• Friday , 15 December 2017
Coming full circle: Canada and the USA

Coming full circle: Canada and the USA

I think back to three years ago and our setting out on this grand scheme to ride around the world on motorcycles. It seems like a very long, long time ago. The amount of life we packed into the 1,100 days of this trip is hard for our minds to comprehend. We have been changed by this experience, we are kinder, tougher, more thoughtful, and I think, we are overall better human beings than the two who headed south from Seward Park on 6 September 2014. As far as getting smarter probably not much more than when we left and we saved a final screw-up for our arrival into Canada to prove that point.

Having lived our entire lives in the Pacific Northwest we instinctively know that August and early September are some of the tastiest parts of summer to explore the region by motorcycle. When we planned our trip around the world our plan always included 4 or 5 five weeks at the end of the journey dedicated to riding in British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho before returning to home and calling it quits. We shipped our motorcycles from Indonesia to Vancouver, Canada mostly because it was comforting to know we would still have an international border separating us from the end of the trip in the USA.

Mike, Shannon’s cousin, lives in Vancouver, Canada and was all set to pick us up from the airport when we arrived on the 10pm flight from Hong Kong. We had a chain of emails confirming the arrangement, because, as you know, Shannon is nothing if not a detailed planner. We cleared airport customs/immigration quickly and picked up our bags from the luggage belt, we trotted outside into the warm August night eager for the embrace by the first family we have seen in a long time. And, as we whipped our heads around looking at every face in the crowd, there was no one waiting for us. We peeked around corners, looked at all the drivers passing by on the airport concourse, we even went back inside the airport to see if we had walked past cousin Mike without seeing him, we found no one. Adding to our dilemma was that our Indonesian SIM card doesn’t work in Canada so we had no way of checking phone messages. “Probably running a little late”, we told ourselves. We decided to wait patiently but after another 15 minutes the arrival hall had cleared out and we were nearly alone, it was almost 11pm and our smiles were starting to fade. We passed the time arguing with each other on what to do next.

We were able to find the airport Wi-Fi so we could call cousin Mike. We had to call a couple times before Mike would pick up the phone. When we finally got a hold of him he explained that he had been fast asleep and why were we calling him so late. Us two genius world explorers, who have made it overland through 42 countries over three years, forgot to account for crossing the international dateline, we had gone back in time by flying from Hong Kong to Vancouver and, in short, we had arrived a day earlier than anyone expected. Cousin Mike, as he wiped sleep out of his eyes, simply stated, “you are not supposed to be here until tomorrow”. Oops…. Not the best foot to start on when couch surfing. Cousin Mike quickly dressed and drove out to the airport to pick us up. It’s going to take a few years before we are going to live this one down. If cousin Mike was mad at us it didn’t show, when he arrived at the airport we finally got the familiar smiles and hugs we had been hoping for.

We put effort into discovering the unique ethnic foods customary to each country we traveled through over the last three years. On returning to North America, and much to our surprise, we discovered “Corn Dogs of the World”! Now it is possible to taste all the diverse flavors of the world without having to travel to all those pesky, poor, and dangerous places firsthand.

It took 10 days of paperwork and waiting before our motorcycles were finally released by Canadian Customs. The import process for our vehicles was not difficult, but it was time consuming. It was a huge relief when the crate was finally released and we were able to look inside; everything was safe, sound, and nothing had gone missing on the six week voyage from Indonesia to Canada. After a wee bit of unpacking and assembly our motorcycles were road worthy once again. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Shannon has family in Vancouver that were kind enough to host us while we waited for the bikes to clear customs. Waiting for motorcycles to process through a seaport can get expensive if you have to stay in a hotel. As it was we lingered for almost 10 days with Mike and BG. Nothing like dirty bikers eating all your food and refusing to leave once they get through the front door.

We always knew we had enough money for a three-year trip but many people have asked us why we chose to ship our bikes to Vancouver, Canada instead of our hometown of Seattle. Our answer is simple– “our own mental health”. We knew abruptly ending our trip at the airport in Seattle, instead of riding home on our motorcycles, would cause irreparable sadness and despondency. We wanted a month in the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, camping, and slowly riding for home on a protracted schedule. We wanted a few weeks riding incrementally toward home so we could acclimatize our psyches to the inevitable ending of the greatest trip of our lives.

After Southeast Asia, where camping is difficult and unnecessary, it was nice being back in North America and into our tent once again. We explored the dirt roads and lonely highways of British Columbia before crossing our final international border of the trip back into the USA. If we would have ridden our bikes from Vancouver directly to Seattle after getting them out of the port we could have been home in a few hours, instead, we rode a couple thousand extra miles and looped through Alberta, Montana, and Idaho before crossing into Washington State.

We discovered some terrific camping in British Columbia. There are small parks called “BC recreation sites” scattered throughout the national forests. They are usually small campsites with only a few sites and these areas often don’t show up on the usual online maps. These campsites were free to use, located in beautiful locations (often on a lake or a river), and usually devoid of any other campers besides us.

Sleeping on the deck at our friend Steve’s fishing cabin on the Thompson River. We were “roughing it” in the tent but had running water and lights inside the house; it was like camping in the backyard when I was a kid. It hadn’t rained in nearly two months and forest fires are burning all over the region making the air hazy with smoke. This evening the sky opened up and we witnessed a double rainbow over the river. Spence’s Bridge, British Columbia, Canada.

Another scenic and quiet BC recreation camp site all to ourselves. Deer Creek recreation site, Cariboo District, British Columbia.

Collecting water so we can cook rice back in camp. This was bear country so we were in full “bear aware” safety mode including: not cooking or doing dishes near camp, locking up all food in metal boxes, and not sleeping in the clothes you cooked dinner in.

Coldscaur Lake Recreation Site, British Columbia. Price for a private lake and two nights camping? FREE!

Our MSR Whisperlight stove has performed very well. I simply siphon gasoline from the motorcycle tank into the stove bottle so we never risk running out of cooking fuel. Gasoline burns dirtier than proper white gas stove fuel but works just fine. We carry a rather large kitchen/food cache. The added weight and bulk of our kit is a small price to pay for living well in camp. We often carry fresh meat and vegetables to be cooked on the first day out in the wilds with the leftovers being used for lunch or dinner the following day. Shannon has developed over a dozen very tasty one-burner meals that she has perfected over the trip. I continue my role as dishwasher.

Our month-long meandering route before heading home was an easy time. We had good weather, easy miles, and we discovered lots of free camping. Taking the slow way home was a wise decision. We had time to think about where we have been over the past three years and time to ponder what the future had in store for us after we quit the road.

Shannon had been doing job interviews from the road in Indonesia and Canada and occasionally we had to get a hotel with fast Wi-Fi so she could interview via Skype video conferencing. I found it humorous that, just out of camera range, I could lay on the bed in my boxer shorts, eat a sandwich, and program the GPS, all the while Shannon gave a thoughtful and serious interview across the room. Shannon’s persistence paid off and she has been offered a good job that starts on 18 September in Seattle. Now it is my turn to hit the bricks and find work for myself, ouch.

A rare sun patch lights up the river on an otherwise rainy morning. For the last decade we always talked about riding the Icefields Parkway through Jasper/Banff National Parks in Canada but we always had a change of plans that kept us away (last time we attempted this trip in 2013 Shannon’s bike developed a carburetor problem and we had to abort the trip one day short of our goal). Now it is 2017, in the last month of an around the world trip, and we finally made it! The weather had turned cold on us, and we had to wait out a day of rain, but this remarkable route through this wild country was worth the persistence to get here.

We decided to make camp instead of riding the Icefields Parkway in the rain. Our campsite had a narrow trail running into the woods so we followed it and this is the view we discovered after a short five minute walk, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

We had mailed our cold weather gear home from Thailand with the idea that it would be warm and dry in Canada during August….that is a mistake we will not make again. Even though the clouds were grey and low we were rewarded with spectacular scenery on the way up to the Columbia Icefields. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Life on the road doesn’t mean normal activities can be ignored, laundry being one of these routine details that always needs attention. It is always a bonus finding a coin laundry near our campsite. After the tent goes up we bundle all the dirty clothes and ride two-up for an afternoon of washing. Yeah for clean clothes and the fresh smell of laundry right out of the dryer! Nakusp, British Columbia.

We like participating in the Horizons Unlimited community, to surround ourselves in the warm embrace of other overland crazies like ourselves. It is rare in life to be with a large group of strangers and feel such immediate bonding and friendship. The overland traveling community provides us with a worldwide family. We are never happier than the times we can get together and swap stories and revel in our shared interest, regardless of our nationalities or backgrounds. We were fortunate to be able to present at our “home” meeting in Nakusp, British Columbia. Three years earlier we left from this meeting to ride around the world, it was fun coming back and telling everyone how our trip went.

At the fork in the road we went left and crossed the last international border of this trip. We figured US Customs and Immigration would have a lot of questions for us but all the border agent asked Mike was “did you know you look like Freddy Mercury from the band Queen?” And with that we are back in the USA. We had to go into the customs office and have our Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) filled out to show our bikes were officially back in the USA. The CDP is a customs document that identifies a traveller’s motor vehicle. The Carnet is, in essence, an international guarantee for payment of customs duties and taxes to a government should the vehicle or item not be re-exported from that country. Since we have almost $10,000 USD being held as collateral on our CDPs we are eager to close out this document and get our money back “tout de suite”.

Free camping along the Salmon River in Idaho.

Waiting for roadworks crew to let us move near White Pass in Southern Washington. Only a few hours away from Seattle and we are both feeling a little out of sorts. We have become so comfortable in this simple lifestyle we know it is going to take some time to readjust to a normal life once we get back home.

This picture is from the very first day of our trip (September 6, 2014). The original caption: “Only 6 hour into our first day on the road and Shannon’s bike refuses to start after buying gas outside of Mount Rainier National Park.”
It seemed fitting we stop and fuel-up on the last day of the trip as well.

Same stall where I fixed Shannon’s bike 1,100 days ago. Zippy started fine this time around. Packwood, Washington.

Our last few nights before Seattle we spent in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (near Mt. Adams) exploring dirt roads and looking for new places to wild camp. Since this forest is only a few hours from Seattle we often escape to here and get away from the city for the weekend.

We left for this trip from Seward Park in Seattle with the cheers and waves from our family and friends. It was only fitting we return to the same park to conclude our adventure around the world. A little after noon on 9 September 2017 we rounded the last bend in the road and returned to the exact spot we had left from. This time around, the cheers and waves brought tears to our eyes. We are home after a life changing experience.

Although the trip is concluded we still have a lot to add to the website including total trip costs, reflections on our three years on the road, a practical guide to overland travel for those just starting out, as well as a write up on all the mechanical/maintenance done to the bikes. A final thought we just had is to write an article detailing the trials we will face integrating ourselves back into a normal life of jobs, limited vacation, and mortgage payments. So, for the foreseeable future, we will be continuing to post information about the trip.

Three years later we arrived back to the same picnic area in Seward Park that we departed from. As soon as my helmet came off in front of the gathered family and friends the emotions overwhelmed me and I shed a few tears before pulling my shit together.

Buddhist prayer flags that were bestowed on the bikes in a Himalayan town called Kalimpong in Northeast India. Our bikes are covered in good luck charms, stickers and trinkets from all over the world. At this point the bikes look more like art projects than an overland vehicle. We may buy new bikes now that we are home but we will never get rid of these two, Zippy and the Black Donkey are family.

Shannon’s riding pants have been disintegrating for a while now. Shannon was able to buy country flag patches for everywhere we have been and she uses this collection of patches to cover the holes in her pants. Functional but looks cool too.

Thank you for following along on this epic adventure. We enjoyed writing for our website and we hope the information has helped some of you plan for your own grand adventures. It already feels weird knowing we won’t be firing up the bikes next week and riding toward new adventures in foreign lands, but that is okay, we were able to accomplish our three-year trip around the world and I look forward to reading about the adventures some of you are going to do.

Thank you for sharing our trip with us.

Arriving home was an emotional experience after there years on the road. Seward Park, Seattle, Washington.

It’s sad to think that this is the final moment of this trip. After we leave Seward Park this time around we no longer need to pack up all our belongings onto the motorcycles, it is time to unpack. Now it is time to adjust to new routines and demands as we stop a train that took so much work to get rolling in the first place.

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