Our first serious trip: a two-weeker up and over the Great Lakes hooking back into Minnesota, crossing into Wisconsin and then Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before dropping down to the BMW Riders Association Rally in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. These rallies are like gatherings of family you’ve never met, but with whom you share a common interest.
I pour over Delorme atlases before every trip. I prefer them in the planning phase because they are incredibly detailed, and help me find out of the way gems that don’t even show up on most foldable maps.
After the rally we would drop down into southern Wisconsin to visit online friends in Janesville, then continue south to US 24 before turning east well clear of the chaos that is Chicago. Hwy 224 would nudge us up a bit, leaving us positioned to ride Pennsylvania’s Route 6 from west to east, stopping in Tioga to meet more online friends for the first time.
We said our goodbyes the following morning, heading south at Charles’ urging to check out the Algonquin Provincial Park. We stopped at an auto parts store in Huntsville to replace a blown fuse which I installed while the parts manager gave Barley a tour of the warehouse that included several treats. We set off again, entered the park, and had a great time exploring a series of dirt roads in the backcountry. By noon we were heading for a small brewery on the north shore of Lake Erie. Unfortunately we had to pass through a tourist town along the way, with traffic so bad the bike started overheating. When rain clouds approached I realized the only way to keep Barley dry would have been to snap the solid cover into place, leaving him in complete darkness. Can’t do that to my dog, so we turned around and outran the storm. The plan was to cross back into the US and ride south to the Finger Lakes region of New York.
By the time we reached the Thousand Island border crossing the heat and humidity had reached epic proportions. The line of cars was long, and as we waited our turn in the heat I was worried about Barley. The bike was no problem; I simply turned off the engine and pushed the rig ahead, but the poor dog was in direct sunlight with no airflow. All I could do was offer him water and words of encouragement. As we sat there baking I resolved to visit a sail maker and figure out some way of giving him a bit of shade.
We eventually got through customs and were heading south when Barley gave me the look that told me it was time for a break under a shade tree. We exited the Interstate and pulled into a small town, got lunch at Subway, then drove across the street to a McDonald’s that had a shady park in back. The sidecar made a grinding sound and lurched to one side. Not good!
Not knowing what could have caused this, I called Hannigan Motorsports down in Kentucky. Dave K, one of their designers, helped me troubleshoot over the phone and we quickly concluded that the electric camber control had failed. The ECC allows the rider to adjust the camber, or angle of lean at the tub relative to the bike, to compensate for crowned roads, heavy crosswinds, etc. The rig was rideable, but would be very difficult to control. We turned east and limped toward home at a reduced speed.
As we passed through Fort Drum in the western Adirondacks I realized there was no way we were going to reach home before dark, and I definitely did not want to ride a crippled rig at night. I reached for the cell phone and called Tom and Kelli, a couple living near Saranac Lake with whom we had placed CJ, a rescued golden retriever, years earlier. “You’re both absolutely welcome to stop here,” said Tom. We altered course into the heart of the Adirondacks to visit our old canine friend and to cement a friendship with his humans.
Tom and Kelli opened their lakeside home to us, fed us, put us up in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, and sent us on our way in the morning with instructions for a shortcut only a local would know about. Their kindness was touching, as was the knowledge that CJ the Rescue had found love in a bit of Paradise.
A planned week long trip not far from home (just in case!) with no goal other than to visit some old friends, see some new places, and figure out what contingencies I had neglected to address.
Vermont to North Bay, Ontario
One of the goals of this trip was to see whether I liked following a carefully researched route that was uploaded into Captain Bligh, my Garmin GPS. The advantage is that using Google Earth and ride reports from other motorcyclists I can program particular roads into my Basecamp routing software, then simply follow the spoken directions Bluetoothed into my helmet speakers. No fumbling with a map, no struggle to read road signs that in Canada are often in French, and packing more fun and scenic variety into a route than I’d be likely to find on my own. The chief disadvantage would be the loss of some spontaneity, though I always had the option of cancelling the route.
We set off in the rain. It became heavier as the ferry docked on the New York side of Lake Champlain, and by the time we reached the town of Malone it was torrential! There was nothing for it but to zip closed the hatch in Barley’s new cockpit cover and press on with him in the dark.
The rain slacked off as we crossed the bridge at Ogdensburg, and by the time we pulled up at the Canadian Customs portal just a few scattered drops were falling. The Canadian agent was a pretty blonde woman with bright blue eyes. She peered at the sidecar as we approached, then broke into a positively radiant smile as she noticed Barley behind the windscreen. We had a great conversation about dogs. She had an elderly golden and was dealing with her decline; I had lost several good dogs in the past few years and the recent loss of Tadcaster, my five year old soul dog, was still very fresh. We chatted for a good ten minutes as the line backed up behind us. Not one driver honked impatiently, as they must have thought we were being put through the wringer. Finally, the young woman asked if I had any weapons then waved us on with her best wishes for a fun trip.
We retraced our route of the previous year as far as Smith Falls, found a hotel and then a dog-friendly restaurant, turned in early and slept all night.
Up early as was our custom, we took a different and very scenic route northwest to the Algonquin Provincial Park, headed west to Huntsville with a couple of breaks along the way, then north to North Bay to visit our friends.
The entire family was happily exhausted. Anouk, their Bernese Mountain Dog, had given birth to a litter of pups that night, finishing up in the wee hours of the morning. The pups were beautiful, hardly as big as their mother’s paw, squirming and squeaking as they jockeyed for a nipple.
Bear and venison sausage was the entrée for the night. Some conversation followed, but my hosts were slurring their words and clearly crying out for bed. I feigned exhaustion and turned in early, freeing them to get much needed sleep.
Being from the country we tend to rise early, so by six in the morning we were on our way again. By back roads we headed north, avoiding the city traffic of Ottawa, then turned west onto the Trans-Canada Highway. It was a fairly straight and largely level route with excellent pavement, fairly decent scenery and an almost total absence of billboards. That’s a plus in my book!
After a few hours my GPS (named Captain Bligh after that exceptional navigator) announced that we should leave the highway in favor of a secondary road, and then a series of dirt roads. These instructions were not anticipated, but I had plenty of time so blindly followed the route transmitted into my helmet speakers via the wonder of Bluetooth. I figured if we got lost it was at least a pleasant place to be; besides, we had camping gear and enough food for a week. But Captain Bligh knew where we were, and expertly guided us to our friends’ rural home without any drama.
We had a fun visit with Charles and Charlotte, their children, dogs, chickens and rabbits. Charles and sons were avid hunters, so dinner that night was goose baked to perfection, with dessert made with raspberries we had picked in forest clearings behind their home. Yum!
Barley got along with their two dogs – Maia, the mother of one of our other goldens; and Anouk, a Bernese Mountain Dog with oodles of personality – but didn’t really interact with them. Instead, he was hunting garter snakes along their stone retaining wall. Hunting is Barley’s form of recreation. While I carry toys for him, he is good for only a couple of retrieves before his nose guides him to a scent trail and the ball is forgotten, the hunt on. Sure enough, within half an hour he had found and killed a snake.