Sunday, 11 November 2018

Sabbatical Rides: Following Grandad On The British Expeditionary Force

I've previously written about and done a fair bit of digging into my Grandad Bill Morris's World War 2 service in the RAF.  His time spent in France with the British Expeditionary Force before the Nazis invaded in 1940 highlights a forgotten piece of history.  Weeks after Dunkirk had pulled most of the troops out, Bill's RAF squadron was still flying a fighting retreat against overwhelming odds.

By comparing various historical documents I've managed to cobble together the strange course Bill's squadron took during this desperate retreat.  Spending a year following in his footsteps would be a pretty magical experience and a brilliant way to spend a sabbatical away from work.

Conveniently, from a sabbatical time-off scheduling point of view, Bill landed in France in September, 1939 in Octeville and proceeded north to set up an air base in Norrent-Fontes near the Belgian border.  They then wintered in Rouvres and as battle commenced were fighting out of Reims before retreating south and then west around Paris, quickly setting up  aerodromes for his squadron's Hurricanes and then breaking them down and moving on while under constant fire.  They were supposed to get out on the Lancastria in Saint-Nazaire (another forgotten piece of World War 2 history), but Bill was late getting there (operating heavy equipment means you're not at the front of the line).  He saw the ship get dive bombed and sunk - the biggest maritime disaster in British history, with most of his squadron on it.  He spent the next two weeks working his way up the coast before getting out on a small fishing vessel and back to the UK at the end of June, just in time to get seconded to another unit for the Battle of Britain.  Being able to trace Bill's steps would be a powerful journey.

Bill was an RAF military policeman who worked in base security, but his handiest skill was his ability to drive anything from a motorbike to a fuel bowser.  It'd be cool to use the period technology Bill used to retrace his steps through France.

This sabbatical ride would have to happen between July of one year and the August of the next.  Following Bill's time in France I would be landing in Octeville from the UK in September, hopefully on a period bike.  My preferred ride would be a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin, though an RAF standard Norton 16H would be equally cool.

If I couldn't find a period bike I'd try and source a modern descendent of the Triumph or Norton.  Triumph is actually coming out with a new Speed Twin shortly, so that's an option.  Meanwhile, Norton is coming out with the Atlas, which would be a modern take on the do everything 16H.

I'd arrange to stay in the places Bill did at the same times he did over the winter and spring.  With many days at various locations in rural France, I'd have a chance to find the old aerodromes and make drone aerial imagery of each location, hopefully finding evidence of the his war history hidden in the landscape.  I wonder if I'd be able to see evidence of the Lancastria's resting place from the air.  With time to get a feel for the place, I'd write and record the experience as I moved slowly at first and then with greater urgency in the spring around Paris, through Ruaudin, Nantes and Saint-Nazaire before ending the trip in Brest at the end of June when Bill left, almost three weeks after Dunkirk.

The research so far on Bill's World War 2 service in France, the Battle of Britain in the UK and then into Africa!
Living in France for most of a year would offer a cornucopia of travel writing opportunities and the historical narrative I'm following would let me experience a lot of local colour in order to research a fictional novel I've been thinking about writing based on Bill's World War 2 experience.

To get ready for this I'd get Bill's full service record and research the whens and wheres of his experience on the continent during the Phoney War and through the Fall of France.  

When all was said and done I'd pack up the bike and ship it back home to Canada where it would always be a reminder of the year I walked in my Grandad's footsteps.

Research Links to date:

Bill's service record research:
Map of Bill's Squadron movements in France:
RAF squadron research:

We could totally blend.  All of Bill's grandkids in period
kit and riding period vehicles...
Follow Up What would be even cooler would be to have my brothers and cousins come along for part or all of the trip.  For the non-motorcyclists the option to drive period trucks and military vehicles would be on hand - though a surprising number of Bill's grandkids ride.

There is an annual D-Day Festival in Normandy in May and June that celebrates period vehicles and dress.  Even if I could get Bill's grand-kids together just for that it would be a memorable event.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Sabbatical Rides: North America

The idea of a year's sabbatical has come up a few times recently.  I'm ten years away from my retirement date.  My job has a four out of five option where my salary is stretched over five years while I'm only paid for four.  It means a slightly smaller paycheque, but then a paid year off at the end of it.

My wife has ideas of going back to school in that year off, but I'm disinclined to take a year off teaching in school to go to school.  What I'd really like to do is the EPIC MOTORCYCLING TRIP with the intent of writing and producing art and photography out of it.  When people do this they typically line up the RTW ('round the world) ride and then spend a lot of time in poor countries making unintentionally Western-superiority statements about how hardy they are and how backwards non-Europeans are.   I'm reluctant to follow that pattern.

We recently spent a summer driving most of the way across North America and back again.  I had a number of moments when I saw North America for what it is:  a place that has almost no human history in it.  At the Canadian Museum of Human Rights I started thinking about how native aboriginal people are to North America (there were lots of displays on how poorly Europeans integrated with the first immigrants to this place).  A few days later at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller I discovered that most of North America's mega-fauna disappeared right after humans first arrived; we're an environmental scurge no matter where we go.  It got me thinking about how North America must have looked before we got here and unbalanced it all.

The Americas were blissfully free of human beings for all bit a trivially small, recent moment in time.  They separated from the massive Pangea landmass between two hundred and a hundred and seventy million years ago, long before anything remotely human walked the earth.  For millenia upon millenia North and South America were unique ecosystems with animals not found anywhere else, all of it safe from the human migration out of Africa two to three million years ago.  Earliest estimates now have humans crossing the northern ice bridge during an ice age about fifteen thousand years ago.  That means that, conservatively, humans (aboriginal and later settlers) have claimed North America as theirs for less than 0.0086% of its existence.

One of the few mega-fauna left after the humans got here.
It's hard not to see a tragic species memory in those eyes.
This framed much of that trip for me.  I kept trying to see the lands we were travelling through without the recent influx of foreign species.  Humans appeared and immediately started filling this place with invasive species from where they came from.  This became especially evident when I was looking into the eyes of a truly native species in Yellowstone Park.

This human free view of the Americas is something we tend to ignore as we're all so busy justifying the pieces of it we divide up between ourselves.  Most of North America's history had nothing to do with us.  There are other parts of the world that have had humans living in them for hundreds of thousands of years, but those places aren't here.

This sabbatical ride would be to circumnavigate North America and try to see the place itself without its invasive and destructive recent history.

The trick would be to time this ride with the weather.  I'd be off work beginning in July and then have until the end of the following August.  Heading east to Cape Spear (North America's easternmost point) would mean avoiding the early winters that hit Newfoundland.  Spending a summer at home would be a nice way to start the sabbatical, then, as my wife heads off to school, I hit the road.  We could arrange meetups when she's off school through the fall.

I'd start in Newfoundland in September and then head down the East Coast to Key West before riding around the Gulf of Mexico to Cancun and then crossing the continent at its narrowest point before making my way up the West Coast.  I'd try to time my pause for the holiday break, servicing and then parking up the bike in storage for a few months in California.

I'd fly back out and release the bike from storage in the late spring and aim to be taking the long road to the Arctic Ocean as the days become infinite over the Tundra.  Ideally I'd be back home by mid-July.

From tropical rain forests to mountains, plains and tundra, this ride would show the staggering range of geography to be found in North America.  At well over thirty-three thousand kilometres, this would also be an epic ride in terms of distance (RTW rides are typically 20-30,000kms).

The only downside would be the cost of travel in the USA and Canada, but there are ways to manage that without breaking the bank.  With the idea of getting to know the North America under the human migration, wild camping as often as possible would be a nice way to get closer to the land and to meet the people from all over Turtle Island who now call it home.

Taking my old Tiger on a North American circumnavigation
would be brilliant!  This old thing would be long distance
ready with only a few upgrades.
With a dearth of freeway travel on this trip, it would be about a lot of coastal roads and staying to the edge of the continent.  With potentially rough roads in the far south and north of the trip, something that is capable both on and off road would be ideal.  It wouldn't need to be a high speed touring cable unit, but it would have to carry the gear for at least occasional wild camping.  There are a number of mid-sized adventure bikes that would fit this need, though I'd be just at tempted to take my current Tiger.  Perhaps I could customize it as a sabre-toothed Tiger in relation to the America's apex predator (made extinct when humans showed up).

Riding tens of thousands of kilometres in a relatively short period of time means some challenging logistics, especially if I want to spend breaks with my significant other.  The ride out to Cape Spear on the easternmost coast is a thirty-two hundred kilometre all-Canadian opening to the trip.  All told, the ride out to Newfoundland and then back to the US border to head south down the Eastern Seaboard is nearly five thousand kilometres.  Breaking the trip into pieces is how I've blocked out the timing of it.

Canada East:  Elora to Cape Spear, Newfoundland and back to St. John, New Brunswick.  Mid-September.  About five thousand kilometres.  With potentially interesting weather (this year the east coast of Canada has been hammered by the remains of hurricanes) even this opening section might be challenging.  With ferries involved, doing an average of 400kms a day seems like an eminently doable thing that would also give me reasonable stopping time so I'm not always rushing past moments of insight.  Five thousand kilometres at four hundred a day works out to twelve days on the road.  Giving myself a fortnight to do that would mean being able to spend a bit of extra time where necessary (hopefully on Newfoundland).

The East Coast:  New Brunswick to Key West.  End of September/early October.  This four thousand kilometre jaunt down the East Coast would be happening in the fall, while dodging hurricanes.  Sticking to the coast would be occasionally tricky in a road system designed to put you onto an interstate, but I'd stubbornly cling to it.  Four thousand kilometres at four hundred a day average is ten days riding south.  I could easily compress that by doing it on freeways, but that's not the point.  Being on back roads gives me a better chance of seeing the place for what it is instead of just seeing the travel industry.  I'd be aiming to get to Key West still fairly early in October and then start my circumnavigation of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico:  Key West, Florida to Cancun, Mexico.  From early October for the month.  The Gulf coast means I'm travelling through some culturally unique places.  New Orleans has long been a desired destination, and Texas is often described as a country in and of itself.  Crossing into Mexico puts this trip well into an adventure mind-set as I'd have to find my way through a unique culture in a language I'm not familiar with.  The fifty-three hundred kilometres of this leg of the trip should take roughly two weeks, but with borders and other hold ups it would probably be better to settle on an end of October arrival in Cancun (giving me 5-6 days of padding in there to let things run at Mexican speed).

Pacific Mexico:  Cancun through Baja to San Diego, California.  This six thousand kilometre leg up the west coast of Mexico and the Baja Peninsula will eventually lead me back to the USA.  If I'm beginning this leg in early November, it should take me fifteen days at my 400/day average to make my way north.  Giving myself the month means extra days, hopefully with a reading week meetup with Alanna somewhere in Mexico for a few days off together in the warm.  Even with that relaxed schedule I should be able to make my way to San Diego, service the bike and put it into storage for a few months before making my way home for the holidays.  A handy winter break means I could collate my photos and notes from part one of the trip.  

West Coast to the Arctic Ocean:  San Diego to Tuktoyaktuk.  This seven thousand kilometre ride to the northern edge of North America would take 18 days, but with multiple ferries, borders and coastal barriers I'd pad some extra time in there.  I'd be aiming for a late June/early July (midsummer, midnight sun) arrival in Tuktoyaktuk on Canada's Arctic coast.  A month back from that would mean flying back into San Diego around the beginning of June and then riding north for many weeks.

From Vancouver Island on north this would be a rough and tumble ride with hundreds of kilometres of gravel roads.  The bike would need to be sorted and ready to take on that kind of abuse.

The Long Way Home:  Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories to Elora, Ontario.  It's nearly seven thousand kilometres diagonally across Canada back home again to finish this trip.  That's another 18 days at 400kms/day.

I'd try to be home by mid-July and enjoy some downtime before getting ready to go back into the classroom.  The first nine hundred kilometres of this trip would be long days on permafrost and gravel, but from the Dawson Highway south it would be back on tarmac and I would be able to make better time.  There is no over land passage that traces the northern coast of Canada through the tundra, so a diagonal slash south and east would be the final leg of this trip.

Wrapping my head around this continent on which I live would not only give me great material for writing, but it would also let me tick off a bucket list item:  complete a truly epic motorcycle journey before I'm too old to manage it.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

West Coast Siren Call

I came up with the idea of setting up motorcycles down south in rental storage units to access over the winter a while back.  This is just the sort of thing I'd do if I had that kind of disposable money laying around.

To set up San Francisco bike storage I'd need to get an Ontario bike down there and parked up in the storage facility.  The idea is to have a ready to go bike that I can fly to with minimal luggage.  I'd eventually be able to fly in to San Francisco with only a carry on bag, take a cab to the storage unit and be on two wheels in one of the best motorcycling locations in the world within a few hours of flying out of the snowbelt.  For the setup I'd take known, works-for-me gear for the ride and then hang it up in the storage unit along with the bike.  Flights back at the moment are one stop, seven hours and about $700 Canadian.

The weather is already closing in here.  We've had dustings of snow multiple times.  This would be one of my last chances to make the ride out west before the white wall of winter descends on us.  In trying to make good time to SanFran, I'd also aim to get a motorcycling bucket list item done:  an Iron Butt thousand miles in twenty-four hours:

Day 1:  Elora to Hampton Inn Portage IL.  Just under 500 miles over the border and to the edge of Chicago.  Make sure everything is ready for the big push on Day 2 (the Iron Butt 1000 miles in 24 hours).  Make sure everything is good to go on the bike, get in early, eat and rest up for an early departure.

Day 2:  Portage IL to Denver, CO.  Be on the road by 5am for the big push west.  Cross Chicago before rush hour picks up and then thump across the plains.  1027 miles in 24 hours.  Get in to Denver overnight and then 2 days at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Stapleton.

Day 3:  Rest day in Denver.

Day 4:  Denver to Grand Junction.  Into the Rockies, 333 miles to the Hampton Inn Grand Junction.  A lower mileage day means this should be as much about enjoying the mountains as it is about making time.

Day 5:  Grand Junction to Ely.  429 mountain miles to Ely and the Ramada by Wyndam Ely passing through 3 national parks, so it should be a pretty ride.

Day 6:  Ely NV to San Francisco.  554 mile day to wrap up the trip.  Get into San Francisco late, park up the bike and put everything into hibernation mode.  Load up a carry-on bag with the essentials and take a cab to the airport.  Retrace the four thousand plus miles back in five hours.

I should be able to take the bike out, park it up and be back home within a week, then I'll have a bike on-call on the West Coast.

For this trip I need something that can cover big miles effectively but is still a useful tool on twisty roads.  The big Triumph Tiger 1200XRx is a long distance capable bike that fits a big guy like me.  It's also easy to maintain (shaft drive, fuel injection) and comes with many long distance handy abilities like long suspension to soak up bad roads and luggage for the long trip.

A big Tiger in this format costs just over $24k Canadian.  It's a pretty thing, I saw the new ones in the flesh at the Triumph Tiger ATLAK meet up last summer.  Many magazines describe the bike as very large, but I didn't find it overwhelmingly so.  In fact, I was surprised at how svelte it was for a 1200cc adventure bike.

But there are some things about the big Tiger that I'm not a fan of.  I've never gotten excited about the big aluminum panniers thing on adventure bikes, or any bike for that matter.  I like the colour matched lucifer orange ones on my old Tiger.  I think the aluminum ones look half assed and unfinished, and I get to pay hundreds more for the privilege of having them because others think they're a fashion item.

The other issue is a recent BIKE Magazine review in which their Tiger developed a number of electrical issues.  Whatever is waiting for me on the West Coast would need to work when I opened that storage unit roller door.  The Tiger is also a reasonably sensible choice, but it'd be nice to have something a bit more come-hither waiting for me in San-Fran.

For surprisingly similar money there is something that I'd describe as more of a dream bike:  the Kawasaki H2 supercharged demon bike in sport touring form.  The H2 SX is an efficient, powerful, supercharger-chirping-as-it-breaks-the-sound-barrier thing of beauty.  It weighs about as much as the big Tiger but produces prodigiously more power and looks like a Japanese super model.

On top of that it has beautifully designed and colour matched panniers that practically disappear into the stunning looks of the bike, rather than looking like tacked on, low-rent metal boxes.

Having the SX sitting in a storage unit in San Francisco would be a constant West Coast siren call.  If I wanted to go far, it could handle it, if I wanted to canyon carve in and around San-Fran, it'd do that to.

As much as I love adventure bikes for how well they fit me, I think I'd have the Kawasaki super model waiting for me on the west coast.  It'd be a blast to ride on the trip out there and would fit in with Californian bike culture much better.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Evolution Of On-Bike 360° Photography

The evolution of on-bike photography from hand
held push button shutter to mounted, hands-free

and distraction-free autofiring shutter.  The photos now
show a rider riding instead of a rider being distracted.
The 360° on motorcycle photographic experiment continues.  At this point I think I've got it down to a science.  What was once an awkward hand held process has evolved into a consistently effective, hands-free automatic process that I could easily set up on just about any bike and get shots with no action needed from the rider.

Initially I just popped the 360 camera into my pocket and went for a ride.  When I saw a nice scene I took it out and pressed the shutter.  The downside was that my arm was in every shot.  Another issue was that I didn't look like I was into the ride because the camera was a distraction, which it was.  All this busy work meant not being able to get photos of the best bits, like bending the bike into a corner.

My first attempts at attaching the camera to the bike highlighted a number of issues.  Out of the various 360 cameras I'd tried, only the Ricoh Theta offered a timed shot option, taking a photo automatically every 8-60 seconds depending on how you set it.  The Samsung Gear 360 and the 360Fly both only offered stop motion video at much lower resolutions and quality.  The Theta is also light weight and low profile, so it works well in the wind, unlike heavier, blockier designs from other manufacturers.

I initially tried suction pad mounts, but I never trusted them in the rough and tumble and windy on-bike environment.  I eventually migrated to a flexible tripod, but my first choice started falling apart right after I got it.  When it let go while we were riding down the road and killed the camera I was ready to give up on that kind of mount, but I went up market and got a Lammcou model that has been durable, strong and perfect for the job.

Now that I've worked my way through testing all the kit, it's so well sorted out that I think I could set it all up on any bike and start the photos going.  When the rider returned I could download all the captured images and see what we got.  Ideally I'd have a camera that takes a photo automatically every couple of seconds, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist.  At the eight second delay on the Theta I don't get every shot I want, but after a ride I get an awful lot of choice and there are always some gems in there.

I'd really like to try this process on something a bit more extreme, like track day riding or off road riding.  As long as the rider keeps the bike rubber side down, I think this resilient setup produces unique shots impossible to get otherwise.  When people see these shots they ask if I was using a drone or was from another bike dangerously close, but the process is much safer and cheaper than either of those things.  I'm surprised that no motorcycle magazine wants to give this a go.  The shots it produces are exciting, original and show riding from a very intimate point of view.  The ThetaV takes very high resolution photos that would work well online and even in print.

Putting together a kit that will do this is fairly straightforward.  The list on the left is all the parts you need to be taking 360° photos easily and well on your bike.  If you already have a smartphone you can skip over half of the costs listed for the ipod.  The camera and tripod are only about $300 Canadian ($225USD).  Getting the photos off the camera is easy enough and the Ricoh Theta software is by far the most stable and easiest to use out of all the manufacturers that I've tried.  Ricoh also offers a pile of accessories including a weather resistant hard case that has easily fended off rain while on the motorcycle.  There is also a new fully waterproof case if you wanted to get some action shots of your next river crossing.

The process for shooting 360 on-bike photographs is straightforward:

  • Wirelessly connect the Theta 360 camera to your device and remotely set it over wifi to fire every 8 seconds (maximum shot speed).  Once this is set you never have to do it again -the camera remembers.
  • Just before the rider sets off start the shutter firing by hitting the start shooting button on the ipod or your smartphone.  Have the rider drop the ipod or whatever device you're using into a pocket and off they go.
  • When they get back you can stop the camera auto-firing and collect up the ipod/smartphone, Ricoh Theta and tripod.
  • Plug in the Theta to your PC or Mac using the supplied USB micro cable and copy the photos over to it.
  • Open up the Theta software and drop each picture into it.  You can move around within the pictures.  If it looks like it might make a good tiny planet photo, then upload it to the Theta360 website and use the online editor to quickly and easily (one button push) make a tiny planet out of the photo.
  • You can screen grab any photo angles that look good.  If you have a typical 1080p monitor these images will be well detailed for online presentation.  Get yourself a high resolution monitor to screen grab high resolution images suitable for printing on paper.  The ThetaV takes the equivalent of 14 megapixel images that display spectacularly on a high resolution monitor.  I use a 4k monitor for print images and they come out sharp and detailed.  Dell's 8k monitor is on my wishlist.
  • Once you've grabbed the angles and images you need you can sort them out in Adobe Photoshop to meet the look you're going for.  The Theta shoots dark but has a lot of detail in the shadows.  An HDR (high dynamic range) filter tool does wonders to pull details out of dark images.
Like anything else digital, experiment with it for best results.  I've attached the camera to my windshield extender, rear view mirrors and tail luggage rack, but if you're adventurous (and have that protective case), why not try wrapping it around your frame in various locations.  Since it's set and forget, you can just go for a nice ride and then see what you caught when you get back.

The red thing just below and left of my head is the top of the flexible tripod holding the camera onto the rear view mirror.  It's triple wrapped around the stalk and doesn't move even at triple figure speeds.  The other two arms of the tripod are arranged to help brace the tripod and still leave 70% of the mirror unobstructed, so even the rear view is still good (the Tiger has nice, big, and not buzzy mirrors).  The nature of the 360 camera forces perspective back around the base, so I usually angle the camera away, which also uses the length of the Theta to push the lenses even further away.  The result is a an image you couldn't get any other way. 

A 'tiny planet' photo done using the online Theta360 website.  It's the easiest way to get this effect I've found.  Again, a unique perspective you would find hard to duplicate any other way.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Motorcycle Philosophy: Antoine Predock on Ride With Norman Reedus

Riding a motorcycle is episodic.  You experience thermoclines of temperature... the rush of cold air in a pocket, it's exhilarating.  In life that's a good thing too, surrender to conditions rather than mind managing everything and see what happens.

Season 2, Episode 4:  Ride With Norman Reedus (quote is from the episode)

Finding The Edge

I turn fifty in a few months and the nature of aging occupies my mind.   The increasing worry is that I've done everything I'm going to do of note and the rest is just living in those memories, but I'm not happy with that diagnosis.  The way of things seems to be that as people get older they become increasingly cautious, especially physically, until they are maintaining themselves to death.  If all I have left is a continuous receding of activity into a safety cocoon designed to keep me alive as long as possible, I'm bereft of hope.  If that's the trajectory I need to do something about it because it's causing me a great deal of anxiety.
This isn't so much about thrill seeking as it is about finding meaningful ways to challenge myself.  I'm not looking for overt or pointless risk, I'm looking for ways to engage and challenge myself physically and mentally.  Motorcycling, for me, is a lifeline to that realm of vital engagement - it can turn even a simple commute into an adventure.  To accept the challenge of motorcycling well you need to acknowledge the risks and manage them effectively.  You can't do it with one hand on the wheel and your thoughts elsewhere as so many other road users do; motorcycling well demands that you live in the moment.

The meditative nature of riding can't be overstated, especially in my case.  It's taken me most of my life and my son's diagnosis to realize I don't think like most people.  Whereas others find great traction and joy in social interaction, I've always found it confusing and frustrating.  People are takers who are happy to demand my time, attention and expertise and offer little tangible in return.  I spend my days in this social deficit where many  around me seem intent on using me for what I can do for them but are unwilling to offer anything in return.  The only currency many of them trade in is this slippery social currency, which I find difficult to fathom and so avoid.  Given the opportunity, most people disappoint, and often do it with and edge of cruelty and selfishness that I find exhausting.  Nothing lets me find balance again better than a few hours in the silence of the wind getting lost in the physical and mental challenge of chasing bends on my motorbike; the machine is honest in a way that few people are.

I started riding a motorcycle just over five years ago, after my mother died.  It was a secret as to why motorcycles were forbidden in our family.  A death no one talked about produced a moratorium on riding that prevented me from finding my way to this meditative state for decades.  I didn't realize that the motorbiking gene was strong in my family until I bypassed my mother's fear and found my way back to that family history.  Riding is something we've done for generations, but a single accident produced fear that kept me from what should have been a lifelong passion.  Wondering about what could have been is another one of those traps that people fall into as they get older, but rather than wonder about it I'd prefer to make up for lost time.

There are many aspects of motorcycling that I'd like to try, from exploring the limits of riding dynamics on a track to long distance and adventure travel journeys, or even retracing family history.  Last year I did some off road training and I don't think I've ever seen a photo of me looking happier.  Doing something new and challenging with a motorbike is where I find the edge.  It's also where I find the head-space that eludes me in my very socially orientated professional life.

Unfortunately, I live in the wrong country for exploring the challenges of motorbiking.  Whereas in the UK you can find cheap and accessible trackdays for bikes all over the country, in Canada they simply don't exist.  My only option is to pony up for a thousand dollar course that puts me on a tiny, underpowered bike for one weekend.  In the UK you can green lane and trail ride all over the country, but in Canada that's called trespassing.  We also happen to have some of the highest motorcycle insurance rates on the planet  and one of the shortest riding seasons.  In the UK you can ride virtually the whole year around and the range of biking interests are wide and varied.  In Canada riders are thin on the ground and often interested in aspects of riding that I find baffling.

As I'm getting older I hope I can continue to find ways back to the meditative calm of riding.  It isn't an end in itself, but it sure works as a tool to help me manage my other responsibilities, and as fodder for writing and photography I haven't found much better.  Motorcycling lets me plumb Peisig's depths and clarifies my mind.  Along with that meditative silence, motorcycling also offers a direct line to a thrilling and challenging craft that demands and rewards my best efforts.  Even the most mundane of riding opportunities offers a chance to find that edge, and it's on that edge that I'm able to find my best self, the one I want to hone and improve.  Being able to bring that refined self back into the world doesn't just help me, but everyone that has to put up with me too.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Pennsylvanian Autumn Colours

I've been thinking about an Appalachian ride, but didn't get around to it this year.  So here is a nice travel idea for an end of year ride before the snows fall...

Saturday, October 20:  Ride from Elora to Hotel Crittenden in Coudersport, Pennsylvania (~350kms)
Sunday, October 21:  Cross Fork/Snow Shoe/Jersey Shore loop (~360kms)
Monday, October 22:  Liberty/Hillsgrove/Williamsport (~350kms)
Tuesday, October 23:  Coudersport back home to Elora (~350kms)

Hotel Crittenden is a lovely four star hotel with a pub/restaurant on site.  At this time of year it's only about $150 Canadian a night.  What's nice about returning to the same spot every evening is that I can leave the luggage behind and ride light on the loop days, enjoying the twisty roads without the weight and faff.

The two loop day rides through the Appalachians were generated in Google Maps from's northern New York State maps.  It's a good site for locating twisties anywhere you want to ride in North America.

All told it would be about 1400kms in four days, but any of the loop days have opportunities to extend or cut short the ride if conditions require it.

One thing to consider when riding this late in the year (within 8 weeks of mid-winter solstice), is that the days are short and getting shorter.  Sunset in northern Pennsylvania in mid-October happens around 6:30pm, so you wouldn't be pushing for 500+km/12 hour days in the saddle  unless you wanted to be out on unfamiliar, rural, mountain roads after dark... in hunting season.

Pennsylvania has some of the largest northern boreal forests in the world.  Most other forests this far north get too coniferous to be colourful in the fall.  From Ontario down through northern New York State and into northern Pennsylvania, it would be a very colourful few days racking up motorcycle miles before the end of the always-too-short Canadian motorcycling season.