The Misadventures of Ian Heller

Make No Little Plans.



Bike Review: 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour

Riding the same motorcycle for 6100 miles in just 12 days gives you an intimate understanding of the machine and how well it works. If you’re in the market for a touring motorcycle, you should know that Victory has kept this machine mechanically the same from 2012 through the 2017 model year, with nothing more than lighting and cosmetic changes, like paint schemes, for the upcoming year (I’m writing this in August, 2016). I expect a major overhaul of the entire Victory line for 2018. Among other changes, I think we’ll see several models upgraded to the company’s water-cooled motor, which is currently only used in the “Octane.”

Before getting into specifics about my Victory, I should point out that most riders are not the slightest bit objective about their motorcycles. Brand loyalty is extremely strong and riders sing the praises of their machines and justify all kinds of flaws in them because of the strong emotional attachments they build with their bikes. Frankly, on Victory Motorcycle forums, some owners spend a lot of time putting down Harleys — it’s as if they’re justifying purchasing something different. In any case, I think Victory owners exhibit more “brand defensiveness” than riders of most other brands.

Perhaps because I’ve been a marketing professional for so long, I am somewhat cynical about brand loyalty — which is viewed by experts as a “downscale attribute.” In fact, I really like nearly all motorcycles (including Harleys) and I love the very wide variety of models, brands and styles available today.

Now, back to my Victory Cross Country Tour (or XCT for short).

This is a very reliable motorcycle, with Consumer Reports ranking Victory bikes in general well ahead of all European brands and just ahead of Harleys (side note: BMW is by far the least reliable brand). However, it’s a little less reliable than the Japanese brands.  I had no problems with the machine and I rode it pretty hard sometimes.

In my opinion, and according to countless people I met during my trip, the XCT is truly a beautiful motorcycle. Most people don’t know what it is and are intrigued to hear it’s manufactured in Iowa.  It’s fun riding a machine so handsome that people constantly seek you out to compliment your bike.

The XCT is a comfortable mount — provided you supplement the stock seat with some kind of cover. I used a “Beadrider,” which was simply fantastic. I know from experience that the stock seat is only comfortable for me for about four hours. With the Beadrider seat cover, I could ride all day and beyond. I like the seating position on the machine but I will experiment with some different handlebar positions as I developed some nagging soreness between my shoulder blades.

The XCT includes — stock — large floorboards with cubbies in the fairing to rest your feet. You can adjust your riding position a lot, which is extremely helpful on long days. The cubbies act sort of like highway bars but are a lot more secure (my feet always feel like they’re about to slide off of highway bars on other bikes).

Victory advertises the XCT as having the most storage of any production motorcycle in the world. My plan was to leave the trunk empty and force myself to limit my packing to what could fit in the saddlebags — which are really big, by the way. That was a great plan because at every stop, I simply dumped my helmet, jacket and gloves in the trunk, locked it and walked off. I had to do laundry a few times but it was great to travel light. Nonetheless, I carried a lot of stuff — besides clothes, I had a portable air compressor, tools, tire patch kit, first aid kit, engine oil and a lot more. It all fit in the bags.

I wound up using almost none of that stuff — except the air compressor, which was helpful to have on board. Notably, the bike didn’t burn a drop of oil in 6100 miles. Pretty impressive.

The XCT includes storage cubbies in the fairing, where I placed my camera and other small gear. They don’t lock (although you can order lock sets for them), but I had no trouble.

In terms of performance, the XCT utilizes the Freedom 106″ V-Twin engine. I never felt short of power and the bike kept up with the other five machines, which included a Harley CVO Ultra, a Honda Gold Wing, a Harley Heritage Classic (I think) and a Kawasaki Concours — which could have walked away from the rest of us anytime the rider wanted to, I’m sure. We weren’t racing but we rode at a strong pace for long periods of time and the XCT produced effortless power. My bike has the “Stage 1” kit and the Victory Tri-Oval exhaust, which probably add a few horsepower.

I replaced the original windshield with a Madstad screen, which allows a lot more airflow. Also, the Madstad is adjustable while the stock screen is not. I set it in its lowest position and didn’t touch it again throughout the trip.

The XCT’s rear suspension includes an air shock you can adjust through a fitting on the side of the bike. I frankly keep mine pumped up to the max setting most of the time — I like a firm ride and it gives me a little more cornering clearance before the floorboards start scraping. The front suspension is not adjustable.

My XCT has built-in FM, XM, Weather radio, AM and will play an iPod or iPhone — all through accessory Bluetooth dongles that I added when I bought it. This system works okay but it’s pretty outdated vs. what’s available on other touring machines from Indian, Harley, Honda, etc. The Bluetooth is particularly buggy, which is annoying. I wound up relocating the dongles to a place where I could reach the reset buttons when I stopped (normally they’re behind the headlight and you can’t get to them without removing the light).

Generally speaking, I was able to listen to what I wanted to hear for the vast majority of the trip. There’s no built-in nav system, so I used my iPhone to guide me.

The XCT handles extraordinarily well at speed for such a big bike — but it does not perform like a sport bike or sport touring machine. It’s not as fast or nimble and the floorboards scrape at less of a lean angle. Having said that, it’s designed for long-distance touring (it’s literally called a “Cross Country Tour,” after all) and in that context it performs and handles admirably, particularly compared to similar bikes from other manufacturers.

But: All of these large touring bikes have a reputation for being very cumbersome and ponderous at low speeds, particularly with a passenger. I’ve read and heard complaints about the XCT, the Harley Electra and Ultra Glides, the Honda Gold Wing, the BMW K1600LT and more — at very low speeds, these bikes are very easy to drop. Adjustable front suspension would help in the case of the XCT but it’s just a lot of mass and a relatively high center of gravity due to the tall engine that leads to lots of parking lot drops. Fortunately, the XCT has built-in crash bars that protect all of the painted parts. I did not drop the bike on this trip — but I was careful every time I slowed for stoplights, at gas pumps, etc.

The bike is getting somewhat dated vs. competitors. The wiring is out in the open rather than run through the handlebars and frame, which doesn’t affect functionality but detracts from appearances. A bike in this class should have some kind of adjustable windshield without the owner having to buy an aftermarket product: it’s annoying not to have even a manually-adjusted stock windshield while competing models have electrically-adjustable screens.

As noted, the entertainment system is very clunky and needs a complete overhaul. A bike in this price range ($24K or so), should have nav built-in, the Bluetooth ought to work fine and programming and using the controls should be easy.

The cruise control works okay — it maintains speed well but if you have set your speed and you want to change it, you have to touch the brake to interrupt the “Set” speed first. In a car, you simply press the “Set” button at your new speed and the system adapts.

Some bikes have keyless ignition and the trunks and saddlebags are remote controlled, which isn’t a big deal but would be kind of cool.

The lighting is okay but not great — I added front LED lights for safety reasons. One change for 2017 is that these bikes will come with all LED lighting, which will help a lot.

Like many other Victory bikes, mine developed a squeak from the drive belt, which supposedly means the dealer made it too tight then they adjusted it. You can only hear this at slow, parking-lot speeds under certain conditions. In my case, it was very noticeable when I was stuck in construction delay traffic and it sounded exactly like a wheel bearing about to lock up. That was very disconcerting until I Googled the symptoms. Then I ignored it but it was a little annoying.

A bike in this price range should come standard with a fork lock. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to check to see if the bike had such a lock when I bought it. I just assumed it was there — and then was surprised to learn that it’s an option and it costs a few hundred dollars to add. That’s a foolish and eye-rolling cost-cutting move. Perhaps Victory has changed their policy since I bought mine but every street motorcycle needs a fork lock.

My biggest complaint about this bike is the gas gauge. It’s nearly useless. When you fill the bike with gas, the needle goes to the very top  and then doesn’t budge for 75 or 80 miles. Then it drops like a rock and by 140 miles, the tank shows empty and the “Low Fuel” light comes on and stays on even though you have another 60 to 80 miles of fuel left…although you aren’t really sure because the gas gauge doesn’t work!

I had to set one of my trip odometers every time I filled up with gas — and then ignore the gas gauge and simply stop when I approached 180 miles, just to be cautious (particularly after I ran out of gas in Missouri!) Some people on Victory forums defend this, claiming that it’s hard to get gas gauges to work right on motorcycles and that the trip odometer is a better tool to use in any case.

I think that’s nonsense. This is an expensive motorcycle from a world-class manufacturer  — it’s reasonable to expect that the gas gauge will work. Other manufacturers have figured it out and Polaris (Victory’s owner) needs to make this right on future models.

Here’s the bottom line: I really enjoyed riding my Victory Cross Country Tour — but Polaris hasn’t updated this model since it was introduced in 2012 and it’s getting dated. In the meantime, the company introduced an entirely new line of Indian motorcycles, BMW launched brand new versions of three touring/sport touring bikes and Harley overhauled their entire line of touring bikes (the “Rushmore” project).

The Victory XCT is a great touring motorcycle — it’s comfortable, handles well, has good power and lots of storage. I really enjoyed riding it on this trip. But there are better, more up-to-date choices in this class right now unless you can find a great deal on an XCT and the price is important to you. I suspect you will be able to get deep discounts on Victory bikes through the next model year; the money-savings, along with the overall good performance, sharp looks and great reliability still make them attractive choices in some cases.

Way back in 2012, Cycle World magazine summarized their long-term test of this bike by saying, “With one more thoughtful pass through the refinement machine, it could be a great motorcycle.” Four years later, the company is long overdue with that refinement machine and I hope 2018 is the year this bike gets the update it deserves.



Back Where I Started — 6,102 Miles Ago

I arrived home this evening at 8:30PM to joyous hugs and wags (Penny and M.Mutt, respectively). 

I know this sounds like a broken record (using the metaphor “broken record” dates me, doesn’t it?), but today’s heat was the worst yet — 102F as a high and a long period of 100 degrees through most of Tennessee. 

Also: my first significant rain happened with two showers, each about 10 minutes in duration, both within two hours of home. I was so eager to get home, I didn’t even stop and put on my rain gear. In fact, I didn’t use the rain pants at all during this trip and I only used the rain jacket once — to help stay warm on a cool morning in Montana. 

I had an interesting conversation with two elderly gents (meaning they were older than me by at least 10 years) at a rest stop in Kentucky. One guy was riding a ’92 BMW and the other a new Harley. The BMW guy start chatting with me before he even parked his bike — he was very friendly, asked a bunch of questions, etc.

The Harley guy was friendly but not quite so outgoing. He listed off all of the Iron Butt contests he’s entered and, when I told him I was riding 6100 miles in 12 days, he replied, “That’s not up to Iron Butt standards. I rode 8800 miles in 11 days.”

It was cute, not rude (you had to be there) but I really am not interested in trying to put on those kinds of miles on a regular basis. Here’s why: you can only put thousands of miles in a handful of days if you stick to the Interstate and that’s the most boring place to ride a motorcycle. I wanted to do this trip because such a thing has been on my bucket list for awhile. And I truly love riding motorcycles. Give me mountain roads and I’ll ride all day every day. But endless interstate miles? No thanks.

It’s late here and I need to sleep — back to work tomorrow. I’ll write some follow up posts soon.


Another stop to douse myself with cold water and drink fluids.
I feel as tired as I look here.

Short Mileage Day After All

Only 485 miles today — much shorter than planned but I am determined to keep within my limits. 

Wow, it was hot. I wear an evaporative cooling vest and I wrap an evaporative towel underneath it and I rewetted them at least 7 or 8 times today. They worked a lot better in Wyoming (where I saw the highest heat of the trip at 103F) because there’s much less humidity there. As I ride east, the greater humidity slows down the rate of evaporation and thus the cooling effectiveness. It was 102F at one point today and it felt much hotter, steamier and more uncomfortable than did Wyo (by the way, Wyoming’s current ad slogan is, “Forever West.” Off topic, I know, but FYI.)

I’m so happy that I trained quite a bit for this trip — I lifted weights, spent a lot of hours on the elliptical and lost 20Lbs. That was necessary to get through today’s ride. It’s fatiguing to ride long distances, particularly day after day after day. The experts on long distance riding are the Iron Butt Association (no kidding: and they say that most riders can only go about 65% as far on day 7 of a long ride as they went on day 2. My mileage has been all over the place, with 617 to go tomorrow, which will be around 100 miles above my average over the 12 days. But then, I’ve never been a conformist. 

It’s really been an amazing trip. One of the big differences between riding a motorcycle vs. driving a car is that lots of people come up and talk to you when you park your bike somewhere. From the casual, “Nice bike,” the ubiquitous, “Be safe” to the guys (and it’s almost always guys) who want to tell you all about their bikes, there is a stready stream of people approaching you to find out where you’re going, where you’ve been, what your motorcycle is like to ride and to share their own stories. 

Yesterday, in the middle of Montana, I stopped at a gas station that was not in a town — two rural highways intersect and some Big Sky entrepreneur decided to build a convenience store there. There were several other motorcyclists there, but the most interesting story belonged to a group of four young men who were “riding the continental divide” from New Mexico to the Canadian border. They were all riding “dual sport” or “adventure” bikes, which are the types of motorcycles that can go off-road or on — which is necessary to ride the divide, since most of it is off-road, I assume. 

One young man proudly proclaimed that he’d only had 15 hours of riding experience prior to starting the ride.

“Are you hooked now?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah…I’m hooked,” he replied. If you ride a bike, you get it. 

Later yesterday, a guy walked up to me at a gas station to tell me about his two Victory motorcycles (I ride a Vic) and today a guy bragged about the Honda Gold Wing he bought last year. 

Sorry for no pictures today (except for the Diet Coke positioned artfully next to the Chile’s logo in my earlier post). It was too damn hot for me to stop and do anything besides refuel and re-soak my evaporative stuff. 

Tomorrow: Home. I have had an incredible trip, but the long interstate miles aren’t nearly as fun as touring the mountains of the American and Canadian Wests. I’m ready to see my beautiful and amazing wife, pet my silly dog and see the usual suspicious glances from our cats. 

Going into this ride, I said, “I have never gotten off a motorcycle without wanting to get right back on.” I’ve broken that streak — there were two days when I was ready to get off for the day and today was one of them. However, in every case, I couldn’t wait to get back on the next day and that’s how I feel about tomorrow. I intend to enjoy every mile and appreciate that I’m wrapping up a bucket list trip — I will go on other long rides, but it’s unlikely I’ll ride this far in so few days. 

Unless I post during the day tomorrow, my next blog entry will be from home. Over the next week, I n addition to summing up some thoughts about the trip, I’ll review the gear I used and post those entries onto some motorcycle sites I follow in case other riders want some insight into using various products in demanding circumstances. 

Until then, be safe and stay cool. Nearly everyone says that to me, so I thought I’d say it to you.



It’s Hot So I Got Chile’s

The heat index is 105 in St Joseph, MO. I was starting to feel a bit overheated, so I pulled over to explore a Target store (I bought nothing — where would I store it?) and just finished a salad at Chile’s.

I have to say: a large, frosty mug of Diet Coke with a lime is only exceeded by downing three of them. 

Time to get back on the road — unfortunately, I’m headed to St Louis, which has a forecasted heat index of 115 today, the highest in the US. I have a feeling I’ll be stopping a lot today.


Record Day for Miles and Heat…Today Will Be Farther & Hotter

Yesterday, Friday, July 22nd, I started out at my mother in law’s house in Billings MT and arrived in Grand Island, NE around 11:30PM. I haven’t been sleeping well lately, so I skipped the alarm and was rewarded by waking up at 9AM — which is bad considering the distance I need to cover today as well as the forecasted heat.

I keep changing my route based on conditions, circumstances and whims that occur to me from the saddle. I was going to ride through Denver yesterday but then decided when I arrived in Cheyenne that I would turn east on I-80 there instead of riding south to I-70. That brings me eastward through Nebraska rather than Kansas, which improves the scenery somewhat and, most importantly, helped me avoid an enormous thunderstorm yesterday that featured both hail and lightning.

Trivia: You are safe in a car from lightning — not because of the rubber tires but because of the metal roof. Motorcyclists can and have been killed by lightning. Obviously, hail is bad as well on a bike.

You can see why I avoided the thunderstorm.

I was scheduled to ride through St. Louis today but it has the highest heat index for the entire country (115F), which can cause heat stress — if you’ve watched the news, you’ll note the forecasters are offering dire warnings. I’m going to head south as quickly as I can and avoid all of that if I can. That will add miles to my trip but I wear a full helmet, body armor, etc. and it gets very, very hot on the bike in that kind of weather.

Having said that, I have an evaporative cooling vest, scarf and towel, which I soak in ice water every couple of hours, which really helps. I usually ride two hours between stops, so I spend one hour reasonably cool and then the fabrics dry out and I spend the next hour stewing in my helmet.

Yesterday, I pulled over near the Little Bighorn Battle site to take a picture of a forlorn, derelict tourist attraction I’ve driven by for years —  “Fort Custer.” If you have time to stop at the real national park memorial about the battle and that idiot, Custer, you should do so sometime. I skipped it this trip but I’ve seen it before and it’s extremely interesting.

The only other pictures today I took in the evening on an exit ramp somewhere off of I-80 in Nebraska. I have two Bluetooth helmet transceivers so I can take and make phone calls, listen to music, dial in the weather radio channel, etc. I keep one charging in the top case of my bike while I use the other one. The charge lasts about six hours and then I exchange them. Since this has been a regular ritual for me, I thought I’d document the ceremony.

Finally, I took a picture of the thunderstorm I avoided. I experienced no rain at all yesterday even though I was perilously close to thunderstorms much of the day.

Time to head home. It’s 1,200 miles or so based on the circuitous route I’m taking to avoid the heat, so I don’t think I can make it in one day. If not, I’ll post from another lonely hotel tonight. If you don’t see a post, I probably made it home in the wee hours of the morning and went to bed.

Stay cool.

The Slog, Day One

I put in about 700 miles today — not sure of the exact number because I only have two “trip” odometers on my bike. The first one I reset with every gas stop since the gas gauge on my bike isn’t very accurate (a common problem on motorcycles) and the second one is the “master” mileage keeper for my entire trip. I’m up to about 4200 miles, by the way; I couldn’t stop at exactly 4000 miles (the “two thirds” point) like I did at 2000 miles because I was on the Interstate. However, I stopped a few miles later and took a picture of the odometer and the bike. You can tell I’m on the long slog home because these are the only two pictures I took today.
Like the one third milestone, the two thirds moment happened in Montana. By the time this trip is over, I will have traversed the Big Sky Country twice and I can verify that this is a damn big state. Also: the sky here is really big.

I crossed back into the US at Porthill, ID, where I had a funny moment with the border guard (although he wasn’t in on the joke). He asked me where I lived and then where I had visited in Canada. I told him and he then asked, “You rode your motorcycle all the way from Georgia so you could ride in British Columbia for two days?” 

Of course, the answer to this is, “Yes.” However, if I had told him the truth, he would have assumed I was either lying to him or just plain crazy and I feared that either assessment might leave me barred from entry.

So, I admit that I lied to a federal agent today because what I said to him was: “No. I’ve been riding across the country visiting family and thought I’d ride into Canada for a few days.” But the reality is that I was invited to ride the Canadian Rockies for a few days and among the four riders who traveled from out of state to reach our starting point in Spokane, I came the farthest and was the only one who rode there (the others trailered their bikes. They are highly intelligent).

I arrived at my mother-in-law’s house in Billings, MT around 9:40 this evening. She asked me if I was hungry and, as I climbed off the bike exhausted, I told her “no.” Then I walked into the house and her cooking smelled so good that I magically became very hungry indeed. She served me tri-tip, fried potatoes and, fresh from her garden, stir-fried vegetables and a sliced tomato. Plus, another piece of the rhubarb crumble she made for me last week and froze. It was heavenly and I am now stuffed and ready to sleep very soon. 

It must be a night to change my mind because she also asked me if I wanted to do laundry. I said “no” to that as well…but after I took a shower, I couldn’t stand the thought of putting on any clothes that were in my bag, so I stuffed everything — including my motorcycle pants and the stretch garments that hold my body armor — into a single load of laundry, which I will put into the dryer in a few minutes.

God bless Helen Hittle — my “Shorty.” The finest home cooking anywhere, a beautiful and comfortable home that beats any hotel and a nice hug and a peck on the cheek before bedtime. 

Tomorrow, the slog continues through the worst heat wave of the summer. I haven’t settled on a route yet. It’s shorter to head east through South Dakota but temps there are over 100 degrees. It adds about 170 miles or so to ride south through Denver and then east but it’s cooler that way. I’ll decide in the morning and will either write from Sioux Falls, SD or Burlington, CO…probably. In any case, you’ll be the first to know.

Thanks for reading; stay cool.


The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

I have never seen a place as gorgeous as the Canadian Rockies.

The mountains don’t achieve the same elevations as dozens of Colorado peaks, but the surrounding lands are much lower. Thus, these Rockies look nearly as spectacular as any place I’ve seen in Colorado, but this part of the world has two distinct advantages over my favorite state:

1. Beautiful, vast and numerous lakes, rivers and reservoirs adorn the countryside everywhere, often surrounded by those gorgeous mountain peaks. By comparison, Colorado is pretty dry. 
2. So few people here compared to…well, nearly anywhere in the US. 

We started out in Banff, AB this morning and had breakfast at a Cajun place (?) called Touloulou’s, where the service was polite and very slow but the food was fantastic. Jeff Hutchinson enjoyed an enormous apple fritter style waffle that looked so good I had to take a picture of it. 

After breakfast, we rode to Lake Louise, which was the most crowded place we’ve seen outside of cities in Canada. Just before arriving, we pulled into a parking area where we lined up the bikes for a group photo. None of us had a tripod, so we perched my camera on top of a motorcycle helmet and a seat pad; I turned on the self-timer, hit the shutter release and sprinted back to my bike — it turned out okay, I think, but you can judge for yourself. 

Lake Louise affords a breathtaking view, so I took lots of pictures and we asked another tourist to take a group photo. It’s not good but I edited as best as I could and included it here. Then we strolled through the iconic Fairmount Chateau hotel on the lake, too. 

We then found the most circuitous route possible through the mountains to wind up in Castlegar, British Columbia, where I am writing this from the Sandman Hotel. Along the way, we rode hundreds of miles along enormous reservoirs, rode a ferry across Upper Arrow Lake, spent hours going faster than the legal speed limit and did not see one cop (Mountie?) anywhere today. In addition, we were delayed three times by construction projects — the kinds of delays where you have time to take off your helmet and take pictures. So I did. Not once did I run out of gas due to these events, so I am now 4-1 in surviving construction delays!

The weather was perfect — we enjoyed temps around 75F degrees, with mostly sunny skies and just a few raindrops here and there. We sampled some local cuisine, chatted with a few, always-friendly residents and found that nearly every motorcyclist here waves at you when you’re riding vs. the 50% or so who do the “biker wave” in the US. 

I have tried numerous times to find a mapping website that would easily allow me to illustrate the routes we’re taking so I can post a travel map on this blog. Suffice to say it will have to wait until I return home — as much as I like my iPad, I need a computer to create the travel maps.

This is my last night in Canada, my home and native land. Tomorrow morning, I split from the group; they’re heading west to return to Seattle, while I go southeast, towards Billings, St. Louis, Atlanta and — if the weather reports are accurate — Hades. I hate leaving this gorgeous country and I’m sad that I will have to park my bike soon and return to the life of a working man. But I’m excited to see my perfect wife, eager to get back to work with my amazing team and wonderful job and really happy to have these amazing experiences. 

So, for the most part, the scenic part of the ride is over. I should experience some beautiful country tomorrow as I make my way through Montana; I won’t be on the interstate again until late afternoon. But the signature part of the adventure is over, for now. I’ll be back soon to the Canadian Rockies — next time with Penny, hopefully with “the boys” and sometime soon, I hope, on a motorcycle. 

My next update should be from Billings, MT. I’m looking forward to doing laundry, sleeping in a house instead of a hotel when I stay with my mother in law and eating a home-cooked meal. Life requires balance and it’s time to start moving towards the reality side of the scale. 

Goodnight from Castlegar, BC.


Three National Parks in Two Nations in Two Days = Six Tired Riders

The last two days have been a whirlwind of nearly non-stop riding and sightseeing, interrupted by regular fuel stops and irregular meals. Plus, one long construction delay — during which I did not run out of gas, making me 1 for 2 on such occasions thus far. 

On Sunday evening — as noted previously — I met up with the other five riders in Spokane, whereupon we rode to Ponderay, Idaho, just north of Sandpoint, which in 2011 was named, “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” by both Rand McNally and USA Today. Not sure what has happened since then but since it’s still beautiful, I can only speculate that other small towns have upped their game. 

The next day, we rode to Whitefish, MT (“I hope you enjoy the Fish,” a local told us, making us wonder what he meant since we had asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he had directed us to a hamburger joint…until we realized he was referring to the town). Along the way, we rode along Lake Koocanusa for what seemed like an hour and a half. Much to our surprise, when we looked at a map, we realized we’d only ridden about 65% of its total length, as a good portion of it extends into Canada. I had never heard of this absolutely stunning body of water but it has an interesting story and the name is a contraction of the Kootenay River (which was dammed — damned?) to create the reservoir, plus CANada and the USA. Kootenay+Canada+USA=Koocanusa. Alice Beers of Rexford, MT won a naming contest for the new body of water about 45 years ago and has been impossible to live with ever since. 

Once in Whitefish, we checked into our hotel and then, despite it being 3PM or so, decided to ride the circular route through Glacier National Park. It’s stunning. Flathead Lake is gorgeous, the mountains are majestic, the riding is exciting and a little scary and we saw some bighorn sheep from a long distance but the bears (grizzly or not) apparently had the day off. After a serviceable dinner in Whitefish, we went to bed and then left at 7:30 this morning for Banff.

We took the long route. The border crossing was anticlimactic. After listening to a couple of stories from Geof Griebel, who reported having to empty his saddle bags for inspection and answer tough questions on prior trips, I expected to be grilled at the border. Instead, the polite but disinterested Canadian customs agent asked me two questions:  What town do you live in? Are you carrying any weapons? I had memorized the answers. Then I was off to join the previous five riders who had been passed through just as easily. 

By the way, I was born in Canada and I can still sing the national anthem, “Oh, Canada.” If you ask me to do so, you’re in for a real treat, in much the same way that people enjoy passing kidney stones. 

Today’s route afforded us the opportunity to explore Kootenay (there’s that name again) National Park, and in this case, the “National” refers to Canada. Banff is located more or less inside of Banff National Park and we have thus visited three national parks in two nations in two days, validating the title of this blog post.

Banff is a gorgeous town. It’s what Estes Park CO should be — tourist friendly without the kitchiness. Even the high school is classy (see pic) and the view from downtown is gorgeous. We’re staying in the Inns of Banff, in which every room enjoys a mountain view but none enjoy air conditioning. Fortunately, it’s cool enough tonight to leave the sliding glass door to the walk-out patio open…unfortunately, there’s nothing to prevent a dishonest neighbor from climbing from an adjoining balcony into your room to commit burglary or murder. If this is my last post, you’ll know why. I am going to rely on the low crime rate in Canada and stay cool. Probably VERY cool, since the overnight low is forecasted to be 45 degrees (7 degrees Celsius for my Canadian friends). 

In the last two days, I’ve ridden about 700 miles and my odometer thus displays 3,160 miles (or 5085 kilometers at the current exchange rate). Given that I’m about 2400 miles from home and we have another day of recreational riding tomorrow, I am on track to exceed my 6,000 mile target for this adventure. I am hopeful that I will not have to ride circles around Berkeley Lake GA when I am agonizingly close to home to ensure I achieve my goal…but will do so if necessary.

Tomorrow’s route, though, is undetermined. We will “meet at the bikes,” as we tend to say, at 7:30, ready to ride to breakfast. We originally planned to ride to Kolowna, BC, but Wayne, our intrepid leader, apparently has other ideas. So, no telling where I’ll be posting from tomorrow night, although I’m confident it will be in either Alberta or British Columbia, which are both provinces in Canada for any readers who are geographically challenged. 

It’s late and I really need a good night of sleep. Just one more day of fun before the long slog home, during which I’ll be eating up endless miles of superslab. I’m past the halfway point of my bucket list trip and I can already feel the anxiety of my anxiety-free vacation coming to an end.

I am going to try to focus on enjoying the ride. Literally.

Goodnight from Banff. 

Geof poses in front of the grandeur of Kootenay National Park
Canadian road construction delays are in metric
Ray, bike, lake, great ride
Rick with Harley and Koocanusa…the lake wins
Banff High School…wow
Banff at sunset
Victory at Kootenay


Little Riding But a Lot of Love

I enjoyed an amazing day spent mostly with my sister Yvonne and her wonderful family. 

I woke up this morning in Missoula MT and was planning to ride north around Flathead Lake and then take a leisurely cruise over to Sandpoint ID to meet up with the group of five riders who started out in Seattle this morning. We’d planned to rendezvous sometime early afternoon.

However, that group was going to ride through Spokane, where Yvonne and her family live and when I realized I was only 186 miles away, I had to go see her (not sure why this didn’t occur to me during my extensive planning, but I thought I wouldn’t have much time today before meeting up with the group).

I had an inkling that the group might run late. Multi-bike rides always seem to start later and there are more machines involved, of course, meaning more things can go wrong. And a lot went wrong today with that group, although nothing serious, fortunately. They started late, one of the bikes developed a mechanical problem and they got separated and lost on the scenic route they chose to get to Spokane. They didn’t arrive there until 6:30.

Meanwhile, I arrived at Yvonne & Travis Thiede’s house at 11:30 and spent the most wonderful day with them and their two absolutely incredible kids, Lexi (who’s 19, I think) and Kyle, who’s 16. Yvonne fed us a late lunch with scrambled eggs, sausage and PANCAKES (gluten free), which I almost never eat due to my wheat allergy and my low carb diet. I managed to limit myself to two of them but they were delectable. 

They then showed me their beautiful home and landscaping and we took a few pictures. I met Lexi’s boyfriend, Cameron, who was very nice and acted as our photographer and then the two of them took off for a few hours while I chatted with Yvonne, Travis and Kyle. 

Lexi is a beautiful, kind and intelligent young woman, an aspiring photographer and has just completed her first year of college, where she is doing very well. She is also the cleverest person among my Facebook friends with whimsical and wry observations about the world that are delightful and funny — like her. It was a real pleasure to spend time with her. She hasn’t decided what she wants to do as a career, but she has the skills to pursue nearly any profession.

Kyle is one of the most impressive young men I have ever met in my life. He’s a terrific student, a star athlete, extraordinarily articulate, mature and thoughtful. For example, we had a very interesting discussion about “emotional intelligence,” which he’s been studying in school. Travis and I shared our experiences acquiring emotional intelligence the hard way and I can say with confidence that Kyle is possessed with greater maturity and critical thinking skills than the vast majority of people of any age. In fact, when he was in middle school, he won “Student of the Year” awards — BOTH of them: one voted on by the faculty and the other by the students. 

After we talked for awhile and it became apparent that I was going to have several hours with them, I asked them if I could wash my motorcycle in their driveway. It had gotten pretty buggy and dirty after 2,200 miles. They not only provided all of the tools and supplies, but they pitched in, with Travis using his Harley wax on my Victory — which fortunately did not have an allergic reaction to it 🙂 They even cleaned up everything as I used Armor All on the seats. 

We went back inside and had more great conversation about family, work, etc. and then we said goodbye — but not before Travis got on the Harley once owned by his late father (who was also a law enforcement professional, so it’s a special edition) and gave me a 25 minute tour of the beautiful scenery around their home. He then sat with me at the local Harley dealer where we waited for the group to show up. 

Once the riders showed up, the group rode to Sandpoint, ID, where I write this at the end of a perfect day. I only logged about 265 miles on the bike, but it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve spent in a long time. 

Penny and I will be back to spend a couple of days with the Thiede’s in August and I can’t wait to see them again!


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