Days 57-59: Wine Country, Halloween Party, College Town, and Home

Death Biker and Jack Sparrow

October 23rd-25th; Miles 8030-8151, 8151-8440, 8440-8617

It was a bittersweet thing, leaving Toronto. It ended with a lot of drama, but I also had a really good time with all my friends on the last night. In a way, I could not have asked for a more perfect farewell.

So by 1:30 in the afternoon, after finishing of with a “bang” and managing to walk off what was left of the alcohol in my system, I was back on the road. One of the things that I love about riding, is that after it all, it felt great and peaceful to just be alone in my own head again and go over it all.

My next stop was Niagara where I had some friends I had known from my days in Toronto. The original plan was to pass through for a meal and then push on to Oneonta, NY where my brother was, but with the late start as well as horrendous traffic due to the major East-West highway out of Toronto being completely closed down (I didn’t get out of the city for at least an hour on what should’ve been a 10-20 minute drive), I was much more delayed then I would have liked. And then the rain clouds moved in. It didn’t pick up too bad, just a drizzle, until I moved into the Niagara wine region. This was actually my first major run in with rain (while on the motorcycle at least) of the trip, so I can’t really complain, but as I was going through what I’m sure would have otherwise been a beautiful drive, I could barely see through my helmet as I navigated around the area looking for my friends’ house. But I eventually found it, greeting them in the entrance of their house soaking wet, as they brought me a towel to dry off and take my stuff off before hugging and saying hello.

Since I got there so late, around 4:30, and the rain didn’t really look like it would be moving on anytime soon, my hosts Ijeoma and Nick told me that there was a Halloween party that night and said I should come along and stay the night. So who was I to say no to such an offer! It always seems to work out just the way it’s supposed to. So we went out to dinner and went to a Value Village to pick up some costumes, I found a mask and gloves to wear as an “undead biker,” Nick was Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Ijeoma was an 80s girl.

So, another late night of festivities in an amazingly, festively decorated house with some their acting friends from the area and another relatively late start the next day after we all had breakfast together. My next and final stop before the end of the trip was to visit my brother at school in Oneonta, NY. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was nice to see him, hang out, watch some movies, and meet some of his friends. He was staying at a friends house at the time and there was another extra bed available, so overall a good set up.

And then the final ride, the last nearly 200 miles to complete the full circle of my trip around the US. The drive was beautiful through the Cherry Ridge Wild Forest next to the Catskills, surrounded by trees changing all sorts of different colors, and the roads winding through, up, and over the hills. I took rt. 28 –> 10 –> 26 –> 206 –> rt. 17 which took me to the Palisades Parkway across the George Washington Bridge and into the city.

And so, in a daze and in complete shock at the reality of the situation of my 2 month odyssey around the country actually over, I had a meal at Good Enough to Eat in the city and then drove back home, pulling Eowyn, my ’05 Dyna Wide Glide and faithful companion throughout, into her parking spot in front of the house, completing the 8,600 mile long circuit.

Days 54-56: A Drink to Friends and a Drink to Enemies, A Drink to Those you Love and One to Those You’ve Lost, and Then One More Just Because!

October 20-22; Zero Miles

It was a pretty surreal experience being back in Toronto. For one, it really meant that my trip was just about over. Second, this place had been my home for nearly four years and a lot can happen in that amount of time, a lot of fun, a lot stress, a lot of love, and a lot of heartbreak. Since, for me, the end of this adventure really just meant the beginning of another as I’d be moving to China indefinitely in only a couple of weeks, this was a somewhat permanent goodbye to a place and people I’d grown to love.

Most of my time was spent going all over the city, getting together for drinks with as many of the people that I could see as possible. On night one I managed to go to the old restaurant I used to work at, from which I had been fired after falsely being accused of stealing a camera only 6 months earlier, but also where some of my closest friends worked. So after a couple of towers of beer (a new beer special at the place) with two other friends, we headed off with some of the staff as they got off and continued til last call at a couple other places. The next day was much the same. At 4 I met up with some friends after they got off work, then moved on to Hooters (my first ever visit, the wings were great) to watch the Toronto vs New York hockey game (how appropriate!). There, Pam and Brent, who I hadn’t seen since their bike broke down in Roanoke, VA, met up with us. Then, after saying bye to this group around 11 or 12 I made my way up to the north end of the city to continue the celebrating with another group of friends in that area. Then came my last night, which, no matter way I look at it, ended exactly as it was supposed. Luckily it was a Friday and so I got to see a lot of good friends who came out to a bar that we eventually ended up taking over and which also stayed open for us beyond the Ontario last call so it wasn’t until about 3 in the morning that I said goodbye to everyone for the last time.

As it turns out however, despite what would have otherwise been a great visit, it probably wasn’t the best idea to have stayed with my ex-girlfriend. Despite a great first 24 hours or so, when it was very nice to see each other again for the first time in 5 months but feeling like no time had passed at all, it just went downhill from there. It is definitely a hard thing to impose on a person, the coming and going almost on a whim, and it was this reality, of another departure in only 72 hours, that probably pushed the situation over the edge. Unfortunately for the story, it’s probably not fair to get into too much detail, but it certainly was a learning experience, one very appropriate for such a trip as well as for a farewell to a city that I’d gone through so much in. The last night in particular, though incredibly fun, happened to be a particularly eventful and dramatic one. Suffice it to say, people got much more hurt then was probably necessary. But after all was said and done, I’ve found, especially during the course of this incredible 2 month trip around the country, that there are no regrets, only experiences to grow from. So in that vain, thank you everyone in Toronto for everything.

Day 53: The Long Haul to Toronto

Driving through Chicago

October 19th; Miles 7070-8030

Today is when the reality of my trip soon being over really started to set in. I moved through the rest of the midwest and then entered the east. Well actually technically Toronto, Ontario is counted more central Canada, but after today I would just be heading south back to New York. I had also spent 4 years in Toronto for my undergraduate degree and so this area was actually familiar to me, in contrast with most everything else I’d done so far.

Despite this however, it was not an easy day by any means! I was on the road for a total of 17 hours, went through 5 states, 4 major cities, one time zone change, two countries, and went through my second iron butt of the trip!

It was not originally intended to be so long of a day, still tough, but only about 800 miles rather than the nearly 1000 that it turned into.

I actually got a good start this morning. My host, Debbie, woke me up at around 6:30 to leave by 7 since she had work to get to that morning. Then I was on the road, making my way entirely on interstate, I-94 –> I-90 towards Milwaukee, WI where I could hopefully pick up the ferry to cross Lake Michigan over into Michigan state.

I say “hopefully” because, unfortunately, when I arrived at 1:15, I had missed the last ferry by 45 minutes… and the next one wouldn’t be in until 5am the next morning. So I stood in the ferry hub after being told the bad news, took a deep breath, and decided to bite the bullet and start making my way the long way, south, around the lake. This meant driving through Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana, and then finally back up to Michigan. This also meant going through Chicago traffic which was just pure congestion, not moving at all. It took me over 3 hours to go 150 miles, not good when I had an extra 200 miles to do.

When it started to get dark, and I could feel myself starting to fade a bit, I began toying with the idea of pulling over and just getting in early in the morning. But I had had an energy drink and a coffee at around 4 or 5 and figured once that wore off I’d pull over somewhere. I was in Ontario, at around 9:30 and with about 200 miles left when this happened. So I pulled off the highway when I saw there was a hotel, too expensive (over $100 with tax), so I went on, pulled over again, same thing. When I saw there were campsites, I pulled off only to see a sign telling me it was 14km off the highway. Not good when I had already experienced seasonal closings of campgrounds. So it wasn’t too long before I resigned myself to going the whole way, and by 1:00 I finally saw the Toronto skyline.

Unfortunately, my night wasn’t over yet! I was going to be staying with an ex-girlfriend of mine who I hadn’t seen in over 5 months since leaving Toronto after school for China. I got in at 1:30, unpacked the bike and carried my stuff over to her door. She had roommates so I didn’t want to ring or knock on the door. I couldn’t use my phone since I was in a foreign country now but luckily there was a 24 hour coffee shop across the street with wifi. So I left my bags at her door and went across the street to call. No answer. I called again. Still no answer. I did this maybe ten times, texting as well. Then I went across the street and knocked. Again, no answer.

This went on until about 3 o’clock in the morning. So with my eyes stinging from the exhaustion of driving and only having eaten a couple of the left over donuts at the Tim Hortons since my mid-afternoon McDonald’s snack, I found a hostel that was about a half mile away. So I left a message for my ex saying what I was doing, picked up my two bags and helmet and set off (in her defense, I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to make it in that day and I also wanted my arrival to be a bit of a surprise so I wasn’t too specific on when I was going to get in, explaining why everyone was asleep and unprepared).

I got to the hostel and asked if they had any space available. Of course with the way the night was going, they only had a private room that cost $70 before tax. After turning down only slightly more expensive hotels, I decided that was ridiculous and asked if there was anything else in the area. Turns out the guy was trying to rip me off because all of a sudden he realized that he was looking at the wrong day (because it was after midnight, right…?) and that there actually was an empty dorm bed for $23. I said I’d take it and moved in, trying as much as I could (though unsuccessfully) to be quiet as I took off all my riding gear and collapsed in bed.

At 4:30 in the morning though, my phone vibrated, waking me up. My ex had woken up and gotten my messages and wanted to know where I was. I told her the address and said she should come get me in the morning. Next thing I know, 10 minutes later, the porter for the hostel opens the door, sees me, and tells me my friend was there! So, feeling so tired that I feel drunk, I put my clothes back on, pick up all my stuff and head back with Courtney.

This was a very action filled first day back in Toronto for what would turn out to be a very intense 3 day visit.

Day 52: St. Paul, MN, where I “got my Nookie”

October 18; Miles 6460-7070

I intended last night to be my last night staying on my own (camping or motel). A friend of my family’s had a sister in St. Paul, MN who apparently could take me in, so from this point on I’d start to have people to stay with as I was getting back into familiar territory.

This was a little bit longer of a day then I had been doing recently, but with a good start getting out of the Black Hills, warmer weather, and a day of all interstate, I made relatively good time getting to St. Paul, though it was after dark.

Debbie was a great host, setting me up with a bed and a garage for the bike. Then she took me to a famous local pub, called the Nook, for a real Minnesota experience, a Hamm beer and some great burgers.

They have a local burger special called a “Juicy Lucy” which is basically a burger with a cheese filled middle, and at the Nook all there burgers are hand grinded and packed, so you know it’s good. As appealing as this was though, my eye immediately caught sight of an eating challenge, and there’s no time like after a thru-hike for an eating challenge, when your metabolism is still in hyper-drive. So I ordered the Double Nookie Challenge: two double cheeseburgers each with a side of fries as well as a 32oz mug of Hamm’s beer and went to town. Debbie got the Juicy Lucy too, so I even got to try that.

Despite having some trouble sleeping on my stomach at night because I was so full, it all went down pretty easy. Getting ready for a really big day tomorrow, when I’m going to try and make it in one shot to Toronto, a little over 800 miles.

Day 51: Taking in Some of the Sites on the Road

October 17th; Miles 6010-6460

Now that I had gotten farther south, and even more importantly, out of the mountains, it was much warmer, so definitely easier to get started this morning. In fact, once the sun was up long enough, I was able to de-layer for the first time in two days, especially during breaks when there wasn’t wind anymore.

I decided a couple days ago that I might as well hit a couple of major sites while I was in this end of the country. The first is a pretty exclusively motorcycle pilgrimage site, Sturgis, SD, a small town in South Dakota that’s the location for one of the biggest gatherings of motorcycles in the world. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there for the big rally, but it was still good to see and say I’d been.

Sturgis also just happened to be right out of the Black Hills National Forest, where you can find Mount Rushmore. So when I got to Sturgis at around 5pm, after a beer at the Knuckle Saloon, I made the decision to push onward even though I’d be riding in the dark. I did ask a local in the store how cold it got up in the mountains, as I was considering camping for the first time since my 12 degree night. She told me it was starting to get to the mid-to-low 30’s, so just about freezing. Well, after my gear was able to handle 12 degrees in Montana, I figured that’d be ok. Not to mention, it would be pretty cool to camp in front of Mount Rushmore.

The drive through the Black Hills was quite nice, twisty roads in the mountains but at night, I was pretty nervous about deer and I did in fact see several, so most of the time I tailed another car that was moving at a good pace.

The area turned out to be really well developed though unfortunately. Even though it was all woods, there were motels often enough, and only 2 miles right before getting to the monument was a little town (tourist oriented of course). Then when I finally got there, it was very built up with parking, gift shop, amphitheater, and plenty of lights. So, it didn’t seem like a good idea to set up camp on the pavement in the viewing area of the monument, but on the bright side, there was no entrance fee since I came at night, and it was a pretty cool thing to see Mount Rushmore lit up at night.

After snapping some photos, I headed back to the town and decided to spring for a motel in town. Grabbed my room and headed straight to a local bar/restaurant for some food and beer as I watched some football, Redskins playing the Eagles too, so, good game!

Day 49-50: It’s getting cold!

October 15th-16th

Miles 5170-5589 and 5589-6010

The cold weather really took me by surprise at this point. Yesterday when I was riding out of Portland it was actually relatively warm and didn’t need too many layers. So when it was cold in the morning out of the little Washington town I was in, I figured it would warm up as the sun came up. But, unfortunately, as I was continuing north, this didn’t quite happen and was breaking often to add layers as well as to just warm up

This put me slightly behind schedule. I had planned to go all the way through Glacier National Park today but after starting to head North off of I-90 after going through Washington, Idaho, and then entering Montana, it started to get dark just as I caught my first glimpses of the park and the Rocky Mountains. It also of course didn’t help that I had about an hour or two of less daylight and was moving east into later timezones.

I got through West Glacier Village and started looking for campgrounds, but as it turned out, they were all closed for the season. This obviously didn’t bode well for me as the weather must’ve been getting cold enough to close the campgrounds.

I eventually found a flat area by the side of the road right outside of Glacier where I was able to set up my tent for the night. So I set up, made a fire, and cooked up some dinner before heading to bed. I could feel it getting a little cold but nothign too bad, especially while next to the fire. The temperature kept dropping though and despite the layers of thermals, wool socks, fleece, hat, and gloves I was wearing in my sleeping bag, the cold woke me up several times in the night as I tried to sinch up the bag around me and bundle up in a ball as much as possible for warmth.

When I woke up in the morning, there was a thick layer of frost lining the inside of my tent from all the condensation freezing over night. It took a lot of will power to get myself out of my bag and into the biting cold. Once I had, I got out my pack towel to start wiping down the tent of all the ice and then packed up. I was a little concerned at how the bike would start up in the cold but the ‘ol Wide Glide started up without a hitch and I was on my way.

If it was cold when I was at rest, it was 10x colder moving at 60-70 mph. The cold wind was painful cutting through my leather jacket, rain jacket, fleece, shirt, and long  johns. Worst of all, my hands and feet had gone past the point of numbness to a biting pain. I tried to keep my left hand hidden close to my body but my right hand had to stay on the accelerator so it was all I could to continuously wiggle my fingers to keep the blood somewhat flowing.

Since this was the middle of the mountains there wasn’t really anywhere to stop, so I had to go about an hour before I got to East Glacier Park and stop at a restaurant. It was at this point that I decided that I couldn’t stay up here anymore and had to start heading south to some warmer weather. So I thawed out for an hour with a pancake breakfast and some hot coffee as I looked over the maps. The waitress then told me it had dropped down to 12 degrees farenheit over night, which certainly made a lot of sense. So I made sure to layer up as much as possible before heading back out, buying some fleece gloves to put on inside my leather gloves and wearing two pairs of socks.

Once this was done and the sun came up a little more, the riding got much more pleasant. I joined up onto route 89 which would take me back south, meeting up with I-90 again in Wyoming. Without having to worry about the cold anymore, I really got to enjoy the scenery of Montana which was absolutely phenomenal. The route continued to skirt by the side of the Rockies as it wound through hilly terrain that looked straight out of an old Western. The contrast was really impressive especially when, for the stretch before hitting I-90, the road was heading straight for what looked like a wall of mountains taking up 50% of your eyeline as they shot straight out from an otherwise relatively flat terrain.

I was sad to have to leave the more scenic rt. 89 for the monotony of the interstate, especially as it looked like it continued to head straight for the wall of mountains, which I’m guessing was Yellowstone National Park. I’m definitely going to have to make a point of heading back to Montana and driving the whole of 89 which goes through the middle of both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, preferrably during a warmer time of year though!

Day 48 (motorcycle): Rubber Back on the Road

(sorry if the day numbers seem weird. I started the numbering over for the hiking, but it seemed better now to just keep it all together. So 48 is the total number of days out)

October 14
Miles 4993-5170.3

So after exactly one month and over 550 miles of hiking, it was finally time to get the rubber on the road again!

After spending a great afternoon in Seattle where I got my sleeping pad fixed at the MSR factory, eating fish sandwiches and raw oysters at the market, and getting a coffee at the very first Starbucks, we were on our way south to Portland. There, 8 of us (we lost Swiss Miss this morning on a plane back to Georgia), were invited to stay at the home of the Splarmboys (Splints and Farmboy), whose parents were so fantastic to not only do so much for me but then to also take in so many of us still not quite fit for normal society hikers.

I was the second casualty of the group as I said goodbye to everyone as they drove off in the morning. It wad nice to be back in my cotton riding clothes and to see my bike again, but really sad to say bye to my hiking friends.

My first stop was the Harley dealership to get my steering column and spoke checked. After that it was the highway.

The Columbia River Gorge was a gorgeous ride and the weather was perfect. Unfortunately I got a late start though and so couldn’t take full advantage, falling short on miles.

It’s weird to look back on all that time on the trail. It was such a big chunk of time and it was so much fun, but it feels like the only real proof that it all happened is how quick my joints and feet stiffen up and how fast my metabolism still is.