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Toronto, Canada to California, US (in progress) LONG+PICS


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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 averaged around 750+kms/day and lots of sightseeing.




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. Riding through the Red states in the Heartland gave no cause for doubt that Bush would ever have lost the election.



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


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:



Wilson Arch from the ground



Wilson Arch up close


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!



Zion NP


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


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...



Vegas from our hotel room, reflection of me in the glass


Like any good three-act play, the trip can be broken down into three different stages. TO to Vegas was the first third which was characterized by a very deliberate planning of routes, destinations and places to stay. The second act was Vegas to Sturgis, which was more free flowing. I had a rough route that I wanted to follow, but every day while talking to people along the way, the route changed. The destinations started to form around National Parks, as we had been very impressed with what the US National Park Services had to offer. That, and we really wanted to milk that $50 National Parks Pass... I stopped reserving hotels in advance, and whenever we got tired, we looked for the next nice place to stay and just poked our head in to see if they had any rooms for the night. I found that a bit more expensive, but it made for a less stressful day trying to make it to a specific place for that night, as we could spend more time in any one place that caught our fancy.



Red Rocks Canyon, NV



Riding through Red Rocks Canyon


Early morning in Vegas, we traveled just outside the city to Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. Our Parks Pass didn't work here since it was a Conservation Area, not a National Park, and felt a bit ripped off dishing out the $4 for entrance to the Park... I mean, Area... It turned out to be well worth it, the road was a nice single lane one-way affair, and the fact that we got in right when the park opened and it was a Thursday morning, meant no traffic at all. We then made our way across I95 in the desert to Death Valley. We had debated whether to even venture into the hottest place on Earth in the middle of the summer, but since the Ontario rain gods were with us, we decided to chance it. Our hunch paid off. Death Valley regularly reaches temperatures of 50C, however on this balmy, summer day, it was struggling to top 40C. We met a fellow Canadian at the gate to Death Valley. Gary came from Vancouver, grew up in Hamilton (we didn't make fun of him right away, because we're all Canadian and we're polite people). He rode a F650GS, and Neda and him were commiserating about the lack of power, lack of wind protection, vibration of the single cylinder. Whatever... Wimps. Death Valley surprised me quite a bit. I had visions of barren wasteland, but riding through, I saw quite a diverse landscape, from sand dunes to mountain vistas, to different sorts of greenery that found ways to flourish in the heat, as well as wildlife! We didn't see them during the day, but the visitor's centre assured us they came out at night. And I bet they didn't need evaporative vests from Germany to survive...



Death Valley, CA


Gary rode with us on and off all the way from Death Valley to Yosemite National Park, meaning that we would break off to do our thing, take pictures, have lunch, and he would do the same, but somehow we kept meeting back on the highway at several points. We said our goodbyes at the gate to Yosemite, as he was going to camp out there for the night before heading to Reno and then back home, and we were riding through to Sonora, CA. You know, we had crossed into California right before Death Valley, and it happened without any fanfare at all, overshadowed by the fact that we were going to travel through one of the hottest places on Earth (just not that day...). But when we got into Sonora, we really got a taste of California culture. How? Sportbikes. Everywhere! Whereas the Midwest love their Harleys, we now started to see R1s, GSXRs and Ninjas everywhere. It was nice for a change. Back to cruisers for a moment: Harleys probably make up 90% of the cruiser contingent. Every cruiser we passed was a Harley. In fact Harley dealerships dotted the Interstates. At every exit, you'd see a sign for the next McDonalds, the next Chevron, and... the next Harley dealership. I don't think I saw a single Virago/Vulcan/Boulevard/etc... It's as if there's a social stigma to ride around on a Japanese cruiser in the United States. Like wearing fur to a PETA meeting.



Yosemite NP, CA


Yosemite NP was quite a contrast to Death Valley. I couldn't believe that in the space of a day I'd see both a desert in the morning and snow and glaciers in the afternoon. Yosemite is a traditional park, the kind that families go to for picnics, hiking and camping. Unfortunately, those same families go to Yosemite in RVs. My god, are they ever slow! There's only one thing worse than being stuck behind a lumbering RV doing 25mph in a 45 zone, and that's being stuck behind a Harley doing 25mph in a 45 zone. Good lord, man, move over! There's a line of 10 cars behind you!



Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. There's a building on the island that Lora Knight built as a teahouse which she'd take guests out to by boat


Waking up in Sonora, we took a very spirited ride up twisty Hwy 88 up to Lake Tahoe. Once again, the roads were empty in the morning, so we had a great time zooming without any interference from traffic. I had to take a short nap after lunch in Tahoe City, which is a nice touristy place, the stores are all cutesy-colour-co-ordinated to match. It's a ski resort town in the winter. Funny how we always end up in the same places, snowboarding in the winter, motorcycling in the summer. We took another twisty road, Hwy 49, which was so remote, that even during the middle of the day, the cars ahead of us pulled off to their various cottages and campsites, so 30 minutes in, we were alone to play again. It's reassuring to know that when you're leaned over in a 20mph corner, that an 18-wheeler isn't going to come around the bend and clip you in the head in the middle of the apex!



Benicia-Martinez Bridge joining Vallejo to San Francisco


We hightailed it at the end of 88 at Lincoln, CA, taking the I80 all the way to San Francisco. This was rush hour now, and we were stopped a few times on the freeway in the scorching heat. At one of our stops, we heard a motorcycle revving it's engine from behind, and it suddenly zoomed past us between all the stopped cars. LANE SPLITTING IS LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA! How cool! And what dopes we must have looked like doing the clutch and go in rush hour on the Interstate. We must use this new found power for good, and not evil. Heh heh heh...



Always photogenic. No, not us, I mean the Golden Gate bridge


We woke up at Fisherman's Wharf in SF, and headed down to The Presidio at the bottom of the Golden Gate bridge for some classic Cali shots. We crossed the bridge into Golden Gate National Recreation Area and were treated to an early morning jaunt along the coast. We saw a few Ducati's as well here, so we knew we had hit good roads. Some of them even waved to us. Ducati snobs... The locals don't call Hwy 1 the Pacific Coast Highway. In fact they laugh at the tourists who refer to it as the PCH, instead all the signs call it the Shoreline Highway. Hwy 1 meets up with Hwy 101 some 300kms north of San Francisco. If our trip was a sundae, riding the Shoreline Hwy was the cherry to top it off. Not the most twistiest road we rode, not even the most scenic or breathtaking, but the feeling of riding two motorcycles from Toronto up the west coast of the US was totally awesome (dude)!



View from Hwy 101, CA


We stayed overnight at Eureka, CA, and woke up to temperatures in the high 40s. That's 8C for you Celcius-speaking folks. Even though we were in California, it does get quite cold along the coast, and many folks commented on the relatively fogless day we had earlier. That morning, we headed north-west in Oregon, riding the very snakelike Hwy 96 through Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation until we hit I5, where we booted up to Crater Lake National Park. The main attraction here is a huge lake at the top of mountain, created by a volcano that collapsed on itself after depleting the magma chamber underneath. The resulting caldera slowly filled with ice and rainwater over thousands of years, leaving the bluest lake you'll ever see. The island on the left is called Wizard Island because it's shaped like a Wizard's hat.



Crater Lake, OR. Panorama, click for larger size



Wizard Island, Crater Lake


With storm clouds gathering, we rushed through US97 to get to a motel for safety. Luck was not with us and we got hailed on, which is twice as bad when you have mesh jackets on. Ah, the dilemma, 30 minutes to the closest motel: pull over and put our rain suits on, or grin and bear it? Since I was lead rider, I made the executive decision to hunker down behind my barn-door of a windshield and ride through it. To this day, Neda, with her fly-screen fairing, and bruising from the ice chips on her arms and legs, still thinks I made the wrong decision.



Storms'a brewin' in Oregon, ya can see it in my eyes


The next day we rode from Bend, OR, through Boise, ID, where we stopped in to Twin Rivers BMW to check out the warez. From there, we took a great twisty road, Hwy 21 up and then down to finally rest for the night in a very affluent ski town called Sun Valley. Everyone we met went on and on about how Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Richard Dreyfuss all own property here. Blah blah, do you have a room available or not?



Chasing Neda through Idaho


Moving from Pacific Time to Mountain Time in Oregon, we started to pay back all the benefits we had reaped going westwards. Time to give back an hour (pun fully intended). To make matters worse, on our way to the Craters of the Moon National Park, we encountered traffic delays on the Hwy, about 30 minutes off the bike while we waiting for construction crews moving in and out. The wait was worth it, as the Craters NP delivered stunning views of fields of black basaltic lava rock that had flowed up from volcanoes in the Idaho Pioneer Mountain range.



Craters of the Moon, NP. Tourists flow out of a tour bus and flock up the side of a basaltic hill, like cult members waiting for their spaceship



Craters of the Sun?


Our next destination were the twin National Parks, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. The Grand Teton National Park is based around the Teton mountain range. If you are going to make a bawdy joke about the name, you'll be surprised to know that that's where it came from. Teton, from the French slang for breasts. Bewbies. Jugs. So named for the shape of the mountain range. I guess Grand Gazongas National Park just doesn't have the same ring...



Neda chasing me to Yellowstone. I think she's giving me the finger



Never traveled through a NP so late. One marked difference is that late afternoon is when all the wildlife come out to play.


We rode through the east gate of Yellowstone into the Wyoming mountain range, through some canyons and running brooks. We had to move quickly through this terrain, because as you might have guessed, thundershowers were predicted for this area. We pulled into Cody and saw a stadium packed to the gills with people watching a rodeo. We had arrived in Cowboy Country. With pellets of rain starting to hit us, I frantically searched for an available room at any hotel. Everything on the main drag flashed, No Vacancy. When I asked the receptionist at one of the motels whether the rooms were all filled because of the rodeo that night, she looked at me with puzzlement and remarked, "Huh? There's a rodeo *EVERY* night"... Welcome to Cowboy Country!



Neda riding through Cowboy Country (east of Yellowstone into Cody, WY)


It turns out that Cody is the first town east of Yellowstone, so almost every night, they get weary tourists who have traveled out of the National Park looking for a place to stay. In a panic, I made a phone reservation, sight unseen, with an Inn that advertised "clean beds". Never good when you have to advertise that your beds are clean. It turned out to be an excellent boutique hotel called the Chamberlin Inn right downtown. Which is where I'm sitting right now on our 2nd rest day.


It's Wed July 12th and I'm taking the opportunity to jot down some notes before I forget all the places we've been to and the sights we've seen. Later on today, we'll do some laundry and have lunch in downtown Cody, WY. No doubt like dinner last night, our lunch will be beef, grown right here in Cattle Country. We're set to ride through Bighorn Canyon and Sturgis, SD tomorrow and we'll do some of the roads in the Black Hills that the Sturgis Rally is so famous for. From there, our third and final act of the play will consist of superslab all the way through to Wisconsin where we'll stay on Saturday night in Sault Ste-Marie. Then ride through Manitoulin on Sunday morning to take the ferry back home in the afternoon.



Bike has bugs in his teeth from smiling so much


Still far from over, this is the best motorcycle trip I've ever taken. Ever since we started traveling by motorcycle, I stare intently at every atlas and road map I run across, looking for the squiggliest lines tracing through mountains, rivers, lakes and oceans. Packing everything you own on the back of the motorcycle every morning and heading to a new town, sometimes a new state or even time zone appeals to the nomad in me. The more rain there is, the better!


We have an on-line photo album with every *I MEAN EVERY* picture we've taken on this trip. When we get back, I'll sift through them and move the better ones to a separate album. WARNING: Most of these shots are interesting, but some are bad, and others downright embarrassing. I've posted some of the better ones above, but if you're curious in seeing others, there are some really good ones of Arches NP and Rocky Mountain NP. That is, if you feel like sifting through over 1,000 photos!


Toronto to California photo album


Gene (from Toronto)

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Still far from over, this is the best motorcycle trip I've ever taken.

With a route like the one displayed on the map at the beginning of your original post, it better be. biggrin2.gif

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I really enjoyed your write up and pics. I just got back to Ottawa from Utah and Colorado, so enjoyed seeing some of the same roads and places. Thanks for the effort to document it.

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Nice adventure! You've really found an enthusiastic travelling partner there! thumbsup.gif


I wish I had priviledges to post some of your other photos too, but I can't figure out the interface. I especially enjoyed the Wilson Arch and Crater Lake photos. And, given my recent adventures at the UnRally, I especially enjoyed looking at photo 1367 and wondered where the trail went? grin.gif


Thanks for sharing these with us!

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Have fun, Hi from Gillette,Wy If I was off I would ride the hills with ya! But I'm stuck here on night shift at a Coal mine just north of I-90 North of Gillette. Have a safe and fun time! thumbsup.gif

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Thanks Gene,


This is an increbile ride report. It has brought back many memories for me, some present (as in last week) and some from the past. So far this year I have been in Death Valley and have just returned from riding around SW and Central Idaho so the memories came flooding back making it very difficult to work...especially while looking outside at the big blue sky...I enjoyed your pictures from Northern California as I am hoping to go down there in September.


If you are ever out in the land of Beef and Oil PM me and perhaps we can go for a ride...



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