Motorcycle Road Trip #1: to Edmonton and back

2011 is the year I wanted to start taking my motorcycle on some longer, multi-day trips.  I had lots of questions to explore: would I figure out how to pack what I need?  Would the Road Glide be comfortable for the long haul?  And most important: would this kind of riding be the kind of thing I really want to do- in other words, is it “fun” for Kelly?

My first road trip of 2011 was “back home”: to Edmonton.  A destination I’m familiar with, through territory I’ve experienced before in a car.  I miss my friends back in Edmonton, but haven’t felt particularly like making the trip in the last half dozen years or so.  I like where I live, and my friends/family come out here often enough… but the bike gave me a reason to make the trip.  And so I packed up and set out on June 25…

Road Glide roadtrip


The Trip There

My route to Edmonton was intended to be “interesting”: with help from my friend Chris I created a plan that would take me through some scenery I wasn’t familiar with, and would fit nicely within my planned “3 day” time span for the journey.  Since a map rendering doesn’t work terribly well (the secondary highways don’t show up), here is a brief list of directions/via points describing my trip:

  • Cloverdale to Hope via Hwy 1 East
  • Hope to Castlegar via Hwy 3 East (first overnight)
  • Castlegar to New Denver- Slocan- Nakusp via Hwy 6 North and Hwy 23 North
  • Nakusp to Revelstoke (crossing via ferry from Galena to Shelter Bay) via Hwy 23 North
  • Revelstoke to Canmore via Hwy 1 East (second overnight)
  • Canmore to Morley- Drumheller- Stettler- Edmonton via a bunch of secondary highways (Colin was leading at this point)

The total trip was just over 1,700 km, with the longest day being day #2 (Castlegar to Canmore: about 10 hours).  Weather for my outbound journey was mixed: I had plenty of mist or light rain on the first day, and near perfect weather on day 2.  My fully-decked bike protected me from the small amount of rain I experienced- I never felt compelled to put on my rain suit over my leathers.  It was cold enough each morning that I used my electric under-jacket a bit, but not so cold that I desperately needed it.  I probably could have done equally well with a light sweater under the leathers.

I absolutely loved the trip from Castlegar to Revelstoke: the road was well maintained but small, with lots of twists and turns as well as some beautiful scenery.  Best of all, there were hardly any other vehicles around: it was like my own dedicated road.

Roadtrip stopped in Silverton

I was a little uncertain about the ferry crossing, but it turned out to be easy as can be.  The ramps weren’t steep, the deck gave decent footing, and there wasn’t anything “special” expected once on board (i.e.: no funny wood blocks or what have you to put under the bike).  And since it was an open deck ferry and only a 20 minute crossing, I just put the stand down, turned the engine off, and stayed sitting on the bike- no problem at all.

Roadtrip ferry crossing

Over all, I confirmed that I had done a decent job packing, and the packing “checklist” I had created was reused almost verbatim for my second road trip in August.  The suitcase on my passenger seat carried most of my clothing, and the bag on the luggage rack carried my extra jackets, shoes, and hat.  The left (kickstand side) saddlebag was filled with general “motorcycle survival” gear: rain suit, first aid kit, spare bungee cords of various sizes, Harley toolkit, multii-tool, multi-screwdriver, high visibility vest, duct tape, etc etc.  The right saddlebag was filled with my electronic gear: computers, camera, and so forth.  The trunk was my “spare” space, and generally housed my motorcycle video camera, any food/snacks I was carrying, my second four day “batch” of underwear/socks, and any riding gear like my chaps that I wasn’t currently using and didn’t fit elsewhere.

As for clothing, my strategy was fairly simple.  Bring along enough shirts and pants to change every second day- in my case, that was four of each.  Roll the shirts and pants up tight.  Underwear and socks are daily-change items: eight of each.  But I split them into two sets of four, and packed them in ziplock bags with the air squeezed out to keep them dry and compact with only enough for four days in my suitcase.  The second batch went into the trunk. It all worked out well, and I never felt like I was wearing “dirty” clothes.  For a longer trip, I would have found a laundry and washed a batch of clothing- I don’t think I’d want to pack more than eight days worth on a motorbike.

The “suitcase on the seat” was a pure luck item.  I realized a week or so before I set out that I needed more “carry in” storage for my clothing, and began to look at the available motorcycle-specific suitcases designed to sit on the passenger seat.  It the occurred to me that a lot of these suitcases shared dimensions with the “sport” suitcase I had bought for the cruise Irene and I went on and, at twice the price of that little case, it seemed worth testing out.  I carried it out to my bike and set it on the seat: voila, it fit perfectly.  It even had a couple of solid hook points for bungee cords to fix it in place, and an accessory strap that worked perfectly to restrain the top of the case to my luggage rack.  It travelled without incident in this fashion on both of my road trips, for a total of over 7,000 km including some terribly maintained (bumpy) American roads.  Better still, the case has wheels, making the trip from bike to hotel room a bit easier.  And it made a decent back rest, so long as I was careful to pack less bumpy items on the front side 😉

The Visit

I enjoyed several days in Edmonton with my friend Chris and his family, as well as visits with my brothers Colin and Ron and their families.  Chris and I explored the “Art” festival, The Works, that was in progress while I was there.  The Works was fun to check out but included a lot of art that didn’t quite speak to me, including a strange tangle of scrap lumber and branches, and a “live art” presentation by a gay native guy acting out the character “Buffalo Boy”.

Edmonton the works

Chris smiling

On the second day Chris invited me over for a barbecue, which gave me the chance to experience something I have missed from my years in Edmonton: a proper prairie thunderstorm.  We were dry and cozy inside their covered patio, but Chris got to stand outside in the pouring rain and manage the BBQ.  The timing on the storm was amazing: by 9:30 PM, when I was ready to head back to the hotel on my motorbike, the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing with blue patches evident all over.


Back Again

I didn’t take any photos on the return trip, just some on-bike video which I need to edit into some reasonable size.  My nephew Troy and brother Colin joined me for the first leg of the trip, staying with me until we reached Edson.  For the return ride I elected to stick to major/fast highways, taking the most direct route.  Even so, I had over 1,200 km to cover and no particular desire to push myself to the point of pain.  Day 1 took me to what I had determined to be just past the midpoint of my journey: Clearwater, British Columbia.  I was tired by the time I arrived with about ten hours and 700 km on the road, but making day 1 the “long” day meant I could sleep in a bit for day 2 and my arrival back home.  This strategy worked out well, and meant I was back at my house by supper time on the second day.

I found that the “main highway” trip to be much less enjoyable- it was still travelling on the motorbike, but the long hours at 100-120 km/h began to drain me.   There were, of course, more cars and trucks on the main road, meaning more passing and less opportunity to experience the environment and scenery.  That said, I made it home safe and sound, and in good time.

Edmonton odometer

My total  mileage for the trip was just a bit under 3,000 km, with about five actual travel days.  Although there were some days when I was a bit stiff and sore, nothing was “agonizing”.

What did I learn?

The answers to all the questions I started out the road trip with were positive.  My packing was pretty close to ideal, and now I have luggage and placement as well as packing checklists figured out for future trips.  The Harley Davidson Road Glide continues to be a comfortable bike, far better than my Vulcan for this kind of long distance trip.  It keeps me out of the worst aspects of the wind and rain, while still letting me get that riding experience.  And there is no question in my mind that these longer, multi-day motorcycle expeditions are fun for me.  With a different bike this might not be true, but I seem to have done a good job matching the bike to the kind of riding I want to do.

I will be heading off on other long-distance road trips in the future.  I’m not interested in “endurance” riding, though: on the Edmonton trip I started to experience my limitations in terms of hours and miles in the saddle, and I’ll continue to explore those limits and figure out where my comfort level is.  When practical, I will be taking the “less travelled” routes: there is a balance here that I need to figure out, as the scenic routes are almost always going to extend the trip, meaning either more miles per day or more days.  I could have extended the return trip, but I also like to have several “down time” days once I get home before I have to head back to work- I’ll have to give that some thought on subsequent journeys.

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