Monday, December 20, 2010

Feliz Navidad!

Greetings from warm and sunny Mazatlan! Since my last post Rosi and I have basically fallen into the “groove” of day-to-day living down here. Nothing too exciting, just basically all the things we’d do at home. Which is why I haven’t been posting anything. No one really wants to read about shopping at the supermarket, getting our eye exams and buying new glasses and contacts or our 5 K walk each morning. Just know that we’re alive and well and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Brad is coming down on Friday to join us for Christmas, Patty and John will be here next Monday for New Years and Tami and Marilyn will be here at the end of January. We’re going to save some of the touristy stuff for when they’re all here so we may have a few things to share after that. As for now, we just want to send Christmas greetings to all our friends and family and wish everyone all the very best during the holidays Feliz Navidad

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our hearts still belong to Mexico!

Hi Everyone
Greetings from Mazatlan!

I wish I could tell you tales about the ongoing drug war and how we bravely fought our way south through bandito infested badlands. Or how the "vibe" has changed in Mexico because of all the problems. Or even how crossing the border has become an issue of running a gauntlet of death and destruction............but I can't.

But don't think we weren't just as worried about all these things as some of our friends and family. We were! As a matter of fact, by the time we were close to Nogales we had pretty much convinced ourselves that we would cancel any plans to buy in Mexico and concentrate on some of the alternatives in the US: Phoenix, Palm Springs and others - all places with warm weather, no language barrier and best of all, HUGELY depreciated property values. Places where it's now possible to buy a nice townhouse or patio home in a gated community for less than $150,000.

But then we crossed into Mexico.

Prior to arriving in Nogales we corresponded with other Snowbirds we'd "met" on a discussion board specifically set up so people could convoy down together to mitigate the risk of road blocks and (insert whatever you fear the most at this point: carjacking, theft, murder, gang rape etc. ) The theory being that there's strength in numbers. So at 8:00 am we joined three other Snowbird couples at the Wal-Mart parking lot, two from BC and one from Ontario, them with motor homes and fifth wheels and us with our CR-V loaded to the gunwales, and we headed to the border.

The border is only five minutes from where we started and the first realization was that nothing much had changed. We expected guards, tanks and machine guns - or at the very least someone - anyone - with some sense of concern. Instead we drove though a checkpoint on the US side where smiling US border guards simply waved us through and on the Mexican side......nothing. No press the button for red light/green light, no stern guards with guns and fact no anything. One minute we were in the US and the next, Mexico. And because this time we used the truck crossing south of town rather than the main crossing we crossed over onto a ring road that by-passes Nogales on the Mexican side altogether so there's even less of the normal culture shock of crossing from the US into Mexico. So, Voila! We were in Mexico with no muss, no fuss, and even more important, no apparent changes.

Our second realization came within a few more minutes of driving south; driving in a convoy, especially a convoy made up of RV's, is a HUGE PIA if you're the one in a car. We stuck it out until we reached the customs and immigration checkpoint 20 klm south but when we got there we were the only ones apparently, that knew you could make all your arrangements in advance on-line through the Mexican govt website. Rosi and I were done in five minutes but everyone else was going to take at least an hour.

And that's when it hit us. We were "home". No anxiety, no more fear of death and destruction, and without even realizing it, were already more relaxed and upbeat than we'd been since leaving the house.

We also noticed something else.....Snow Birds - lots and lots Snow Birds! In the short time we were there, more and more motor homes, RV's and retires arrived and all stood in line for their paperwork (Have NONE of these people heard of the internet!?)

One couple though, behind us in the passport line, seemed to be just as “in the know” as us. We struck up a conversation and it turns out they’re a retired couple from Victoria driving down to their house in La Manzanilla, just outside of Barra de Navidad. They’re travelling with their 12 year old Husky/Shepherd mix, Jade, who looks exactly like the littlest Hobo. We ran into them again at dinner, when we both stopped at the same hotel for the night. We exchanged addresses etc and we would have invited them to overnight here in Mazatlan with us but because it was our first time renting here we weren’t sure what we’d find so we didn’t. But now we have our first Snow Bird friends so maybe next year!

We rationalized that if all of these Snow Birds(all of them older than us) are still coming down it must be fairly safe - and with the thought that there would now be people behind us to pick up the pieces so to speak, we ditched our convoy and headed out on our own.

And from there........there's not much to tell. How does one convey the absence of something? The absence of fear, the absence of......pretty much anything out of the ordinary? It was a normal, uneventful two-day drive on good Mexican divided highway, the last three hours or so of which was high-speed Autopista. We averaged 120 - 130 KPH, stayed one night in a great Best Western half way down and arrived unscathed at 2:00 on Tuesday.

We're now firmly ensconced in a nice townhouse in an area north of Mazatlan known as the Cerritos district. It's a new area under development approx 20 minutes from downtown, similar to Nuevo Vallarta in PV. We're in a large gated community with a mix of middle-class Mexican families and Mexican retirees, seasonal Snow Birds and a few permanent ex-Pats. Since arriving we've made a HUGE grocery run to a VERY modern Mexican grocery store - think Wal-Mart Supercentre except much more high-end - and today our mission is to buy a Mexican cell phone so we can stay in touch with friends and family back home. All pretty routine and pretty boring stuff so, unless there’s something new or exciting to report, this will be my last blog entry for a while.

As Ward said to us once, we're not on vacation, we live here. For the first time Rosi and I can say the same thing.

We're not sure what we'll decide vis-à-vis buying here vs. the US. All it would take is for the drug war, which still exists whether we sensed a change or not, to escalate and real estate here will be worthless, but we're certainly more open to the idea than a few days ago. As Johnny Depp would say, are you a Mexi-can, or a Mexi-can't? I've often said God seems to favour the brave, or the blissfully ignorant in our case, so don't be too surprised if we end up here after all.

Take care all
Adios Mi amigos Y Mi Familia

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oh my GOD!!

Hi Everyone Let's see, where to begin. The rest of the trip wasn't too bad. The roads opened at 10:00 but were pretty crappy with blowing and drifting snow most of the way to Salt Lake City but by then it was mostly clear sailing. We stopped for a brief visit to see my niece Arleen and then continued to St George Utah. On Thursday it was clear skies, warm temperatures and an uneventful drive to Phoenix. was the incredible part. Rosi gave me a gift for my 50th that was amazing! I received a four-hour fighter combat experience at Fighter Combat International in Mesa. I showed up at 11:15 and had ground school and a briefing that lasted about 90 minutes. After that I rode with an instructor pilot in a high performance aerobatic plane that's capable of 10G. It's basically one of the best aerobatic planes built and other than speed, is capable of maneuvers only a jet fighter could do. The pilot takes off and lands, and goes through a demo of each maneuver, but after that I was able to actually take the "stick" and fly! I flew three combat missions against another pilot, complete with simulated machine guns and smoke, and I flew several acrobatic maneuvers on my own: a full loop, the Cuban roll and a hammerhead stall. The whole experience was amazing! And more than a little frightening - and yes, at one point I got sick. You try pulling 4.2G inverted in a plane not much bigger than a Honda Civic and tell me you don't get scared - or sick. Anyway, it's now just a great memory - plus a plaque, a ball cap and my own leather call sign off of my flight suit..... Tomorrow we're only driving as far as Nogales and then on Monday we cross into Mexico for the last few days of the trip. Adios Mi Amigos!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....NOT!

Hi everyone
Just a short note to let friends and family know we're alive and well in Burley ID. There were a few "pucker" moments on the drive due to the weather but overall it went fairly smoothly. We're now firmly ensconced in a warm friendly hotel and I'm SOOOO glad I had reservations. The blizzard has closed the Interstate between here and the Utah border and from what we can tell, much of Utah itself, and there was no room at the Inn for those without firm reservations. We just got back from dinner at a truck stop cafe next door and there were people in there that are worried they'll have to sleep in their cars if they can't find something.

We've got our fingers crossed that the road will open in the morning and we can make our way further south but we won't take any unneccessary risks.......more to follow tomorrow

Monday, November 22, 2010

Notes from the road

Hola Mi Familia Y Amigos
Nothing new or exciting to report. It was a fairly uneventful drive down, albeit with a few wrinkles at the border because we didn't realize we couldn't bring dog food across. We had clear skies for the first half and then some fairly heavy blowing snow for a few hours but nowhere near as bad as a bad day on the Coquihalla. It was pretty slow going for a while - not because of us but because the truckers down here exercise MUCH more caution than at home - but we arrived here in Pendleton OR right around 5:00.
All is well

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Finally, We're Snow Birds!!

Hi All
Nothing too wild and/or exciting to report other than we're finally joining the ranks of all the other Canadian snow birds that head south for the winter.

Rosi and I have always said we'd eventually like to buy a second home in Mexico and we're finally at a stage in our lives where we can maybe act on it. There's an old adage though, never buy a home in a place you've only visited in February, so we're driving down to rent a house for a couple of months to see how much we really like it. The irony is we've gone to Mexico for four-five weeks every year for the last 20 years but we've never stayed in one place for longer than 10 days. The real test will see if we like sitting still for that length of time.

There's also the factor of the time and expense to drive down and not even mentioning an ongoing drug war between the government and different warring drug cartels. So this will be a real test - on several different levels.

We're leaving first thing Monday morning and taking our time driving to Phoenix. It's normally a 2 1/2 - 3 day drive but we're taking four days because we'll have Dexter with us and we want to give him lots of opportunity to stretch his legs. We took him in to get an international health certificate from our vet this week and she mentioned for the first time the inevitability of his old age. It was a bit of a shock to hear her articulate what we've been thinking for a while. His eyes are getting dim these days and he's pretty much lost most of his hearing but he still gets around OK, albeit a lot slower than last year, and he goes for a short walk twice a day. We're at a real cross-roads. He's now too old to leave in a kennel - which we would never do for two months anyway - but a trip of this length will be hard on him. All we can hope is the Mexican sun will warm his old bones when we get there. And if looking out for him means an extra night in a hotel to keep the driving days short he's more than earned it. He's given us unconditional love and companionship for 12 years and it's our turn to give back a little.

But.....not to get too melancholy......lets not forget why we're stopping in Phoenix. (Yes, it's to see my dad but....) Fighter Combat International Baby!!! WooHoo!!! By this time next week I'll be flying an hour-long combat mission in the sunny skies of Phoenix!!

We'll post a few quick updates from the road to let family know we're safe and sound but for the most part - Mexican banditos aside - we don't expect anything too exciting for the next week or so or at least until we arrive in Mexico.

So until I can post from our first stop in Pendleton OR,
Adios, Mi Amigos!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last thoughts from the road

It’s 9:00 am here in Ulaanbaatar and I’m sitting here in the hotel restaurant, quietly reflecting on the past few weeks. Outside the sun is shining and the city is going about its business. Like most mornings, traffic is absolute chaos by our standards – but seems to work. At least I haven’t seen any accidents and the pedestrians weaving their way through moving traffic all seem to make it.
My own personal nick-name for pedestrians braving a road crossing is the Mongolian death run. Think of Quail running in front of your car, their little stick legs moving for all they’re worth and you absolutely screaming inside Fly! Fly dammit, don’t run, you’re a bird! But they seem to make it too, so it must be true, as the SAS would say, Who Dares, Wins.

As I type this VERY well dressed Mongolian women are striding briskly on a cold crisp morning as they make their way to where ever they have to be. Shop keepers are opening their stores and Ulaanbaatar once more moves forward, both literally and figuratively.

I’ve been here over two weeks now and I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t the biggest fan. It’s a tough place to like at first. The air can be dirty, especially on a cold day when all the Ger’s in the vast Ger districts surrounding the city proper all fire up their small coal heaters at once, the traffic can be imposing and the older buildings left over from the Soviet era, all seem to be crumbling and decaying at once. But....... after a few days you see through this: the sun seems to shine brighter, you realize crumbling facades hide beautiful interiors and the people, who seem stoic and a little severe at first, reveal themselves as caring and engaging. Mongolia is like an onion. You need to peel through the layers to get to what’s inside – and the more you peel through the layers the more the country and the people reveal their true beauty. And I’ll admit, I’m now hooked. I absolutely love it here. The people are some of the most caring and appreciative you’ll ever meet and the country is vast and beautiful – just waiting to be explored by camel, horseback or cross country by Landcruiser.

Last night was our wind up dinner. We were entertained in a small banquet room in the Ulaanbaatar Hotel – a large opulent hotel from a bygone era. We were treated to a huge Mongolian dinner complete with enough Vodka to float a large boat. At this point I’m afraid to shave because if I cut myself I may just bleed out. I’m sure at this point my blood is running clear because of all the vodka I’ve consumed. Between Mongolian Karaoke, Mongolian Disco’s and one brave attempt at my classic dance move which went over really well with my Mongolian hosts, I’m sooooo ready to get back home.

But for all this I’m still more than a little humbled. I’ve met incredible people from government, and cooperative apex organizations and I was able to offer my advice and recommendations that may help shape the credit union movement going forward. To be asked by the Commissioner of the Financial Regulatory Commission, and the Director of the Micro Finance Department to meet with government to offer my input into draft legislation currently before parliament was the highlight of the trip – and something I’ll always treasure.

That’s it for now, I leave on a 24 hour trip back to Toronto in another few hours and by Sunday night it’ll all be behind me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alive and well in UB

Hi Everybody
The following is mostly for my family and friends but I know, due to the nature of the internet, it's really available for all to see.

First, my apologies; the time difference and my schedule here makes it difficult for me to keep up with all your e-mails and best wishes. It's been tough enough trying to connect by Skype with Rosi (love you sweety!) and I just haven`t been able to stay on top of the rest of my e-mails etc.

I wish I could tell you that I`ve been travelling the Mongolian countryside, riding camels, visiting ger`s and sampling Yak`s milk, but it wouldn`t be true. That`s NOT to say that I haven`t explored a little of Ulaanbaatar and that I`m not soaking up as much Mongolian culture as I can but it`s nowhere near the hardship some would think. Exotic and different- absolutely - but hardship travel, hardly.

This week my days consist of getting up around 6:30, making my way to breakfast around 7:00 or so, comparing notes with the other members of the team and maybe laying out a game plan with Scott, my partner and then walking the six blocks or so to the office where we`re working.

But Oh, what`s hard to believe but we`re working with everyday ordinary people trying to do their best in a hard thankless job as they lay the ground work for what could develop into a robust healthy credit union nationwide system. This week we`re offering our advice - and even more difficult for me to believe sometimes - they`re taking it - on how to structure a Stabilization Fund, a Deposit Insurance Corporation, Liquidity Shares and an overall approach to developing a Mongolian Central Credit Union.

I know as you read this it`s hard not to think yadda yadda yadda but that`s from a position of comfort and more important, stability. When you go to the bank you just know: your deposits are safe, your cheques will clear and the world will turn. And you know what, 50% of Mongolian`s have the same comfort. They drive nice cars, use the same ATM you do and go about their day to day lives with the same fears, worries and goals as the rest of us. But for the rest, it`s not so comfortable. They may or may not have a crop this year, a herd this fall or a meal this evening. And for these people a cooperative is often the answer. All of a sudden the Hands and Globe logo takes on a whole new meaning. It`s no longer just lip service or a nice pen when you sign a form; it`s the difference between subsistence and prospering, a hand up rather than a hand out and it`s being part of a worldwide movement designed to help those that help themselves - and I`ve never been more proud and more pleased to be part of it.

What we`re doing here is small, and may not matter in the long run, but action beats inaction and moving forward, even if in spurts, is better than the alternative.

As for me, all is well. I`m taking antibiotics and I`m feeling much better and `the longer I stay in UB the more I like it.

Take care

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Up Date from UB

Hi Everyone
I apologize for not keeping my postings as current as I'd like. We've been VERY busy and I've been quite under the weather. My head cold moved into my chest and from there I think it developed into pneumonia. I'm now taking antibiotics though and I think I'm on the mend!

This aside, the last few days have been hectic and absolutely chock-o-block full but VERY fulfilling. Since my last update we filed a report with the Co-operative apex organization, had dinner with senior representatives from two different co-operative organizations, visited a VERY cool statue of Chingas Khan and spent the night at a Gerr camp outside of UB. Our Mongolia hosts have treated us better than anyone could ever expect and are absolutely deadly at Karaoke!

That's it for now. I have several financial reports I still have to read and tomorrow we have a follow up meeting with the Director of Micro-Finance to offer our input into draft legislation before parliament to structure the Mongolian CU system. It's pretty humbling to be able to be part of something like this from the ground floor up.

Take care

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Up date from Mongolia

Day four in Mongolia, day ten on the road and a LONG way from home and I’m starting to feel it. Whether it was getting run down due to the travel, picking up a bug on the plane or the smoke in the air here in UB from the coal fired power plant, I’ve picked up a doozy of a head/chest cold. The problem is finding a pharmacy is a little easier said than done and when you do everything is imported from Russia, China or India. I’m a little reluctant to load up on pharmaceuticals I know nothing about but not to worry. There’s a peace core volunteer working for one of the NGO’s we’re partnered with and she says she has more than enough cold medicine brought over from home that will fix me right up.

Yesterday was another very full day. And just as some background information; this trip is part of a Mongolian credit union coaching and mentoring program. Most of the team members either hit the ground running to catch overnight trains to remote rural villages or are working with small financial cooperatives here in UB to offer advice and support. My partner Scott and I however were picked by our Mongolian hosts to work with two apex organizations. The Mongolian National Comparators Association, a trade and development organization representing all the cooperatives in Mongolia and MOCCU, the Mongolian Confederations of Credit Unions, which will hopefully play the role of a central credit union similar to BC Central. We’re also working indirectly with a third training and development NGO.

Neither of us has a background at the regulatory level so we’re not sure what the Mongolian partner saw in our resume’s that prompted them to pick us for this assignment, especially when others in our group look far more qualified. The only thing that stands out is we’re both now consultants vs. actual CU employee’s so that may have had something to do with it but I’m not sure why.

When I first heard I wouldn’t be traveling to a rural area with the rest of the group I was a little bummed but now I couldn’t be happier. Scott and I are working with some incredible people: senior management from various NGO’s and so far we’ve interviewed the president of the Union of Mongolian Production and Service Cooperatives and the Director of the Microfinance Department of the Financial Regulatory Commission of Mongolia.

I won’t lie: interviewing the Director was pretty cool. It was supposed to be just our coordinator and our embedded journalist. Scott and I were able to tag along because of the work we’re doing with MOCCU but it quickly morphed into seeming like our interview. The Director is a very professional woman with a very hard job. She has to implement new banking regulations that are currently before parliament and from that virtually reconstruct the Mongolian credit union system. No small feat when you consider the previous Commissioner was murdered when he tried to close corrupt credit unions prior to the collapse.

And now a few observations and thoughts in no particular order:
- Yes, in many area’s the roads are poor, the sidewalks are broken and the buildings are crumbling, but through this most Mongolian women stride along dressed to the absolute nines. As one of our group said, she wants to come back and open a boot shop because knee-high patent leather boots and VERY sharp business suits are the uniform dejur’ for Mongolian professional women.
- Most men wear business suits and those not in business attire are dressed just as sharply as their female counterparts.
- I seen VERY little litter and virtually no tagging and graffiti.
- And finally, here’s something that I think speaks volumes about their culture. The traffic is absolutely terrible and in many areas cars are double and triple parked three deep. We joked that if you were the car on the inside you’d be stuck until the others left but our guide said it’s not a problem because if you block someone in you leave your cell number on your windshield and it’s understood you’ll come back and move your car if it’s necessary.

Take care!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Co-operative Spirit

Greetings from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia!

The collapse of the Soviet empire hasn’t been kind to Mongolia. Prior to the collapse of communism and the restructuring of the USSR (AKA the complete pull out from all their satellite states) Mongolia was left to its own means and had to quickly adapt. Unfortunately what resulted was far more than a few growing pains. You can’t simply convert overnight from a totalitarian regime, one in which the State provides for, controls and is involved with every aspect of your life, to a market economy and your own unique version of democracy. The job they’ve done is incredible but along the way there’s been corruption, grinding poverty, soaring unemployment and steady deterioration of infrastructure. But through all this the Mongolian people have endured. With stoic perseverance and grim determination they’re moved on.

Next to crumbling monolithic soviet era apartment blocks and the severe, imposing facades of numerous government buildings you’ll also find new hotels, cranes dotting the skyline and construction literally everywhere. And between these imposing buildings you’ll find shops. Shops of every kind and every description – many of them the retail outlets for various co-op’s. Fleece co-ops, wool co-ops, handi-craft co-ops and everything in between. Co-ops made up of rural nomadic herders, established co-ops for the manufacturing and service sector and recently since 1990, financial co-ops operating as small, grass-roots credit unions providing loans a deposit services to the poor and disenfranchised that can’t otherwise get these services from the many commercial banks that can now dot the landscape.

The co-operative movement is very much alive in Mongolia. I don’t say alive and well, because it’s struggling but it’s still here and has no intention of folding camp anytime soon.

The co-operative movement in Mongolia goes back to the 30’s, albeit in a different form, when it was embraced by socialist thinking and culture as a way to bring prosperity to the collective. In the 90’s however the Soviet Union finally pulled out and a new fledgling democracy looked to co-operatives as an established model and encouraged and supported the movement in its efforts to bring a capitalism to the masses. It was this same time and circumstance that allowed the creation of the first financial co-ops or what we would know as credit unions. often is the case, the best of intentions doesn’t necessarily bring the results one would wish. By 1995 most imports from Russia ceased, food was rationed, and many businesses failed, including a lot of co-ops. Things looked good for a while, especially for credit unions, but then really fell off the rails in 2005. Through apparent mismanagement, liquidity issues, and what more than a few suspect was corruption at several levels more than 30 credit unions failed. Thousands of members lost millions of dollars and the people looked to the government for solutions and there were demonstrations in the streets. And since then things haven’t been much easier. A recent severe winter killed much of the nomadic herder’s livestock and unemployment and low wages plague the economy. Add to this the economic meltdown that effected all of us but none more so than the developing world, and it’s easy to understand that Mongolia has had more than its fair share of problems.

Through all of this however there have been dedicated Mongolian’s working hard in the background to wrestle a future for themselves from the current situation - and during the past two days I’ve had the incredible privilege and honour of working with a few of these people. One such person is the Executive Director of the Mongolian National Cooperative Association. A trained nuclear physicist that now works in the co-operative sector with few resources in a small out of the way office in one more non-descript government office. But what she and her staff lack in resources they more than make up with heart and desire. And between her and the others I’ve met that are just as dedicated and just as committed I know Mongolia has a bright future indeed.

And I’m humbled to be able to play whatever small part in this transformation that I can.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Notes from the Road

I thought I’d post a few observations and feelings from the road while they’re still fresh.

First, the first leg of the trip wasn’t as gruelling as I thought. We left at 1:30 in the morning, which is bad enough on its own but all things being equal it wasn’t horrible. Yes it’s long but the entire trip is made during the “night” because we flew west to east. Don’t ask me why but this seems to make it easier. It seems to help convince your internal clock that’s OK to sleep vs. if it was bright and sunny outside. The plane was full but the seat room was OK and here are my first observations of Koreans. And yes, I know my exposure is limited and one plane ride does not a full analysis make but ..........from my experience Koreans are polite, professional and VERY well presented. Why is it that we as North Americans have managed to adopt schlepping in our casual clothes as the uniform du jur’ for travel? I know it’s comfortable – and probably extremely pragmatic – but trust me, when you’re surrounded by an entire plane load of families and business people all dressed to the nines you very quickly feel like a fish out of water.

Now Korean Airlines itself – WOW!!! PLEASE Air Canada, send your senior staff to whatever school Korean Airlines sends their staff to. Very polite, VERY professional, lots of them and EXTREMELY well organized. We boarded around 1:00 and left at 1:30. It was a full plane with a three-three-three configuration and it was completely full. There was a sense of calm though, and loading was accomplished quickly and efficiently.

A half hour into the air we were served a breakfast reminiscent of plane travel in the Seventies: warm meals, real linen, small but still stainless steel utensils rather than a plastic spoon and attentive service followed by a warm towel and accompanied by free non-stop wine or beer. Korea – gotta love it!

This whole experience was continued in the Soul Airport. Rather than an airport full of overweight, poorly dressed workers wandering aimlessly throughout the concourse with nothing but a poor attitude to offer a wayward traveller the Soul Airport is staffed by a professional, well dressed and extremely efficient staff that approach their jobs with a sense of professionalism and pride – something long to lacking in North America. The airport is huge but well laid out and spotlessly clean and the whole experience is somehow a refreshing change.

As I type this I’m waiting for the next leg of our journey; the flight from Soul to Ulaanbaatar which is operated by the Mongolian national airline.......hmmm....only time will tell

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Be or Not to Be (Canadian) Eh?

Wow, what a day makes.
I came into this experience secure in my knowledge and belief - and more than a little smug - that as a Canadian I was different. I was one more of those multitude of Canadian travellers with my back pack and luggage adorned with Canadian flags so as not to be mistaken for our neighbours to the south. Was I a little self-centred? You bet. And naive and ill-informed too because apparently, not everyone is quite so willing to accept us with open arms - and Mongolia definitely falls into this camp.

I'm in Ottawa taking pre-departure Intercultural Training through CIDA and Foreign Affairs Canada and as part of this they brought in a woman from Mongolia to speak to us about various cultural differences we might face and to give us some background and insight in to the country and it's history. It was an amazing experience to hear-first hand what I've only read about up until now but some of what she spoke about was definitely NOT in the Lonely Planet guide I thought of as the definitive resource up until now.

I won't get into a geo-political discussion of all that she spoke about - and it must be acknowledged that hers is only one opinion that I've heard at this point - but a couple of things really hit home, not the least of which was the fact that as Canadians we might be received with less than open arms. It turns out that Canada has had fairly strained relations with Mongolia. We were the last G8 nation to open an embassy, which the Mongolians took as an insult and we have no "official" presence in the region, unlike our neighbours to the south who are helping with all kinds of development projects. But here's the real kicker.....the main bone of contention is our involvement in the Mongolian mining industry. It seems we're the biggest player on the ground and we're involved in several large gold mining projects but from the average Mongolians perspective it anything but an equal partnership. I have no idea if it's an accurate assessment or not but our liaison claims we're seen as an intruder that is only there to take and isn't giving back. What really stung is this is a phrase I've used myself to describe others, here and abroad, and I don't like it. To hear someone describe Canadians this way was a real eye opener.

Toto, we're definitely NOT in Kansas anymore. From here on out things might get interesting.

But, all this apprehension aside, sometimes you meet people so inspiring, so amazing, that you just have to share it. Last night was just such an occasion. I met a member of our team that was part of a team that hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro as a fund raiser for African aid through the Canadian Co-operative Association. Through their efforts they were able to raise more than $60,000 which the Association will use to fight poverty in the region though co-operative development. In his words, they wanted to reach the summit so they could light a torch for all to see; and with that light they wanted to show people there was hope where there had only been despair, there was love where there had only been hate and there was dignity where there had only been oppression.

Sometimes, you find inspiration in the least likely places..........

Until later

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mongolian Bound (Almost)

Well, here it is - October 11th. After a lot of prep and study I'll be leaving on my trip tomorrow morning. I fly out of Penticton at 6:00 tomorrow morning for a short one-hour commuter flight to Vancouver and from there it's a 2 1/2 hour layover and then a five-hour flight to Ottawa.

I have to spend three days in Ottawa taking pre-deployment training and orientation through CIDA's (Canadian International Development Agency) educational division. The training focuses on the nuts and bolts of Mongolia itself as well as the cultural and psychological issues surrounding full immersion in a foreign culture.

After our training ends on Friday we leave that evening for Toronto to start the journey to Ulaanbaatar via Soul Korea.

It's going to be interesting. During the interview process way back when I applied, the interviewers spent a lot of time discussing the rigours of rural international travel; rough roads, overland travel, sparse accommodations, different sights and sounds etc. I figured what the heck, if I can ride a chicken bus in Guatemala how hard can it be? Once I was picked for the team they followed this up even further with discussions on the limited diet and and all the other difficulties associated with rural Mongolian living - and you know what? I was stoked! I couldn't wait! I love adventure and travel and new cultures and meeting new people and I figured this was right up my alley!

But......since then we've received our assignments. I don't want to suggest it'll be some kind of cake walk because it won't. It'll be long days working with our Mongolian counterparts to assist them and their organizations in anyway we can. But it doesn't look like it's going to have quite the deprivation and hardship that was originally indicated. Some of the other team members hit the ground and immediately start overland travel by bus or train to their rural assignments. My partner and I however, will spend the whole two weeks staying at the equivalent of the Mongolian Holiday Inn. We'll travel during the day to our various credit union locations but each evening it'll be a hot shower, clean sheets and a good wi-fi connection (I hope)'s still a foreign culture, a trip half-way around the world and an opportunity to learn from others while I do my best to pass on some of the lessons we've learned in the credit union system here at home. And if I don't get an opportunity to try fermented mare's milk maybe it just wasn't meant to be :-)

I'll post updates and pictures whenever I have the opportunity - assuming the wi-fi connection allows it - and I'll stay in touch by Skype with friends and family. Hmmmmmmm......maybe the Holiday Inn isn't so bad after all


Monday, October 4, 2010

WooHoo! New Addition to the Family

I was too tired to post anything at the time but last week I did a 2,000 klm, three-day ride to Boise ID. I won't bore you with the usual drivvle about fantastic roads, great scenery and wonderfull weather - it had all three :-) - but I will share with you the reason for said ride. I rode down to look at a new (to me) bike. I'm now the proud owner of a mint condition 2005 Kawaskai Concours. It's a purpose built two-up sport touring road rocket. It's in great shape, has low miles and LOTS of expensive after market goodies. That's not to say I'm not going to buy and install even more - I'm already searching the net for engine guards, highway pegs and driving lights - but Shhhhhhh, don't tell Rosi!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What is love?

Love is so hard to define......

I could say it it's the softly spoken phrase, "hey, should we go for a ride today?"
Or ......the words, "let's ride Highway 33 to Rock Creek".......even though there was obviously a storm brewing on the horizon.

But love, true love, a look of grim determination and the words , hell no, let's continue on.....even though the temperature dropped to less than 10 degrees at the summit and the cold pouring rain was more reminiscent of November than late August. So, after changing from mesh gear to rainproof over pants, and zipping shut any open vents, we completed a 250 klm/five-hour ride from Summerland, through to Beaverdell and Rock Creek, and back to Summerland.

Or.......... I could say true love, real lasting love, is that most magical of phrases....those quiet words spoken only in the darkest hour - never at five in the afternoon in stark daylight (but hey, we were freezing!) - with a twinkle in the eye and a glass of red wine in hand......"hey, want to join me in the hot tub?"......

Hmmmmmm.....maybe love isn't so hard to define afterall.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A final thought "Distance is an Illusion"

I can't take credit for saying it because it was part of the presentation from the guy that rode around the world....."distance is just an illusion." When he said it I don't think I fully understood what he was trying to say and even if I did, what it means to him might different for the next person. For me, it all came together this afternoon somewhere between the Oregon border and here. A beautiful stretch of road where the mind can wander and the world somehow comes into perspective.

For me it means understanding here and there, and then and now.

Far too many of us believe "there" is somewhere in the distance. It's the place we want to visit but can't or won't, or some far off land only talked about in the news or around the water cooler. And like the story of sour grapes, very soon "there" must be different. It's not like "here" so it can't be as good. Sometime becomes maybe and often morphs into never. Why would we want to leave "here" when "there" represents the unknown: something different? Something to be feared and avoided?

But whether it's five feet down the road, five blocks across town or the other side of the world, wherever you stop is 'here" and whenever you stop is "now" There is no there, only here and only now. A linear path where each point on the line is yours.

Your path, your place and your time.

And once you embrace this - truly understand it - then the world is yours. You belong. This is my planet, my place, my time. Cultures may be different but we’re all pretty much the same. We want a roof over our head, three squares a day and what’s best for our children. We’re all citizens of the same world.

But with understanding comes responsibility. Things don’t just happen “there” anymore - they happen “here” even if it’s a here that you haven’t yet visited. Whether it’s factory farming in the US or the privatization of water in Bolivia - this is your place and you matter.

Travelers know: distance is an illusion - and like the best slight of hand, it’s only a trick. My challenge to you; pull back the curtain and expose the truth. Experience your own here and now - because "there" should be just a little less frightening.


Day 10, 11 & 12 - Homeward bound.

I’m afraid all good things must come to an end. We got up at the crack of a cold wet dawn yesterday and hit the road for home. And unfortunately living on Vancouver Island once again managed to influence our plans. I know it all too well because I was once there myself. You don’t want to but you can’t help factoring in the Ferry schedule into your plans.

We originally planned on a much more leisurely three-day ride back with short days and afternoons around the pool. The idea was we’d ride together yesterday and today and then part company in the morning (tomorrow) and each make our final push for home. I’m afraid work and family commitments put too pressure on Brad and Kevan though, and they decided to push for home a day early. Brad, to have a much deserved day off before going back to work and Kevan’s been gone almost two weeks when Nakusp is factored in, and he wanted to get home as early as possible. So we rode from Petrolia to Cottage Grove yesterday. It was only 535 klm but after 7 days on the road and too many nights sleeping on the ground that’s all I could accomplish. I was whipped. I actually wanted to quit an hour earlier because I was starting to “zone out” a bit but they wanted to carry on and I didn’t want to be left behind quite that soon so we carried on for another hour. It worked out well. They compromised by stopping earlier than they wanted and we eventually called it a day in Cottage Grove where we enjoyed a soak in the hot tub and swim in the pool. Then the three of us had dinner, swapped pictures on our laptops and we were all in bed and asleep by 9:30.

Today, Brad and Kevan are making a push for the Black Ball Ferry at Port Angeles. It’s only 575n klm so it’s very feasible and should put them into Port Angeles in the early afternoon. Quite likely as I’m typing this they’re both already home. I’m afraid I couldn’t do the same however. It’s 967 klm for me. I arrived in Wenatchee at 3:30, which was nine hours and 672 klm. I seriously debated taking a short power nap in a park and pressing on. It’s only another 300 klm /four hours but if I took off again at four that would mean pulling in at 8:00 and 14 hour day is just silly.- plus it’s not safe. I could have done it on day one or two but not day 11.

So discretion played the better part of valour and I called it a day here in Wenatchee. I’ll get a good nights sleep and hit the road early in the morning and should be home by the time Rosi is home from work at 11:00.

For those so inclined if you check back in a couple days and I’ll post a few pictures when I have a better internet connection.

And finally - a few statistics

Days on the road - 12days/11 nights
Total Mileage - 5,142 klm
Nights in a hotel - 4
Nights camping - 7
Close encounters with a deer - 1 (it was Kevan and it was VERY close!)

Day 7, 8 & 9 Eureka CA and Petrolia CA

Redding to Eureka to Petrolia

Day 7
The ride to Eureka was great. We left Redding around 7:00 because we needed to get an early start so I could stop at 8:30 to call in to a conference call for a project I’m working on. It was decidedly brisk in the morning - around 10 - and became even cooler as we rode through the mountains on the way to the coast. There was light fog in places but as the morning wore on the fog burned off and it was another fantastic California morning. Great roads, thick forests, and sweeping vistas of valleys and mountains - I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record but it was pretty amazing. We arrived into Eureka around 12:00, found a nice hotel and met Kevan at the motorcycle shop around 1:00.

Eureka is a small city/large town on the coast and is definitely down on its luck. There was an undercurrent of despair in the air and lots of boarded up businesses - with the prevailing business venture leaning toward the pawn shop variety. Kind of a cross between Vancouver's downtown east side and Parksville on Vancouver Island. It was good to have a full afternoon off the bikes though. We had a great swim in the hotel pool, caught up on some laundry, drank a few cervesa's and had a wild night on the town - that is until we all turned in 10:30, lest we turn into pumpkins.

Day 8
We picked up my bike at the shop as soon as it opened and then rode the 1 ½ hours into Petrolia and it was VERY cold at first. When we left at 9:00 there was thick fog, light misty rain and it was somewhere around 10 degrees - What the heck?! It was more like Victoria or Nanaimo in February than what we thought we’d find in California but any ride is a good ride so it was all good. It was foggy for the first hour but then things got REALLY interesting. At first the highway hugged the ocean but it then it ran inland for a bit before turning off at Fernwood for Petrolia. At that point it gets pretty amazing (sorry - I know, amazing again) for a while. After the turnoff the road climbs sharply and we spent 40 minutes on one of the craziest, most scenic drives I’ve been on in a very long while. And don’t take my word for it - ask Kevan and Brad. We climbed steep - very steep and very sharp - switchbacks through mountains that ranged from thick wet rain forests to open grassland hills similar to Rock Creek but just with much steeper terrain, and alternated though thick cold blowing fog and bright sunshine. We eventually made our way to the other side and dropped down another very steep and sharp series of switchbacks that dropped us to a wide shoreline of rangeland, small dunes and rocky, craggy shoreline - and a working cattle ranch complete with range cows. It was surreal. Imaging breaking over the dunes at Tofino and being faced with a large herd of cattle - I don’t know why but it felt a little weird. We climbed back up the other side and did the whole thing over again until eventually being spit out in the small (AKA one general store and the Grange Hall) town of Petrolia. Think Cheesaw except with thicker, lusher forest and you’ll have the right idea.

Day 9

We arrived yesterday afternoon to blinding sunshine and a beautiful mountain setting. We got signed in, set up our tents and basically hung out until the presentations started in the evening. For those of you that don’t know, Horizons Unlimited is a website and loose affiliation of adventure motorcycle travelers from around the world and they hold a doz or so rallies each year in different countries. I won’t go into to it too much here but if you’re interested check it out at The emphasis is on travel, not the means and it’s pretty humbling to sit through a slide show presentation of a couples round-the-world trip on a motorcycle when the average age of the traveler is well into their fifties or sixties and often beyond. There were ~ 50 or so attendees from all walks of life and all ages but the demographic definitely leaned to the “grey power” side of things

Saturday was a full day of presentations and tech clinics with the only draw back being that the day started cold and wet - thank you California sea air! - and stayed cool well into the late afternoon. The highlight had to be the hour and half roadside repair tech clinic put on by Kevan. He did an incredible job and the crowd really appreciated it. KUDOS BUFF!

The evenings presenters included a guy from silicon valley that packed it in early to travel the world, a women who rode her motorcycle through China - twice! - and another women traveling the world in a surplus police van with her two dogs. The final keynote speaker (keynote implies something fancy though, so please bear in mind we were all in jeans and the meeting was held in the Grange Hall ) was a guy from Turkey that took a six month leave and traveled the word on his Suzuki Vstrom. All pretty heady stuff for a closet adventurer like myself.

All in all a great day and a great event - well worth the price of admission :-)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 6 - California

Greetings from Redding California!

I won’t get all cheesy and say it was nirvana again but it was a really, really good day of riding! We spent the night in a very nice river-front park in Homedale Idaho and took advantage of the amenities to have a leisurly coffee and shower etc before hitting the road around 8:00 Central time. Within the first hour we crossed into Oregon and the next few hours were great. Very nice scenery, low hills, sweeping curves and little traffic. It was also like Idaho for a while, in that there was lots of agriculture with farms and huge ground crops. Eventually though, we hit the part of Oregon that more resembles Nevada than anything else. Pretty much miles and miles of miles and miles. Straight stretches of 15 klm or more, desert landscape and that disconcerting feeling that if one were to break down all they would find is your dried up bones somewhere along the side of the road.

Bike don’t fail me now!

The amazing thing about a trip like this though is how much ground you can cover and how much you can see along the way. By mid afternoon we crossed into California and started to see evergreen forests and Mt Shasta in the distance.

We also put on more miles than we planned. It’s all well and good to say you’re going to call it an early day but if the magic number of klm turns out to be the middle of nowhere you might as well keep going…..and so on and so on…..until eventually you hit 800 klm and 11 hours - like today - but it’s all part of the game!

Tomorrow we’re detouring to Eureka California because I have to install a new chain. I didn’t think I’d need to until I finished the trip but it’s stretching quite a bit and I can’t take up any more slack by adjusting the tension. It doesn’t owe me anything though. The average for a chain is 25,000 - 40,000 and I’m now at 32,000 and I push my bike hard. Just because the bike is capable of what I ask of it doesn’t mean it’s designed for it. I’m afraid Mr Suzuki didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to ride for 800 klm at a stretch - at an average of 140 kph- for days on end!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day Five - Idaho

Day Five - Idaho

Today was just one of those good days. Nothing extraordinary, but nothing untoward - just a good day of riding. It was a little chilly when we left around 7:45 but by
10:OO it was warm enough to peel off most of our wind breaker layers and by 11:00 it was good and hot. We stopped for an hour along the way to tour the Craters of the Moon National Monument, which was VERY cool (I’m sorry, but the Americans do this kind of thing really well) and then we continued on one of Idaho’s secondary highways to Boise. There was very little traffic and we were able to make some good time. AKA VERY spirited riding! There was only one short bit of excitement when we decided we didn’t need gas when we should have filled up and then didn’t see a gas station for WAY longer than we thought. We were both on fumes when we finally pulled into a station. Our bikes have 22 litre tanks and we both took just over 21 litres so we didn’t have much left.

We also ran into some heavy traffic because at the last minute we decided to pop onto the Interstate which we thought would be quicker - not! There was an accident and it was rush hours o what should have been 45 minutes turned into three hours. Oh well, because of the spontaneity we ended up here in Homedale at a beautiful small campground on the shore of the Snake River. It’s one of the prettiest spots I’ve seen for camping in along time. Good thing too - it was 97 in the shade when we got here and we didn’t have a lot of energy to go much further.

Today’s mileage - 600 klm

A good day!


Day Four - Yellowstone

It’s been a VERY long day and I’m exhausted so this will be brief…but that’s NOT a reflection of the day we spent in Yellowstone. In a word - so often repeated, sorry - it was AMAZING.

First, Yellowstone is HUGE! We spent the whole day touring the park - an eleven hour day in total - and we covered approx 300 klm but we barely scratched the surface. We saw all the highlights, though: Old Faithful, LOTS of other geysers and various hot springs, some small and some the size of football fields, huge herds of Bison, a herd of Elk, and a moose. The Bison were the high point though. We saw a huge herd from a distance - easily in the thousands - but a smaller herd crossed the road right in front of us - literally five feet away. It was VERY cool but more than a little frightening since they easily outweighed our bikes two-to-one.

Yellowstone has pretty much every different type of topography you can imagine. High mountain passes (we crossed the continental divide three times, ranging from 8,200 - 8,700 feet.) mountains, huge valley’s, alpine meadow and more lush forest than you can shake a stick at. And the weather was all over the map!
Last night was cold, very cold! It was only two degrees this morning when we got up but during the day we hit temperatures in the 30’s and everything in between. And when we left the park this evening for our run to Idaho we hit a huge rain storm with lightening and hail!

There was only one down side to the whole experience. Yellowstone is one of America’s most popular parks - which is it’s Achilles Heel. It wasn’t too bad in the morning but by mid-afternoon it was bumper-to-bumper. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like on a busy long week-end. And the crowds at some of the attractions were beyond belief. I hate crowds so I’m afraid it really took away from the experience at the end but such is life.

We left the park around 6:00 and made a short run into Idaho just to leave the crowds behind. It was that bad. By the time we left the park we didn’t even want to stay in West Yellowstone - just too much going on and WAY too touristy. So here we are in Ashton Idaho, population ~500. Because we rode through a short but really bad rain and hail storm to get here there’s no camping tonight!

Tomorrow the journey continues…..

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 3

Note to anyone reading this, please be understanding. My laptop has taken a beating and a few of the keys aren’t working :- ) If I say I’m having a rate time, you’ll have to use your imagination. Luckily spell check catches it most of the time.

So here we are, greetings from West Yellowstone Montana - the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming USA.

And you guessed it, I spoke to soon - the gods smiled, the stars aligned and if anything, the roads only became better. We left Lowell and followed the L&C Byway for another 100 klm or so. It was cold and foggy at first but VERY beautiful - stunning would be an understatement. The road hugged the shore of a quiet river on one side and towering mountains on the other, and twisted and turned it’s way to perfection. At the end of the river we climbed to > 7,200 and we crested the LoLo Pass, where we stopped for a hearty breakfast at a great fishing/hunting lodge in the heart of the forest.

From there we crossed into Montana which was VERY cool in it’s own right, if for no other reason than the speed limit increases to 75 mph - Buenos!

Montana is Big Sky Country and it comes by the slogan honestly. Without exaggerating, some of the scenery is spectacular! Beautiful mountain vistas and wide open spaces - but without the desolation of rural Nevada (but then, isn’t all of Nevada rural? ) The road was amazing! At one point we dropped out of a high mountain pass into a wide valley bottom with rolling hills and HUGE cattle ranches as far as the eye could see. Montana is lakes, rivers and ranches - and all of it’s simply amazing. Well worth the price of admission!

So here we are, a KOA campsite that’s so big it’s like a small town unto itself. Kids everywhere but clean showers, an on-site cafeteria and electricity at the tent sites. It’s not our regular thing but when you show up with no reservations at the main gate of the most popular park in America, you soon learn to compromise
:- )

Yesterday (Day Three) was 715 klm of great riding, great company and new experiences. It’s now 6:00am on Monday and as I type this there’s a god awful roar in the background - really loud and closer than I’d like! - that I assume is Moose or Elk and last night around 3:00 there were wolves howling in the distance. And all this on top of the dire warnings throughout the park about bears. There’s a women next to us that is sleeping in her car because a bear walked right up to her tent the night before. Hmmmmm maybe paying the extra 50 for a cabin wouldn’t be such a bad idea !

That’s it for now - today we’re off to Yellowstone!

Day 1 & 2

Day One - Two
Summerland - Wenatchee - Three Rivers Campground, Lowell ID

Every time I go on a trip or an adventure I look for that one magic moment. That one time and place where everything comes together; the stars align and for one fleeting moment it’s perfection. A time and place to be locked away in your memory forever; to be later brought out of that closet you keep buried in the far recesses of your mind to remind you that it wasn’t a dream and yes, these things really happened.

But what if you find this place on day one of what’s still to be a twelve day adventure? Is it real? Is it true? Do you lock it away - and if you do, does that somehow take up space that should be used at a later date just in case you’re wrong?

I don’t know the answer but I do know this - if there’s a better stretch of road still to come on this journey it’ll have to be something only the gods can design for a motorcyclist to be able compete with the Lewis and Clarke Scenic Byway of Northern Idaho.

I left Summerland yesterday and rode for approx 300 klm to join Brad in Wenatchee WA. It was a typical hot Okanagan summer day and uneventful - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing sometimes. It ranged from hot to absolutely stink’n hot by the time I arrived but nothing I couldn’t handle and nothing out of the ordinary. We tend to complain these days when it gets over 35 but we have to remind ourselves that it’s summer in the Okanagan and it’s supposed to be hot; suck it up butter cup!

The first half of today was more of the same. It was pleasant enough when we rolled out of the parking lot at 7:45 but by 10:00 the temperatures started to climb. At one point we went through a small town in south east Washington and a sidewalk sign said it was 94F. And speaking of which, what’s with the “Evergreen State”? I’m guessing the guy that thought up that motto didn’t ride through the part of Washington I was in today. It’s more like eastern Oregon: bare ass prairie, wheat fields, dust storms, LOT’s of wind and generally miles and miles of miles and miles.

But then something magical happens; you cross into Idaho. If it’s possible to draw a line in the ground that matches a line on a map this is it. The road climbs, the temperature drops and for over 100 klm the road hugs a beautiful river. Wheat fields give way to lush green pine forest, blinding sunshine changes to sun dappled shade and for those of us so inclined, the riding takes on a spirited nature. OK - spirited might also be read as WooHOO, we’re flying now! - but it was heaven!

So here we are, a nice family run campground on the shore of a meandering river. In the morning we climb to > 7,200 feet as we cross the LoLo pass and cross into Montana.

Day One - 300 klm
Day Two (today) - 542 klm (It felt like a lot more though because of the heat!)


Day Three

Note to anyone reading this, please be understanding. My laptop has taken a beating and a few of the keys aren’t working :- ) If I say I’m having a rate time, you’ll have to use your imagination. Luckily spell check catches it most of the time.

So here we are, greetings from West Yellowstone Montana - the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming USA.

And you guessed it, I spoke to soon - the gods smiled, the stars aligned and if anything, the roads only became better. We left Lowell and followed the L&C Byway for another 100 klm or so. It was cold and foggy at first but VERY beautiful - stunning would be an understatement. . The road hugged the shore of a quiet river on one side and towering mountains on the other, and twisted and turned it’s way to perfection. At the end of the river we climbed to > 7,200 and we crested the LoLo Pass, where we stopped for a hearty breakfast at a great fishing/hunting lodge in the heart of the forest.

From there we crossed into Montana which was VERY cool in it’s own right, if for no other reason than the speed limit increases to 75 mph - Buenos!

Montana is Big Sky Country and it comes by the slogan honestly. Without exaggerating, some of the scenery is spectacular! Beautiful mountain vistas and wide open spaces - but without the desolation of rural Nevada (but then, isn’t all of Nevada rural? ) The road was amazing! At one point we dropped out of a high mountain pass into a wide valley bottom with rolling hills and HUGE cattle ranches as far as the eye could see. Montana is lakes, rivers and ranches - and all of it’s simply amazing. Well worth the price of admission!

So here we are, a KOA campsite that’s so big it’s like a small town unto itself. Kids everywhere but clean showers, an on-site cafeteria and electricity at the tent sites. It’s not our regular thing but when you show up with no reservations at the main gate of the most popular park in America, you soon learn to compromise
:- )

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Same ol same ol

Not much new to report I'm afraid........
except of course, the freak'n AWESOME gift my wife gave me for my birthday!!
(I turned fifty four months ago but we were too busy for any kind of celebration at the time so instead, Rosi organized a party two weeks ago.) And my wife, bless her soul, saw something in a magazine almost five years ago that was advertised as the perfect "guy" gift; a half-day flight school experience at Fighter Combat International.

It's a half-day experience that includes ground school, an hour in the air and a debriefing after - and the best part? I get to actually fly mock combat missions against other students! I get to fly! How cool is that!

But that's still a few months away. In the interim I'm working full-time on a project for a Toronto education company that will keep me busy through to September. It's not all work though: in less than two weeks I finally get to leave on the road trip I've been planning with Brad since we got back from Phoenix. On Friday, Aug 13th (yikes!) I'm meeting Brad in Wenatchee and from there we're heading out on a 12-day road trip that should take us in a big clock-wise circle through Yellowstone and then Utah, Nevada and Northern California. I'm giving a presentation at the Horizon's meeting in Petrollia California and then we're riding back home via the Oregon and Washington coasts on the Pacific Coast Highway.

I've got all my gear ready and most of the prep is done so not much to report from that perspective. I'll be taking my laptop so I can update the blog and download a few pictures along the way - plus Brad gave me a new helmet cam so I can add a few video clips as well.

That's it for now - more to follow once I hit the road in less than two weeks!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Exciting Update

Hola Mi Amigos Y Mi Familia
I can't believe it - it's been > two months since my last update! Part of the reason is we've just been so freak'n busy.

Since getting back at Easter I've accepted a large government contract and another contract with a company in Toronto, both to write curriculum for text books. One is an education program the government is mandating for mortgage brokers wanting to renew their licenses and the other is a rewrite of a training program for loans officers at credit unions nationally. The only down side is this is starting to look an awful lot like work! Instead of leisurely spending my summer riding my motorcycle I'll be working full time right through until the end of September. Oh well, it beats the heck out of the alternative.

On the personal side we debated for the last year or so about selling our home and buying someplace newer and larger. Well, after months of debate and consternation we decided to stay. We love the area and we want to start thinking seriously about buying a place in Mexico so it doesn't make sense to take on a mortgage at this point. But that doesn't mean the status quo. No, we decided if we're going to stay we'd do a lot of reno's and updates we should have thought of earlier. I'm not posting any pictures here because you've all been through it yourself so you know - it's a LOT of work. It's been pretty much all encompassing for the last six weeks and I figure we have another month to go, but it'll look great when it's finally done.

But here's the news I'm most excited about. Credit unions in Canada are actually financial co-operatives, even though a lot have forgotten their roots. As co-operatives, their true mandate is helping their memberships by providing services they couldn't otherwise get from traditional banks. In Canada, the umbrella organization for co-operatives is the Canadian Co-operative Association, whose mandate, aside from being the trade organization for co-operatives, is fighting third-world poverty through the co-operative movement worldwide.

As part of this mandate the Association recruits credit union senior management from Canada to travel to third world countries to assist credit unions there with things like governance, management and micro-finance projects. One of these projects is in Mongolia and I've been accepted into the program. I'll be travelling to Mongolia for three weeks this October, to assist credit unions there get their programs up and running. It all boils down to giving them a hand up, not a hand out and I'm really pleased and excited about the opportunity to be part of the program. I go over this year and again for three weeks next year and in between I'll have speaking engagements and will continue to work with my Mongolian counterparts via webinars and virtual classrooms.

Other than that it's pretty much been same ol same ol - although, I'm afraid there hasn't been much riding. That will have to wait until I ride to California with Brad for the Horizons rally. We're going to ride for ten days and swing south east to Yellowstone and then west to California before heading up the Pacific Coast Highway to finish the trip. And for that, I'm MOST definitely excited.


Monday, April 5, 2010

You talk'n to me?

Yesterday I looked the motorcycle gods right in the eye, struck an insolent pose, and snarled, "you talk'n to me? That's right, me - the go anywhere/anytime motorcycle king!"

Badges? We don't need no stink'n badges! Or, in this case, a wimpy U-Haul truck to avoid a few mountain passes. We got up early yesterday to a hard cold overcast sky but no fresh snow and bare roads. It was minus 7 when we rolled out VERY carefully at 7:30 and the first three hours were some of the most exciting, most beautiful but coldest riding either of us have ever done. We took our time and went slow as we climbed over two high passes with bare windswept roads all the way. Slowing down also really increases your gas mileage which is a VERY good thing when the gas stations at both the way points along the way were closed because of it being Easter Sunday! Anyway, after we dropped down out of the highest mountains it was some great riding through the rest of northern Nevada, a brief foray into Idaho and then much of eastern Oregon.

One final note; in the ongoing battle between gas pumps and windshields the gas pump won round one. I put my side stand down at a VERY remote out of the way, one-pump station, and didn't realize how soft the gravel was. The bike fell to the left and the windshield gave way well before the gas pump. Grrrr....

Oh well, a lesson learned.

We arrived here in Kennewick at ~ 5:30 which means it was a ten-hour/800klm day. We're tired but happy, and wouldn't change anything at all. (OK, maybe I wouldn't mind a little warmer but hey, didn't I hear somewhere.....if it was easy, everyone would do it!)

500 klm and 6 hours of riding to go.......

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Just one freak'n time is all I ask

As the old saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. Well, just once, just one freak'n time, I'd like it to be easy!

That's not to say it hasn't been fun - it has - great in fact - but easy? No.

Today was 750 hard klm under a cold slate gray sky, with gusty winds and a snow line MUCH lower than expected for early April. We rode through much of northern Nevada, which, by the way, gives a whole new meaning to depressed, despair and desolate. Some of what we saw would make for a great Stephen King novel except it's probably too desolate for even him. Las Vegas may be the play ground for the rich and famous but the rest of Nevada is decidedly for the down and out. There’s something about seeing someone down on their luck but still grimly clinging to the handle of a one-armed bandit in a roadside standalone casino, while the rest of the world is sitting down to breakfast, that makes you wonder if all the handwringers that claim gambling is the devils work may just be right after all. I don’t know the answer but I can tell you that it’s more than a little sad and a real eye opener.

As for the ride - we’re not sure. The sky closed in as we arrived here in Winnemucca and the temperature has dropped. As I type this the snow is falling pretty heavy and it’s only guess whether or not the passes will be open tomorrow. If the road is passable but just not good enough for a motorcycle we’ll probably have to go to plan B which is to rent a U-Haul and carry on.

More to follow….

Friday, April 2, 2010

On the road again........

Greetings from Indian Springs Nv. Today was a great day. A little cold at times but nothing too serious and nothing that we couldn't bundle up to compensate for. We did about 650klm in total and the only thing that held us back from more is how long it took to drive over Hoover Dam. Every family on spring vacation within 1,000 miles must have been there because it was absolutely wall-to-wall people and a loooooong snake of cars slowly making their way across the dam. It took us a good hour and a half to go from one side to the other but after that it was smooth sailing again.
No pictures, though. I'm too tired and the Internet connection is too slow.

Maybe tomorrow


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Here we go again!

Just a quick update.

Since coming home things have been VERY hectic. I've been out and back to Winnipeg twice to facilitate courses and I facilitated a webinar series over five days at home. And I'm now in Vancouver teaching another two-day course.

To add to that, Rosi and I have been debating for over a year about our house. On the one hand we've thought about selling and getting someplace a little bigger so I can have a better office and I'd like an actual garage instead of a car port, but on the other hand, I'm getting closer to retirement and taking on another mortgage at this stage just doesn't make sense - especially since there are a lot of aspects we really like about where we're at now. So,long story short, after much debate and consternation, we've decided to stay put. But staying doesn't mean accepting the status quo. No, we're going to put all the money we would have spent on legal fees and real estate commissions into renovating and re-decorating our place to make it more livable and more to our liking. We're pushing back a wall, completely gutting one bathroom and remodelling the other, replacing three windows and replacing every door, closet door and piece of trim and moulding in the place. We're also installing suntubes in the kitchen and hall, a new gas fireplace and replacing the kitchen counters. When we're done it'll feel like a new place and we should be happy for the foreseeable future.

(And DnT - we're buying a new bedroom suite and moving our existing Queen with the memory top mattress into the spare bedroom so the spare room will be MUCH more comfortable!!)

So all this, combined with the confirmed contracts I now have for April, has made things more than a little hectic.

But it's all worth it because - I get to ride again - WooHoo!!

I'm leaving tomorrow night to fly to Phoenix. I'm meeting Brad down there and we'll pull the bikes out of storage first thing Friday morning. If all goes well it should be a fairly easy four days back. I'll post pictures along the way and use my SPOT to send map references to friends and family.

Take care and wish us luck - it's close to 5,600 over the Sweetzer Summit and according to the highway webcams there's still a lot of snow in the surrounding hills. Yikes!


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

All over but the cry'n

Well, here we are, back in AJ with nothing but memories and loads of pictures to remind us of a whirlwind trip through much of north/central Mexico. As usual it was too short and this time seemed even shorter because I had to work through much of it. Oh well, just like so many things, it's better to have a short ride than no ride at all.

In this case we saw saw some great scenery, met some fantastic people and visited even more of Mexico that we hadn't been to before. It was a little disappointing that we didn't make it to Veracruz as planned but sometimes life just gets in the way.

A few statistics for those so inclined
Total mileage - 4,745 klm
Days riding - 10
Ave klm per riding day - 475
Ave hotel cost (not including the time share week) - $57
Number of problems/issues - 0
Level of hassle crossing into and out of Mexico - Nil
Level of hassle crossing back into the US - Nil (I don't count the 90 minute wait in line as we inched along because what the heck, you can get that in Oroville or the peace arch on a busy day)
Number of Military checkpoints - one (down from at least six the year before)
Cost of Mexican toll highways - approx $350 - absolutely worth it!
Cost of fuel - approx $350 (mileage is drastically reduced at speeds over 100kph and is roughly cut in half by the time you hit 140)

So there you have it. Another Mexican adventure draws to a close although, as time goes on they seem less and less like "adventures" and more and more like returning "home"


Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the road again........

We're back in the saddle and on the road heading North. As much as we liked a few down days in Mazatlan, it feels good to be back on the bike and rolling down the road.

Mazatlan was great - on several levels. First, it was nice to finally use some of our time share weeks and try out the whole resort living thing. It was a very nice first taste. Just through blind luck - especially since it was a spur of the moment, last minute choice - we picked a very low key resort. It didn't require mandatory all-inclusive and the the clientele wasn't pretentious at all.

On another level, having a work space was also great. I'm very much down here on a working vacation and last week alone, I facilitated a national webinar with 20 participants, had to partake in four different conference calls and I'm conducting interviews as research for a speech I'm giving at a conference next month. Having a quiet space to work and a reliable Internet connection was a real plus.

But all good things must come to an end.

Brad left Mazatlan on Wed to ride to Los Mochis, where he caught the train up into the Copper Canyon. We left on Saturday too, and rode to Los Mochis to meet him. It was a great ride - nice scenery and great weather. And hot, very hot! Ironically, since much of Mexico has been unseasonably cool, this area is just the opposite. Much hotter than usual - we'll take it! It beats the heck out of the alternative.

We arrived into Mochis around 2:00 and checked into a nice upper-end Mexican business-class hotel. From there we had a few drinks, hung out and went out to the local mall to catch a movie at the ciniplex - which by the way, is every bit as nice as a multi-screen SilverCity multi-plex back home.

We met Brad around 9:00 when his train arrived back from the CC and we had a late bite to eat and swapped stories about the last few day.

This morning we got away early and called it a short day so we could be firmly ensconced by a TV in time to watch the Can/USA hockey final. WOO HOO!!

So there you have it. At this point we're roughly at the 4,000 klm mark with two days and 800 klm more to go before we roll back into Apache Junction.

Viva la Mexico!