned to meet me at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. I'd figured they'd beat me there, but I saw no other riders when I pulled up the long drive. The brewery was built on an old farming property, so there was plenty of space to stretch out. It had started to rain as soon as I'd left Juniper in Watertown, and I was cold and thoroughly soaked. I pulled under a large overhang and laid out to dry, feeling sleepy and content.

   An hour passed, then two. I tried calling but got nothing. I was beginning to get the notion that something was amiss, when OneShirt messaged me:

   "had a slight incident. everything ok now, see you soon."

   I was of course curious and concerned but I figured they had everything under control. I soon heard the sputtering of old Hondas up the drive, and two rain-soaked riders zipped by me. The cavalry had arrived, after all. They doubled back and parked under the overhang with me.

   "Hey," I smiled, "It's been awhile."

   Then I noticed Porkroll's blood-streaked pants. He'd hit a slick railroad track during the downpour and gone down. Luckily the bike wasn't too badly mangled, and the scratches on his knee looked worse than they were. Considering the severity of most motorcycle crashes, it was lucky break.

The Cavalry Arrives (Hallelujah!)

   Still, the whole event had rattled both of them and, coupled with the cold rain, reason enough to take a break from the road.  We retreated into the brewery to warm up, take a tour, and (most importantly) have a beer tasting. The beer and accompanying snacks returned our good spirits and jolted our core temperatures. The sun had begun to poke out from the edges of the passing rain clouds and the road seemed a friendly place once again. We kicked our bikes to life and tore out of the lot, our caravan of bikes kicking up rocks and bits of earth as we went.

   It'd was late when we neared the border, so we circled some of the small towns near the river looking for a place to stay. The Susquehanna Motor Lodge was nowhere near Susquehanna, and farther still from luxurious. But at fifty bucks for the three of us, and no other motels in sight, it was a deal. There were only two beds so I volunteered to sleep on the floor.

   We indulged in some beers and a few smooth cigars (Porkroll's girl, L, had brought them from the Dominican), but even this buzz wasn't enough to distract me from the flea bombardment that kept me tossing half the night. I spent a few hours scratching and regretting my decision to take the floor, but finally fell into sleep.

   We'd be riding state highway 97 tomorrow, a famous route along the Delaware-Pennsylvania Water Gap. It'd been a long ride that had brought me here, east again, and I could feel the closeness of home on the horizon. Almost 12,000 miles we'd gone, the Honda and I, and the notion of staying put for once seemed a strange thing indeed.

5.22.2011

Canadian Vacancy


    The ride had started beautifully, and with the good diversion of company, as Juniper was following close behind in her black Oldsmobile. We went north along the lake from Manistee and across the world's longest (and perhaps windiest) suspension bridge. The bridge took us into Saul St. Marie, where the resistance began.

   At the Canadian border I was pulled aside and questioned repeatedly before eventually being forced inside to a small room for further interview. I was finally let through, grateful that my carefully loaded bags hadn't been unfastened from the bike and ransacked.

   We left the city and went east into the thickening woods. The roads began twisting nicely and I leaned in low to work the curves. Halfway through a long, fast righthand bend I noticed a police cruiser in the oncoming lane. Speed limits in Canada are unreasonably low, and I was well past the 65k(ilometers)ph posted suggestion. I'd always wondered if radar guns worked when both vehicles were in motion in opposing directions. They do.

   I saw the lights flash on and the car spin into an about-face to follow me. I pulled over, took off my helmet, and stood next to the bike. I saw Juniper drive by and park up the road, watching worriedly. I'd never been pulled over on a motorcycle before, and the feeling was very different. Most noticeably, one feels less intimidated standing face to face with an officer, rather than tucked low in the driver's seat and speaking shortly through the window. Something about the posture gives a touch of humanity and a casual air to the otherwise intimidating encounter.

   I was informed that I'd been riding somewhere around 125kph, just a bit more than double the posted speed. Not untruthfully, I told my Canadian emissary that I was finding it hard to stick to the "right speed", as the kph numbers on my speedometer were barely visible over the imposingly large MPH digits. It was a pretty lame excuse for burning through backcountry turns at double speed, but some combination of luck, motorbike magic, and a sympathetic officer put me back on the road with little more than a friendly warning.

   We'd planned to stay the night in Sudbury, but we quickly discovered this to be impossible. The clerk at the 3rd motel we tried told us that some youth sporting event had booked up every room in town. He was not exaggerating. We spent near two hours riding from hotel to hotel, but nothing was available. Every room from the most expensive to the most foul was booked solid. It was midnight now, and we were exhausted from over 500 miles on the road. I'd been looking forward to stopping since the sun went down, and the news was a blow to my road-weary body. I could see that Juniper was ready to stop as well, and with each "no vacancy" sign we encountered she deflated a bit more.

   We had no choice but to muster and head east to the next town. I had few qualms about sleeping out in the urban jungle myself, but some vestigial chivalry inside me couldn't allow Juniper to do the same. We agreed that if we couldn't find something in North Bay, another hour and a half down the road, we'd relent and sleep at one of the day-picnic areas along the highway.

   I was sure North Bay would have plenty of space, but we struck out on our first three attempts. It was looking grim, and the the hour was approaching 2am. We went further east to the edge of town and I pulled into the gravel lot of a motel with no name and got off the bike. The only room with lights on had it's door open, so I guessed it to be the office.

   I walked up to the door and realized instantly that it was nothing of the sort. The room looked very lived in, though there was almost nothing in it but trash, a stereo, and a single mattress. An old woman in a tank top was lying on the mattress, empty eyes held open. She moved her glare towards me, but I was already gone.

   Juniper looked at me questioningly from the car, but I just shook my head and got back on the bike. I saw another dim, half-empty motel a few hundred feet up the road. It looked disturbingly similar to the one we'd just tried, but we were getting desperate so I stopped to check it out. I told Juniper to stay in the car and keep an eye on my bike while I went in. The office was locked and dark, but I spotted some women on one of the patios of a nearby room. I waved hello and asked about rooms.

   They were nearly unintelligible, and further confused me by saying that their own room wasn't even part of the motel, but rather some sort of long-term rental. They disappeared inside without explanation. I was turning to leave, when one came out with a phone in her hand.

   "Naw'he'ain't'answering'his'phone" she spit out.

   "Who's not answering?" I asked, getting frustrated with the strangeness of the night.

   "Len, he the Man'ger" she replied. "But I give ya room, y'know I gots t' keys to all of 'em anyway."

   Before I could answer she was off, keys in hand, to the darkened office. I was baffled as to why this woman had keys to the office, or any of the rooms for that matter. I was already convinced that it was probably a bad idea to stay at this place. While we were in the office, a young man staggered in silently, beer in hand.

   "Oh jesus," she said to the swaying man, "I tol' you that I'd take care a' it LATER!"

   He vanished wordlessly and she turned back to me.

   "Look," she said, holding out a key she'd taken from the desk, "Yo'wanna stay 'n this room, that's cool."

   "How much you want?" I asked.

   "You jus' leave before 6am when Len gets here, an' you don't gotta pay nothing'" she answered.

   The thought of a free room was enticing, but weighing against it was every other red flag waving in my face. I looked at Juniper through the window and decided I didn't want to risk anything.

   "Thanks, but I think I gotta check some other places first," I lied. "Maybe I'll come back after that."

   She scoffed, and walked slowly back to the porch to resume the drinking I'd interrupted when I'd come.

   "I don' care," she said, "I don' work here an'way."




There were plenty on nice places in Canada, too.

5.20.2011

Still Riding, or, Blog Update

   Hello from the road. It's been an inexcusably long time since I've updated this website, due to many factors, not least of which includes a long excursion to Central America with no internet access. 

   But, just because I haven't been posting, doesn't mean I haven't been riding, and writing, and taking photos. And so, the flurry of postings that will follow should get us back on track, to present day (in Micronesia currently!).

   The next batch of posts will take me through to the end of the long ride through America, and continue with some stories from the Mid-Atlantic, Costa Rica, and then to present day, where I'm doing some endangered Crow research in the Mariana Islands. I'll likely be posting in rapid succession to get everything back up to speed, so check back frequently!

   Thanks so much for reading and sticking with the blog. Hope you enjoy the stories. 

   So, here we go again....

Portage


   So from the comforts of Wisconsin I went east, through the small waterfront towns until meeting the mass of Lake Michigan. In Manitowoc I loaded the bike into the belly of an old steam ship, the S.S. Badger. I rode up the long auto ramp and lashed the bike to the steel grate along the floor. The insides of the ship were dark and noisy, and the heat of the engine drew beads of sweat from my forehead as I worked to secure the Honda.

   Higher up on the main deck a swift breeze cooled things down and I searched for birds as we pulled out of harbor. Only a few loons bobbed in the water, but I earned a few moments of amusement spying on the odd assortment of passengers on board. I made three circuits around the ship, doing my best to avoid conversation with a verbose motorcyclist I'd met while tying in below.

   The ride across Michigan was four hours, and I was feel a bit stifled by the crowds, so I went looking for a quiet corner to repose. I discovered a small crewman's ladder to the uppermost deck. There was a small chain and some warning signs, but I feigned ignorance and climbed up quickly.

   The top was beautiful and completely empty. From the safety of a small alcove behind the bridge I was totally secluded, out of view from everyone, and with everyone out of view from me. It felt suddenly like I was the only one aboard. I took off my boots and sprawled out on my back, lazily reading the last few pages of The Merchant of Venice before falling into a warm sleep.

   Soon I was across, and back in the saddle. The day was fading but I didn't have far to go. Juniper was near, on her way from Canada, where her patience had burst and sent her driving southwest to meet me. I took the road north from Ludington, admiring the red setting sky. The smell of summer was all over the countryside, and I knew that I was on my way towards something good.

S.S. Badger

Those bicycles look scared, no?