Napanee, Ontario – So I’m home safe and sound, as is the Multistrada, with 5,688 miles on the clock (never did flip it back into metric, that’d be 9,152 km if I had). Since when I picked it up there were 2,886 miles showing, my little jaunt from Denver covered 2,802 miles, or 4,508 km in a week of riding. Hardly Iron Butt territory (done that, got the T-shirt and plaque, never again), but not bad mileage, either, for all the sightseeing I did.
After the little scare the ‘Strada gave me yesterday, refusing to start in the middle of Buttf***, Michigan, it’s again run like the proverbial train. And yes, after I dropped it off and got back on my Bandit for the trip home the Suzuki felt old, tiny, and cramped. Putting both feet on the ground at once is such a novelty …
I said yesterday that I’d do a quick summary of the highs and lows of the trip once I got home. So here we go.
- Definitely the bike itself. I enjoyed riding one last year, but really bonded with it this time. It’s as comfortable as any bike I’ve ever ridden – 10 hours on it is less fatiguing than two on my Bandit, truly.
- Visiting Deadwood, SD and visiting the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. The entire Black Hills area, actually; fascinating countryside.
- The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Really. It was hilarious.
- Getting out of Rocky Mountain National Park alive after crossing the 10,758 ft altitude Milner Pass (that can also be said for crossing the Mackinac suspension bridge in high winds)
- Not having the time to spend a few hours at Fort Laramie, where a lot of Western history was made
- Not having time to stop at hundreds of historical markers and local museums
- Wasting time visiting Mt. Rushmore instead of scooting off to see the Badlands to the southeast
- Missing the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota (look it up)
- Who visits all those Indian casinos? They’re almost within viewing distance of the next one all across the states I visited. And there aren’t a hell of a lot of people living in easy driving distance of a lot of them.
- Why is it that every time more than a couple of dozen trees grow in the same area they have to be called a national or state forest?
- Why does Wall Drug have signs for hundreds of miles around Wall, SD? Actually, this one could go in the “lows” for missing it. Sounds like the biggest general store in the known universe.
- How in the name of creation did the original settlers get across all that bleak, empty country in a wagon pulled by a couple of oxen? My hat’s off to how tough all those people must have been!
- Why didn’t I take the time to visit Olivia’s Adult Superstore, near Worthington, Minnesota? Probably because it was Sunday night and I was afraid of who I might meet there. Somebody like me, maybe …
- And again, why is that whenever you clean your visor the biggest bug in the state splats on it almost instantly?
Great trip. Thanks to Ducati and Inside Motorcycles for making it possible.
Day Eight: Ontario!
London, Ontario – So I’m typing this in the showroom of Wolf BMW, the owners of which I’m staying with tonight, inadvertently joining them on their anniversary! Sorry, Chris …
And I was bloody glad to get here, too. Not that it was a super-long day or anything, but for the first time the Ducati acted up on me, refusing to start at my last gas stop in the U.S. at Imlay City, about half an hour before the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia. I’ve heard all the jokes about Italian electrics, but this is the first and only time the bike scared me.
Pressing the “activate” button, or whatever they call it, just got me a message that the “Red switch” (kill button) was in the wrong place. It wasn’t, and multiple flicks of it didn’t help. Fortunately Bob, one of the helpful techs at Fay Mayer’s where I’d picked the bike up, had briefed me on an emergency start procedure “in case the battery in the key dies.” Hmm, those things are supposed to last for years, but we noticed that there was actually a spare battery taped in the underseat storage box. Hmm, again.
You can input a four-digit PIN with some fussing around, and they’d reset it for me to something even I could remember – 1, 2, 3, 4. About the fourth time I tried it the thing finally accepted it and everything came back to life. Not the easiest way to get going again if you stall the thing at an intersection, but certainly a hell of a lot better than being stranded somewhere.
The cold knot in my stomach went away and I proceeded to London post-haste, abandoning some half-formed plans to do a bit of riding in the area before heading for the shop. I got here, turned it off and tried it again, and it’s worked normally ever since. Go figure.
For the life of me I simply do not see the point of a keyless ignition system. A few other manufacturers are playing with the idea as well, and I’d just like to tell you all to STOP IT, because it doesn’t help anything, and you need a physical key anyway for luggage, gas cap, etc.
Being in (well, just outside) Frankenmuth, I had to at least ride past Bronner’s, the self-styled “world’s largest Christmas store.’ I’m not going to argue. Picture the largest big-box store you’ve ever seen, double it, add a few attached outbuildings and a 12-acre parking lot, and you’ve about got it. It’s unfreakingbelievable. Please, Home Management, never decide to visit the place …
The ride today was all freeways again, and pretty crummy ones as well. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. I was blessing the Multistrada’s excellent suspension. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve just left it in the Touring mode the whole trip and been delighted with the comfort. Last year I tried one in the Urban and Sport modes and found them too soft and stiff, respectively, for my taste.
And just like yesterday, I couldn’t believe the number of cops in bright blue Chargers, almost every one with lights a-flashing whether moving or stopped with some poor bugger. You’d think Michigan is attempting to set a world record for cops on the road. I saw five times the number of patrol cars in the last day and a half than I did in the other five states combined.
Oh well, if I’d gotten stopped all I’d have to have done was check out BailMyTail.com. For real, it’s a big bail bond agency in Detroit. I nearly fell off the bike from laughing when I saw the billboard.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow I’ll be delivering the bike to GP Bikes in Whitby, then getting back on my Bandit to head for home. Man, it’s going to feel old, cramped, and harsh after this week on the Ducati.
Once I’m back I’ll do a quick recap of highs and lows of the trip, things I maybe should have skipped and things I’d like to have done, and add a quick wrap of my opinions of the Multistrada.
Day Seven: Michigan….Soon Home!
Frankenmuth, Michigan – Why, as soon as you clean your visor, does a large, wet bug splat itself directly in front of one of your eyes? (happened three times today). Why is the sky blue? Should I stay or should I go? (thanks to The Clash for articulating that one).
Thinking of world-changing questions, as to why I’m in Frankenmuth, the undisputed Christmas store champion of the known universe, it’s because I miscalculated times on the road yesterday (not to mention getting screwed around – okay, sort of lost – in a maze of construction) on my way to a planned stop in London, Ont. I then ran out of steam today at Frankenmuth where I found a motel after a tiring 700 km or so. My wife didn’t know about the place until I phoned home tonight, and now I may have a car (or truck and trailer) trip to Michigan in my near-future.
Anyway, as I said I only ended up here by accident. Yesterday’s run was basically across southern Minnesota into Wisconsin, then north-east heading for the incredible Mackinac bridge that connects Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the main chunk of the state. I didn’t mention yesterday that the entire area of NE Wisconsin that I went through (and it continued into Michigan) seems to be Indian reservations.
You can tell by the incredible number of carefully preserved native American traditions, such as creating casinos to fleece the white folks, building giant plastic wigwams, and selling tons of ‘Made In China’ replicas of Indian totems and the like. Believe me, I know about the Made In China bit; a Mohawk friend of mine spends hours every month taking the MIC labels off her latest shipment of “genuine” Mohawk stuff – and things don’t look any different in this area, from what I saw.
One store I now wish I’d stopped at was Honest Injun’s Tourist Trap – but it looked too junky even for me, so I didn’t pull over. I was regretting it within 10 minutes, but was on a mission east, you know?
Hey, I can’t disagree that by and large North America’s Indians have had a pretty crappy century or two, so you can’t begrudge them trying to get something back.
As you cross into Michigan from Wisconsin on the road I’d chosen you hit the town of Norway. Now, northern Michigan and Minnesota both are well-known for their Scandinavian origins (remember the odd accents in Fargo?) and Norway is clearly part of that heritage, being littered with signs of painted Vikings. It’s a shame that most of them look rather like Yogi Bear with a funny hat on.
The roads today, as a whole, were what you might fairly call facking boring. The straight bits (most of them) were laced with saw-toothed rumble cuts in the middle and edges to wake up errant drivers who might be dozing off; I shuddered thinking about the rear tire on the Multistrada every time I crossed one passing somebody. Which wasn’t that often, really; it feels a lot more crowded and civilized the farther east you travel, but people are still pretty much hauling ass on all the roads I’ve traveled.
Michigan’s UP (Upper Peninsula) is very like Northern Ontario, and one look at a map will tell you why. Endless trees, endless cut trees and trucks and trains full of same, lots of mines, lots of nothing else. Except every few miles there’s a place selling Fudge! And Smoked Whitefish! And Pasties! Surely to dog they don’t put the fudge and whitefish into the … no, I won’t go there.
The Mackinac bridge is astounding. It’s nearly five miles (8 km) long, is the third-longest suspension bridge in the world, and is about 200 feet (close to 70 metres) above the water. Let’s just say that it’s enough to get my height phobia active, especially when there are warning signs about high winds (like I hadn’t noticed) and there are lanes closed for construction, so I have to ride at the edge, peering lemming-like at the water below and wondering if I’ll hit that boat if I go through the cables …
Needless to say, nothing happened and several tedious hours later on I-75 I arrived in Frankenmuth ready for a hot shower, meal, and some scotch (all accomplished).
The Multistrada continues to amaze me. I honestly don’t think I’d have been more comfortable the last few days on a Gold Wing, and believe me, that’s a SINCERE compliment. The controls and luggage latches still have me looking askance, but nothing has gone wrong or acted up, and I have to say that my opinion of Ducati quality control and build levels has gone up astronomically on this trip.
I can’t help wondering what Ducati would want for a heavily-used demo model. Perhaps I can talk Household Management into a trade for an all-expenses-paid trip to Frankenmuth before next Christmas …
Day Six: With Wind Comes Wind Turbines
Crandon, Wisconsin – yeah, I’d never heard of it either, but Crandon is at the top of one of the nicest roads I’ve ever ridden. Even late in the afternoon, when I was on high alert for an “oh, deer!” moment, Hwy 55 in NE Wisconsin was a treat. I’d seen it checking out http://motorcycleroads.com/, a site that has some great recommendations and some … well, not so great. This was a good one.
The south half is tight and twisty, up and down, with no shoulders to speak of and dense forest right to the roadside. And brand-new pavement the whole way. Spectacular great fun; even riding at a deer-watching pace in Touring mode, the Multistrada ate it up and was laughing at my efforts. Beautiful road for it.
The north half is more open and flowing, lots of farms, hunt and RV camps, and so forth, but still huge fun. And the very, very best part? It’s more than 90 km long and I didn’t see – one – single – vehicle heading in my direction, and only four coming the other way. Definitely a great way to end the day.
Actually, the great end continued when I landed in Crandon. I’d originally hoped to make Michigan today, but some *)__&&%$* roads and people in Wisconsin lost me a good hour, and by the time I got here, after 11 hours on the roads, I was bagged. Appears the Main Street Inn, a conventional older-style motel. Bar up the road, Wifi in the price – which at $44 is less than half most of the places I’ve stayed this trip – and it’s also the nicest damn room of the bunch. Just like staying in somebody’s nice B&B. You’re ever in the area, stay here.
Okay, so that’s the end of the day. The start of it was a quick early morning run to the Spam Museum – you know, not the stuff that shows up in your e-mail basket, but the stuff you buy in your grocery store. Or maybe you don’t. But it’s been an American staple for nearly a century, and Dog Hormel Foods is proud of their product. There’s a big poster claiming that “most of what people say is in SPAM isn’t” – I must confess I focused on the “mostly”, lol.
Tacky? Um, maybe. But honestly, I enjoyed a quick run through, mostly for all the fabulous old posters and advertisements in the place. Definitely a check off the bucket list, not that it was ever on before …
I have to say that South Dakota takes much better care of its roads that Minnesota or Wisconsin do. Wisconsin is trending to Ontario-poor, while Minnesota is even worse. And worse than that, the freaking landscape across the south is littered with those G.D. useless, tax-wasting wind turbines – between the roads and bloody turbines I was wondering if Dalton McGuinty was running Minnesota as well as Ontario.
And OK, it’s not just South Dakota that’s flat. Southern Minnesota is even flatter, but has a lot more trees and farms (at least visible from the road) and doesn’t look like the arid near-deserts in South Dakota.
Dropping into Wisconsin was a shock; suddenly from flatlands you’re almost falling off a cliff of several hundred feet down to the Mississippi River, which even this far north is immense. I thought it was a big lake at first. Four bridges from island to island crossed it. A very impressive sight indeed.
Wisconsin is kind of like a cross between SW and Eastern Ontario. Lots of trees and forests, lots of farms, LOTS of cattle – after all, the place does claim to be a powerhouse in cheese production.
All in all I enjoyed crossing the state, until a shortcut from one Interstate to another went completely bad. Road closed, routed up another. Eventually, that one closed, routed to another. Then that one was closed, routed to another. By this point I’m heading back where I came in and I’m not a happy camper. The first place I stopped for directions steered me wrong; finally at the second stop I got organized properly.
I would like to drop a small nuclear device in the area that wasted me at least an hour today.
Oh well. So I didn’t get to Michigan today and may be a day late getting home. Big deal. The dog’s in her element at a neighbour’s poodle hotel and Home Management is probably enjoying several quiet days to make up more job lists for me.
Tomorrow, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the Mackinac Bridge.
Day Five: WIND
Sunday, September 9 … man, it gets windy out here on the old prairie. I grew up in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta and had forgotten how bleeding hard the wind blows on The Big Flats. Most of the way from Deadwood, South Dakota to tonight’s haven in Worthington, Minnesota, I was fighting a stiff side/headwind that really took a lot of fun out of riding.
Not the riding across South Dakota is a ton of fun anyway. But to start … I left Deadwood in the Black Hills heading south on 385, an excellent road. Not challenging, but lots of curves, and terrific scenery most of way, ranging from open rangeland to steep forested mountainsides. At the last minute I decided to go check out the president head sculptures at Mt. Rushmore, which turned out to be a colossal waste of time. The entire approach, including a complete town, is nothing but the most garish tourist trap I’ve ever run across. It makes Niagara Falls and Gatlinburg, Tennessee look like the tasteful gardens around Buckingham Palace.
The best part of it was seeing a Victory Vision being ridden by a guy with flowing white hair and beard (I’ve yet to be in a “helmet required” state). He had two stickers on his saddlebags; the left side said “Vietnam Veterans Association” and the other said “I don’t bother calling 911.” Broke me up.
Heading out to Rapid City and then into the plains, generally speaking I was reminded of the trip up eastern Wyoming, flat bits broken up by rolling hills and the occasional mesa or butte. And the flat bits …man, flatter than a flat thing flattened by a flattening machine. I’m thinking I don’t ever need to go to Kansas and see this to the horizon for hours at a time.
I got a little p*ssed with myself for doing the Rushmore thing when I realized I’d never have the time to do a loop through the Badlands to the south. Oh well, next time, if it ever happens. Speed limit across the state was 75 mph, and honestly, if you were doing 90 mph nobody would notice or care. I kept it down to 75-80 out of minor concern for rear tire wear, but it was a struggle. The Ducati just loves to run fast, and every time I looked at the speedo it had crept up into the 80s (that’s roughly 140 km/h plus) without my noticing. The Multistrada is a remarkably collected bike at those speeds, and the airflow is marvelous. As is the seating position; nearly 10 hours in the saddle and I only started squirming a bit in the last hour. Remarkable.
Being on a bit of a timetable, I missed the Corn Palace, which I’d really wanted to see; check out cornpalace.com. Tacky personified. But wasting time in the Black Hills, plus losing an hour crossing into Central Time (which I’d forgotten about) meant I had to miss out.
I actually felt like quitting early. Fighting the head winds and the endless unchanging … well, little-changing … horizon had me sort of zonked by mid-afternoon. But about that time I hit a sort of zone where you figure you can go on forever. At that point, in my experience, it’s best to gas up one more time, take some water and a walk, pick a destination, and do one, maybe two more gas stop runs.
Which is how I ended up in Worthington, Minn. I hope to hit what I hope is a great Mystery Museum tomorrow, and then flip a coin as to whether I try to take the hydrofoil ferry across Lake Michigan or ride up around it and across the Mackinaw bridge. I guess I’ll see what time it is when I finish with the museum.
I’ve got a couple of little things I’d change on the ‘Strada. Everything major works like a dream, as I’ve said. The luggage is okay size-wise, but I’m very careful with the latches; they feel a bit flimsy (in fact, the one on the top box wasn’t working when I got the bike and in the side winds today I had to buy a bungee cord to hold it shut). The instruments are easily readable and all, but I wish the turn signal lights were up high rather than down low, be easier to see them. Other than that, no complaints there. After that first start in the morning, when it sounds for a second like it really doesn’t want to go, it’s magic.
Day Four: There’s Not Another Living Soul Around….
You may recognize the title line above from Fleetwood Mac’s Say That You Love Me, but I guarantee that it was an accurate description of most of my riding today. It was perhaps not quite as vacant as Hwy 85 up the east side of Wyoming yesterday, but definitely in the same area code.
The day wasn’t all that long; I kept my motel in Deadwood, South Dakota and only put about 340 km on the bike. First off, I went to the Mt. Moriah cemetery here in Deadwood to visit the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, who are buried side by side, apparently as a result of her last wish (she outlived him by 27 years). One story has it that Hickok died detesting her and his surviving friends thought it would be a great joke to accommodate her wishes.
In any event, it’s a beautiful, well-kept cemetery. It’s amusing to see that the base of the statue on Hickok’s grave has a considerable number of Jack Daniels’ miniatures (empty, of course) and small coins as tributes. A lady working on Jane’s plot told me they had to be cleared off every couple of days.
From there I headed a bit west to the renowned Spearfish Canyon, Rte 14A. What a superb piece of pavement! It’s almost like a bit of transplanted canyon riding from New Hampshire or West Virginia, only deeper – as much as 300 metres plus – and very narrow and twisting following Spearfish Creek. The walls are a mix of heavily-treed and bare eroded rock; quite spectacular.
And the pavement is all new. What a treat. This Black Hills area is quite as spectacular as I’ve been told it is; it’s like a small island of New England-like mountains dropped into the middle of the Great Plains. Some geology reading is called for back home, I think.
The canyon ends suddenly at Spearfish; as though you’d opened a door suddenly you’re in the open and back in high plains country. From there my route looped north and west on good secondary roads through an area that again reminded me of parts of California, open dry grasslands mixed with clumps of forest, all laid on rolling terrain spotted with ancient eroded mesas and buttes.
And suddenly, appearing around one of those mesas, was the object of today’s ride – the Devils Tower, the bizarre landscape feature made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Second Kind. No spaceships today (and I came in from the side the mothership dropped to), although by then I would have appreciated the company.
There was too much company on the south side of the Tower, where America’s usual ingenuity and talent for making money have created several acres of gift shops, candy stores, parking lots, photo shops – you know the score. I skipped paying whatever they wanted to drive closer, since the Tower already looked more than impressive enough from where I was.
Then I just headed back to Deadwood, taking I-90 for a few miles back to Spearfish so I could run the canyon again the other way. It wasn’t quite as good – more traffic, not that it was jammed up or anything, and the Multistrada made pretty short work of anyone I did run across.
I’m not looking forward to the next couple of days. I’ll be heading east across the south end of South Dakota and Minnesota in order to make time – I’ve still got about 2,500 km to travel to get home, having done maybe 1,600 in the last four days. Yeah, I’ve done half that distance in a day before, but believe me, it ain’t fun and I’m getting tired.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Multistrada deals with that. I’m sure the answer will be “flawlessly,” as it’s been so far. I’m always a little nervous starting it first thing in the morning; the weirdo remote keyless system seems completely unnecessary, and that first start always seems to be slow and laboured.
Other than that it’s been a remarkably comfortable and capable ride so far. I haven’t been traveling as fast as I could (even legally on the freeways out here!) as I’m a bit dubious about rear tire life and don’t want to heat it up any more than I have to.
The seat is terrific, the fact that it’s really a bit tall for comfort for me at a stop means that there’s tons of leg room, and the little fairing and handguards do a marvelous job of keeping the air alive without buffeting. Short of a Gold Wing, I’m not sure I’d easily find anything more comfortable for this next bit. More on that later.
Day Three: Man It’s Lonely Out There
My riding gear isn’t ideal for a cross-continent jaunt, being limited to what I could get on carry-on on the plane on the way west. Leaving Loveland, Colorado this morning it was chilly, and I debated spending half an hour in the Walmart parking lot until they opened so I could buy another fleece and maybe a cheapie rainsuit. Well, I didn’t, and regretted it all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I stopped for fuel chilled to the bone.
Still, I was at least emotionally warmed by the incredible vistas – to my right, flat plains off to the horizon, to my left, mountains towering nearly 10,000 feet above the road. Stunning countryside.
Both Google maps and my own paper map perusals indicated that Hwy 85 from Cheyenne, which leads (eventually) straight to Deadwood, South Dakota, was the best way to get from here to there without getting onto a freeway, so that’s the way I went. Fack.
I grew up in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta and thought I knew a bit about far horizons and flat countryside. I also have always believed that the earth is round, but today think I proved it to myself, being convinced I could see the curvature of the horizon in a few spots. Empty? The word has been redefined for me.
Oh, a minor thought … one thing about leaving Colorado, no more endless signs for “wellness centers” in a left-over display of hippie-dom. In fact, it seems like the mountain area NW from Colorado Springs through the ski areas might be the last bastion of hippiedom in America. Some little towns look like they’ve been transplanted directly from Haight-Ashbury circa 1968.
Anyway, back to the day’s ride. The land isn’t perfectly flat, but very gently rolling. You really can’t tell until you’re at the top of a roll, when you can see, as Pete Townshend sang, “for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.” There were times when I could see flat to the horizon in all four directions, road straight as God’s ruler, and nothing alive or moving except me. The occasional bird or cow was sort of a blessed confirmation that I wasn’t in a dream, sitting on a stationary motorcycle while a bleak and blank world spun around beneath me.
Yeah, it got a little weird. When you start thinking like that, it’s time to stop, get off the bike, do some isometrics, have a drink of water and relax. And hope you see a bird or a cow for company.
The afternoon warmed up; the clouds separated more and the sun helped a lot. Still, I had the heated grips on ‘low’ all day, so it never got warm. Took a short detour to check out the remains of Fort Laramie, one of the famed spots in the old west. Founded primarily in a strategic spot originally for fur trading, and later under the Army to protect wagon trains and settlers headed west, it had a long and dramatic career.
Heading north from there, past the town of Newcastle, suddenly the terrain changed dramatically as Hwy 85 entered the Black Hills area. In a matter of a few minutes it changed from Great Plains Lite to countryside not unlike the Adirondacks in New England; heavy forest, roads twisting through valleys, altitude climbing (so now I’m freezing my *ss off again) … only about an hour from my hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota. (I’d reserved a place, most unlike me. But it was a Friday, the place looked cheap and interesting on the net, so I did it.)
The last half-hour heading into Lead (pronounced Leed) on 85 made up for all the discomfort, boredom, and spookiness of the plains through eastern Wyoming. It was a superb run, perfect pavement, no traffic, ups and downs and twists. Posted limits ranged from 25 to 50 mph, but if you’ve ever ridden valley/canyon roads you know what you can do with that.
The day ended at the Black Hills Hotel and Suites a couple of miles south of Deadwood. Got directions to the Saloon No. 10, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot. Actually, it’s a rebuild – the whole town went up in smoke in 1901. But the pictures on the wall from the 1800s look pretty much like what’s there today, so good on the (re)builders.
Tomorrow it’s off to Mount Moriah Cemetery to visit the graves of Hickok and Calamity Jane, then a run back into Wyoming to the Devils Tower, and then back to Deadwood via the famed Spearfish Canyon. Maybe drop by Mount Rushmore if there’s time.
Day Two: You Can Run but you Can’t Hide
A long, deep sleep had me up early Thursday a.m. with my camera, to very little effect but a good personal feeling. On the road toward Pike’s Peak by about 8.30 a.m. the Multistrada felt happy, as did I.
As anticipated and warned, there was a line-up already when I arrived at the base of the Peak’s toll road. Half a dozen cars, three motorcycles. I lined up the ‘Strada for a couple of tacky photos at “Santas North Pole”, and looked again. The old guy on the toll booth still hadn’t processed the first car.
Screw that. Not only do I not have the time, I’m not big on heights, unguarded 500+ metre drop-offs, or hairpins – which pretty much describes the Pikes Peak road.
Just a few kilometres back I’d seen a billboard for an Anasazi village restoration. This was a people who vanished hundreds of years ago, leaving spooky brick and stone structures built into cliff faces. So I dropped in for a quick visit; very interesting, and remarkable stone cliffs and overhangs into which they’d built their dwellings. I’m going to be into my local library about this subject when I get home.
The weather was superb; sunny and probably mid-20s (I know there’s a thermometer in the ‘Strada’s system, but damned if I can find it). All I’d brought for riding gear was my helmet, gloves, a mesh jacket with rain liner, and a sleeveless sweatshirt (yes, I’d spent a lot of time looking a forecasts before leaving). I started with the mesh jacket, even first thing in the morning it was fine, but as I moved west and up I first added the liner and then the sweatshirt, the full Monty happening at a quick stop in Florissant, 8,200 ft elevation and the site of an ancient Ute village.
Rolling on west (true, not the fast way to Whitby from Denver … ) I connected with the Wilkerson Pass at 9,502 ft altitude. Glad of the liner and sweater, they were both liabilities as I dropped a couple of thousand feet into a huge flat basin in the middle of the Rockies – bizarre country, to say the least. Turning north at Artero Junction after about 40 km of road as straight as to serve as a geometry theorem, I tracked the next range of mountains to my left.
At Fairplay (would I make these names up?) I headed north again on the excellent Rte 9. At least it was excellent when not rolling through skiing villages, which wasted a lot of time. Other than the towns, the road is fun, fast sweepers and fantastic views everywhere.
I might add that nobody in Colorado seems to think that speed limit signs are anything but decorations. With signs ranging from 40 to 65 mph (roughly 60 to 85 km/h), nobody on any road was traveling at least than 80 mph, and that would be the tanker trucks. Good thing, as the Multistrada feels a bit strangled in top at anything less than 75-80 mph.
From the town of Kremmling (you have to see the rock formations in the area to believe them) I hooked a road that looked like a nice secondary route over the Rockies (and for the second time that day crossing the Continental Divide) to get me back to the I-25 for my planned slog to the NE corner of Wyoming tomorrow. Turns out it went through the Rockies National Park, news to me, and the road was unbelievable – fast swoopers, brand-new pavement – and a 45 mph speed limit. Well, taking the rest of the traffic I’d seen as a guide, I just went as fast as I wanted, and had no problems.
It worked out perfectly, except that the ghost of Mr. Pike got me for skipping his mountain in the morning. The first part of the road was fantastic, and then it started climbing to the innocuously-named Milner Pass, at 10, 758 feet about as high as I’ve ever been.
Suddenly we’re back to the “I’m not big on heights, unguarded 500+ metre drop-offs, or hairpins” thing that made it easy for me to skip Pikes Peak. Frack. We’re above the tree line, the road is endless hairpins, there are no guardrails, it’s a freaking long way down, and my lane seems to be on the outside regardless of how the road twists.
Honestly, I was terrified. I’ve never felt so frightened in my life; it was much worse than the Alpine roads I did in Europe a few years ago. I mean, I knew perfectly well that all I had to do was ride in my lane, no problem – but the incredible drops and views kept trying to grab your attention and there was a fair bit of traffic going both ways. I was praying to get below the treeline on the way down to at least hide the potential disasters!
Lots of turnouts and places to stop for pix and such, so if you’re not as bothered by unguarded heights as me I’d highly recommend it. If you’re more like me … I don’t mind saying I’ll chock this one up on the “done” list and never ever do it again.
The scenery, of course, was unbelievably spectacular.
Probably the best ride of the day for me was the run from there to where I’m typing this, in the oddly-named hamlet of Loveland (I’m thinking it’s better than the neighbouring municipality of Hygiene), in a pleasant hotel with dicey internet connections. Here’s hoping this all gets through.
Tomorrow, just a long haul to get to NE Wyoming and look for the Devil’s Tower.
The Multistrada is proving a spectacular bike for this kind of stuff. I only did about 500 km today, but was in the saddle pretty much steady from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Shoulders a bit stiff, that’s all. Bloody impressive, that.
Day One: The Wrong Way Around?
So I’m supposed to be headed southwest from Toronto to Denver. So why are we going southeast to Philadelphia starting at O-Dark-30, then heading up toward Chicago before finally going to Denver? Airlines,airports, and air travel in general pretty much suck these days.
I was figuring that including taxi time, customs time, wait time, taxi time, and flight time, I could have driven to Philadelphia in about the same amount of hours. Granted, that wouldn’t work for the Denver leg…
The Multistrada was waiting for me at Fay Mayers Motors as advertised; great people went out of their way to interrupt their day and get the bike ready for me, plus give me a quick refresher on the very complex electronics of the beastie. If you’re ever in the Denver area, the shop’s worth a visit … it’s huge, for starters, with 10 brands for sale and an accessory area you wouldn’t believe.
Anyway. Daniel, the service manager, gave me a suggestion on how to get out of town relatively easily (Denver’s about the size of Toronto in terms of population, but a lot more spread out … think of an endless Eglinton Avenue East surrounded by large-lot suburbs). His “good road” turned out to be not so great, under construction for a good part of the way, but it felt so good to be on a bike in the air after a day on aircraft it didn’t much matter.
The landscape is somewhat like southern California, if you know it at all; very scrubby, very dry and golden, but with a surprising number of green trees around. Definitely in the rain shadow of the mountains here. You’ll see similar terrain from here going north up into Central Alberta.
Avoiding the very busy Colorado Springs (on the second try … the CAA maps need updating, and I have to say this is the first day riding I really wanted to have a GPS) I ended up at the foot of Pikes Peak in one of several little towns spread out along the road. I’ve only ridden about 150 km, but by the time I found a motel with wifi (that isn’t working properly, so my life is proceeding as usual), it was 7 p.m. Toronto time, and I was up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport, so was too wiped to go any farther. Anyway, I hope to get a couple of shots of Pikes Peak early tomorrow if the weather cooperates (and I get up early enough); I might take the road to the top, but I’ve been told that there’s a wait line to get through the tolls the last while, and I’ve got too much country to cover to wait around in lines. Worst case, I’ve got a route mapped out from here that’ll take me across the Continental Divide twice on the way toward Wyoming, where my next planned scenic visitation is planned.
Time for a small scotch and a deep sleep.
Day Zero, Pre-flight: The Wet Way Around
So Eastern Ontario (where I live) is in a serious drought condition; it hasn’t rained anywhere near my home, to notice, literally for months. So today I’m heading into Toronto to catch a plane for Denver – riding, of course – and wouldn’t you know it, it’s pouring all day, and all the way.
Worse, the new rainsuit top I have leaks like a sieve along the front zipper (I’m really hoping I just didn’t fasten it properly), so by the time I get to Oshawa, where I’m leaving the bike at a friend’s place and getting a cab to the airport, I’m soaked right through.
I get my Bandit unloaded and unpacked in the rain, get everything into the garage and start getting changed – and the rain stops. Story of my life. So I get into the house without drowning any carpets, and the soggy clothes get into the dryer.
Oh well. At least I feel comfortable that I haven’t lost my wet-weather riding confidence; Dog knows I haven’t had much chance (read no chance) to try it out the last couple of seasons. Good to know I can still do it.
The pleasure in accomplishing this first leg of what should be about a 4,000 km ride is dampened (ha, ha) by the $145 taxi ride to the hotel near Pearson Airport. Again, oh well.
The reason for all this is that I’m picking up a Ducati Multistrada at Fay Mayers’ Motorcycle World in Denver and bringing it back to Canada (apparently it was ridden down from Vancouver for the recent Pikes Peak hillclimb and this seemed like a fine way to get it back on the right side of the border).
The plan is to meander through back roads from Colorado to Ontario, taking pictures and getting together a touring story and evaluation of the ‘Strada as a long-distance mount. I’ve got far more ideas and suggestions about places to go to and visit than I could do if I had a month rather than a week, but I’m thinking maybe Pikes Peak, the Devils Tower in Wyoming (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), perhaps the site of Battle of the Bighorn (where General Custer made his BIG mistake), Deadwood in South Dakota to visit the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane – you get the idea.
Basically, I’ll ride to as many interesting places as I can in six or seven days and your good friends at Inside Motorcycles will arrange a blog to be set up, with daily updates and hopefully a photo or two along with it. No photos today, though – not about to take my camera out to attempt a shot of fog, mist, and rain on Hwy 401.
Should be fun.