Home, done, still a little dusty.

We’ve been back home for two weeks, and I’m trying to get this post completed before the experience just turns into a mushy memory. I do need to hurry.

Well, what a trip indeed. Our first extended motorbike trip. We are still reflecting, thinking about our adventure, and adjusting to life back home.

We spent weeks planning the trip, route planning, lists and lists of what to bring, and who would bring what. We learned we can spend a lot of time planning, but that flexibility is more important, and not hold on too much to any pre-conceived ideas or plans for or about the trip.

For example, we thought, we would ride from Victoria to Missisippi… and back. 12,000 kms.

Once we got on the road, everything changed. The route we planned, well, very little of it was followed. The Anacortes ferry from Sidney, B.C. to Washington State, wasn’t running in March! The route based on that departure point well, went south. So, the alternate route was Victoria to Port Angeles Washington, staying on the coast. That was part of the plan, but we thought we would be heading east in northern California – to Reno. Again, the route had to change as the routes were freezing/with snow. Basically, I’m saying, that we really just had to roll with it, and take into account the weather mostly, and a bunch of other things as we went.

Once we got into the rhythm of things we found this kind of pattern worked the best: Travel 2-4 days, staying in motels, with a specific destination in mind. This allowed us to make some ground up, and then we would usually be camping and exploring a particular area. We didn’t start camping until we got to Death Valley, a two to three weeks into the trip, so it was motels and AirBnB’s until DV. Camping before this wasn’t practical; it was March, and Washington, Oregon, Northern California were too cold for camping, (for us, anyway). We also considered if we were approaching a weekend/spring break etc, when accommodations were harder to find and secure, the weather – whether camping was going to be comfortable or miserable…

On the trip towards home we were able to camp a bit more, as the weather was warming. Zion, Moab, North of Bend, then Nakusp. Same sort of patterns here, continuous travel for a few days, staying in motels, then stay put camping.

Others definitely travel further in a day than we; 400kms is a high average, but, that’s what worked for us. We like to get to places before dark, so we have some downtime; and we don’t rush in the mornings either. Steady state, as Lars says.

Expectations and impressions

We really didn’t know what to expect with a big motorbike trip such as this. We have done a few smaller trips, but this was almost open ended, and the feel was quite a bit different.

To be honest, at the beginning, I wasn’t really liking travelling on the big bike. My other bike is an XT250, and 90% of my motorcycle travel had been accomplished with that little dirt bike. It did take a long time to get used to riding the NC700 at freeway speeds, and at some point, I really enjoyed the ease of the highway travel. It did come with a cost though. I had noted turbulence and noise issues earlier, and despite our efforts at trying different windscreens, deflectors, helmets and earplugs, it didn’t get resolved to any satisfaction. A souvenir for me, is tinnitus. Still some things to sort out there, but I’m confident something can be sorted out.

Anyway, we had to be flexible, and, while we did have a few bumpy days, overall, being flexible and not hanging on to anything too tightly, really made the travel a positive experience.

In Moab Utah, we experienced a fire in the campground one day, and a torrential downpour with thunder, lightning, hail and rains that were 6″ deep the next night! In regards to scenery, Utah and Nevada really knocked our socks off. The red rock of Utah, and the wide open desert landscapes, Hoover Dam in Nevada. Roads open, wide and empty. Truly amazing. The Butler maps really helped us plan the routes, and select amazing roads for the bikes.

2018 big trip map

This is the map we used to roughly plan our trip. The pink, if you can see it, is what we had planned. From Victoria, to Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi.

The blue highlighter, is the route of what we actually accomplished. One half only. Victoria to Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada. Punctuated with a flight and a two week trip to New Orleans, Mississippi and the Gulf Coast; then returning to the bikes in Las Vegas and on to to Utah, and home via Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the Kootenays in B.C., and to Victoria via the Tsawassen – Nanaimo ferry.

The pink route was 12,000 kms. We travelled half the map by motorbike and that was 11,000 kms. We didn’t take into account any to-ing and fro-ing we would be doing during the trip. In Death Valley, for example, we were staying in Mesquite Spring Campground and needed to do errands, and get camp fuel. That took us to Pahrump, Nevada, which was 180kms one way. That was really expensive camp fuel, but we needed the fuel, and to do other errands as well. So, I don’t know how we would have managed riding all the way to Mississippi, and back.

We left on March 10, returned to Victoria on June 4, 2018. Out of this time, we spent two months “on the road” and the equivalent of one month “staying put”. This meant we travelled 11,400 kms in two months.

If you like numbers, this is how the bikes fared:

  • Versys average 4 litres / 100 kms
  • NC Average 3.2 litres / 100 kms
  • Versys used 440 litres
  • NC used 352 litres

On the way we had some maintenance done in Las Vegas, at Carter Powersports. On Lars’ Versys, an oil change and both tires were replaced. For my NC700, just the rear tire. Have to say that service was just OK there. They were very busy, as there was some recall for the Polaris quads. On top of waiting there for five and a half hours for this work to be done, we found out once we got to Mead Lake, that the three tires had been over inflated to 55 psi, and the bolt that holds the front axle on Lars’ bike had not been tightened at all. They seem very service oriented, but, some quality control was lacking that day.

The only other mechanical to note, ironically, is a flat tire. On Lars’ Versys. No idea what caused the flat, but it was a very slow leak. I mentioned it to Lars in Nakusp, but it wasn’t until we left there, headed for Merritt that Lars checked the pressure. 16psi. Ooops. What to do in Lumby? So, we inflated the tire, and weighed options. As it was a slow leak, we could fill and ride… always nerve wracking, but we have had a bit of experience with flat tires. They haven’t blown up on us yet. Someone didn’t realize that the Ride-on tire sealant product sold at Gnarly Parts in Chilliwack, was actually on the way to the ferry. Someone else, suggested that we stop by on the way and pick some up. : /
Huge Shout Out to Gnarly Parts! They had the sealant, and let us use the service bay, to put the goo into the tire and helped get us on the road.

It sounds kind of ridiculous, but before setting out on a trip like this, we needed to be on the same page, both having an overall high level understanding of what we wanted to do, realistic understanding of expectations. As we travelled, we could talk about having some common understanding and approaches of dealing with the “what comes up”, whether it be a flat tire, or whatever. It wasn’t always easy, the constant travel was definitely work, and sometimes our misunderstandings were even harder. All good in the end, as we talk about our next adventure… Will keep you posted!

2018 big trip map

See Lars’ awesome photos from the trip

No Retreating Here.

We’re in the last week of our almost three month motorcycle trip, and according to the plan, I’m spending the end of the trip on an Insight Meditation retreat. Lars is camping and staying nearby. He is a long time practitioner and participated in a similar retreat last fall. So, this one is mine and I think its better I do this on my own. The BC Insight Meditation Society is hosting this retreat at the Bethlehem Centre in Nanaimo. There are a couple more days left, and full disclosure, I’m “cheating” by using my tablet and creating this post. I think it’s OK. These thoughts would have a much harder time leaving my mind if pen and paper were required.

So, in this time, thankfully, I have had quite a few thoughts that have emerged, and have been known. In insight meditation, this is a good thing.

They have a wonderful circulating pond here, full of various fish and some lilies, with beautiful landscaping all around.

So, I’m fascinated by the circulating part of this pond, as it seems like a wonderful analogy for this meditation. This may be totally wrong, but here goes.

The pond has two circulating filters – two six inch buckets, which the water is drawn into. The junk on the surface, flower petals, leaves, pine needles etc. eventually swirl around and into the filter, and thus clean the water. What is fascinating to me, (OK, give me a break on this), is that the junk can get caught around the rim of the filter. It can just sit there, until other items join it, and they create enough momentum to get pushed into the filter outright. Until then, the filter starts to get backed up, then the water doesn’t move properly, and the pond begins to stagnate as the water isn’t circulated and cleaned as effectively.

This is what happens, when you have a lot of time to not do the things you would normally do to occupy your time. We aren’t supposed to have our devices, (though, yes, I’ve snuck a peek or two) no novels, books or knitting; just the one book given to us – Dhamma Everywhere… and it is an awesome book, by the way) So back to it, we have time to do a lot of “nothing”, which is really hard to do, really it is. Mindful walking, or sitting. Meals are prepared, and offered on schedule three times a day. I’ve only been taking lunch, so I have had even more time to do… nothing.

I can’t say it’s “fun”, or easy. It is hard. The talks from our teachers are great, but I still find it challenging. Metta to Steve Armstrong. He was scheduled to teach, but has taken ill. 

Alexis Santos, and Adrianne Ross are our teachers for this course. They have very different styles to each other. Alexis is very sponaneous, not sure if he plans what he talks about. Adrianne is very detail oriented, has notes to follow at all instructed sittings.  So far, I think I prefer Alexis’ style of presentation in the larger group setting, but have very much appreciated Adrianne’s clarity in the small groups, when responding to each individual’s questions and needs.

Back to the pond… all the bits of stuff, leaves, pine needles, petals etc. those are like the thoughts that are in one’s mind. They swirl around, fast, slow, or not at all. They make their way to or through into the filter, or, they can get stuck, and as they do, they stick other things with them. I haven’t decided which equates to the mind, the pond or the filter.

Simple analogy from a simple mind.

As I begin to understand the concepts of insight meditation, I’m sometimes able to detach the object from myself. The mind acknowledges this thing that can make me feel good, bad, or other. By making the mind acknowledge it, me and my emotions become distanced from the thing. Detachment. Baby steps on this journey.

The retreat setting isn’t easy, there is a lot of time, which apparently we all crave, and need. But sitting with the reality of all the time ahead, with nothing but mind and body can make one feel a little uncomfortable. I can’t say that I’m loving it, I was ready to leave last night. After a chat with Alexis, I understand more how to approach the retreat with balance. I certainly see and am experiencing the value of it. I have confidence that I can bring the mindfulness more fully into my day to day living, one step at a time.

Edit:

I completed the retreat a few days ago; the above was written  around day four or five. Truthfully, I was very close to leaving then. I was very restless, I felt I was able to understand the concepts, and was ready to take it home. Intellectually, I understood, but by the end I felt it at a much stronger emotional level. I’m glad I stuck it out, I do feel I gained a lot by staying until the end.

Upon reflection though, there are some things that I think could have been done a bit better.

Initially, I did find the culture of the retreat setting an uneasy one.

I didn’t understand what the silence was for, and why. I thought it was etiquette; Noble Silence is a way of allowing participants to not have to be interupted by the general interactions, eye contact, small talk, that would normally occur in our day to day communications. It’s a way to have a safe space to be quiet and reflective, without having to justify behaviour. Once I undersood this, it was much easier to be sharing the space with my fellow practitioners.

The bowing, hands together in reverance, chanting etc. I was not comfortable with this part of the practice. Lars explained to me, that a lot these practices are cultural, coming from the societies of Thailand and Burma, in the Asian-Buddhist cultures there. Insight Meditation has its roots in Theravada  Buddhism, and many of the western instructors have studied in Burma and Thailand. Those cultural overlays have been adopted by them, where these practices are part of society. The reality is that Insight Meditation welcomes people from all faiths, and if the cultural overlays, eg praying and bowing, don’t make sense to an individual, there’s no obligation to do them. I think it would have been very beneficial, to know this at the last. I felt quite out of place, not placing my hands in prayer mode. Towards the end I felt like it was part of the process, I wasn’t able to resist doing so. To be honest, there were times when I felt the retreat was bit cult like…

There’s a duality with a certain tension I think. To have “sangha”, or community is may be tremendously important for some, but it shouldn’t be depended upon, necessary or required for an individual to maintain their practice or spirituality. That’s important, as it distinguishes this as a practice, and not a religion.

It was a very emotional experience for the majority of the participants. Steve Armstrong was scheduled to teach at this retreat, but he has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Many participants have had the privilege of Steve’s teachings, and gave been touched by his honesty, wisdom and vulnerability over these few months. He took the time to talk with us online. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

 

Simplicity…

We’ve been travelling in one way or another for just less than two months. On motorbikes for the majority, with a break for two weeks flying Las Vegas to New Orleans and back. We’ll be away for another month-six weeks before before getting home.

We are both very much enjoying this lifestyle. I think we’re both appreciating the simplicity of seeing how little stuff it takes to be happy and comfortable travelling. We have been camping and staying in Air BnB’s, and less expensive motels along the way. We are not hard core campers, and the budget is a bit more flexible to match our needs.

When it comes to travel, these are the things we don’t do:

  • Camp one night and leave. Set up and take down time is high for us. Everything has a place in the packing, and it takes a fair bit of time to get it oh, just so.
  • Camp where it’s buggy, mosquitos or gnats. We’ll continue on, or find a motel.
  • Camp in excessive rain. A shower here or there, ok, but nothing greater than that if we can help it.
  • Camp in excessive cold, <5 celcius. I am a wimp in the cold.
  • We’ll opt for a cheap motel, this isn’t an endurance event, and between us, the cost of a motel or air bnb is pretty reasonable.

The things we do:

Take our time. Not in a rush, and understand that it’s impossible to ”see everything”. We both try to enjoy the moment, where we are, without thinking about what’s next on the list and rushing off to see it.

Break up the physical exertion days with easy days. Lars calls where we’re at as being in a ”steady state”. Our bodies are under a certain level of stress all the time, whether it be longer/tougher ride days, trying to find accommodations, food, etc.. So when it comes to the hiking and physical expenditure, we won’t do a number of hard hikes in a row. One hard day is fllowed with at least one easy day. I think this is a smart way to go. The other stresses are weather and exposure. Being out on the bikes, and being exposed to temperatures and environment, hot, cold, wet, and then the wind, buffeting and noise all can be very tiring. We aren’t on vacation; we’re living. We just happen to be living on the road, instead of in our house.

Food can be all consuming, finding it, cooking it, cleaning up or going out for a restaurant meal. We have adopted a style of intermittent fasting, which seems to be working for us. Lars eats breakfast, and I skip that. We will eat in the afternoon, a bigger meal, and while there may be a small snack or drink in the evening, that’s pretty much it. It makes things so much easier. All the overhead involved around eating is lessened. We’re really enjoying the simplicity of this, and the time that it saves.

 

People!

We have met some amazing and wonderful people on our road trip. Motorcyclists often seek one another out, and there’s a kinship of a shared hobby or activity that connects people.

We have been sharing contact info with folks, and if we have met you, we truly would love to hear from you again. Keep the lines of communication open!

Some of the awesome people we have connected with on this trip. (We would have met you in March, April, May 2018):

  • Jeanne, Bob, Dylan, Mandy and Colefax, we met you at the Slickrock Campground; and expect to see at least, Jeanne and Bob in Victoria in 2019, right?
  • Sarah and Doug Greer, from Kentucky. We met you in Ely, Nevada. Wehave never met a couple who have had and ridden so many bikes, on so many adventures. Prudhoe Bay on GS1100’s; Trips to Canada and other on DR 650’s; to Utah on Yamaha 225’s. You seem like really awesome people, I hope our paths cross again!
  • Doris and Rolf from Germany; we met you at Echo Bay Campsite at Lake Mead. Do drop us a line and let us know how you got along with the Tiger fork seal in Las Vegas;
  • Rick, who was the Campsite Host at Death Valley; Lovely fellow, great with people;
  • Russ, with his wife (whose name we didn’t get); we met you at the campground across from the Corona Arches Trailhead. We connected because you have an XT 250 – way to go! As we said, feel free to email about that KLX 250…
  • Ray, from Nanaimo; we met you at the Stovepipe Wells Campsite. You put us onto the Mesquite Spring campsite. Thank you! This set us up so well, I don’t think this would have been as wonderful an experience at any other campsite in the park.
  • Rich, the TW200 rider; we met you at Mesquite Campground in Death Valley. You gave us some good tips for Las Vegas, we did end up spending a fair bit of time there getting our bikes sorted out.

On the sharing economy, AirBnB and Uber;

Two hosts come to mind, Shira in Windsor California and Anthony in Las Vegas. Great hosts, we would like you to know how much we appreciate your hospitality. Thank you!

Uber; we’ve met some interesting people on our rides, allowing us to get a window into the world and communities we have travelled in. We both were negative to these business models, but now, see such benefits in the way they can connect people.

Mississippi, Katrina, Nola

We left New Orleans yesterday, just closing out our trip in the southern states. Ocean Springs Mississippi was our end destination, before we did a turnaround to begin the long journey home.

How can I say, we have had just a wonderful time. We stayed with Marie and Ray and their super hyper but terribly adorable black lab Winnie. Marie and Ray are pretty adorably too, and considerably less hyper.

Being off the bikes for this part of our trip was a nice break. We left them in Las Vegas and flew to New Orleans and rented a car to get to Ocean Springs. It is so different there, where the land rarely exceeds sea level, and the bayous, where the sea water from the Gulf of Mexico, mixes with the river water. So much of the Mississippi coastline is dotted with the bayou marshy wetlands. Unreal to have alligators and tortoises as the local wildlife! The bugs are pretty incredible too, the gnats… tiny, but horrible little creatures! It was a cool spell, so the mosquitos hadn’t quite joined the party. So, that was the worst part of being in the south, except for the hangover in New Orleans… anyway…

We learned that during Hurricane Katrina, the damage was definitely not limited to New Orleans. There, the damage was from the levees being breached, and the areas there being flooded asking with the damage from the winds, up to 150 mph. The storm surge there was 25 feet high, which is incredible to imagine…

Ray was a fire fighter during Katrina, and told us much about the disaster and damage in Mississippi,  Alabama and Louisiana.

The storm spanned 500 miles, from Louisiana to Florida.

Across Mississippi the coastal towns of Gulfport, Pass Christian, Biloxi and Ocean Springs experienced storm surge from 25 feet, to a maximum of 50+ feet! The damage from the surges off the Gulf of Mexico was immense, key bridges were destroyed, thousands of properties also. According to Ray the houses were battered from the incoming surges, and the damaged houses and debris inland took out houses as the storm surges receded.

Its evident that many houses have yet to be replaced, driveways lead to vacant lots, mailboxes sit infront of  foundations of past dwellings.

Nonetheless, it was so very interesting, fascinating and saddening to hear of this destruction.

The next chapter of our education was in New Orleans. The state museum had display about Katrina, first voices, the kinds out thing one expects to see in a state-run display.

One off the reasons I’m loving uber so much is the connection with people of the city. Our driver was vey honest and frank and shared his experiences of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

He had family who drowned during Katrina. His daughter was stranded by the high water; she wasn’t saved by the national guard, but was passed by them. Apparently they saved the whites and the blacks were left to fend for themselves… the girl was saved by a black man who had a boat.

After the damage, he was promised federal/insurance money to help, it never came. According to him, the nice “white” areas received federal funds.

“People wonder why we’re angry, no wonder we’re angry!” Is what he said.

It has been interesting, to say the least, to talk to people who had first hand experience living through Katrina.

Mobile Alabama

Photos from our daytrip to Nola:

Some travels, New Orleans and Mississippi

 

Practically reflecting

We’re just back from a month away from home, finding some sun from the wet and grey west coast Canada winter. Travel is always a wonderful opportunity to get perspective on things, our home lives. This little post is a combo of topics from our Canary Islands trip; the practical and some musings.

Our primary destination was La Palma, Canary Islands, and got there via Gatwick. For anyone interested in travelling there from western Canada, we flew Westjet, Victoria to Gatwick (return); Easyjet from Gatwick to Tenerife, and from La Palma. We flew Binter Canarias (Canary Islands inter island airline) from from Tenerife to La Palma.

Flight costs worked out to be approximately CDN $1200 return per person. Breakdown below, for two people.

  • EasyJet Gatwick to Tenerife $253.14
  • EasyJet La Palma to Gatwick $231.55
  • WestJet Victoria to Gatwick $1,770.36
  • Binter Tenerife to La Palma $152.79
  • We rented cars twice, worked out to €460 for 27 days. $720 CDN, or $27.00/day. La Palma was actually cheaper, as we had the car for 22 days. This is an average of Tenerife and La Palma costs together.
  • Our exchange rates for this trip
    • €1 to $1.56 CAD;
    • £1 to $1.80 CAD.

Generally, food and alcohol were much cheaper in the Canary islands than in Canada. We shopped at HiperDino, a Spanish supermarket chain, and SPAR, a German supermarket chain. We found HiperDino/SuperDino to be superb well stocked and very reasonable. We noticed that the staffing levels of HiperDino to be better than what we experience where I live. Things are definitely more “businesslike” at home. Never extra staff in the stores; just enough to keep people moving. On La Palma, it seemed as though the service jobs were careers, often held by older employees; a different approach to the booming job shortage that we’re experiencing in the service sector here. An observation only. I could be totally wrong on this.

It was the high season on La Palma, it’s a very popular destination for German tourists and expats. Some Dutch, and UK tourists; tho I think Canadian travellers were less common there. Accommodation costs can vary; we stayed at a lovely place Amana’s apartment, (we had met Amana ten years earlier during our first stay there). On average, costs are about €50/night, if you can find a place. It is very popular, and depending on the “altitude” of accommodations, they can be hard or easier to find. La Palma is a very steep island, with many microclimates. In my interpretation, on the west side of the island, anything under the 250 metre to the coast/”sea level”, is very coveted. Higher up, and it’s hotter in the summer, cooler in the winter. Our accommodations were at the 180 metre mark – perfect. As the island is incredibly steep, the views are incredible from pretty much anywhere. The eastern side of the island, from Santa Cruz to the airport is very touristy. There are more resorts on this side, it is more dense.

As there is a very strong German influence on La Palma, there are some really awesome pastries and breads from the konditorei’s. The baguettes from the Spars and SuperDino’s were really good. We visited this coffee shop on  more than one occasion for cafe con leche, and yummy apple strudel(s)!

20180206_130405

 

La Palma is a hiker’s paradise, and probably one of the reasons why Germans travel there so much. Lars and I like to hike too, and we did a lot of it. We were away for a month, and hiking and walking in the Canaries our treads counted 100 kms. The elevation gains were enormous also… Most of our hikes are documented here.

We easily walked 10+kms the day we were in London too. So, walks r us!

Driving is windy and curvy and a lot of fun. Generally, we found the drivers, whether German or Palmero, or whatever, to be great. It was interesting to see the vehicles, so much smaller than here in North America. Even the work trucks are smaller than the massive pickup trucks that are so common here. “Normal cars” are small – often diesel, and almost exclusively manual transmission. Trucks and busses are narrow – and quiet. We need some of those here. Motorcycles are small too, the Honda Grom 125cc was a very common site, along with scooters. Bigger motorbikes were less common. The attitudes of drivers was better, I think. Where we are in Victoria, there’s a painful sense of entitlement with a lot of drivers, and I don’t think it’s for the common good. Hard to explain, but very interesting to observe. Again, the things you experience when you get out of your home bubble.

The other thing we noticed was the two wheeled tourism. 29’er suspension mountain bikes, and road bike riders. La Palma is very steep, 18-20+ per cent grades are not uncommon. We watched a few mountain bikers on the San Nicholas hike – suspension was mandatory. They were bumping down those trails headlong. Good on them, but not for us! On our first visit in 2008, we brought a folding bike – a Dahon 18 speed with us. On some uphill climbs, I remember having to work to keep the front wheel on the ground as the steepness is so extreme. We were avid cyclists then, but we aren’t anymore. The hiking suits us better.

There seemed to be a level of simplicity and support on La Palma and Tenerife. Apartments and houses weren’t huge, by any stretch; not like home, where things having just gotten way out of control. Houses here are massive, and it’s ridiculous. It just seemed like a more reasonable way to live; smaller dwellings, smaller cars, less to maintain more time to live. Not sure how to transfer that lifestyle back home, but to try to live more simply is always a good thing.