Monday, December 29, 2008

"Have you ever been arrested ?"

me: "No sir"

USCI: (US Customs & Immigration Officer) "How much money do you have on you?"

me: "about $44.00 sir"

USCI: "Well is it $44.00 or not?"

me: "It's $44.00 sir"

USCI: "Let me see it"

me: (dragging out $48.00 from my pocket)

USCI: "I thought you said you had $44.00 but you really have $48.00 . Don't you know how much money you are carrying?"

me: "sorry sir"

It was a warm summer day around 27 years ago when my friend and myself decided to ride our bikes into the United States of America at the Peach Arch Border Crossing. I was riding my brand new 1981 Suzuki GS1100, the fastest production bike of that year. (TSCC, oil cooler, throttle lock, case covers and GPI) It was a fast bike, too fast for me but I have always been a cautious rider within the confines of the posted speed. Of course back then I never thought of myself as being an international rider (thanks Jack), and crossing the border during those innocent times (pre 9/11) was just a routine occurance. The function of the "customs" agents were just there to collect taxes and duty. I don't think anyone was on the lookout for drugs and terrorists during that era. We were on our way to Birch Bay, WA for a short day ride. Often during those times we would take our car down to Bellingham and while crossing the border, the 'guards' would ask simple questions such as:

USCI: "Where are you going ?"

me: "Bellingham"

USCI: "What is the purpose of your trip ?"

me: "just going for a ride"

USCI: "go ahead"

Now you have to carry picture ID, supplemented by your Passport or Driver's license. No ID was required back then. You just had to verbally answer the USCI officer's questions and he would make a 'spot' decision to either let you cross, or not. Soon the border will be closed to those who do not have a valid passport, or an enhanced driver's licence. A few years ago both governments (Canada & USA) entered into a joint test program called PACE. (PACE = Peach Arch Crossing Experiment) Applicants were "pre-screened", decals were issued for your car, and letters of authority were issued to individual applicants. You could only use your "registered" car, and all persons in that car had to have a letter of authority issued in their name. If you fulfilled all these conditions you were allowed to "BYPASS" the regular lines and used the EXPRESS (Pace) Lanes. Eventually Pace was expanded to include additional border crossings.
After 9/11 the US Government suspended the PACE program and moved over to the more stringent NEXUS program which was already in operation on the borders of Ontario and Quebec. And Nexus air was implemented at various Canadian Airports. NEXUS is also a joint government project (between both Canada & USofA). Luckily we are NEXUS registered so are able to bypass the regular border line-ups. Vancouver, being a "border" town (as the border is only 40 mins away) many radio stations report border line-ups as part of our traffic reports. A 2 hour reported border line up is a mere 5 or 10 minutes via the NEXUS (express) lanes. There is no problem paying duty and taxes for items purchased as you are issued special declaration forms, hand them in while crossing, and they will charge your pre-registered credit card later - which makes for a smoother border crossing. I cross the border frequently and head down to Bellingham to meet other bikers/scooterists for rides and other social events. so using Jack's words I suppose that I am a frequent International Rider .

Last month a long border line up as they had closed half of the "lanes" due to border expansion:

The regular lanes (on the Left) are about an hour long at this point. The Nexus lane (on the right) is blocked due to construction traffic. A minute or so after this short wait, we were allowed to continue on our way


We were allowed to merge left to go around the "roller" then merge back into the express line


Smooth sailing now, only 3 or so cars ahead

(Welcome to the United States of America sign on right)

I don't have to tell you that NEXUS is the way to go. Over 1 hour in the regular lanes, or 5 minutes in the express lane.


One more car and we become an International Rider again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

This was nearly a belated post. Too many chores. The sidewalks are shovelled, the turkey is stuffed (and in the Oven), now comes the time to relax. In a few hours dinner with family, eat and be merry. Can't wait for dessert.

(Brockton Point, Stanley Park with Lion's Gate Bridge in background: Christmas day, December 25, 2008 . Taken with my new Canon G10

A very Merry Christmas to everyone from Vancouver, BC

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Whonnock Lake

A couple of weeks ago we took a drive to Whonnock Lake, which is approx 1-1/2 hours east of Vancouver (via Hwy 7) along the Lougheed Highway nestled between Maple Ridge and Mission, BC .

(Place of the Humpback Salmon)

I knew nothing about Humpback Salmons and never saw any today. We had been here before for a wedding during the summer. There is a recreation centre nestled among the trees

(view from the rear of the building)

As you are able to see the very large wall of windows which overlook the lake. There is a walkway which leads you towards the water


Today there was a cold wind which made the wind feel like twenty below. I think the Artic air was getting ready to bring us the record snow fall that we had this past week. I must say, it sure felt like snow was on the way. You had to make sure that you had your gloves and touque on. On the Wet Coast we are just not prepared for the onslaught of cold weather, we prefer to keep it on the other side of the Rockies.

The Rec centre is large inside and can accommodate many people, and it feels very airy due to the vaulted, beamed roof.

(beams and skylight)

At the end of the walkway, the pier continues out into the water


I get cold just looking at this image. The wind was blowing constantly as you can see from the wave action


There is a marshy area on both sides of the walkway

(view: towards the left, westward)

(view: towards the right, eastward)

You will notice a playground area in the far distance. The parking area is fairly restricted so spaces are at a premium during the hot summer months. It is a great place for a picnic or gatherings.


If you get there early, you can stake your claim to a table by the water


And, YES, there is a small sandy beach area on the eastern shore to cool yourself off, but today we were cold enough. Can't wait for the warmer weather to return.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It doesn't SNOW here . . .

At least it wasn't supposed to. Our area is described as West Coast Marine, the mildest weather zone in Canada and since it mainly rains continuously from late October to spring we are known as the Wet Coast of Canada. On a normal year we are able to ride all year round except for a short period where we might have ice or fog in the mornings, which usually burns off by mid-morning. Unlike Oregon, when a few years ago we took a vacation along the Oregon coast and the fog stayed with us all day. Our weather is similar to Seattle, grey, dreary, overcast and RAIN. YES it does get depressing at times and often we dream of living some place exotic such as Key West "where it never rains and the sun comes out every day" . I know that it's true cause I believe everything I read on the internet and Michael of conchscooter fame says so. Perhaps one day when I win the lotto I will have the dilemma of having to decide if the better weather is worth trading for one straight road with water on all sides.
I had a premonition that this was going to be a bad winter. A couple of weeks ago I was checking out the price of snow tires and found out that there was a HUGH shortage this year due to a new law in the East that made it mandatory for cars to have snow tires on all 4 wheels . That had the effect of making snow tires a valued commodity for most dealers were sold out of the common sizes making only premium brands available.

(Michelin Pilot Sport A/S for our Subaru WRX)

The tires on my wife's WRX were due for replacement so we purchased a set (of 4) to replace the factory OEM ones. While technically NOT snow tires, the tread is very aggressive for M/S type tires (or is that tyres) coupled with the symmetrical AWD I think we should be Okay for the urban driving we do. I don't use my car all that much as I prefer to ride but I also checked out pricing for my commuter car . I checked with a couple of dealers and since my cage is FWD I only wanted a set (of 2) for the front mounted on their own rims. One dealer refused to give me a quote for only 2 tires and said he would only handle the installation if I purchased all 4 tires (front & rear) . I got the same story from my mechanic and also the Honda dealer. It was going to be hard to merely purchase 2 tires for the front. I know all season tires on the rear combined with dedicated snow tires on the front would make for unbalanced handling under emergency conditions but I felt that I would be able to handle it. It seems that there was a humungous law suit up North (northern BC) recently where a customer only purchased 2 tires and an accident resulted in a major law suit against the dealer which bankrupted the company and no one locally wanted to accept the liability of mixing tires of different design.

One thing that I never thought about until I read an article about FWD cars entering a curve while applying your brakes. I grew up and learned how to drive when nearly all cars were RWD. As you approach an icy section of road you would "let off" your accelerator pedal and engine braking would force your rear wheels to "drag" and slow your vehicle down. You would turn your steering wheel to make the turn and hopefully you would stay on the road. A FWD car reacts similarly to a motorcycle. If you enter a turn too fast and put on your brakes your front wheels will skid off the road (and perhaps into a ditch) . If you apply your brakes your braking force is greater on your front wheels which will force them into a skid and your car will continue in a straight line and you will not make the turn. Basically you lose control of your steering. Even if you let your foot off your accelerator on FWD the dragging action will force your front wheels into a skid and the problem is compounded as you have greater traction on snow with dedicated snow tires (on the front) with summer/all-season tires on the rear.
The trick is to enter the corner at a slower speed and accelerate slightly out of the corner to maintain steering control, or make use of your handbrake which only activates your rear brakes to straighten out your car - similar to using more rear brake on a motorcycle before the turn on slippery surfaces (and before you make your lean into the corner) .
I only mention all of this because I understand the benefits of having the same tread design on both front and rear tires to maintain stability on ice and snow which changed my purchasing decision from 2 snow tires to either; NONE or all FOUR , and the NONE won.

(our lane)

Long story short, in light of the current economic conditions, I just couldn't justify the $1,200.+ expense of installing 4 snow tires for the 2 or 3 weeks that they would actually be required. Perhaps if I lived somewhere in the snow belt zone such as Chicago then it would be a necessity . And often we don't get any snow at all so I decided to take a chance. It would have been a different matter if my all-season tires were worn out but they still have 2 years of life left.


The roads are solid ice and very slippery. You have to plan your stops far in advance.

vancouver, bc
(Click on image for Panorama: from 5 stitched images)

It looks like a winter wonderland. BC is in a deep freeze right now. More snow is expected for next Wednesday and Saturday and the temperatures are forecast to be below freezing for another 10 days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ritzville, Wa

The weather here in Vancouver has been very cool with temperatures hovering above and below freezing. Often there is Frost on the roads when I leave for work at 7am and YES, it is still dark. The forecast is for wet snow this coming weekend as a cold front from Alaska is making its way down from the North. I have been using the scoot for running errands but not much joyriding this time of year. Often during the non riding season we have thoughts of trips and places we have been during warmer times. We had decided to take a trip into the Palouse . . .


Miles and miles of parched farmland, long sweeping curves and rolling hills. Which eventually brought us to Ritzville, WA

View from our hotel (Ritzville, Wa)

When we were planning our trip we thought that Ritzville was just a "dot" on the map. There were a couple of fast food restaurants just off the freeway interchange and little did we know that just a couple of miles away there was a historic town to explore.


We don't know much about the history of this area but it seems like a place that time forgot and eventually someone took control and decided to restore the town. We appear to be on the main street and this old theatre looks like it was recently painted


Of course, being from a large urban area we were really happy to get a good parking spot in the middle of town.


and a view from the other side of the street where we had dinner


There are some majestic homes overlooking the city


and others which have seen better times and are in dire need of attention


Another view of the main street looking South


I couldn't resist taking a photo of the local "street" photographer


Being a photographer myself I can't resist looking at everything photography related. It intrigued me to see that this prop was using an old 4x5 camera

and couldn't resist the opportunity to take a "self portrait"


If you don't mind keeping a secret I hear that Ritzville has a pretty good grocery store too


For some reason we didn't see many people around . We wondered how these stores can keep in business and where their customers come from


Many buildings have already been restored with plaques similar to this posted on their walls outlining their history and significance.


many buildings are also decorated with painted murals


there is also the beauty of the Palouse with many farms along the way


We had wanted to experience the beauty of the Palouse for many years and we finally made it. The sun is setting on another great day


and Washtucna is only 26 miles away . . .