Saturday, January 22, 2011

North America Route

Here's our route, from Cuernavaca to Halifax, via Cancun - along with the road-trip holiday on the US West Coast. Including the previous cycle legs, the ride to Halifax got us up to 9,260km or so, over 2 and a half years away from home.
With only a dinky netbook to work on, the map was quite a few screen-grabs from Google Maps, mediated with Paint Dot Net.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Road-trip holiday with Gaby's mum from Toronto to Tadoussac and back...

A few weeks ago Gaby's mum Margot joined us for another 3 week O/S jaunt, which was lovely.  Our last holiday together was Beijing last Nov, and we last saw her in Germany before leaving for Mexico.

There she is - in the stripy top in the middle background.

A few days after picking her up at the Airport we went went (back) to Niagara Falls. Besides checking out the falls we watched the IMAX film, had another all-you-can-eat mega-meal buffet at the Casino.

According to Mr Google et al, the Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, and water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. Straddling the Ontario / New York border, the falls attract some 12 Million gawkers annually, and although only medium'ly tall, they're rather broad, and apparently flow at a rate of more than 168,000 m³ per minute of water during high flow, and are a valuable source of hydroelectric power. To keep the tourist cash-cow going,however,the falls are diverted less during the day and more at night, and were it not for that diversion the falls would be eroding even faster - up from 1 foot per year to 5-7 feet.

Me taking a photo of Margot taking a photo of Gaby, taking a photo of me...

In Montreal we visited the Museum of Art - great art, in a funky NeoClassical / Post Modern set of buildings. We got there a bit late and had to rush, which was a pity, but what a gallery !

Beside the Montreal Museum of Art - Kinda Jeffrey Smart, eh ?

Quebec is such an arty city - I love it - that there is civic art everywhere. And not just "proper" art, but grass-roots stuff too. The horse below is laser-cut mild steel - kinda lazy photocopy-art, but art nevertheless I guess. 

A telegraph pole in Quebec City, outside a local gallery

Funky bronze in the port of Old Quebec

We've just told Margot she's going to see Cirque du Soleil
in Amsterdam for her birthday. And that we're meeting her there !

 Something that's really satisfied recently was a bout of retail therapy in Burlington, Montreal & Quebec. Outdoor stores here are truly wonderful ! What with the weather changing somewhat from what we've mostly been experiencing (usually 25-49 deg C) to a bit chillier for the ride to Halifax, we've geared up for the cold. So Gaby and I each have a new goretex-type jacket, winter riding gloves, warm long tights, and waterproof pants.

On the way north from Quebec, we stopped off at the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupre, which we'd almost missed. Anyway, it was very much worth turning round for. The carved granite building is all vaulted ceilings and at least as big as a footy field, and covered throughout in painstakingly detailed mosaics.

The village of Tadoussac, which is at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Saguenay rivers is quite the tourist destination, mostly because of its facilities for whale watching and the rugged beauty of the Saguenay fjord. The cold, fresh water from the Saguenay and the warmer, salty water of the St. Lawrence, support an abundance of krill, making the area very attractive to the cash-cow migratory whales. Most just pop by each year to feed though some - belugas - live there year round.

The weather was sufficiently shitty that on the day we went out on a Whale Cruise that we didn't see much to talk of - but the bloke at the hotel who sold us the tickets (and owns the cruise line it turned out too ) was decent enough to send us out for free the next day. If you really squint, you can just make out that the tiny white blob in the middle of the pic below is a beluga whale about 200 metres from the boat.

While there we visited the Centre d'Interprétation des Mammifères Marins (CIMM) which was surprisingly informative, with heaps of displays, skeletons, videos and stuff.

Back in Toronto we went up the CN Tower. They claim it's the tallest one around, and it may well be, but the facilities are a bit sub-par; the windows are rather small, and the much-touted "glass floor" was a bit disappointing...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thoughts on Canada so far - the ride from Buffalo, NY to Toronto - via Niagara Falls.

So, we crossed into Canada some weeks ago from Buffalo, NY and the immediate difference was remarkable.

Getting out of the US was merely a matter of rolling through a gate on the US side and riding over the bridge over the river. I didn't expect entry to Canada to prove problematic, but I we were more than a bit anxious about the process of exiting the US. I even wore undies even, just in case. But again I was underwhelmed by the routine. Were it not for our oversized bikes that wouldn't fit through the prison-style turnstile, we wouldn't have even needed to interact with any of the devil's agents at all on that side of the river. So we just passed through a gate and rode over the bridge and had a pleasant time with the polite Canadian universal-soldieresque border beaurocrats. Had we not been interested in going through Canadian Immigration etc, there was nothing on their side of the bridge top prevent you from just cruising on out across the riverside park to freedom rather than almost voluntarily submitting to processing. The Canadian Border officials were friendly enough - though when I remarked that I'd never seen border bureaucrat in bullet-proof vests before - he just looked at me kinda curiously. And then asked if we were carrying any handguns in our panniers. Again another underwhelmingly easy post 9/11situation. Thanks Obama for thinning out the paranoia of the previous regime.

Something surprisingly surprising was that Canada is waaaay more expensive than the US (which was already budget-blowingly more so than Mexico) Whereas we we occasionally obliged to pay almost ninety dollars, inc tax, for a room (Key West at $88, San Fran at $77inc and a whopping -though discounted- $117inc for Washington DC) even average rooms here go for over $100, PLUS TAX... And while Canadians on the whole are wonderfully friendly, a couple of times now we've been blatently informed that the tip hasn't been added to the bill – so get with it and drop at least another 15% - on top of the already high taxes. 

From the boarded-up low-rent mostly-black slums between the Buffalo Airport and the Peace Bridge over the river, we passed into a lovely, polite and manicured river-front community, all the way up to Niagara falls 30-odd K north.

Here's what the bikes looked like when we arrived in Niagara Falls, 35km into the Canadian leg of the trip. The stainless bottles are still in Atlanta awaiting new lids - so we have plastic bottles, the new seats aren't on yet, and I have a small pack-towel hanging on my bars that I'd found on the Allegheny Passage. 

David's bike.

Gaby's bike - fully equipped with folded cardboard box and GAP bag of bubble-wrap...
A little further down the road however I had a stupid-attack - foolishly pumping up the tyres from a truck-stop compressor (a first in 7000km but) and soon after my front tyre blew out, along with the inner tube. oops. As Gaby said - at least that justified carrying the spare tyre and tubes all that way from home...

My old Selle Italia seat too wasn't feeling all that great, after maybe 9000km of use, so soon after we crossed the border I got around to installing a seat that had arrrived a few days previously. As you can see here, the rubber top had come adrift from the plastic base, at the back - though the front was only still hanging on for the grace of a liberally applied dose of silicon applied back in ?Cambodia? We've now got Terry Liberator Gel jobbies - purchases online form GottaRideBikes [not a particularly reliable retailer in hindsight]

Something I'm particularly fond of, eqpt-wise is the funky new [drum-roll please] cup holder, which  I purchased from a trailside bike shop back on the Allegheny Passage somewhere East of Pittsburgh. It's just soooo coool ! 

After a few days relaxing in Niagara Falls, getting fat at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Niagara Falls, we spent a further few days in a pleasant campsite while waiting for Gaby's mum to arrive in Toronto for a three-week road-trip...

In Jordan ON, just uphill from the campsite, we stopped to chat with some lovely folk out enjoying their front yard

Not everything here in Canada is a sweetness, love, sunlight and daffodils, however... Here is a wind-swept monstrous blight we encountered on the lake somewhere near Burlington, ON

Friday, September 17, 2010

USA - 2700km West Coast hire-car road-trip - David

Los Angeles
Despite being in LA for more than long enough to have witnessed a drive-by shooting, Paris & Kim driving the big white bus on a street corner, or random Hollywood celebs doing their thang, we were, surprisingly, out of luck.... While there, we stayed in a couple of slightly affordable motels that really looked like they might double for those low-rent crime-scenes you often see the team photographing bloody corpses and dusting for prints etc in the seedier parts of town on an episode of something macabre like CSI or Law&Order

Some people wear Superman pyjamas.
Superman wears Chuck Norris pyjamas.
Only in the US ! An iPod vending machine in an overpriced mall on Sunset Blvd...
Santa Monica, on the coast north of LA was just like out of an episode of Baywatch. Along the path right beside the sand were bazillions of cyclists on beach cruizers, rollerbladers, joggers, and strollers. And elsewhere gymnasts on the public monkey-bars, and folk practising capoiera, yoga, and stuff. Despite the superficial body-beautiful image, it was great to see people keeping fit and in shape.

San Francisco was really cold after the sweltering Florida & Georgia, prompting us to get some disposable warm clothes at a Thrift Store (op shop) just to stay comfy. The Galleries there were great fun, and we caught some of the July 4th festivities down by the harbour.

Something that has really shitted me for years is the way in which "sculptors" behave like architects and don't get their hands dirty, preferring that real professionals almost anonymously realise the work. Above is a life-sized porcelain rendition of ol' MJ and his monkey - actually made by an Italian studio I think...
On the coast road north of LA we met a German cyclotourist - he'd been gone only a couple of months and had already covered several thousand km's through quite a few countries, including Japan and NZ..
A German cyclotourist on his way round the world much
faster than us...
Dozens of elephantine seal-things sleeping on a freezing
windswept beach on the way to San Fran.
Golden Gate Bridge

Walking the path by the Golden Gate.

Clambering out of the hollow centre of a massive fallen tree.
Resting, up t the top of the Bridal Veil falls in Yosemite.
Hopefully Gaby will  put something meaningful here . . .

Death Valley

Death Valley was somewhere I've really wanted to viit ever since reading the 'blog of a bloke who cycled through there on a unicycle some years ago, with an "I NEED WATER" sign pinned to his back. He was on an old Schwinn 24" - WITH PANNIERS and armrests !! Apart from being rather desolate, Death Valley is 85 metres below sea-level, at its lowest point, and most notably had the most ridiculously hot public toilet I've ever experienced. The concrete bunker was well over 50 degrees C. It didn't smell all that great either.

Furnace-hot sub-sea-level toilet bunker.
Apparently the sub-sea-level and the surrounding mountainous terrain has some odd effect on air-flow and greatly keeps the heat in. The surrounding hills and salt flats, where borax was mined and refined ages ago by Chinese labour, come in a variety of colours – from pink through turquoise – and make for an odd sight indeed.

Knee-deep in the mega salt crystals of the Devil's Golfcourse.
Las Vegas, baby !
The smoggy 'Vegas skyline - we stayed in the hotel/casino
below the needle on the right.
The stratophallic $tratosphere Hotel/Ca$ino.
In Las Vegas we stayed in a cheapo motel right beside The Little White Wedding Chapel where Elvis, Britney and others  somewhat less famous got hitched. We successfully avoided the Casino-based stoopid-peeple-tax, but spent a decent wad on the Bellagio's watery Cirque du Soleil production "O" which was just abso'feckin'lutely amazing...

One of the 'Vegas Ca$inos has an indoor Venetian Canal, complete passenger-bearing electric gondolas with singing gondoliers - though at $60 a pop for less than 10 minutes, maybe not...

Above the Sector 7 Hoover Dam
Halfway between 'Vegas and the Canyon we crossed the Hoover Dam. They're rather security conscious there - no trucks, buses or bombs allowed - and it's just amazing how thoroughly Sector 7 managed to repair the dam and all that crazy damage that the Deceptacons wreaked while freeing Megatron kinda recently, as we saw in that stirring Hollywood documentary with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.

The Grand Canyon
Not surprisingly, it's a really big hole set into an even bigger chunk of rock. We managed only one day there, and really enjoyed the interesting 'Interpretation Centers', breathtaking vistas and funky sunset.
Just a few feet behind us was a good drop...
After the jaunt to the Canyon we flew back to Atlanta and the bikes from the airport in 'Vegas. At returning the hire car Gaby was more than a little skittish - the flight was not much later, and the tank had been flashing empty for the last 30km or so.