Monday, December 1, 2014

Alaska Done - Table of Contents



2014 Alaska Done – Table of Contents


 Part 1: Foreword / Pre-Trip Hiccups / The Box Man

 Part 2: The Grey Man / Flying Warrior / Ghost Ship

 Part 3: The Inside Passage / Is this the Planet Earth? / Highway of Tears

 Part 4: Stewart BC and Hyder AK / The Bear Glacier / Mooses and Invisible Mountain Goats

 Part 5: Mothers with Cubs / Jade City / Big Mama Bisons

 Part 6: We Didn't Know What to do / Its Called the Junction / The Last Bugle Call

 Part 7: My Countrymen / Whitehorse / Foregoing Dawson

 Part 8: The White Pass / Skagway AK / The Longest Stretch

 Part 9: Fort Nelson Downpours / Silent Killer / Coming South

 Part 10: Lillooet Connection / Unused Fuel / She Carried me Home



Total Distance travelled
Motorcycle 4966Kms + BC Shipping 632 Kms = 5598Kms
Days on the Road =15

Alaska Done Part 10 of 10




Alaska Done

Part 10 of 10

Lillooet Connection
Unused Fuel
She Carried Me Home


Lillooet Connection

About a hundred kilometres south of 100 Mile House I came to an intersection offering me the choice of getting back to Vancouver by continuing along Hwy 97 South or by opting to turn right at the junction of Hwy 99 which would in effect be a shortcut going through Lillooet, Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and then Vancouver. It was the first stretch leading to Lillooet that I was unfamiliar with. The rest would be easy since I had covered it many times before. I chose the Hwy 99 route and I'm glad I did. The road was in excellent condition; camper vans I met along the way slowed me down a little and the occasional farmer's horse and cart slowed me down even more - but I didn't care. The ride was through some of BC's most beautiful scenery and featured fast-flowing rivers and streams; mountains galore and narrow one-way bridges at frequent intervals to add to my motorcycling enjoyment. The town of Lillooet offered the chance to get a nice meal; take more photographs and rest for a while. I had the remainder of the day to get back to Vancouver. It would take two to three hours only on the outside.

Unused Fuel

It crossed my mind that I still had two full containers of fuel in the cooler at the back of my motorcycle and that I would not be able to take them back to my home located in a high rise apartment building. The best place to deposit that fuel would be into my Harley gas tank. Consequently, I monitored my fuel level until my gas gauge read less than half-full. I found a quiet, out-of-the-way vacant area with a stone and crushed-stone base and I carefully transferred all of the spare fuel without spilling one single drop. I left the caps off the spare fuel cans for a while. I placed them directly in the sun to aid in the evaporation of any residual fuel before I replaced them back on the Harley to take home. No problem.


She Carried me Home

The rest of the trip was both familiar to me and delightful. As I was riding it came to be that all my pre-trip worries had come to nought. I hadn't needed to carry the extra fuel cans with me. As well, there had been no accidents or injuries; no flat tires or broken drive belts and no battery problems. Apart from me being just a little windblown and weather-beaten everything had worked out just fine.
When I reached Burnaby I treated myself to a large ice-cream cone before heading off to my building. Saddlebags, boots, gloves, jackets and my helmet were dropped to the floor while I opened the door of my fridge and poured myself an ice-cold Coors Light beer in a crystal glass. I can see why they call it the Silver Bullet. I raised my glass in the direction of my Harley Davidson motorcycle pictured on my front hallway wall along with my granddaughter. I raised by glass and I said said out loud “Thank You Miss Harley for carrying me home!”


The Yukon Alaska Trip had taken 15 days in total. My Harley odometer was zeroed at the start and it read 4966 Kms upon my return. Port Hardy to Prince Rupert by BC Ferry had been 632 Kms making a grand total of 5598 Kms for the entire trip. It had other unexpected benefits well. It served as a good-weight loss program. My body weight on leaving was 175 lbs. On my return I was 163 lbs. What a blast!

Word Count 630

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 9 of 10




Alaska Done

Part 9 of 10

Fort Nelson Downpours
Silent Killer
Coming South



Fort Nelson Downpours

As I was riding SE along Hwy 97 I was watching in awe the Cumulonimbus black heavy clouds jockeying for position directly over my head. I braced myself because they were about to open-up at any moment – and they did with fury. The word “wet” took on an entirely new meaning for me at that point. I went from slightly damp to fully water-logged in seconds. The downpour even found a way for the rain to squeeze through the collar of my rain suit resulting in my underwear and boots and socks being soaked instantly. There was no respite. There was simply no shelter of any kind; no trees; no buildings; no bridges; no garages and no nothing and you don't carry an umbrella while riding on a motorcycle. Add to that the miles and miles of intermittent road construction – heavy traffic hold-ups - and more and more mud and it certainly took the edge off what started as an otherwise OK day. There was no end to it. Also, fast moving multi-layers of heavy black clouds effectively blocked-out what residual sunlight there was left that afternoon. It was just about dark. They were not my finest hours in motorcycling.


Silent Killer


It took me more than one tormented night's sleep to bounce back from the Fort Nelson downpours. Even then, I found that my energy levels were not as sharp as they should have been. Moreover, continuing down Hwy 97S , frankly, was long and boring with not much to see excepting long lines of huge construction trucks - one right after the other. The skies were still dull and grey with a threatening look about them. I was travelling at about 90 kms per hour listening to the rhythmic throb of my Harley's massive V-twin engine plodding along easily and effortlessly at about 3000 revolutions per minute. The horizon in the far distance never changed. It stayed fixed regardless of how long we rode or how much distance we had travelled. Nevertheless, the comforting and reassuring throbbing of my Harley engine continued relentlessly. What I didn't notice was that the sound of my engine was becoming more distant. It was gradually fading into the background. It got quieter, and quieter and even more quiet ....until I didn't hear it at all. It was the thump of my helmet against my chest that woke me up! My God! I had fallen asleep. I pulled over to the shoulder; threw my sleeping pad and my Spider-man pillow into the grass and I slept like a baby for about half an hour. Thank God I'd had the foresight to bring it with me. Spider-man saved the day. As soon as I opened my eyes again I was fully refreshed and ready to go. Its a good thing there had been no curves in the road or things may have turned out very differently. Up there in no-man's land its not the bears, the wolves, the mooses nor even bisons that will get you. Its fatigue - the silent killer.


Coming South


Its as if the great northern City of Prince George forms an imaginary line separating northern British Columbia from the mid-lands. Prince George has everything one could wish for – and so does the rest of Hwy 97 heading south. Familiar places like Quesnel, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, and Cache Creek were just a few hundred kilometres down the road. That's peanuts compared to the distances we had been travelling. What a refreshing difference! The sun was out! ...Feel like a coffee and a breakfast sandwich?....Over to the left there's a Tim Hortons...Would you prefer a burger and fries?....Oh! I see a McDonald's restaurant at the next intersection. What about a giant ice-cream cone or a strawberry milk shake? ...On the right hand side there's a Dairy Queen. I'd like to look for a Chippy or a Waterman's meat and potato pastie.....Oops! Sorry – wrong country. There's a big new gas station over there, I should get gas?....Nope! I'm still over half-full. Freight trains began to re-appear. The huge lines of heavy construction trucks were gone. The stress had lifted. The sun was still shining brightly at noon and traffic was light and moving well. I didn't have a care in the world. I was looking forward to getting home. Coming South was a picnic.

Word Count 746

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 8 of 10



Alaska Done

Part 8 of 10

The White Pass
Skagway AK
The longest Stretch


The White Pass

The ride from Whitehorse YT, down to Skagway AK, brought many pleasant surprises with it. It was one of the most fascinating days of the trip. Even though we were riding in light rain for the most part, it was not very noticeable. What took my breath away was the signpost that said “38 miles to the US border” right after crossing through the Canadian border. It was known as the “White Pass” and we saw some of the most impressive rock formations I've ever seen. I never knew until that moment that the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was built here in the 19th Century to transport gold, amongst other things, between Skagway and the Yukon Territory. The work involved in building that railway was back-breaking at best and it cost countless deaths of men and horses. And, I'd had the audacity to think that I'd had it rough when I emigrated here from England during the 20th Century. In the days when the railway was being built the men were made of steel - and imagine all those poor mail-order brides thinking that they were coming to the land of milk and honey having to toughen-up real quick or go home. The photograph to your right brought to my mind the harsh reality of the hardships that the workers had to endure - and take note - it's a photo taken in the summertime. Imagine trying to smash rocks apart in mid-winter wearing animal hides and itchy woollen underwear to keep you warm. On second thoughts, compared to those guys, I didn't have it rough at all. In fact I was pampered and molly-cuddled every step of the way - just like little Lord Fauntleroy.

Skagway AK

Skagway AK, was delightful. It was like a shining jewel embodied in exquisite natural surroundings. It was a vibrant and thriving community full of people going about their business with lots of things to do and places to see. It was a refreshing breath of fresh air compared to most other places we had visited in Northern BC and the Yukon Territory. The first thing that struck me was the availability of products and services. Being a tourist town, there were lots of nice hotels and motels at reasonable prices; every kind of shop was located along Stage street within walking distance; and good places to eat and drink were in abundance. We were spoiled for choice. Elegant cruise ships were moored in the harbour; the Terminus Station of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was just a few paces away; and arts and craft museums reflecting the Gold Rush era simply awaited our arrival. Especially eye-catching was the Red Onion Saloon and Gambling Hall ready to entertain us and there was even a Brothel were one could get a taste of how men and women of the the Gold Rush days spent their leisure time and money. A few doors down there were Can Can dancers but they were were not performing that day. As the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it “We can't always get what we want”...so we accepted today's non-performance in the spirit of true northerners by carrying on and saying “Them's the Breaks”. It was too bad that we had only one afternoon and evening in Skagway. It would have been nice to spend more time there.

The Longest Stretch

We left Skagway the next morning in light rain and in no time at all we were once again thrilled to be riding through the magnificent White Pass – a photographers' paradise. We were in no hurry and we took lots of time to get a very good look at the rock formations; see the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway snake its way along the sides of mountains and of course to take lots of pictures. If I had been an railroad engineer, which I am not, I would have added a few more wooden supports to hold up the train tracks in certain places. It would have made me feel a little more comfortable. Crossing back through the Canadian border post was no problem. I really couldn't have purchased very much in Skagway anyway because there was not even room to stick an extra packet of matches on my bike. After arriving at the small town of Carcross we forked-right and proceeded towards Jake's Crossing which effectively shortened our return trip back to Watson Lake by by-passing the City of White Horse. It was our intention to return to the Air Force Barracks at Watson Lake so we phoned ahead to confirm reservations. We received a resounding “Welcome Back” from our host and he instantly confirmed us for the night. Its funny, all I could think of on the long ride back was pouring myself a cup of hot instant coffee embellished with sweetener and whitener in the front lobby of our destination.

Word Count 849

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 7 of 10



Alaska Done

Part 7 of 10

My Countrymen
Whitehorse YT
Foregoing Dawson


My Countrymen

As I recall it was an awful long stretch from The Air Force Lodge at Watson Lake to Whitehorse YT. It was about 550 kms of long, winding Alaska Highway. Unlike riding down south, there were no Tim Horton's or McDonald's restaurants every 60 kms or so. Also, Gas stations were few and far between. I got the impression that some guy on a motorcycle must have ridden along the Alaska HWY and every time he was about to run out of gas he must have driven a wooden stake into the ground saying “Put a Gas Station here!” ... and they did. I was amazed that wherever we went we would come across a gas station just before we needed to switch to reserve. Somewhere along the route we came across a rather nice restaurant that served hot food and drinks complete with gas pumps outside. During our meal I was delighted to see some folks here from England on a motorcycling trip. They were very pleasant and a couple asked me when did I come over to Canada from England. I said, “Oh! It was 1960. I remember because it was just after my 17th birthday.” We wished each other well and they went over to eat at a vacant table. About fifteen minutes later the man I'd been speaking to came over with a puzzled look on his face. He said, “My wife just told me that you said you had come to Canada in 1960 when you were 17.” “Yes, that's right” I replied. “Well, that would put you at 71 years old” he said. I responded in the affirmative. “Good on you Sir. Roaring around The Yukon on a motorcycle at 71 years of age. I hope I can do the same if and when I get to be your age!” He shook my hand and wished me well. He made me feel like a million dollars. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Its not so much the riding that makes these long trips so enjoyable – its the people you meet along the way. I felt so good I decided to pet the moose for a while just before I left.

Whitehorse, YT

I've been to Whitehorse twice before and it always tickles me to see a large paddle-wheeler boat parked in a location such as this. It seems so “out of character” for this mostly landlocked Capital City of the Yukon Territory. With mountains to the west and south; prairie country to the east and the frozen Arctic to the north its just not what one would expect. Apart from that, I was surprised by how much the city had grown since I was last here some thirty years ago. Friends of mine living in Whitehorse once told me that this city was located in a valley and that it was not nearly so cold as one might think in the middle of winter. Its sheltered somewhat. They went on to tell me that its a well- guarded secret that those who live here didn't want uncontrolled growth and the problems resulting from urban sprawl. After looking around Whitehorse on my Harley for a while it seemed to me that someone had let the cat out of the bag - long ago.


Foregoing Dawson

Even though all of us had been dead-keen on riding through to Dawson City after Whitehorse the weatherman was painting a black picture over the oncoming few days. In that light it was necessary for us to weigh the dangers of travelling 530 Kms in heavy rain and possible mud slides against the thrills of a front row seat watching the dancing Can Can Girls at Diamond Tooth Gertie's Saloon while sloshing down a few beers. This was a very difficult decision. There was an awful lot hanging on what we would finally decide. For example, if we were to forego Dawson we would also forego crossing into Alaska via the Top of the World Highway. We would have to return to Whitehorse and adopt Plan B which was to go from Whitehorse to Skagway AK, a little further south. Plan B won the day. The photo of the Can Can girls to your right shows you what we had to give up. We never actually saw them. However, we heard that other riders who had tried to get to Dawson at around the same time as we had wanted to go – had had a really rough time. They had run into road wash-outs; mud and more mud and even more mud; making for a most unpleasant experience. Consequently, we had made the right choice. What would you have done?

Words Count 809

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 6 of 10




Alaska Done

Part 6 of 10

We didn't know what to do
Its called The Junction
Last Post Bugle Call


We didn't know what to do


We, in this passage, is the collective term for the Bear and me. No-one else was there at the time. There had been a lot of pot-holes; stretches of road construction and since the road had levelled-off somewhat I decided to stop at the side of the road to get some stuff out of my saddlebags. It was late morning and the rain tapered-off to a light drizzle. I was concentrating on looking for something in my saddle-bag. When I straightened up again there he was about twenty feet away from me. Unlike the Bison, I hadn't even sensed that he was there. He was a black bear about eight feet tall standing on his rear legs looking at me. I was trying desperately to remember all that I had been taught on what to do in these situations but nothing came to mind. He was looking at me curiously as if he didn't know what to do. I was looking at him not knowing what to do either. Both of us didn't know what to do next. I sensed no aggression – just curiosity - until he decided to “sniff me” by sticking his nose in the air in my direction. As he began to move closer to me I started the Harley as quietly as I could; slipped her into first gear and I moved very slowly across the road to the far side. I slipped my hand into my pocket to take his picture as he decided to return from whence he came. I got a shot of him anyway as he slowly moved away.



Its called The Junction


Its where Hwy 37N meets the Alaska Hwy just inside the Yukon Territory. I was fully aware that we hadn't been able to get gas since long before Jade City and the way I figured it – it would be touch and go whether or not I would make it to the Junction without dipping into my spare containers I was carrying. The final stretch of HWY37 was in poor condition. As a fuel conservation tactic we stayed at eighty kilometres per hour and dodged pot-holes and stretches of road construction all the way. As we approach the Junction my gas gauge was reading below empty but I had not yet switched to reserve. I was surprised to see numbers like 220, 230 and 235 kilometres appearing on my odometer. This was a first. I had run out of gas years earlier when the reading was 228kms. I just couldn't believe that my wheels were still turning at 235 Kms. I was ready for it. I was waiting for it with my fingers on the reserve tap ready to switch over when my Harley began to cough and splutter just as I was starting to turn into a gas station at the Junction. My odometer read 239 Kms. That was a new record for the history books for my Harley. I suspect that the extensive repair work done on my Harley as well as the installation of a brand new air filter had something to do with this fuel consumption improvement.


Last Post Bugle Call


What a treat! We found an Air Force Lodge at Watson Lake that was now used a “No Frills” motel for tired motor cyclists. It was clean, neat, dead-cheap and walking distance from a nice restaurant where we could go and feed our faces after we had got freshened up. I had never seen a restaurant quite like it in my life. The men's washroom offered every convenience including, believe it or not, an aluminium bucket full to the brim with packages of new condoms for those whose wished to help themselves free of change. As far as refreshments go,the Air Force Lodge had everything I really wanted. There was a serving tray in the front lobby containing a giant-sized jar of instant coffee; a giant-sized jar of whitener; a bowl of packets of sugar or sweetener and it was – help yourself. It was fantastic. Everyone adhered to the number one rule which was to remove your boots or shoes in the main lobby. That was a testament to how clean the place was. Hardwood floors were spotless; men's and women's washrooms and showers were spotless and I couldn't help but admire how the military flavour of the Air Force Lodge still prevailed after so many years. In fact, I was comforted by the distant playing of the Last Post Bugle Call coming from somewhere out of the heavens in the night sky as I was peacefully falling asleep after a hard day's ride.
 

Word Count 806

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 5 of 10


Part 5 of 10

Mothers with Cubs
Jade City
Big Mama Bisons


Mothers with Cubs


HWY 37N was the long stretch that would eventually terminate at “The Junction” the point where it meets the infamous Alaska Hwy just inside the Yukon Territory. We had almost two long days of heavy riding before we would get to that point. Shortly after heading north we were in for a rather nice treat at a place called Bell II. It had gas . It served hot coffee. There were fresh pastries if you were in the mood and the Lodge was charming. I gathered from the posters on the wall that visitors could go on scenic helicopter rides and scissoring was a real favourite during the winter time. We covered a lot of distance that day and the thing that I noticed most were the high number of black bears with cubs eating and playing in the long grass that lined the edges of the highway. I saw more black bears than any other species of animal in the area. I counted about twenty black bears throughout the entire trip. Each bear had two, three or more cubs but seldom just one. I assumed that the ones without cubs were males. They were a good distance away and they showed no interest in us at all.



Jade City

After riding for most of the morning through hills and valleys and sections of heavy road construction we came across a settlement right out of the nineteenth century. Big iron signs were posted all over the place saying “Jade City”. It was a popular place with tourists and of course we stopped to explore Jade City and to buy various souvenirs and things. Coffee was available. It certainly gave you a flavour of how things were during the old days and I couldn't help but appreciate the comforts and conveniences we enjoy now in the 21st Century. We were not alone. The main street, if you can call it a street, was lined with countless motorcycles that were parked all along each side of it. Frankly, I had never in my life seen anything quite like it. We knew that we would be seeing a gas station about 35 Kms after leaving Jade City in a place called Good Hope. What we had no way of knowing was the handwritten piece of paper that had been taped to the face of the pumps saying “Out of Gas”.


Big Mama Bison


The number of road constructions and crushed stone road surfaces were not helping our gas situation but, nonetheless, we carried on for miles in the direction of the Junction. It was not unusual after travelling rough roads for our load to shift a bit causing our bikes to get a bit off-balance now and then. This was one of those times. I pulled over to the side of the road; shut my engine off; got off the bike and I began to unload and re-secure the bags I was carrying. I was concentrating on getting it right when I felt as if someone was watching me close-by. My mental radar was working perfectly. Not twenty feet away from me stood this huge 1200 lbs Bison watching me intently. He had the ugliest face I'd ever seen in my life and I was sure he hadn't used any deodorant that morning. He reeked. I've seen too many bull-fight movies. I expected him to start scraping the ground with his front foot ready to charge but he didn't move. He just stood there. He looked far too old and ugly to charge me so I figured I should make the first move to get out of there. My Harley was between me and the Bison so I had to walk slowly towards him to get to my bike. Our eyes never shifted from each other. I very slowly mounted my Harley and started her up quietly. I let her idle so he could get used to the noise. I whispered quietly to myself “Now is not the time to run out of gas!” I slipped into first gear and very rode very slowly to get around the beast. His head turned towards me and he surprised me by walking besides me at my speed and in my direction. That's when I took the photo. Sensing no danger I quickened my pace and so did he. He broke out into a trot. I stayed with him for a little while but he decided that this was no fun anymore so he broke away from the road and went his own way.


Word Count 783


Thursday, October 23, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 4 of 10


Part 4 of 10

Stewart BC and Hyder AK
The Bear Glacier
Mooses and Invisible Mountain Goats


Stewart BC and Hyder AK

From Mezadin Junction on 37N a road leads west to Stewart BC and Hyder AK. The ride takes about one and a half hours . It has rugged mountain scenery with close-up views of the Bear Glacier; various ice-falls and the tumbling bear river that characterizes the route. The road conditions were much better than we had been led to believe . I was monitoring my odometer with an eagle eye and I was maintaining a steady 80 KPH to conserve fuel. As the number of kilometers decreased as I approached Stewart I became less concerned that I would run out of gas. Alas!..There it was just waiting for me on the main street of Stewart was a gas station and it was open. Unlike Vancouver, however, you filled your gas tank and then you went inside to pay for it. The pumps took no credit cards – no pre-authorizations – no pin numbers – and no tiny screens telling you that you messed up. Your credit card or cash was happily accepted inside the station with a smile and a pleasant greeting. There's a lot to be said about the old ways. The King Edward hotel was just down the street and our rooms had been confirmed for the night. A little beyond that was the town of Hyder, AK. I could have easily walked, danced, skipped or jogged right into Hyder but we decided to get our bikes and ride in style. It was truly a Golden moment. My photo shown here under the “Welcome to Alaska” sign is included as evidence to prove that I actually got there – finally. It was July 16, 2014. Neil Armstrong had TV coverage to verify his moon landing. All I have is a photo from my new camera.

Bear Glacier

When leaving Stewart early the next morning we made it a point to stop at the well-know Bear Glacier. There wasn't much traffic so we parked our bikes to take a close-up look at the Glacier. The first thing I noticed was that it became noticeably cooler as I approached it on foot. I've seen bigger glaciers but this one was unique in the way it snaked up between the mountains. It was also mid-July after a scorching summer in Southern BC with near record hot temperatures so I would doubt that it would look anything like this mid-winter. However, it was ideal for taking photographs due to the morning sun rising in the east and literally “illuminating” the glacier and giving it a “glowing” effect. What a treat!

Mooses, Foxes, and Invisible Mountain Goats

The Bear glacier was not the only thing of special interest on this stretch of Highway. I observed more different varieties of species collectively than I saw throughout the entire Alaska/Yukon trip. It was the first time in my life that I cruised at idling speed behind a fully grown female moose trotting along in a non-nonchalant fashion in the middle of the road. I could have stayed behind her all morning but she saw fit to trot-off into the bush a little while later. I was hoping that I hadn't spooked her. Deer became almost a problem as they sprung out of the foliage and pranced towards the far side of the road with no sense at all about highway safety rules. I saw a family of foxes playing at the side of the road. Black bears were in abundance but they generally kept a discreet distance to one side of the road or the other. The most fascinating of all were the mountain goats that blended perfectly into the side of the mountain. I was so impressed that I pulled over to take a photo of them as shown. This was not an easy thing to do since they had a tenancy to disappear through the viewfinder of my camera. Nevertheless, I persevered. You can see the young moose very clearly but how many Mountain Goats are you able to count? Their camouflage is very affective – isn't it?

Word Count 701


Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 3 of 10

Alaska Done

Part 3 of 10

Boarding for the The Inside Passage
Is this the Planet Earth?
Highway of Tears



Boarding for the Inside Passage


To me, this was no Ferry. It was a luxury cruise liner. The thrill of fifty bikes all starting their engines ready to board surpassed that of hearing the starter pistol at the Oulton Park race track in Cheshire England. Once aboard, we were instructed by crew members to shut-off-our engines; engage first gear; and secure them from falling using heavy straps attached to metal rings in the floor of the deck. We departed on time for our fifteen hour journey to Prince Rupert. The scenery that we encountered was enough to take your breath away. There were countless miles of virgin shorelines; we saw tree-filled mountains reaching for the sky; we saw humpback whales dancing in the ocean on more than one occasion; and every now and then we could see the countless settlements of our first nation peoples. It almost made me envious. What absolute tranquillity and solitude. A life of hunting and fishing and no five o' clock traffic jams every day. On the other extreme, we were resting in luxurious armchairs. We drank and ate like royalty and some of us missed quite a bit of the scenery by dozing-off in the afternoon, including me. How shameful!



Is this the Planet Earth?


The further north we got, the more things began to change. As the sun slowly began to go down in the western sky, we were treated to a panorama of brilliant heavenly colours from yellow to orange to crimson red. The effect of this was intriguing. Mountains that had begun to sprout out of the sea itself were cast in shadows of different shades of grey under an orange sky and the circle of heavy mist surrounding them gave the illusion of halos. I haven't seen this effect anywhere else - certainly nowhere down south. I would have to give it the description of looking somewhat “Ominous”.


Highway of Tears
 

After a restful night at the Moby Dick Inn in Prince Rupert I was in the mood the next morning to cover some serious distance on the first major leg of our journey. I filled the Harley with as much premium gasoline as I could possibly get in there without going into overflow including the two extra fuel containers I carried in the back. We began on highway 16 towards the junction of highway 37 which eventually meets the Alaska highway days later. The riding was good with good road conditions but it was easy to see the nature of the landscape begin to change as we headed north east. I jumped out of my skin when I was suddenly overtaken by several motorcycles going at high speed. Most were being driven by younger guys with a female passenger on the pillion hanging on for dear life. During a rest stop later in the day I noticed several of these same motorcycles parked in a rest area. As I suspected, these bikes were generally older and not in the best of shape. Moreover, their back tires showed very little thread. They were just about bald and very unsafe to drive. It occurred to me that this highway had seen more cases of young women's deaths over recent years that I care to count. It was known especially for the disappearance or murder of countless young aboriginal girl hitch-hikers and had earned the name – Highway of Tears. ...How sad indeed.


Word Count 590

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 Alaska Done - Part 2 of 10


Alaska Done

Part 2 of 10

The Grey Man
Flying Warrior
The Ghost Ship

The Grey Man

I was up at 3:30am and ready to leave home at 4:30am for a half-hour ride to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal to catch the 6:20am Ferry to Nanaimo. I have a tendency to do silly things like that. It arises from my deep-seated fear of being late or in this case – of missing an important Ferry. Of course, it was so early that the entire terminal was still closed for the night. Not even the toll booths were showing any signs of life so I parked my Harley in the lane marked – Nanaimo. Moments later, an older man riding an older grey Heritage Special Harley parked beside me . He staggered over to talk to me because that's what us Harley Riders do. The man's skin tone was grey; his ratty-looking beard was grey; his leather jacket that had seen better days was grey and even his Harley was grey. He stunk of booze. I couldn't help but notice his nine inch curved hunting knife sheathed in a grey holster on his belt. Neither of us were in the mood for talking. We were like two wary strangers meeting for the first time in an old cowboy movie. He said “Hey”. I said, “Hey” and a lengthy silence followed. I felt a little awkward so I formulated a perfectly innocent and non-offensive question about his Harley. Just before I had the chance to ask it, however, he began snoring like a tractor. Sometime later when other vehicles began to arrive I thought it prudent to give him a gentle wake-up tap on the shoulder. I didn't want to start my holiday by seeing one of my biker- brothers dragged off by the RCMP.

Flying Warrior

The crossing to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island took about an hour and a half. It was nothing less than spectacular. Equally beautiful was the Island's coastline bearing North along Highway 19 and passing through the sea-side towns of Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Fanny Bay. When glancing to your right, you see the breathtaking views of the Georgia Straits and the western coastline of the BC mainland still relatively untouched by man for the most part. The Pacific generally appears calm compared to the choppy white-caps of the Atlantic surrounding the shores of Great Britain. While surrounded by the awesome beauty of nature its important not to become distracted when riding on the highway. I was happily enjoying the sights when I noticed a large eagle soaring high in the sky before me. It just didn't look right and it gave me the creeps. Suddenly, he assumed a dive-bomber approach aiming directly for me. This was no ordinary eagle. The closer he got the bigger he became. He was the big granddaddy of all Eagles. He came directly for me with his wingspan reaching practically from one side of the highway to the other and with talons outstretched as if to pluck me from my bike. However, a cool head and simple physics prevailed. Even if he did have the strength to lift my body-weight of 165 lbs there was no way he could possibly lift both me and my 600 lbs Harley. Consequently, I held on to my bike very tightly while he skimmed the top of my windshield and veered upwards and away. I'm glad I didn't end up in that eagle's nest having my eyes picked-out for his supper. The City of Campbell River was our last major stop before heading on to Port Hardy and the Northern Ferry Terminal. Campbell River was most impressive due to its shoreline displaying a hundred or more Totem Poles newly crafted by the very talented Indians of that area.


Ghost Ship

Leaving the Airport Inn Motel at 5:00am for the Port Hardy Ferry Terminal was somewhat challenging. It was pitch black, foggy with heavy dew and with light rain. Visibility was limited. GPS (SAT/Nav) was helpful in finding it. Finally....What a treat! It was a scene right out of the twilight zone. Dozens of tall, powerful lamp-posts illuminated the entire harbour. The artificial light amplified the effects of the fog even more resulting in everything having an eerie, ghostly appearance. But, best of all, I found myself looking down the jaws of our ship - The Northern Expedition. Its bough was wide-open and cranked-up vertical fully exposing the vehicle decks (see photo). It was a “Ghost Ship” right out of a Hollywood movie. It was a lengthy wait before departure and during that time over fifty motorcycles arrived. It was a show better than the Vancouver motorcycle show. I was talking to a husband and wife from the States each riding similar BMW motorcycles. I was asking her what did she do for a living. I was surprised when she replied. “I'm a pilot. I fly the Airbus 330 from America to Europe and back”. So you see – you never know what type of classy people you meet on these biking adventures.


Word Count 855

2014 Alaska Done - Part 1 of 10




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Alaska Done

Part 1 of 10

Foreword
Pre-Trip Hiccups
The Box Man

Foreword

I'd tried this trip once before in 2010 leaving from Ottawa and it took seven straight days of heavy rain; a collapsed Trans-Canada Highway; uprooted railway lines; a sea of mud and the Declaration of a State of Emergency from the Premier of Saskatchewan together with my poor, limp, water-soaked and battered body to give it up as a bad idea. This time, however, I was determined to make it to the Yukon Territory and the State of Alaska come hell or high water - or die trying. Well, I'm still here and I'm proud to tell you that I made it successfully notwithstanding being somewhat weather-beaten and just a little bum-sore. The awesome scenery; the animal life; the mountains and the sparse, barren beauty of the far north made it well worth the effort. I would like to acknowledge and thank my two English cousins Shirley Sidlow of Atherton and Lesley Gee of Lowton for volunteering to track and monitor my progress from across the pond and for generous doses of encouragement and support.


Pre-Trip Hiccups

A loud low-frequency whine suddenly erupted from my Harley Davidson motorcycle after making a routine stop at an intersection in Squamish, BC. I hit the kill-switch instantly; put her on her side-stand and looked for oil-leaks underneath. There was nothing. Everything was clean and dry. I even checked my dip-stick and my oil indicator warning light. Everything looked fine. I wasn't very good mechanically with bikes and I had no idea what might be wrong but what I did know was that I was supposed to take this bike to Alaska and the Yukon in less than six weeks time. I was divided in my thinking. How could she let me down like this just before my long trip – and – thank God she broke down now and not in some remote location in No-Man's-Land at night-time. The Harley dealer told me that my Cam Chain Adjusters had failed which in street language means that she'd suffered the human equivalent of a major heart attack. The next few days were difficult. Do I fix her? Do I cancel my trip? Do I take my Yamaha Virago instead? What on earth do I do now? I decided to get her fixed-up again. Within a week, and after a very expensive repair bill she was ready to ride again. However, would she be able to take the punishment of a Yukon / Alaska trip of over 5000Kms? ....I guess I was going to find out.


The Box Man

I couldn't get a straight answer from anyone about whether or not there were going to be enough gas stations to see us through the whole trip without running out of fuel. More importantly, it was simply not possible to get advance information about whether or not a gas station was going to be out of fuel which was often the case in the far north. Since I was not prepared to get out of gas and stranded in grizzly bear land I took the precaution of buying two safety approved one-gallon gas containers to carry with me. The next challenge was how to carry them on the Harley. I built a wooden box exactly the right size to hold a large zippered cooler bag and the two gas containers. Perry Dyck, an artist and friend of mine designed and painted the box with an attractive design saying – Long Way Up! Everyone was so impressed that he earned the honorary title – The Box Man.


Word Count 604



Friday, January 25, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 10 of 10


2012 Rolling Over the 100K – Part 10 of 10



 Table of Contents




 Part 1: What I Want to Do / T – Minus 48 Hours / Perfect Getaway

 Part 2: The Port Mann Bridge / Hope BC / Christina Lake Park

 Part 3: Southern BC / Nancy Greene / Close to Heaven

 Part 4: The Gravel Patch / Multiple Matchsticks / Still in BC?

 Part 5: Alberta's Welcome / Sixes and Sevens / French Envy

 Part 6: Montana's Magic / The Sportsman Motel MT / Chinese Arithmetic

 Part 7: Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots / Dinosaur Park / Rolling Over the 100K

 Part 8: Ashland Motel WI / Man with No Name / Down Under Lake Superior

 Part 9: You're OK to Go! / Iron Bridge ON / Papa's Welcome Home

 Part 10: Table of Contents

Friday, January 18, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 9 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 9 of 10


You're OK to Go!
Iron Bridge, ON
Papa's Welcome Home


You're OK to Go!

It was a nice feeling to see the border crossing into Canada in the far distance. I couldn't help but think of the hard time given to me by the US border guard at Montana about carrying my passport in my front pocket and remembering my BC plate number. I figured I'd be all ready for the Canadian border guard. I pulled over at a rest stop and committed my licence number to memory. “BC Plate SO 6766” . There! ...I just stated it correctly off the top of my head without having to look at it again. I had a problem with my passport though. Firstly, it had gotten wet and then dry again so many times that I was embarrassed to show it to anyone. It looked like it had been dredged-up from the bottom of a Florida swamp. My rain-suit had no front pockets. I couldn't hold it between my fingers as I drove the bike because I needed my left hand to operate the clutch and my right to apply the front brake if necessary. I tried sticking it between my chin-strap and my face but it didn't feel secure enough. I'm sure the wind would have blown it free. I tried sitting on it but if it would have blown free I wouldn't have known about it. Then I'd have a real big problem. I wasn't sure what to do. As I approached the border guard's station he smiled from ear to ear and said “Is that your passport in your teeth?” I nodded my head. He told be not to turn my engine off. He reach over – took my passport from my teeth – flipped through the pages – stuck it back in my teeth and said, “You're OK to Go! Have a nice trip!”



Iron Bridge, ON

It was so nice to get back into Canada and visit the very fabric of Canadian good-living - Tim Horton's. Good food; great coffee; clean washrooms; those hot, thick “Cream of whatever....” soups; those happy smiling faces and unlimited parking. I never passed on the Cream of Broccoli soup because that is my all time favourite. What more could you ask for? I gave some thought to trying to make it to Ottawa non-stop but I was looking at another 800 kilometres in addition to the couple of hundred I'd already done since Ashland,WI. That was going to be too far even in the best of weather. Moreover, I had no doubt that I was still travelling in a weakened condition from the non-stop pounding and soaking I'd suffered from the downpours in Alberta and the mid-western States. I decided to treat myself to an overnight stay at the Red Top motel in Iron Bridge, ON. This beautiful little town is ideally situated. It's located near the half-way point between Sault St. Marie and Sudbury and it's well known for camping and hiking. The junction between the Trans-Canada and HWY 546 North to Mississagi Provincial Park is at Iron Bridge. Lots of rattlers there I'll bet. Later in the evening I ordered six egg rolls with plum sauce at the Motel's restaurant with one bottle of Coors Lite. After that, I had a very good night's sleep.



Papa's Welcome Home

Early the next morning was cool but dry so I took the time to discard anything I wouldn't be needing seeing that I would most likely be cruising the streets of Ottawa that same afternoon. I lightened my load substantially using my de-cluttering rules I invented when I was moving from Ottawa to Burnaby BC. They go like this and they work!

If you need it – keep it
If you don't need it – get rid of it
If you can't decide – get rid of it

I had about 700 kms to go to get to Ottawa and my family. In no time at all I was cruising through the towns of Blind River, Massey, Espanola and Sudbury. I am so familiar with this route I can tell you where every Tim Horton's restaurant; gas station and Canada Post mailbox is located. I could drive the rest of the way with my eyes shut, speaking metaphorically, of course. I was glad to see that it wasn't thunder-storming for a change and that it was starting to warm up. HWY 17 by-passes Sudbury and takes you directly to the City of North Bay on the eastern shore of Lake Nipissing. It's the 200Kms stretch of highway from North Bay to the City of Pembroke I like the best. It shadows the Ottawa river separating Ontario from the beautiful Province of Quebec. You go through Mattawa; Deep River; Chalk River (home of our Atomic Energy Facility); the military town of CFB Petawawa; and the City of Pembroke which makes fabulous pizzas. The scenery never changes - its breathtaking.

I named this concluding part “Papa's Welcome Home”. You'll see why. My ten year old granddaughter saw me as I rode into her driveway. She was playing with friends in her front garden. I shut-off the ignition and parked the bike. I was struggling like mad to remove my knapsack so I could hug this charming bundle of joy. She was bounding towards me with outstretched arms yelling “Papa!...Papa!....Papa!”. With half a moment to spare I threw my knapsack to the ground as she leaped and locked her arms around my neck almost knocking me to the ground. She was jubilant. I was jubilant. WOW!!...what a wonderful welcome home! The wet; the cold; the exhaustion and the minor aches and pains that accompanied them suddenly faded into a distant memory. What a glorious welcome! ..... She made it all worth it!

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 8 of 10



2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 8 of 10


Ashland Motel, WI
Man with No Name
Down Under Lake Superior


Ashland Motel, WI

It was getting late and I was cruising happily along Route 28 East. I could see Lake Superior on my left which felt strange because I usually view this lake from the other side. I can understand why its regarded as the largest lake in the world in terms of surface area. To me – its a sea. To my right I was treated to a very warm and welcoming sight. It was Wyoming's Ashland motel with a parking lot full of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Even more endearing was the sight of Harley guys and gals sitting in lawn chairs outside their rooms leaving their front doors wide-open and drinking beer. Oh!... “My brother's and sisters are here”, I said to myself as I pulled into the parking lot and booked a room for the night. There were bikers to my left and bikers to my right so I did what Harley guys do and I went over to say “Nice bikes”. The group to my left didn't believe that I'd ridden all the way from Vancouver so the biggest guy, the one with the most gold chains and the biggest tattoos, walked over to check my licence plate. “Holy S---!” he yelled to the rest of them. “The Vancouver guy's not kidding. He's got BC plates!” That's when they offered me a beer and a hot dog. The guys to my right were an older and younger brother also from Wyoming. The older brother had gone to bed. The younger brother was looking forward to his driver's test so I told him the story I wrote of the infamous Mr. Green on February 19, 2010. (Scroll way-down and click “Older Posts”. Go to second last story under John's Motorcycle Stories).


Man with No Name

It was still early the next day and I'd just finished breakfast at a McDonald's restaurant. There was no rain and the sky was turning blue indicating that it was going to be a nice
day. I knew from earlier trips that the further east I got on Route 28, the less the frequency of gas stations, so I pulled into a small gas station to fill-up my tank. The
highway was clear and I was surprised to see very little traffic. Frankly, I was trying hard to decided if it was a Monday or a Sunday without looking at my pocket notebook. The exit from the gas station met the entrance to the roadway at an exceptionally acute angle meaning that I had to rubber-neck my head around my left shoulder to see if any vehicles were approaching from my left-rear side. All was clear. What I didn't see was a red fast-moving Dodge Ram SUV coming from the opposite direction; screeching his tires while turning into the gas station exit where I was leaving; and aiming his SUV directly at me! All I could see were those chrome-plated high-rise front-mounted crash-bars and a Michigan plate gunning for me. Yes!....Gunning for me! I don't know what the guy's problem was. Maybe he was on drugs; maybe he was drunk; maybe he just didn't like motorcycles; or maybe he stomped on the gas-pedal instead of the brake. Thank God my reflex reaction was instant. I snapped the throttle on the Harley and I managed to get out of harm's way in the nick of time. He missed my back bumper by about three feet. I dismissed thoughts of reporting him to a police cruiser coming my way. That would have meant going back to get his licence plate number. By the time I'd put some real distance between us I preferred to think of him as simply a man with no name.



Down Under Lake Superior

US Route 28 from Ashland WI to the Canadian border at Sault St. Marie MI is over 700 Kms, roughly the same distance as Winnipeg Thunder Bay. Down under Lake Superior its ruggedly beautiful and the lake-shore is visible for most of the way but there isn't much there in terms of services – especially gas stations. I wasn't too worried because I remember several small gas stations from years ago spaced at reasonable intervals throughout the route. I then discovered that these service stations had since closed but I made it to Newberry MI without having to switch to reserve. After a refreshing McDonald's dinner I filled-up with gas and I asked the attendant a carefully worded question. I was going to ask him whether or not there were any more gas stations before the Canadian border at Sault St. Marie but I didn't want to be blown-off by a dismissive yes or no. I changed my question to say “How many gas stations are there between here and Sault St. Marie?” My plan didn't work. He blew me off by saying bluntly, “None Sir! This is the last gas station!” I didn't believe him for a moment. I took the photos of the stunning wooden elephants for my daughter just before I left Newberry. Ever since she was a little girl she has always like elephants and she always will. I rode hard and fast the rest of the way. I turned North at Interstate 75 towards the Canadian border. There had been four large gas stations since Newberry - all open.


Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 Rolling Over the 100K - Part 7 of 10


2012 Rolling Over the 100K

Part 7 of 10


Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots!
Dinosaur Park, ND
Rolling Over the 100K



Hob-nobbing with the Big Shots!
 
You get a nice feeling when you're wet and cold and hungry and you unexpectedly see a McDonald's restaurant still serving breakfast. An egg McMuffin and a hot coffee was just what I needed to boost my dwindling energy levels. I wasn't sure where I was but as I walked through the front door I looked at the address. I was in Glasgow, MT. My God! This is a big State. No wonder they call it the “Big Sky State”. Since this was a rural town the clientèle were mostly local folks and predominantly farmers. They were a talkative and cheerie lot and everyone seemed to be in good humour except, perhaps, me. I was a little down because I hadn't been totally dry since I left British Columbia and I was getting fed-up with being damp all the time. An old chap accompanied by his wife sitting at the next table struck-up a friendly conversation with me and they cheered me up. He was very interested in BC and in my destination, Ottawa. His wife was saying that she'd like to visit both places sometime as soon as her husband gave up some of his many jobs. I told them stories similar to what you are reading in my blog. They told me local jokes and I was sorry to see them finally get up and leave. The old guy had the courtesy and good manners to help his wife put on her raincoat which totally impressed me. Chivalry isn't dead after all. As they were walking towards the front door, he came back to tell me how he and his wife had enjoyed my company. He was very sincere when he said that the next time I come through their town they would be honoured to invite me to their house for a meal. I was a little overwhelmed and I shook his hand. He reached in his pocket and gave me his card saying, “That's where you can find us.” I put the card in my pocket without looking at it. The next day I was looking in my wallet and I read his card with surprise. It read, "Mayor, City of Glasgow, MT”.



Dinosaur Park, ND

There were certain landmarks I recognized from earlier trips after I had finally crossed into the beautiful State of N. Dakota. Apart from seeing the welcome sign, it wasn't long before I was passing by the array of windmills with their giant blades rotating gracefully in the gentle breeze. Although not its real name, I found myself driving through Dinosaur Park where entire fields were covered with man-made brontosauruses, tyrannosauruses, tetra-dactyls and other pre-historic beasts that I wouldn't even try to guess the names of. What this did for me was comforting. I'd seen these animals before and it provided me with reassurance that I was making progress and that, indeed, I was now well over half-way towards Ontario's western border. Until now, it had simply been mile after endless mile without markers. I decided to stay at the Northern Lights Inn in Rugby, ND, that night. I wanted to get an early night's sleep in the hope of reaching Duluth, MN, sometime during the following day. I was disappointed with that hotel because someone was using a cordless drill in the next room during the middle of the night. I was angry enough to get the night clerk to knock on the door and ask them to stop. I went with him. It turned out that the room was not booked that night. It was dark and empty. The noise I'd heard was being generated by a maladjusted air-conditioning system that was running ten times more powerfully than it should have been. This resulted in audible high-pitched “whistling” between the snug-fitting doors. Mind you, I am grossly over-sensitive to unwanted noises and I am irritated by them. I just can't help it. Nevertheless, I felt like such a fool.



Rolling Over the 100K
Even though I woke-up to rain once again I resolved that I would reach Duluth, MN, that day. It was much easier that I thought it was going to be because many of the quaint small towns I remembered from the last time I was out this way were now by- passed through extensive reconstruction of Route 2. This was both good and not-so-good. On the one hand I made better time than I had anticipated due to a lesser number of stops. On the downside I missed visiting those small towns because they provided you with a better understanding of life in small-town America. The rain cleared by mid-day and I had covered a great distance in just a few hours. Route 2 had been converted to near Interstate calibre now. I was cruising at 70mph and keeping pace easily with truckers; camper-wagons; domestic automobiles and other motorcycles. The greatest surprise, however, were the powerful pick-up trucks that prevailed west of the State of Minnesota to the Pacific coast. Ninety-nine percent of them carried no load whatsoever. I don't know why they are so popular. I'm convinced it must be a “macho” thing. By now, I was getting excited – 099,992 Kms was displayed now on my odometer. It appeared to be rolling faster than it had before. 099,993 Kms ...099,998 Kms.....099,999 Kms …..and, finally, I rolled over 100,000 Kms as I saw the beautiful City of Duluth, MN, in the far distance. I couldn't pull over and enjoy the moment. There were no shoulders to pull over to; I was surrounded by corrugated steel guard-rails. State Troopers would be on your back instantly if you did anything to stop or even slow down traffic unless it was a life and death emergency. I love Duluth. Its absolutely gorgeous. At the very first opportunity after crossing all the bridges and elevated ramps I stopped at the first Burger-King and I congratulated myself with a whopper-burger and a giant root-beer. Before continuing east on Route 28, I took an hour in the early evening to walk along the shore of Lake Superior and admire it's awesome beauty. I was impressed with a plague mounted by the shore in tribute to the Mariner's that had fallen (photo as shown).