I do not have the time to develop the ideas in this post to the degree they need to be. In a few hours Phil will be here and I will have to focus my attention elsewhere. If, as so many of you have suggested, I do write a book the themes here will be much better developed and will form the basis of the book.
I've been travelling for three days across epic flat under challenging skies all the while waiting for the storms to return. Thinking about perception. No, thinking about feelings behind perceptions that form the basis of what we think they mean.
I now sit in a motel in a small town of Ignace, Ontario, my bike's exhaust system broken. The #1 cylinder header pipe has completely split free. The bike now sounds like some kind of sick Harley with a nasty sputter.
Unfortunately, the machine cannot be ridden in this shape. Insufficient back pressure from the break will cause me to burn up the #1 cylinder long before I reach home.
Ignace is a small little town in the middle of nowhere. There are no auto parts stores here. The nearest large town, Thunder Bay, is 150 miles away and I fear running the motor that long to get there. I don't know at what point the exhaust broke. It may all already be a moot point.
I had to ride quite a few more miles than I was planning. I had realized some things, come up with what I wanted to say and wanted to write. I had really wanted to write, but all motels were booked solid for hundreds of miles. I eventually made it to Ignace, late, found a tavern that was open even later, grabbed a bite to eat and tried to sleep, but was completely unable to. The phone rang early. It was Phil. He had already gotten exhaust header tape, which is not available where I am, and other supplies and was offering to ride all the way out here. Half asleep I was stunned once again. "This is so messing with my world view.", I thought.
I did some calling around and tried to solve the problem myself. I checked with a towing company and a small autoparts store. Nothing.
Breaking Artificial Rules, since he's going so very far out of his way and it's going to be a rough ride for him under unpleasant circumstances, I agreed to the help.
As I write he's fighting holiday traffic, I believe in the rain, and making his way here. It'll take him till close to midnight to get here. Damn. I've gotten him a room here at the hotel and will try to get some food and drink for him shortly.
A couple of days ago, after I had been out in the epic flat dodging storms and chasing rainbows, doing more thinking, I got up to leave. The bugs out there are really something to behold.
I had cleaned the face shield less than 20 minutes before finding the motel. They were just awful, but I didn't mind. There were also these larger bugs, monster bugs, that would flit by. Sometimes they would hit and when they hit you could feel it through the armor. It was late and dark. Dragon Flies? Locusts? Alien Baby Snatchers?
I had slept later than I had intended. I packed up all my gear in the hot July sun, the temperatures here approaching 90, got on the bike and attempted to start it.
The electrical gremlin recurred. Firing on only two cylinders and the tachometer reading 0, the bike sounded ill and would hardly run. This has happened before. I shut the bike off, let it sit and tried to restart it.
After many attempts including letting it sickly idle for 15 minutes I began to fear I wasn't going to be able to meet Phil. It wasn't going away. I thought to back before this trip and the calm I experienced on Atigen Pass and in other places along this Journey and wondered why I felt so differently now.
I can remember thinking that if this had happened Before, I would have been completely stressed out about it. I would have felt responsible, ill even, at the prospect of another failure.
But today, under this heat, I was calm. "If I can't fix it, I'll just have to tell Phil. It is what it is.", not realizing yet how different this feeling, this calm, was.
Anderwerks had given me some suggestions on how to diagnose the problem. The first suspect was the coils, which provide the spark to the spark plugs. There are four exhaust pipes, one from each cylinder. One way to figure out which coil it might be is to run the bike shortly and see which pipes are hot. 2 and 3 were hot. 1 and 4 were not. 1 and 4 are on the same coil, so maybe the coil is bad.
They had suggested then, if that was the case, to swap the coils to see if the problem followed the coil. If I swapped the coils, restarted the bike and the other cylinders ran then it would be the coil and I would know what parts I had to have shipped.
I had forgotten what a job it is to remove and replace the coils. As I unpacked my gear, pulled off the bags and side covers I noticed something on the ground. "Funny, I didn't think I was around DC", I chuckled.
The little gold shiny thing in the center is a bullet.
I had already checked out of the room. The cleaning lady, more like cleaning girl actually, came by to fix up the room. She left the door open for me so I could run in and drink water. It was hot and I was sweating profusely baking in the hot sun. "Parking lot bad. Garage very good. I envy my past self, I really do.", I thought as I roasted thinking how fortunate my past self had been.
Because one bolt holding the coils in at the top is too long to remove without removing the battery, I had to remove the battery, which of course sits under the fuel injection computer which can't be removed unless you remove the ABS computer which can't be removed unless you remove the seat and so forth ...
I pulled out the coils and swapped the wires. It was now maybe an hour and a half later. But I was not stressed. I was not rushed. I was not expectant or angry. I was just hot and uncomfortable wondering how long I would last out here in the heat before I had to find shelter.
I put the coils back and and reassembled the minimum I needed to to finish the experiment.
The problem did not follow the coils. "Good information. I know it's not the coils now.", I thought thinking that some time ago I might have thrown my hands up thinking that this was hopeless, stressing endlessly about implication and what it meant about who I was. But not on this day.
"There are two other possibilities. The ignition control module or the pickup sensors.", Anderwerks had told me if I had gotten to this point.
The ignition control module is located on the side of the battery box next to the coils. It has a large connector that goes to it. At Anderwerks we had tugged on it and pushed it in and but it didn't budge being firmly connected to it's socket. I looked at the cable again very calmly, not rushed, just observing when I noticed that it seemed kinked more than usual. I tugged on it in a slightly different direction and noticed that the connector moved. It had not been as firmly connected as we had assumed. I pushed the connector back in further and started the bike.
It immediately started and ran fine.
This has been a recurring problem for as long as I have owned the bike. 18 years. What an interesting analogy, letting go of Artificial Thoughts, Constraints and Rules to focus on this moment after the nightmare and to be able to, as a result of what I have learned on this trip, easily solve a problem whose solution has eluded me all these years. "Interesting.", I can remember hearing her say.
I have struggled with the concept of Artificial Rules, Thoughts and Constraints. "Those analogies don't really capture what I think, see or feel.", I remembered thinking.
I packed up the bike my leathers completely soaked through with sweat. I got some more water and headed back out onto the road.
The sun was shining. There were no storms to be seen anywhere. It was hot but beautiful. The breeze felt good. The road was straight. Endlessly straight and it was flat, flatter than Kanas. It gave me much needed time to think.
"What a nice and appropriate ritual separation from the ecstacy of riding all those mountain roads. I have the time to reflect, to maybe, just maybe, learn something from my journey so far and all the improbable things that have happened.", I would think as I rode.
There were pretty flowers.
"He's so sensitive.", I chuckled. "Yes, I guess I am and I'll kick your ass if you say otherwise!"
At one point I approached what I thought at first was snow, which didn't make any sense.
It was a pile of some salt mineral on a field of salt next to an evaporating lake.
Eventually, after hundreds of miles, a thunderhead loomed in the distance looking like a mushroom cloud.
But it was far away yet. I was sure to get rained on but by the time I approached it had dissipated.
It's amazingly flat out here.
Such a brutal contrast from the mountains. "I love the mountains. They are good for my soul.", I found myself thinking out of character. I never really consider what's good for me, what makes me feel better or worse. I just endure whatever and I'm very good at it.
I stopped to get gas. I haven't mentioned it before but it's been happening more frequently. There have been quite a number of gas stations up here that haven't had any gas. In this particular large town most gas stations didn't have gas.
I found a station that was open, got gas and some water. Chatted a few moments with a cruiser rider about his trip west and then headed back onto the road content to just make miles and think.
As I rode I kept thinking back to places and events over the mountains. I was riding East but wanting it to be West. Was it that I wanted to head West? Or was it that I so didn't want to be riding East? It was probably a combination of both. "Why?", I wondered.
I crossed the border into Manitoba. I do not like Manitoba.
I hadn't really talked to many people. There are few riders out here. This epic flat is not a place where you ever see Adventure Riders, they preferring other routes across. I thought about symbols. How easy it was, for the very first time, to meet so many people and how affected I've been by all I've met.
I've been open out here in a way I don't think I've ever been, but it has felt good. It has felt like Me, a Me I have not known. I think it's the Western Canadians that really opened my eyes, how friendly they are. They all seem to smile invitingly and are interested, curious, polite and most importantly, I realized, unafraid. Really unafraid.
"I like Canadians.", I thought as I realized that I am not done with Canada yet. I think I need to return to ride those roads again. There are more stories here I need to experience.
I thought more about symbols. Why did I meet the people that I did? Most I seemed to meet because of the bike. Most were riders or interested in riding. Many, like Dani, recognized me as a kindred spirit because of the gear I had.
"But I understood and noticed none of that.", she had said, a comment which I would think about endlessly and eventually come to understand. "Such a wise woman.", I would later think.
Was it the place? The culture? Maybe things are just different out here. Western Canadians are a positive albeit walled in bunch, but I like that. It's comfortable for me. "My politeness and world view seem to match them more up here than they do at home.", I thought as I considered so many conversations I had.
The sun was fierce.
My GPS started to flake out. It's a car grade GPS that is not suited for outdoor motorcycle use so I put it into a water proof bag. It flops in the wind badly and tends to break the power cable confusing the GPS something fierce. I've already replaced the cable once on this trip and it was looking like this new cable had given up the ghost quicker than the last.
Then I remembered that I'm a fucking genius. How many thousands of miles has it been?
The answer was "duct tape". The question was "What simple easy fix could Yermo have come up with to make his whole trip more pleasant.".
Problem for the next cable solved. I would have to get a new power cable though.
The sun set on the horizon once again and it was beautiful, and there I stood on the side of the road alone, no one to share it with. But it was ok. I was at peace with that fact.
I rode on into the darkness marvelling at the fact that I have not gotten rained on despite thunderstorms being all around me.
I eventually found a hotel after searching quite a bit and a restaurant that was open. Very bad food. There's a lot of very bad food out here in the flat. But then again, there's alot of bad food on the road in general.
I went to sleep but was not able to sleep well once again.
The Next Day
I had overdone it on the previous day. I guess all that time baking in the sun took it out of me more than I realized. I woke up looking old, older than I have at any time on the trip, my face badly swollen and I felt ill, ill the way I felt on the last cross country trip.
I had only done maybe only a little over 400 miles the previous day but I looked and felt like I had done 1000.
I got up very late, checking out of the hotel a half hour after checkout time and sat at a diner trying to wake up drinking lots and lots of coffee and water.
On the horizon a very bad storm was brewing and heading my way. Normally I would rush to see which way I needed to head and try to run away from the storm. But I didn't, not in a self destructive or depressive way, it was just that I didn't care.
"If it rains let it rain.", I thought as I sipped another cup of brown colored water they call coffee. I sat for some time, some very long time, considering how I felt. My thoughts went back to Rick who is now on the Dalton Highway. I hope he is not being eaten alive by mosquitoes too badly.
I remember how he had posted on Facebook, talking about the Dalton Highway, that he hadn't thought about it being beautiful up there, only focusing on the hardships. "What a tragedy.", I thought, "for him to go all that way."
So I posted:
"I'm still on the road. Outside of a Calgary now on the sad route back to what I call home. Stop. Take a moment. Breathe. Enjoy the moment. Ignore the mosquitoes, the mud, the hardship and let the beauty of the place you are about to ride to get inside. It would be a tragedy to visit this place and, despite it's hardships, not appreciate how special, how foreign, it is. Enjoy it."
I would think about this for some time coming to realize that I need carefully listen when I speak.
Why did I dread going home so much? What was so different out here? Was it the people I met? The culture?
I had dreaded the return trip since I started this journey.
I thought about one thing she said, that at first I had completely misunderstood, "And then on to my favorite part, NEXT!", talking about my journey home.
"Next.", I thought, sadly, not understanding, so wishing I could avoid going home and turn in some other direction.
Then suddenly I got it.
Change. Motion. New experiences. That is what's so different about the road. Every day begins anew and there are new faces, places and experiences to be had. I have seen and experienced so much new on this trip. Motion is good for the soul.
There are so many souls you meet out here. For the most part you just pass through these lives a momentary blip on the radar. But rarely, oh so rarely and you are blessed if it happens to you, you become part of a life for a brief moment that Changes Everything and you see as if with new eyes.
I have always known that I liked the time on drives that have a destination but I don't like to just randomly drive around. I have to have a goal. I realized, that I too need a "Next", a sense of End in order to enjoy the Next Now. At every point on this trip where I have truly enjoyed myself there was in it a sense of "End", of "Next".
That was one aspect of the weekend that was so powerful. There was motion and change. Left to my own devices, I sit and contemplate and do not move for hours. She, on the other hand, is always in motion, but not in a hurried or stressed way. It's just motion. Dinner is done, it's time to go outside and sit in the sunshine for a little bit. Then walk to the horses. There is no sense, none, that this is a sin, that somehow one should be doing something to accomplish a goal, get the next task on the endless todo list done, to move closer to that irrational goal, whatever it is. There is only now, and now it's time to go sit outside and bask in the sun for a short moment. During the day she decides not to go to work so it's off to the beach at the lake, then without staying too long it's on to dinner, then drinks. The next day, after working hard for a few hours and going for a run, her dinner plans cancelled, let's go for a ride. Always motion, fluid natural unhurried motion letting each moment last as long as it should and not longer. Each moment has a beginning a middle and most importantly an end.
Next. Now I understood.
I really need to listen to what I say to people. Back in Ouray, talking to one of the noise makers who did not want the fire to be put out, I said:
"In order for there to be a beginning, there must previously been an end.", I said.
"I get it. We put the fire out tonight so we can have another one tomorrow!", he said enthusiastically accepting now that he had to go to bed.
There are so many lessons that I have known, but have not internalized, have not felt.
I now know a big part of why I feel like I have nothing to go back to. My life has no "Next". I have not paid attention to how I feel. It has always been ingrained in me that to feel is to be weak, pathetic, and needy. You force yourself to endure whatever. I am very good at it.
My nightmare and it's effect were real. I look back now with these new eyes on that person that sat in that house for all those years. Few knew the many many nights I would sit alone in the dark on my couch panic attacks making me feel like I was having a heart attack. Or the times, the endless expanses of time, when I would work so hard I would be in the house for a week straight never stepping foot outside. Or the times, doing nine month workaholic stints trying to achieve something for reasons I did not understand, where I would not meet a single new person.
Looking at it now, and the life I have to go back to, it's no wonder that I dread it with all my being and want to go back to that sunshine and light and "Next" that I experienced in that special place over the mountains and now very far away.
Sitting there in the dark in my house working away hours and hours on end, there is no next, just more of the same day after day. With saddistically few exceptions, my childhood was like that. My teenage years were like that and much of my adult life has been like that. Strange and sad that I have never thought, never understood, that's why I have hated my life so much.
And now it looks completely insane to me. I was always taught, brainwashed, that work and only work is valuable, and that was a lesson that has to change.
I think about the lifestyle in Washington DC. Get a job. Move up the company ladder. Work like a fiend. Acquire stuff. Stress. Each day like that last, but more importantly each phase of life like the previous from beginning to end.
In a way it's it's own kind of a Nightmare, and nightmares are times when you have no Next. I thought about culture, the North German culture I admire and value. Build a house with your own hands and have it last 250 years. There's a permanence to Germany that's not present in the States. But maybe, given how my life developed, those concepts are no good for me?
I guess maybe with children there is always a next. Each day they grow and become different leaving parents to experience a new event.
But we, we who are not on what Tanya calls the Standard Plan, we have to develop our own Plan, a Non-Standard Plan. This is something that until today I have not seen clearly. She is not on the Standard Plan. She's single and has been for a while and her friends marvel and worry at the fact that she's single. My friends wonder the same about me. Find someone you like and be with them. That's the standard plan. But when you grow up like an oak on crooked and broken ground the standard plan does not work for you. For people like us, we have to invent, we have to create, we have to develop our own Plan. And often times these self created Plans are not compatible, well maybe, not yet.
Even though she's working like a fiend right now to accomplish a goal she said, "It's good for now" implying that maybe soon she would change. She is internally free to choose in a way I have never been.
"Interesting.", I thought. "My company. What if it does fail? What if it's over? 12 years we put in ... how badly have I let Anatoly down?", when I realized that's just fear thinking and still part of my nightmare speaking loud and clear. "Hmmm. Maybe I am afraid of Next in the bigger sense of the word." Maybe the industry has changed and circumstance was to blame? Now that's a thought I've never had. But then again, if I can muster the calm of the Dalton in business, maybe I can come to see the obvious solution in front of me that has eluded my sense for 18 years, like a loose connector.
I wonder. Can I rework my life in DC, take responsibility for it, so that there is always a sense of Next? I pondered that for some time thinking about how I don't really know what I like left to my own devices. So I asked a different question, "Can I make my life at home more like my life on the road. What do I like most of the road?".
Meeting people, learning from their stories, being open and letting the occasional very special person in.
"Silly universe.", I thought wondering if that symbol too would give me an insight that I needed to learn. I found myself wondering about how the mind looks for symbols. "Do I just find the symbols I need or are they random and I would not learn what I need to. Would I never have learned about Next if it wasn't for her?", I questioned realizing that the answer was definitely no. I was just fortunate. Improbably fortunate but ready to learn what I needed to.
Ian said travelling is good for the soul, but you have to open and willing to explore those parts of you you like the least, the places that hurt. The road is a very good place to do that.
"I feel differently, I really do.", I thought as I considered that maybe, thinking of the silly rainbow, maybe I could learn to do what she does. Not to be crazy optimistic like someone who just denies the bad stuff in life, but instead have a balanced view, to rationally accept the bad but decide not to let it hurt too much and then /choose/ to feel the emotional impact of the good, to not doubt that it has value and what it meant. "I wonder if she feels anything about the fact that I chose to spend an extra three days with her?", I mused as if to consider a thing forbidden to consider, and I allowed myself the rare feeling, "I bet she does.".
To do with people, with events, with endings, what I could so easily do on the Dalton Highway, but haven't been able to do with this. Enjoy the moment, cherish it, learn from it and then move on to the next moment freely.
"I feel differently. Something has changed.", as I pondered what it might be. The universe seems different today.
I walked outside and looked at the storm.
"I am beginning to feel like I will be able let my Nightmare and it's effects lie.", I thought as I misread the GPS and thought I was going to head into the storm.
"Maybe my future will not be so bad. Maybe Duncan is right. Maybe the storms and the nightmare are behind me.", I thought as I considered what a silly symbol it would be if the storm were on the other side.
Then I realized I had misread the GPS and headed off into the sunshine.
"Ok, this is truly ridiculous.", I thought being slightly embarrassed knowing that I would feel compelled to share this.
I rode off never getting rained on, the large beautiful storm in my mirrors the whole time.
I rode on for a while but the GPS started flaking out again. I believed it was the cable so when I stopped to get gas I checked the GPS, fully expecting the bitch to lie to me like she had done so often in the past, and she led me to a Walmart.
I never go into Walmart. I hate it. It's an Artificial Rule.
They did in fact have a power adaptor for my GPS.
I baked once again in the hot sun and fumbled with the GPS. It turns out it was not the cable but the power connector in the GPS itself. "$10 wasted.", I thought but had no desire to go back into the place. "I'll just use it as a charger when the need arises. I've spent so much crazy money already.", I thought and moved forward.
I was overheating. I drank the last of my water, got on the bike and headed onward.
Leaving the parking lot I saw a Starbucks, remembered the previous day and thought, "I'm on no schedule. I've got plenty of time. Let me stop, be kind to myself, drink lots of water and have a cup of coffee". So I sat at a Starbucks for an hour rehydrating.
For those of you who know me best, please don't panic.
I don't think I'm going to be as much of a fan of Starbucks as I have been. I may not go there that often. As I sat there I kept thinking how it just did not feel right. The last time I was in a coffee shop, I had enjoyed it so much more. It was the company I had, but the indelible mark it made made me feel like this shop I was in was just not right.
"I wonder what things I have not explored in my own neighborhood?", as I sipped my coffee and glugged water pondering why I've never taken the calm time to explore the place I have lived for 15 years. "Crazy.", I thought.
After I had enough to drink I rode on for a couple hours. I stopped at a rest stop. A guy on a Gold Wing trike rolled up. I had not met anyone new in some time and was feeling closed. "People here are just not as friendly. There are no smiles. There is no openness.", I thought as I considered whether maybe my soul simply doesn't match the place I was living.
A couple of women walked up and asked me about the bike. They said, "You're far from home".
"Not nearly as far as I have been.", I replied and we got to talking about the Dalton Highway and my journey. They left. I looked towards the guy with the Wing. He had an unfriendly closed nature to him, but, out of character and mustering a social bravery I rarely have, I walked up to him. "I've never seen one of these up close.".
His demeanor changed as he said in a thick French Canadian accent, "Really? I can't believe that.".
He had built the thing himself. The rear end was made of a combination of, I believe it was, Chevy and VW parts. He had custom engineered his own indepedent rear suspension so the thing leans a bit. "I have a heart condition so I can't ride the two wheelers any more.", he said. It turns out he used to work as a mechanic for a Formula 1 team in the 70's.
We talked about the Dalton, Prudehoe Bay, Alaska, He had come back from touring the tar sands and diamond mine operations in North Canada. "They are worth seeing. You should go.", he said.
Another destination in search of a Journey. I found myself thinking that I just might. I don't think I'm done with Canada yet. I think I have to return. This place is good for me.
We parted company and he headed on his way. When I got back to the bike I noticed the side stand had sunk into the pavement.
"If it's this hot here I don't even want to imagine Washington DC.", I feared.
I rode on after taking a pause, a moment, to read about wildfires in Canada. How unlike me.
I rode for miles on straight endlessly flat roads eventually crossing into Ontario. The further East I go in Canada the less friendly the faces become. It's palpable. I don't think I'm making it up.
I tried to stop in a town called Kenora. They were having a huge lake fest and every single hotel was booked. A huge storm loomed on the horizon. A Harley rider, who had been soaked by the storm, mentioned the rain. "It's bad.", he said.
I was under a hotel overhang when it started to rain. A man from the lower 48, as they call it up here, asked me if I was going to be ok in the rain. "It is what it is.", I said. "I hope it's not too bad.", he replied.
"Even if it is it'll be ok too.", I replied matter of factly.
"True enough.", he said.
I have to remember to value the small interactions. I've recently had a huge soul altering Interaction that has changed my world view. Leaving it has left a hole in me and it would be a tragedy to let that hole close me to value the small interactions along the way. When travelling do not Expect. Just let yourself be and find a way to enjoy and value the small interactions along the way, even if they are just a few seconds conversation with a stranger you will never see again.
I put on the tank bag rain cover and my rain mits and went to head out when the sun appeared. "Fuck. Ok this is just getting completely ridiculous.", I thought almost annoyed.
I pulled out.
I'm not making this up.
Ok, universe, I think I get it.
But I did not. Not yet.
I rode away from the storm. It was HUGE and fierce but I did not see any of it directly.
I just saw sunshine.
"Ridiculous.", I thought as I figured anyone who knows me would think I'm making this up.
Ok, this NEVER happens. ENOUGH ALREADY!
The landscape changed. There were now rocky hills and trees. "Ok, now it's time to get into the storm.", I thought as I was clearly about to get pissed on.
It drizzled on me slightly never raining really hard. The road was soaked through. I continued on, still not quite grasping the lesson I was about to learn.
The sun came out and set on the horizon.
I rode on for a while eventually needing to get gas. The gas station attendant girl, not quite the most beautiful attendent ever but still very attractive, said, "I can't believe you're not wet. If you had been in this storm you would have had to pull over. It was HORRIBLE."
I thought for a while longer about the rainbow and the storms. I thought about what She had said. "I refuse to let cirumstance pull me down." fearing there was a lesson in here somewhere.
I had expected the storms. They have always been there. "Everything I have touched has gone badly.", I thought as I considered my life and the motorcycle rides I've taken. I've done so many miles in the rain and so few on this trip. It's been nuts.
I thought about the Nightmare as I considered the rainbow and the storms. "Why did I never defend myself? Why did I endure all those years, all those terrible years. Why did I just not simply leave when so many people told me to.", I asked myself.
The old man tortured me. I was put to work and given responsibilities at a very young age that turned me into a very responsible, very adult child. "But no one wants to interact with a child that acts like an adult.", Tanya would say.
I was told over and over again for most of a lifetime what a failure I was, how I was responsible for the failings of the company (I was 12), how my I was responsible for the fact my mom would die a cold and lonely death in the gutter and so many other things. I have told these stories so many times, but not until I have put them down into words in this public forum, forced myself to do it, has it become clear to me how insane that is. I was 12.
But I learned to endure. I could force myself to do anything and I now, with a strange clarity, realize why I could never walk away from the Nightmare, why I had to see it to the end and Finish it. Get it resolved when no one, not even my lawyers thought it could be done.
Because I had to prove to myself in some kind of vein effort that they were wrong. I was not the man they said I was. I got it done against overwhelming odds. My friends who Saw will tell you that. The professionals who worked with me will tell you that.
But I cannot yet accept it.
And today, because writing helps, I wrote a message. Personal. But in it I realized something as I put all this into perspective.
I have been struggling to describe thoughts, feelings, constraints that bind your possibilities and restrict your world. It's the kind of thinking that makes seasoned adventure riders with knobby tires crash on the Dalton when I can ride it in the same conditions with ease. It's not an ego thing. It's a perspective thing. Change how you Think, change how you See and you can change what you can do.
I wondered if I could do with Life what I can do with riding.
And then it hit me. Out of the blue it hit me as I was typing. What I have been trying to grasp is not artificial Constraints, Thoughts or Feelings.
It's beliefs. Things you were taught to believe. Things that you were taught to believe that hurt you, that restrict your possibilities, that close you to the beauty around you. The beliefs that turn a wonderfully beautiful road like the Dalton into a slog that one dreads.
No, Toxic Beliefs.
And then I understood. In a moment of rare clarity I understood. I have been handed down a huge set of Toxic Beliefs that color how I experience the world. With life I am like the adventure riders so concerned with things that they believe, that they toxically believe, that the time they spend is squandered and the point is missed.
I was toxically made to believe that I am bad to my core by deeply damaged parents who used me a symbol for all their failings. I was left to clean up one of the most anatagonistic evil messes that anyone has heard about. When these things happened, when any bad thing that hurts me happens, feelings that I have been handed down arise that I had not realized where there. A bad event happens, such as a motorcycle breaks and I hear the words on the old man, "You are a failed project of mine. I dont' know where I went wrong with you."
For the first time I take a huge risk and ignore the toxic beliefs, which in many instances turn into Artifical Rules, and I have one of the best weekends of my life.
Toxic beliefs are beliefs that hurt you, restrict your opportunities and prevent you from experiences, realizing and most importantly /ENJOYING/ the moment at hand. They are handed down to you by parents, by the wider culture, by religion and other sources.
When you are living the Standard Plan, wife, kids, house, retirement, it's less clear because everyone around you is living with the same beliefs.
But when, as I am, you are living the Non-Standard Plan, making it up as you go along, Toxic Beliefs are more problematic. They are more harmful because they do not free you to explore the freedom you have.
But even if you are living the Standared Plan there are toxic beliefs that can constrain you and make you No Fun. Things like never taking a moment for yourself because you are too stressed taking care of your family worried about what will happen if you are no longer around. I have many friends living this kind of, what I would call, Nightmare. It does not have to be that way.
"Life sucks and then you die.". What a horrible statement. Cowardly. Fearful.
Like the Dalton, I see now that Life can be ridden, travelled, and can be enjoyed,valued and learned from despite it's risks, despite the epic suck. It, like the mosquitoes, mud, rain, water trucks and huge gravel will always be there. Don't let those emotionally detract from the enjoyment of what is there. Prepare for the suck but do not let it rule you. Take care of your family, but examine your own beliefs, about what is possible, what you can allow yourself, not irresponsibly, but practically, rationally, about what is toxic and non-toxic. Then, after you've allowed yourself to feel, really feel the impact of those beliefs, to figure out which are good for you and which aren't, take a risk. Take a shot in the dark.
You may end up being a better person for it.
I think maybe now I finally, after a lifetime, no longer have the pressing need to talk about my nightmare and what was done to me.
Maybe I understand now.
As James, the bear of a trucker said, "And then you have to get on with it''.
Based upon a recommendation posted to the YML.COM forums by Ian, I opted to head to Calgary to an independent BMW service shop called Anderwerks. They have a reputation for being traveller friendly and they certainly lived up to that reputation.
It's located back in a warehouse district. The front door is a bit confusing as it looks like a photo.
I desperately needed tires as these Michelins had over 6,000 miles on them. Anderwerks hooked me up setting up an appointment for me the same day for tires, oil filter and to install an air filter I had brought with me. It took ages so I hung out in the shop. The wireless was having some kind of routing issue. They let me mess with the network but I think the router itself had developed a problem. Thwarted, I just hung around the shop.
They finished everything up just as the shop was closing at 6pm. OMG it was expensive. It was probably more than 30% more expensive than the same job in the states. Ouch. At this rate I'll be bankrupt before long.
I grabbed a hotel in town. I heard from Dani the adventure rider that he was in Calgary as well but we didn't manage to be online at the same time to figure out a place to meet. I think he was in a more interesting section of Calgary than I was based on his recent video.
The next morning, again troubled by thoughts and having my mind wander back to places I've been, sitting in the hotel lobby I wrote well into the afternoon. A big storm was brewing on the horizon and the winds were kicking up. The hotel clerk took pity on me and made me some coffee.
I have been thinking about verses in this one Led Zeppelin song pretty much the whole trip:
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way
I went to start the bike and a rare but recurring electrical problem presented itself. The bike was firing only on two cylinders. I shut it down. Let it sit. Tried to restart it and to my shock and horror the problem persisted. I tried this a few times and thought that maybe I was screwed wondering if I was going to make it to meet Phil and Geo.
I called Anderwerks and loped back to the shop. Half way there, of course, the other two cylinders started firing and I've been unable to reproduce it after that. The guys at the shop are very knowledgeable, even about my old sport touring machine. They gave me some insights into what to look for and gave me a 24 hour number where I can reach them if I run into trouble on the road. Very cool.
So late in the day I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed off towards the east. I stopped for a moment to glance back at the mountains I have come to love so much.
There's alot of traffic in Calgary.
The wind was picking up even more. I was sure to get dumped on.
The TransCanada highway is just that. A highway that alternates between interstate like sections and slow sections through towns filled with traffic lights.
I continued East and the mountains faded over the horizon becoming but a dim memory in my rear view mirror. Ahead approached a huge storm.
The wind was serious. I strained to see if I could notice a tornado in the center. Lightning bolts could be seen flashing in the center.
Storms are a constant in my life. During the '92 cross country trip and virtually every motorcycle ride I've ever taken I run into storms. I always get rained on. It sucks.
As I approached the edge of the storm, miraculously the road bent to the South and traced it's away along the edge of the storm. In places the road was soaked but not a drop of rain fell on me.
The wind continued to pick up. I thought, as I drove past the storm, that I could see the outline of a tornado in the distance but I wasn't sure. There was enough wind for it though as the bike leaned into the wind to compensate.
"This never happens.", I thought as I marveled at missing the storm, "it's wrecking someone else's life today. Not mine."
I was making really good time, but it was very flat out here. Flat like Kansas and at first I was not happy about it.
But it gave me time to think.
I ran through a tank of gas and stopped at a gas station, the storm still raging menacingly on the horizon.
"I wonder what the birds know that I do not?", I thought as I saw dozens of seagulls just standing on the ground motionless.
I tried to pay for gas but it was declined. I had to spend some time on the phone with the credit card company to get it straightened out. As I was getting ready to leave a guy with his family in an SUV rolled up and asked me if I was travelling solo.
"Yup, all by my lonesome.", I replied like I usually do. "Wouldn't it have been more fun to travel with a buddy?", he asked.
"Sure, but I didn't know anyone who could take this kind of time off.", I answered.
"Don't you get lonely?", they asked.
"Yea. Alot of this trip has been very lonesome, but less so than I expected. I have met so many amazing people along the way.", as my thoughts wandered back to the faces of people I have met and to one person in particular.
I have met so many people on this trip.
The sun could be seen shining on the edge of the storm in the direction I wasn't going.
I got back on the road and continued my journey over the oppressive boring flatness when, still tracing along the edge of one storm, another storm appeared on the horizon, this one worse than the last.
"Ok, now I'm going to get pissed on for sure. My luck can't hold.", I thought as I approached the storm.
And has been the case for the last hundreds of miles, just as I approached it the road turned and went around the edge.
"This just never happens.", I thought as I remembered how surprised I was that I missed those two storms outside of Yellowstone.
As I approached the far side of this larger storm, I stopped.
As improbable and cliche as it may sound, along it's edge I could see a rainbow. The camera for whatever reason didn't capture it well. It was much brighter than the faint outline you see.
I remained there for some time marvelling at how rare this is. Such a raging storm and this beautiful rainbow and sunshine in the distance, and for once the storm isn't dumping on me, ruining my life.
I thought about my demons and how they have followed me all the way here.
Matt always said, "You know Yermo, for as long as I've known you it's been the worst it's ever been. I'm not saying it hasn't been, but it's the life you have been dealt and you have to live it". He had known me since the 7th grade.
I thought about the last time I had this feeling, this feeling that maybe things will change and it's a terrible story. I have not allowed myself this feeling again since.
Duncan and I were at Starbucks. It was March 26th, 2008 and things had gotten as bad as I thought they could probably get. It had been horrible without any good news of any kind for ages. Even Duncan had started saying, "How are you going to fail today, Mr. Lamers", jokingly. Duncan likes being an annoying optimist just to bug me, but even his feigned optimism about my circumstances was beginning to fade.
Duncan was telling me about some good fortune in his life. It was looking like things were going to go well for him.
"Maybe this is a sign.", I remember fatefully thinking outside of Starbucks. "Maybe things have gotten as bad as they can get. Maybe this means things will get better." At this point Gesa had been dead for little over an hour, killed by an out of control SUV, but of course I would not find out about this for a little while yet finding only screams of anguish on the answering machine when I got home.
I remember the moment with absolute clarity. For the last two years it has been burned into my consciousness along with every detail of the hell it unleashed.
Over the weekend, many bad stories came out. The look of horror on her face at some of them made me stop and for the first time, the first time ever, I could feel the stories were real. A door opened inside me. "I have mostly just bad stories.", I told her trying not to show too much pain.
And I do. I have horrible stories. I have lived through storm after storm. Belina, my sisters best friend from Medical school, composed a piano piece for me entitled "Storms" based on, what she calls, a poem I had written some years ago describing the '92 cross country trip. When I get back, I'll post the poem.
And here I stood wondering if the storms in my soul will continue to haunt me, whether these demons will ever be laid to rest and what that means for what kind of person I am. I always focus on the negative. The pain. The storms. It overwhelms me and makes me No Fun.
"I like to take the good from meeting you - there is much.", she texted from over the mountains.
As I stood there, along the edge of this huge painful storm looking at this improbable rainbow, I realized that is what I have never been able to do, especially with myself. I only see the storms, the pain, the flaws and have not been present enough, calm enough, open enough, to really see anything else.
"It's a huge nasty storm.", I thought, "but the rainbow is pretty."
"I don't think I'll ever meet another one like her", I thought before focusing forward to the next moment. And then, in a moment completely out of character and new for me, I thought, no, I felt, "Then again, I don't think she'll ever meet another one like me either."
I got back on the bike and continued my ride East along the edge of the storm really not caring if my luck ran out. "I had a good run today.", I thought as the road turned again and I found my way into the sunshine.
It never rained on me. There was no hail. Only some bugs.
"Ok, this NEVER happens. Not once have I ever, in as long as I can remember, had this kind of good fortune riding.", I thought.
But then again, on this trip, that seems to have been a common theme.
"Maybe things will get better.", I thought as I realized they were already getting better. Of course I immediately thought, with my luck, I'd have a terrible accident or get some terrible news. "Someday, but not today.", I thought quoting one of my favorite movies.
"This is not the worst it's ever been. Far from it, Matt.", I thought as I continued to ride eastward to meet up with Phil and Geo, the riders I met in Deal's Gap, itself being a completely improbable event in my life.
Having read these ramblings of mine, I wonder what they will now think of this emotionally complicated deeply flawed long distance rider. They've completely reworked their schedule and route the accomodate mine and I'm surprised and humbled by that.
I'm heading to meet them for a few days of riding and maybe seeing the yacht Geo captains.The sun set over the horizon.
And once again I found that calm, that peace, that I have been looking for out here.
"Do not ship to Canada.", the stickers read.
It was 1982 and there was very little humor that summer, as was the case with most years of my life. It was filled with a lot of being yelled at. I remember the vice president coming into my staging area at 1 AM yelling at me because I was taking a break. I mostly remember the yelling. 14 years old and I was being forced to do 80+ hour weeks for the summer, most nights working past midnight, because the old man's company was going bankrupt again and he didn't have the money to pay for staff. I was too numb to know that I hated it. I just did what was asked of me. I did it all. Successfully but I paid a very heavy price for it. It was all against my will. That's been such a common theme in my life.
I also remember the stickers. One day a shipment of computer parts arrived. I was pulled from what I was doing to help move them. Each box had on it a long thin yellow sticker with black lettering which read:
Do Not Ship To Canada
That may have been the only time I laughed that whole summer. I guess maybe you had to be in my head at that moment, but I could just imagine these shippers coming and trying to randomly ship me to Canada because no one had told them not to. I took one of the stickers home with me and put it on the headboard of my bed, just in case those confused shippers showed up when I was asleep
Why not Canada?
"Maybe its my turn to leave.", I've been thinking now slightly more seriously. "Where would I go? Why would I go there? Have I gotten too old? I don't have that much life left. What would I do?"
I could sell everything, get the company sold, let Anatoly go and make the real money he can somewhere else, and have enough money myself to stay on the road for few years, if I didn't worry about retirement.
I could go live someplace else.
I could get my EU citizenship and live overseas.
I could wander and become software ronin.
I stand at a crossroads. All options before me. I guess this is freedom, freedom from Artificial Constraints, Obligations and Rules.
Freedom is a bit of a bitch.
It was nice here. Peaceful.
I didn't want to be on the bike. I didn't want to go in the direction I was going. I stopped in Jasper and got a hotel early. It's a nice but touristy town. It was warm.
I spent the vast majority of the next day writing trying still to capture what I thought, felt and had learned. I sat there in the hotel for over 8 hours trying to write so I could remember.
I hit the road well after 6pm.
Eventually I crossed into Alberta. Ian had suggested that I head down to Calgary instead of going to Edmonton so I could ride through the Columbia IceFields.
I stopped at the side of the road and saw what I initially thought were stakes pounded into the ground in this field. Using the zoom on the camera, they were more of the funny little critters. Dozens of them in this wide field down in a valley just standing around looking, all motionless as if frozen.
I stood there for a while wondering if the critters would move, but none of them did. They all stood perfectly motionless for as long as I watched.
The mountains here were steep and one could see the angle at which the mountains were pushed up. It was pretty striking.
There were more rivers. The camera did not capture the color right. These were aquamarine. Almost green.
There were glaciers. Lot's of glaciers.
I kept thinking how much fun it would have been to take her riding through this landscape.
This was the first glacier that looked like what I thought glaciers were supposed to look like. It was late otherwise I would have ridden down to see it up close.
There were striking valleys. Notice the road.
The mountains here were steep. Crazy steep and tall.
There were bears. A couple crossed the street in front of me.
And there were incredible lakes. I stopped at this one.
I marveled at this scene for a while when a KLR rider rolled up.
His name was Shawn (sp?). He was about to go into the second year of medical school meaning that the next 8 years of his life were going to be spoken for. He decided a mere couple of months earlier to do the ride up to Prudhoe Bay and back. We compared notes and shared stories.
Then he told me he learned to ride only two months earlier!
Ok, now that's impressive. Riding the Dalton Highway without experience would be very challenging. But he made it and was on his way back to Washington.
He kindly snapped a photo of me.
He was looking at his bike when he noticed that his oil filter cover bolts were coming loose. I said I would hang out in case there was some problem.
He tightened the bolts. I looked over the bike with him when I said, "Oh, that's not good!". One of his frame bolts was virtually out. We pulled the bolt out, cleaned the threads and put it back in for him. Those thumpers vibrate bolts loose. I've lost a few screws on my four cylinder bike on this ride.
I rode on. It was late and the sun actually set behind the mountains.
The next day I continued on to Calgary and descended out of the mountains onto a plain. I have been in mountains for weeks. It was a sad moment as I crossed this boundary.
I was going to put in some serious mileage today, but I chose to write instead. Rain on the horizon. I'll probably do a couple hundred miles, grab another hotel all the while thinking about what I've learned, trying to ask a question to each questions I've been given.
Am way too tired to write. Was so tired I pulled off on a dirt road and slept on the bike for half an hour.
There's too much to say about the last three days and the words are just not coming to me right now ... maybe tomorrow.
I'm currently in Jasper on my way to Calgary to get new tires and an oil change on the bike before I head to the Thunder Bay area.
Too many things pointed to Calgary, so I'm heading there instead of Edmonton.
I have incredible friends. A huge storm blew through College Park and one of my large oaks was toppled. As it fell, it destroyed a telephone pole and knocked down power and communication lines.
The generator kicked in keeping the whole operation going for a few hours but eventually something happened and the network was unreachable for several hours.
In addition to knocking down trees, large sections of my fence have been blown over.
Lance and others today did what they could to fix the fence for me and deal with the other issues.
I have extremely good friends ... they watch out for me.
My apologies for having taken the longest pause between updates. Between lack of sleep, brake issues with the bike and a new friend here in Prince George who has helped me out tremendously, there's been little time to even think about what to write.
Back several days ago ...
Despite having gone to bed at around 1:30AM after having been in the hot springs too long, I woke up around 6:30AM feeling too tired. After trying to go to sleep for what seemed like a very long time, I misread my watch and decided to get up. I thought it was 8:30, but it was in fact 7:30. When he heard me milling about quietly, Dani got up as well.
Coffee and breakfast were in order so we headed downstairs to the restaurant. Because of his funding issues, I offered to treat breakfast, which turned out to be the most expensive bloody breakfast of the trip. The prices at this lodge were simply outrageous but, not thinking, I didn't discover that until the bill came. Oh well.
As I had mentioned, Dani had been on the road for two years. He would ride a while and then get odd jobs while camping and living as inexpensively as he could. Once he was able to save enough money for the next leg of his journey, he would ride on never really knowing where he was going or where he would end up next. He was a bit older than I had expected, being almost 32. He had worked in Italy for 10 years, I believe for a hotel. He had hated the job and had prepared for his trip for over two years.
I had been wondering how he was able to do all this since he was travelling on such a shoestring budget.
I asked about insurance, "How do you afford health insurance? If something were to happen to you on the road it could get to be very expensive very quickly."
"I'm Italian. We have free health insurance.", he replied. He went on to talk about a friend of his who was riding an older Gold Wing up the Dalton Highway when he had a nasty fall which turned into a bad accident. He had shattered two vertebrate and needed to be medivaced down to Anchorage. "The helicopter bill alone was $55,000 and he didn't have any insurance.", Dani explained. "Then he had to have multiple surgeries. I think the whole bill was more than $250,000 just for the surgeries. And they charged him $2,000 to move his bike down. He's screwed.". We went on to discuss health care and insurance in the United States. "It's not fair!", he went on. "It's human to make mistakes. To have accidents. Here you cannot have an accident, you cannot make a mistake. One mistake and your life can be over. My friend will never earn enough money to pay those bills even if he works his entire life.", he complained. "It's no way to live like that, always afraid of an accident or mistake. After what I saw happen to my friend, I got travellers insurance just in case. When my girlfriend and I got to the States she needed a blood test. Just a blood test to see if she had an infection. They wouldn't listen and put her in the emergency room. $2000 they charged us." He went on to explain after that incident his girlfriend no longer wanted to come to the States. "You could not pay me enough to live here. Even $50,000 a month I would not live here.", he said.
"What about retirement? Aren't you concerned about that if you spend all these years riding a motorcycle not really saving any money?", I asked thinking through more scenarios. "That's taken care of too. I get a retirement from Italy. I have to work 40 years or I have to reach the age of 65 and I get a retirement.", he replied.
I started to think through what effects not having to worry about retirement or health insurance would have on a life as we commented, "Of course, we don't have the same opportunities. It's very difficult to become rich in Italy."
Not having to worry about retirement, about your increased expenses in the future would have a huge impact on what you thought you could do with your life. I have read articles that claim we need about $6M in investments by the time my generation reaches retirement age to maintain the same middle class standard of living.
I hardly know anyone who is on track to amass that kind of fortune in the next 25 years. I certainly am not and my financial adviser tells me I'm doing much better than average. I have no debt other than a mortage. The house, boat, car and motorcycles are all paid for. I never hold a balance on a credit card. And I have about two years worth living expenses saved. But even so, at this rate I won't ever be able to retire.
Dani said, "Trips like this are no big deal. I've met people who have been out here for 5, 10 and even 20 years.". "Nomads.", one friend would say later.
"For Americans, the fact that I'm off for only 60 days is something only very very few people ever get to do in a lifetime. The average American takes less than two weeks of vacation per year.", I explained. "You need at least a month a year for sanity.", he replied.
I suspect this is why you see so many vacationing Europeans all over the place. Unfettered by health insurance and the pressing need to amass a fortune, they are freer to live lives like the one Dani is living. If I understood what he was explaining, the likelihood that he'll be homeless later in the life is somewhat limited. Contrast that to the US, where the leading cause of bankruptcy, and I suspect a contributor to homelessness, is serious illness.
We finished breakfast and started the morning ritual of gathering our gear, packing it just so and carrying it down to the bikes. While we were doing this, I noticed another adventure bike with stickers on it from all over the world. "Another real adventure rider.", I thought. There were stickers from all over the world plastered all over his cases. Shortly thereafter, he walked out of the cafe and we chatted briefly.
I asked him if he had gone up to Deadhorse. "Yea, just coming back down.", he said in a thick Irish accent. "How did you go up?", I asked. "I didn't. I came across from Magadan in Russia.", he explained. His name was Oisin Hughes and he was on the last leg of a Round the World Tour. He gave me his card and suggested I read the free ebook he wrote about his last trip which I promised I would link to although I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
"That guy came through Siberia.", I said to Dani enthusiastically. Unimpressed, Dani replied, "Russa is just a 15km ride. I've met countless guys like that." I thought about my little Sunday Drive which, as I spend more time out here, seems less and less noteworthy until Dani comments. "It's about the story.".
It took a little time to get a photo of Oisin and his bike. Dani, frying in his suit, took off down the road. I followed shortly afterwards and caugh up with him.
Dani was in the lead riding in his Italian style, but less so today. We rarely stopped. I was dead tired, having not had nearly enough sleep.
At one point we saw a bunch of mountain sheep, or are they goats, licking the calcium chloride on the side of the road. As cars passed they would pretend to scatter but then immediately turn around to continue their salt feast. I had been warned that they did this. Silly acting creatures.
The mosquitoes, biting flies and other bugs were just horrific this day. We would ride for 30 miles at which time we would have to stop to clear our shields. This too became it's own ritual.
We came upon Muncho Lake, on which the Northern Rockies Lodge that I stayed at was situated. We stopped at a nice view where Dani wanted to take some photos for his videos. I walked down to the clear green and blue water and Dani snapped a photo.
This was a truly beautiful lake even the second time around.
But as we travelled down the Alcan I realized I became more aware that I've become used to this land. It no longer seems strange or new. The novelty has slowly started to wear off. The beauty hasn't. Not wanting to slow Dani down since he needed to make Edmonton to meet a friend combined with having seen it all, I didn't take many shots. There was much beauty as there has been the whole way up, but if you want to see what it looked like just look at the posts about the way up.
We arrived in Fort Nelson. At one of our stops to clear our shields, I mentioned to Dani that I was going to stay in Fort Nelson. I was just too tired to do any serious riding. I needed a good nights sleep.
We stopped at a gas station where Dani filled up. I waited so I could say good bye to him. While I waited I inspected the front brakes on my bike more closely. They had been making some very disturbing sounds on the way down and they had grabbed surprisingly as I went to stop in the parking lot.
"Oh shit.", I thought. The entire pad material of the brake pads had worn away and I was running metal on metal which had scored my very expensive rotors badly. "Well, I'm not going anywhere until I can fix this. No problem.", I thought with the calm that has been typical of this trip. "I'll just have parts fedex'd. I'll stay here one more day. I'll fix them tomorrow or the next day and I'll still be able to meet Robyn as planned.", I thought. Robyn was the self-described advocate for environmental capitalism I had met in Prince George on my way up. It was a completely improbable meeting. She and I had had a wonderful time talking at a bar one night and I had promised I would meet up with her for espresso and wine on my way back down. I do try to keep my promises.
Dani and I said our goodbyes and off he went. I went off in search of a hotel with WIFI. Fort Nelson strikes me as a trucking town. There isn't much there. There are a few motels. I checked the first inexpensive looking one. No WIFI. The second one had WIFI but it was down. The clerk there had run into some problem with her computer while she was trying to diagnose the wifi connection. I helped her get her computer back up and running and went on to a third hotel. They didn't have WIFI either but pointed me to the Fort Nelson hotel which was older but quite nice, well at least in comparison to the kinds of places I had gotten used to.
I got into my room, got online and immediately started calling BMW dealers in British Columbia. My thought was fedex'ing something from the East Coast might be very expensive so getting something in-country would be better.
I finally found a dealer that had the pads in stock. Pacifc Yamaha BMW. The woman in parts, Anaz I think her name was, despite being at the counter alone really took care of me. I ordered the parts and she would ship them overnight via the express company they used. Fedex was not an option.
Some time later I got a call back. At this time it was after close on Wednesday. "The fastest I can get them to Fort Nelson would be Tuesday, at the easiest.".
At that very moment, the calm I had was gone. My Schedule was in jeopardy. "Shit! I'm supposed to meet Robyn on Friday?", I thought. As I considered Tuesday at the earliest and all the other issues I would have I became less and less calm. "Shit. How am I going to find a place to do the work? How will I wash the bike?" The stress mounted.
I hate letting people down to an almost pathological degree. Once I say I'm going to do something and something gets in the way of me making that happens, I'll damn near panic. It's completely irrational and is tied in with the Nightmare and the psychology resulting from it.
In the YML.COM forum Lance suggested that the calcium chloride muck had probably prevented the pads from moving causing them to wear prematurely. That makes sense.
On facebook, a couple of friends pointed out that when pads are worn down this far, it's possible for the brake pistons to push out far enough to cause fluid to leak by the seals Ruining Your Whole Day. Of course, this would most likely occur during a panic stop.
I paused. I considered spending five days in Fort Nelson waiting for parts. I considered the money it would cost to stay at a hotel there.
I called the shipping company to see if maybe they could ship to some nearby town more quickly. No luck. The northernmost point they could ship to overnight was Prince George, which was 500 miles away.
"Too far.", I thought as I realized trying to make time down to Prince George with dysfunctional brakes would be a crazy risk.
I felt defeated.
Then in a moment of clarity I remembered being stuck with a disfunctional clutch lever on Atigen Pass on the Dalton Highway. At that moment I felt none of the stress I was feeling now. All these other thoughts were crowding in preventing me from thinking more clearly.
What was different now?
I wanted to see Robyn. She owed me a glass of wine after all.
I wanted to meet Phil and Geo.
I had made commitments. People had made plans and changed schedules. Phil and Geo changed plans entirely. Just for me.
What was different at this moment was that other people were involved. Their lives affected by what I was able to accomplish or not accomplish. Stress.
I feared letting them down. I feared that sick to my stomach guilt when others have gone out of their way for me and I have to change plans. "I feel that way about not swinging back around to see Ian. I had said I would, but I spent too much time in Fairbanks and Valdez. I really wanted to see Ian and Tanya again.", I thought.
Can I let that fear go? Can I accept that maybe I will have to let them down?
"Maybe I could ride down to Prince George.", I considered. "The front brakes sort of work; they can stop the bike if I really need them to. The rear brake works but not well. Engine braking works. The road is sparsely travelled. I haven't had to do a single serious panic stop in the entire trip."
If I let go that /need/ to get down there. If I make a calm and measured attempt, without stress, without obligation, without the need to get there. I may have to decide it's too dangerous. I may have to stop at any moment. I may have no choice but to let them all down. If I can accept that with the same calm I had on the Dalton Highway, then maybe I can make the trip down, evaluating at each moment how dangerous it is.
"I'll go, but I'll go slowly and if I feel the risk is to great I'll just stop, even if it's on the side of the road.", I thought. "To accomplish a difficult task you have to decide what you are going to risk. I won't risk my life, but I will risk my commitments."
And I decided to do it slowly. Instead of trying to do the entire 500 mile run to Prince George in one day I would break it up into two days. I'll ride to Dawson Creek and then onto Prince George the next day. I reasoned that once I reached Dawson Creek I could evaluate the days ride and would then decide if I would continue on.
Feeling resolved and once again having that calm that I have grown to like Out Here, I walked over to the pub next door to the Fort Nelson Hotel and grabbed a bite to eat. There were truckers there and they matched the stereotype I had in my mind as to how truckers would behave. This was a serious contrast to James, the bear of a man I had met in Camp Coldfoot. One trucker leaned over and said, "I have a joke for you. Did you know that Kodak has invented a camera that can capture the millisecond when a woman has actually shut up?".
"And, if you had half a brain, you'd wonder why you're sitting here in this bar by yourself, asshole.", I thought as I considered the women whose stories I love to listen to. I didn't respond to him though. There was just no point.
First thing Thursday morning, I called the motel I had stayed at in Prince George to see if they could accept a package for me. I made a reservation and then called the motorcycle shop and asked them to overnight the brake pads to the motel.
I checked out, grabbed a quick bite to eat which, of course, was another omelette, packed up the bike and headed off tentatively. As I headed down the service road to the Alcan Highway, I tested the rear brake. It wasn't working very well. I practiced engine braking. I tried an aggressive engine brake downshifting through the gears to first. That worked reasonably well. "As long as nothing runs directly in front of me.", I thought.
I headed down the Alcan Highway and it was largely ok. There are wide margins on each side of the highway for most of it so you can see when a large critter is running out onto the road well in advance. Traffic was very light. Where there was traffic I opted to pass it. Cars and trucks have a nasty habit of randomly stepping on the brakes. When you have brakes that work well, this is not a problem. But in this situation, I didn't want anything in front of me.
Of course it started to rain heavily.
I rode on through the rain having to stop only to put the tank bag rain cover on. It had gotten quite cold so I decided not to make the mistake I had made on the Dalton Highway on the way to Deadhorse. I braved the cold and seriously wet for a few moments while I fumbled to put on the electric vest, trying to rush it. "To go fast you have to go slow.", Ryan, who races, would always say.
I let the rain come down and calmly put on the now somewhat wet electric vest and put my jacket over it. I plugged it in and flipped the switch.
"Ahhh. Warmth is good.".
I continued on through a whole tank of gas. I didn't stop to take any photos. I didn't want the distraction. I was making good time but aside from having to do two quick engine braking maneuvers when vehicles in front of me decided to randomly slow down to 30mph, the ride was entirely uneventful. As a matter of fact it was easy. The whole way I was honestly prepared to stop at any moment and give it all up.
Eventually, I needed to stop for gas.
I stopped at a lodge. They had coffee and some benches outside. A group of motorcyclists were there. Six or so in total. They were travelling up to Alaska. I paid for gas, grabbed a cup of coffee and stood outside chatting with them. They were older, I would guess in their mid to late 60's. They, of course, asked where I was coming from and I said "Deadhorse". One was going to try to head up to Deadhorse so they called over to him, "Hey, this guy just came down from there.". They asked me what the ride was like and I said it was a cakewalk.
This older gentleman was riding an R1200GS, an adventure style bike well suited for that road. He had tried to ride up to Deadhorse a few years earlier and said it was too sketchy so he turned around. He thought the road was terrible.
I asked him a few questions about the conditions and they seemed to match what I had ridden through. "It was just too sketchy. I couldn't maintain any kind of speed through the muck.", he said. That seemed telling to me. So I asked some more questions and he replied, "A buddy of mine was waiting for me. He didn't want to ride it so I thought I could just ride up quickly, do it, and ride back down. I had a schedule to keep.".
"So while you were riding you were always worrying about how much time was passing? Feeling stressed that you needed to make it in a certain period of time?", I asked. "Yea, if I kept going that slowly it would have taken 12 hours just to get up there. I just didn't have that kind of time.", he replied.
"Yea, that'll make it difficult. It's not the road that's difficult. It's the way you're riding it. The Dalton Highway is a road that needs it's own time. If you approach it thinking you have to do it in a certain time and have no room for errors, it will stress and distract you from the task at hand. If, however, you give the road all the time it needs, being willing at any moment to go slowly or even calmly stop, then the road becomes very easy and more fun. When you reach the 25mph sections, you do 25mph. When you have to stop to scrape off the hardened muck from your bike you just do it.", I explained.
"But what if I don't have the time?, he asked. "Then just don't ride the road", I replied.
He thanked me and decided to change his schedule up and back. He was going to do it in the four stages that I had done.
Lance always says "You have to give problems their own time. You can't force them. They take as long to solve as they take." The same applies to doing anything difficult. The trick is finding that balance between giving a problem it's time and letting it drag on far too long. When you are calm, that balance is much easier to find.
But it's more than just time. They take a clear mind. Adding extra layers of stress in addition to the problem you are trying to solve diverts your attention and energy from the task at hand and makes you more likely to make a mistake.
I thought for a long time about how I've been working these last several years. There have been so many distractions. There has been so much at stake. The Nightmare was made much worse by the feelings of obligation, duty and so badly not wanting to let important people down. All these distractions added up to create a buzz of stress in my mind which I could feel down as low as my chest.
I didn't have the calm in those times that I had now as I rode down the Alcan without well functioning brakes.
And then it hit me. The reason the Dalton Highway and now this Alcan trip were so easy was not that I didn't fear failure.
It was that I was willing to fail at any moment, when it made sense to.
I rolled into Dawson Creek early, around 5pm and checked into a hotel. I laid down for what I thought was a second only to realize two hours had passed.
I got dinner at a surprisingly nice steak house. After that I went back to the hotel and once again laid down on the bed still in my boots. I woke up after 3AM feet and hands swollen. I hate when that happens. Fall asleep wrong and my hands swell up around my ring making it impossible to take off. My feet had swollen in my boots. Painful.
I managed to pull all that off and went back to sleep for a few hours. It got up the next morning and repeated the process I had performed the previous day. Omelette. Pack the bike. Head on down the road.
The sun was shining. It was perfect weather. I was tired and had way too much coffee. Traffic was sparse. At one point, coming up on a construction site I saw a black bear cub cross the road a couple hundred yards ahead of me. I didn't need to slow down, but I did to tell the stop/slow sign woman that I saw a cub but did not see the mother. She thanked me for that several times.
I rode on, continuing my careful sans brakes riding style. Eventually, the coffee and water I had caught up to me and I need to stop to take a leak. On the far side of a bridge I found a little access path. I parked the bike and walked down the path.
Of course, there were pretty flowers.
The path itself was rideable but challenging. When adventure riders would describe the gravel sections of the Dalton Highway I always imagined it would be a road like this.
Now this stuff will tear up tires.
Deciding, since I was still tired, that I should take a longer break I walked down to the river to take a look. It was simply a beautiful day, of which I have had so many up here in British Columbia.
I eventually went back to the bike and continued to ride on through the rest of my tank of gas and then another. On the second gas stop, only 50 miles outside of Prince George I ran into a guy named Steve who was riding a Harley. We had actually seen each other at a construction stop/slow sign. He was headed somewhere around Prince Rupert. At first he seemed like a "real" Harley guy, whatever that is. But slowly the geek in him came out. I asked him what he did and he replied, "Small engine work and blacksmithing.". "Blacksmithing?", I said quizzicaly. "Yea, I make battle axes and knifes. You know, SCA stuff.", he replied. He had two battle axes with him but he didn't feel like unpacking everything to show them to me, but he did have a knife he had made. It was highly polished, thick and well made.
What I had envisioned as a quick pitstop turned into an extended conversation. We talked for quite a while. He's on facebook and I think mentioned that he had a page where he shows some of his creations. We were both heading towards Prince George so he suggested we ride together. So we did.
I was a little concerned about the traffic into Prince George. It was much heavier than it had been anywhere else on the Alcan. Some of the stop lights were a bit challenging to stop for. Steve rode on to his destination and I followed the GPS's instructions to the Downtown Motel. I got there around 6. The parts were there and they were the right ones.
I txt'd Robyn to let her know I had arrived. We agreed to meet at the restaurant where we first me at 8. It was around the corner from the motel so I could walk. She had a few things to take care of. I needed to remind myself to ask her if there was any place in town she could think of where I might be able to wash my bike and work on it. That would be the first thing I would have to do the next day. I figured I could wash the bike, get the pads replaced and be on my way by the early afternoon.
As I write this I am still in Prince George, BC and it's now Monday morning. I am now about to hit the road once again.
Brake problems and miles and not sleeping much have conspired to prevent me from having the kind of time to write.
I hope to have some time tomorrow to catch up on travel events ...
I did not sleep well. Exhausted, I dragged my worthless feeling carcass out of bed and stood under the shower for a while trying to shake this funk I was still in. It wasn't as bad as the previous day, but I was still down.
The hotel wasn't bad and there was a cafe downstairs. I had an omelette, which has become customary on this entire trip. The waitress, who I believe was Chinese and spoke with a thick accent, remembered me from before and asked me if I was staying in town. I mentioned that I had ridden up to Deadhorse and back and was just passing through on my way back home. It's funny how people react to this idea of riding a motorcycle somewhere. It doesn't matter the persons background or culture there's something about doing a lot of miles by motorcycle that captures peoples imagination.
I had noticed a Starbucks down the street the night before and eagerly awaited my first cup of real coffee in what seems like forever. My little motorcycle espresso maker hasn't been doing well for me. I don't know if I have a bad bag of espresso or the machine just isn't getting hot enough, but the espresso it makes isn't nearly as good as it used to be.
"Ahh, real coffee ...", I thought as I sat outside with my sunglasses on. The sun was shining and it was warm. The bike had been making an odd noise which I was having trouble identifying. This was because, well, I'm a fucking genius. More on that later. A friend who had read my last post was concerned about me. She was texting trying to pull me out of the darkness. Sometimes the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact. A number of friends sent messages. Thank you. My friends are family. Without them I would never have made it and I would not be standing now.
My guts were hurting again. It seems like this has been happening more often. I was, once again, fortunate to be so close to a bathroom. This has started to get a bit old.
As I pondered the state of my motorcycle and my guts, I was reminded that I was in the Yukon. You ask, "How can you tell you're in the Yukon?". Well, a very hot barby doll blonde wearing silly sunglasses walked up and started talking to an Innuit looking guy pretty much right in front of me. She could not have been more than 21.
"Hiya!", she says to the Innuit looking guy who was probably in his early 60's. He speaks very softly and I couldn't hear what he was saying. She exclaimed to the guy, "Oh ja, In the fall, I'll head up North of Fort Yukon to my uncles cabin, eh? Ja. I gotta haul some wood. Then I'll go huntin' and trappin'. Maybe I'll do some fishin'. Cool, eh?". I can never remember where they put the "Ja"'s and the "Eh?"'s, but you get the idea. "Ja, I know, right, eh?".
If the hot blondes haul wood, hunt, trap and fish, you know you're in the Yukon.
They parted company and I was once again left with my thoughts. "It's going to get less interesting from here on out.", I thought as I considered the difference between heading up to Deadhorse and heading away. On the route up, I met countless like minded adventure riders who all had the same goal. It added a group quality to a solo trip to see the same faces randomly over and over on the ride up. But now, with all those riders dispersed I figured this would be much less likely to happen.
I mustered the willpower to avoid a second cup of coffee, got on my bike and headed for points East and South on the Alcan highway.
It was beautiful as it had been before. There were a ridiculous number of lakes.
Some were larger.
Some were smaller.
The weather was beautiful and I was feeling a bit better than I had been evidenced by the fact that 66 miles rolled by before I looked at the odometer.
It was warm and the bugs were out in force.
I rode on, still not in the mood to take photographs. I spent the time thinking. "This writing thing helps.", I would think as I considered what effect it's had.
In this space I attempt to share this journey. With that sharing, I have to explain and describe myself in ways I never have. It's happened quite a few times now that I write something only to read it later and realize that I've never thought of myself in those particular terms. There are things on this trip, details about travelling by motorcycle, details about myself, that people seem to find interesting that I would never have considered describing.
I have often said that "knowing yourself" is not an accurate phrase. You know who you are to yourself alone in the dark. What's important is to know yourself in relation to others. If I know how I am different than you, how my experience is different from yours and yours from mine, we can have a basis for better understanding how to get to know one another. We can better know how to explain ourselves to each other. Misunderstandings, misconceptions and miscommunications are easier to avoid if you understand yourself in relation to the person or people you are with.
But somehow, you have to discover these differences.
In my case, writing this blog has helped me see some of these differences, differences in experience.
"What other things would I never think to write about?", is a question I repeatedly ask myself.
I ride a motorcycle. Not everyone does. Fewer ride a motorcycle well. Fewer still have ridden one for over 250K miles or travelled across country. Even fewer have ridden for as long as I have. I was forced into riding motorcycles at the age of 7 which was 35 years ago but that's a story for another time.
Out here you forget that not everyone rides or has taken Long Sunday Drives. Everyone rides a motorcycle and I am the noob, the untravelled one. My story as a motorcyclist out here is completely uninteresting. "It's just miles.", one rider said.
But the vast majority of people who I know have never ridden. "Interesting.", I thought. "Is there something here, something so familiar to me, that it would never dawn on me to describe?", I asked of myself.
Why a motorcycle and why not a car? The thought of travelling by car is entirely unappealing to me for some reason. I think about a car. You're in this cage, this box. You can't feel the wind. You can't really feel the road or the engine. You are looking at everything through a glass window much like a television set. These are the typical things I hear riders say. I say them myself.
But there's more to riding miles by motorcycle than being out in the elements. There's more to it than being able to lean, or feel like, as so many say, you're "one with the machine", a cliche that's gotten over used. I could use flowery language and attempt to capture the culture, the poetry, the romance, and the calm meditativeness of many miles by motorcycle.
In a car, you jump in, distracted by gadgetry, you turn the ignition and you go. It's purely a means to an end and the focus of most vehicles especially now a days is to isolate you from the details; maximize convenience, minimize involvement with "the machine". It's a means to an end. A way to get from here to there with a minimum of hassle.
In contrast, travelling by motorcycle is almost nothing but hassle. It's cold. It's wet. There are bugs. BIG bugs. And they splatter all over the place. After a while, your leathers, despite all the comments that have been made about them, begin to stink something fierce. You hurt. You hurt alot. You get dirty. You have all this gear which you have to load and unload. Your tires wear out in 6,000 miles, not 60,000. You can fall down. Parking lot maneuvers especially on wavy gravel can be embarrassingly challenging. It's tiring. Because of the Risk, you are more vigilant on a bike than you are in a car.
"But yet", I thought, "I would gladly travel across this country on a motorcycle, on my motorcycle, than in any car. Well, maybe with the exception of a Porsche 911 twin turbo. Why is that?".
And that is a question I have never asked. The answer for me is so self evident, so inately obvious, I don't know if I can capture it in words. Anyone with a pulse who has been Out Here knows this, understands this. You can just tell. It's evident on the faces of riders everywhere.
There is something visceral, something primal about the motorcycle. It seems to cross all cultural and racial boundaries. It may be that it evokes some primeval genetic memory of riding horseback.
There's an inherent culture and ritual to motorcycling. All of us Out Here feel it. It's not some made up artificial ritual that we decided upon because we felt out of touch. The rituals of motorcycling grow organically within each motorcyclist just out of the necessity of the task at hand. And out of this necessity that produced these rituals a common culture evolves. And this culture trancends political boundaries.
This is not over-romanticized. It's a simple fact. Talk to any rider from any country anywhere in the world. There is an instant common basis for communication, for exchange, for understanding. There is an instant basis upon which to share an adventure with that person. It goes well beyond a shared hobby, some little diversion.
I would imagine sailors share something similar.
As I considered what's different about the riders out here and I consider my closest friends I ride with, Ian, Duncan, Bruce, I found myself wondering what is it about motorcyclists, the ones who do this seriously, that produces this instant common basis, this common culture.
Motorcycling is dangerous. It involves risk. We all understand this. We talk about it all the time. "A friend of mine crashed yesterday on the Dalton and shattered two vertebrate.", was a conversation today. I have always felt it's this common understanding of risk, that we are Out Here doing something challenging, something risky, that produces the ritual of waving. As you ride and you see a motorcyclist approaching, you wave. The left hand comes off the bar and you hold your hand out low as a sign of respect.
It's part of the common culture. You will see motorcyclists everywhere around the world do this. I wave at every single motorcyclist that I pass. It's courtesy. I've done it maybe 50 times this very day. I even catch myself from time to time doing it when I walk down the street. The first time someone waves at you when you are on a bike, it feels like a rite of passage. "yes, you too are now Out Here, one of us, solely because you have taken this risk to be on two wheels."
A Harley rider once said, "It don't matter, as long as you're on two wheels with a motor I wave.".
Strangely, I don't wave at scooter riders. Scooters are about convenience and I think that's what separates them from motorcyclists. The rituals just aren't there on a scooter because it's too convenient and thus there isn't the factual basis for a shared culture.
Motorcycling is inconvenient. Beyond risk, there are other practical realities of miles by motorcycle that create a ritualistic backdrop to the activity.
In the morning, and yes Out Here I experience mornings, you have to pack up your gear. Space is very tight on a motorcycle. You can always tell the ones who have been Out Here for a while. Each and every item they carry on their bike is considered and has it's place. There's an order and process to packing the motorcycle which is born out of necessity. There's just not a lot of room. Do this enough times and it becomes ritual. Be around someone else who has done this enough times and there is instantly a common ritual.
The gear is carried out to the bike. There's a tank bag which is affixed atop the gas tank, hence it's name "tank bag". Here is where you carry your camera, wallet, maps, gps and other gear that you use while you ride or stop on the side of the road. There's the tail bag, which goes on the back seat of the bike or the rear cowling, which typically contains your clothes, your tent, maybe food, stuff you only use once you've stopped somewhere.
It takes time. Ride with someone who has done this for a while and there is no sense of rush. It takes however long it takes. Sometimes you fumble. Sometimes you just can't get it all put away just right. It's part of the experience.
Then you put on your jacket. It has impact armor around the shoulders, in the elbows and down the back. You have long since put on your "lowers", your armored pants which have impact armor around the hips and knees. There are few pockets, so what you would normally carry in jeans pockets, you put in the tank bag. Putting on the jacket is awkward.
There's a silly zipper that you use to connect the jacket to the pants. If you fall and go skidding down the road you don't want the jacket to ride up on you exposing your back. Not everyone zips their pants to their jacket, but I do.
Then in go the earplugs. Especially on my bike, there's alot of wind noise. On goes the helmet. Often times, this is the point where you've forgotten to get out the plastic cleaner and rag to clean off the array of bug entrails that have splattered against the face shield. It happens to you. You are patient when it happens to others. You affix the strap and put on your sunglasses. You put on your gloves and wrap the gauntlet around the outside of the end of your jacket sleeves so no bugs can fly up into your jacket that way. Yes, that happened to me once.
You throw your leg over the bike, or if you have alot of gear it's more of a step through motion that looks silly. You put effort into lifting the bike off the side stand or pushing it off the center stand. Key in the ignition you set the fast idle and press the ignition. I usually wait a couple of seconds before pushing the ignition. No reason, it feels right to me.
Then you wait. Virtually every serious motorcyclist you will ever see will pause at this moment. The engine idles slightly fast, but not too fast. The oil is let to circulate through the motor for a few moments. Then, if you are riding with someone, you nod acknowledging who will be leader and who will follow. The clutch lever, on the left bar, is pulled in. You click the bike into gear with your left foot giving it just a little bit of throttle and you let out the clutch. You lift both feet simultenously and put them on the pegs regardless of the surface you're on. (Newbie riders will always "walk" the bike along or leave their legs out while they gain enough speed for lack of confidence.) Riding relatively slowly you don't rev the motor too high until it's reached operating temperature because you are more involved with the engine and tires on a motorcycle. Through experience you know the bike doesn't feel right cold. It vibrates more. It doesn't make the power it's supposed to. The tires slip much more easily. So you wait, you wait until the bike is warmed up. The tires are warm and sticky.
Then you go.
This reality, from having to lug gear and affix it to a bike "just so", to donning all that gear like some middle ages knight preparing for battle, to being involved with the machine .. it all takes time. After you have done it enough times, it becomes a kind of meditation. To go by motorcycle involves this time. There's no getting around it. Even if you are in a rush, even if you have to go NOW, you must go through this ritual. Do it too hasitly and gear falls off the bike. Your helmet isn't on right. You've forgotten your earplugs or sunglasses. Things just aren't Right.
And, as I think about what makes miles by motorcycle so different than miles by car, it's these rituals. It forces you to pause. To prepare. To understand that there is a ritual separation between being still and Going. By the time you are under way, you are in a different place internally.
You are more involved with the machine when riding a motorcycle. You feel the engine, how it vibrates. You feel the tires and can immediately tell how well they are gripping. You are more involved with the road. Surface becomes a concept. "good road, good tarmac, good pavement" are concepts. The little squiggly black stripes you ignore in a car, called tar snakes, are slippery when hot. When wet, did you know the yellow and white paint lines are a slippery as oil? Every motorcyclist who's ever hit brakes on one or taken a corner too sharp over one knows. It's quite the wakeup call. Different kinds of pavement, different surfaces, have a different feeling. You can sense it on a motorcycle.
Motorcycling is active, not passive. You are Out There. You lean. To brake you tense up your leg, stomach and arm muscles to counter the braking effect so you're not thrown over the handlebars. You worry about "the line". A corner comes up. How often do you think, in a car, about how you're going to take that corner? Is it ever a thought? You approach a slow right hand corner on a fast road, you move to the left of your lane. You move your whole body to the right a bit. If it's a sharp corner and you're going fast, maybe you move your ass off the seat and stick your right leg out preparing for a lean all the while counteracting the center of gravity change which makes the bike went to lean. Then you pick your entry point to the corner. You go in late, letting the bike go further into the corner than you would in a car. This enables you to look through the corner to see where your exit point will be and what hazards there might be. Then you let the bike lean ... and it falls into the corner with the feeling that you're flying. Sometimes you can lean the bike over so far your feet will scrape the ground. And when you've travelled through you accelerate moving your body back towards center and with a slight press on the handlebar the bikes stands up again.
On a motorcycle each corner is prepared for and considered. There's planning. Forethought. You have to. Of course, there are time you slip up and you don't plan right and you come into a corner too hot and get scared. Or there's gravel. Motorcyclists fear gravel. In motorcycling there is fear.
It's another thing that binds us. Common fear.
Riding is also a strangely lonesome yet social activity. You are confined in your helmet stuck on this machine carving canyons. It's alone time. It's quiet time. It's time to think. To imagine. Away from the distractions and interruptions of life.
I think I travel by motorcycle because of all of the above. The process, the rituals, the culture, the riding, the challenge, the skill. It centers and focuses me. It fires my imagination and fuels my dreams. It provides me a ritual space where I meditate. It calms me. Out Here I am free to think and dream in a way I find impossible in a car or at home.
I hope to find some time at some point to bind all this together better. It's a hint at what I feel and think about motorcycling, but in rereading it doesn't capture it as well as I would like.
But more than enough rambling for now.
I was feeling ok. The miles were ticking by. The bike felt good. The road surface was good with just the occasional gravel patch. I was making good time.
I stopped to get gas. I was well on my way to Liard Hot Springs where I had intended on camping. So many people had said to go there, that I was intent on making it. It was 400 miles from Whitehorse.
It was a log cabin lodge and restaurant like so many gas stations along the Alcan. Despite feeling pressure that I wanted to make time, I decided to stop and get something to eat. I wasn't hungry but I knew I wasn't feeling well and being hungry would just add to my burdens.
As I sat there, waiting for my food and sipping on a cup of bad coffee, through the window I saw an adventure rider roll up. He was riding a Honda Transalp which I immediately recognized as a European-only bike. "Ok, that's interesting.", I thought. I saw a sticker for his web site, www.daninviaggio.it. I saw the "Long Way Dany" sticker and thought this was someone to talk to. "Long Way Round" is one of my all time favorite movies/miniseries.
He walked in and I asked pointedly, "So where are you riding in from?" With an Italian accent he answered, "Land of Fire, Argentina". "Damn!, how long have you been on the road?", I asked, which is the typical question one asks. When I say 46 days most people seem to be impressed.
"Two years", he said.
"Holy shit!", I thought. "Here, sit down, please join me.", I said pointing to the seat in front of me. He wanted coffee and asked the waittress. She pointed him at the pot. He poured himself a cup and then offered to refill mine.
We got to talking. Because of the number of people who have said I need to do that trip and the varied impressions I've gotten I was very curious.
"So how was it travelling from Tierra Del Fuego to here? Did you run into any problems?". He said, "No not really. The bike ran good." "I mean with people. I hear all kinds of bad stories. Did you have any problems with people?", I asked.
"Oh. Yes. I got robbed three times. Twice with a knife. Once I was camping and three guys broke into the tent while I was sleeping.", he said matter of factly, "but it can happen anywhere. You just have to expect it."
"What happened?", I asked with increasing interest. "They took stuff. Money. Once they stole my laptop. It's manageable. You just have to be smart and careful. Keep your money separated".
He went on to explain that he had planned and saved up for two years to do this trip. When he started out he had no real agenda as to where he was going to go. For, I believe he said, the first year and a half his, now ex, girlfriend was with him. He travelled from Argentina all the way up to Deadhorse and was now travelling across Canada to New York. He was doing this on the most incredibly tight shoe string budget. "I have $1200 right now. It has to last. I've been camping for the last 30 days straight. You live in a tent for two years, it gets to be old.", he commented without sounding at all like he was complaining. He needed to get tires soon and was worried about the expense. He explained that he would stop in places and get odd jobs to make money to fund his trip.
He had also intended on heading to the Liard Hot Springs.
"Why don't we ride over there together?", I suggested. He was hungry so ordered the same thing I was having, a salsbury steak without sauce along with a bunch of steamed carrots.
"Do you have a woman?", he asked. I looked at him puzzled. "I mean you married, kids? or have a girlfriend?", he clarified. "Nope. Nothing. No wife. No kids. No girlfriend", I replied. "Is best.", he said. Then he corrected himself, "I mean when you travelling. Maybe for life is not so good. It's good to have a woman to share your life with, just not when you are travelling for a long time.". I mentioned Thomas and Andrea, who travelled together by motorcycle for one and a half years. They stayed with me for a wonderful week. I host their website, miles-to-ride.com. "If a relationship can withstand a trip like that, it can withstand anything.", I said.
I was really enjoying the conversation. He was very Italian and had that European perspective that I encounter too rarely outside of the German meetup group I attend.
As I listened to his stories of travelling for this length of time and invoking famous stories from ages ago, I found myself thinking, "now this is a real adventure rider".
"It's just kilometers.", he said. "I don't care about how long or how many kilometers. That's irrelevant. I like to travel. I have a passion for motorcycles. I combine the two. What's important for me is what I learn along the way. The people I meet. The story."
"This sounds strangely familiar to me.", I replied thinking about things I believe I mentioned even within this blog. "A kindred spirit.", I found myself thinking, "maybe it's a European thing.". So much of what he said rang true to me.
He had mentioned how tight money was and how he wanted to get back to Italy and possible ride South through Africa or maybe East through Asia. "When you are Italian, you can do these things. Nobody cares about Italians. We are not important.", he would say. "People always say 'oh, Italians, good looking, good food, beautiful women.". "But if you have a US passport it's hard. I've seen so many Americans have problems at border crossings. From what I have seen the world does not like Americans.", he cautioned as I mentioned maybe wanting to do other trips. "It's best to have an EU passport. You'll have no trouble.", he advised.
I asked if he wrote a blog. "I have a website but it's only in Italian. My english is not so good.", he explained, "mostly I produce videos. Sometimes I write for magazines."
When the bill came I asked if I could buy lunch for him. "I have some money.", I said. I paid the bill and we agreed to travel together to Liard. "I haven't camped in two weeks, I think.", I said. "I've camped every night for the last 30 days.", he replied. "Well, if I have someone to camp with, to talk to around a campfire, then I'm happy to camp. This is good.", I replied.
It was agreed. We walked out to the bikes, got on our gear. Because I had never ridden with him before I suggested he lead. I didn't know what kind of rider he was or how fast he liked to travel. He was riding a Transalp, which is a 650 twin. not a very fast motorcycle but bulletproof and very highly regarded. Many world travellers ride them.
We got underway. He has what I would imagine is an Italian riding style. He likes to use the entire lane swaying back and forth. This was a bit disconcerting. My friends and I ride military style, in a formation. The leader picks a side of the lane. The follower rides on the other side. The rest behind stagger accordingly to offer each rider the maximum view and stopping distance in front of him. Dani liked to use the whole road. But it was ok. I got used to it and the speed was reasonable.
His bike is not as fuel efficient as mine so we did stop to get gas along the way in Watson Lake. The bugs were just terrible. It seemed like we had to stop every 50 miles or so to clear the faceshields.
Eventually we crossed from the Yukon into British Columbia.
We got onto the section of the Alcan where they were doing construction. Alot of construction. More than I remember. So we stopped at one of the stop/slow guys. It was a several minute wait so we pulled off our helmets. I was grateful for this as my earplugs were killing me. Agony.
The slow/stop construction guy was happy to take a photo of us.
After we got through the construction site, the sun was pretty low on the horizon and we heading east. He had mentioned that he liked to shoot video so I had mentioned my GoPro hero cam that I can mount to my helmet. I rode ahead and motioned for us to stop. "Would you like me to shoot some video of you on your bike?", I asked figuring that maybe he didn't have any shots of him for his videos underway. "It shoots in 720p", I explained.
"Yes! Thank you! In two years I never thought to ask anyone!", he said.
So I fumbled with the camera, started recording, mounted it to the helmet, adjusted the angle and we got undderway.
It's always too easy to misalign the camera so you never know how it's going to turn out. Later on we found that we had done it correctly. The video wasn't bad at all. Good light.
After about 16 minutes of filming I stopped to pull of the camera. At 70mph, Kevin the mounty, that's a typo, I mean 70km, the wind resistance on the camera is quite strong and it strains my neck.
We rode on and once again encountered the buffalo. He had never seen one before.
We rode on for the rest of the way. It was a 200 mile stretch that we rode together. By the end it was starting to feel like a long way. The fact that I had not slept much the last two nights was catching up to me. I was having some trouble staying awake. Then we came up on Liard Hot Springs.
"Shit, campsite full", I thought as I read the sign. We stopped. "The campsite is full. I don't know how far the next campground is.", he said. I was tired. I was too tired to continue. We were in the parking lot of the lodge. I saw a vacancy sign in the window. "Fuck it. Let's get a room at the lodge.", I complained because I was tired. "I can't afford it.", he said looking very tentative and apologetic. "I bet they have rooms with two beds. My treat. I can't ride any further.", I said.
"I haven't slept in a bed in 30 days.", he said looking grateful in that honest way that only someone who has truly been uncomfortable can muster.
We checked into the room, performed the ritual unpacking of the motorcycles, and decided, since it was still light, to go check out the hotsprings. Thankfully Bruce had given me a pair of swimming trunks. I grabbed a towel, the trunks and a camera. Dani grabbed similar items. We stuffed them all into a bag and we walked to the springs not knowing what to expect. "Oh look. Beautiful sunset. We should take a picture.", he said.
And we took a photo at the hotsprings park entrance.
There was a long boardwalk through a landscape that reminded me of Yellowstone. Most of the land here was covered in mineral water.
The hotsprings themselves are exactly as advertised. Beautiful.
This is actually where the hot water emanates. It creates a layer of near scaldingly hot water about 3 inches deep on the top. This mixes with another cooler spring, not shown in the photo, to the right.
They are not entirely wild though. There's a changing room and a bathroom and steps leading into the springs.
There's a small falls and a lower pool that is much cooler. It the flows into a small stream that I can only describe as being something out of Pan's Labyrinth. The stream has cut a winding tunnel like moss covered path between the trees. Ledges angled in. I should have, if I was the genius I claim to be, taken the indestructible water proof camera. It was simply beautiful and was a landscape described in fantasy novels. Amazing. I have not seen any place like it ever.
Since we were here, despite it being near closing time, we decided to give it a try.
The Italian seemed comfortable in this nearly searing hot water.
The pale displaced Germanic beast from the deep was less so.
Egads say it isn't so. It went into the water. Without it's shirt on.
It was hot. Very hot. But you got used to it. So of course, being masochists, we had to move towards the source of the hot water. It was crazy hot. Near skin burning hot, but we perservered. The formations and the source and how the water bubbles up in little streams from underground was fascinating. Very cool indeed.
We only stayed for about half an hour. It was just too hot.
As we walked back, I heard something in the distance. I do not know why but, upon hearing the sound, I immediately knew what it was.
Moose! Or as Carol might have said, "Meese!"
This time I captured the silly ears up being curious look mooses are prone to make when looking at something they don't understand. This moose and it's calf were quite a ways away. At extreme zoom in low light my camera does not do that well.
We went back to the room and examined the videos we had shot earlier. He showed me some of the videos he had produced which are available on YouTube. Some are in English.
I had a bottle of Irish Whiskey and I offered him a shot. "BMW guys seem to always have Whiskey", he said knowingly.
He had asked me some time earlier, as so many people have, what are you doing out here. My answer has been simply, "I've been through some bad times. I'm out here trying to get my head screwed on straight.".
I was tired and about ready to call it a night when he asked, "So tell me, what happened?". This is always dangerous, but he seemed honestly interested and asked questions, so I gave him a moderately brief yet honest run down of the Nightmare. Strangely, in this telling, it seemed worse to me. I shared with him maybe 25% of what happened and even with that he said, "It's too much.". Meaning I guess it's too much for a person to handle.
"I can tell you still have alot of pain, alot of anger, about this story. But it's over. You have to close that door and live you life. Enjoy you life.", he commented.
"That's not hard. What's hard is trying to figure out how what's happened is affecting how I make decisions. Part of why I am out here is to See and Think Differently, but to do that I can't close those doors. I have to understand how what happened is coloring my views of what I think is possible."
It's a small world. I spent a day with a guy whose trip makes mine really look like just a simple and mundane Long Sunday Drive. He's from Italy and he rode his bike up from Tierra Del Fuego, was robbed at knifepoint more than once, has had untold real adventures. I found myself thinking he's a kind of man who seems out of place in this modern world. In this time. The age of exploration is over, but this man would have fit into that age very well.
To which he would say, "It's only kilometers. I've met people out here who have been riding for years. 5, 10, 15. It's just numbers. What have they learned?".
I don't know what got to me. Something did. Some thought, sound or image. It happens sometimes. It's not just that a memory is triggered, at times a feeling is triggered and I'm back in that dark place I spent so much time in and with no one around to pull me out I descend into it's depths.
I didn't sleep well. I had fitful dreams and when I finally did awake I was in an even darker place. Burdened as if by a terrible weight and withdrawn, it was as if my reason for waking up was no longer there. Where did it go? Wasn't I, even just a day ago, motivated to get up, to wander, to explore? But this morning, hands swollen, tired, and deep inside myself, I felt no will to live. I felt as if I didn't even have the energy to exist. I was removed from the world. I was peering out through a distant tunnel. Vision as if through a haze. Sounds muffled. Even my sense of touch somehow muted. I was suffering an existential fatigue.
I get like this sometimes. Deep deep sadness. At home, when this happens, I halt. I do nothing. But out here, on the road I was forced to get up and get moving by external forces. Checkout time loomed large and I had to attempt to write. Obligation, in this case checkout time, drove me through the haze.
The internet connection at the hotel was terrible. It took forever to load anything and even then, after a while of editing, it wouldn't go through. It didn't matter. I was dismayed at my inability to write. All the openness I felt and all the insights were gone. Frustrated at my own emptiness, I typed in a few sentences and hit submit. I read what I wrote and thought "That's the me I remember. Not the me here, but the me there. Mired in the stress and closed."
It was time to find some coffee and something to eat. I dragged my gear and mounted it onto the bike. There was a diner down the street. To my dismay they had just stopped serving breakfast literally one minute before. I sat there, still in a daze, still seeing the world as if through a distant lens. A KTM rider was there but I had no desire to talk to him. I couldn't think of anything to say. He looked, like so many others, as if he were heading up to the Dalton Highway.
After breakfast, which looked like lunch, I went to get gas just to be safe. I couldn't remember how far away the next gas station was. I was so unhappy about seeing the "route east" signs. A man walked up to me and said, "I've been riding BMW's for 20 years and have three of them." We got to talking a bit, but I was still having trouble. A heavy weight still hung over me and I tried to force myself to continue the conversation. He had been all the way to Tierra Del Fuego in addition to a bunch of other places. He had done the Dalton 5 times. I started snapping out of my malaise a bit, but still heavy I asked him a few questions about it. He seemed to think going through Columbia was a bit dicey, but other than a few minor mechanical problems, he didn't have any problems on his trip. He gave me his contact info saying, "You should do that trip. It's a great one.". I'll contact him when I get home. I'm thinking about that trip more now ...
As I was about to leave the station, an enduro rider pulled up the gas pump. "Heading up the Dalton?", I asked. "Of course. You know it's gotta be done.". It's funny how almost any enduro or adventure rider on the Alcan highway is heading up to Deadhorse. I chatted with him for a few moments and then donned my gear and still bearing this weight headed on down the road.
I didn't feel like taking any pictures. We've already seen it all before. Beautiful mountains. Check. Incredible lakes. Check. Critters. Check. I mused about how miserable I was feeling as I passed through endless forests bounded by glacier capped peaks punctuated by deep blue lakes on a once in a lifetime trip that so many would like to undertake. This place seems normal to me now. I've seen bear, moose, caribou, buffalo, wolverines, fox, and a host of other critters. Without some deeper insight, some deeper more meaningful way to experience the subject, once you've seen one, the others tend to not be as interesting. I thought about that for a while.
There's something silly about "seeing". I've "seen" thousands of bears in books and on the television. I've "seen" endless mountainscapes and lakes. But there is something to "seeing" in person that differentiates the experience. To see a glacier up close and personal. To feel the cold wind coming down off it. To "be" in front of the thing is different. It's more real somehow. But I find this desire, this almost need, to delve into each place to a greater depth but am unable to do so. Travelling across this vast land I feel like a dilettante just glossing over everything quickly, never being able to fully experience any one spot or person. I get tastes of a place. Tastes of people. But that's it. I never get the chance to fill in the collage and am left with a canvas of mostly empty space with only a few colorful outlines and I am frustrated by it.
I wanted to reach Whitehorse. It was only 388 miles away but these were hard miles because of how I was feelinig. It was cool, but not cold. The sun was not too intense. The miles dragged on though. Normally 50 miles pass before I check the odometer but today I was checking it every 5 miles feeling like it had been 50. Everything hurt and I was still heavy with the burdensome dreams of the previous night.
As I rode further down the Alcan, the sun came out in earnest and it got to be slightly warmer. The bugs came out. Suddenly there were just a ridiculous number of dragon flies. I mean truly ridiculous. They were everywhere. Unlike any other time on this ride, they seemed to find every possible way to get around the fairing and impact me directly. Dragon fly guts everywhere, I was becoming actively unhappy. These dragonflies are large. Very large. One got me in the chest, another on the neck which hurt!
Disgusting. Poor dragonflies.
I had forgotten about the construction on the Alcan. It was 20 miles of perfectly graded and compacted earth over which a water truck drove just ahead of me. The road turned to muck and it got all over everything. Slippery, nasty, sticky muck.
As I rolled up to the visitor center not far from the Canadian border, I grabbed the front brake as I usually do an "Oh Shit! no brakes!" as nothing happened and I rolled quite a bit further, like 5 feet, than I had intended to.
I'm guessing the muck got all over the rotors and on the pads preventing the brakes from grabbing. I wasn't going fast. I usually use the engine to slow down and reserve the brake for the last little bit. But I was on gravel at the time I needed the brake. It was a bit startling.
I was awake now. My brake rotors look a little worse for wear. I will probably need a new set of front rotors by the time I get back. They are expensive.
I hung out for a little while outside at the visitor center. I wanted to let the water truck get on down the road. I was tired of the mud spray getting over everything.
As is the case with so many buildings, it was built in a log cabin style using simply huge beams. This building also had a green roof which I failed to notice the first time I was here. I have to admit I really like this style of construction.
My fog was slowly beginning to lift but I was still very unhappy. My earplugs had started to really hurt again and my right hip was causing me trouble not to mention my back and shoulders were really sore.
Bitch. Moan. Complain.
I got back on the bike and rode however many miles of dirt, mud and muck until I got through the Canadian border.
You can sense an immediate change when you enter Canada. It starts with the customs officer. He's nice. He's friendly. He smiles. The anger is just not there.
You also immediately notice how clean everything is. There's alot of trash in Alaska as there is in most of the US. But Canada is clean. It's as if Canadians like their country and want it to look pretty.
I entered the bad section of the Alcan between Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay. Yes, there's a place called Destruction Bay. This was that section of road that was supposed to be so horrible but was a cakewalk on the way up.
I don't remember it being this challenging. I guess it was because I was down, tired and carrying some mysterious weight that made what was previously very easy much more difficult. I didn't remember how deep these ruts were or how frequent. On a few occasions I had to stand up on the pegs because I missed a rift in the road and drove right through it. I wondered if maybe the angle of the sun was making it more difficult to see the heaves, dips and cracks in the road or if maybe the eastern route was just worse than the other side. Nevertheless, it proved to be a much more disquieting ride than the ride up. Maybe it was because I now had it set in my mind that it was easy. Looking at the speedometer I think I was also trying to go faster than I should have. It's all about perspective and perception. Believe it's hard and it becomes easy. Visa versa seems to also be true.
I had stopped at Beaver Creek for gas. I saw on Facebook that Rick was leaving Destruction Bay so thinking ahead I grabbed a large bottle of water for him on the off chance I would actually see him on my way down. Having set a precedent I wanted to keep up the tradition.
As I rode on I noticed some movement in a small lake. Moose in water! Funny critters. It stopped at one point and raised it's ears in my general direction looking rather silly while staring at me. Unfortunately, I didn't capture that because it went back to what it was doing too quickly.
I was beginning to worry that maybe I had passed Rick without realizing it. I saw a number of bicyclists but none of them had Rick's yellow gear. Then I saw him in the distance at a rest stop.
He seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him. I rolled up next to his bicycle and said "Good to see you again!", shaking his hand.
We chatted for a bit about conditions on the Dalton. He was concerned about the cold and the mosquitoes. Horseflies were buzzing about around us. My impression was the road has started to wear on him. He's had too many cold nights of camping and it seemed like he wanted his trip to be in the rearview.
Me on the other hand, I simultaneously don't want to go home but, at least today, have little energy to keep going.
He had had the same concern as I did. He said he kept looking at BMW riders. I guess we all look the same. (laugh).
He had met a few pairs of riders who were doing the Prudhoe Bay to Tierra Del Fuego run on bicycles. One couple he talked to was taking out 18 months to do that trip. "That's too long for me!", he said. "I miss my bed. I miss my dog. I'm tired of camping. Every day it's a new pain.".
If crazy Europeans can do it on bicycles ... then again, we don't hear much from the ones who don't make it and get kidnapped having body parts shipped back as proof for ransom.
I shared with him what I knew of the Dalton and gave him the bottle of water I got for him. I was going to give him my bear spray since he's been running into more grizzlies than I have, but he already had a can.
He's been doing crazy mileage from my point of view. He said something like 70 to 90 miles per day. Day after day. That's nuts. I do 200 on a motorcycle and I already feel it. I can't imagine the discomfort he must be feeling on a bicycle going that distance.
This is one of those times where the trip sucks. You meet people along the way that you want to get to know better, that you want to spend more time with but the time is finite. It's here and then it's gone. That's happened a lot. I've met a crazy number of people and there have been more than one occasion where saying goodbye has not been as easy as it should have been.
He pedalled off to continue his adventure. I rode south continuing on my Long Sunday Drive.
Things were improving a bit with my state of mind, but I was still burdened. The Alcan was proving to be unnecessarily challenging. This was mostly because I couldn't bring the level to attention to the task at hand I really needed to. My mind was endlessly Elsewhere.
I happened upon a tractor trailer accident in the middle of a straight stretch where the road was actually not that bad.
A tractor trailer load of fresh silver salmon had just been spilled. People were coming from up to 100 miles away to stack up on salmon. I understand the driver had to be taken away in an ambulance.
"Good thing I'm on a safe maneuverable motorcycle instead of some dangerous semi on this road.", I thought. I saw quite a few semis nearly lose it in the rough spots. One had his trailer skid to the right onto the gravel. It created quite the spray of gravel and dust cloud.
I rode on. The temperature dropped enough that I began to consider adding another layer. The last 50 miles really hurt. I was glad to pull into Whitehorse, but of course, I had forgotten that the edge of town is 12km from it's center. I'm staying at the same hotel I stayed at the last time I was here. The attendant remembered me.
The restaurant was open until 10:30. The kitchen closes at 10. "Good. Plenty of time.", I thought as I walked in. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice that I crossed a timezone. It was now 10:15. The kitchen had closed. I ordered a glass of wine and chatted with the bartender about my trip for a moment. He had immediately remembered me and thought that maybe I had stayed the whole time in Whitehorse. "Nope. I went up to Deadhorse and back.", I replied.
He suggested I try a couple of restaurants that were only a few blocks away. Motivated because I had skipped lunch, I walked to the restaurant he suggested. It was closed but they directed me to a bar and grill that served food until midnight. I hurried the block and a half to where the place was and walked in.
The place was a bar with a pooltable. The bartender, Nicole, had a vague resemblance to Jolene Blalock who starred in that terrible Enterprise series. Beautiful woman, terrible show. When I ordered a hamburger sans bun she seemed interested and asked me about it. As it turns out, nutrition and food allergies are an interest of hers. We got to talking for a bit. Canadians. Polite. Nice. Interested. I like Canadians. I have really grown to like the Canadian soul.
But of course, as it would happen, as soon as I have an interesting conversation with an attractive bartender the place fills up. It took like 10 minutes to go from dead to being bustling.
I have two effects on bars. In the case of the Outback where Rachel and Dale work, I show up and the bar clears out, unless of course, I'm trying to have a conversation with Rachel. It's uncanny. In the case of Claudia at Piratz, when she used to work there, I would show up and the bar would fill up within minutes. The story was the same with Wendy, a bartender who saved my sorry ass at one point during the Nightmare and to whom I will forever be grateful. She would joke that she should give me a percentage of her tips. Always entrepreneurial, Wendy was something very special.
Nicole was nice. Despite being busy attending to the 15 or so people who had just walked into the bar, she took time out to chat with me. That was really nice. The bar had a good selection of scotches so I ordered a Talisker. "I haven't gotten that far yet.", she said pointing at the scotch. "I've had the Aberlour.", she mentioned. "So you want to be the woman who impresses all the men by her knowledge of scotch?", I asked. "yes, most definitely", she replied. I said if I had had more time I would have introduced her to more scotches. "Aberlour 12 is a good scotch for introducing women to scotch. It has a wine like complexity to it.", I opined. She asked what the next scotch she should try is. "Balvenie 12 Doublewood would be my suggestion pointing at the top shelf.". A good scotch, but finished in a cherry cask so it bothers me. Bummer.
I mentioned how everyone was asking me to send them messages and that one person suggested I just write a blog. "Oh really? What's the address of your blog, I'll check it out.". I told her she would be mentioned here. I enjoyed meeting Nicole. She's another one that, given more time, I would get to know better if I could.
I'm back at the hotel now. My hands are still swollen and I still feel this weight. I think it's that I'm pointed Eastward. I don't want to go home except to see a few close and special friends, none of whom I get to see or experience nearly enough. I guess that's life. I need to remember what a privilege it is to experience what I do. Even these people out here, these glimpses of lifes I get, are worthwhile, special and worth remembering. The parts of lives that people back home share with me have a value to me I cannot put into words ...
I hope I'm in a better frame of mind tomorrow, otherwise these miles are going to drag on something fierce. Hopefully tomorrow I'll find a reason to wake up ...
"You should write a book about your travels.", the gift shop lady said. "Actually, so many friends asked me to send them emails to let them know I'm still alive that one suggested I just write a blog. That way everyone who's interested can check and see if I've croaked.", I replied. "I don't know about that internet. There's just so much bad stuff out there. You hear about it all the time. And you on that motorcycle, that's so dangerous. We had a guy killed here last year.", she said. "There's always a reason not to do a thing. You can play it perfectly safe and let the years roll on but in the end there'll be so little that you'll do.", I commented. "Yup. That's what I want. To die safely on my couch. Adventure is not for me.", she replied.
That comment surprised me.
There is so much to be afraid of. There are so many risks. Even she agreed that she would get into a car. I've known far more people who've died or gotten seriously injured in cars than on motorcycles.
It got me to thinking again about risk.
In Fairbanks, I was talking to a guy from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I mentioned to him that I was beginning to consider the long trip down. "Don't do it! Buenos Aires and much of South America is just terrible. Terrible! If you are European, Canadian, American they kidnap you. Chop off an ear or a finger and send it to you family. Hundreds. Thousands of people kidnapped in this way! I left. Got out of there.", he said being obviously agitated by the subject.
I've heard these stories too often. Everyone knows some story of bad things that happened to someone in South America. I know people who've had to leave South America because they were being persued. But what's the real risk? Why does this risk affect me more than the risk of motorcycling?
I think it's "unknown" risk. The Dalton Highway was supposed to be this impossible road. It was a cakewalk, possibly because I was properly prepared. But "unknown" risks, the risks that we have no experience with, tend to magnify in our minds. I also know many people from South America. I know a few who live down there. I have a distant cousin, Cari, who lives in Buenos Aires. I've talked to a surprising number of riders who have done the trip down. They didn't have any problems. But yet, the risk seems unmanageable in my mind. I feel the same way about the Middle East. Maybe it's that I feel I would be a target, a target that would attract unwanted attention.
It's an irrational uneducated fear. It should be possible that mitigate and manage these risks somehow.
I ride a motorcycle over what many seem to think is difficult terrain. The downside risk is extreme. I could be mamed, paralyzed or die. Yet, I am willing to take this extreme risk. We all take the same risk every time we get in a car, but we don't think about it. It's a familiar risk. Everyone does it so we become numb to it.
There are other risks we take unconsciously.
Many people have asked me how I am able to afford the time off of work. How can I afford to do this? Aren't I afraid of not having enough for retirement? This is another form of risk I'm taking which may, eventually, have more serious consequences. It is something I worry about. The money I have spent on my bikes, my boat, and this trip add up to a non-trivial sum. I feel guilty about it. If I had responsibly saved that sum I would be much closer to having enough to live on in my later years.
That's the conventional wisdom. That's what makes sense to people. Get a good paying "secure" job. Climb the company ladder. Spend responsibly. Save. Worry about retirement.
I'm self employed, a kind of entrepreneur. I haven't had regular paycheck or something called a "job" in 17 years. I am responsible for making my own money. That's another kind of risk most people are not willing to take yet I take without even thinking twice about it. I actually view the opposite as extreme risk. By taking a job I am risking not having the upside potential of an enterprise I've built myself.
I've worked my ass off for the last 17 years. Most weeks I have put in 7 days. I've done 100 hour weeks for multiple nine month stretches. In part, as I stand now, I'm a burned out workaholic. And aside from having resolved the Nightmare, I don't really have much to show for that effort. We worked harder but many others far less experienced and technically savvy have gone on to become millionaires building huge companies.
It's funny the risks I'll take and the ones I won't. I'll gladly build a new business on a shoestring budget allowing myself to come close to bankruptcy doing it, but I won't risk involving outside parties such as venture capitalists or allow us to be bought. I fear that "unmanaged" risk. It seems to great to me.
It's just more irrational fear. A downside risk that is understood, that's been investigated and analyzed is far less of a problem than the unknown risks.
So it seems to me, what I need to realize is when I am confronted by a risk that seems unmanageable and scary, the trick is to identify the fact that's it's an unknown risk and study it. Make the unknown familiar. All risks can be mitigated to a greater or lesser degree. We all take extreme risks in some areas of our lives, such as getting into a car, but we won't take even small risks in other areas because we are irrationally afraid of them.
When I set out on this journey I thought this would be the "last big trip". As I contemplate my return trip now, I wonder what is the greatest risk I take?
Maybe the greatest risk I've taken in life is having lived a life that was not worth living.
"How many good years do you have left? Maybe 20 if that?", asked Matt in Fairbanks. "If that", I replied.
Something is going to have to change, otherwise this thing I call a life is just a waste of time.
Onto other topics ...
When perusing gift shops in Alaska, take heed. Most goods they sell are, in fact, not made in Alaska. Many are made in China, New York and other places. This is true even of the little native alaskan looking camp shacks you see along the sides of the road in the remote areas. Remember to ask.
It's time for me to get something to eat ... I will continue writing later. This connection is flakey and my "save draft" feature is not working for some reason, so I'll save this out and come back to it later ... my apologies to those who have "Watch Blog" turned on.
Two nights before, Eike and I had agreed we would meet at the restaurant at 8:30. I made sure to be a minute or two early. He was already there.
We talked for a while about his business, mine and growing companies. He's loathe to grow his business beyond what it is because he would have to deal with employees and additional taxes. I find myself also thinking I am loathe to grow a business that involves hiring people. I idealize businesses like plentyoffish.com, a one man show. Unfortunately, those are the rock-star businesses. Businesses that are more luck than skill.
I was hungry so I had a bite to eat. Low tide was to be at midnight. Eike and I wanted to get back to the salmon hatchery to see if we could spot any grizzlies. So, in typical German fashion, we decided that it would be best to arrive one and a half hours before low tide. This way we could watch the whole progression. At a little past 10 we left. Eike drove. He had a rental SUV.
It was a cloudy evening. "What business does that cloud have being that low?", I said, translated from German. Eike laughed. The clouds here in Valdez really are something worth seeing.
It had been a couple of days where everything I said was false. Regardless of what I would state, it would turn out to be false. "This is not a parking spot." False. "You are supposed to be able to walk up to the glacier.". False. "The salmon hatchery is just around the corner.". False.
If it had persisted any longer I would have developed a complex. At least I didn't say, "Grizzlies are harmless.".
We arrived at what I thought was the salmon hatchery. False. I was 200 or more meters off. It was quite a scene. Eagles were waiting patiently as were an array of fishermen.
There was this sense of anticipation in the air. It was more than a human thing. It was as if the animals around felt it too. We were all gathered for a common purpose, to witness the salmon running.
Eagles flew overhead.
As we passed, a fisherman said there were grizzlies ahead around the bend. In the SUV, we continued on all the while I said "I think this is where he meant.". False. We turned around and headed back to where the fisherman said they would be ... still no sign. "False again.", I said. Eike laughed. We creeped along and suddenly a number of cars stopped.
A momma and her three cubs were playing in the grass next to the road. Watching these majestic beasts play, you couldn't help but feel there was something familiar about it, something human. The mother bear was gentle yet playful with her cubs. A cub would jump on her back and she would, gently, fling it over onto the grass with her huge arm. There was a patience to her that was unexpected. The sense of care could be felt from a distance. They played and harrassed each other as if completely oblivious to the attention they were getting.
Every once in a while the the mother bear would peer up at the onlookers, but for the most part just paid attention to her cubs.
Eike got out his gun fearing the grizzlies might attack. From my perspective, bear spray ready in my pocket, it seemed to me that as long as we didn't bother them they wouldn't bother us.
Midnight was still a ways off but I got the sense the grizzlies knew exactly what time it was and were biding their time playing in the grass.
Watching these critter play it was so easy to forget how awesomely dangerous they can be. There was this urge to join in the fun and romp around with them. Of course, such an action would be Very Ill Advised. Well, that is as long as one didn't have a death wish.
Midnight arrived which was low tide. Unlike before the water didn't empty out to the same degree so we didn't see the massive numbers of salmon we had hoped to. Fishermen attempted to pull out what they could from the deep water.
The grizzlies, moving as if the humans were irrelevant, crossed the road.
The hatchery cleared of fishermen. Everyone waited on the road while the grizzlies made their way down river. It took quite some time.
We decided it was time to go. The tide was not low enough and the bears were gone. We had seen what we had come to see. If I had not met Eike I would not have seen any of this.
He dropped me off at my hotel. Unceremoniously, he said he might join me on the boat cruise the next day depending on the weather otherwise he would be on his way. We parted company. I went to my room and crashed.
I didn't sleep well, again. Morning came too early, again.
I went and had an omellete for breakfast. I got an Americano (watered down espresso) at one of the stands and made my way to the Lulu Belle boat for my 6 hour tour.
It was a good sized boat. I'll have to look it up how large it was but I would guess 75 feet. I talked to the captain briefly. He said he had bought the bare hull in '76 and built the boat up from that himself in a span of 10 months. Amazing. The quaility of the craftsmanship in the boat is truly impressive. I can't imagine doing that amount of work.
Then again, I can't believe my cousin Olaf built the house that he did.
It was a semi-plaining trawler type boat. We headed out into the sound. There was an oil spill recovery practice operation under way.
One thing that impressed me about this tour was that it was somewhat open ended. The tour would last between 6 and 8 hours depending on the wildlife enountered.
We saw sea otters. Cute critters.
These are supposed to be an indicator species. If they are present it is supposed to mean the environment is healthy, which is impressive given that a huge oil port is located here.
As we continued on the captain slowed the boat saying that we should look at the back of the approaching vessel.
The woman on the boat said they were 400lb "Salmon sharks". Similar to how I felt about the moose, it seemed to me the world would be a better place with these huge creatures terrorizing the seas than lying lifeless on some boat.
We also passed a huge number of sea lions. The captian did not seem to like sea lions. They stank.
At one point the captain decided to try to show his guests some puffins. These puffins were supposedly cooped up in a cave on the coast of this island. To my surprise he put the bow of the boat in the cave with only a few feet to spare on each side.
Despite the size of the boat, he did not have a bow thruster and instead relied solely on the rear two engines. Now I could probably have done the same maneuver. I am told I'm a fairly good boat pilot, but I do not believe I could do this reliably day after day. I figure I would hit the rocks one in five days I tried it, at least.
And we saw whales!
Hump back whales are as difficult to photograph as dolphins. They are just camera shy. They pop up for a frustrating second then dive under the water for tens of minutes.
And then they have the audacity to surface where ever they pleased, which was always exactly where you didn't have your camera pointed.
After spending quite a while hunting whales, we turned our attention to the glacier which was breaking apart enough to cause quite a huge number of icebergs. I kept invoking the Titanic as the sound of icebergs scraping against the hull made me uneasy.
I would be very nervous piloting through these waters. Fear again.
I asked a nice lady if she could take my photo. I'm trying to get more photos of my ugly mug for this blog. (to which I should point out that I have been chided from Ireland, I think it was, for referring to my ugly mug as my ugly mug ... she seemed to think it was Not True and was undermining my credibility ... could be. But I still refer to my ugly mug as my ugly mug because, well, I'm old and set in my ways and I look in the mirror and I see an ugly mug ... oftentimes I will complain to waitstaff at restaurants that the mirrors in the mens room is broken 'cause sumpin' unappealing keeps staring back at me blankly.)
And we got as close to the tidal glacier as we could ... which was 8 miles away.
Some years ago before this ice field formed, the boat could travel all the way to the face of the glacier. It was in the high thirties with a strong breeze here. I was uneasy about being in this ice field in a fiberglass boat. One could hear the ice scrape the hull as the boat passed too close to one iceberg or the other. I kept imagining being on my boat navigating this icefield.
The Alaska Pipeline terminates in Valdez. Tankers come in to transport the oil to poinits south. According to the boat captain, Valdez is the northernmost port that remains free during the winter, which is why this location was chosen.
It made for a nice symmetry to the trip. I saw the beginning of the pipeline at Prudhoe Bay. On a whim I rode the length of the it. And here, I saw the end of it.
The evening was uneventful. Restaurants close early here. Only a few stay open past 9PM. I talked to a couple of older guys from Wisconsin. "If it's a bear, we shoot it. We don't care.", one said at one point. They knew somebody with a boat and were here to go fishing.
I didn't sleep well again. In the morning, I noticed that I was being stalked by a vorpal.
It's been a long time since I've seen a "normal" critter. But this vorpal was black. They're not supposed to be black, are they? Evil black vorpal bunny.
This day marked the start of my trip back. I spent too many days in Fairbanks and Valdez. As a result, I'm starting to feel the pressure to return. I had said I would be back during the first week of August. It looks like this is going to slip into the second week of August, but I don't want it to get any later than that. I've been gone a long time and soon it will be time to "get back to it", unfortunately.
Phil and Geo have changed their trip a bit and are going to ride out and meet me in Thunder Bay, Ontario. So my plan is to ride straight there across Canada instead of taking the northern route through the States. It's another redirection. I hadn't considered going across Canada, but who knows what I'll find as a result?
I sat at the same restaurant, the Totem Inn, that I had gone to each morning. I spoke to the owner a bit about the differences between his business and mine. There are times when I think it would be nice to run a business that doesn't involve creativity and invention each and every day. A hotel. It's a nice simple business that everyone can understand.
It was raining and cold again in Valdez. I left town. Along the way, as usual, I felt compelled to take the obligatory beautiful mountain photo.
In the middle of nowhere I stopped at a campground/gas station and talked to the owner there. This was on the Tok highway bypass, or whatever they call it. He had moved here from upstate New York to get away from all the rude people.
And, of course, there's the obligatory panorama.
There was alot more I wanted to write, but the connectivity here is TERRIBLE. In the last little bit it's gotten a bit better so I was able to get this done, but it's not what I wanted it to be. I have to check out in 15 minutes so I've got to pack up my gear and get going.
Hopefully I'll have better connectivity in Whitehorse tonight.
A friend busted my chops about the "martyr" musings in the my last post. She had been there through the latter part of the Nightmare and saw much of the worst of it. Not to the degree that Duncan did, but much of it. So she, virtually, hit me upside the head to remind me I had little choice in the matter and was not, in fact, a martyr.
There's an interesting aspect to the psychology going on in me. It makes no sense, but then again this kind of damage rarely does. You're raised in an environment where you are blamed for everything. You are the scapegoat that's used so your parents can avoid their own failings. They tell you the company is failing and the house is being foreclosed upon because you didn't do some little thing. "Your mom will be homeless and it is solely your fault.", he would say. You're 12 and you absolutely believe him and the implications terrify you. This goes well into adulthood. "Get over it, you're an adult now.", I think from time to time. But you can't change how you feel, at least not easily or quickly. Like some tall oak tree that's grown up organically on crooked ground, when you look at the world level it seems crooked. It's not the ground you're used to walking on.
At some point when things get difficult, because it's what you're familiar with and it's what you've been trained to believe, you want to believe that it's your fault. It makes so much more sense to you that somehow the bad things happened because you did something wrong. If only you could do it better the bad things wouldn't happen. As I write this I realize I sound somewhat like a abused wife. You know, that typical thing you always hear abused women say, "If only I didn't do the things that make him angry, he wouldn't do the bad things he does to me. It's my fault.".
It's the same with being sick. I keep thinking at some point that I am in fact not sick, I've just been making it all up. Then I have a beer or eat something with starch or sugar in it and the next 5 days are spoken for. It's similar with the Nightmare. The hardest thing to accept is that it wasn't my fault, that I did the best I could and was just up against impossible odds and managed to pull it all out at the end. Seeing it that way is too "level". Even six months after it all resolved by the skin of all of our collective teeth, I still can't shake the feeling that I made it worse. (And notice I didn't say "I resolved" ... ) That somehow someone else in the same circumstances could have done it better. My attornies and broker have told me otherwise, and yet I still can't shake the feeling. I feel no sense of accomplishment. I feel no sense of pride. I don't even really feel relief. I don't know what I feel, but it's not good.
So when Matt said I sounded like a Martyr at some emotional level I felt, "Aha! Now that makes sense. That explains everything. I brought it on myself ...".
The night before I left Fairbanks, I went back to a local dive called the Boatel Bar for a drink. It's strictly a locals hangout and was, once again, a place filled with colorful characters. As fate would have it, or habit, Brian from the previous night was there. He had not had quite as much to drink and was more talkative. He apologized for asking me pointed questions the night before. "It was a bit long and boring. No fun. I apologize for asking.", he said. Fair enough. He got to talking and while he talked for a very long time it was never boring. An energetic, almost spastic guy with twitchy movements as if sped up by stims, he described his antics. "Little impulse control.", I remembered myself thinking. "Yea, I'm the guy, if you say jump off a bridge I'd be like 'yea!'", he exclaimed making a V sign with his hands and waving them wildly.
He describe snowmobiling across water in some detail. I had seen snowmobiles cross finite bodies of water at speed but what I did not know is if you balance them right you can just keep going. He talked about going back and forth across the open water in February. There's a powerplant up the river that dumps its hot waste water which keeps the ice melted.
Well, as it happened he was running across the water at speed when he realized the ledge he used to get back up on the ice had fallen in and it was now a 2ft tall embankment. As he told the story, waving wildly and moving around on the bar stool emulating his body position on the sled (snowmobile) like a motorcycle racer sometimes does, he described carving a short left hand turn only to have the sled point to high up losing it's bouyancy. Down it went with him on it into the drink, in Alaskan February temperatures. He went on to describe getting to near hypothermia as he swam and broke through ice to get back on shore and back into the bar. The entire story had happened right behind the bar, which as the name implies is directly on the river. Listening to him talk about spending the next five days trying to recover the sled was amusing. He said once he got it out of the water and extracted an eel from the airbox, he was able to revive it with some work and still runs it.
He works up in Prudhoe Bay on an oil rig and makes in six months nearly what I make in a year. It seems like a good gig, if you can get it. I asked him a some questions about his job and he described some facets of his daily routine but didn't seem to interested in describing it in detail. What he did mention sounded like really hard work.
He mentioned he had an aunt who lived not far from the Yukon River bridge on the Dalton highway. He talked about masks that members of his family had made, some of which are on display at the Smithsonian he said.
As I watched him waving his hands around with exaggerated facial expressions, I realized, finally, what his appearance reminded me of. A Vulcan. Same haircut. Same general facial features. He could have gotten cast on the spot, well, that is if he could calm down a bit. An amusing guy to listen to although I don't think I'd get in a vehicle with him behind the controls. "Impulse control.", I thought.
He did get serious at one point where he talked about how he helps support his mom. He's got some demons of his own. In a way he reminded me of Lance, always moving so that he doesn't have to stop and think.
He wanted to head to some other bar. "We probably won't ever meet again.", I said as we both got up to leave. "Yea, I guess not." he replied. "It was good meeting you."
I have to admit this has been an unanticipated part of this trip. I've gotten to get glimpses into quite a number of diverse lives. Out here I am less judgemental and more open. Out here I seem to be completely comfortable talking to people who, at home, I would probably not engage in conversation. There is probably a lesson in there.
I headed back to my room at the motel, all the while smelling the overpowering camp fire smell of a nearby forest fire that had been raging for some days now.
Morning came again, as it usually does, too early, but I had managed to sleep fairly well for a change. It had rained yesterday and overnight. It was much colder today, however.
I answered some emails, packed up my gear and headed to a nearby Denny's that claims to be the northernmost Denny's there is.
As I went to get gas I noticed how ominous the clouds looked. "Hmm. I'm heading to the coast today. I wonder if it's going to be like that trip to Prince Rupert with Duncan all those years ago.", I thought as I shuddered.
"I've had a pretty good run. Actually it's been a strangely long run of good weather. My luck is bound to run out.", I thought as I got back on the bike and headed out. A thermometer on a billboard read 51degF.
I headed South towards Delta Junction with the intention of reaching Valdez that evening. Valdez is only 366 miles from Fairbanks. "I should be able to make that with time to spare.", I considered naively. Within 20 miles, the drizzle started. It was an annoying kind of drizzle that wets the faceshield of the helmet just enough that you have to wipe it repeated to restore your vision. The road was already thoroughly wet. The further south I went, the further the temperature dropped.
Clouds hung eerily low over the horizon and surrounding mountains. The drizzle slowly turned into a persistent cold soaking rain. I had to stop to put the tank bag rain cover on. I couldn't take pictures with the good camera, because it was raining too hard.
Despite the rain and the darkness of the clouds I was making good time. RV's and trucks were causing their usual spray but I was getting around them handily. There were plenty of good passing sections. At one point a car flashed it's lights at me so I slowed down thinking there was an officer ahead. But none was to be seen. Then a while thereafter another car flashed it's lights at me and then another. "Shit. I bet my headlight has failed.", I thought. Sure enough, the 18 year old headlight bulb had burned out. I had a spare buried in the rear cowling under the seat under all of my gear. It was raining solidly now and puddles of water were forming in the depressions of the uneven frost heaved road. Some of these puddles were deep enough to shock you awake.
I really didn't want to replace the headlight in the rain. That would have sucked so I continued on constantly looking for a covered place to do this job. The rain got worse. As had been predicted, the water proofing I put on my boots only works for a finite period. My feet were good and soaked through by now. After 20+ years or wearing military issue combat boots I fear I may finally need to break down and get myself a waterproof riding set.
According to the thermometer it was now in the high 30's. The rain mits that I put over my gloves also have a defect. Eventually water starts running down your arm and into the mits and soaking your leather gloves. Unpleasant. The Transit Suit fits too tightly around my arms to put the suit over the gloves and mits. "Thank you Duncan once again for the heated handle bar grips.", I said aloud as I switched them on high. My hands may have been wet but they were not freezing.
The Transit Suit, as advertised, was completely water proof IF you remember to close the pockets. As I have mentioned before and I am sure you believe me, I am a genious. I left all the suit pockets unzipped. Yea, Genius I tell you.
The rain mits have a nice squeegy thing on them which makes clearly the faceshield of water mist and rain a breeze. Unfortunately, this was the kind of rain where you found yourself doing that constantly, at least every 30 seconds just so you could see.
The clouds got darker and darker. Everything was wet on the outside. I was starting to get concerned about visibility. Without my headlight oncoming traffic can't see me. It seemed like ages before I finally came upon a gas station at a lodge.
It was really coming down now and to add insult to injury it was coming down at an angle.
I walked in to the office to pay for gas and asked if I could stay under the gas pump cover, which was at least partially out of the rain so I could replace the headlight bulb. "I can do better than that. Around back there's a large generator shed. It's covered and because the generator is running it's warm.", the attendant said.
This turned out to be a lifesaver.
Despite the electric vest and the heated handle grips I was pretty good and cold. Soaked frozen feet were making it uncomfortable to walk. The "shed" was more like a huge barn with a concrete floor. The generator which occupied a quarter of the space provided all the power for the lodge. It was warm, albeit poorly lit.
I remember seeing a couple of guys, one with a passenger, on a couple of mid-70's vintage 400cc bikes. I think they may have been Kawasaki's or Hondas. I couldn't tell. They had milk cartons bungied to the 70's style sissy bars. They didn't have any good gear and looked like hippies. "That's how you do it.", I had thought at the time. "Slowly, on a shoe string budget going from campground to campground. Not high dollar, on some German machine with all this gear and electronics.", I thought as I pondered how unfortunate I was that I was so fortunate and could afford to travel the way I do.
"Today, I am grateful I am fortunate. I love my heated vest, my heated handlebar grips and this expensive water proof Transit Suit.", I thought as I slowly started taking gear off. "If I were those guys, I'd be hating life much more than I am right now. I am just uncomfortable. In this weather they would be miserable.". It was pouring down rain outside, but the heat from the generator felt good.
It had been 18 years since I changed the lightbulb in my bike. The spare is also that old. I'll have to remember to get another spare as soon as I can. Getting stranded without a headlight on a bike is a Bad Thing. I checked the owners manual to review how to remove the thing. As is the case with most things, getting this !#$!@# headlight bulb out involved some contortionism, patience and pain.
It took me over 45 minutes to get the old one out and the new one installed. But I was strangely calm about it. It took the time that it took. I didn't rush it. I had no schedule. "I'll roll into Valdez around 10PM", I thought. "That might be a problem.". But I was committed now. Unhurried, I checked tire pressure which I hadn't done in a while. I added some air to the front and rear using this cool Aerostich mini-compressor I got and packed up my gear. "Yea, I'm fortunate to be fortunate.", I thought.
I thanks the attendant for the use of the shed and then headed back out into the pouring rain and was on my way. I just rode. There were things I would have taken photos of, but it was raining too hard. Then I remember the backup indestructible camera that takes lousy photos. I pulled it out and put it into my pocket.
Duh. "Remember to zip up the pockets. Nobody reminded me to do that. They're always telling me not to die or get eaten by grizzly bears but ...", I laughed.
I was good and cold, but it was not unbearable. I have certainly been much colder. "This is going to be one of those standard comments after a while. Maybe it'll become standard comment #1. 'Thank you Duncan for the grips'", I kept thinking over and over again. There are few things in life that feel as good as release from discomfort. Hands cold. Press button. Hands warm now. Ahhhh.
As was the case in 1992, when, for 500 miles in the rain, Duncan would persistently say with that annoying optimism he musters simply to bug me, "Look! There's a break in the clouds. I'm sure the rain will stop any minute now!". It's didn't. Prince Rupert is some kind of Northern Rain Forest. It rains all the time.
So when I saw in the distance ...
... I thought, "Ah, mother Nature, I'm on to you. You teased me before but I'm just not buying it this time!". On I rode undeterred by the sunshine peering through the clouds. "Sucker hole", I thought.
Now having the indestructible camera soaking in my wet pocket, I was free to take pictures.
I pondered , "How can you tell you're in Alaska?".
Yup. If you have to be reminded not to shoot from the roadway, you're in Alaska.
Mother Nature continued to try to tease me, but I coldly ignored her advances, knowing that she was just trying to make me hopeful so she could crush me again. Abuses relationships are like that, after all. You just have to learn to stop hoping and realize She's Evil.
At one point she actually made it stop raining for a while, maybe 45 minutes. I thought to myself this can't be true. The clouds were hanging very low overhead. I don't remember ever seeing clouds like this before.
These clouds were crazy low. The rain stopped and started. It would turn to drizzle for a while. Then, as I started to climb what I thought was a pass, I saw some very ominous looking clouds. These clouds were a dark blue and situated between two mountain peaks.
I started running into a mist as if I was riding through a cloud. It was an annoying mist requiring me to constantly clear the faceshield. It had gotten colder still and the shield was fogging up quickly on the inside.
The clouds continued to amaze.
There was this one cloud hanging down low in front of a mountain seemingly just a few hundred feet above the road.
It started to rain again just I had started becoming hopeful. Then I saw it.
I hoped to see the glacier I've been told you can walk on. I've never seen a glacier up close before. The rain continued as I climbed the mountain. Temperatures had risen for a while but were no dropping well into the mid thirties.
Then I ran into fog, only it wasn't fog, it was a cloud.
I've ridden in fog before but this was ridiculous. It was wet. Very wet. So wet in fact that I couldn't keep the faceshield clear. I suffered constant visibility problems and could only do about 15 mph. It got much thicker than what's depicted in the photo. This was taken right at the beginning.
It went on for miles. I rode with the fourway blinkers on. It got so thick that while riding next to the yellow line in the middle I could not see the white line on the side. I was afraid some idiot would come through too fast and run me over I was travelling so slowly.
But I couldn't go any faster safely. To make matters worse, the road surface was very slick.
This seemingly went on for miles and miles.
On the other side of the pass I descended and ended up in a very cool steep and narrow canyon filled with low handing clouds and waterfalls.
Of course, it was still raining but no longer quite as hard. It was still cold.
I finally made it into Valdez just before 10PM. To my dismay seemingly every hotel was booked solid. I was thoroughly chilled and not looking forward to attempting to camp or riding back three hours to next nearest town. I went to three separate hotels until I found a motel with a room available.
The amount of money I've spent on hotels, eating out and gear is starting to make me sick. Maybe we'll call this the Worlds Most Expensive Sunday Drive. Things in Canada and Alaska are just crazy expensive.
There was a restaurant in walking distance that was still open. Leaving all my gear on the bike, I walked over because I was starving. It was a weird place. As Duncan would say, "There's only bad music on the water.". This was true of this place as well. The bartender, who really couldn't be bothered to tend bar, was playing with her iphone that she had plugged into the stereo.
Eventually I managed to get a drink and dinner. Eventually a guy sat down next to me just before the kitchen closed and ordered dinner. I thought I recognized the accent but I wasn't entirely sure. I asked him where he was from. "Germany", he replied. "Wo aus Deutschland?", I asked (Where in Germany?). He was from Berlin. They have a slightly different accent there which is why I didn't recognize it. His name is Eike. He had been kayaking on the Yukon river for some long time by himself. Hard Core. We talked for a good long while. I mentioned the boat tours, but the forecast for the next day was supposed to resemble what I had just experienced. We agreed to meet at 11AM in front of the restaurant and would decide what to do then.
It's simply crazy how many people I'm meeting. Maybe it's because most of the people I'm meeting are themselves travelling and are thus in that same open state of mind. I don't know.
I went back to the my room and promptly took a long hot shower and went to bed.
I didn't sleep well. Morning rolled around and I was awake shortly before 8. The hotel made a big deal out of breakfast. They have a full breakfast room with a complete kitchen so I had hopes for breakfast. Cold cereal and muffins is all they had. Great. I walked around town in search of a place to get something to eat.
Along the way I thought, how can you tell if you're in Alaska?
If the bars open at 8AM, you're in Alaska.
It was still dark from thick clouds which still hung eerily slow over the landscape.
The water in the marina here at Valdez has this unnatural aquamarine color.
I had breakfast at another inn and a couple cups of coffee. I was once again a a stupid tired walking corpse. Despite that, I kept a careful watch on the time since we had said 11AM.
Now if he had been an American, I would have questioned whether or not he would even have shown up. Even then, one would have considered a window of maybe half an hour early or late to be "normal".
But this was a German and that means two things. He'll be there because, he said he would be there and he'll be on time.
So I quickly walked over to a coffee stand, got my fifth cup of coffee for that morning, and headed over to the agreed upon spot. I was 2 minutes early and he was no where to be seen. At exactly 30 seconds before the hour, he walked up coffee cup in hand.
I have some difficult understanding him. He uses a lot of vocabulary and slang I'm not used to but I can follow along. I haven't been speaking enough German lately so I was looking forward to a day in the language. The weather was still off. Clouds and fog were everywhere. We decided that a boat tour wouldn't be worth it so we opted to walk around town. He had wanted to check out some kayaking and sports stores looking for a hand held radio or Personal Locator Beacon. We walked around town chatting. At one point we came upon an interesting tracked vehicle.
For when the snow if Really Deep.
We walked over to the tourist center because I wanted to get some information on the boat tours. The lady there started showing us photos she had taken nearby. "The salmon are running. It's low tied. There will probably be bears and eagles as well. If you hurry you might still be able to make it.", she said.
Eike had a rental car so we raced, jumped into it and headed to the place the lady had mentioned. It took much longer to get there than one would have guessed looking at the tourist map.
When we arrived the tide was already coming back in, but we could see quite a number of birds and alot of fishermen. "This must be the place.", Eike said. We got out of the car, cameras in hand and climbed down the rock embankment. Watching the water carefully you could occasionally see the splashing of salmon as they ran through shallow parts.
It's the splashing of a salmon. It was the best I could do.
In the distance I spotted an eagle. There had been a number of them while we were in the car, but most had flown off.
One could get a sense of how much the tidal difference in this area is. Most of the ground we were standing on, many feet above the water line, was still wet and covered in what I guess was kelp.
Fishermen lined this one little section of stream through which, apparently, a crazy number of salmon were swimming.
They didn't even bait the hooks. The salmon that were being pulled out weren't even hook on their mouths. Maybe were hooked on the side.
They would simply cast the line out, drag the hook across the stream and pull out salmon after salmon. One guy were saw, in particular, bothered both of us. He pulled out salmon after salmon and as he pulled the fish off the hook, he threw it on the ground and just stepped on it.
Both Eike and I were appalled at the simple disregard. "No respect. No decency.", he said. He went on to talk about the hunting license you get in Germany and how, when you learn to hunt in Germany, a certain amount of culture and respect is included. If you don't demonstrate an understanding of the hunters code, you don't get your license.
I mentioned the show I had seen where the moose was assassinated and his comments mirrored the ones I made in the blog at the time. Maybe it's just a German thing. There's a different set of values, a different way of looking at the world. There are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.
Hooking some fish and smashing it on a rock just isn't right. "You have to use a knife and make it quick.", Eike said. Most fish lying on the beach after having been stomped on were still moving.
This scene is going to stick with me for a while. It disgusted both of us so we left. The next low tide is as midnight. We've been told to be careful as we're planning on heading back out there to see if we can see any grizzlies. Yes, yes, I'll be careful.
We talked about the bears and were warned by one of the fishermen that they tended to lurk just on the other side of the road. Eike had a rather sizeable rifle with him which he pulled out and put together.
Germans with guns.
He said in principle he has no problems with hunting but couldn't see himself going out and killing some beast. We discussed the relative merits of bear spray versus guns. I've been told most of the time a gun will just piss a bear off and that the bear spray tends to be more effective. Eike's point was that the reason the taser was invented is that people can learn to withstand pepper spray. He had heard if a bear has been sprayed in the past it's less likely to be stopped the second time around.
After leaving the salmon hatchery, we headed over to Valdez Glacier. I had heard from someone that you can walk right up to it. It took us a while to get there, but at least it was on the way back. It turned out I had been misinformed.
There really wasn't much of the glacier to see. It looked to me like it had receded quite a bit. There was a good sized pond and the glacier itself was far too long a walk for us to attempt it. We were both hungry at this point.
As we were getting ready to leave I saw a critter I have only seen once before.
Yermo the nature photographer. I'm guessing this is some kind of porcupine. We stalked the slow moving waddling beast but it was on to us and moved off into a weird grove of trees where it refused to pose for the camera.
All these trees were leaning to the right as if pushed by some force.
As we opened the door of the car to leave the glacier the mosquitoes swarmed. A dozen or so got into the car with us. Very annoying.
Eike suggested that we buy lunch at the grocery store and have lunch at the campsite where he was staying. It was an awful RV park with RV's of every shape and size visible as far as the eye could see.
"It'd be a great view without all the RV's.", I said. He complained about RV's that left their generators on after 11PM preventing him from getting a good nights sleep. "There are rules against that.", he said perplexed. It's a German thing. Rules are to be followed. For Americans, rules are more like guidelines. If it says 55mph, they usually don't ticket you unless you're doing over 75mph.
As we sat in the campground, this crazy bird walked up and stood staring at me from maybe less than 6 feet away.
It just stood there staring at me. Eike threw it some chicken, but the bird flew away. "I guess he didn't get it.", Eike said.
He had wanted to go to the Valdez museum. I decided rather than do that, since I was so tired, I would go back to my motel room and see about doing some laundry. Maybe I could sleep.
On the way to the motel, I stopped at the Lulubelle Boat office to see when the boat left the next day. It turns out they only run it once a day starting at 1PM. The nice lady is holding a spot for me. If the weather holds, I think I'll do it tomorrow. They say you can see whales on most days. Unfortunately, the tour lasts until 7 or 8PM depending on the wildlife they see. This means I'll be here another day. I think I'll try camping. The hotel costs are starting to hurt.
As I looked around the Lulubelle Office I saw it. The perfect dream catcher. "That's it!", I thought. I had had a vision of what I wanted to get and that matched it almost exactly. It was not for sale. Thwarted again.
I checked a few shops on the way back to the motel but found nothing. I took a short nap, did some laundry and checked email. Originally, I was thinking I was far too tired to write this post. "I won't have enough time.", I had thought.
But then I got this friend request on facebook by a guy from Dubai who was googling about trips to Alaska. He started reading the blog and send me a message about it. It turns out he likes the blog and wants me to continue writing it.
So with a little encouragement from a random stranger I mustered the gumption to put together this entry ...
I wonder, once I get back to my life, will I have anything to say that people will want to read?
And if I don't stop now I'll be late ... so I leave it as it is with all my usually typos and mis-edited sentences. My apologies to the readers. I wonder if we'll see any bear tonight.