After the repairs and other delays, my time allowed in the USA was down to ten days. US Immigration was not sympathetic to my cause either. Unfortunately, this meant that I couldn't see any of the friends that I had hoped to see. The new route came easy - the fastest route out of here. I had to stop in Grand Rapids, to pick up and install a new intake cam, so the new route became: Hemmingford,QC->Niagara Falls,ON-> Grand Rapids, MI-> Chicago,IL-> Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The idea being that if I ran into trouble in Michigan, I could turn back to Canada and spend more time there, before flying to Mexico. If you want to see the exact route, use Google Maps to plot a route between the above destinations, avoiding highways or tolls where possible.
I left Hemmingford with some trepidation - Québec has become somewhat of a second home to me, and the thought of spending 6 months on my own is not one I particularly enjoy. After heading through country Québec, I quickly joined the Ontario highway system. The first notable thing about the system - the ONroute stops. Complete with showers, wifi, shops, restaurants and gas stations, these areas set the bar as far as highway convenience is concerned. The second thing I noticed: a semi barreling past me, with smoke billowing out of the back. I tried to signal to him, but his speed let me know he was on fire. Literally. despite my recent problems with Isabella, she hasn't caught fire. Yet.
The bar has been set by Ontario
Toronto is a cosmopolitan city, home to a large immigrant population and the diverse life it inspires. It is also home to Young (or Yonge) st, once claimed to be the largest street in the world. So I took a quick detour off the then 24 lane expressway (North American freeways are something to behold) for a quick trip down the road. This detour meant that I was a bit behind schedule, so I didn't get into Niagara falls until after dark.
Yonge st at peak hour - not exactly moving
I have resolved to stay in motels or cheap hotels/hostels when practical, as it means I can park the bike close by and still stay near the cities, rather than camping on the outskirts of the city. The fact that it often rains at night might have something to do with it also. Cheap motels can be found in almost every city, usually a fair distance from the sights, which isn't really a problem when you have your own transport.
Anyway, I found a motel for less than 30 bucks. What it lacked in neighbouring restaurants, it made up for in local strip clubs. Seriously, the club across the road had enough customer parking for a shopping mall! But the motel was cheap, and I don't get hotel rooms for their decor - if it has a comfortable bed and a shower, I'm sorted.
The next day, I Visited the falls. I've often been told that the Canadian side of the falls is the most spectacular, and after witnessing it myself, I have to agree. I felt for the people on the other side (because of geography, the only viewpoint on the US side is from the top of the falls - consequently, you wouldn't be able to see most of the falls).
After Niagara, I headed for the border, crossing over a bridge between Ontario to Michigan. As I did, the rain started coming down, so I took refuge in a local McDonalds. Before I got there, I saw a roadsign giving directions to Flint, Michigan which reminded me of Michael Moore and several of his films. It was a massive coincidence then that I met a couple in the McDonalds who could have starred in some of his films. The man used to work for GM before being layed off. Since then, he and his wife have been living in an RV, struggling to pay for his medication. It was slightly depressing, but reaffirmed my belief in a strong public health system.
After entering Michigan, I headed towards Grand Rapids, where I had an intake camshaft waiting for me. I made it about 10 mins before sunset - I was making good time along the interstate, when another motorcyclist recommended a better and smaller parallel road.
What you find when you leave the interstate
For those of you who don't ride, motorcyclists around the world are like members of a secret club. Whenever you pass another biker, you wave hello. Whenever I stop at a gas station or restaurant, other bikers are always the first to say hi. On the ferries to and from Newfoundland, I made friends with other bikers. It makes me feel at home, no matter where I am.
Once in Grand Rapids, I checked into a cheap motel and the next day picked up the camshaft. I had to visit a garage to remove and install a bolt (I don't carry a vice with me!) but apart from that, it was smooth sailing. I get the impression that by the time I finish this trip, I will have accomplished a few things - I should speak pretty fluent Spanish, and be able to completely rebuild a KLR 250.
I can pull Isabella apart, and put her together again in about an hour now - if it keeps like this, I'll be able to do it while on the move!
On the weather front, it has taken a serious turn to the hot & humid. While the humidity will change (Texas and Mexico proved to be bone dry), the heat (around 35 DegC) has been constant. In short, I got sunburnt in Michigan, and have been quickly getting my tan back.
I made a quick stop in Grand Rapids to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Ford succeded Nixon, so it proved to be an interesting exhibit on the circumstances in which he rose to power, and the way he handled himself while in office. From all accounts, he was a humble and hardworking man who made the hard decisions his country needed him to make at the time, regardless of how it would affect his popularity in the short term.
Not the most popular president, but did what his country needed him to do
From Grand Rapids, I headed towards Chicago via the lakeside. Lake Michigan is one of the largest lakes in the world, large enough that I would almost count it as a sea (you can't see one side from the other, which helps). I've found that North Americans sometimes refer to stretches of rocks on the edge of a lake as the beach, but for me a beach requires 3 S's - sand, swell and salt water. Lake Michigan lacks the last, but loks pretty close, and most of the villages along its banks resemble the seaside towns of the southwest - beach shacks, a slower paced life, and tanned people everywhere. The twisty roads were a pleasure to ride on, and before I knew it, I reached Gary, Indiana - probably only known as the birthplace of the Jackson 5, and their most famous member.
There is not much to see in Gary, and I quickly passed it by for Chicago. The one thing I'll say about Gary - atrocious roads. If I hadn't been riding a dual sport, I'd have been in trouble. I swear I saw holes that would swallow a moped rider whole.
After paying a few tolls, I reached downtown Chicago. For those people in Perth - never complain about rush hour again. In Chicago and Montréal, it starts at 3pm. Lanesplitting is illegal here, but I was really tempted. I got the obligatory Route 66 photo, and headed off to my hotel. Once settled in and showered (my favourite part of the day after a long, hot ride), I caught the elevated train (or "L") into downtown Chicago, for pizza and sightseeing.
I saw the Sears (now Willis) tower - the tallest building in North America, and 3rd in the world, as well as a few of Chicago's famous theatres and Union Station. Chicago is also known for it's deep dish pizza, so I gave it a go. I can safely say I don't have a Chicago sized appetite - the small (1 serving) pizza served as a large dinner and the next lunch! more on that in the next gastronomic adventures post.
The next day, I packed up and visited the Second City Theatre. This theatre is ground zero as far as comedy is concerned. Its list of alumni reads like a who's who - Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd, Stephen Colbert, Fred willard, Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Eugene Levy, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley - the list really goes on. As I had limited time, I could only catch an imrpov show aimed at kids, but it was funny regardless. Who knows, I may have seen the next lineup for SNL or sitcom!
As for Chicago's nicknames, they're not what they seem: It's called the second city not for New Yorks prominence, but for a fire that burned the first Chicago to the ground. It's also called the windy city, not for the weather (which can blow a motorcycle across the road at times), but for the local politicians, and their tendancy to talk alot and generally be full of hot air.