Flyover Country

Part 2: Quebec and the Appalachians

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Just before 0900 hours this morning my mobile rings. The shipping people are looking for the ignition lock on the bike. I give them a crash course into the intricate electronics of a keyless modern motorbike, they get it and all is well.
The one call I never get is from the guy who was supposed to text me once the bike is on board. Luckily I don't need that as I am at the airport and airside when the plane (an antique Airbus A310) docks at 1030 hours. As my carrier, Air Transat, ships motorbikes uncrated I can actually see them from the gate pushing my Tiger through the cargo door into the plane. Shipping uncrated also explains how they are able to accept bikes up to 160 centimetres in height for shipping on an old narrowbody.
A few other passengers see the motorbike being loaded and the general comment is "how did that ever happen?". But that is soon overshadowed by two young lads shipping a dog which hasn't yet appeared from the vets.
By 1230 hours local time myself and the Marsupilami (and the dog, too) are in the air and after an uneventful flight of just under eight hours we touch down in Montreal at 1400 hours local time.

This antiquity got me and the bike over the pond.

Since my last visit 12 years ago the Canadians have introduced a new system; no longer are humans questioning passengers about their reasons to come to Canada, now computers are doing this. If you can answer all questions to the machine's liking the (human) border guards at the final checkout will let you into the country unmolested. I have to answer the question "are you importing unaccompanied goods into Canada?" with a "yes" - alas, I'm the consignee of my bike.
As a result I am redirected to a human customs officer. It is obvious that this guy is at a complete loss when I tell him that the goods I am importing into Canada is my motorbike. He knows what an airway bill is, but the various dangerous goods categories and their related declaration requirements are clearly unknown to him. These guys usually deal with illegal product imports, drugs or people with criminal records.
The guy checks out if my employer is legitimate, my airway bill, the dangerous goods declaration, searches all my luggage in detail and even takes my laptop away for a detailed analysis (and it's Linux operating system is not helping either). Three times during our three hours long session (a jet-lagged me standing in front of his desk while he is sitting on a highly comfortable office chair) does he disappear for an extended period, I suppose to check my story out with his superiors.
What apparently finally broke the ice with him was me showing him this blog; on seeing my tracklogs of the current ride plus the ride in 2007 and the preparations I made for the trip seemingly changed his mind to that I am a legitimate visitor. Apparently I have also been flagged to see immigrations, i. e. I need to see an immigration officer to approve my entry into Canada. But as "my" officer is now on my side he suggests that he joins me at immigrations and explains to his colleagues what makes my visit so special.
At the immigration office about 50 people comprising mostly of non-Caucasian races are patiently waiting to have their case reviewed by one of those approximately six officers working there. "My" officer simply jumps the queue and has a lengthy talk with his colleagues while I am asked to wait in full view of these 50 people at a location about 10 metres away. The discussion between those two officers takes about 20 minutes, and I feel very much uncomfortable being that white Caucasian male that brings along his own custom officer to do his bidding with (in the end) two other custom officers.
Finally I am waved to come forward and after a few more questions by the immigration officer about my intended purpose for entering Canada I am given a yellow sheet of paper that the guys at the final checkout accept and which allows me to go landside.
The plane landed at 1400 hours, but it is well after 1700 hours when the shuttle bus delivers me to my motel.
If this is what you get when entering Canada (apparently the easier country to get in), then I suppose getting into the U.S. will land me in Guantanamo Bay simply for bringing along my motorbike.
N.B.: do I need to mention that the weather is absolutely fine in Montreal today, but supposed to be horrible tomorrow? Watch this space, and welcome to Canada...

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Jet lag has me waking up at 0600 hours. The hotel serves breakfast from 0630, so I arrange a courtesy van that will bring me to the cargo building at 0800 hours and then have breakfast. There is a waiter service in the breakfast room of this simple motel. That kind of thing has disappeared in Europe decades ago. You can detect that it is coffee in your mug and not a soft drink if the mug is hot. You certainly can't taste any difference between these two types of beverages. The mugs, plates and everything food related are of truly enormous proportions.
The van is on time and 30 minutes later I am at my destination and look at this amazing amount of paperwork that still needs to get handled when air cargo is involved.
Having done this before I can confirm that a freight handler is only good at his job if he is extremely grumpy. Here at WFS the guys are exceptionally good at their jobs, and after about 30 minutes I am given another copy of the airway bill and the customs form that I have get Canadian customs to stamp. Cargo Centres and customs buildings all look alike, and those of you who have read about my 2007 trip will recognise the picture of a corridor in the Montreal customs building as a spitting copy of the one in Toronto. Why they always look so ugly is beyond me:

Another ugly corridor in an ugly cargo building...

Clearing my bike from customs costs six dollars, but the WFS storage fees come to 109 dollars. Just after 1000 hours I am finally re-united with the Marsupilami in the bonded warehouse:

Welcome back, Marsupilami

In spite of the bad weather forecast it is dry outside, so I roll the bike into an outside parking lot and reconnect the battery. The bike starts fine, and the next destination is clear; a two kilometre ride to the nearest petrol station. From there I return to the hotel to pick up my remaining baggage and for the first time since Tuesday all my gear is back where it belongs.
Just after 1100 hours I am ready to hit the road. I have planned a ride on Canadian highway 15, as the roads in Quebec are usually in such an appalling condition that they must be the worst in the civilised world. How a state government can allow the local infrastructure to fall into such an abysmal third world state of disrepair in inconceivable for me.
90 minutes later the border to the United States appears ahead:

The U.S. border

I have to fill out an I94 to get admitted. That is a lengthy form and inside the building there is only a single desk where visitors can fill out that form - which is currently besieged by a group of what I assume are Japanese tourists. I use a cash machine as support, but it takes nearly an hour to fill everything in correctly.
Just before 1400 hours the last bureaucratic hurdle has been managed and I am heading south into the U.S., where the roads immediately turn out to be absolutely immaculate. I leave the main road and continue on Highway 9. As Interstate 87 runs parallel to Highway 9 I mainly have this excellent route all for myself. Initially the weather remains dry, but at about 1530 hours a black wall of clouds appears and the rain starts slashing down. I have a look at the map and find that Lake Placid is just 50 kilometres down the road.
N.B.: I will use the metric system throughout this journey, though I am quite familiar with U.S. units, too. The reason for this can be found here; non-metric countries are marked in red, the rest is using the metric system:

Metric vs. non-metric

By 1700 hours I am in Lake Placid and find a comfortable motel where the owner allows me to park the bike under cover due to the adverse weather. Diner comes in the form of a "small" pizza at the local pizza forge. That thing is so big that I can only eat half of it. 14 dollars for a pizza that can easily feed two Europeans for an entire day is clearly the norm out here.
In spite of the weather it was all in all an excellent day, and hopefully I'll get many more like this in the coming weeks.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Last night a cold front has gone through, bringing copious amounts of wind and rain. It is still raining this morning, so I start rather late at 1000 hours. The temperature initially is around 9 degrees and slowly climbs to 12 degrees during the morning. The rain continues until early afternoon, while I ride southwards. Highway 8 is signposted as "scenic byway", but I have to say that the awful weather is a big spoiler to the scenery. I am now on this journey for a week and as yet haven't had a single day with good bike weather - this seems to me a first in the decades I publish my trips on this blog.
At 1400 hours the rain stops and the weather improves while I ride south. By 1700 hours in fact the weather has turned out rather pleasant. Here are two impressions of today's afternoon ride through the backwaters of Pennsylvania:

Backwater roads in Pennsylvania

Some stretches are even unpaved

After 450 kilometres I call it a day at New Milford. These backwater roads are great for motorbiking and hopefully the weather will play along much better tomorrow.
Next to the motel is a restaurant. Knowing what these people are up to foodwise I order a meat and cheese sandwich with fries, well knowing that I certainly won't eat those fries because the sandwich alone will be more than enough. When the food arrives the sandwich is the size of a canal barge, covered an inch deep in meat and cheese and surrounded by an amount of chips an English fish and chips shop would hand out during an entire busy weekend. I guess there are about 12000 calories on that plate - costing 10 dollars.
How a single human being can eat that much food in one meal is beyond me. I manage half of the sandwich, and all I have had to eat since that half pizza from yesterday was a cup of coffee.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The weather is nice and cool this morning, so I waste no time and am on the road by 0800 hours. I continue my ride south-westwards through the Appalachians. It is not important which route I take - they are all exactly what I like; roads with a man-size width that not only bubble cars can drive on like in Switzerland, roads that are mostly void of traffic, and the best of all; a virtually unlimited supply of these roads which I have never driven before.
By noon however the air becomes hot and humid. The mercury is closing in on 30 degrees and the humidity is uncomfortable. Thunderstorms start to rise up like in this place called Prospect Peak which overlooks the Potomac River. You can see the three states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland from here.

The Potomac River

I am however lucky and with the exception of some light drizzle I stay dry all day. After 500 kilometres I arrive in Cumberland, which appears to be a sizeable town and just right to spend the night. At the first hotel where I ask I am told that they sold their last room for this weekend last November. I know it is Memorial Day weekend, but that sounds rather extreme. I am told that they also have a festival ongoing this weekend, so everything is booked solid.
This needs a methodical Swiss approach, so I ask permission to use the WiFi in the (nicely air conditioned) hotel lobby. As part of my preparations I have bought a U.S. SIM card for my mobile phone from these guys. That SIM card works like a treat, so I have a New York cellphone number and unlimited calls, texts and data in North America. The only problem so far is the sketchy coverage in rural parts of the country. But here in a larger town the cell network is fine, so I check out the neighbouring towns on tripadvisor and call them. One motel receptionist gives me a tip about a motel a few miles away, and I manage to book their second to last room for tonight. The place is another 40 kilometres down the road, so for once I use the Interstate to get there. By 2000 I am all sorted, so the day ends after 12 hours on the road and 550 kilometres at Grantsville, a small village with Interstate connection where the motel is located. That was a long day...

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Last night a spectacular thunderstorm unloaded itself over Grantsville. Luckily the bike and its intricate electronics survived the lightning and the deluge unharmed. This morning the same murky, hot and humid airmass as yesterday is lying over the land. When I set out at 0930 I first think that the weather is reasonable. My room is facing north, and the four-storey motel building is preventing the view southwards. When I pull out into the road, the entire sky to the south and east is pitch black. Another giant storm has parked itself in my way. There is no chance to drive around such a monster, so four kilometres into today's ride I am wearing full wet gear.
The storm has a diameter of 50 kilometres and inside it it's in parts as dark as at night and the deluge is incredible. The roads are partly flooded and broken off tree branches and a few entire trees have been toppled by the storm. I have to ride another 50 kilometres before the road is dry again.
Using the GPS to follow a specific route is not a good idea, as I have to dodge several smaller thunderstorms. Luckily the U. S. routing system is very forthcoming for this kind of makeshift navigation: while heading west and finding a thunderstorm in the way, turn left at the next highway marked "South". The next thunderstorm ahead can then be averted by turning right onto the next highway marked "West". As a result my GPS tracklog in the map below for today looks somewhat wonky.
Out here one finds a "larger" town with populations between 3000 and 20000 souls every 150 kilometres. In between those towns there is nothing except a few unincorporated hamlets.
Here is the town of Clarksburg, one of the larger places I come through today.

Clarksburg, West Virginia

To give you an impression of how it is to ride out here and how busy these roads are I have prepared a short video:

Video 0:38 min, type webm, video codec: VP9, audio codec: Opus, 1920x1080 px, 50fps, 48.5 MB
Music score courtesy of Audionautix

Any modern browser should be able to play my videos, unless that browser was made by Microsoft.

In the afternoon the mercury climbs to 33 degrees. Together with the excessive humidity this is not ideal for motorbiking, but the excellent, empty road makes up for a lot.
As I had problems finding a room yesterday due to this being a bank holiday weekend I have decided to find another motel at an interstate. These places usually only cater for the traffic of long-distance drivers. If I look for a room early that should be no problem, so by 1630 hours I end the day after 400 kilometres at a motel in Ripley in western West Virginia.
In the evening another heavy thunderstorm gives the Marsupilami another unwanted dousing. A flash of lightning strikes the garden outside of the motel. You know something is afoot when the flash and the thunder occur simultaneously. It is a wonder that the electricity is not cut. What my bikes four computers make out of that we shall see tomorrow.
Being at the motel so early and them having a guest laundry allows me to wash my clothes, which in these sweltering conditions is certainly a good idea.

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.


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