"From Calebra's Saddle"
The morning swelled with emotions; the sky reflecting the same - grey, overcast and indecisive.
It’s the morning for a boy who has frequented the dream of traveling back to the west coast ever since his folks made the road trip. That was 20 years ago, and up until this point, there’s been every reason under the sun to keep him from doing so.
Now, was finally that time.
I’m excited and thrilled to be hitting the road. Riding off on my 2006 750cc Honda Shadow (aka Calebra) for a 4,000 km adventure, taking me from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia. If I drive straight through -- it would take about 39 hours – but where’s the fun in a linear adventure?
I invite you to tag along if at some point during this pandemic you needed an escape, a taste of life outside the same four walls, and rehearsed ventures to your local grocery store. Join Calebra and me as we ship off across the country. To be honest -- it’s a little intimidating, but much more exciting!
Earlier in the year, I was accepted to the University of British Columbia and interpreted it as another sign that now was the time to take westward action. The original plan was to travel via backcountry camping to avoid people based on the pandemic. Park the stead roadside and venture into the bush some. My entrepreneurial family saw the zeal and quick commitment to the coastal institute, foreseeing opportunity in the inevitable send-off to come, and our new project began.
Traveling by motorcycle means a very limited amount of baggage. The main bag on the back has all the camping gear which includes:
Water purifier Foldable camping stove
Sleeping bag rated for 10c Inflatable Sleeping pad
Camping pillow Mess kit
Hammock Small Hand Axe
Quick-dry towel Solar Panel charger
Liner for my leather jacket Waterbottle 1.2L Sunglasses 100ft of paracord
Small bag of electronics for charging
… and the saddlebags are holding a Survival satchel - 3-4 different ways to start a fire, glue, tissues, Advil, multipurpose tool, mini bicycle Allen key/socket set as well as:
First aid kit Knife
Zip ties Motorcycle gloves
Rain jacket Rain Pants
Hat Reusable masks
Notebook from my wilderness first responders training
The Duffel Bag contains:
Long sleeve shirt Short-sleeved shirts
Massage ball Reading Glasses
Toiletry kit Gopro travel kit
Journal/Wilderness pocketbook (tips & tricks for identification & utilization of natural resources I've compiled)
Cologne (Just cause we dirty, don’t mean we gotta smell like it ;)
So – here we are -- my girlfriend, Alison, and her dog Charlie, a big, white, curly-haired doodle - just as goofy a demeanor as the breed’s name would imply. She’s always been incredibly supportive of my endeavors and if it were possible at this moment, she’d be right alongside me and we’d both be riding off into a “happily ever after” sunset.
Final send-offs are christened with your traditional family photos of hands and arms over shoulders and simple thumbs up.
I plop down into the saddle and feel the suspension display a new degree of bounce based on the heavier weight ratio. My helmet beeps with the confirmation of connection. Music playing and GPS navigating, my heart feeling full setting off. My confidence is bolstered by a decision made long ago and therefore requiring no second guesses, even in the face of a global pandemic. The fresh air fills my lungs with a stressless depth and an invigorating thrill of dreams made manifest; the moment accented by roaring highway speeds and baffleless pipes.
Twenty minutes or so into the ride, I keep glancing back at the luggage as the highway winds begin to bully me around. A factor frequently experienced by riders and the lack of vehicular walls. My helmet rattles if only enough to be bothersome while the tent pole bag has opened though nothing has come out yet. This warrants my pulling over at the next stop and into a parking lot where I jig it all back together in a more fitting manner.
My ears are already ringing from the short trip and the music isn’t enough to drown out the unbaffled exhaust. I’m grateful for the earplug recommendation my sibling made as I pull the little case out from the inner lining of my jacket and slip them in. I fasten a bandana around my head in creating a tighter fit for the helmet; the purpose of which is to dampen the turbulence brought on by the air current flowing over the windshield and towards my face.
It’s at this point the backroads become the more viable option – offering calmer, brighter, and a more scenic drive. Full of rolling hills and flowing fields of wheat, the road is twice as long but the Gopro footage will be well worth it. There are moments atop the steep hills and swerving roads that give you a glimpse into the vastness of the forests. The same breaks in scenery give way to the golden fields of farmland that span to the horizon and those chunky marshmallow clouds that bubble up above in the blue backdrop. Turkey vultures circle above the highway and a hawk takes flight from its perch as if to fly next to me if only for a few seconds.
There is something about those ticking kilometers that began to melt more and more of the stress from my mind and body. Second, to leave was anxiety, then pressure, then time … nothing mattered besides what was directly in Infront of me, and with that came all the confidence in the world. No past, no future, just absolute clarity within the present moment. This is what I wanted, simplicity and with it, a spiritual ‘lightness’, emotional fluidity, free of congesting thoughts, noise, and responsibility for anything over and above myself.
The back roads prove to be more taxing than anticipated. I can feel the fatigue and hunger slowly compound until a headache blooms behind the eyes. I should have been more attentive - a parched, dry tongue. A pain that begins to stem from neck, to shoulder, to elbow and finally the fatigue and grogginess, paired with a headache and a soreness of the eyes. It's a competition between the desperation of getting there and ending this leg of the journey, or pulling over and taking even longer in listening and providing the body what it needs.
I stop for gas but not much else, a sign of my naivete and a lesson I'll soon learn the hard way.
The stations seem to be the only source of shade out in these parts as I climb further north, where every other person drives a truck - I hope my cruiser doesn't feel too out of place. The sun is hot and the blaring music and roar of the pipes aren't enough to keep the fatigue out of my mind. I notice the lights up ahead begin to shine red. I let off the throttle, coast to what I believe to be a gradient slowing down only requiring downshifting ... the red becomes brighter and I see a car jolt out and into oncoming traffic only to swerve back in. The transport in the right lane starts to chug as the driver pulls the reins in for a sudden stop. My eyes begin to grow wide and my breath shallow as I follow suit, applying the brakes more sharply than anticipated as my rear tire starts to squeal in harmony with the choir up ahead. The thing with bikes too is that when the brakes are applied too heavily and you hear that squeal, your tires can quickly turn to skates as if on ice and slip out from under you. I feel the beginning of the fishtail and just as quickly divorce from braking to continue downshifting as to keep the tires under me.
We're all left standing still, slowly beginning to roll forward and eventually spotting a road work crew truck on the right shoulder with their rear-left axle dug into the ground half a foot and the driver walking around with his hand on his chest. Where the tire went, is a mystery to all of us.
First day out – In 8 hours I’ve covered 400 km and learned that signs on the side of highways such as “Fatigue Kills - Take a break” is a truth and a practice I'll be implementing liberally. I’ve stopped in North Bay, Ontario. A town settled in 1892 with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. With its’ stone arch declaring it the “Gateway to the North”, it sits on the eastern shore of Lake Nipissing and kisses the western shore of Trout Lake – originally the historic canoe route from the Ottawa River to Lake Nipissing. Tonight, the Comfort Inn is hosting me.
Day two --
My body, eyes in particular, are still taxed from the ride yesterday; my capacity to bounce back is founded in the spirited drive to run - run fast, run hard and run far. But not before breakfast of course!
Slipping on my memory foam flip-flops and a Covid mask, I begin the walk down the tunneling corridor towards the front desk where my prepackaged breakfast awaits.
Plastic wrapped-brownie-sized muffins topple over one another, along with paired-packaged hard-boiled eggs and the fluttering aroma of orange juice and coffee. I take two of each, my hands and pockets full, knowing at this point it’s all about the calorie count, caffeine, and simple carbs to bring me back to life before setting off to Sudbury.
I look for a place to stay in Sudbury and find “The Hacienda”. The pictures are quite attractive but I typically interpret these things at face value in opposition to assuming reality will live up to the pampered personality of the property portrayed on Google.
Helen, the owner, comes across as sweet and friendly over the phone, and yet her speech is styled firm and direct, representative of her business-oriented call. She informs me with a tonality that is either impressed or surprised, possibly both, that I’ve lucked out with the single last reservation of the month for their queen suite. I’ve religiously been trying to adopt practices of gratitude in acknowledging the moments and experiences in my life that provide substance, richness, and satiety. It seems we’re starting bright and early today with yet another gifted opportunity; little do I know at this moment just how special this place is and who actually resides here. I happily take her up on the seemingly rare vacancy and reserve the room for a single night’s stay.
With a new destination set, my energy climbs in tandem with escalating blood sugar levels and I begin to answer the call of the open road. It takes another 30mins or so of rehearsing the newly founded methodology in gearing up the bike for a much shorter leg of the trip. To which I’ve learned valuable lessons in taking breaks when need be. We set off!
The ride to Sudbury is short and sweet in comparison. From here to Thunder Bay, the scenic route is substituted for … the ONLY route, which is the Trans-Canada Highway. Taking a break at a gas station along the way of the increasingly forested highway, the single gas station stop made for an entertaining time.
The attendant, Garrett, was quick to educate me as to where the hand sanitizer was upon entry and just as kind in complimenting the mask I wear -which if the makers of the mask (Cliu) had a say, is not a mask.
Garrett was a stout fellow. Sporting a brown beanie, a sage green t-shirt, and worn-brown coat with the sleeves cut off above the elbow, he spoke as if an NPC in a Skyrim game offering his wares to the weary adventurer passing through, very humble and warm - which serves just the same to the heart as a lover of the game and traveler far from home. A little bit of familiarity and kindness goes a long way for people out of their element.
Stocking up on Cliff bars, I was looking for something dense in calories and more palatable than just a protein bar. I scooped up one of each flavor and checked out. Hanging by the bike for a little while longer, gazing into the nearby settlement of paneled homes. A smaller community with a Canadian flag or two fluttered gently in the breeze amidst the pine trees that walled the highway leading onward. I took a deep breath in between the swigs of my water bottle and began to feel the pace of a slower life. The occasional car and transport sped on by, reminding me just how easy it was to get caught up in the commotion of the regular rat race, of numbers, bills, important dates, and bottomless obligation. I began to smile at the thought of leaving it and choosing a different way. What that was – I would have to create.
Arriving in Sudbury, I pull into the courtyard of a Mexican-styled bed and breakfast, The Hacienda Estate - beautiful from front to back. Pulling up a few feet from the door, a low yet excitable bark begins to echo from the dark bellows of a shrouded doorway next to the garage door. The intimidation factor begins to build as my
imagination flashes through the many scenarios of an overly protective hound racing out to defend their humans from the strange loud man, dressed all in black with a big bulbous head. I quickly breathe a sigh of relief as a brown pointer with big floppy ears and squinty eyes waddles out of the shadows. Tail wagging, his waddle is a combination of a prance and what can only be assumed as bad hips. He sniffs my bare hand and knee while allowing me to match his excitement with ear rubs and head scratches. I later learn his name is Jax, which is seemingly a popular name for pups as my previous fur baby had the same name. Having passed the previous winter - I interpret the coincidence and loving encounter that the spirits of our loved ones are always with us and continue to meet us along our journey in whatever forms they may.
The owner, Helen, is just as quick to greet me as well as another couple arriving at the same time, Walter, Libby and their dog Sunny. Jax and Sunny mimic the formalities we humans exchange over hellos and welcomes, though take it a step further by bonding over a couple of competitive throws of fetch.
The grand tour had the same feel as walking into a temple or a church, partially due to the five-ton-stone statue of Tlaloc; the Aztec god of rain. The massive testament sits in the center of the home underneath the skylights that give way to a divine and direct connection to the heavens above. The eulogy of this god, adorned with vines and much foliage, includes a large 6 foot illuminated fountain in the centre of the room. Truly unexpected and stunning - just as the rest of the house was - pool and pillars alike.
That evening, Tlaloc, must have noticed the state of my bike and provided a complimentary bike wash as the next morning Calebra was clean as ever. The same evening, however, a wedding rehearsal taking place behind the estate probably interpreted the heavy downpour from a much different perspective.
Regardless, Helen, her partner Mark, as well as Walter, Libby, and I exchanged stories and life experiences over a tabled dinner. It felt as though a unique occurrence in that I couldn’t immediately remember the last time I had sat down at a table full of strangers and shared openly in such a way. A wholesome experience, with multiple perspectives, equally shared and pondered though not debated, but simply given space to exist. The stories ranged from time lived in Russia, to how one developed skills both as a nurse and part-time mechanic, to how the couple actually came to possess such a richly decorated home. The conversations didn’t run too late into the night, though just long enough to revitalize my appreciation and interest for the characters of the world.
My black, leather bags stand out amidst the fine decor of the room. The large queen bed embraces me with a plushy affection towards my road weary body. The onset of the food coma is about to begin as I get my final texts and phone calls back into home base.
It isn’t long before the thunder and the rain begins to soothe my heartbeat, my eyes falling shut. As relaxed as I was, there was an element of excitement that simply couldn’t leave my bedtime smile. The excitement of the unknown; the not knowing what tomorrow was going to hold - where or if I would find a place to stay - whether it would be in this city or the next - hidden in a park or deeper in the woods off a highway. It simply didn’t matter, because, in the end, everything is going to be ok.