Day 44 Cross Canada Ride (aka CCR): Thoughts from Home
I only encountered an hour and a half of rain on the final run to Maggie Valley as I went through Nashville and Knoxville, and finished the final 310 miles in a little less than five hours. Gaining an hour as I moved into Eastern Daylight Time, I rolled into my driveway a few minutes before 1:00 p.m. still wearing the rain suit I put on this morning.
As I planned the CCR during 2021, I estimated the ride would cover around 11,000 miles, depending on how often I got lost and how many intentional and unintentional detours I took. I took several intentional detours and only a few unintentional, and the total mileage from driveway to driveway came to 11,857 miles. It was a hell of a way to celebrate my 75th trip around the sun.
Now it’s time to pour myself a final (for this trip) glass of Jack Daniel’s magic Tennessee elixir and consider the past 44 days and 11,857 miles.
I knew what to expect when I embarked on this journey. And, just as importantly, I DIDN”T know EXACTLY what to expect. I expected long days in the saddle. I expected occasional adverse and challenging weather. I expected mechanical, bike-related issues to intrude. I expected new roads and new sights. I expected to meet interesting people. I expected to learn about Canada–its land, its history and its people. I expected to think deeply about the last 75 years. I expected to learn more about myself, even though I’ve been trying to discover that self for many years. I expected to have fun. All my expectations were met. And then some.
I’m not sure in what order I should consider those met expectations, but I’ll try to put them in order of importance, which, as I reread the preceding paragraph, seem to be from last mentioned to first mentioned.
So, yes. I had fun. How can a 74-year-old person not have fun on an adventure like this? Down times? Of course. But the good times, the exciting times, the life-affirming times, the joyful times, the heartful times, the pleasurable times, the gratifying times, the delightful times, the FUN times vastly outmatched any unpleasantries. Belly laughs, small chuckles, gleeful chortles, big grins, wry smiles, even contented Mona Lisa smiles dominated this trip. How does one describe fun? Like Justice Stewart Potter said when trying to define obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Well, I know fun when I see it and when I experience it. And I had fun on this six-week northern adventure. Maybe, as I continue to write tonight’s blog, that will become more apparent.
I’m not sure one can ever truly know one’s self. Maybe because one’s self is always changing and one has to relearn it every day. But, as in the past, I enjoyed learning more about my self, about redefining my self, about discovering niches within my self hidden or obscured for many years. It’s amazing what hours of alone time on a motorcycle can do for the study of self. Sure, you have to watch for critters in the road, ginormous potholes, cars coming at you, road signs directing you to go here or there, but there is still time to think about who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, who you have impacted, what good–or bad–you have done, and what, if any, will be your legacy. From ancient Greek philosophers to every young person coming of age today, the difficulty of “knowing thyself” has been problematic. And no one seems to have come up with an ultimate solution to life’s biggest puzzle. But we all try, and I seem to try hardest and best when I’m on two wheels with wind going in one ear and out the other, blowing away the detritus of my mind. At any rate, I haven’t solved the puzzle either, but it sure is fun working on it.
I know I’ve forgotten more about my last 75 years than I remember. But fleeting memories may be all we have. Memories are like the LaBrea Tar Pits. Every once in a while, something bubbles to the surface and it’s important to grab hold of it when you can in case it’s important. When I don’t have to think about quotidian chores like weeding the garden, paying bills, painting a house, cleaning the garage or even about larger things like the collapse of western civilization or the demise of democracy, I have more than enough time to reflect on my personal past–the good, the bad and the ugly. Rather than list some of those disjointed parts of my past, suffice it to say that a clear mind on a motorcycle allows many memories–good and bad–to be considered and reconsidered. It’s all part of solving the puzzle referred to in the previous paragraph, but on a very personal level. Years ago as a college senior I wrote a paper on solitude. I still believe time alone offers a chance to exercise memory muscles that atrophy in a too-busy life. Six hours a day straddling a motorcycle for six weeks offers a lot of alone time. I recommend it.
But it’s not all about me, even if the preceding three paragraphs seem to suggest that. The trip really was about Canada, its land, its people and its past. I could have ridden across the United States. Again. But something about Canada attracted me. I couldn’t learn everything about Canada in six weeks. Hell, I couldn’t even learn very much about it. But here’s what I did learn: The land is very big and very beautiful. There are probably some ugly parts, but I didn’t see any. From the forested lands and rocky shores of the Maritime Provinces to the hundreds of thousands of lakes in Quebec and Ontario to the rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield to the bountiful agricultural paradise that is Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to the magnificent Canadian Rockies to the island pocked shores along the British Columbian coast, Canada is a beautiful county.
Just as I didn’t see any ugly parts of Canada, neither did I meet any unpleasant people. More importantly, folks like Amber the happy waitress in St. John’s and Elise the knowledgable francophone guide in Montreal and hospitable Don and Susanne from Flin Flon and friendly Carole Savage at Moose Horn Lodge in Saskatchewan and interesting photographer John Schwartzburg visiting Victoria from Quebec and hundreds of others whose names I forgot or forgot to ask made this trip, like previous trips to Canada, memorable, pleasurable and unforgettable. I can’t quantify it, but I believe Canadians as a whole are nicer, more polite, more accommodating, more accepting, more civil than Americans as a whole. I’m not comfortable saying that and many Americans would vehemently disagree and suggest I go elsewhere (hence making my point), but I believe it to be true and I believe that’s why I enjoy my Canadian visits so much. I will make an offhand and unscientific observation to support my point: In Canada, when a car needed to pass me because my tourist speed was too moderate, it passed and then pulled far in front of me before retaking the lane I was in. Back in the states, cars impatiently rode my bumperless fender, then sped around me, only to pull back into the lane as quickly as possible, often causing me to brake to increase the distance between us. Silly example? Perhaps, but it typifies the subtle differences I noted between Canadians and Americans. Americans could lessons in civility from our northern neighbors.
I definitely rode new roads, many of them under repair or in need of repair due to long months of frigid weather. But the Canadian road crews do their best. There are still many miles of asphalt in Canada I haven’t ridden. Maybe sometime I’ll ride them. Sure would be fun trying. As for new sights, they were in abundance. Natural sights like serene lakes and cascading waterfalls, endless miles of forest and farmland, sandy and rocky beaches welcoming the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, soaring, snow-covered mountains and the many critters that inhabit them. Human-made sights like the memorial to heroic Terry Fox; the incredible Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg; the amazing art exhibits in Red Deer, Alberta; the well-preserved cityscapes in St. Johns, Montreal, and Victoria.
Mechanical issues? Like a new tire in Winnepeg? Like a flat tire in Montana? Like Steve’s fork seals in Winnepeg and new tire in Victoriaville? Like a passenger pillion that wouldn’t stay in place? Sure, there were issues. But that’s part of being a motorcycle rider on a not always reliable but still iconic and irreplaceable Harley-Davidson.
The weather? I expected rain from time to time, but not nearly ever day the first two weeks we were in Canada. And not so severe that it saturated and leaked through my ancient rain suit. And not 36° with snow moving in near Jasper. And not triple digit temperatures in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. But that’s also part of being a motorcycle rider. Weather on a motorcycle is like life: You take what you get and ride through it the best you can.
Long days in the saddle were something I was accustomed to from previous rides. Accustomed to but not necessarily enjoyed. So this trip I cut the mileage and the speed. That was a good thing, because while my new Heritage Softail performed well, it definitely was not as comfortable as my previous three Ultra Classics. Six to seven hours a day astraddle the Harley this trip was definitely preferable to the eight to nine hours typical of earlier weeks-long motorcycle rides.
I originally planned for a solo ride, but when Steve Lee said he wanted to go, I quickly agreed. We were compatible and he understood my need for space and time, especially at the end of each day when I was writing the blog and selecting and editing photographs. He said he had a great time on the ride, and I believe he did. He said he saw things he would otherwise never have gotten to see. That’s a good thing, and I’m glad the trip expanded his motorcycle horizons. But like me today, I think he was glad, at the end, to return home–to Ruth and his nomadic home on wheels.
So, this ride is done. Everyone is home safe. Life will return to it’s pre-ride normality. For me, there will probably be more long rides. They’re too much fun and too important to my definition of “quality of life” not to continue doing. Where? I haven’t decided. I’ll work on that after I weed the garden, pay the bills, paint a house, clean the garage and prevent the collapse of western civilization and the demise of democracy.
If you know me, you know I can’t wait to get on the road again.