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2010 Deadhorse Alaska Trip

'Tuesday June 1st, 2010 10:00'
This ride is over.

Ok, it's late. I had intended on writing an update but I'm beat. I'm in Prince George, BC, Canada and stayed at a restaurant way too late talking to a very interesting woman who is, how should I describe her, an environmental advocate (not an "environmentalist") who has a strangely balanced insight into the compromises needed to make the oil and gas industry, in addition to others, lessen their environmental impact by complying with government regulations. An intelligent and insightful woman named Robyn. It was a completely improbable meeting as I had just paid my bill and was getting up to leave when she entered and sat down at the bar. She mentioned something to the bartender about work and, completely out of character and continuing the trend of challenging the personally uncomfortable, I piped up "so what do you do?". I'm glad I asked. We ended up talking until the bar closed about topics ranging from work to this crazy trip of mine and some of the reasons behind it. "Since I'll never see you again, may I ask what are the reasons behind this trip? I hope it's not too personal.". So I told her a bit about the Nightmare(tm), the estate, and Gesa being killed. Enough detail so convey "yes, it was a Nightmare", but, again out of character, I kept it pretty brief.

It was by far the longest conversation I've had with a "stranger" in ages; definitely on this trip. I don't think she believed me.

We talked for hours. It was fun.

I'll try to write more tomorrow. I'm completely beat. My hopes and dreams of doing a serious mileage day have been shattered, but it's ok. It was worth it. I'll make Dawson Creek tomorrow but no further ....

(the next day)

I could not sleep to save my life. I went to bed around 1AM and woke up around 5AM unable to fall back asleep. Thoughts once again raced. Last night at the restaurant talking to Robyn she mentioned she had lived in a place called something like "Salmon" Idaho, or was it "Sammon"? Or something else. I'll have to look it up. She said I definitely had to stop by there on my way back and walk into a place and tell them Robyn said hi.

"Ok, I'll do that", I said. And I will if I can figure out what place she meant. That's the kind of thing I've wanted more of on this trip. Random interruptions to redirect me to go places I would never think of going. That's what I like about the way I travel. I like to leave open the possibility that things may take me in a direction I had not considered.

I haven't done that in my "real" life in a very long time. The times I have been successful, the times that have yielded the most rewarding benefits have been the times I have let life redirect me randomly. But with years and years of the Nightmare dominating my existence I've become very gun-shy. The thought of change, the thought of going in some random direction in a substantive way without planning for and addressing all possible downsides, stops me in my tracks. My sense of obligation, real and, probably more likely, imagined, confines me.

But when I travel and am Away for a while, life can redirect me and interesting situations arise that I could not have predicted. Who knows, maybe there's nothing worth seeing in this little town in Idaho. But maybe the going there will open up other possibilities. After all, I'm going to Deadhorse, Alaska for No Reason At All.

In a related topic, I also found myself thinking this morning about risk. In some ways this trip is risky. I have come very close to being wiped out of existence. That's one kind of risk. However, the risks, while severe, are limited and can be mitigated. The risk is physical, not personal.

A friend txt'd this morning "You're very brave". I got to thinking "Not really". In many ways I have become terribly risk averse. It's part and parcel to not letting my life be redirected. Ian moved away. So did Bruce. Both of their lives improved as a result. Sure it sucks that they are away and there was always the possibility, I guess, that our friendship may not have survived. Well, maybe if I had been someone else. But they risked it and both are doing much better.

Actually, come to think of it I can't think of a single person who has taken calculated risks, as opposed to stupid ones, who hasn't improved their lives. The ones I know who are miserable are all the ones too afraid of change fearing the Devil that they do not know. I am much more like them than my brave friends.

When I consider the thought of moving as Ian suggested, of Change, suddenly I am not brave at all. The big Changes are the ones that involve internal risk. Internal risk scary. Scarier than any trip to Deadhorse. Ian is far braver than I am. He's changed his life multiple times. He's lived overseas in Moscow and Korea. He's travelled all over. Me, I have largely stayed confined by my obligations too afraid to walk away from them.

Ian unafraid of the Unkown. If I'm honest with myself, I guess I fear it.

During my younger years and especially when the Nightmare became epic, so many people asked me why I couldn't just walk away. What I was going through was clearly torture; a seemingly endless nightmare that would end badly with my greatest possible reward being that I might not get blamed for it in it's entirety. Regardless, I endured for years on end. So many people seemed to hold that in such high regard. I could live up to my Obligations despite knowing that I would be blamed and demeaned for it. And on many occasions I was. So many nights being woken up by the building alarm or my mom yelling at me.

It dawns on me as I write this that while one might be able to spin it that I was stepping up to a nearly impossible challenge when no one else would, you could just as easily say that I was simply too afraid, too much of a coward, not to do it. I was too ensconced in an over developed feeling of obligation to ever consider walking away from one. The fear of being blamed that I would negatively impact someone else for doing something to improve my own situation was far greater than any other fear. I almost aborted this trip because of another real estate fiasco developing with my mom's house; but this time I said "no, I have to go". If this trip kills me, will I be blamed for it? Will I be remembered as the one who was irresponsible? Who did not do what he was supposed to and suffered the consequences?

This quality, this fear, makes me extremely reliable. If I am your friend, I am your friend for life. If I say I'm going to do something, I do it. But this fear also confines me and makes me a coward. In travel I relish risk and addressing it. I'm open to endless Possibilities. However, in life I am so risk averse I rarely venture anything and as a result have the life that I do, which is more of a life than a Life.

One epic motorcycle trip a Life does not make, but it is one of the rare times that I have ignored the fear of not living up to my obligations and Risked. These are the times I remember the most years later; not the the endless times I lived up to my Obligations.

Maybe this is the lesson I came out here to learn. That, in honesty, I am an emotional coward and that's why my life is what it is.

If I make choices that might negatively impact someone else but could change my life significantly for the better, is it cowardly not to do it? To pay deference to that other human being? Would my mom's life been that much worse had I not stepped up to the plate for so many years? Could I have had a Life? Can I still have one or should I just continue on slaving away on my Obligations that, in the end, don't do me any good?

I have a friend who is struggling with similar questions. It's funny how easy it is to see someone else's behavior and recognize it. And also, how difficult it is to see your own. That's why, whenever I talk to someone else and give advice, I always carefully listen. The things you see in others clearly are often reflections of things in yourself. More times than not, I realize I am in part talking to myself.

Enough introspection for now.

I saw a guy walking away from his BMW F650GS adventure bike this morning. I didn't have a camera with me, unfortunately. He asked me where I was going. "Starbucks", I answered. He laughed and asked "Where are you going on your trip?". "Deadhorse". "Really?", he replied. "I just got back from there.".

"How was the Dalton?", I inquired. "'orrible! Simply 'orrible", he said in what sounded like a British accent. "I wouldn't do it on a bike without knobby tires. In places the road is ok, but in others it's just a mudpit of misery". Then he went on to say that a guy on a K1300GT on street tires had made it but wasn't happy about it at all. "Just miserable", he said. He crashed pretty hard within the last 7 miles on the return trip. He bent his handlebars and injured his wrist. "'orrible", he repreated.

Apparently it's been raining up there a lot and that makes the road nearly impassable in places. Another data point. Some say it's a cakewalk. Others say it's horrible. I won't know until I go see.

What's the greater risk for me? Pushing through and making it up to Deadhorse, or would the greater risk, the braver thing, be to turn around and be kind of myself?

I don't think I'm that brave yet.

I find it funny that people here from hotel clerks to bartenders know that fools like myself ride up to Deadhorse. I guess it happens enough. Maybe I'll run into some riders on my way. It would be good to do that stretch in the company of someone else rather than alone.

Yesterday that which I have always feared about leaving happened. Anatoly sent me an email saying that a problem we had noticed with our servers was more serious than we originally believed. In our company, we create, produce, customize, sell and support desktop stock market tracking and investment portfolio management software. Our product, Personal Stock Monitor is for investing what Quicken is for Personal Finance.

We have our own servers and network which I built and run out of my house, which is set up more like an office than a house. That's my role in our company. Anatoly does all the desktop software development and I do all the server and network management along with all the server side and web application software development.

I also built the ecommerce and customer relationship management system we use. (In addition to a bunch of other code such as the forum and blogging software on the site here.)

So Anatoly tells me that suddenly some random customers who purchase our software are not getting their license key emails. The system generates an email with a unique license key used to unlock the stock market software after they buy it.

So using the hotel wifi and this cheap laptop I had bought for the trip I logged into the servers and started crawling through code I wrote over 10 years ago. I comment my code very carefully for exactly this reason. It had been working all these years so it made no sense that it should stop working. Something had changed. I figured there was probably some problem with the mail server, sendmail, that we use. I got Anatoly to send me an example of one of the orders that did not get sent out. That allowed me to crawl through the mail logs to see if any error messages had been logged. "Connection refused" it said for the email in question.

Oh shit.

Sure enough, I checked and our software problem wasn't a software problem at all. Our mail server was being hit by some kind of "denial of service" bot network. Basically what this botnet was doing was opening a connection to the machine and just letting it sit. Then it would open another and another and another until all available connections were occupied. This denied anyone else, including my ecommerce software, from using the mail server.


I checked the sendmail configuration but it's been years since I've done any serious sendmail work and I didn't have any of my reference books with me, so I sent Duncan an email asking him if he had ever addressed this problem before. Duncan is a sendmail master having spent years tuning high volume mail servers. I knew he was at work, so I added some of my own tweaks and watched the server for a while. The attack continued but mail was flowing, slowly. At least we knew what the problem was and I would be able to hole up in Prince George and work on it without the threat of checkout time looming large.

This occupied about three hours of my morning. So much for getting any serious mileage done. In addition, this meant I would have to make sure that I stopped somewhere with WIFI. So I set might sights on Price George. "Perfect.", I thought, since I had wanted to revisit Prince George anyways.

The hotel let me stay until 12 at which time I checked out and got underway.


I wasn't in the mood to stop much. The countryside looked much as it had. It went from arid conditions to a greener tree covered landscape. This was the kind of landscape that looks like what one, as an American, thinks Canada should look like.


The rest stops were clean. The little bathroom outhouses were not.

What amazes me about this countryside, given how far north we are, is the abundance of flowers. There were fields and fields of yellow and white flowers. The photo doesn't do it justice. Very pretty.


(yes, I know, he's so sensitive, he stops to take pictures of flowers.)

I rode on at nearly the speed limit. Yesterday's encounter with the Canadian Mounty had me cautious. Strangely most Canadians around here drive the speed limit. Given how crazy Canadians are in the states, I found this surprising. I meandered along barely going fast enough to keep myself awake when I passed a sign I didn't recognize. I turned around, owing in part to my new tank bag setup that lets me turn might tighter circles, and went back to take a look.


Ok, this is something you see every day.

I continued on stopping every once in a while to snap a photo. As I moved across the landscape I would notice these expanses of white crystals. The first one I saw made me suspect it was some kind of pollution but after I saw a few more I began to suspect it was some kind of natural phenomenon.

They seem to start out as ponds like this one.


And then evaporate into what I assume are salt deposits.


I didn't investigate further. It seemed strange to me that water on the surface around here would contain such a high concentation of salt. Maybe it's something else. I don't know.

In this area of British Columbia towns are relatively rare, but I was disappointed to see how developed it has gotten since the last time I was up this way. Previously, this was Away. I mean there was nothing here. Now there are larger towns with traffic lights and billboards. At least they are still separated by a good number of miles.


I eventually came upon Lac La Hach, a town that has a campground Duncan and I stayed at for a day or two. I remember we rented a little john boat and explored the rather large lake there. I couldn't remember where the campground was we stayed at, but I needed to make it to Prince George so I could work on the servers, so I didn't stop.


I kept trying to capture how roads up here are "different". The "highways" up here are what we would call secondary roads. They are mostly two lane opposing traffic. And unlike the last time I was up here, the traffic was annoying.


The landscape up here is dotted with lakes. Unfortunately there are so few good places to stop to take a photo.


I noticed an odd street sign that I should have taken a photo of. It was the symbol for WIFI. A Canadian Tourist Information Center with free WIFI was just up ahead.

This was an impressive wooden structure made with huge beams, but the now legendary Canadian Highway Infobirth Girl was not there. I suspect she no longer exists.


There was a coffee shop on the one side and a table outside next to an outlet. "Perfect!", I thought.

I got a cup of coffee and set myself up to work.


A young woman went back and forth from the shop to the parking lot a few times. Each time she passed she would smile. It seems like people smile a lot up here. I can't tell if it's a social norm like in some asian countries or whether all this smiling is genuine. People up here do seem happier to me than their counterparts in the states.


Notice the smile. She was very friendly. I've found Canadians in general to be very friendly and open. This is in contrast to the general idea that Canadians tend to be stand offish. Maybe basic politeness is mistaken for something else. I know I get negative feedback in the States all the time because of my politeness.

We got to talking about the cultural differences between Canada and the US. The two cultures are more different than you would think. It's apparent in so many sublte ways. The people I've observed here are less angry than Americans. Given the huge number of hitchhikers of all walks of life, I suspect people aren't as afraid here. People smile. They are polite like I'm polite. They seem more open and curious. They seem to like to converse.

And it seems Canadians, like Germans, love their flowers.


I sat outside and worked for some hours. Duncan had responded to my inquiry and had sent me a recommended list of settings changes which I carefully applied. I restarted the sendmail server process and monitored the machine for an hour making sure everything was working as it should be. It seemed to be.

It was getting late and I wanted to make it to Prince George to another WIFI hotspot so I could check up on things one more time just to be thorough. The landscape became more beautiful the farther north I got.



And the landscape was dotted with more lakes as clouds obscured the sun.


It was 7PM but the sun was still very high in the sky but it was obscured by these unusually misty clouds. It looked more like a thick haze high up above the clouds than clouds themselves. I wondered for a moment if there could be forest fires somewhere.

Another curious thing I noticed which once again made me think, "Uh oh, foreshadowing", are the trash cans at all the rest areas. They all look like this.


Ummmm. "Bear Proof".

Once again I'm struck by all the flowers. Each town up here has hanging baskets, and planters and whatnot of colorful flowers. One little town I rolled through had them lining the street.


(Yea, I know. Flowers.)

As an offset, look!, here's a factory.


"Yermos like factories.", I can just imagine Carol saying.

I did manage to snap a photo of the weird clouds and endless expanses of evergreens.


Weird high hazy clouds.

I rolled into Prince George and rode around the town a bit looking for a cheap motel. The town was a bit different than I remembered it. It didn't look as foreign. A few Innuit looking guys standing on a street corner eyed me suspiciously but I quickly noticed the Starbucks. "Yea, not Away", I thought.

Downtown has been decimated. There are many empty buildings. I was told not to walk around at night alone. "I'm from DC", I said. "Oh, never mind", they would reply. I poked my head in a few bar and grills and a couple of restaurants and finally settled on a rather nice restaurant. It had a nice wooden bar and a good selection of scotches. The food was excellent. I have forgotten the name. Something like "The Cork Twist" or somesuch.

As Outback Rachel can attest to, I'm bad for business. I sat at the bar and ordered. A little while later the whole restaurant cleared out. I'm starting to develop a complex. The bartender and waittress were nice and we chatted a while. Just as I was getting ready to leave a woman walked in and sat at the bar commenting "It's dead in here". "Yup, I seem to have the effect", I interrupted. "Suddenly I feel the urge to leave.", she joked.

A nice interruption to what been a pretty isolated day. Even when you are an intolerable introvert, you just never know who you are going to meet. There are Improbable People out there. I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

Yesterday, I heard from Angela. She says that her three year old, Lillianna, has started including me in her prayers. "And please let Yermo stay on the road." So sweet. I'll be extra careful, I promise.

I'm back at the Starbucks now absolutely dead tired. Two Venti coffee's is not doing the trick. Today's ride is going to suck ... I hate riding when I'm this tired. I'm half tempted just to go back to the hotel and leave tomorrow ... but the road beckons. It's supposed to rain.

To those who want to see me in one piece again, I'll be careful. I haven't reached anything close to the hard part yet, but it's coming. I wonder how hard it'll be. A heavily loaded sport touring bike with street tires and narrow handlebars ... and all that mud could make for an interesting time. I honestly don't know if I'll make it. Maybe it'll be too hard ...

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