After $1,400 in gas, 17,160 kilometres and 52 days, the Dwyers are still riding high on their cross-country tour
Maureen and Gerald Dwyer pose with their Suzuki motorcycle in the driveway of their east end St. Johns home, having recently completed a journey across the country and back. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Most people would say retirement is about sandy beaches or secluded cabins, but Maureen and Gerald Dwyer preferred to incorporate high speeds and a lot of leather into their golden years.
In fact, Maureen was thrilled to receive leather chaps from her sisters for her birthday and, while strapping them on along with her heavy duty biker boots, she says she might like to go for ride later in the day.
Gerald straps on his black leather skullcap, which is decked out with white flames, and points to his grey-haired goatee and says he'll have to shave it off when he puts the bike away for the winter. After all, he only grew it so the other bikers wouldn't think he was a wuss - which, he says, he is.
Sitting in their country kitchen in the east end of St. John's, with the porcelain face of Pope John Paul II staring down at the table, it's easy to imagine why the Dwyers' friends and family never thought they would really go, let alone make it, to British Columbia and back on their Suzuki Volusia motorcycle.
The retired couple admits they themselves weren't sure they would make it.
"As you come to a new province, you couldn't believe it, that you'd come that far," Maureen says of the 52-day vacation. "You'd come to Nova Scotia and it was like, yeah, we're in Nova Scotia. … Then we'd go to the next province."
She says she knew they would make it after their stop in Thunder Bay, Ont.
"When we got to the Terry Fox Museum, I mean, I couldn't believe that we got that far. … Can you imagine Terry Fox doing that on one leg? It was really emotional. I cried and everything."
Maureen, a yoga instructor and former teacher, opens a map of Canada on the coffee table and points out some of her favourite places. The route the couple took to British Columbia is highlighted in pink and the return trip is highlighted in green.
Every night, Maureen says, she'd call her 90-year-old mother in Lewisporte and tell her where they were, so she could mark it on the map.
Each stopover has the date and a note next to it, and each place that Maureen pointed at had another story attached to it.
She recalls the beautiful scenery and remarks on how the mountainous terrain of Alberta and British Columbia was one of her favourite parts of the trip.
"It was just like you were in a dream - that's what it was like for me."
Gerald, who once worked for Baie Verte Mines and later retired from the province's federation of labour, says he could "smell the money" 300 miles away from Fort McMurray.
The hardest part of the trip for him was the bumper-to-bumper traffic in Quebec when trying to cross the bridge at the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
"My hand was sore from holding onto the clutch," he says of basically walking the bike through three hours of traffic.
For Maureen, the scariest part of the journey was Roger's Pass in British Columbia, where the highway winds through the mountains in a series of tunnels and narrow roads.
"I thought she was falling off the bike - she was screaming," Gerald says.
"You got this bloody big tractor trailer on your backside … you'd glance over your shoulder and all you would see is grill," Maureen says in her defence.
Ran into rain
Despite the dirtiest bathroom in Canada, a catastrophic flat tire in Quebec, the gas gauge failing just a few days in and the couple's reaction to finally running out of gas on the way home, they still say the trip was all highlights.
"There was only eight or nine days that we never had to wear any rain gear," Gerald says with a laugh.
"We had two rules - we weren't going to drive at night, because there was no need of it, and we weren't going to drive in the rain, and that's the rule we had thrown out the window before we had left."
The couple rode in hailstorms so bad that Gerald had welts on his face.
"We didn't know nothing, we were cruising at 140 and it started to rain a little bit and then all of a sudden, my dear, I felt this bang like somebody threw a rock at me," he says.
"We looked at the road and it was white, it was just like marbles."
On the positive side, the couple stopped in many places to see family and friends and where they lived, they encountered many random acts of kindness, they didn't get lost and they didn't even have one argument.
"There was no bad time. See, I brought my girlfriend and she brought her boyfriend," Gerald says, smiling at his wife before adding that Maureen's good attitude probably helped with that.
"I got on the bike behind him and I said, well, he's the driver, I'm just hung on behind for the ride," Maureen says.
When the Dwyers stopped at a motel in White River, Ont., and asked for a room, the desk clerk asked whether they wanted separate beds. Gerald was surprised.
"Jeez, I said, 'We're married so. …' She said, 'Oh, I'm just asking because people who come in off the road like you did today are not usually willing to stay in the same bed.'"
The Dwyers slept in the same bed every night.