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The Motorcycle Diaries: Travelling Across Canada on Two Wheels

Anne Hagerman’s passion for motorcycles is matched only by her wanderlust. The Picton, Ont., native shares her adventures travelling across Canada on the back of her trusty Yamaha Roadstar Special Edition.

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Travelling across Canada on two wheels

As I write this, it is -20 C and my motorcycle-a Yamaha Roadstar Canadian Special Edition-is under wraps in the garage, ready to go as soon as spring arrives. So I am dreaming of sun, pavement and two-wheeled trips. I have been riding for 40 years and will ride until I can no longer hold my bike up.

Motorcycle riding is a passion that has taken me many places in Canada. I have ridden, on different trips, from British Columbia to Newfoundland and through much of the United States. For the most part, I ride alone: just me, my motorcycle and the open highway. Not that I would mind riding with others, but as a solo rider I only have one bladder and one gas tank to consider.

Why do I ride? With riding comes pleasure, fear, exhilaration and relaxation. When I ride, I have a sense of freedom, a sense of being on the open road with no “cage” around me. It’s hard to explain if you have never ridden a motorcycle. It’s like trying to understand why the dog likes to hang his head out of the car window.

Riding is a banquet for all of the senses. I have feasted my eyes on magnificent scenery from the Rocky Mountains and the hoodoos in Alberta to the fields of wheat and canola in the Prairie provinces and the lowlands along the St. Lawrence River; from the flower pots at the Bay of Fundy to the cliffs at Bonavista.

I can smell everything from the cow manure when the barns are cleaned in the eastern counties of Quebec to the wild roses in Alberta. Then, there’s the honeysuckle in bloom and the pine trees in the Acadian forest of Nova Scotia, the fresh bread from the local boulangerie and the crispness of the approaching fall in northern Ontario. I also love the smell of salty ocean air as you ride around the Bay of Fundy, the mushroom farms in Manitoba and the feedlots in Saskatchewan. Of course, there’s nothing like the smell of rain in the air before it actually starts.

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I sense every nuance of the weather. Temperatures change dramatically when riding up one mountain range and down the other. While riding through the Rockies from Jasper, Alberta, to Cranbrook, B.C., I made multiple stops to put on extra clothing and then remove that clothing.

Once, over Canada Day weekend, it was so cold along Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie, I wore four layers of clothes! I notice slight temperature drops while riding along a tree-lined road, such as the one near Black River, Ont., or towards Sandbanks Provincial Park. It is much appreciated during the midsummer heat waves.

Wearing so many layers of protective clothing has its advantages and disadvantages. It keeps you warm and somewhat protected from the elements. Outfitted in long johns, jeans, chaps, a sweatshirt and a jacket-and covered entirely by a rainsuit-feels bulky but helps keep me warm and dry. I have ridden in rainstorms where everything was wet by the end of the day.

I meet the greatest people while travelling on a motorcycle. I met a fellow rider on the ferry from P.E.I. to New Brunswick and we rode together for three days. As we parted ways, I realized I only knew his first name and the state he came from. While riding through Alberta, I stopped for a gas break and as I paid inside the service station, I noticed half a dozen retirement-age cowboys sitting with their cups of coffee. I was asked where I was from, where I was going and warned that I should be carrying a gun. In Godbout waiting for a ferry, I was questioned as to why I ride alone, as it is considered much too dangerous for a woman.

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In the over 150,000 kilometres I’ve covered, I only once wondered what the heck I was doing. In Newfoundland, it was day eight of riding in the rain. I’d enjoyed a beautiful ride through the Avalon Peninsula under overcast skies. Midday saw the start of rain. As I made my way back to St. John’s, I stopped at more than a dozen motels only to discover there was no vacancy. It was well past dark and I had been on the road for 12 hours with more than 800 kilometres under my belt. As I parked under an overpass to get out of the rain, I lamented ever having ridden to this godforsaken land and thought I would never get dry again. I picked myself up and kept riding. Within an hour, I rode into a truck stop near Whitbourne, N.L., and walked into a combination motel, grocery store and gas station. As I stood in the foyer with water streaming from my clothing, the receptionist said, “Oh me love, you need a room!” I was treated royally, with my room beside the laundry so I could dry everything. I will definitely be going back to this great province.

As a rider, I am never 100 per cent relaxed, nor am I a nervous rider. I have to look ahead, behind and at my dash and be prepared for anything on the road. I am on the watch for other vehicles and animals that can step in front of you. British Columbia came complete with herds of wild mountain sheep to navigate around. Near the Saint John River in New Brunswick, I encountered a bear! Moose abound in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. I am always on alert for wildlife.

You hear nothing but white noise while riding-the wind, your bike and the world around you combine in musical harmony. Your brain tries to make sense of outside sounds such as airplanes, other vehicles, dogs barking and the crash of ocean waves and distinguish one from the other. Until that is, you relax and it all turns into a kind of music you have never heard before.

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One of my absolute favourite rides is on new pavement. There’s nothing like the thrill of riding on freshly blackened road with the fragrance of asphalt wafting up.

Corners and hills are another favourite-discovering what is around the bend or on the other side. The route around the Gaspésie has roads with steep inclines as compared to the Prairie provinces, where, thanks to the straight roads, you can see for miles.

I have been lost. I have been turned around and gone the wrong way. I have agonized about oil drips. I have fretted that the next gas stop may be too far away. I have asked myself why I drank that extra mug of tea. I have voiced my displeasure at not having the weight to trigger stop lights. I have lamented over the weather.

There comes a point when you no longer focus on the details of riding and you become one with your bike. I glide around corners and up and over mountains while shifting my weight slightly, countersteering and changing gears. I am in total harmony with the world.

I love the freedom and excitement, the clearing of the mind and leaving all the stress of life behind. Motorcycle riding is a romance that comes with the twist of the throttle. I challenge myself. I learn something new every day. It never fails to bring a smile to my face. Riding motorcycles is my passion.

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