Hurry up and wait 10/22/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: bus, delay, duluth, freighter, great lakes, minnesota, trans atlantic, usa, winter
Lake Superior looms cold and grey, and even the froth of the waves seems eager to jump to warm land as it laps against the port.
The harbour has been socked in with rain and snow for the past several days, which means the longshoremen can’t load the wheat that’s supposed to fill this enormous freighter – the m.v. Irma, 200 meters long, fitted with three cranes and Polish as a block of golka.
I arrived in Duluth last week, having taken the Greyhound from Brandon to make sure I arrived for the ship’s scheduled departure. My bike was boxed beneath the bus and I felt like a huge fraud every time I looked out the window and saw the colours of autumn whizzing by. Minnesota is stunning at this time of year and I really wanted to cycle the highways, but I wasn’t sure I could bike 800 or so miles in only a week. There was no way I was missing my boat. Given the weather, it turns out I would have had almost 10 days to pedal, though I had no way of knowing that beforehand. Oh well.
I’ve resolved it in my brain by promising myself that I’ll bike through the northern states when I eventually make my way home. That way I’m not cheating, just . . . um, delaying. Semantics.
I’ll post a picture of the Irma when I get a chance, but suffice to say it’s already been an interesting experience and we haven’t even left port yet. The crew is entirely Polish and a bit shy, although some speak a bit of broken English. The captain, who reminds me of a wonderful mixture of Michael Gross and Fred Penner, is a hilarious guy who spends our encounters by alternately teasing me and making sure I’m perfectly comfortable.
So far so good. My cabin is bigger, much bigger, than the dorm room I had in university, plus it comes with an attached bathroom. I kind of feel like a fat mess in the shower, however, because I can’t turn around and it takes a Houdini-like effort to raise my arms and wash all of my 2,000 parts. These quarters are so cramped they’re almost squeezed into eighths. But it doesn’t matter. Most of my baths have been in lakes this summer, so the prospect of washing in clean, hot water is one I’m not about to pass up.
The food has been fantastic so far, but the trouble with eating Polish food, to kinda-quote George Miller, is that five or six days later you’re hungry again. We’re talking meat, eggs, meat and eggs, eggs and meat and sometimes bread. I’m trying my best to eat mortal portions, but I suspect I’ll lumber off the boat more than a few pounds heavier than I boarded.
Hopefully the added pounds stack up in the cranium department too. My first day on the ship taught me a stinging lesson about the differences between 220 volt and 120 volt electrical outlets. It turns out the plug adapter I borrowed from my sister did not include a power converter – hardly a problem until my electric razor exploded in my hand and spat fire and soot onto my exposed stomach. I don’t need to go to the Shriner’s Hospital or anything, but I do have an ugly burn and a maimed Remington.
The worst part of all was that I’d only managed to shave half my head before the fireworks started. I had to Bic the rest with a wholly inadequate blade, and though heaven knows my head isn’t that big, the job took me about two hours. It was either that or walk around like a Sex Pistol, but given the disposable razor carnage that litters my bathroom, I’m not sure I would have chosen the same course again. Live and learn.
State parked 07/18/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: alaska, bus, camping, forest fire, usa
The librarian here in Talkeetna says I have 30 minutes and only 30 minutes, so I need to make this entry a quick one.
The last few days have been fantastic. I toured Denali National Park, and since it was an almost-rest day, I chose the free tour bus to cart my tired bones around the mountains. It was just as well, too, because the road was narrow, gravel and so clouded with smoke that I probably would have ended my trip as a Floridian’s hood ornament.
From the park I zipped down to Cantwell, but the spot gave me a funny vibe so I camped on the riverbed outside of town.
Despite a nasty storm that hit in the middle of the night, it was a beautiful spot. For all sorts of creatures. In the middle of the night, I heard a galunk-galunk sound in the water – like someone dropping rocks from a bridge. I unzipped my tent to see a moose and a calf walking up the river, not more than 20 yards from me. It was one of those oh-wow moments when nothing comes out of your mouth.
Right now I’m in Talkeetna. I love it here and plan to bum around town until at least Sunday. I’m staying with someone who lives in a cabin outside of town. There’s no power, no plumbing and no problems. Love it.
The north country 06/13/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: bus, camping, canada, inuvik, northwest territories, repairs
It took 38 hours on a bus and six more in the air, but I finally made it! I walked across the rainy tarmac at Inuvik’s airport just after noon yesterday and I’ve been exploring the town ever since.
What a place! I hadn’t even set up my camp yet when the local newspaper arrived to snap my picture. Apparently I was selected as the Visitor of the Week. I thought it was a big joke at first, but the mayor came to shake my hand – on camera, of course – and offer me a gift basket from local businesses. Among other things, I now have an over-sized Inuvik T-shirt and a coupon for a free hair cut on Main Street. Crazy.
The reporter, only a year or so older than me, asked if I had any plans for the evening. I shrugged at my little camp and said no. Two hours later I was sitting in his friend’s apartment watching game seven of the Stanley Cup finals, eating homemade bacon cheeseburgers and drinking Pilsner. Then, after ragging on Cindy Crosby for awhile, we piled into a cab for the four-minute jaunt to the Trapper’s Den.
Now that’s a bar where you want to watch your drink. And your back. In Regina, folks say “excuse me” and contort their bodies into all sorts of weird shapes to squeeze around you. Here they just run over you. Grunts are optional. But that’s okay – I can fit in pretty much anywhere as long as I know the rules.
The crash course in all things Inuvik was important, too, because it looks as though I’ll be here until Sunday or Monday. I somehow managed to forget (or lose) the top cap for my bike’s handlebars. I can’t ride anywhere until it gets fixed. I thought it would be as simple as ordering a new cap from a bike shop, but no one up here carries the part. In the end, after about a dozen phone calls, I had no choice but to order a brand new stem from Whitehorse. It’s kind of like buying a new lamp when the bulb burns out, but what can you do?
Luckily, I have a few things to keep me busy until the part arrives. The Whitehorse airport staff confiscated my camp fuel and bear spray, so I need to track down some sort of replacements.
I also have to stitch the crotch back into my shorts. I realized, somewhere between BC and the Yukon, that a certain part of my anatomy was dangling awkwardly from the front of my khakis. Sewing isn’t exactly my forte, so it should be an interesting experience.
Hope to be on the road in a few days – I’ll update again when I can!
p.s. Did I mention the sun never sets here?!?
Holy chow 06/10/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: alberta, bus, canada, edmonton
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I’m sitting in the Edmonton bus depot. The computer keyboard is bolted down, it smells like an 80′s arcade and the public address is wailing “Can you Feel the Love Tonight” by Sir Elton. Luckily there’s an A&W on site, so I’ll drown out the bad sensations with a grease-shine Mozza Burger. Mmm mmm.
I’ve been on the bus for nine hours. I have 29 more to go. Sigh.