Spaceman Crossing Middle America

The little girl stared up at me with curiosity and whispered something to her mother beside her. The mother smiled and coaxed her, “Go ahead and ask the gentleman.” Hesitantly, the little girl looked up at me and asked, “Are you from the Moon?” I smiled at her and replied, “No, I’m from Canada.” She smiled back but I was not entirely sure my answer helped clear her confusion.

Period Covered: August 8 – 12, 2013
Locations: Toronto, Cleveland, Effingham, Kansas City, Hays, Denver

A pattern developed, whenever I stopped for gas or took coffee breaks, kids would admire my outfit while older men admired my motorcycle. Children would admire my matching BMW Rallye 3 riding suit and I do admit that my silver helmet (Shoei Neotec) and tube from my Osprey water reservoir made me look like an astronaut.

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Sometimes, I flip down the internal sun shade of my helmet and as I pass a car, I turn to look at the kids in the rear row of the car and give them a thumbs up before speeding off. That usually elicits a laugh or a wave back. Older men, on the other hand, would approach me at gas stations and ask me about the motorcycle. Some are riders admiring the machine. Others ask where I’m coming from and where I’m going with curiousity and a hint of envy. I appreciated these moments with locals in places such as Sunbury (Ohio), Decatur (Indiana), and Hays (Kansas).

Day 1: The departure date of August 8th arrived. I woke up earlier than normal but still did not finish getting ready and the bike packed up until 9:30am. Laura made me breakfast while I was still figuring out what goes where. She also put out a red ribbon as my starting line and we couldn’t help but be slightly emotional during our farewell. The first few days away from loved ones on a big trip are always the toughest and I was lucky to have such a supportive girlfriend.

I left downtown Toronto for my parent’s home in Mississauga to pick-up ratchet straps I left at their garage. It was also a good excuse to give them another hug farewell. When I got back on the bike, my dad noticed that the rear lock bracket of my right pannier was no longer there. The screws had loosened and the lock bracket had probably fallen off on the Gardiner Expressway or somewhere between Toronto and Mississauga. I barely left Toronto and I have already encountered my first minor equipment issue. Fortunately, I was headed to Dual Sport Plus (DSP) in Stoney Creek on my way to the US border to pick-up a few things. DSP is also a distributor for Jesse panniers in Canada so I hoped they had some parts available. I was in luck, there was a set of locking bracket available for $20 and I installed it that night. I also put threadlocker blue and tightened all the screws securing the other lock brackets to the panniers. I was extremely lucky that the rear lock bracket fell off when it did and was noticed by my dad before passing DSP. Otherwise, I would be riding for quite some time without a rear lock to my right pannier and having to figure out where to ship the part to.

I pulled into The Cleveland Hostel at 6:30pm. Although Cleveland was only 471km away from Toronto it felt like a long ride in the heat. It has also been a while since I’ve been on a motorcycle for more than 2-3 hours a day and it’s something I would have to get used to quickly. The approach to Cleveland reminded me of Minneapolis with factories beside the water, skyscrapers, art deco and postmodern style civic buildings. This made sense since Cleveland is in the Rust Belt of America.

I arrived in Cleveland later than I expected so did not have time to explore. I met up with my friend Sammie for dinner at the Belgian gastropub Bar Cento. Both the company and the food were excellent!

Duck fat fries with Sammie at Bar Cento

Sunnyside pizza, highest rated pizza in Ohio by Food Network

For anyone staying in Cleveland, I highly recommend The Cleveland Hostel. It’s very clean and in a great location (Ohio City neighbourhood). I wish I had more time in Cleveland to check out the city but will save that for a future trip. Sammie told me that Cleveland has reinvented itself as a foodie destination which is exactly my type of town!

Day 2: After packing up the bike, I took off from Cleveland mid-morning for the city of Effingham, Illinois which bills itself as the “Crossroad of Opportunity” due to its location at the crossroad of two major Interstate highways (I-70 and I-57).

At 737km, Day 2 was a very long day’s ride and included riding through a storm just outside of Columbus. I was pleasantly surprised to find a place like the Firefly Grill which is a restaurant focused on good food with locally sourced ingredients. There was plenty of places to grab a quick cheap dinner but I enjoyed the salad caprese and pork shank (ingredients from their garden and farmer nearby).

Unexpected great place for dinner in Effinghame, IL (crossroad of America)

Awesome salad caprese with huge junks of fresh locally sourced buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes/herbs from the garden

Day 3: I tried to take off early to avoid much of the midday heat but there was no use. I hit stopped traffic 15 minutes away from St. Louis and after sweating for 30 minutes in the 34C heat I took the next offramp and detour through East St. Louis to get to the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park to get a good view of the Gateway Arch. Using Google Map and Waze, I took a few detours in East St. Louis (which is a bit rough) and got a few looks from the locals but nothing too uncomfortable!

Panoramic shot of Malcom W. Martin Metro East Park

Thanks to Barb and Scott, I had an REI gift certificate to use up. St. Louis has a small new REI where I could exchange the gift certificate for a Thermarest air mattress. I picked up the Thermarest Prolite Plus but had no luck with finding Ski/Snowboard socks which are also great for wearing under motorcycle boots. One of the REI staff who helped me was also a rider and recommended a few roads through Kansas and Colorado. He also suggested I take a good look at the REI in Denver for whatever I needed on the trip since that was their flagship store.

REI St. Louis. Thanks for the Thermarest Barb and Scott!

Getting out of St. Louis, I took US 50 west all the way to Kansas City where I stayed at the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel on the Kansas side of KS for a great rate. As a loyal SPG Platinum member, I always love the quality of the hotel and service. Platinum upgrades to suites also help and I enjoy those rooms a lot after a long day of riding in the heat. I wonder if Starwood would sponsor my trip with some SPG points?

Since I was in Kansas, I had to have some BBQ and at the recommendation of reception I went to Jack Stack BBQ which is famous for their burnt ends (flavourful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket). It definitely hit the spot!

Jack’s Best dinner composed of beef ribs, burnt ends and brisket.

Day 4: Some people complain about the boringness of motorcycling through the Prairies due the long the flat roads. I’m not one of them. The roads of Kansas are the reason I got a Kaoko Throttle Lock (cruise control) for the BMW F800GS. It’s easy to reach a state of Zen as the landscape rushes past in a blur while listening to my music pumping through my helmet speakers.I continue on US 50 out of Kansas City to Emporia before turning north on the National Scenic Byway177 to see the Flint Hills. This was a unique area in Kansas because it was hilly and mostly tallgrass prairies. The region is named for the abundant residual flint that lays near the surface. Passing through small towns on US 50 and seeing the Flint Hills was a nice change from my previous days on the superslab.

 

This is Kansas

After reaching I-70 from Byway 177, I made a stop at Fort Riley, the home of the US 1st Infantry Division. I checked out the US Cavalry Museum which interestingly illustrated the evolution of scouts/rangers to cavalry and transition to mechanized cavalry in the 20th century. After 492km of riding, the Econolodge in Hays, Kansas would be my stop for the night. I was not out of Kansas just yet!

Day 5: The ride from Kansas City to Denver was straightforward following I-70 all the way in. After departing at around 10am, the road was still mostly flat but started climbing in altitude since Denver was at 1,600m in elevation. I only stopped to fill up on gas and take a drink of water.

Quiet day at a gas station on the Kansas/Colorado border

Love the fake wood panelling. This shop seems unchanged since the 70s.

I pulled aside at the Kansas/Colorado border to snap a picture with the “Welcome to Colorado” sign. On the way back to the road I was not perpendicular enough to the asphalt which was 5-6″ higher than the dirt shoulder and the bike wobbled for a little bit before I recovered. I’ll need to be more careful when I pull off into shoulders and getting back on.

I arrived in Denver in the early afternoon with the time change. As I was arriving downtown in slow traffic on the highway, a geyser of blueish liquid shot up hitting me partly on the helmet face shield. This happened before on the DVP expressway back in Toronto and I had the dealer look into it and flush the coolant after doing research online. Obviously, the problem was not fixed and I would have to look further into it. Once again, I checked into another great SPG property and was upgraded to a suite at the Sheraton Downtown Denver. After nearly 2,500km, I crossed middle America and arrived to the mountain region of Colorado.

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