The Flight of Pegasus – Part 1 – Landing in North America

Story by Paddy Tyson// Photos by Paddy Tyson
July 1 2009

Similarly, the way that I managed to get Peggy, my Aprilia Pegaso 650, to Southampton, UK in time to catch the boat to Halifax NS, ensured that my adventure was to remain exactly that—an adventure. An oil leak from an indeterminate source, a temperature gauge with a mind of its own and an engine with a complete disinterest in starting when cold—some people may view these things as problematic, I see it as character. After all, isn’t that what the British motorcycle industry was based on for 50 years? I think they called it “engaging in routine roadside maintenance”!

I wouldn’t say that I’m all that new to this “Riding around the World” thing, I’ve been doing it in sections since 1994, but it is true that I only gave myself four weeks to prepare for my assault on the Americas, and that included buying the bike, Peggy. She is a 650 cc Rotax single, which is remarkably similar to the BMW 650, but which was never imported into Canada. So that seems like a good start. Rule number one in the global over landing book: make sure spare parts are easily available.

Preparing the Trip

My rulebook is somewhat different to the norm though. First, make sure your bike has got a name. This is vitally important because there will be very long periods of time when there is no one else to talk to, and secondly, it is amazing just how many people ask what it is, and “The Blue Bike” just doesn’t cut it. Second, try not to panic about breakdowns, they should be viewed as an opportunity to make new friends and create wonderful new experiences. (I hope). Third, view minor inconveniences in a refreshing, positive light. For example, a persistent oil leak is really nothing more than a protective outer coating for the engine cases.

To be honest, I did try to prepare what I could, and to source spare parts, but the customer service that the British motorcycle industry employs, is unlike any other, so I was remarkably unsuccessful and relied instead on the good nature of my friends to weld up crash bars that could carry my extra water and fuel supplies, wire up extra lights and a power supply to charge my computer and camera etc. If it weren’t for these friends I’d never have got the whole show on the road. Besides, if the side of the road is where I end up, then I have someone to blame.

Welcome to Canada

My flight to Halifax was like most flights; a mixture of fear, discomfort and complaints about the food. Why do people complain about the food, or is it because it takes your mind off the fact that you are at 35,000 feet, doing 590 mph in an aluminum tube, only too aware that the maintenance contract has been outsourced to the “best value” bidder?

And then I found myself in the arrivals hall, reading a sign that said “Please declare all firearms”. Odd, given that I had just been on a transatlantic flight where there are one or two generally forbidden items of luggage, like guns. But I know that Canadians are a particularly honest bunch and I’m sure it’s just in case one or two may have just forgotten they were packing heat. I was certainly surprised to discover mid-flight that I was endangering the lives of hundreds, when I found that there was half a litre of water in my backpack that I had smuggled past security. I wonder if that makes me a terrorist, it’s a slippery slope.

I had fun and games at customs though, as the Canadian Border Security Agency chaps tried valiantly to complete the paperwork for my unaccompanied luggage—the motorbike. I felt it wasn’t my place to point out that since this was a passenger terminal it wasn’t that surprising that they hadn’t encountered vehicles before, especially ones that were in fact on the quayside and had arrived by boat. It’s best they learn by their mistakes.

Then it all got personal.

“Do you have an ATM card? Just how much money can you withdraw?”

What for?

“Just answer the questions please Sir. Do you have any other savings?”

Didn’t your mother tell you it was rude to ask a person about money?

I explained that I had sold my house and all my furniture and was going to slowly wind my way across Canada, before heading southwards. Immigration granted me 90 days and told me not to work.

Work? Me? That was the last thing on my mind.

I made my way into Halifax and wandered around for the evening, getting a feel for the place. What a delightful town, but that sea fog is something that must take some getting used to. I’ve never before experienced fog that can appear in five minutes, make the top half of buildings disappear, yet not make the ground wet! And then I found the truly wonderful Maxwell’s “Traditional English” pub. Having just arrived from England I can assure you that as lovely as it is, it is certainly not traditional. For a start, the staff were all friendly and smiled, the huge range of beers were all actually available, the food was nice, I didn’t witness a single fight and nobody tried to sell me any contraband.

Where’s Peggy?

Day four and I’m still in discussions with the Canada Border Services Agency about getting my Aprilia out of Customs. Well actually, I say discussions, but they asked me to leave the office when I pointed out that there were American tourist vehicles out in the street, and that clearly it wasn’t the case that every vehicle on a Canadian road had to sport a Canadian license plate. I find that attempting to introduce rational argument with bureaucrats leads to either expulsion or arrest, so I suppose I was lucky.

But it is a shame, because I was rather enjoying my time in that office. I’d arrive each morning, say hello, see if the great stone wheels of bureaucracy had begun to grind, sit in the corner and read my book, then go out for lunch and a stretch of the legs before returning to inquire about the lack of paperwork progress and settled in for the afternoon. It was the same everyday, and there were some great and quirky posters to read if I got bored. What about this one: Gary William Stone, WANTED in Alberta for “offences against wildlife”, and a picture of Mister Stone looking like he may well prefer more than just a bit of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’. CBSA: Canada’s moral guardians.

The next day, as if by magic, I get a call to say I can go and get the bike. Just like that, as though they had no idea why I hadn’t bothered to go any sooner! A few rubber stamps at the Autoport in Dartmouth and Bob gives me a lift in his truck to where she sits, looking forlorn, but in one piece and unscathed after her journey across the Atlantic. She’d arrived with a battery flatter than Manitoba.

I manage four laps of the compound before I am exhausted, but she resolutely refuses to fire up so I resort to walking around aimlessly looking for someone who can give me some jump leads. You see, the chance to meet people already.

On The Road Again

Then finally I’m free. Free to head north towards Cape Breton and the famous Cabot Trail. Free to explore any part of Nova Scotia I so desire and free to almost be killed horribly as I adjust to riding on the wrong side of the road.

Canada, Oh Canada. What a lot of trees you have. Please don’t say I’m stating the bleeding obvious, because knowing somewhere has a lot of trees and actually seeing that there is nothing else from horizon to horizon, are very different things.

I headed inland, as always trying to stay on smaller roads, until I get to Truro and some more familiar agricultural land. Although the rivers show evidence of the famous Fundy Tides, I decide to leave exploration of the bay until later, and head instead east to Port Hastings and the Causeway to Cape Breton Island.

It was good to put in a few miles that first day and distance myself from Halifax, to make the journey seem real. There would be time to re-explore the ground I’d covered later on, but that first day I needed a good run to recharge the battery and just settle in to life on the road. The next year or so would see me living out of my little tent and cooking whatever I could find, and that, I always find, takes a bit of getting used to.

Watch For Animals

I spent those first few days riding all around Cape Breton, marvelling at the stunning vistas, breathing the clear air and trying my best to avoid the moose that seem to have complete disregard for the highway code. One minute there is a clear road ahead, a narrow strip of blacktop slicing its way through the pines, so I glance down momentarily at my map. The next moment there is almost an apparition. Standing statuesque and looking thicker than porridge, the road is now obscured by a beast so tall that just for a second I consider trying to go underneath. I decided not to see his underside from the seat of Peggy and leave skid marks in more than one place.

What stupid animals. I hope as Canadians you don’t find that offensive, but given the small gene pool it’s hardly surprising, is it? I heard somewhere that the Newfoundland population (of moose) was started with four individuals introduced in the 1920s. I don’t know how many made it naturally across to Cape Breton before the causeway was built, but it can’t have been many more, judging by the way they act.

In the Acadian northeast I stopped in Cheticamp and blow a few days of my budget going whale watching. It was such a refreshing experience. The whales of course, were amazing, even if they were only “small” 10,000 lb. Minkes. Their size and powerful grace of movement astounds, and now I understand why people make such a big thing out of it, but for me, as a tourist, the best bit was the attitude of the crew. No speaking to me like an irresponsible five-year-old imbecile. It was more a case of, “Here’s the boat, it is inflatable, has outrageously powerful engines and if you don’t sit down or hold on, you’ll fall in. Is that clear, Eh?” Brilliant.

I’m starting to notice that about Canada, and I love it. You guys expect people to know that a cup of coffee is hot and if you step over a cliff it’ll hurt when you land. Long may you be able to hold on to your common sense, because the rest of the western world has become so plagued by litigation the most exciting thing you are allowed do is switch on the Playstation.

I camped wild when I could, only having to do battle with the billions of mosquitoes that love my white celtic flesh, and with my own imagination, which was convinced that a bear was, at any moment, going to rip me apart in search of a granola bar. All the more ludicrous when I somehow manage to make myself feel safe behind a thin layer of nylon. Don’t laugh. The most dangerous creature in the British Isles is a wasp, I had a lot of learning to do.

Anne’s Island

After enjoying the north of the province I caught the ferry from Pictou over to Prince Edward Island and fell in love. The rolling hills and red earth are so different to the rugged Nova Scotian landscape; it’s hard to believe that they are so close to each other. I realize that PEI is really just one big sand dune in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, famous for growing potatoes and for, umm, exporting potatoes, but there is something very quaint about it.

Charlottetown has a real charm and such a great mix of buildings, if you haven’t been, you really should go and see what is, after all, the birthplace of Canadian confederation. And there is a great irony that the city named after King George III’s wife, and where all those loyal to the British Crown fled after the American War of Independence, was to be the place where early talks about self governance would take place. Not only that, but after getting it all underway, PEI didn’t join Canada ‘til six-years after everyone else. Except Newfoundland of course, but then I’m starting to realize that Newfoundlanders are a little different.

I listened to PEI’s Spud FM and despite being told it’s ‘all the music I’ll ever need’, I beg to differ. I’m not sure I will ever fully embrace Stompin’ Tom, certainly not in the way I could ‘Anne of Green Gables’. (Oops, that sounds a bit pervie!). I headed up to the north shore and to the famous house that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about, but there is a very strange mix of tourist attractions in the area, and certainly not all literary as you might expect. How about a replica space shuttle? How random is that? I never did discover the connection.

PEI may be small, but the marathon motorcyclist can still cover some incredible distances. As a European, I was so amazed that I could ride in one day from West Devon to the Tyne Valley, via Kensington, Norway and Alaska. I stopped for something to eat in Glasgow, and would you believe, it’s even on the banks of the River Clyde. What are the chances of that, eh? Poor Scottish settlers battle their way across the Atlantic and then journey west over tough and exhausting landscapes in search of a new life, and end up exactly where they started. Still, at least the familiarity must have helped them settle in.

Since Canada seemed to be having one of it’s wettest summers for years, and since I was managing to experience almost every drop, I made the decision to spend only a week in PEI and instead indulge myself and my love of motorcycles, by heading to Moncton for the Atlanticade festival. PEI, with all the spuds and the incessant rain, was reminding me too much of my native Ireland.

The Journey Has Just Begun

I crossed the stunning Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick, all 13 km of it and headed to Moncton, looking like a drowned rat. I had become used to talking to people in fuel stations and at campgrounds, and used to the generally friendly attitude of maritime Canadians, but I wasn’t prepared for quite the level of hospitality I would receive when I arrived in Moncton and met Canadian bikers en masse for the first time.

Then of course I came across a stand for a magazine I’d never heard of before called Motorcycle Mojo. I stopped to chat with Gwen and asked where I might get a spot of tea, she immediately made a call and had her manservant, Glenn, bring me a cup of tea from somewhere called “Timmy’s.”

Now that really is Canadian hospitality and something I was to wish for many times in the year ahead. Like when I got caught in a ferocious snowstorm on the high plains of Wyoming, suffered complete suspension collapse in Costa Rica or battled a fever of 104 in Honduras.

But if I weren’t to suffer a little inconvenience, or witness the odd murder, it just wouldn’t be an adventure would it?


Copyright ©2002-2024 Motorcycle Mojo | Privacy Policy | Built by Gooder Marketing