Reflections for the month of August

August 31, 2010

1. Montana truly is God’s country.
2. Happiness takes its own sweet time.
3. GOD… I’M FAT 🙂
4. People can change… but most choose not to.
5. Faith and love are beliefs in something more than we can know.
6. Bellevue, WA… cool city!
7. Moose = Canadian forest donkey… except dumber 🙂
8. I want to learn to dance again.
9. Every person in my life makes me happy. Some when they enter and some when they leave 🙂


We learned something new that day.

August 31, 2010

Monday morning 7am traffic was not bad at all as I made my toward the two most important mountains in WA. First stop was Mount Ranier, the highest peak in the Cascades and the highest, most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. The mountain is frequently hidden behind clouds and today was no exception. I did manage to get some good views early in the day but they were from long distance. The ride itself was nice, with the roads being in good shape and nice and twisty as they wandered through the tall trees and curled around the base of the mountain.

After getting by Mount Ranier, I was a little confused on the route I was taking to get to Mount St. Helens so I stopped on the side of the road and pulled out my guide book. Having my route sorted out, I rested the guide on the back of my bike and suited up to ride. The problem I have found with being blind in your right eye and always getting on the bike from the left side is that anything placed on the back of the bike is out of my view. I had already lost a pair of gloves to this and now I hopped on my bike without noticing my guide had not been put away. Of course, I realized this when I was 60 miles down the road!!! Oh well, I only needed it until I got to Mexico anyway and I have an older one I can use so no biggie.

An hour or so later, I reached the turnoff for the dead-end road that leads to Mount St. Helens. I remember seeing the mountain exploding on the news as a young boy and my ex-wife had relayed stories of the sun disappearing during her youth given that she lived in the area where all the volcanic ash and debris traveled and settled. My curiosity was “peaked” and I looked forward to seeing the mountain. The drive up the road was beautiful and had lots of nice sharp corners as it ascended. Rounding one corner 15 miles from the mountain, I came to the edge of the blast zone and was amazed at the devastation to the trees. I had not expected to see thousands of massive dead tree trunks just laying on their sides. They didn’t seem to overlap and it was as if each one had been carefully laid to rest. Apparently, the shockwave and debris from the blast had stripped and leveled all the trees up to 23 miles out. Amazing! For an actual description of exactly what happened during the blast see my blogroll “Mount St. Helens Explodes”. It really is beyond comprehension.

I got as far up the mountain as the road would allow but unfortunately, the mountain was not in good view. However, Spirit Lake was and it was a beautiful sight. It was fairly cold at that altitude and from a distance, the lake appeared to have snow/ice covering about 10 percent of it. However, on closer inspection, the snow was actually thousands of dead trees that had been deposited there during the eruption and landslide that actually permanently raised the lake by about 300 feet.

I spoke to a guide later in the day and asked her about a US geologist monitoring the mountain who was killed in the blast. I asked her why he was there given that everyone knew an eruption was imminent. At that point, the mountain had a 300 foot “boil” on the side of it from magma rising on the inside. She said that the blast zone was a 5 mile radius and he was outside the zone but that the blast was actually a lateral eruption and not a vertical one. Apparently, there had never been a recorded lateral eruption before and so, as the guide said, “we learned something new that day”. 57 people died to learn that lesson. Sad.

This link is to award winning photographs taken shortly after the eruption. They contain probably the most famous photo taken during the aftermath. The image of Day Andrew Karr, a deceased 11 year old boy, lying in the back of his father’s pickup truck. Simply gut wrenching.

Incredible photos!

After getting off the mountain, I decided to stop at the Ape Cave, a 13,000 foot lava tube cave created about 2,000 years ago during the only known basaltic eruption of the Mount St. Helens. I got out my flashlight and head torch and spent the better part of two hours stumbling around in the darkness and confines of this lava tube. It was really quite cool and I thought how much my kids would have liked it. My camera would not take good pictures given there was no light.

After finishing the cave, I backtracked a bit and made the two hour ride to Olympia in preparation for the Olympic Peninsula loop the next day. However, I awoke to a heavy rainfall that was predicted to remain in place for the day so I bagged riding for the day and just watched movies on my laptop. It was a nice rest.

Northern Cascades

August 29, 2010

I started out fairly early and headed up into the northern Cascades on route 20W. The day was bright an cheery and the ride itself was twisty and had some great mountain scenery. My goal for the day was to get to somewhere near Seattle. The day was going well until the dreaded rain came. It kind of put a damper on the whole ride because the awesome views of Diablo Lake and other spots along the ride were significantly diminished. Still, riding in the rain beats working in the office and by the time I got to Everett, just north of Seattle, I called it a day. Nothing too exciting 🙂

I slept in the next morning then got up and headed to Mountain Lake Terrace to the fine establishment that is known as The owner, Dave, is an extremely nice and knowledgeable guy who took the time to sell me some new parts for my bash-plate and to give me some scenic rides to try in WA. Dave basically took a hobby and his own love/experience with motorcycles and created some really useful after-market tools and parts. Highly recommended.

From there, I decided that after all this time in the more remote places of the US and Canada that I needed to sample some “civilization”. I wanted to stay the weekend in a cosmopolitan environment and enjoy the pleasures that came with it. I decided that Bellevue was the appropriate place being 9 miles from Seattle and being Washington’s second largest city. I found a reasonable hotel right in the trendy section of town and spent the next three nights doing… NOTHING!!! Let me tell you, it felt great.

I got to wander around the downtown area just sitting at the sidewalk coffee shops, restaurants, etc people watching. I got to cruise the Lake Washington shoreline looking at the multi-million dollar homes. I got to see a couple of movies in a “real” movie theater. I got to indulge in wonderful food. I got to wander the huge malls and buy absolutely nothing except a book to read with my kids. In short, I got to pretend that I was again young, single and had not a care in the world… pity it was just pretending 🙂

In the end, a funny thing happened… it actually made me end up feeling lonely for the first time. I guess it was all those people around and yet no-one to talk to. Still, it made me realize why Canadians are so nice. It’s a huge country and so few people live there that they are ecstatic when they actually run into another living being 🙂

I didn’t miss the turn for the USA this time.

August 25, 2010

Today I planned a leisurely ride back into the US with Winthrop, WA as my final destination. I really didn’t expect much from the ride but I was pleasantly surprised with the scenery I saw and the route I took. What struck me most was what a diverse set of environment British Columbia has. Everything from forests to huge mountains to vast plains to deserts and huge lakes. It really was quite amazing. I took the high mountain roads that wound up and down through southern BC passing by many rivers, farms and roadside fruit stands. I stopped and bought a huge basket of plums, peaches, apples, etc for 5 bucks! 5 bucks!!!!! The only bargain I got in Canada… everything else was way overpriced. By this time, the temperature had soared from 53 to about 95 degrees so I was having to stop and take layers off as I went. The Okanagan Lake area was really beautiful with beaches, boating and rafting but it has some nasty sea creature called the Ogopogo living it. Check out my blogroll for more info.

The border crossing into the US was a joke… not a soul in line and the guy looks at my passport and sends me inside to fill out an I-94. I tried explaining to him that as a resident of Bermuda and a British passport holder, I no longer need to fill out an I-94… it’s all electronic now. Apparently, I know more immigration policy than he did but at least the air conditioning was a nice change.

Once in Washington, I made good time toward Winthrop. However, I decided to stop about an hour early because I was done for the day and I wanted to check my email to see if I had gotten a response about staying with my ex-in laws. Apparently, they haven’t gotten over the whole divorce thing which is fine… I will always be the father of their grandchildren no matter how much they may not like it or me 🙂 The funny thing is we used to have a great relationship but in their eyes I am now the big bad wolf. The concept of it taking two people to make a divorce is lost on them. Still, if that makes it easier for them to love and support their daughter then I accept that.

After dinner I came outside to three teenagers staring at my bike. They started asking all sorts of questions… “how fast does it go” and “how much did it cost” and “what does it feel like to ride it”. God willing, by the end of this trip, I will look at more things with that kind of excitement and wide-eyed amazement.


August 24, 2010

So my new strategy has been so much better… for a day, at least 🙂 I took a relaxed drive south and decided to stop in Barkerville even though it was 2 hours out of my way. The town is an old gold mining town from the mid to late 1800’s and has many of the original buildings intact. It was quite interesting and well worth the detour. I got to wander around the town and read about life back then as well as take a stage-coach ride, see a theater comedy show and pan for gold. I will be sending the gold home to my kids! I also went to class at the school in Chinatown and learned how to use the Chinese abacus.

I spent about 4 hours in the town and as I left I was in no hurry… a huge contrast to the last few weeks. I decided to keep on riding out of town and make my way south to the US border some 8 hours away. It was late in the day but I didn’t care… my attitude is to stop when I stop and don’t worry about it. It’s hard for a “planner” personality like mine to let go but I did it. As I drove through some town I don’t even know the name of, I spotted a pretty motel with tons of flowers hanging outside. I thought about stopping for the night even though I had 3 hours of daylight left but instead I drove on by. Then I caught myself and turned around… I don’t have to hurry to the US border!!! I had a nice leisurely dinner and caught up on world news before watching a movie and turning in. I have to be up at 5:45am to Skype the kids… ARRGHHH!

Hurry up… and slow down.

August 23, 2010

I’ve realized a great many things on this trip. One is that I won’t get to do it again anytime soon… at least not a trip of this magnitude. So… WHY AM I RUSHING THROUGH IT??? First, it was the weather window in Alaska that was closing that rushed me and then it was the whole Costa Rica by Oct 20th thing. I have finally realized that rushing through all these places just for the sake of getting somewhere else is STUPID! I’m missing half of the experiences I want to have. I’ve also realized that Central and South America are going to be huge… an awesome, wonderful experience and if I only get that far in a year then so be it… more of the world to explore later on 🙂

I’ve decided that in order for me to truly get the most out of my trip I need to speak Spanish in some passable form otherwise my trip is going to overwhelm me, frustrate me and be a much less rich experience. So, I’ve decided to start studying Spanish vocabulary every night and to enroll in language immersion school in Mexico for a month to 6 weeks. That means living with a Mexican family, going to school every day for 8 hours a day and speaking/learning nothing but Spanish. I have also decided that I can meet my kids anywhere either by riding or by flying there. I don’t have to be in Costa Rica until I’m good and ready to get there. I’ve also decided to slow down and do things in the places I am going. Riding for the sake of riding is ok sometimes but I want to spend more time doing things… that’s the point isn’t it?

I’m going to spend more time in California as well and stay with my friends for longer than planned. I’m going to get to Central America when I get there and not a moment before. I’m going to enjoy this trip instead of stressing about some place I have to be 🙂 Word!

With that in mind, I stayed an extra day in Prince George and wandered about the town checking out the historical buildings and local eateries. I also caught up on my blog as you can see 🙂 Tomorrow I was planning a 500 mile ride into the USA but, going with my new philosophy, I am going to visit Barkerville, BC and see what a real gold rush town looked like in the 1800’s. Should be fun and if it takes all day and I have to pitch my tent by the side of the road then so be it 🙂


See, my strategy is already working. I stayed in town and drove around tonight looking for a place to eat. I drove by this fairly plain looking Mediterranean restaurant but turned around and went back. Glad I did… hands down the best meal I have had this year!!!! Everything from the wine to the soup to the braised spare rib to the handmade cheesecake was INCREDIBLE. Who knew in little old Prince George you could get such a wonderful meal. Service was excellent and they even let me take my pants off 🙂 Cimo Mediterranean Grill, 601 Victoria St in Prince George… reminds me of Abby Park in Milton, MA. Go to both you will not be disappointed!

OH CRAP… what am I doing!!!

August 21, 2010

I woke up in Stewart to a fine Saturday morning and whipped out my laptop. I wanted to research my time-line to California to stay with friends and also figure out how I was going to get to Costa Rica by Oct 20th or so to see my kids. BIG MISTAKE!!!!

I got to reading trip reports off of and began to realize that I was CRAZY!!! What was I thinking going into entirely foreign lands, not speaking the language and trying to figure it all out as I go? Tales of police shake-downs and scary border crossings had me overwhelmed. My time-line also had me overwhelmed. I was really down on myself and fretting about the whole trip so I packed it in and headed for Hyder, Alaska… a two minute drive down the street 🙂 See, just like I originally planned… I went to Alaska… just not the part of Alaska most people think of 🙂

Camera in hand I rode the gravel road out to Fish Creek and wandered the boardwalk waiting to see bears. I waited, and waited, and waited and after 2 hours thought where are all these bears? The whole thing was totally not like had imagined. I guess I watched too many NatGeo specials where the grizzlies are standing in the falls and snatching the fish right out of the air. At Fish Creek, there are so many fish and the water is so shallow that catching a fish feels like cheating. My dog could have caught one and she is blind and has the IQ of a moose! Look at my pics and you will see what I mean.

Getting fed up, I decided to ride another hour on the gravel into the Tongass National Forest to see the Salmon Glacier. I wasn’t sure it was worth the ride and the road was pretty bumpy with sheer drops right off the side. Crazy that they let people drive up there. The road is very narrow in some places and if you lost it up there… well, you were in a world of hurt 🙂 I made it safely and I’m glad I went. Simply awesome scenery and who knew anything about the Salmon Glacier anyway. Apparently it is the 4th largest glacier in North America and the largest glacier in the world that is accessible by road… if you call that goat track a road!

After getting my picture taken at the top, a man in a wheelchair directed me another 7 miles further into the mountains to see a complete train car that had been abandoned inside a tunnel. I headed off with the intent on taking some nice pics but about 3 miles in, my transmission got stuck in 2nd gear. For some reason it wouldn’t go into neutral or 1st. A bit of cursing and eventual kicking got the gears to change into 1st and second but then it wouldn’t change into 3rd or higher. CRAP!!! A few more curses and kicks and it seemed back to normal. However, it was decision time… on a faulty bike, travel even deeper into the wilderness where nobody ever goes or turn around. Disappointed, I turned around showing that even I have a small amount of brains.

I headed back to town and an hour later I am having lunch and a beer in a local joint in Hyder. I started a conversation with a local lady who tells me that she moved to Hyder 22 years ago for a “simpler” way of life. What is simple about a town that gets 40 feet of snow each winter and has one full time employment position… that being the postmaster?

I finished my second beer and headed back to Fish Creek to see if the bears would return. Two more hours and I was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of a black bear catching a fish for her cubs… disappointing to say the least. I gave up for the evening but as I made my way back to my bike who comes driving along the road but Bill and Sherry. Great to see them again and we went to the famous Alaska Bus for dinner. Basically, it is an old school bus that has been turned into a restaurant and the husband of the woman who owns it catches the fish fresh that day. The halibut was excellent!

I headed back through customs with the intent on returning on Sunday morning to see if I could spot any more bears.

Bright and early on Sunday, I checked out of my motel and headed back to Fish Creek. I got there about 7am and waited until 9 before giving up. I could hear the bear cubs whining in the surrounding forest but I couldn’t wait until they came down… could be hours and I had a 7 hour ride to Prince George to do. I said farewell to Bill and Sherry who were also waiting on the bears and headed out.

The seven hour drive gave me a lot of time to think about my feeling of being overwhelmed the previous morning and by the time I reached Prince George, my plans had changed drastically!

Fish Creek

The trip to Salmon Glacier

Bill and Sherry at the Bus

My artistic shot of the day 🙂