I have lived in Toronto since the start of the school year in 2006, but this is the first time I have spent any time in Toronto in the month of June.  For the past two years the start of June has been marked by a grand departure on a 3 month motorcycle adventure.  On this day In 2007, Ted, Tom, and I were camping just outside of Springfield, Missouri as we followed route 66 across the United States on our way to Mexico and beyond.  The night before we had camped in a pubic park in St. Louis, and the night before that we had camped in a public park next to Lake Michigan just south of downtown Chicago.  Three months later Ted and I would arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Above: On June 5, 2007, we camped at a KOA just outside of Springfield, Missouri.  It was the first shower/laundry day since we had left Toronto on June 2nd, and the first time we had actually paid for camping.

On this day in 2008, Tom, Jerry, Ted, and myself were camping in the forest near Heilbronn Germany, already well into the Europe leg of our London to Cape Town Adventure.  We had spent the day following the River Rhein as it cut a dramatic swath through a deep lush valley with castles perched on the ridges.  I remember being mesmorized by the scenery for the first time since we had left London on June 2nd.

Above: On June 5, 2008, we camped (for free) in a wooded area in Southern Germany.  The night before we had camped (for free) on the outskirts of Bonn, and the night before that we had camped (for free) in the parking lot of the Westvleteren brewery in Belgium (where the world’s best beer is brewed by the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Saint Sixtus).

I guess it is only natural for my wanderlust to be particularly acute at this time of year. I am in serious adventure withdrawal, yearning to hit the road.  There is so much of the world I have yet to see.  I sorely miss the freedom of the open road and not knowing where the day’s ride will take me or what wonders I will experience along the way.  Ted Simon, who rode his Triumph around the world for 4 years in the 1970s (and is the author of one of my favourite books – Jupiter’s Travels) once talked about the difficulty of returning to a “normal” life after his epic motorcycle adventure.  He described how he felt trapped by a “multitude of gossamer strands” imprisoning him.  That sounds a bit extreme to me, yet I can definitely understand where he was coming from.  Nothing forces you to live in the moment and gives you a sense of freedom like crossing some exotic corner of the world by motorcycle, exposed to the elements, with no clear idea of where your next meal will come from or where you will spend the night.

It seems that the closest I will come to adventure this June is to re-read my journals and live vicariously through myself.  Bah.


Video Slide Show of our London to Cape Town Motorcycle Adventure

Below is a slide show of our 2008 motorcycle adventure from London, England to Cape Town, South Africa.  Tom, Jerry, and myself (and Ted from London to Istanbul) travelled through 25 countries over the course of 3 months.  We travelled 24,000 kilometres by motorcycle.  So far we have raised about $4,000 for HIV treatment and prevention in Africa.  The slide show is roughly in chronological order starting with our departure from London, continuing across Europe and the Middle East, and then Africa from Egypt to South Africa.  The video ends with our arrival in stunning Cape Town.

Toronto Spring Motorcycle Show

Jeremy and I spent last weekend at the Toronto Spring Motorcycle Show manning our booth.  My DRZ was on display with its brand new black powder-coated aluminum Happy Trails Panniers.  We also had photos and a map of our London to Cape Town route spread out on the table.  I was surprised at the sheer number of people who came up to us to chat and ask questions.  It was impressive to see how much excitement our adventure seemed to generate.  I didn’t realize so many people had dreamed of going on their own round-the world adventures.  We even talked to a number of people who had ridden their motorcycles through some of the far off reaches of the world.  One elderly gentleman had done a trip like ours over thirty years ago.  I enjoyed listening to his stories – they made me feel grateful for my opportunities for adventure because one day I too will be an old man with stories.

Despite the fact that it was already April, we also sold a good number of our charity calendars, raising another $230 for Dignitas.  We didn’t set a price, but rather said we were giving them away in the hopes that people would make a donation.  And people did so – generously.

Above: the view from our booth, which was in a prime location at a major intersection.  It was exciting to see my bike one step closer to being adventure-ready.  I am looking forward to being on the road again, even if it is on my own continent. 

Spring has arrived

The arrival of spring in Toronto is usually celebrated by a meal and/or cocktail on a newly re-opened patio.  Those activities were occurring throughout the city today as winter-weary Torontonians took advantage of the warm sunny weather.  For Ted and myself, the arrival of spring was marked by an off-road excursion.  We spent the afternoon on our motorcycles tearing through the muddy trails of a small island of undevelopped land within the GTA that we call the Pit. 

There were creeks to cross and hills to climb.  At one point there was a fallen tree lying across our path that Ted discovered (the hard way) exceeded the clearance of his motorcycle, causing him get high-centred. 

I had my own misadventures during one of the creek crossings.   I managed to get my rear wheel wedged against a submerged rock and dumped my bike in the middle of the stream.  It was my first drop on my DRZ 400, so we marked the occaision with a photo after I picked my bike up out of the water (above left).

The photo on the right shows Ted and his bike coated in mud, the result of him being too close behind me when I got stuck in a muddy hole.  Yes my rear wheel sprayed him quite effectively as it spun wildly during my attempt to get unstuck.  Ah, spring.  I am giddy with anticipation of the upcoming riding season.  (And drinks on patios).

The Next Adventure

Icefields Parkway, Between Banff and Jasper, Alberta Rockies.

Many people have been asking us where we will go for our next adventure.  How do you top Toronto to Buenos Aires or London to Cape Town?  Especially when you only have two weeks of vacation?  My response has been that we would make a run for the arctic circle.  Alas, even this is has turned out to be overly optimistic.  The distance from Toronto to Calgary is about 3,500 kms.  From Calgary to Inuvik, it is another 3,300 kms, and the last several hundred of those are on reasonably rough road.  It is not possible to cover nearly 14,000 km in only 2 weeks and still enjoy yourself (especially on a dirt bike).

Thus we have decided to delay our trip to the Arctic until we have more time.  Instead, this summer we will ride from Toronto to the Alberta Rockies.  We will travel the northern shores of the Great Lakes to reach the prairies.  Then we will circle northward and cross Manitoba and Sakstachewan as far north as we can while working our way westwards through the bush, camping along the way.  I am sure that we will be able to find plenty of dirt as we go.  Once in Alberta we will head south to Jasper and then take the famous Icefields Parkway to Banff.

The Suzuki DRZ400 is the bike that both Jeremy and myself will be taking for this trip.  With the help of
A Vicious Cycle and Happy Trails, we are in the process of making our bikes adventure-ready.  From AVC, I am ordering a corbin seat for the long hours in the saddle.  We are also going for Clarke 3.9 gallon gas tanks. 

From Happy Trails, we are going to equip our bikes with aluminum panniers mounted to SU racks.  These are the racks that held up so well on our London to Cape Town adventure.

The weather over the past week has finally been hinting that spring is approaching.  I have started riding my DRZ to work again.  Although it is warmer than it was, it is still bloody cold.  I have been using my electric vest heavily, but unfortunately the DRZ stator has not been generating enough power for this luxurious accessory.  I have had to charge my battery a couple of times.  To reduce the overall wattage demand, I am going to install an LED tail light and perhaps a headlight switch so that I can turn off my headlight while using the vest.  Especially after what happened today.

Today I rode out to T.O. Cycle to get a new front wheel installed (the old one was bent out of shape and the result was a scary wobble at speeds over 90 km/h).  By the time I got out there (a half hour ride), my electric vest had completely drained the battery.  After the wheel was installed, I had the guys push me so I could bump start the bike, and I set off for the ride back without the benefit of electricity’s warmth.  Luckily by then the temperature had climbed to a balmy 4 degrees Celcius.

Once on the Gardiner Expressway, I moved to the left lane to see if the new wheel eliminated my higher speed wobble.  Previously, I had not dared go beyond about 130 km/h because of the wobble.  Because the new wheel did not accomodate the stock speedo (tomorrow I will install a Trail Tech Vapour), I had no idea how fast I was actually going.  The only way to be sure if there was an improvement was to pin it.  At maximum speed the old wheel would have bucked me off.  If I could pin it with the new wheel, then I could be satisfied that I had made a good investment.

As I was accelerating at full throttle, however, I suddenly lost power.  Then the engine cut out.  I pulled to the emergency lane on the left side as heavy traffic raced past me.  What had happened?

I inspected the bike.  The chain was fine.  The battery was not – in fact, the green neutral light barely flickered.  Luckily a car had already stopped ahead of me, and the driver was walking back towards me.  It turns out that when he’s not forced to drive a car he prefers to get around on a GSXR, and he himself had broken down once before on this very section of freeway on his rocket of a sportbike (a truly awful place for a breakdown by the way).  With him pushing, I tried to bump start the bike.  Three tries and nothing.

Then I turned to him and said “I think I have two problems – a dead battery and no gas.”  I switched the tank to reserve and he pushed me once more, and this time we were rewarded with the sound of a roaring engine.  After merging back onto the freeway, I noticed a radar trap under an overpass about a kilometre ahead of where I had been sidelined.  That would have been about the point where I would have reached top speed had I not suddenly lost power.  What a lucky time to run out of gas.

I am looking forward to spring like a kid before Christmas.  I can’t wait to get back in the saddle.  I am sure I am not the only one.  For anyone who is itching to get back on the trail, the Toronto Spring Motorcyle Show is the perfect starting point.  It is being held at the International Centre April 4th and 5th, 2009.  We will again have a booth set up where we will have pictures and maps depicting our Africa trip.  We will also be selling our Dignitas Calendars to raise money for HIV sufferers in Africa.  In addition, we will be displaying our adventure-ready DRZ400s.  Please drop by to support or cause and/or chat about motorcycle adventure touring.