Stellular – Sometimes It’s The Only Word

Many lives ago, I worked for a small PR firm back in the hood.  A friend and I could not come up with the proper descriptor for an article we were doing, so we made up our own – stellular.  It’s what works when you’ve exhausted all other possibilities within your thesaurus.  It’s what you go to when mere “excellent” and “awesome” will not work.  You’re free to use it, just please give credit where it is due.  The adventures from this past week have far exceeded any image I could have conjured up.  You go into these ventures with somewhat of a blueprint image in your mind but quickly decide to throw it right out.  This is why we never totally plan out our trip.  We know our first night, maybe the last night, but never know what’s going to happen in between.  You can’t create a good time, it just happens.  Nor can you recreate a previous experience.  That would be silly now, wouldn’t it?  Would you really like it to be “Groundhog Day” every day?  I didn’t think so.  And that’s how our journey has been as it truly has far exceeded any of our expectations.  Now, on with the show…

Before leaving Whistler, we knew we had to find a way to get a shot of our bikes in front of the Olympic rings in Olympic Square before we left.  And we did.  At 7AM, when all were hung or with the kiddos, Terry and I quietly rolled our bikes into the square, took several shots, and quietly rolled them out.  Nary a warm body strolled past; no one even batted an eye.  Stellular.

As we rolled along Highway 99 toward Kamloops, we really had no idea what kind of ride and scenery we were going to encounter.  It was after that that Terry told me it was ranked as one of the top three motorcycle roads in North America.  And man, he ain’t lyin’!  With every roll out of a turn came a scene so immense, so awesome that it was all we could do to not stop every several minutes to take it all in.  Sometimes it’s about the whole ride experience, not just what you capture on film.  Many pictures are meant only for your mind and cannot be shared.  You must go experience it yourself.  One thing we did have to be present for was the mass amount of gravel that was splayed on the roads.  I think they hire somebody to put it there just to keep all of us from running off the cliffs.  And being two heavily weighted bikes, we took our time and didn’t rush the moment.  Not a bad thing, really.

After a mediocre lunch of wrong orders and a chicken jerky sandwich, we decided to land for the night in Kamloops, our heads still reeling from the day’s ride.  We weren’t going to forget that one any time soon.  We stopped at the visitor’s center in Kamloops to pick up camping information.  Jack was eager to get in some more tent time and we were as well.  It’s easier to rehash the day’s events over a campfire than a cramped hotel room.  Do you have a campground near by?  Yes, just one.  The others are about 20 minutes away.  Fine.  We’ll try the local grounds.  And by local I mean ‘locals’!  Let’s just say it was yet another reality lesson for Jack – when people are LIVING in the campground, there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign outside SELLING campsites and several dudes in a barely-running car pull out of the driveway, you kind of get the feeling that the hotel room wouldn’t be so bad.  Poor kid.  There were several tears as today was not the day he wanted to learn yet another lesson.  So, to the Holiday Inn Express we go!  Pool?  Yes.  Laundry?  Not so much.  Boo.  Oh well, it’s off to Safeway to get fixins’ for dinner.  Yes, Jet Boil cooking in the room with the windows open.  Why?  We just can’t do another bad, overpriced restaurant meal.  Tonight’s menu?  Beef fillets, sautéed greens and potatoes.  Ta da!  Now THAT’S Jet Boil cookin’.

Our boy, Zak, at the hotel in Whistler advised us against staying in Banff.  “More touristy than Whistler and not as beautiful as Lake Louise”, he said.  Not a problem here!  We took his word for it as were quickly tiring of the larger towns, tour buses and throngs of souvenir seeking tourists.  Ugh.  We set sail heading east with Alberta on the brain.  The closer we got to the border, the faster the cars and trucks were going.  Want to pass us?  No problem.  There was one truck in particular that was going rather fast.  I radioed Terry to pull to the right and let him go.  Whew!  Glad to have him off my taillight.  About an hour or so later, we were met with a traffic jam.  Some sort of accident.  We were just hoping that no one was hurt.  It had stopped raining for the moment, so it was a good time to gear up for the cold, grab something to drink and hang out with the other motorists while we waited it out.  We did meet a nice family from Oregon.  Well, we met a nice husband and kids.  The wife?  Not so much.  But how nice can you be when you’re wearing 3/4 length khakis and a sensible ‘do.  Whatever.  It took a good 45 minutes before the traffic began to creep forward.  Fortunately we were surrounded by all that nature had to offer.   We really weren’t complaining.  Slowly we crept, practicing our low speed riding.  It took quite a while to get to the scene of the accident.  Have you guessed by now who might have been involved?  Uh huh, the truck we had let pass just a little while previous.  A mangled mess of metal and engine blood was strewn about the highway.  Lesson learned, kids?  Nothing is worth the price of admission in this life.  Going to be 5 minutes late?  Not worth it.  Gotta get there before that traffic really piles up?  Nope, not that either.  Think about this the next time you just HAVE to get somewhere.

Rolling through Glacier National Park is an experience unlike any other we’ve had.  Only one other time have I ever felt so puny, so in awe, so insignificant.  Massive spikes of glacier cut rock shot into the sky with such force.  Snowmelt streams of Tiffany-blue graced the valley floor, dancing along in nature’s symbiotic rhythm.  It was all we could do to not run off the road.  Heavy sigh…  Again, we’ve been reminded that nature is in charge.  Stellular.

Did I happen to mention that the rain showers hadn’t stopped for most of our trip?  Did I also mention that we planned on camping at Lake Louise for 2 nights?  I didn’t?  Well, now you can imagine just how damp we were going to get or continue to be.  Zak was correct in his explanation of the region.  How often do you get the chance to camp along the base of the Canadian Rocky Mountains?  Not often enough, I’m sure.  Between rain showers, we walked the camping grounds, making sure not to touch the electric fence or step on the electrified cattle guard.  What?  Yep!  Have to keep the wildlife out somehow.  Honestly, it was more of a Darwin test.  We were warned upon entrance not to put our feet down on the yellow guard.  Not a problem, sir!  Though the camping was certainly wet, we made the best of it.  Raining?  Stand like a horse underneath a tree.  We called those our equine moments.  Can’t get the wet wood to light?  Break off some of the sap balls from the trees and you have instant fuel.  Not kidding.  Try it sometime.  We now have a Ziploc full of them for those ‘just in case’ times.  We did meet a lovely German couple that were currently living in Chicago.  Hey, we rode there last year!  Cristina stood in awe of how we packed our bikes and carried so much gear.  Why thank you, Cristina.  It’s been years in the making.  I also met 2 Brazilian moto dudes who were making the trek from South America to Alaska and back home.  Between their broken English and my broken Spanish, we’re either married or they’re going to stay a night with us when they roll through the Sacramento area.  I’m hoping for the latter.  Very cool guys.

After 2 damp days and several pieces of wet gear later, we did decide to roll through Banff on our way back to British Colombia.  And Zak was right about Banff as well.  Buses, tourists, sensible clothing, shopping.  Ta da!  You’ve now had the dime tour.   Okay, we did get the chance to dump some photos at Starbucks and meet some very nice guys from Ontario.  They, too, are hoping to stop by the Borden Abode on their way south.  No chance of marriage this time.  A quick stop for a sticker and away we rode through the Canadian Rockies.  Did I mention that the Alberta drivers were a tad scary on the road?  Did I also mention that it was a 3-day weekend to Celebrate Canada Day?  Okay, don’t tell my dad, but as we were rolling through the Rockies, totally diggin’ the scenery, I was run off the road by the driver behind me.  Did I also mention that it was fuh-reezing and raining?  So this guy is tailing me and anyone who rides knows to always keep your head in your mirror and ALWAYS have a bailout spot.  I was doing both, KNOWING this guy was going to pull out at any second.  But wait, there’s a car coming towards us as well.  Surely he wasn’t going to try and pass NOW.  I was wrong.  I put my hand out to him to STOP, pointing at the other car but alas; he took off anyway, forcing me onto the shoulder.  Thankfully, Alberta planned for just such an occasion and had very large shoulders along the route.  Let’s just say he got the ADV sign all around.  Terry was ready to hunt him down.  And the dude had HIS whole family in the car!  He just waved and gave a stupid smile.  I was fuming!  But what were we going to do?  Chalk it up and keep rolling forward.

We stopped for the night at Fairmont Hot Springs Hotel, right along the BC side of the Rockies.  We spent the evening soaking our weary bodies in the natural spring pools, even meeting people from Calistoga and Santa Rosa, my old stomping grounds.  The world continues to get smaller.  The next day was Canada Day (Eh?) and I didn’t have a Terrence and Phillip shirt to wear!  Next time.  And did I mention that there was a triathlon going on outside our room?  This was really cutting into my sleeping in time.  Oh well, on with the packing.

Whitefish, Montana was the next stop on the tour.  In all of our days touring Canada, there has not been a bad road.  Even the road to the border was no exception.  Again, we skirted the Rockies, even better this time as the weather had cleared up.  It’s a good day when you don’t have to layer up like the kid on ‘A Christmas Carol’ because it’s an even uglier sight when one of us falls.  At the border crossing into Montana, we were met with quite a long line of cars, motorcycles and motorhomes.  REALLY hoping this wasn’t going to take too long.  All 3 of us needed to gear down but didn’t want to do so until we hit American soil.  Fortunately, it didn’t take too long.  And at the border, we didn’t even have to take off our helmets!  Dude, we could’ve smuggled in a whole army of Canadians, drugs and nuclear weapons without a hitch!  No wonder our country is in such a state.  Geared down and watered up, we rolled into Whitefish looking for a spot to camp.  It was time to air out our camping gear, musty smells and all.  At the edge of town was a national park camping area with a FULL sign neatly displayed.  In the world of full campgrounds, the worst they can say is no…but there’s always a way in.  We rolled up and asked the very nice woman if there were any cancellations.  No, but there’s a woman who has a house for sale and lovely grounds that is offering to house all the overflow campers for the weekend.  How nice is that?  We parked off to the side near the sign that announced that there’s always room for hikers and bikers.  Wait a minute.  That’s right!  They ALWAYS have campsites for them!  And we don’t take up much room, do we?  I walked back to ask about the site and low and behold, she and her partner, Ron, had just discussed us staying in that section.  Brilliant!  After a tour of the site in Ron’s golf cart, I gave Terry and Jack a thumbs up and we moved in for the night.  We were camped next to a young cycling couple from Bozeman who were quite pleasant.  Gotta love camping.  You’re vulnerable, leaving yourself open to conversation and meeting cool people.  I was off to town for some cooking supplies while the boys set up camp.  Whitefish, as it turns out, is Montana’s answer to Sonoma.  Beautiful, small town filled with Range Rovers, Louis Vuitton and small dogs.  Boo.  Oh well.  We had our little spot by the lake and a homemade fishing pole for Jack.  Terry had tied up the hook and weight onto a long stick then I fashioned a cork on the line for a bobber.  Huck Finn had nothing on the Borden’s.  At the dock we met a grandfather who was entertaining his grandsons from Boise.  The boys had quickly tired of fishing, so Norm (NORM!) offered up a pole to Jack.  Thanks, Norm!  We slept like babies that night with the exception of the train that rolled past our heads at 4AM.  At least it didn’t wake up Jack.  It’s now confirmed that Jack can sleep through anything.

The next morning we awoke early to get on the road.  It was going to be a long day (350 miles) and we needed to get an early start. As we were packing the bikes, our tent neighbor, Bill, wandered over to check out the scene.  He had a bike like mine for several years but sold it, as he never had the chance to ride.  He was a cyclist and bike mechanic, but didn’t have enough time to spend on the moto.  Bill was a really cool dude.  As I finished up, Terry asked Bill and his girlfriend, Amy, about the best way to get to Bozeman.  They were full of good info, thankfully.  A little bit later, Bill asked us where we were going to stay?  Not sure yet, but there’s always a Best Western or Holiday Inn Express to be found.  Would you guys like to stay at my place instead?  Excuse me?!?  Bill, did you just offer up your house to us?  Yes, he did.  There was a guest room, washer and dryer, and a garage full of tools if we needed them.  Wow.  Terry was stunned, I was giddy and Jack was eager to get a full nights rest.  Why yes, Bill, we’d love to stay at your home.  Stellular.

And that’s where we are at the moment, preparing to depart and head toward Yellowstone in Wyoming to meet up with Ara and Spirit.  Bill’s home is a contemporary masterpiece.  Just my style.  The facilities far exceeded anything a hotel had to offer.  He will forever be remembered as Bozeman Bill.  Paying it forward is quite a concept.  Karma does exist.  When you receive an unexpected gift from a stranger, sometimes you don’t know how to react.  But you should know how to return the karma.  If you see someone in need, offer up a solution.  If you know you can help a situation, step in and offer guidance.  It really is simple but it does require you to step out of that comfort zone we’ve been talking about this whole trip.  And that, my friends, is your challenge for the day.  Pay it forward to a friend, a stranger, whomever you see in need of a solution.  Because of Bill, we had a free place to stay complete with laundry and showers and cold beer in the fridge.  (Terry’s out picking up replacements as we speak.)  And because of his generous offer, we’ve once again expanded the circle of friends we’ve made along our travels.  You never know who you’re going to meet and how they can help you along the way.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  No, it’s stellular.  Cheers.