10th of April 2015, he is leaving Waterloo. The place he calls home and where he lived for the last year. Under a cold spring rain, he says goodbye to his parents and his sister. It’s with sadness that he was leaving his family behind again. Washing away his tears, he embarked on his bike and at the same time on his journey.
Some 100 km was separating his hometown from Montréal where he’s going to spend his last night in Québec. His friend Maude invited him for a show. The Cat Empire and Current Swell are playing, a good plan for the last night out. They danced to the rhythm that remembers him the good time he had in Spain a few years back then. After the show, they moved to a pub to enjoy a couple pints with some friends. It was good for him to see all those faces before his ultimate departure.
The morning came, they went for breakfast at the Burgundy Lion, a big English breakfast, with his brother, Maria, and Maude. They had a last chat then it was time for Lepirate to hit the road. Just about 5000 km is waiting for him in the next couple of days. Another hard goodbye, his friends, and family took such a big place in his life. They cheered him up when he was down, helping him out when needed, raise some funds for his incoming journey… He cannot be thankful enough for all they did for him. But, from now, on his own, he goes. Following the road that will bring him back where an idea became a dream and now a reality.
Rolling on the Trans-Canadian HWY, soon enough he figured out that the weather was still a little bit chilly for a motorcycle trip across north America. Every 100/150km, a warming stop was imposing itself. The need of entering a warm place to make sure his toes and fingers don’t fall off. The temperature was somewhere around 0 degree Celsius, but riding at 120 km/h, with the wind and the convection factor… It was probably around minus 15. Good thing, he brought his snowboard mittens…
The 1st stop he made after leaving Montréal was just past the border of Ontario. Weird coincidence, it was exactly the same place that he stopped in 2011 on his way to Golden BC. But this time, he didn’t really have the choice to stop. The engine of The Beast shut off by itself on the highway. It’s always a scary feeling, especially only a few hundred km into a 5000 km trip. Pulled out by the side of the road, check around the bike but everything seems all right, waited a minute then tried to restart it. ‘’The Beast is alive!’’ What a relief, but still, she was running kind of weird so he decided to stop in Castleman to figure out the problem. In the meantime, he decided to top up the tank and the Jerry can. The problem turned out that he ran out of gas. Last summer, he was doing some 400 km with a full tank. Seem that the load on the bike, the cross wind and the new jetting kit in the carburetor make The Beast a little bit thirstier. It was quite an easy fix, didn’t even have to break out the tool kit, just the wallet. At this point, he figured that a coffee will feel great. Nothing like Timmy’s for a good road trip coffee. In the parking lot, 2 other motorcycles are parked. He thought that he’ll be the only one on two wheels on such a cold day. Sitting by the window overlooking his rig, he took the time to enjoy the comforting dark roast. Another motorcycle arrives in the parking lot. A Harley that looks like it just got out of a showroom. The guy was somewhere between mid-forties and has for passenger a cute girl in her early twenties. Walked into the Tim, full patched with a side of his head shaved to show is Hells Angels tattoo on his skull. That guy is a badass that’s for sure. He ordered some coffees, on is way out, stopped next to Lepirate:
Hells Angels: ‘’Pretty windy hey?’’
Lepirate: ‘’ Yeah it’s crazy, I can barely keep my bike on the road’’
Hells Angels: ‘’Where are you heading like that?’’
Lepirate: ‘’Hum, Vancouver Island’’
Hells Angels: ‘’It’s snowed last night in the mountains, you’re pretty badass man, good luck!’’
They fist bump and he was gone again with the pretty girl. That guy has anything that a person need to be called a badass. Tattooed from head to toes, riding a sick bike, a sexy girl on the back, he probably did some jail time and is wearing a leather vest with a full Hells Angels back patch (which is supposed to be prohibited by now?!). Lepirate felt some gain of confidence being called a badass by this guy. ‘’I’m just achieving my dream’’ he thought for himself, but maybe it’s crazier than what people qualified a standard dream or adventure. The rest of his day went well, sunny, windy, and chilly. He managed to roll a good 500 km in 7 hours.
When the day started to fade away, it was time to find a place to rest for the night. With the snow still on the ground, the cold air from the frozen surrounding Great Lakes and the ice sticks in which turned his fingers, camping was not an option. For sure a campsite is a good cheap idea but a bad solution for overnight accommodation at this time of the year in the South part of Ontario. He decided to stop in Mattawa, a small village on the border of a lake on the crossing of a railway. It does look like one of those western movie towns. At 8 o’clock, there was no one in sight outside in the street. He wanted to go for a beer in one of the local pubs, but the warm shower was calling and he knew that tomorrow will be a big one. He reorganized his luggage, charged the camera then straight to bed.
Sault St-Marie, the border between Ontario and Michigan is separated by a straight of water. A long bridge shows the way to the States. At the gate of the country, the man in uniform looked at him like he’s from another planet:
Customs officer: ‘’What the hell are you carrying with you?’’
Lepirate: ‘’All my life and a surfboard’’
Customs officer: ‘’ There is no wave in Michigan, where are you heading like that?’’
Lepirate: ‘’ Vancouver Island in British Columbia.’’
Then on and on with random stupid questions. The officer his really worried that Lepirate is carrying any kind of illicit substances. It ended the same way has one of his crossing in Vermont:
Vermont custom: ‘’ I don’t have much time to spend with you so, do you carry any drugs with you?’’
Lepirate: ‘’Nop’’ (ah yeah that’s going to be an easy border crossing)
Vermont custom: ‘’I’m just gonna search you anyway’’
Lepirate to himself : ''Why the fuck did he asks if he already knows that is gonna search his car?''
Back to the Michigan border, the 2 other officers started to ask him another bunch of questions and look at the bike. They ask him to come inside, he’ll have a full background check done. No worries that weren't including the whole: ‘’drop your pants and bend over’’ procedure. He was kind of worried any way that they will search the bike and take everything apart. It’s a big puzzle to fit all this stuff in the boxes and in the bags. Finally, everything was fine, the officers even followed Lepirate to the bike and ask him some much friendlier questions about his trip, the bike, the whole surfing thing. That day, he made it all the way to Marquette, rolled some 700 km or so. Still, the cold air coming from the frozen Great Lakes pushed him to get another hotel room. Again, he was so tired and cold that he didn’t get to visit the town at night. Too bad, apparently it’s a really nice town.
When he woke up next morning, it was cold and pissing rain. He wasn’t really into doing the whole sight-seeing thing. When you look at the window and all you can see is a gray sky promising rain for the rest of the day. One really needed to kick his ass to gear up, leave a warm cozy shelter and keep rolling west. Ended up that it wasn't too bad. He still made some 700 km between Marquette and Duluth. A serious cross wind combines with the fact that the bike was shaking like hell slowed the pace. Just passed Duluth, he made a mistake reading his paper map. Slightly lost, he ended up north onto the highway 200 which is a secondary road thru a provincial park. It was a nice detour, rolling in the forest, where he had the chance to see a moose feeding next to the road. This highway was following a passage in between crazy amounts of little lakes which offered a really nice scenic view. By the end of the day, the weather was kind of warm and he decided that it would be his first night of camping.
That crazy cross wind blew the whole day, keeping the bike on the road was quite a physical endeavor and he started to feel in his core. He was somewhere close to Detroit Lakes in Michigan. Still pushing the KLR to get the most clicks done on that beautiful day. On the other side of the road, a spot seems promising to set camp. He was rolling too fast to stop, so he stopped on the shoulder to let pass the incoming traffic. The car that was behind him pulled over as well. He thought that maybe it’s just a coincidence. After doing the U-Turn, on the other side of the road, he looked over to the guy in the Legacy that has pulled over behind him. Lepirate decided to stop, maybe there is something wrong with The Beast. The guy screams to him by his window but from the other side of the road, with the helmet and the engine running he couldn’t understand a single world. Seeing he was not getting himself hear, he got out of his car and crossed the street to come talk with Lepirate:
The guy: ‘’ Hey! Everything is good?’’
Lepirate: ‘’Yeah I’m good’’
The guy: ‘’I saw you in my mirror, I was wondering what the hell you were carrying on the side of your bike. I let you overtake me to check your bike when I realize that we have the same motorcycle’’
Lepirate: ‘’It’s a surfboard’’
The guy: ‘’I’ve seen your Québec license plate then I saw you fighting the wind for a while, Damn this guy is a long way from home and might be pretty exhausted.’’
Lepirate: ’’Yeah It’s been a long day, that’s for sure. I’ve got lost just past Duluth that’s why I’m around here. I’m actually done for today. I’ve found a place to camp and catch some rest’’
The guy: ’’Where are you gonna camp?’’
Lepirate: ‘’ Just there, on the last street we just passed’’
The guy: ‘’If you want, you can sleep in my house, I’m living at 5/10 min from here’’
Lepirate: ‘’You’re sure?’’
The guy: ‘’Yeah no problem, I have a brand new house, you'll have a clean warm bed and shower!’’
Lepirate: ‘’Well sure, why not’’
The guy: ‘’Him Craig by the way, I’ll tell my wife that we'll have some visit tonight. I just have to go get my truck on the way, just follow me’’
Lepirate: ‘’Wow Thanks a lot, that is really appreciated’’
He followed the Legacy up to a church parking where Craig jumped in a big Dodge Ram. From there, they went off the main highway toward secondary roads toward a dirt road. They ended up at Craig’s house, a brand new construction by the side of Little Toad Lake. Lepirate parked his bike by the side of the garage. Inside the 2 double garages, a Porsche, a Genesis, and the Ram are parked. He felt a relief from stepping off The Beast. Not that he didn’t like her but that day she was particularly vibrating for an unknown reason. So he felt good to be on solid ground after such an exhausting day. Craig was so mesmerized by the bike, looked at every aspect of it and asked a hundred of questions, where, when, how long, how much etc… It was so nice to meet someone so interested in his adventures. Walking into the house, he was welcome by a cold Coors Light and introduced to Craig’s wife, Mary Beth. They all processed downstairs where his room and shower are. Seem like everything in the house is brand new. The hot shower was a gift from gods, washing off the cold that has invaded his body. Wearing up some clean clothes, he went back upstairs, on the table, a lasagna is awaiting him. They talked around a few beers and a delicious warming meal. Craig is the owner of a photography company for sports teams. Mary Beth has just retired from a 34 years career with a company. After her retirement, they decided to get a new house. They moved in only a few months ago. They also have two daughters that left the family nest not so long ago to study in different towns.
The three of them spent the evening talking about traveling, sports, life experiences, engineering, cars, motorcycles, skiing… They are some very interesting persons, they’ve been around the world and even if they seem to be really wealthy they are pretty grounded and simple, enjoying the little things in this life. Around 11 o’clock, the bed was calling. Babies don’t sleep that well. Next morning, Craig offered Lepirate to use the garage to do an overall check of The Beast. Making sure no bolts were loose and figure out where the vibration was coming from. Lepirate couldn’t really find what was causing the vibration, but there was surely some loose screws here and there… It was time to wrap up the puzzle of gear back on the donkey. They had a cup of coffee then chat for a little while. Craig gave him his phone number just in case he need some help along the way. The only thing Craig asked in return for his hospitality, is a picture of The Beast and Lepirate. He will be able to show it to his friends, a proof for that story of a french Canadian guy on a KLR 650 with a surfboard traveling across north America. Craig wished him farewell for his journey. On the road, toward Fargo, he was on a cloud, amazed by the kindness of his new friends:’’They didn’t have to do that, I’m a total stranger, from another country, I was smelling like shit from riding the whole day. Why would Craig invite me to his place and offer me such hospitality? Because he can! He offered me a roof and food in exchange for my stories and to hear about my experiences. I will never be able to give back to them what they make for me that day. But, along my way, I’ll probably face situations where I’ll be able to make a difference and give back to someone else that is in needs.’’
A new day brings a new goal, today’s mission is to find a new rear tire. Rolling into Fargo, North Dakota, a bike shop with an Indian Motorcycle banner seems like a promising place to find a tire. A second after he pulled in the parking lot, all the guys from the store and the mechanics rushed out to see that stranger and his Beast: ’’What the hell you’re carrying with you son?’’ They were super impressed by his trip and his journey. He talked for a good half an hour with one of them about the route he should take and where he should sleep or not. Insights on some cities, all about the oil money next to Glendive and Miles City, place that he should avoid. Lepirate will keep that in mind when night will come. After all, they didn't have what he was looking for, a tire for the KLR. Those guys had a wide selection of nice rides, Triumph Tigers, BMW 1200Gs, Ducati Multistrada, but no Indians in sight. He left the shop with no tire, but with the indication on where to get one: ‘’I can’t believe how stoked those guys were about my trip. They told me about their own adventures around here and across the continent. They showed me their bikes and tell me about some projects they once had. I’m sure by seeing me today, they felt a bit of nostalgia about their young age when they use to travel on two wheels. I hope that after the day at work they’ll drive their bike home and plan the next adventure.’’
The Kawasaki dealership was only a few blocks away. There is still life in the 7000 km Shinko, but the mountains are getting closer and the weather is preparing him some white surprise… A new tire can make the difference in shifting road condition. A the moment the temperature was around 10 ̊C, sunny but still with a strong south wind. In front of him, a straight line of almost 500 km. It was one hell of a hard day. Many time he had to stop and take breaks to relax his muscles. For those who think it’s easy to ride a motorcycle. It can be, in perfect weather, driving on a flat highway, with an unloaded bike and rolling under 100 km/h. But, when you are a traveler, riding no matter what the weather is doing, with some cross wind, cold temperature, rain, 200 pounds of luggage’s, a surfboard on the side that catch more wind and wearing a pair of wet boots for the last 4/5 days, it’s anything but easy. Every day is a challenge, it really is a sport. He’s comparing gearing up in the morning with putting a damp wetsuit before an early spring surf session. It really sucks at the moment, but once in, you forget the discomfort because your mind is too focus on the road/surf and enjoying the ecstasy that one can bring.
A weird noise that seems to come from the front wheel has started some 200/300km ago. It was kind of coming and going and Lepirate couldn’t figure out what it was. After fuelling up, he was on a shoulder going back on the highway somewhere close to Dickinson, when the ‘’squicking’’ just start to be really loud. So he decided to stop on the shoulder of the road before going back on the highway. There was a slight slope but he decided to pull over anyway. He’s not sure what happened, but a combination of many factors made The Beast drop on the kickstand side. Lepirate is now laying in the dust with The Beast over his leg. He managed to free himself then try to put her back straight. The first attempt didn’t work out. The incline, the loose gravel, the ditch nearby make it really hard to lift the bike back. Some cars passed by without even offering any help. She is heavy, he is not sure how he managed to find enough strength to straight her up but he did. At this point he didn’t care about the noise in the front wheel no more, everything is rolling so might as well just keep on rolling. It is kind of funny that this event happened that day, because in the morning before he left Craig’s home. He ate one of the fortune cookies that his friend Maude gave him before his departure. It was a quote from Albert Einstein: ‘’Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving’’. Lessons learned, we shouldn’t let our life stop for little problems, we should always keep moving forward.
Some hundred clicks after that incident, he was rewarded for his efforts of the day… Signs are announcing Theodore Roosevelt State Park. The big cross orange sign that says closed over the forest green sign was like an invitation to a private party. He rolled around the fences and make it to the entrance of the park which was really close. The cattle guard and the gate force him to leave the bike at the entrance. He grabbed a bottle of water, the camera and jump the fence: ’’Not the first time, nor the last that I jumped a fence… haha! ‘’ He ended up on the top of a little hill in a park that looks just like every single rest area he has seen on his way across the States. But while he was heading to the further west point of the rest area, he started overlooking some peaks on a distance. He ended up on the side of a cliff with an amazing view of a canyon that extends north as far as the eyes can see. It’s one of the most impressive creations of the nature that he has seen so far. Especially by the fact that it was unexpected.
He had no clue that there was such a beautiful piece of landscape on his way. He played the tourist for a little while enjoying the view, taking pictures, relaxing and filling his mind with memories of this place. On the way out of the park, he almost stepped in a big cow dung. No cow insight, he was wondering how the hell that ended up here.
Jumping the gate out, he was also asking himself why a cattle guard? Just next to the fence where The Beast is taking a break, there was a sign. It says that Theodore Roosevelt became a president of the United States because of his love for the North Dakota. There was also a huge caution sign talking about the wild bisons in the park and that we shouldn’t get close to them. So it wasn’t cow shit, it was bison shit. This area is internationally renowned for the discovery of dinosaur’s skeletons. It’s also a really historical area for the bison hunting and the whole typical ranch life of the Northwestern. The sun was slowly going down, so he decided to continue his route west in search of a nice camping spot for the night. The road was nice, unrolling at the bottom of the Badlands with the canyons everywhere around. There was herds of wild horses and some kind of goats. He ended up finding a campsite in the National Park of Makoshika in Glendive. Too tired to keep rolling away from Glendive even if the guys from the Indian motorcycle shop told him to avoid this area. Grabbed 6 packs of Stand Down brown lager and set camp while having a few drinks. The weather was good so he decided to sleep under the stars like cowboys were doing back then, just a mattress, a sleeping bag and the sky for ceiling Enjoying the last glimpse of the sun going down behind the hills of the canyon in which is the park.
When the sun was totally down, he decided to secure all his stuff on the bike. He didn’t want to have his gear flying off during the night due to that constant breeze… that will actually change during the night into some really strong wind. The night was rough, the wind was making a lot of noise and played with his strong imagination. Many time he woke up, at some point, he didn't even know if he was awake or dreaming. He felt like something like a coyote jump over him. He stood out of his sleeping bag screaming to the animal or to his imagination to piss off. He would never know if there was really something or it was only in his head. Still, he really flipped that night. He slept with his glasses on, the headlamp on his forehead and a knife in his hand. He probably just freaked out for no reason. It can be scary sometimes be by yourself in an unknown place. A good thing about it, he had to enjoy a good part of the show the stars were giving that night.
With very few hours of sleep, the sun rising from behind one of the surrounding hill woke him up. If the night was rough, it was just a preparation for how harsh the day will be… His plan was to make it to Yellowstone, but apparently, the park is still close to traffic because of the latest snowstorm. So he’ll be following the highway 90 and make it to Butte which is supposed to be a really nice student town. ‘’Maybe I can find a cheap hostel and enjoy some beers with some young fellows.’’ The last weather reports were predicting a snowstorm in Colorado which will eventually hit the South Dakota. That was the reason for the choice of a much northerly route than what he wanted to take. Rolling off his campsite in the morning, it was sunny and kind of warm for an early takeoff. It wasn’t too windy, which felt great at this moment.
After some fifty kilometers, on the horizon, the dark clouds were promising some rain. Decided to stop and dressed up to be prepared for what’s coming. Within the next 50 km, a big drop of temperature and a little mist of rain. Even with the snowboard mittens on, his hands were frozen. He decided to make his first stop in Miles City to warm up and eat breakies.
The Golden Arches is the place of predilection for fast road trip feeding. How can you beat, a breakfast sandwich, a large coffee, and a chocolate chip muffin for less than 3$?! Food is cheap, coffee is cheap, they have ‘’clean’’ toilet and Wi-Fi for communication, cheap traveler gotta know where to cut and take advantage of some installations. It’s definitely not the healthiest food option and he's aware of that, but like everything with moderation, Clown Shit can be good.
Warming up, he got engaged in a conversation with a group of elderly fellows having their morning coffee at the next table:
Old fellows: ‘’ What is that little thing on your helmet? How does it work? Where is the film? Where are you heading? Where are you from?Do you know it’s snowing 50 miles west from here?’’ (So many questions from all of them, all at the same time, he probably answered 50% of them.)
Lepirate: ‘’ What? It’s snowing?’’
One old man: ‘’Yes it’s snowing in Billings, I left this morning and there was snow on my truck.’’
Lepirate: ‘’Is it snowing like really bad? Do you think I can make it through the storm with the bike?’’
One old man: ‘’ Well, yeah probably if you have balls, haha!’’
Lepirate: ‘’Seem like there is only one way to find out!’’