Sunday, August 12

Saturday’s Dispatch: Thunder Bay (TB)

(Note: Some major issues posting pics...will try later)


I felt the push from yesterday’s ride in my neck and right shoulder (must have been holding on tighter than I thought as I rode up and down the mountains) , so I decided to stay in TB an extra day to heal. I rode around TB taking in some local sights, such as the Terry S. Fox monument. Coming in on Friday markers all along long stretches of Highway 17 were unavoidable. Fox was a young man whose leg was lost to cancer. To bring awareness to cancer and the need for more research, Fox walked around Canada, a more than 5000 miles journey. By the time he reached the Thunder Bay area his cancer had returned and he died shortly thereafter. The monument is tastefully done and emotional to see and read his story.

The Germans

While in the parking lot of the Fox monument, a couple rode up on a BMW 1200GS and we eyed each other, as motorcyclists seem to do. They were dressed identically. We waved. When they dismounted, I detect that their accent sounded German. The wife made a beeline toward the building while the husband fumbled with the bike's gear. He spoke. He commented that my bike had many Italian things (three Givi luggage cases and a Givi windscreen). I wanted to tell him about the Sidi boots, they’re Italian made also.

He asked where I was heading. I told him and said rather proudly that I would probably do around 3000 miles before I returned home. He said he would do probably over 15,000! He had his bike shipped to St. John’s and from there they were riding to British Columbia up to Victoria Island. They are taking more than 8 weeks to complete their vacation. He emphasized that he had a lot of vacation time “unlike Americans, we get lots of vacation.” He added that although he works in Germany for an American company, the company follows the European vacation style. He added that he also works lots of overtime and is rewarded for that as well. He told me I was the first woman he saw traveling alone. I didn’t know if he meant in Canada or in general. From the little bit we talked, it sounded as if he prefers his women riding as passenger—he said, “I take my wife with me.” Nice man. I enjoyed talking with him about bikes and travel.

As we were talking, a couple in a huge RV drove by and stopped. They began speaking to the man in German. Evidently, they had met his wife in the visitor’s center (the clothes make it clear that they are together). The Germans chatted a little. Afterwards, the man told me that the couple is from Germany too. They spend their summers in Canada where they have bought a house. Laughing heartily he said, “No matter where you go, you’ll meet a German—no matter where, you’ve bound to run into a German!” Clearly an insider joke but also suggests that Germans are indeed robust travelers.

Native Canadians/Marina Park, Thunder Bay

From this park, one is able to see the Sleeping Giant, which is a massive formation of mesas that looks like a reclining giant. I took pictures but wasn’t positive I had distinguished one giant from any other massive mound out in the lake. Later when I actually saw the giant from Hillside Park, there was no mistaking the giant. (Sorry you can see the pics yet!). Marina Park is where I met some Native Americans, or rather, Native Canadians, or maybe just Native people?

A man approached me, asked if the bike were mine, and wanted to know where I came from. I told him and he was surprised that I would even consider riding that far. He told me where he came from, which is near TB. The town he mentions is a reservation that I recall passing, perhaps Pays Plat but I’m not positive if this is indeed his community. He told me that he and the others were out taking a walk as part of their drug and alcohol program. He talked briefly about living around TB. “It’s alright.”

One young man, who appeared to be in twenties was at least a full decade younger than the first man I spoke with. In fact, the girls I saw looked to be in their teens. It was nice talking to these guys but sad too to witness evidence of a commonly held fact about some of the struggles of Native people—(i.e. high alcohol and substance abuse) particularly among young people. So young and already struggling with what will become a lifelong battle. We said our good-byes and as he walked away, he looked so young but a really sweet and gentle guy. I wished I had longer to talk.

The Wal-Mart Couple

I was in the parking lot of Wal-Mart looking at a map and checking it against the GPS. A couple walked toward me and the man spoke. “Where you headed, eh, need some help?” They reminded me of the Saturday Night Live couple long ago, played by Gilda Radner and Bill Murphy as Dough and Wendy Winer. They didn’t whine but they wore 50s-ish period clothes and spoke with heavy Canadian accents. The husband was very interested in my bike. He asked where I had come from. The wife said, “All by yourself?” Before I could answer, the husband said, “Eh, she knows how to handle it.” His wife wondered what would happen if I dropped the bike. I said I could pick up the bike myself. The wife said she would still worry if she rode alone. The husband put way too much faith in my skills, telling his wife, “she knows what she is doing—she knows.” He went on to say that he too is considering riding a motorcycle and plans to take the course. I encouraged that route. The requirements for getting a license in Canada are different and more strict than in the USA. Before leaving, the couple told me how to get to Marina Park. I found the park and had a nice time taking photos of the lakeshore. A cute, friendly couple and dead ringers for Doug and Wendy.

Richard, from North of England

What an amazing character! Richard (I loved his distinguished deep-throated British accent!). Like the German couple, Richard had been riding a long time and had thousand of miles yet to go. Again, my little 3000 miles sounded like a short trek around the block, relatively speaking. I wanted to explain my measly miles but that would have been ego talking. I’m thrilled with my adventure. Also like the Germans, Richard believed that one needed to take long trips via motorcycle, see the world, get off into the hinterlands and had no hesitation saying, motorcycle travel is the best way to go.

Richard is a true rider and at 71 years old, he is a role model for everyone. He spoke happily about not having any time constraints or obligations. It also seemed that Richard had no money worries either. He no longer ships his bikes. This time, he flew to Toronto where he keeps his Honda tourer (an 1100cc). From there, he aimed to go around the lake. Richard had 10 weeks or more to go from one end of Canada to the other, then north to Victoria Island, back through British Columbia, and St. John’s. Unlike the Germans, Richard was planning to go to “the States” too, specifically, Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisiana, West Virginia to mention a few. He had traveled to Chicago before, which led to agreement about the city’s traffic.

Richard owns five motorcycles, including a Suzuki Bergman 650 scooter, which he loves and claims can hold its own against any motorcycle. He stores one bike in Toronto, one in Capetown, South Africa, (an old Goldwing) that has some issues. He complained about the mechanics there. They have all season to do complete the list of “fixes” he leaves but they never seem to start the work until shortly before he arrives at which point most of the stuff can’t be done thoroughly or well. It’s frustrating for a bike with 150,000 miles on it to now be neglected with poor maintenance. He just can’t seem to find decent help. Richard also owns a Yamaha crotch rocket, which he keeps in England with the scooter. I’ve forgotten where he keeps the fifth bike, which is a BMW. Currently, his fav is the Suzuki Bergman, which he loved telling me tales of how he has left fancy sports cars in the dust at signal lights. He said the scooter has a flawless automatic system that makes it nearly impossible to feel the gears when they shift. Oh, I think the fifth bike is housed in Australia.

Richard has ridden the world and feels that the best way to accomplish this is to plant bikes around the world or fly to your starting point and travel from there. Shipping a bike isn’t cheap, so Richard clearly has a few extra pennies. Europeans, far more than Americans are world travelers and it shows in their hands-on knowledge about their travels. He complimented my travels and said “way to go.” We talked bikes, boots and BMWs. He liked my idea of a BMW F800ST and thought the R1200ST was too heavy (I rather agree). We couldn’t help notice that we had similar Givi luggage. His were far better. He had a key made that both opens the luggage and starts the engine! How cool is that?!

We shared a parking space as Richard said, “You don’t mind, do you? This one is right outside my room.” I didn’t mind. Later that evening when I went to buy batteries, I returned and parked in another spot That night I ran into Richard again and he said, “I moved my bike next to yours again because that window is directly in from of my room—no sense in taking up two parking places—so I hope you don’t mind that we are sharing again.” That accent, with me, will work every time! We talked some more. He has amazing stories and knows a lot about how motorcycles are constructed. I could have talked to him all night. What a very very cool person.

Again, apologies for the pics.
The weather remains beautiful!
I'm heading back to the USA today. Happy but a little sad too.