Good-bye Canada

After nearly 20,000km we reached our final destination in Alberta, Canada… Our mate Jeff was already waiting for us and a bottle of champagne got ripped open as soon we entered the driveway, very much like a Formula 1 celebration – just without the podium. But the last few kilometers were not without drama…

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I don’t know what it is, but it seems there is always something going wrong on the last day or just like in South America – this time it was a gel battery (Made in China) that completely died without warning. Gel batteries have become pretty much the standard for long distance motorcycle travellers since they don’t leak, don’t need maintenance or slowly deteriorate. Just every morning the same powerful punch that kicks the mighty single cylinder into action. HOWEVER,  if they fail they do like in our case. We just stopped for lunch and when we were ready to embark on the last leg for the day there was – nothing. No cranking, no clicking – heck, not even the headlight came on. It didn’t take long and there was quite a crowd around us, all with great suggestions and ideas on how to start the bike. We even hooked up some jumper cords but with no luck. A mild panic broke out, since finding a battery that would fit a BMW F650GS in the middle of nowhere could be quite a challenge. I could already envision myself riding that bike with a car battery duct-taped to the handlebars if we cant find a suitable replacement. A fellow BMW rider on a K100RS immediately grabbed his  mobile phone and started ringing around to track down a match – but once again, it was the Garmin Zumo 550 that saved the day suggesting a Napa  automotive outlet literally 1 km down the road. In a frenzy, CB ripped apart the bike to get the dud out, strapped it to the Dakar and rode away in a big cloud of dust. 10 minutes later he was back with a big smile on his face and a brand spanking new power pack. Only problem was that the poles where reversed and it was time to think outside the box. Since the battery connectors of the stock GS are pretty short, we had to perform another swap – so the battery of the Dakar went into the GS and the new one into the Dakar since you can install batteries either way…

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In the end all was good, and the fellow BMW rider waited with us patiently all the time until both our bikes were back into commission. Since we were heading all to Calgary we decided to ride together, but not without some local sightseeing on the way – so we passed a humongous rock slide that took out an entire village about 100 years ago: http://www.history.alberta.ca/frankslide/default.aspx and a massive glacier rock, that got dumped 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age: http://www.history.alberta.ca/historicsites/default.aspx

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The last few days were just great – we had plenty of time to catch up with Jeff and Cata, played with the bikes and other toys, even went boating with his family and a trip to Calgary included going down the Olympic bob-sled track from 1988 and checking out the fastest zip line in the world – yes: 140 km/h down the ski jump tower! Totally insane! Only Canadians come up with stuff like that… While the ride ride was not too bad, the breaking certainly was! You pretty much slam into a preloaded spring at the end of the zip line and depending on your body weight the impact force is accordingly… Considering that we have been putting on a few kgs over the last 3 month due to a very hearty diet the braking procedure was pretty uncomfortable and neither of us wish to repeat that any time soon. But needless to say, it was very sad to say good-bye to Jeff and Catalina but it is only another year until we meet again…

Overall, we believe that we had the most amazing honeymoon one can wish for. Surely, we could have flown to Paris or Antarctica, or stayed at the most expensive resort on a coconut island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean – but we doubt that we would have met all these amazing people, seen all this breathtaking landscapes or learnt so much about American history we did. Team Berg is all about adventure after all.

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In the end we knocked off about 29 States, a district and four Provinces in Canada. We missed/escaped hurricane Irene, countless violent thunderstorms on the east coast, encountered only two 10 minute rainy periods over three months, got toasted in the record breaking heatwave (pushing +40 degrees Celsius for about 30 days of our trip) and shivered at Yellowstone at -1 Celsius. We have met some amazing and generous people, heard fantastic stories and learnt so much about North American history and geography – things we would never learnt as kids in school or uni. We feel so privileged that we were allowed to embark on this journey, with getting time off work to do it and the health and resources to enjoy it.

The downside it, that this trip completely hooked us and we cant stop thinking about where to go next year…The West Coast beckons us…

Glacier National Park, Montana

They say: “Save the best for last” – in our case it was, unknowingly, a visit to the Glacier National Park near the Canadian border in Montana – http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm  While many people recommended this park to us (in particular thanks to David, who grew up right next to it), little did we know what to expect. For sure, we’ve seen some amazing scenery on our trip so far – like the red rocks of Utah, the Grand Canyon, the swamps in Louisiana and the endless prairies of South Dakota – but Glacier takes the cake. This is the heart of the Rocky Mountains! One of the “must-dos” of this park is taking the Going-to-the-Sun road. This road is closed for large parts of the year due to snow and ice, so we just hit the window of opportunity to explore this part of the country. A local at Browning, MT told us that snow can be expected from October onwards and snowfalls as late as July are not unheard of. Downside is that the park is only open for a few weeks in the year so there were many tourists to share the narrow winding roads with. Nevertheless, we consider ourselves privileged that we were able to see this park as it is quite difficult to get to without a vehicle.

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Unfortunately, visiting this park also marks the end of our US tour, with the border crossing into Canada being imminent. There is still so much to see, so many places to visit – it seems there is only one option: we need to come back next year and continue what we have started – aka Team Berg Honeymoon Part II. Travelling without prejudice and with an open mind certainly opened up many doors and let us experience an America that has little to do with the image portrayed in so many MTV music videos, Hollywood movies or news stories. Of course, there is a darker side to it all, fuelled by poverty, unemployment and socio-economic disadvantages – but every nation has this regardless. We were extremely fortunate (and we believe that all our guardian angels were working overtime in the past three months) that we had no major problems (nothing that money cant fix), no accidents (other than a few tipple overs – mostly CB tippling over) and we only got rained on twice for about 10 minutes each time. Just the heat wave this northern summer was causing some frustration, sweat and (minor) arguments at times – but compared to the freezing cold we were generally happy with a few extra degrees.

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Next Team Berg crosses the Canadian border for a short stay near Edmonton and Vancouver before flying to LA and back home to Sydney. Gosh Sydney we miss you and appreciate you so much more now. Can’t wait to see all our family, friends and work colleagues!!

 

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming

Four years ago DB saw a 4-part BBC documentary about Yellowstone National Park and decided that she had to go there so when planning this trip last year. Yellowstone was decided as a “must-visit with no excuses” park. Currently in the US it is the height of summer and families are making the most of school holidays so all the national parks are chocka-block full of SUVs, RVs and Harleys with all sensible accommodation booked out months ago. It didn’t matter because since Yellowstone is one of those amazing places we decided early on that we would camp there – despite our camping history. The weather was predicted to be perfect, we were pretty well rested and had good camping gear so ambitiously booked a tent site for three nights – but more on the Team Berg camping adventures in Yellowstone later.

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We crossed the State border into Montana with a heavy heart. Our time in the US is nearly over, Montana is the last state before we cross the border into Canada and fly back home. Don’t get us wrong, we can’t wait to go back home, sleep on our bed and even get back into work…but leaving the US is hard. We have become so used to living day to day with an open mind, a sense of adventure, not sure what may come and who we will meet. As mentioned before one of the best parts of this trip is all the lovely people we meet. We both love having a chat to who ever comes up to us young or old, at a petrol station or a cafe – Americans just warm our hearts and inspire us each and every day as does the amazing landscape we travel through.

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While we were heading towards Yellowstone and started looking closer into the details of the park (http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm), we realised that the park is actually in Wyoming (not Montana) and there is also Grand Teton right next door (http://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm) and couldn’t be missed. Our first stop was Grand Teton. Sadly due to heavy haze the Rocky Mountains that frame this national park were obscured, a couple of days later we learnt that the haze is caused by heavy industry in the state of Montana and according to the EPA would take hundreds of years to clear. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/regulators-sign-rule-to-cut-haze-in-big-sky-country-montana-plant-faces-83m-in-capital-costs/2012/08/16/4e009d98-e7d3-11e1-9739-eef99c5fb285_story.html. CB was suffering a cold and didn’t have the energy to do much walking so we decided to hire a motorboat and explore the main lake of the park since there were reports of bears, otters and other wildlife. So off we went in our wee boat exploring the lake – sadly we only saw two deer and loads of humans kayaking. Nevertheless it provided us a closer look at the mountains through the haze.

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Next we packed up and headed into Yellowstone for three nights of camping. We managed to get a site close to the showers and thought we were really lucky until we rode up to our site…the site was located on the side of a hill. Well, it could be worse – at least there was no rain predicted – so we pitched our tent and went looking for some food. We returned to our camp to find the neighbour to our left had started a smoky fire and the neighbour to our right had cranked up his diesel generator to charge his mobile phone and laptop! CB was fast developing a headache…After commenting on the noise, the neighbour quickly quoted the camp rules that allow generators until 8pm… (and we thought camping is is all about the serenity and all). On top of that, as the sun set more and more campers started their fires giving DB a headache. By 10pm the temperature dropped dramatically so we snuggled into our sleeping bags and then the nightmare started. Since we were sleeping on the slope of a hill DB kept sliding down and off her Thermarest the whole night. She kept wiggling up the hill cocooned in her sleeping bag only to slide down a few minutes later. Next morning we woke up to more smokey fires and people frying up breakfast. Needless to say DB was a very cranky camper.

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We rode to the famous cone geyser Old Faithful considered the most predictable geological feature in the world erupting every 90 minutes (+/- 10) ejecting thousands of litres of water and lasting about 5 minutes. We didn’t expect Old Faithful to be as spectacular as it was and ended up waiting to see a second eruption. We then continued around the geothermal fields in the area which was much bigger and more dramatic than we expected. (We also learned that about half of the worlds active geysers are here in Yellowstone). Unenthusiastically we returned to our campsite that evening but to our pleasant surprise we had new neighbours – a father and his three gorgeous kids on a road trip. After sharing the American staple campsite snack of s’mores (toasted marshmallows with chocolate sandwiched between two graham crackers) with our new neighbours and trading life stories we went to bed hoping that the new strategy of putting a towel under our sleeping blankets will reduce sliding down the hill. It worked! But the night got colder this time dropping to about 0 degrees Celsius. Around 5am CB had enough:

 

CB “Dilu…Dilu…are you awake?”
DB “hmmm…mmmm…mama”
CB “I am so cold…are you cold?”
DB – no answer. CB grabs his motorbike jacket and raincoat to cover up more, “I think I am over camping…”
DB “what, say that again?”
CB “This sucks, I’m over it, let’s go…check into a hotel…i need to sleep in a bed…watch some TV…be warm…sniff, sniff…my hips hurt”

 

And there you have it – after sharing breakfast with our kind new neighbours we packed up our tent and within the hour left vowing never to camp again. By 6pm that evening Team Berg checked into the Wingate Hotel in Helena, MT enjoying a soft fluffy towels, a comfy king bed, WIFI and cable TV…

 

On the next Team Berg adventure we head over to our last stop in the USA, Glacier National Park (and no more camping… for a while at least).

 

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Little Bighorn Battleground, Montana

On our way to the Yellowstone Park we did a wee detour through the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. This is possibly the best place in the US to learn about the struggle of the Native American tribes during the time of the western expansion of the States. It all boiled down to the Battle at the Little Bighorn River where the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne fought in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life and protect their land and families from the invasion of the white men. On June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers and attached personnel of the U.S. Army died after a failed attack on an Indian village in an attempt to force the Natives into reservations: http://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm

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There are always two sides to a story, but all things considered the Native Americans really ended up with the short end of the stick. Ultimately, it was a clash of cultures – the American greed and ever increasing need for resources and farm land vs. the holistic Native American lifestyle with nature where you cannot own the land, but the land owns you… So in a way, this was the original Homeland Security in an attempt to protect your lands from invasion. Breaking point came when the buffalo herds vanished, which were a critical resource to the tribes and they were forced to venture beyond their allocated reservations to hunt for food. This didn’t go down well with the new settlers and a violent conflict was inevitable. It all ended a few years later when the starving Natives surrendered to the US government and were put into (now much smaller) reservations..

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Walking around the battlefield really gave us the shivers. They placed white tombstones where the US soldiers fell on the top of a hill staging their last stand. It took two weeks for the news of the failed military campaign to travel back to Washington, DC. In response, Congress approved additional troops and funding and the rest is history…

 

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Black Hills, South Dakota

When we started our trip planning process about a year ago, we were quite determined to visit Mt Rushmore – the famous rock monument of President Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt carved by Gutzon Borglum: http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm. However, little did we know about the area where it was situated – the Black Hills in South Dakota – or any of the history of this place, but this about to change. First thing that struck us was that it was pretty much impossible to find any affordable  accommodation in the area and the reason for the hotel price profiteering was the Sturgis Rally, one of the biggest bike meeting festivals in the world: http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/. But more about the biker madness later. In the end we found a cabin near Custer literally up a dirt track in the woods with no TV!! On the wall of our room hung two tapestries with wolf themes which were complimented with wolf bedsheets – creepy but hey after a 500 mile day we didn’t ask any questions and were glad to have a bed for the night, albeit a seriously squeaky one…

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Regardless of the questionable accommodation, we were pretty much located in the heart of the Black Hills with tons of things to see. We started of with the Custer State Park: http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/default.aspx  were we saw our first herd of buffalo frolicking in a breathtaking landscape. Then there was the Crazy Horse memorial: http://crazyhorsememorial.org/  a stone carving of one of the most influential Native American warriors in the history of the US. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started the job in 1948 and given the size of this ambitious people funded project they will be still chipping away for a little while. It took them 50 years just to make the face.Team Berg actually witnessed the blasting of about 500t of rock in one hit… Quite a big bang. In the end we had to admit that the sight if Crazy Horse and the audacity of the project was by far more impressive than Mt Rushmore. The famous quote of Crazy Horse that sets the scene for the monument is: “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” His extended hand on the monument is to symbolise that statement. Within the Crazy Horse complex DB was drawn to all the Native American art and crafts, like she usually is, but this time she was drawn to an old medicine-man and former Sundancer. She ended up buying two books about Native American philosophy but at least she didn’t buy her usually kitsch fridge magnets!

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As mentioned earlier our trip to the Black Hills coincided with the Sturgis Rally – aka the Harley Davidson rally, even though they say all other bikes are welcome. Wherever we went around the Custer-Rapid City area the roads were inundated with Harley Davidson motorcycles to a point that riders stopped greeting each other on the road because otherwise your left hand would never be on the handlebar. We were curious about Sturgis and decided to make the trip to the town to see what all the fuss is about and oh boy, it a human zoo. We cannot remember a time we ever felt more out of place than here, the men and women were all hurley-burley, tanned to a lovely shade of cooked lobster, covered in tattoos, wearing leather vests and riding pimped out Harleys. Legend has it that all the people who come to Sturgis are doctors, lawyers and accountants…after riding through Sturgis and seeing all the pimped out bikes and given the current economic situation in the US we are starting to believe this might actually be true! And to fit in these people get temporary tattoos…hmmm. In hindsight we realised that riding into this otherwise sleepy town on a BMW came close to a suicide mission. There was a lot of booze, flesh and metal to see, but after a loop along the main strip we’ve seen enough and return back to Custer. DB was also starting to complain about all the smoke inhalation from the raw Harley engines around her.

 

Well that sums up our Black Hills visit. Next stop: Montana!!

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Heading West – Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota

Our ferry ride across Lake Michigan came to a rather rough ending. We arrived in Manitowoc, MI at 2am in the morning with some light rain in the air so jumping back onto the bikes to search for our hotel in the dark wasn’t much fun but the lure of a bed and a good-night’s rest was much needed and we fell asleep immediately. The next day we were, as usual, the last to leave the motel and with plenty of miles to ride.

 

The next three days were pretty epic – not so much in terms of landscapes, events or exciting stuff, but for the sheer distance we covered – approximately 1,500km!!! This was not by choice but rather by necessity since this is truly a long haul in anyone’s book. A look at a map of the mid-west’s quickly reveals flat topography, long straight roads interrupted by the occasional stop sign or wee village. Driving along the byways we soon noted that we were very much in the corn belt of the United States. Miles and miles and miles of endless corn fields.

 

What seemed like an endless day of riding we stopped for the night in Decorah, Iowa – a neat little town, however our destination was Sioux Falls, Iowa. Sioux Falls (pronounced “Sue-Falls”) is an interesting city mainly due to its Native American, history (Sioux is French for “enemy” and the word used to describe the Native American Lakota, Nakota and Dakota tribes in the area) museums and waterfall – the main reason we visited this city. However we must have had ‘motorbiker’s-brain’ (where you forget the reason why you visit a town other than to get some food, fuel or sleep) because the next day we were already on the Interstate geared up for more long-distance yakka when DB remembered that we hadn’t seen the falls yet. A funky u-turn later we headed back in Sioux Falls. Native Americans consider water features such as waterfalls spiritual sites which are also often deemed sacred. Sioux Falls, sadly, was used by early settlers as a prison quarry and now turned in a tourist attraction – all rather disrespectful. With a bitter after taste we left.

 

The South Dakota landscape afterwards dramatically changed from corn and wheat monoculture farming to the dry golden grasses of the endlessly expanding great American prairies. It was a humbling experience. You could almost image how large bison/buffalo herds must have roamed this vast land, grazing and providing a vital food source to the Native Americans. The ecology of the prairies is interesting – the land is too dry for trees to grow but too wet for anything else to grow hence the endless grass with sporadic sunflower farms.  But the best thing was still to come – the Badlands of South Dakota. http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm .

 

The Badlands is a dramatic and foreboding landscape shaped by the forces of deposition and erosion making it almost moonscape like. The park apparently contains one of the largest mixed-grass prairie ecosystems in North America but the eroded hills was what takes your breath away. While driving through the Badlands we saw a massive storm-cell pass through which added to the dramatic landscape. It is really hard to explain or describe the Badlands so we hope the pictures do it some justice.

 

Next we head out to the Native American tribe, the Lakota’s spiritual homeland of the Black Hills in South Dakota as well as Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and hope to see bison in Custer State Park.

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Cleveland, Ohio

One set destination along our travel route was Cleveland, Ohio. Not so much for its history, culture or location on the shores of Lake Erie, but for visiting CB's friend Anne, who he met in South America four years ago. As you can imagine, it is always nice to catch up with an old friend and trade stories. This was no different.

We also much appreciated sleeping in a normal bed again, and not in a hotelroom or tent for a change, so this was most welcome. It also turned out, that Cleveland offered some great shopping opportunities, which DB jumped at. Not only is she now the proud owner of a KitchenAid, a Jamie Oliver pot and pan set and other stuff – we also quickly figured that we now have another problem: how to get all these highly priced consumer goods back to Australia? A quick look at our trusty workhorses confirmed that there is now way in the world that we strap on all this stuff, so we utilised our Tetris skills and packed everything up ready for posting. Once we showed up at the US Postal Service office things turned awkward very quickly once we learned the cost for posting!!! CB tried to 'cut a deal' with the highly decorated post officer in charge on the other side of the counter but with no luck, so we had to bite the bullet and pay up… Anyway, it still was heaps cheaper than buying the same items back home…

Anne also organised some Cleveland sight seeing for us, including a visit of the rock and roll hall of fame: http://rockhall.com/    which was certainly a highlight for us… the hall of fame provides a most excellent overview of the history of rock'n'roll all the way to the present, and also explains the different styles, cross-overs and influences. We loved the crazy costumes from Jimmy Hendrix, David Bowie and James Brown, tons of electric guitars from Eric Clapton, Curt Cobain and Chuck Berry – just legendary. CB also found the original ZZ Top Eliminator and stage paraphernalia from U2 and Pink Floyd concerts…

When it was time to leave Cleveland behind, we talked Anne into riding with us for a couple of days, and she was more than happy to jump onto her GS (which sees way too little usage) and head to Michigan with us. We stopped at Grand Rapids to check out the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park: http://www.meijergardens.org/  on the way. Who would have thought this eclectic little gem exists? Mr. Meijer, who made his fortunes with a chain of stores around the US was a keen art collector and left behind some amazing on a enormous property to display them…

After that visit we sadly had to say good-bye to Anne, who had to return to Cleveland and Team Berg took the SS Badger: http://www.ssbadger.com/  across lake Michigan. While this cost us an arm and a leg and the promised 'sun set cruise' was given a rain check, it easily shaved a day or two of riding of our trip, which was desperately needed since we're slowly running out of time…

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