Hello all! We're currently on the road doing a Toronto to California trip and I'd thought I'd update you on where we are. We're doing over 12,000kms, in about 18 days. With two rest days planned, we are averaging around 750+kms/day with lots of sightseeing in between.
We left on Wed June 28th in the evening and entered the US through the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia. It rained on us the first day - little did we realize that this was a harbinger of things to come for the entire trip. The first few days were quite boring compared to the rest of the trip. From Michigan, we cut south-west and did the mandatory superslab run across I70, through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. My god, what a boring route. Nothing but flat land as far as the eye could see! The only saving grace was the posted 75mph limit. When you're doing 1000kms on the Interstate, you learn to find ways to occupy your time when you're aboard a motorcycle: listen to the iPod, rest your feet on the passenger pegs, play around with the GPS, take a few pictures, skip a couple of songs on the iPod, rest your feet on the cylinder heads, take more pictures, check the mileage... *sigh* another 980kms to go...
The folks in the Midwest aren't shy about advertising their political views. On the I70, there were signs in the fields that advocated pro-life, pro-gun and just about everything that stood to the political right. We're not in the Blue States any more! :)
Welcome to the Great Plains of the United States. Where you can watch your dog run away for days...
When we were in Kansas, we did break the monotony by ducking into the Oz Museum:
We tried to start each day off around 5AM, so we'd get to our destination at a decent hour, and also maximize the available daylight. One nice side-effect of traveling west is that as we crossed into the Central and Mountain time zones at Illinois and Colorado, we gained an extra hour of sleep in each state. Made waking up that much more easier! Actually, nothing makes waking up at 4:30AM easy in any time zone. But then again, you do get to see sights like these:
Sunrise on Hwy 12 just outside Torrey, UT
Exciting things start to happen in Colorado: Suddenly, there were mountains ahead of us! And turns! I wasn't used to it! Either I had forgotten how to turn the bike after 3000kms of straight-line driving, or my square tires were making turn-in a lot more difficult! The I70 swerves north into Denver, and rather than face big city traffic, we were extorted $12 in tolls to take Hwy 470 up to Fort Collins, where we hit the first twisty road of the trip, Rist Canyon Road. This narrow, two-lane road is set deep within Rist Canyon (duh!), the grey pavement was smooth as silk, never having seen an 18-wheeler in it's existence, since the tight 15mph twists would have given any trucker a hernia trying to navigate it. That night, we stayed in Estes Park, which is situated right at the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. And yes, we were racing through the dark thunderclouds during the last half hour, only to be lightly wetted before we ducked into the hotel.
Rocky Mountain National Park
5AM the next morning, we passed through the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. We had picked up a National Parks pass for $50, which allows you access to all the NPs in the US for a whole year. We figured it was a pretty good investment, since in addition to this trip, we were also going to hit Great Smoky NP in North Carolina when we do Deals Gap in September. Little did we know this western US trip would turn into a National Parks tour.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain NP was unreal, the mountains always maintaining a constant presence in almost every picture we took. Hwy 34 is a twisty road that winds up and down the mountains, and since we were there so early in the morning, traffic was light enough for us to ride spiritedly through the park. The scenery changed from lush, green forests at the bottom to barren icy tundra when we traveled above the tree line at 12,000 feet. We met a few people who were staying at the park for a many days, hiking the many trails across the 60 peaks of the park. Our 3-hour ride through the park barely scratched the surface of what the park had to offer. We quickly realized this trip would be a series of bookmarks, places we had to come back to and explore thoroughly.
Rocky Mountain National Park: 12,000 feet above sea level
Ninjas on top of the world!
After RMNP, we met up again with our friend I70, but in Colorado, she looked a lot more interesting. Starting from around Dotsero, I70 becomes suspended in the air twisting at a posted 65mph around Glenwood Canyon. I couldn't take any pictures because we were flowing with traffic, which was traveling at speeds much faster than 65mph! The effect of seeing canyon walls above and below and all around you was mind-blowing. It looked like something out of a video game!
We exited at Glenwood Springs and hit the very twisty Hwy 92 and Hwy 50, which traces the Gunnison River, all the way to Montrose, where we stopped for a second night in Colorado. Although this was primarily a California run, CO had cemented itself as a future destination state for us. Another 5AM start the next morning got us ahead of the traffic when we hit the Million Dollar Highway, US550 from Ouray to Silverton. This is truly a destination highway, the roads are carved into the cliff walls of Uncompahgre Gorge. Heading south on the US550, every left-hander around the cliff walls presents the rider with a distracting target-fixation of a roadside that ends at nothingness. No guardrails will prevent you from plummeting to a swift, but glorious motorcycle death, and the 25mph posted limits around the bends are hard not to adhere to. Easily, one of the most scenic rides of the trip!
US550. Pictures do not convey how close the road is to the edge and how deep the drop is
From Durango, we took US491 until it crossed over into Utah, and one of the first things we saw was a monstrous inverted cup of rock called Church Rock. Seemingly placed there on purpose by the Utah Department of Tourism, it would set the tone for what you'd see in the entire state. Fascinating red rock sculptures dotted US191 on the way to Moab. We spent quite a bit of time at one of them, the Wilson Arch, a very photogenic piece of rock, as you'll see:
Church Rock, Utah
Wilson Arch from the ground
Wilson Arch up close
Another view of Wilson Arch
Just outside of Moab, lies Arches National Park. It is a collection of the strangest red sandstone sculptures you'll ever see. Most of these formations were created when softer layers of rock eroded much faster over time than the harder strata above it. Words can't describe how beautiful and bizarre these structures are, so here are some pictures:
That's Neda posing next to the Balanced Rock at Arches National Park
Devil's Playground, Arches NP
Neda riding through Arches NP
We crossed Capitol Reef NP to arrive at our next stop in Torrey. It was quite a motorcycle destination, as there were quite a number of motorcycles staying at the same motel. We got the jump on them at 5 in the morning, but had to endure a bit of rain again as we snaked through Hwy 12 southwest through Bryce Canyon NP to Zion NP. Again, whoever designates a park a National Park has great taste because Zion was pretty cool. Set between the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, Zion's primary road, Mt Carmel Hwy twists all the way up and down the mountain, with a cool tunnel thrown in for good measure. Even the roads are red to match the mountains! How Kweer Eye for the Straight Guy can you get!
Got a ticket at Zion National Park. No fine, but the scraping the glue off the back of this notice was punishment enough!
Neda's tail light stopped working that morning so after Zion, we pulled into a tiny town called Hurricane to buy a new dual-filament bulb at ACE Hardware, I guess it's the US equivalent to Canadian Tire. I have to give credit to Neda, she is traveling on a much smaller bike than I am, a F650CS, single-cylinder thumper and 50hp. The bars are set a little too forward which gives her upper back pain after some distance. Me, on the other had, I have the uber-touring R1200GS, Aeroflow windshield which is really a clear barn-door in front of the motorcycle, smooth horizontally opposed twin, 100hp for passing maneuvers in 75mph zones. We joked that I traveled to Cali on a sofa, while she did it on a stool. This is the same gal that did Toronto to Ottawa on a Virago 250, so props to her!
From Zion, we spent about 30 minutes in the state of Arizona, as that was where I15 took us on the way to Vegas. Yes, how can we pass up Vegas when we're in the area? As we headed south, the makeup of the scenery started to change, the mountains still prominent, but the greenery slowly being replaced with the clumpy green sagebrush dotting the sparse desert ground. The heat starts to overwhelm us and we make a quick detour to Lake Mead to jump into the warm waters at Overton Beach. It's there where a park ranger asks us where we're heading. "Why, Vegas, sir. Why do you ask?". Turns out there's a huge thunderstorm brewing around the Vegas area and since Lake Mead was in relatively flat, low elevation ground, we were at risk of being caught in a flash flood. Great, it only rains once in 300 years in Nevada and the one day we spend there, there's flash-flooding predicted. So we high tail it to higher ground with black clouds following us all the way to Vegas. It never did rain in the City of Sin, but we did get to see rain clouds dump in the distance from our eye-in-the-sky hotel room.
Riding through the desert. Road to Lake Mead, NV
Taking a swim in Lake Mead. Notice the sky getting darker!
We rested in Vegas for a day. Time enough to do some laundry as we had only packed 10 days worth of clothes for a 19 day trip. So if you see us wearing some of the same clothes in the pictures on different days, they were clean, I swear! I also had the opportunity to ride to BMW Las Vegas to put a new rear tire in. After 14,000 kms, 4K of them on the Interstate, it was time to put fresh rubber on. This was July 5th, the day after the long weekend, and I called first thing in the morning to put a deposit on their last Metzeler Tourance they had in stock. When I arrived later in the morning, the service guy told me he could have sold the tire twice after I called. Chalk up another worm for the early riser! Further chats with the service advisor revealed that a lot of motorcyclists stop through Las Vegas on their tour of the US. He told me that BMW Las Vegas sees a lot of German travelers (duh, BMW - go figure) who show up with their evaporative vests saying, "Ja, vee are ready to do Death Valley now!". I purposely neglect to tell him that we too, had evaporative vests and were also going to do Death Valley the next day... I also met a couple of Brazilian travelers on V-Stroms that were there for a service. They had come up from Sao Paolo, and were going up the Pacific Coast to Vancouver and then up to the Arctic Circle. One of them had a Niagara Falls t-shirt on, which is how our conversation got sparked. He had been to Niagara when he toured around Lake Erie a few years back. From Brazil! I felt really humble saying we were *just* going from Toronto to California and back again...
Pulling into the Wynn Hotel Las Vegas
Vegas from our hotel room, reflection of me in the glass