I rolled into NYC mid-afternoon on Saturday. Well, not really into NYC but rather Hoboken, NJ, where my friend Troy lives. But it’s just across the river from NYC, so it’s practically NYC (that’s what they say around here).
It’s very cool being back here. I lived in NYC from 1999-2001, and I’m slowly remembering places, things, smells, sights. We went and checked out my old apartment building, walked around Central Park, stayed out late talking shit and catching up, ate at the restaurant that was my favorite when I lived here (Moustache), listened to a fantastic and eclectic private gig in a mansion home in Brooklyn (Gabriel Rios, Jeff Taylor, Ruben Samama and Amber Docters Van Leeuwen), ate more fantastic food.
Today I took my bike to a Kawasaki dealership in NJ and got ripped off on an oil change. The shop boys appeared to know less about bikes than I do, and had very little advice to my many questions. I still bought some more gear (tank bag, wheel lock, etc) and rode off. They were duly impressed that I was riding to South America, I was unimpressed with their shitty attitude and service. They charged me for a full service and didn’t even lube my chain.
The next few days will be busy with getting my Explorers Club flag, visiting old friends, buying maps and gear, and then setting off again. I may even get to go for a sail with some of my old sailing buddies…fingers crossed.
I walk into the campground office at the Rice River campground just outside of Minneapolis. A young woman is working the desk. I ask about rates, sites, etc and then tell her I want to take a campsite. She asks for my vehicle registration.
Camper Girl: Wow, you’re from Canada. We never have people from Canada camping here.
Me: Well, guess today’s your lucky day then.
Camper Girl then asks for something with my address and photo on it. I give her my HK/International drivers license.
Camper Girl (studies it for a long time.): There’s no address on here.
Me: Yes there is (pointing it out)
Camper Girl: Sai….Ying….Pun. Is that even a word?
I’m nearly falling asleep on the road somewhere in Indiana, so I pull over at a corner store in some small town. An old guy is sitting up front on a bench, a huge Harley Davidson parked next to him. I can see he’s talking to me, but I have ear plugs and a helmet on, so I’m deaf. I finally unplug my ears.
Me: What were you saying?
Harley (in a measured voice, making it clear he’s repeating himself): I said, my God you’re loaded down with shit. Do you have a wife along or something?
Me: No, but I’m on the road for 6 months, so I’m carrying a lot of stuff.
Harley: I’ve seen a lot of women travel lighter than that.
Me: Thanks. (I later get my revenge by proving him wrong on geography. He was convinced I had to drive down the Baja Peninsula to get to Central America. I pointed it out on the map. He was wrong.)
I stop for gas at a small roadside station somewhere along the 224 in Ohio. It’s ungodly hot out. And older guy gets out of a car filled with about 6 generations of the same family. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned way down low, showing a chest of curly white hair.
Hairy Chest: So. Going on a bit of a trip, are you?
Me: Yea. On my way to New York and then to Argentina.
Hairy Chest: Really? Wow. Great trip. Nice bike. You drive safe now. (wanders back to the car.)
Hairy Chest (to woman in car): Mary! That guy is driving that motorcycle all the way to Argentina!
Mary: Well I say!
Hair Chest: Isn’t that something?
Mary: It sure is.
Hairy Chest (leans on car, scratching is chest. Then turns back to the woman leaning out of the window. ) Mary, where is Argentina?
Same stop, same station. Five minutes later, and I’m putting my helmet on, getting ready to ride on. A red Dodge Dakota truck pulls up. Guy leans out of the window.
Red Truck: Nice bike! You look like you’re going a ways.
Me: Yea, I am. I’m doing a 6 month ride down to Argentina.
Red Truck: Holy Q#$#%#$! That’s a long ride. Alone?
Me: Well, for most of the way, yea.
Red Truck: Well, you have fun. (Starts to pull away, I walk back to my bike. Red Truck stops, leans out of his window.) Hey!
Red Truck: Is Argentina south of Mexico?
Me: Yea, it’s all the way at the southern tip of South America.
Red Truck: Oh.
I’m in Ohio, on my way to NYC. Time to backtrack and tell you how it all began.
I set off on Monday…but I only rode as far as a muddy riverbank outside of Niverville. Where the Red and Rat rivers meet is where, in 1874, my Great-Great-Grandfather and his 9-year old son arrived by riverboat from S. Russia along with about 35 other families. That’s where I stopped for my first night, and was joined by about 20-25 friends and family, including an impressive showing of my uncles and aunts. We built a fire and Menno Kroeker retold the story of that first landing. My aunties gave me schnetjie and honey, jereischte tveiback and a guardian angel. Then everyone left, the fire died, and I crawled into my tent for the night.
In the morning I was off. I skipped across the Canada/US border, making jokes that the guards didn’t find funny in the least. Then I zig zagged my way south, sticking mostly to secondary roads, where I speeded and enjoyed the curves. I camped my first night just outside of Minneapolis, having made more than 700km for the day.
I set off again, taking the very scenic 35 down the west side of Wisconsin before cutting east to Chicago. I’d made 800km by the time I arrived in Wilmette. There I found my old friend Chris Hipschen, his wife LIza and children Harry and Jennifer. I hadn’t seen Chris in 12 years. He looked just like he did when he lived on my couch in Chicago, and we had a lot to catch up on. A warm bed, good meal, a few beers and many stories later I set off once again.
Day 3 wasn’t too great. It took me hours to get out of Chicago heading southeast, and then when I did get out I made the mistake of hitting a freeway to make up for lost time. I hate freeways, their traffic, their horrible human encampments at the exits. It is impossible to get food that is not deep-fried at any of these stops, and that is a fact. Too many big 4×4 family wagons careening along with one person inside, sucking away on a super big drink (only 29c to upgrade to XXXXXXXXXX-large!). For some reason the bike feels very uncomfortable on a big highway, although I go no faster than I do on a small road. She also does not like it, I guess. I got rained on, several times, and was miserable and my jaw ached from grimacing.
Finally, in early afternoon, I snapped out of it and found the 613 cutting across western Ohio. Much better. I’m still doing 110-120km/hr, but now the bike feels steady and safe, and I get to down shift and roar around curves, slow down and see all those pretty little American country towns. Sturdy red brick buildings, green lawns and so many American flags I sometimes wonder if they grow wild around these parts. The towns are really very nice. Late in the afternoon I rolled into yet another one of those towns and found a man washing his firetruck outside the firehouse, women and children hanging around outside in the sun. Oh, where have the 1950s gone? The fireman directed me to a hotel, and that’s how I ended up in Findlay, Ohio for the night, holed up in a dodgy motel where the front desk guy, an affable Indian, told me he’d never seen a Canadian motorbike before. Yea right, I bet he says that to all of them.
Menno Moto begins on the banks of the Rat River where it meets the Red River (near Niverville) on Monday night. This is where the 1874 Mennonites landed. There’ll be a historian on hand to retell the story. I’ll camp there for the night and then ride of in the morning. Join if you like, around 7-8 pm. Campfire, adventure tales, and Mennonite history.
The Explorers Club has granted me the honour of carrying Flag #172 on my Menno Moto journey. This makes the trip an official “Explorers Club Flag Expedition”, which means they endorse the journey/book/film and that if I do anything silly they will get angry with me. Given the description below, they must have loosened the rules a bit, cause I’m not a scientist. So I’ll ride over to the club on my bike while in NYC and pick it up.
The Explorers Club flag represents an impressive history of courage and accomplishment and has been carried on hundreds of expeditions by Club members since 1918. To carry the Club flag is an honor and a privilege. It has flown at both poles, from the highest peaks of the greatest mountain ranges, traveled to the depths of the ocean, to the lunar surface, and outer space. A flag expedition must further the cause of exploration and field science. An early flag featured a four-pointed white star with the name Explorers Club in the middle, all on a red silk field. It is believed that the first member to carry the flag on an expedition was the zoologist Theodoor de Booy, who journeyed to Venezuela about 1918. Today there are 202 numbered flags, each with its own history. Many of the older flags have been retired. A select handful of these retired flags are framed and displayed at headquarters in New York City, including the flags carried by Roy Chapman Andrews, Bob Bartlett, Thor Heyerdahl, Naomi Uemora, and the miniature flag carried by the astronauts onboard Apollo 11. Use of the flag is governed by stringent standards. To obtain permission to carry the flag, a Club member must show that the expedition holds the promise of scientific results. The flag must be exhibited at every suitable opportunity on the expedition, and must be returned to the Club along with a written record of the expedition, called the Flag Report. The Club’s Research Collections is the repository for these unique reports, including the original “Flag Book”—a bound journal of handwritten reports, vintage prints, clippings, and assorted records submitted by the explorers who first carried The Explorers Club flag on expeditions. To the individuals who have carried it, the flag stands as a reminder of the dignity of the Club and of the high standards it expects of its members.
I’m very pleased to announce that my friend Jeremy Hiebert will be composing and recording the soundtrack for the Menno Moto documentary. Jeremy is the guitarist and central member of the Winnipeg hardcore band Comeback Kid. I grew up with Jeremy in Mennville, and he also spent a few years on a Mennonite colony in Belize. You can check out his music here, although the soundtrack will sound a wee bit different than that. This is what people mean when they refer to the “Mennonite Mafia”.
I will be doing a book signing/talk at Aspire Theatre on 2nd Avenue in Gimli, MB at 7:30pm on Thursday, June 14, hosted Tergesen’s. I will be joined by authors Bill Redekop and Conrad Lamb.
Crazy busy getting ready these days. Got the bike, with the panniers, so I’m making adjustments to the set up, packing, meeting with Mennonite experts, buying last minute stuff. Doesn’t help that I have a raging head cold. I Will try to post some pictures soon.
I plan to leave from Manitoba on Monday/Tuesday and be in NYC by around Saturday, the 23rd.
If you missed the first book tour for The New Northwest Passage you still have a chance…I’m doing a second lap of Canada and the US in June. Here are the details:
Thursday, June 7: Seattle Yacht Club Luncheon
Friday, June 8: Vancouver, People’s Co-op Books signing, 7:00 – 9:00pm
Saturday June 9: Winnipeg, Chapters signing, 2:30 – 5:30pm
Sunday, June 10: Winnipeg, McNally Robinson signing, 2:00pm – 4:00pm.
Tuesday, June 12th, Winnipeg, Manitoba Club. Luncheon talk 1130am – 1:30pm.
Thursday, June 14th: Gimli, Tergesen’s, presentation/signing 7:30 – 9:30pm.
Stay tuned for dates in the New York/US east coast area. You can follow this project on Twitter @OPEsailing or “like” the Facebook page Open Passage Expedition to get updates.
The ebook version of The New Northwest Passage will be out soon, and Great Plains, Relish Design and I are working on an iPad version that will combine the book with video, audio, extra photos and climate change data, creating a very cool new way to explore the Northwest Passage. The iPad app will be out in time for Christmas, so tell Santa you want one.
The other good news is that the UK/Irish rights to the book have been bought by Sandstone Press in Scotland. So watch for The New Northwest Passage in UK book stores soon.
I’m setting off on a new adventure. Starting in June I will ride a motorcycle from my home village in Manitoba to the tip of South America to research a new book and film about Mennonite culture in Latin America. You can follow the project on Twitter @camerondueck or at www.facebook.com/mennomoto or at my website www.camerondueck.com.