Road Trip USA 2009 ...
Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New England
My luck ran out in Toronoto, up until this point most bike shops turned me around and got me back on the road after a few days. I got stuck in Toronoto for a week waiting for another major service on my bike, they told me that they had never seen a V-Strom that had been ridden so hard! They also discovered that the air filter was jammed full of dead wasps! Fortunately my close friend Jorge provided me with a couch to sleep on. While I was in Toronoto I went to the Irie Music Festival, what a strange experience, not only could you not drink but the 'live' artists normally began by saying 'Hey DJ track number two please', the sound guy would then put on the music and the artist would sing along. It was a bit like an outdoor karaoke session! I really enjoyed Toronoto University's Stepping Team, Black Ice, it really reminded me of South African gumboot dancing which I haven't seen for years.
After a relaxing week at Jorge's flat it was time to hit the road again, after a few hours of heavy interstate traffic I eventually turned onto route 2 heading east along the St Lawrence seaway. The countryside and small villages along the way really reminded me of Wiltshire, England. Perhaps it was something to do with the English sounding names like Brighton and the signs advertising 'British Fish and Chips'. The people in this region of Ontario are very proud of their 'English patriot' herritage, and they are especially proud of having put down the rebellion and invasion of American sympathisers at the Battle of the Windmill. Perhaps this English fervour has something to do with living next door to French patriots, nothing brings out English nationalism more than a Frenchman!
Battle of the Windmill, Quebec
Route 2 also passed near the Thousand Islands on the St Lawrence seaway. This is a beautiful area and I wouldn't have minded staying for a few days on one of the islands but the road was calling me.
Massive ship miles from the sea, St Lawrence Seaway, Quebec
Crossing the border into Quebec was a shock. It was like entering a different country! Whereas the rest of Canada have all signs in French and English in Quebec everything is in French and a lot of the locals cannot speak a word of English. I can see why the rest of Canada is so resentful towards Quebec, it seems all the effort to coexist is one way! Jorge advised me to skip Montreal as he said 'it's just another big city'. I was kind of glad to take his advice as I got stuck for almost an hour trying to navigate the freeways around the city. Eventually I joined route 132 hugging the shores of the St Lawrence, it was a great ride through small French farming towns, like Nicorete, and fields.
The Cathedral at Nicolet, Quebec
Stormy skies ahead, Nicolet, Quebec
Historic mill, Becancour, Quebec
I had planned to stay in Quebec City, but when I got there I was told at the Information Office that all of the hotels were full as there was a 'New France' festival going on. Eventually I had to settle for a tiny motel that was named after the nearest Interstate junction.
Motel 341, Beaumont, Quebec
I woke to heavy rain, but I was determined to see Quebec City so I rode back to Lewis and caught the ferry across to the old town. Quebec City is beautiful. It is like a piece of old France has somehow floated across the pond and washed up in modern North American sprawl. I went on a tour around the British built fort, apparently the British won at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham but you would not think so from walking around the city and the fort. For example the fort is manned by the only French speaking regiment in the Canadian army! The French guide also took pains to point out that the British arrived with a vastly supperior army, both in numbers (a 2-1 advantage) and training (a professional army), almost as if the British were somehow 'not playing cricket'(cheating) by comming prepared. I also laughed when the guide explained that the reason why the 'plains' aren't flat was because the British built a golf course, complete with artificial hills', shortly after winning the Battle!
A wet but beautiful Quebec City, Quebec
From the ferry it looks wetter where I'm going, Quebec City, Quebec
The rest of the day was a very wet ride along US132 until I eventually stopped in the small town of Riviere-Du-Loup. It was quite a nice little town with a few historic buildings and an odd mix of the tacky and old. I went for a few beers at a local bar but did not manage to talk with anybody for more than a few seconds.
Justice Hall, Riviere-Du-Loup, Quebec
Pop art fountain meets historic architecture, Riviere-Du-Loup, Quebec
Historic house, typical of the architecture of Quebec, Riviere-Du-Loup, Quebec
The next morning was more of the same, small French villages alongside the St Lawrence on route 132 and an occasional stop for a rest at a beach.
Quiet St Lawrence beach, St Fabien Sur Mar, Quebec
In the afternoon things changed however, suddenly the road seemed to float on the waves. I was riding only a meter or so above the waves as the road hugged the rugged cliff edges. A fantastic ride.
The awesome 132 north of Matane floating above the waves, Quebec
Then the road would occasionally sweep inland to climb a short steep pass before dropping back down into the next valley. The traffic really thinned out and I was left to enjoy the spectacular views along the shore!
Looking down on Grande Vallee, Quebec
It was an amazing day's ride and I ended up staying in a motel for the night at Petit Cap.
The lighthouse at Petit Cap, Quebec
I stopped at Fort Peninsula, a second world war battery that protected Gaspe bay. Gaspe Bay was fortified so that if Britian fell during the war the British fleet would have a safe anchorage! Fortunately it was never needed for that purpose! I spent a few hours wandering around the guns and bunkers. I also stopped at the site of the Battle of Restigouche where those nasty British had the effrontery to enter yet another battle with a vastly supperior force, the blaggards! I enjoyed the displays of artifacts lifted from the sea floor but I think I wasn't very popular for laughing my head off at the video about the history of the battle. It was an animated piece which portrayed the British officers as a strange mixture of dockland cockney and aristocrat!
Fort Peninsula near Gaspe, Quebec
The next day I finaly got into New Brunswick, along the way I passed through the town of Pugwash. A few days earlier I had been telling Jorge that he should ride to all towns 'named after a cartoon character' as he had ridden to Homer, Alaska for that reason. When I saw a town named after one of my favourite childhood cartoon series Pugwash I just had to 'bag' it first! There was no sign of the mythical Seaman Stains or Roger the Cabin Boy though!
I bagged Pugwash, Pugwash, New Brunswick
I was pretty tired after a long day in the saddle so when I got to Pictou I decided to stop for the night. Pictou is where the Scottish settlers first settled on ariving in Nova Scotia, and the town really trades on its' Scottish herritage. I don't think I was very popular with some American tourists when I casually suggested Scotland as 'a great place to hear Scottish music' in response to their question about where they could hear some traditional Scottish music. I ended up in a nice pub and spent the night chatting with the cute barmaid who was doing French studies at University, she told me that normally she doesn't like bikers as they are 'arrogant' but she told me I wasn't like the others she had met. Sometimes I wish I was 21 again!
Am I living in a box, a cardboard box? No, it's a doll house, Pictou, New Brunswick
The smelly pulping plant, Pictou, New Brunswick
The next morning I went on a tour of the Hector, a replica of the ship that carried the Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia. They have been working on the ship for years and there was still a lot of work to do before she could actually set sail.
Replica of the Hector which carried the first Scots settlers to Canada, Pictou, New Brunswick
Fishing museum on the quay, Pictou, New Brunswick
After having a look around the Hector I headed off for Cape Breton Island and then took route 19 up the west coast of the island heading for the Cabot trail. I spent the night in Cheticamp, a very picturesque Arcadian village that didn't seem to have a lot in the way of entertainment.
Stopping for ice cream, route 19, Cape Breton
It's beginning to look like the Scotish Highlands that it's named after, Chetticamp, Cape Breton
Start of the world famous Cabot Trail, well technically not the start but where I joined it, Cape Breton
Sculpture in Chetticamp, Cape Breton
The next morning I continued along the 'world famous' Cabot Trail, it is a spectacular road with some beautiful scenery. However after a few months on the road riding some of the best roads in the world I began to wonder if I wasn't becoming a bit spoilt or a bit jaded of the travelling (ooo look another fantastic road). To be fair, the Cabot Trail is one of the Top ten must-ride-roads in the world and some sections were great, as soon as you leave the National Park though the surface is terrible making fast riding difficult.
Sweeping roads and views on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
Sweeping roads and views on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
Sweeping roads and views on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
One of the highlights for me was Neil's Harbour, the views along the coast in this area are amazing. A bit like Cornwall in England only fewer people to deal with!
The lighthouse at Niels Harbour, Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
Coastal view, Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
After camping near the Bras D'Or I set off for North Sydney and the ferry to Newfoundland, when asked how many days I wanted to spend on the island I foolishly replied five. It turned out to be no where near enough, I think two to three weeks would have given me a much more relaxed ride. While waiting for the ferry I met a real character, Larry who was riding a Ural sidecar outfit. He rides everywhere on his two wheel drive Ural (fitted with a winch so he can pull stuck 4x4's out of the mud) and his three huge dogs that ride along in the sidecar. Apparently he told his ex-wife 'when I met you I rode a bike, flew a plane and owned a bush airline, now I do none of those things, I want a divorce'. He went out and got a bike and only goes back to Toronoto to pick up his checks.
Waiting for the ferry to Newfoundland, North Sydney, Cape Breton
Leaving North Sydney, Cape Breton
The ferry to Newfoundland docked at two in the morning and having been warned not to ride at night because of the risk of hitting a moose we all went and hung around the coffee shop until first light. Two of the other bikers told us they were going to ride to ride the thousand odd kilometers across to St John that day, have a few beers and then ride back the next day! It seemed crazier than my plan to ride the west coast (Viking Trail) on day one and two and then ride the north coast on day three and four! While having a cup of coffee Larry came in and excitedly told us that he'd 'found a graveyard' and we all had a good laugh when he said 'we can sleep on the grave stones'! As I said a real character! At first light we headed out, passing Larry along the way (he had obviously decided to ride at night anyway), but it wasn't long before I got bored of the slow, 65mph, pace and cranked it up to 75mph, moose or no moose! The west coast is spectacular, a mixture of mountains and fyords in Gros Morne National Park and stark, wind swept low lying coast with the occasional fishing village. It reminded me of many parts of Alaska. Eventually I rolled into St Anthony, I was exhausted after around four hundred miles but couldn't find a reasonably priced hotel for the night (it was cold and wet by then) so I had to head back down the Viking Trail until I eventually found a hotel in St Barbe.
St Anthony, Newfoundland
The ride back down the Viking Trail was just as good as the previous day, perhaps better as mercifully the wind was behind me and at least it wasn't gale force like the previous day.
The stark, beautiful west coast that reminded me of Alaska, Newfoundland
The fishing harbour of Parson's Pond, Newfoundland
In order to get to the north coast I had to ride the Trans Canada highway towards St John, this road is quite dull riding in heavy traffic between walls of trees so if you have limited time in Newfoundland and you landed in Port au Basques ride the Viking Trail up the west coast. Along the way I met a touring cyclist, who was finding it tough going in the heavy wind and steep hills. I stayed the night in Gander and then set off the next morning for Gambo and route 320 along the north coast.
Looking down on Gambo, Newfoundland
The north coast is incredible, tiny little inlets serve as small harbours for thousands of tiny fishing boats. I must have caught it on a particularly good day as it was sunny and there was little wind.
Typical scene on the north coast, Newfoundland
Hope the town with a fault, Newfoundland
Probably one of the best stops was in Newton, it was a bit of a detour but was just beautiful. I even managed to get a decent cup of tea and scone at the heritage village!
Bays and boats, Newtown, Newfoundland
Bays and boats, Newtown, Newfoundland
A rugged shore, Twillingate, Newfoundland
Unfortunately my third digital camera on the trip broke in Newton so I could only take a few photographs a day after that as I was worried about it packing up completely. I stayed the night in Lewisport and then headed back towards Port aux Basques the next day, taking in the loop around the Port au Port Peninsula known as the French Ancestor Route. If you are thinking of riding this then don't unless you are taking your time you will soon get tired of crawling at 40mph through all the towns along the way. I stopped at a RV park in Doyles, pitched my tent and then rode out to the lighthouse on Cape Anguille.
A church on Cape Anguille, Newfoundland
The lighthouse on Cape Anguille, Newfoundland
The lighthouse on Cape Anguille, Newfoundland
I definitely did not allocate enough time for Newfoundland, especially as I discovered that it is such a magical place to visit. The people, unlike many Canadians, are really friendly and will go out of their way to make your stay an enjoyable one. Newfoundland is at the top of my 'go back to one day' list. The ferry on the way back was delayed so we eventually docked around midnight, I took off looking for a campground but couldn't find one in the dark so I eventually gave up and settled for an expensive hotel! The next day I rode the eastern shore of Nova Scotia which although pretty is a bit repetitive with quite heavy traffic!
Typical coastal scene on Nova Scotia
I then rode the northern shore along the Bay of Fundy, I preferred this shore as there were far fewer towns and the scenery was just as pretty. After a night in Amherst, camping in a mosquito infested RV park and drinking way too many pints of Guiness in Duncan's Bar while listening to open mike night renditions of soppy country and western songs I couldn't wait to get back into the USA. I camped at the Seawall campground in Arcadia National Park, Maine. During the night the edges of a hurricane swept in and my tent was battered by high winds and rain, and yes it did leak! The next day I drove out to the point to watch the hurricane waves crash on the shore, I read later that twenty two people were washed off the rocks with two drownings!
Hurricane wave races ashore, Arcadia National Park, Maine
And so onto the final leg of my journey, a good ride through the trees and hills of New England back to my brothers place in Rochester. Along the way I stopped to say hi to my new found friends Mic and Gin, whom I had met way back in Mesa, Arizona. It was amazing catching up with them again after such an incredible ride and sharing plans for future travels.
Meeting good friends Mic and Gin, Maine
Conclusions, Thoughts for the Future
So what have I learnt along the way? Perhaps it is best to answer that by answering some of the questions I faced along my journey!
1. Why ride in North America and not Europe?
North America has some of the most fantastic scenery in the world, has more unspoilt wilderness than any other continent and has some of the most challenging roads in the world that are not over policed by a bunch of speed nazis! I can ride Europe any time I want to, this was a once in a life time trip!
2. How can you afford to just drop everything and do a trip like this? (Many variations of this question)
My friend Karen from TrashTrip answers this one very succinctly in her FAQ. Basically don't spend loads of cash on stuff you don't need, don't buy branded goods, don't buy the most expensive gadgets you can find. Soon you'll discover that you have cash to spend on things that matter. Of course being a sad single bloke and having no commitments helps. It's all about priorities!
3. Do you have any advice for me as I want to do a similar trip?
I should answer with the same esoteric answer that some Dalton riders gave me 'No we can't because the experience is different for everyone'. That answer is true, but the best advice I can give you is just do it, don't listen to the voices of reason in your head that tell you not to do it, don't listen to your friends that insist you'll end up as road kill, don't listen to any of the well intentioned but ultimately useless advice you'll spend hours reading about on advrider or horizons unlimited and don't listen to the little voice that says you don't have the money to do it. Just get on your bike and ride, think of it as months of short day rides!
4. I could never travel alone, why do you travel alone?
This is purely personal preference, riding alone you can stop where you want, ride routes that you want at a speed that you are comfortable with, there is no one around to call you Captain Slow and other people find you less threatening and are therefore more likely to talk to you.
5. What's it like?
It is just like 'real' life, only more intense! Some days are boring, yes hard to believe but it's true. Some days you'd rather stay in bed. Some days you miss home, your friends and your local pub. Some days you are saddle sore and just too worn out to ride. However the majority of days are amazing, every corner offers a new view of the world and the people that live in it. It's like a drug, when the wheels stop turning you sink into a depression that can only be cured by getting on your bike the next day for another fix!
6. What was the best part? What were the highlights of the trip?
This question is impossible to answer! Everything was a highlight, even 'bad' rides have a place in emphasising the 'good' rides! Perhaps I can best answer by mentioning rides I would love to do again: the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, anywhere in Utah, US 1 in California and the Stewart-Cassair Highway would definitely be at the top of my list.
7. What do you think about the Suzuki V-Strom?
Easy, this is the best, Swiss-Army knife motorcycle in the world! Ignore the bike magazine journalists who tell you that a KLR is better off road (true), that a BMW is better and that the V-Strom is a 'hum drum V-twin commuter' (Bike Magazine). It may only do 80% of a BMW but it does it at half the price and what's more you are more likely to be able to find a dealer near by who can fix it. This bike will do anything you ask of it and will do it with 100% reliability. It is so good I'm currently looking for another.
8. What do you think of America / Americans?
I wish that America was not judged by the actions of a few war hungry crazy politicians or by the behaviour of their tourists or by what is shown in Hollywood. I love America, the people are fantastically friendly and open. They will quickly engage you in conversation, before long they will be sharing intimate details of their lives and be giving you addresses and phone numbers 'just in case you need help or need somewhere to stay'. Even retired US army generals will open their doors to you, offer you coffee and a place to sleep! You can't say that about most places in the world. Yes America does have some problems: there is a huge gap between rich and poor which is obscene, racism is still very much alive especially in the south, the towns are neutered by hideous strip malls that flog cheap Chinese made trash, beautiful countryside is ruined by billboard advertising, the environment comes second to image ('what's that? some sort of f*&king Prius') and some of their leadership seem to be blind to problems at home and abroad. However let's be honest, all countries in the world have these and more problems. Look past them and you will discover true America, small town America where community comes first and people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome! I guess the ultimate test of any country is 'would you be willing to live there', and the answer in this case is simple. Yes, yes, yes!
9. So what is next?
I'm already planning future trips, first there will be a few around Europe. I think a ride to the Artic Circle in Norway would have some symetery with riding to the Artic Circle in Alaska. Spain, Italy and the Alps also look inviting and then in five to ten years time I am planning to ride South America.