“I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I should have left for home 45 minutes ago.”
In 2016 my long-distance riding partner, Norm, and I were in the thick of things on a big ride which included tackling the Iron Butt Association’s National Parks Tour Gold certificate. The basic ride requires visiting at least 50 National Parks/Monuments/Historic Sites in at least 25 states or provinces within a 12 month time frame. Gold certification requires visiting at least one park in each of Alaska, California, Florida, and the Northeast (Maine, NB, NS, PEI, or NL). On this day we had left Brewton, AL with Park visits scheduled in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas on our way to an overnight in Hot Springs, AR. A couple of hiccups early in the day, including a botched breakfast stop at a recently renovated Florida IHOP, meant we were running behind schedule by the time we departed Louisiana’s Poverty Point National Monument (which is a very cool site!).
A visit is documented by obtaining the park stamp at the visitor centre and, even though it was well past closing time, the location wasn’t far off our route so we decided to stop at the Arkansas Post National Memorial anyhow. There was a car in the parking lot but the Visitor Center was locked and there weren’t any lights on. We wandered around for a bit, read the signs, looked at some of the displays, and figured we would carry on. As a last resort, since we hadn’t seen anyone to whom the car might belong, I went back to the centre and rapped on the glass as loud as I could. With no immediate response, I started to turn to leave when I saw a light come on inside. When the gentleman approached the door and asked what I wanted, I showed him my park passport book and said we wanted to collect the stamp. As he opened the door he uttered the words at the top of this piece. We got our stamp and were on our way and, while it wasn’t critical (in our five week trip we collected 54 stamps in 21 States, six Provinces and one territory to grab the gold certification), it did provide a little cushion.
Norm and I had had a similar experience a week earlier at the Carleton Martello Tower in Saint John, NB when we arrived a week before season opening but the staff, onsite for training, answered the door and located the stamp. On future quests for park stamps I got lucky in 2017 with a late event at Signal Hill National Historic Site overlooking Saint John’s, NL, and in 2018, Norm, Don, and I again lucked out with an after-hours event at Kouchibouguac National Park in NB.
In the last week of September 2017 Don and I headed to Alaska for another challenge I was participating in. As we approached Wrangell-Saint Elias National Preserve, on our way from Fairbanks to Valdez, Don asked if the time frame for the Iron Butt National Parks certification was 12 consecutive months or one calendar year. A light went on as I replied that it was the former, and we quickly pulled in to collect the stamp and get a jump-start on another Gold Parks certification.
My wife, Mary, and I spent a week riding in Southern California in February 2018 and I wanted a picture of the bike in front of The Palomar Observatory, but the parking lots aren’t situated for that. Since there is a restricted/staff only road ideally suited for the shot I wanted, I asked a staff member who sent one of the scientists from the office to give me permission before providing an hour-long private tour around the Hale Telescope inside the dome. As a youngster in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s I was enthralled with the Apollo moon missions and so into astronomy that my brother once quipped I had nothing but space between my ears!! Some of that space is still there so the tour of the Hale was very cool!
My friend Tim posted a picture of his bike at Lake Louise as part of a game of tag. Other members of the online forum would have to identify the location, then match the photo and also post one taken at a different location. The first person posting the two photos would move the Tag and the process would repeat. Tim had gotten the picture of his silver ST1300 on a cloudy, drab, day in early November, 2010, when nobody else was present, and he felt he was safe from anyone moving the Tag any time soon, if at all. On the following August long weekend, Mary and I got a picture at the Maligne Lake Boat Launch on our way to Fairmont Hot Springs for some soaking. Bearing a copy of Tim’s picture to show what we wanted to match, we stopped at Louise on the way down on Sunday but were told it was the busiest day of the year and to come back earlier another day if we could. We left Fairmont early on Tuesday and, despite the 2 degree Celsius temperature (August long weekend in the Rockies!!)), arrived at Louise at 8:30 AM, asked again and, although I had to push the bike from the parking lot to the photo spot due to the crowds, managed to get a bright, colorful, populated, photo to claim the Tag. The next photo I got of our 25th Anniversary ST1300 was three weeks later in the police impound lot the day after I had been an unwitting participant in intersection Tag.
Probably my favourite “Just Ask” moment occurred when Norm, Don, and I got to North Sydney, NS in June, 2018 near the end of our Iron Butt Far North Insanity ride (ten provinces + two territories under 14 days) and had a couple hours to kill before catching the ferry to Port Aux Basques, NL. It had been a long Day No. 7, coming from Miramichi, NB via Green Gables in PEI, and we were feeling a little peckish. I punched up dining establishments on the GPS and picked one that sounded suitable. As we pulled in to the parking lot the entire staff appeared to be outside taking a break, which seemed like a good indication they weren’t too busy. However, after doffing our helmets a lady asked if we had a reservation. No. Well, we are full, and fully booked for the night. Is there anywhere else we can get lobster? No. We’ve just ridden all the way from Alberta just to have lobster at your establishment. After further spirited back and forth banter she came back with – well, he’s the owner/chef – he can tell you we’re packed. We are, but, pointing at Norm, do you want lobster? Yes. Do you want lobster? Yes, said Don. Do you want lobster? Yes, I replied. OK, give us ten minutes.
Within the allotted time the staff disappeared inside and then reappeared carrying a table and chairs and place settings and, soon after, our lobster dinners arrived and the quality quayside crustacean cuisine kicked off our cross-Canada cruise culmination celebration.
Sometimes, you just gotta ask!
- From R. Bruce Thomas