It was largely an uneventful day. I had thought about maybe leaving on Thursday but because of some health insurance issues I needed to resolve I decided to stay an additional day. I am bureaucratically challenged and hate paperwork.
But it's good because it gave me an extra day to shop for supplies and resolve a few issues I have.
Back in Spokane, Kalee from Ed's Snowmobile and Motorcycle Shop went way above the call of duty to help us out. I know it's no longer done and is a bit excessively old school but I wanted to say thank you in some substantive way, so I had decided to send her some flowers, but I had forgotten to do it earlier in the week. Doh! I've always gotten a kick out of giving flowers ever since I was a kid.
As a teenager back in highschool I used to instigate what we called "flower runs". Me and a couple of friends would buy a bunch of flowers and then drive all over creation leaving them on doorsteps so that as our targets left to go to school in the morning they would be greeted by something to brighten up their days. We had this down to such a science. We would turn off the lights and engine, coast up to the target house and silently place said flowers and be off back into the dark. It was always done anonymously. This would keep us occupied for some hours as we would do this for half a dozen or more girls. It was always fun to see the stir it would cause at school the next day. I always particularly enjoyed leaving flowers for Terri, a.k.a. Talons. This little ritual is one of my few good memories of that time.
Once, on Valentines day, I had bought some roses for a friend and her sister. Their mom had always been really nice to me so I brought some for her as well. So I showed up on the doorstep, flowers in hand to say Happy Valentines Day. When I gave their mom flowers she burst into tears. Her husband hadn't gotten her any. Remember how I said I keep getting myself into trouble? Yea, I still can't win for losing. I became a lot more cautious after that. It bothered me, deeply. I still think about it from time to time.
It seems to me that the online florists business is ripe for re-invention. All I wanted was to find some nice polite white lillies to send, but nothing doing. Anything that says "delivered in a box" shows up frozen. I made that mistake once some years ago. Never again.
After spending way too much time trying to find the right compromise, I finally decided on a bouquet and hit send. It's much better if you can actually walk into the store and see the arrangement. There's always this apprehension about flowers that they'll end up not coming out right and the intent will get lost.
But I get such a kick out of doing this especially when it's out of the blue. There's a bartender who's been very kind to me that I would love to send flowers to as well, but I spent the morning looking and can't yet find the right bouquet. I might actually have to call an actual florist. Egads.
The tankbag I bought in Spokane is sort of working out but the strap setup Kalee and I improvised for it isn't working out well. Unfortunately, the Tourmaster Cortech bag uses some apparently non-standard clips. I was hoping that I could go to a motorcycle shop and find the right clips but the one BMW shop we visited had nothing of the sort.
The parts guy there suggested I try Mountian Equipment Co-op in downtown Victoria. Ian said it was a longish walk from the house so off I went GPS in hand.
She lies. I don't know why she lies but she just lies more than she tells the truth. I punched in the name and the result was "55 miles away". I've learned. I asked. "It's just 3 blocks up the street." 7 blocks later I was there, but not before I had stopped at a Starbucks for a cup of coffee.
Starbucks in Victoria are a bit different than Starbucks in the states. For starters, they don't put lids on coffee. The lids are stacked next to the napkins. Separately, I noticed the bathrooms. "Two women's bathrooms?", I questioned somewhat curiously. "Aha!".
I could just hear the Canadians thinking to themselves, "Silly American Tourist taking pictures of bathroom doors".
But this makes so much sense. There's always a line in front of the womens bathroom, but so rarely in front of the mens. So you make one of them unisex and call it done. Seems like a good solution to me.
I did eventually find my way to the Co-op and against all odds they actually had the exact same clips that Tourmaster uses. In a little bit here I'm going to see if I can't try the clips and test fit the tankbag back onto the bike.
While I was there I picked up some cold weather gear. The forecast up north has dropped a bit. It's going to be cold.
On the way back I stopped in Starbucks again compulsively.
Too ... much ... coffee ...
I had had only a few blue berries and yogurt for breakfast and I forget to eat lunch. Ian and Tanya suggested we go to this Teriyaki place downtown. Against all odds, the place was packed. We sat and waited. "10 minutes", the waitress said. There were only three waitresses for the entire place. They were hoofing it never stopping for even a minutes break, but because of the load we ended up having to wait nearly an hour to get a table. Classic denial of service attack.
By this time my body started digesting itself. I think it's the brain that goes first. I kept thinking "What about their legs? They don't need those" but wisely no waittress got within arms reach. Man was I starving. But food eventually arrived and I was no longer hungry. Everyone survived, even the waitresses.
The Ian, Tanya, Anouk and Arlo clan.
I head out tomorrow for points north. I've got to get up early to make the morning ferry back to the mainland. I don't know what kind of access I'm going to have while I'm out in BC. My cellphone data service doesn't work up here so I'll have to see about finding WIFI hotspots to use, if I can.
I have to clean the saddlebags. One needs to be fixed with some epoxy. It's got a huge crack in it. Also I've got to go through my gear and ship some of the heavier items back. I've also got to see about doing some laundry.
Ian checked the weather forecast in Deadhorse. "It's dry for the next few days but looks sketchy after that", he said. "It'll be raining and turned into a mud pit by the time I get there.", I replied. I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about the next two legs of the trip, going up there and coming back here. I think, if they are around, I'll stop back by here on my return trip. If I make it, the bike will need tires and an oil change. 6000 miles up and back, then at least another three to get back to DC.
And that reminds me I should call my insurance agent about travel and evacuation insurance.
I'm now in Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada about 300 miles or so south of Prince George. I didn't stop much and given that I didn't sleep much last night, I am quite wiped out.
Actually, I hardly slept at all. Morning came too early and I didn't feel well. My intention had been to get up around 7 and try to get out the door in time for the 9AM ferry to Vancouver. Yea, right.
I had really tried to fall asleep. Difficult thoughts raced through my mind all night. The previous day I had had some long conversations with Ian and Tanya which left me unsettled. Tanya insightfully said "It must be difficult to wake up every morning having to invent a reason for being." The existentialists dilemma that, without a Big Problem to solve, I now face every day.
At one point, Ian described this trip of mine as a "period of mourning" but cautioned that at some point I need to leave the past Nightmare(tm) behind and start looking forward. "Make some changes.", he said. "Maybe you should move; into DC maybe. You should travel, maybe take a two month intensive Spanish course in Santiago". Of all the places in the world, Santiago? "Improve your cooking and invite people over for dinner. It'll make your house feel different.". Points taken.
I found myself thinking I don't seem to do well with freedom. Everyone keeps telling me I'm free but I wonder if maybe I'm like the engines in my boat. I only run well when I'm under load carrying some burden.
We got onto the subject of kids and how I am much more comfortable around the little noisemakers these days than I ever have been previously. Because of that article I wrote about my time with Angela, Ian mused whether I would ever consider getting together with someone with kids. "These days, sure.", I said, at which point Tanya livened up and said if I wanted to be set up she knew a bunch of single women. A friend had asked me a few times, "Did they ever ask why you're single?". Not directly, but the topic came up.
We talked about a cousin of Tanya's who had, on a lark, put up a profile on plentyoffish.com. She's gorgeous so I don't get why she would do that. I mentioned to Tanya that I had read about POF in some business blog and that it made crazy cash. One guy, MILLIONS in ad revenue. Some ages ago I had taken a close look at it to try and figure out what it was that made that site so successful. It's not anything about technology. It's about everything he didn't do. It took me a couple of years to figure out. More on that later when I'm less tired. In order to do anything on the site you have to register, so I created some bogus profile "2serious4most" and a one line profile "This is not the man you're looking for, move along.". No one has picked up on the Star Wars reference. I was really surprised when I started getting contacted there by various women just based on that one line. Weird. One woman sent me a message thanking me for being the only honest man on the site. Laugh. Yup, that's me, honest to a fault.
I used to peruse profiles to see how women presented themselves, what they lead with, and how guarded they were. From time to time I would engage some in conversation asking them what it was like to put up a profile on POF. Some forwarded me messages guys had sent them.
So I've decided not to build a dating site. I just don't think I have anything to contribute to that genre. I told Tanya I would be loathe to put a real profile up. She said if I ever really put myself out there I'd be "snapped up like that" and she snapped her fingers. "You're 40, take good care of yourself, good looking .... it is what it is, not really a compliment". Thanks Tanya, I'll take it as one.
So I spent the evening pondering relationships and pondering continuing to be alone for the long haul. "I could certainly do something like a real profile on some dating site, but it wouldn't change anything.", I thought.
Tanya mentioned something interesting. We were talking about a mutual friend who Tanya feels a strange low level bond with. We had talked for some hours at an intellectual level when she said, "This intellectual stuff is fun, but at the end of the day it's about the low level bond. The just 'being' with someone else. I can be perfectly happy just 'being' around another human being. I don't have to have the in depth conversations." . She phrased it differently, but that was the gist.
Very interesting and it was something about Tanya I had never really understood.
It's also completely different for me.
I've never really understood why dating sites "work" but I guess if all most people need is a sense of "not being alone", then I can see how they would work. Here's a person. They seem like nice decent people. They're attractive. Why not?
It doesn't seem to work that way with me, however. I seem to need to feel a level of connection that's deeper, more intense, more involved and alot more than just some animal level of "togetherness". There is nothing that will make me feel lonelier than being around someone where there's no real connection. The thought of going on a "date" with some stranger makes me shudder.
I guess that's why setting me up has never worked, not even when I was a teenager. That's why a dating site would be irrelevant for me. These kinds of involved bonds are exceptionally rare and they take forever to form. I've got so many walls and so much damage it takes a very rare kind of patient human being to get through them all. The only times that has happened, and it's only happened a few in a lifetime, is where there's some barrier that provides the time. Like a bonzai tree confined, shaped and made beautiful through boundaries, these relationships only ever form as a result of constraint and copious time. Years. Unfortunately, the constraints that provide the time for these bonds to form also, inevitably, prevent the relationship from changing into anything else. I guess this is why one of my best "relationships" has been with a woman who is a lesbian. One of the most romantic weeks of my life was motorcycle camping in the redwoods with a woman who had a boyfriend. Yup, it's about constraints.
That's the best answer I can think of right now to the question "why are you single?", not that you asked.
Well, it's today's best working theory. Tomorrow I may come up with something different.
What does this have to do with epic motorcycle journeys? Not much.
I answered some emails, packed up my gear ever so slowly. I made myself an omelette, based on Tanya's careful instruction. It finally came to pass that I was ready to leave.
Ian and Tanya seemed happy. "No more guests!", I imagined them thinking. They had had guests for weeks on end. I was the last for a little while. I'm sure they enjoy not having a troll living in their basement.
If the scheduling works out I think I'll try to stop by again on the way back. Maybe Ian and I can go for a day ride.
So after some further futzing and an embarrassing moment not being able to get my bike off the center stand because it was too loaded and the floor in Ian's garage was too smooth, I finally got underway.
I rode to the ferry. Riding in Victoria is a bit frustrating. The traffic is terrible and everything goes oh so slowly.
The clutch on the bike is beginning to feel like it's on it's last legs and this "racing oil" in the engine completely changes how the bike vibrates. It's not a good feeling. I may be motivated to swap it out prematurely for some Mobil 1 15w50.
But I did make it. I was snapping some photos when a woman walked up and said "Here, let me have that". I handed her the camera and she snapped a photo.
They were very nice.
When the boarding call was sent out, we rode onto the ferry. I was going to put my bike on the center stand but the guy, I didn't get his name, said I should use a chock instead.
He helped me tilt the bike to get the chock positioned so it stabilized the bike. It was very cool of him. When we left he helped me get it out again. I mentioned the blog to him. I hope they contact me here.
The size of the ferry was nuts. It had 7 decks.
Looking out of the ship, this was the scene.
We got underway. There are a crazy number of islands in this part of the world and the ferry weaves it's way between them.
Trying to get more photos of my ugly mug I asked a young woman if she would snap a photo of me with the background.
After about an hour and a half we could see Vancouver in the distance, and a horizon to horizon expanse of menacing clouds. Foreshadowing?
I rode inland. Traffic was horrific and it took forever to get onto some less travelled roads. Unfortunately, the route I needed to follow to Canada highway 1 led me straight to the clouds. The photo doesn't do it justice but notice the clouds flowing over the peaks.
I came upon Fraser Canyon. Duncan and I had been here 18 years ago. He has spoken of it often.
Shortly there after I saw a couple of hitchhikers with an interesting approach. The guy is in a bunny suit and the girl attempts to balance a twig on her hand to get attention ... it did not seem to be working all that well for them, but it did get them mentioned in this blog.
I was surprised by the number of hitchhikers. The other thing that surprised me is the number of really old vehicles on the road. These are not restored hobby pieces but vehicles that look like they've been run constantly since the '70s. There are so many old jap bikes on the road.
Fraser Canyon is cool. It's a good dramatic ride somewhat unlike others I've been on. There's a quality I can't quite put my finger on that separates this area from other dramatic canyons I've seen.
The dramatic scenes continued through the canyon.
I did about 300 miles today. I was tooling along minding my own business when a police car passed by in oncoming traffic. In my rear view I could see his lights turn on as he was turning around. I was the only vehicle on the road. Busted.
120kph in a 100kph zone. Doh! Before he had a chance to accelerate I pulled over on the side of the road and took off my gloves and helmet. I have to admit he was very professional and polite. Actually, everyone I've encountered up here has been polite, as polite as I am. Now that's saying something.
He checked my insurance and license. We chatted for a moment and he let me off with a "120kph is too fast. Enjoy Canada". I asked if I could take his picture but he said he didn't like having his photo online. Seemed like a good guy.
I rode on to Cache Creek where I found a cheap motel with WIFI. I had dinner at a family diner. There was very cute friendly young waitress. Cute? No, she was beautiful. Not Canadian Highway Info-booth Girl beautiful, but beautiful nevertheless. She smiled. Sometimes that's all you need to lift your spirits after a long hard introspective day without enough sleep.
Ok, it's late. I had intended on writing an update but I'm beat. I'm in Prince George, BC, Canada and stayed at a restaurant way too late talking to a very interesting woman who is, how should I describe her, an environmental advocate (not an "environmentalist") who has a strangely balanced insight into the compromises needed to make the oil and gas industry, in addition to others, lessen their environmental impact by complying with government regulations. An intelligent and insightful woman named Robyn. It was a completely improbable meeting as I had just paid my bill and was getting up to leave when she entered and sat down at the bar. She mentioned something to the bartender about work and, completely out of character and continuing the trend of challenging the personally uncomfortable, I piped up "so what do you do?". I'm glad I asked. We ended up talking until the bar closed about topics ranging from work to this crazy trip of mine and some of the reasons behind it. "Since I'll never see you again, may I ask what are the reasons behind this trip? I hope it's not too personal.". So I told her a bit about the Nightmare(tm), the estate, and Gesa being killed. Enough detail so convey "yes, it was a Nightmare", but, again out of character, I kept it pretty brief.
It was by far the longest conversation I've had with a "stranger" in ages; definitely on this trip. I don't think she believed me.
We talked for hours. It was fun.
I'll try to write more tomorrow. I'm completely beat. My hopes and dreams of doing a serious mileage day have been shattered, but it's ok. It was worth it. I'll make Dawson Creek tomorrow but no further ....
(the next day)
I could not sleep to save my life. I went to bed around 1AM and woke up around 5AM unable to fall back asleep. Thoughts once again raced. Last night at the restaurant talking to Robyn she mentioned she had lived in a place called something like "Salmon" Idaho, or was it "Sammon"? Or something else. I'll have to look it up. She said I definitely had to stop by there on my way back and walk into a place and tell them Robyn said hi.
"Ok, I'll do that", I said. And I will if I can figure out what place she meant. That's the kind of thing I've wanted more of on this trip. Random interruptions to redirect me to go places I would never think of going. That's what I like about the way I travel. I like to leave open the possibility that things may take me in a direction I had not considered.
I haven't done that in my "real" life in a very long time. The times I have been successful, the times that have yielded the most rewarding benefits have been the times I have let life redirect me randomly. But with years and years of the Nightmare dominating my existence I've become very gun-shy. The thought of change, the thought of going in some random direction in a substantive way without planning for and addressing all possible downsides, stops me in my tracks. My sense of obligation, real and, probably more likely, imagined, confines me.
But when I travel and am Away for a while, life can redirect me and interesting situations arise that I could not have predicted. Who knows, maybe there's nothing worth seeing in this little town in Idaho. But maybe the going there will open up other possibilities. After all, I'm going to Deadhorse, Alaska for No Reason At All.
In a related topic, I also found myself thinking this morning about risk. In some ways this trip is risky. I have come very close to being wiped out of existence. That's one kind of risk. However, the risks, while severe, are limited and can be mitigated. The risk is physical, not personal.
A friend txt'd this morning "You're very brave". I got to thinking "Not really". In many ways I have become terribly risk averse. It's part and parcel to not letting my life be redirected. Ian moved away. So did Bruce. Both of their lives improved as a result. Sure it sucks that they are away and there was always the possibility, I guess, that our friendship may not have survived. Well, maybe if I had been someone else. But they risked it and both are doing much better.
Actually, come to think of it I can't think of a single person who has taken calculated risks, as opposed to stupid ones, who hasn't improved their lives. The ones I know who are miserable are all the ones too afraid of change fearing the Devil that they do not know. I am much more like them than my brave friends.
When I consider the thought of moving as Ian suggested, of Change, suddenly I am not brave at all. The big Changes are the ones that involve internal risk. Internal risk scary. Scarier than any trip to Deadhorse. Ian is far braver than I am. He's changed his life multiple times. He's lived overseas in Moscow and Korea. He's travelled all over. Me, I have largely stayed confined by my obligations too afraid to walk away from them.
Ian unafraid of the Unkown. If I'm honest with myself, I guess I fear it.
During my younger years and especially when the Nightmare became epic, so many people asked me why I couldn't just walk away. What I was going through was clearly torture; a seemingly endless nightmare that would end badly with my greatest possible reward being that I might not get blamed for it in it's entirety. Regardless, I endured for years on end. So many people seemed to hold that in such high regard. I could live up to my Obligations despite knowing that I would be blamed and demeaned for it. And on many occasions I was. So many nights being woken up by the building alarm or my mom yelling at me.
It dawns on me as I write this that while one might be able to spin it that I was stepping up to a nearly impossible challenge when no one else would, you could just as easily say that I was simply too afraid, too much of a coward, not to do it. I was too ensconced in an over developed feeling of obligation to ever consider walking away from one. The fear of being blamed that I would negatively impact someone else for doing something to improve my own situation was far greater than any other fear. I almost aborted this trip because of another real estate fiasco developing with my mom's house; but this time I said "no, I have to go". If this trip kills me, will I be blamed for it? Will I be remembered as the one who was irresponsible? Who did not do what he was supposed to and suffered the consequences?
This quality, this fear, makes me extremely reliable. If I am your friend, I am your friend for life. If I say I'm going to do something, I do it. But this fear also confines me and makes me a coward. In travel I relish risk and addressing it. I'm open to endless Possibilities. However, in life I am so risk averse I rarely venture anything and as a result have the life that I do, which is more of a life than a Life.
One epic motorcycle trip a Life does not make, but it is one of the rare times that I have ignored the fear of not living up to my obligations and Risked. These are the times I remember the most years later; not the the endless times I lived up to my Obligations.
Maybe this is the lesson I came out here to learn. That, in honesty, I am an emotional coward and that's why my life is what it is.
If I make choices that might negatively impact someone else but could change my life significantly for the better, is it cowardly not to do it? To pay deference to that other human being? Would my mom's life been that much worse had I not stepped up to the plate for so many years? Could I have had a Life? Can I still have one or should I just continue on slaving away on my Obligations that, in the end, don't do me any good?
I have a friend who is struggling with similar questions. It's funny how easy it is to see someone else's behavior and recognize it. And also, how difficult it is to see your own. That's why, whenever I talk to someone else and give advice, I always carefully listen. The things you see in others clearly are often reflections of things in yourself. More times than not, I realize I am in part talking to myself.
Enough introspection for now.
I saw a guy walking away from his BMW F650GS adventure bike this morning. I didn't have a camera with me, unfortunately. He asked me where I was going. "Starbucks", I answered. He laughed and asked "Where are you going on your trip?". "Deadhorse". "Really?", he replied. "I just got back from there.".
"How was the Dalton?", I inquired. "'orrible! Simply 'orrible", he said in what sounded like a British accent. "I wouldn't do it on a bike without knobby tires. In places the road is ok, but in others it's just a mudpit of misery". Then he went on to say that a guy on a K1300GT on street tires had made it but wasn't happy about it at all. "Just miserable", he said. He crashed pretty hard within the last 7 miles on the return trip. He bent his handlebars and injured his wrist. "'orrible", he repreated.
Apparently it's been raining up there a lot and that makes the road nearly impassable in places. Another data point. Some say it's a cakewalk. Others say it's horrible. I won't know until I go see.
What's the greater risk for me? Pushing through and making it up to Deadhorse, or would the greater risk, the braver thing, be to turn around and be kind of myself?
I don't think I'm that brave yet.
I find it funny that people here from hotel clerks to bartenders know that fools like myself ride up to Deadhorse. I guess it happens enough. Maybe I'll run into some riders on my way. It would be good to do that stretch in the company of someone else rather than alone.
Yesterday that which I have always feared about leaving happened. Anatoly sent me an email saying that a problem we had noticed with our servers was more serious than we originally believed. In our company, we create, produce, customize, sell and support desktop stock market tracking and investment portfolio management software. Our product, Personal Stock Monitor is for investing what Quicken is for Personal Finance.
We have our own servers and network which I built and run out of my house, which is set up more like an office than a house. That's my role in our company. Anatoly does all the desktop software development and I do all the server and network management along with all the server side and web application software development.
I also built the ecommerce and customer relationship management system we use. (In addition to a bunch of other code such as the forum and blogging software on the site here.)
So Anatoly tells me that suddenly some random customers who purchase our software are not getting their license key emails. The system generates an email with a unique license key used to unlock the stock market software after they buy it.
So using the hotel wifi and this cheap laptop I had bought for the trip I logged into the servers and started crawling through code I wrote over 10 years ago. I comment my code very carefully for exactly this reason. It had been working all these years so it made no sense that it should stop working. Something had changed. I figured there was probably some problem with the mail server, sendmail, that we use. I got Anatoly to send me an example of one of the orders that did not get sent out. That allowed me to crawl through the mail logs to see if any error messages had been logged. "Connection refused" it said for the email in question.
Sure enough, I checked and our software problem wasn't a software problem at all. Our mail server was being hit by some kind of "denial of service" bot network. Basically what this botnet was doing was opening a connection to the machine and just letting it sit. Then it would open another and another and another until all available connections were occupied. This denied anyone else, including my ecommerce software, from using the mail server.
I checked the sendmail configuration but it's been years since I've done any serious sendmail work and I didn't have any of my reference books with me, so I sent Duncan an email asking him if he had ever addressed this problem before. Duncan is a sendmail master having spent years tuning high volume mail servers. I knew he was at work, so I added some of my own tweaks and watched the server for a while. The attack continued but mail was flowing, slowly. At least we knew what the problem was and I would be able to hole up in Prince George and work on it without the threat of checkout time looming large.
This occupied about three hours of my morning. So much for getting any serious mileage done. In addition, this meant I would have to make sure that I stopped somewhere with WIFI. So I set might sights on Price George. "Perfect.", I thought, since I had wanted to revisit Prince George anyways.
The hotel let me stay until 12 at which time I checked out and got underway.
I wasn't in the mood to stop much. The countryside looked much as it had. It went from arid conditions to a greener tree covered landscape. This was the kind of landscape that looks like what one, as an American, thinks Canada should look like.
The rest stops were clean. The little bathroom outhouses were not.
What amazes me about this countryside, given how far north we are, is the abundance of flowers. There were fields and fields of yellow and white flowers. The photo doesn't do it justice. Very pretty.
(yes, I know, he's so sensitive, he stops to take pictures of flowers.)
I rode on at nearly the speed limit. Yesterday's encounter with the Canadian Mounty had me cautious. Strangely most Canadians around here drive the speed limit. Given how crazy Canadians are in the states, I found this surprising. I meandered along barely going fast enough to keep myself awake when I passed a sign I didn't recognize. I turned around, owing in part to my new tank bag setup that lets me turn might tighter circles, and went back to take a look.
Ok, this is something you see every day.
I continued on stopping every once in a while to snap a photo. As I moved across the landscape I would notice these expanses of white crystals. The first one I saw made me suspect it was some kind of pollution but after I saw a few more I began to suspect it was some kind of natural phenomenon.
They seem to start out as ponds like this one.
And then evaporate into what I assume are salt deposits.
I didn't investigate further. It seemed strange to me that water on the surface around here would contain such a high concentation of salt. Maybe it's something else. I don't know.
In this area of British Columbia towns are relatively rare, but I was disappointed to see how developed it has gotten since the last time I was up this way. Previously, this was Away. I mean there was nothing here. Now there are larger towns with traffic lights and billboards. At least they are still separated by a good number of miles.
I eventually came upon Lac La Hach, a town that has a campground Duncan and I stayed at for a day or two. I remember we rented a little john boat and explored the rather large lake there. I couldn't remember where the campground was we stayed at, but I needed to make it to Prince George so I could work on the servers, so I didn't stop.
I kept trying to capture how roads up here are "different". The "highways" up here are what we would call secondary roads. They are mostly two lane opposing traffic. And unlike the last time I was up here, the traffic was annoying.
The landscape up here is dotted with lakes. Unfortunately there are so few good places to stop to take a photo.
I noticed an odd street sign that I should have taken a photo of. It was the symbol for WIFI. A Canadian Tourist Information Center with free WIFI was just up ahead.
This was an impressive wooden structure made with huge beams, but the now legendary Canadian Highway Infobirth Girl was not there. I suspect she no longer exists.
There was a coffee shop on the one side and a table outside next to an outlet. "Perfect!", I thought.
I got a cup of coffee and set myself up to work.
A young woman went back and forth from the shop to the parking lot a few times. Each time she passed she would smile. It seems like people smile a lot up here. I can't tell if it's a social norm like in some asian countries or whether all this smiling is genuine. People up here do seem happier to me than their counterparts in the states.
Notice the smile. She was very friendly. I've found Canadians in general to be very friendly and open. This is in contrast to the general idea that Canadians tend to be stand offish. Maybe basic politeness is mistaken for something else. I know I get negative feedback in the States all the time because of my politeness.
We got to talking about the cultural differences between Canada and the US. The two cultures are more different than you would think. It's apparent in so many sublte ways. The people I've observed here are less angry than Americans. Given the huge number of hitchhikers of all walks of life, I suspect people aren't as afraid here. People smile. They are polite like I'm polite. They seem more open and curious. They seem to like to converse.
And it seems Canadians, like Germans, love their flowers.
I sat outside and worked for some hours. Duncan had responded to my inquiry and had sent me a recommended list of settings changes which I carefully applied. I restarted the sendmail server process and monitored the machine for an hour making sure everything was working as it should be. It seemed to be.
It was getting late and I wanted to make it to Prince George to another WIFI hotspot so I could check up on things one more time just to be thorough. The landscape became more beautiful the farther north I got.
And the landscape was dotted with more lakes as clouds obscured the sun.
It was 7PM but the sun was still very high in the sky but it was obscured by these unusually misty clouds. It looked more like a thick haze high up above the clouds than clouds themselves. I wondered for a moment if there could be forest fires somewhere.
Another curious thing I noticed which once again made me think, "Uh oh, foreshadowing", are the trash cans at all the rest areas. They all look like this.
Ummmm. "Bear Proof".
Once again I'm struck by all the flowers. Each town up here has hanging baskets, and planters and whatnot of colorful flowers. One little town I rolled through had them lining the street.
(Yea, I know. Flowers.)
As an offset, look!, here's a factory.
"Yermos like factories.", I can just imagine Carol saying.
I did manage to snap a photo of the weird clouds and endless expanses of evergreens.
Weird high hazy clouds.
I rolled into Prince George and rode around the town a bit looking for a cheap motel. The town was a bit different than I remembered it. It didn't look as foreign. A few Innuit looking guys standing on a street corner eyed me suspiciously but I quickly noticed the Starbucks. "Yea, not Away", I thought.
Downtown has been decimated. There are many empty buildings. I was told not to walk around at night alone. "I'm from DC", I said. "Oh, never mind", they would reply. I poked my head in a few bar and grills and a couple of restaurants and finally settled on a rather nice restaurant. It had a nice wooden bar and a good selection of scotches. The food was excellent. I have forgotten the name. Something like "The Cork Twist" or somesuch.
As Outback Rachel can attest to, I'm bad for business. I sat at the bar and ordered. A little while later the whole restaurant cleared out. I'm starting to develop a complex. The bartender and waittress were nice and we chatted a while. Just as I was getting ready to leave a woman walked in and sat at the bar commenting "It's dead in here". "Yup, I seem to have the effect", I interrupted. "Suddenly I feel the urge to leave.", she joked.
A nice interruption to what been a pretty isolated day. Even when you are an intolerable introvert, you just never know who you are going to meet. There are Improbable People out there. I have to remind myself of that from time to time.
Yesterday, I heard from Angela. She says that her three year old, Lillianna, has started including me in her prayers. "And please let Yermo stay on the road." So sweet. I'll be extra careful, I promise.
I'm back at the Starbucks now absolutely dead tired. Two Venti coffee's is not doing the trick. Today's ride is going to suck ... I hate riding when I'm this tired. I'm half tempted just to go back to the hotel and leave tomorrow ... but the road beckons. It's supposed to rain.
To those who want to see me in one piece again, I'll be careful. I haven't reached anything close to the hard part yet, but it's coming. I wonder how hard it'll be. A heavily loaded sport touring bike with street tires and narrow handlebars ... and all that mud could make for an interesting time. I honestly don't know if I'll make it. Maybe it'll be too hard ...
As I mentioned in the last post, I hardly slept at all last night. So at this point in the evening I am wiped out. I need to try to cover some real mileage tomorrow so my plan is to get up early, pack up, grab breakfast and just head out. As a result I want to finish up today's post before I go to bed.
I was wiped out tired all day. The introspection was at a minimum. Higher level brain activity was shut down to preserve energy for basic bodily functions like breathing and finding coffee.
I spent the morning writing. Then moved to a Starbucks in downtown Prince George and wrote until well past noon. Much of downtown Prince George is boarded up as the view out of the Ramada Inn Starbucks would indicate.
Once I had finished, I went in search of breakfast. I found a Denny's diner and ordered a huge pile of food in an attempt to counteract the copious quantities of coffee I had consumed at Starbucks. The waitress was very nice, as almost everyone in Canada has been.
Continuing my theme of "go slow", once I managed to get on the bike I realized I needed gas. Clouds menaced overhead. I have to admit the clouds up North are different than what we see in Maryland. They are spaced apart with small bands of blue between them.
Once I got gas I made it about 500 yards when it started to rain. No problem. I have my Transit suit but when it rains a bit more I still have to put a cover on the tank bag. (foreshadowing)
Once again, I was trying to cover some miles. I tried not to stop too often to take photos passing up a number of incredible lake shots. The landscape around Prince George is just littered with lakes.
And of course, the lakes are surrounded by flowers.
And as I rode on there were more beautiful lakes. This scene repeated itself dozens of times.
The clouds were odd. Rain seemed confined to very bounded areas. A cloud would appear, maybe less than a mile wide. It would rain under the cloud with enough intensity that the road surface would get wet but as soon as you got to the far end of the cloud it was dry. This repeated all day long.
At one point I was convinced that I was finally going to start getting really rained upon. It started coming down much harder than it had. I was fooled into thinking it would last. I stopped on the side of the road to put the rain cover over the tank bag when ...
Not more than 20 yards away from me a black bear appeared from out of the woods. Instinctively, I completely ignored the bear repellant and instead grabbed the camera. I snapped this photo just as he noticed me. Unphased by passing cars, the bear lowered his head and started moving it side to side and began to move in my direction slowly.
Put away camera.
Shift bike into gear.
Get the fuck out of dodge.
"No getting eated by bears.", she said. Noted.
I realized as soon as I clicked the bike into gear that bear disappeared back into the woods but I wasn't taking any chances. I was out of there.
I rode on for some miles when I came across what is arguably the most beautiful impressive awe inspiring sight of the trip ... and of course the photos don't do it justice. Somewhere on route 97 there is a pull off. As is the case with a number of such pull offs there is a cliff.
In this case, there is a huge cliff. I mean a huge sheer straight down several hundred foot tall cliff.
At the bottom is this pristine lake with a few evergreen covered islands in it.
On the far side is a steep mountain wall mostly covered in evergreens.
Photos again fail to convey ... but I will try anyways.
Ok, notice the foot. (Black boot). This drop off was more than vertical.
Some more shots, just to add to the frustration that no matter how hard I try or how much effort I put into it, these photos just don't capture it.
I admired the scene for a while and then moved on.
I happened upon a critter sign. "Moose!", I thought.
Unfortunately I did not get to see any moose today. I did see an eagle fly though.
As I rode North I noticed the trees were getting taller. I mean these are some tall evergreens.
After about 90 miles the pavement started getting a bit rough. You could tell it just wasn't being maintained as well as the roads closer to Prince George. At one point I hit some ice heaves that jolted the bike for a bit. Foreshadowing again? I slowed it down quite a bit. I began to lose confidence in the road. Up here that is probably a good thing.
There are rest stops every now and again. I try to stop at least once every 90 miles or so, so that I don't get too sore.
What has struck me is how green it is up here. It's the defining quality of the landscape here. Green. Vibrant living green.
While at the rest stop I walked to the woods to take a look in. Deep, dark and uninviting. The camera corrected for the low light. The woods are much darker than this. Think Mirkwood.
Have I mentioned I am completelhy wiped out. I'm nearly passing out here on the keyboard. Just a little more to go.
I rode on much longer than I should have. Gas was getting pretty low when I finally came upon a town with a non-bankrupt gas station. Through my helment and earplugs I could hear this chirping squeeling noise.
This little guy made an incredible noise and was hopping and jumping around all over the place until I stared at him. Then hne would get quiet. But as soon as I looked away he would go all nuts again. This little critter made some noise. Why is it the smallest creatures make the most noise?
Just outside Dawson Creek there are these fields of yellow flowers.
I was surprised to see them promote the Alcan highway.
I rode around town to see about finding a hotel and a place to eat when I coincidently ran into a couple who had stayed at the same hotel I had in Prince George. They recognized my bike. (There are very few royal blue BMW K100RS's in the world.)
There's a marker showing the start of the Alcan in the background.
I always look a bit crazy and deranged when I haven't had enough sleep.
They were nice and were on a tour of dams across the US and Canada.
Tim and Angela. I talked to Tim for a bit about the Englishman who had said the Dalton was so 'orrbile. "He had a nasty spill so he's probably biased. It isnt' all that hard if you just take your time and pick your weather window right.". That seemed to make sense to me.
He also mentioned he participated in an online motorcycle radio show called SideStandUp. Thye had podcasts and the like. Tim's focus is on motorcycling gadgets. On top of that he participates on advrider.com.
I snapped one more obligatory "start of the Alcan" and went in search of a hotel and place to eat.
As I pulled up to the hotel, I noticed an adventure bike. You see a tremendous number of them up here.
For the Dalton highway this kind of bike is much more appropriate.
Ok, now I'm falling asleep. G'nite.
Been doing miles. If I do over 400 in a day, I don't have the energy to write. I hope to have some slow days coming up to catch up about the Alaska Highway ...
The trip started for me in Dawson Creek at Mile Marker 0 of the Alaskan Highway, also known as the Alcan.
I had thought maybe it would start in Colorado, Yellowstone or maybe Vancouver. But that moment where it sinks in, where you have travelled long enough far enough that the road gets inside you, happened as I left Dawson Creek. I could feel it happen. Inner boundaries vanished, walls finally camed down and the road got inside.
I was gone; nol concerns, pain, guilt or holding on to the Nightmare. For an Angelean moment that lasted three and a half days, I rode the Alcan and it was good for me. Very good.
I was, however, frustrated by the fact that I knew that I would never be able to convey the landscape, the endless array of animals or the people to anyone else. "You just have to be here", I thought and was dismayed. I could neither capture it with the camera or even find words to craft a shadow of a hint as to what this road through such a vast wilderness is like.
It is not the best motorcycling road. It's dangerous, but not terribly challenging. It's dangerous because it lulls you into a false sense of security lasting for hours that is suddenly interrupted by a clear and present danger. Oh, you were doing 60 leaned into a corner after a hundred of miles of perfect pavement and were surprised that it turns into gravel and inch thick? Or you're wondering as you're a few inches in the air "was the what they call a frost heave?". It's a road on which you cannot relax.
It is however the most breathtaking, most varied, most engaging, most "oh my god I can't believe that exists" scenery I have seen anywhere. Yellowstone is varied and feels very young. This vastness is different. There's a character to it that's not present elsewhere. Mountains that look polished as if honed. Ledges that are more crumbly dirt and rocks than solid stone. Trees. Trees everywhere. Trees to the horizon and beyond. Green trees all the way up the sides of mountains. Tall trees. Lakes. Hundreds upon hundreds of lakes. Multi-colored. Deep blue. Aquamarine. Turquoise. Areas that I can only describe as paths of former glaciers. You can just see how ice age and ice age impacted this landscape and made it beautiful. Rivers. Strange rushing rivers brown with flowing mud over a sand and pebble plain as if a mountain had disintegrated and was washed out. Intense sunshine. It was warm, but not too warm. The sky is an intense blue, the kind of blue you don't see on the East Coast. Clouds appear in the afternoon and are always varied. And angry. And marhes. Marshes to the horizon.
Animals. Animals everywhere. Big critters. Bear! So many bears that they are common place. "Oh, see, there's another bear. Yawn.". Moose. Carribou. Sheep. Goats. Arctic Fox. Wolverines. Coyote. Critters everywhere. Serengeti of the North I think I've heard it referred as.
And people. It seems every motorcyclist on this road is either going to Prudhoe Bay or coming from it. The feeling is much like at Deal's Gap. Motorcyclists here stick together. "What have you heard about the Dalton" is a common conversation starter. We share stories of what we've heard about that highway. Horror stories and anecdotes. All of us who have not yet done the road wondering just how bad is it going to be. Some who have done the road tell horror stories. "Fuckin' 'orrible!" Others say it was a cakewalk.
And pavement. You become keenly aware of pavement, especially when it's suddenly gone.
So four days ago I set off on the Alcan wondering what I would encounter. Would the road be what they had said? Would it be broken and challenging? Would it be remote? Would I find Away?
I got some gas and set off from Dawson Creek under cloud dotted blue skies.
I had gotten it into my head that Dawson Creek was kind of a farpoint station after which I would encounter the Big Nothing. But it was not so. There are a number of sprawling little towns with car dealerships and the like. As I was riding between these towns I realized that I've ridden nearly 7000 miles now only to rediscover Kansas.
It's flat for a while. I had thought I would need to pay attention to fuel consumption and plan out gas stops carefully as I had been told gas stations close early, but availability of gas turned out to be no problem.
After some more flat, the road descended into a canyon and things started getting interesting.
I forget how far I rode but I decided to take advantage of a gas station that looked unlike any gas station I had ever seen. It was a building in a mud pit with some pumps.
"Now this is more like it", I thought as I pondered whether or not this was just a taste of things to come. The amount of water here did concern me. It had clearly been raining around here quite a bit. Undaunted, I decided to practice handling the bike in the mud and rode through the bumps and puddles. The ground was too soft and crooked to use the center stand so I filled up with the bike on the side stand.
While I was filling up a group of four adventure riders rode up.
It seems to be rider culture up here. You always ask "Where are you headed?", "What are the roads like?", "What have you heard?". We got to talking. They've told me their names like three times but I have forgotten all of them. (If you guys are reading this, please contact me and let me know.) They too were headed to go up the Dalton but were on a might tighter schedule than I was. Good guys. I left before they did but as it turned out we ran into each other again at a restaurant a couple days later.
They had not heard as many of the stories that I had so I shared with them what I had been told. It seems that every person you meet up here has a different idea of how bad the Dalton Highway is going to be. It ranges from "Don't do it. It's 'orrible" to "it's a cakewalk". From what I have gathered, those who say it was horrible are also those that had the tightest schedule. It's 414 miles long. The ones who said it wasn't too bad gave themselves enough time. "Problems take their own time.", Lance has said many times. I've reminded myself of that out here.
This place is green. Very green. Life green.
Riding along the earlier sections of the Alcan you do get a sense that real Wilderness is not far away, even if it's not always apparent from the road. Aircraft on the side of the road might be an indicator.
I had been told so many times how bad the Alcan highway is. I did not find this to be the case. The vast majority of it is like a back country two lane road. The pavement is good.
There are, however, a few stretches where there is a real sense of "nothing".
250km. Yea, I stopped to get gas.
I was trying to make time. I wanted to try to push 500 miles for the day. I ended up doing something like 470. So I didn't stop all that often to snap photos until I happened upon another bear.
He was hanging out on the side of the road. I stopped a good distance away. A tractor trailer passed and the bear took off instantly at full speed. He ran kind of like a greyhound. Rear legs moving well in front of his front legs as he bounded off. He was down in that gulley and on the other side before I could snap a picture. I think he was probably doing better than 30mph. This critter was fast.
He then casually sauntered off into the woods and I continued on my way.
The Alcan does not look at all how I imagined. I had always thought it would be this rough dirty truck laden road. It is, in contrast to that, simply beautiful.
But you can tell that it is a working road and not a park road, despite all the scenic beauty. Tractor trailers are constant and they move through here at a very good clip. The RV's are endlessly going too slowly. The engineers of the Alcan mercifully included many passing lanes, so the RV's and the tractor trailers are not in conflict too often.
Out in the middle of nowhere probably an hour outside of the last gas stop I came across a guy with a broken down pickup truck. I stopped to see if I could lend a hand but he said a tow truck was already on it's way. He also mentioned that a bicyclist had stopped to see if he could help some time ago. "That guy's come all the way up here from Key West Florida and he's heading up to Deadhorse, just like you.", he said. "Ok.", I thought, "this is someone I've got to talk to. Me, hardcore? Hell no. That's hard core.".
I rode on for alot longer than I thought I would before I saw him, a lone bicyclist pedalling up a huge mountain. His Rick Giffin.
And yes, in fact, he had spent the previous 60 days riding his bicycle all the way from Florida and was intent on making it up to Prudhoe Bay. We got to talking and he mentioned he wasn't feeling so well. He asked if I knew where the nearest town might be. Steamboat was on the map and was supposed to be up ahead a few kilometers but my fear was it was a ghosttown. He said he thought he might just be dehydrated but had already gone through all of his water. I had picked up a bottle of water at the gas stop and had also filled up my liter bottle. I gave him both and we got to talking. It was a nice break standing there on the side of the road.
Turns out he was formerly in the Navy "doing difficult things". I wondered if maybe he had been a Seal. As part of his cross country adventure, which can really bad called an adventure, he had been doing the survivorman thing, getting water from streams and purifying it with iodine tablets.
He's doing this in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. He said this would be his last big hurrah to which I replied I thought he'd have a few more in him after this. He laughed. He mentioned that he had wanted to show his kids that their old man still had it in him to do something they couldn't match; "or maybe they will", he mused. He had a pretty versatile tripod so we took some photos of the two of us.
We hung out for a bit and it came time to press on. He said he was feeling much better and wanted to find some more water and a campground. He pedalled on as I put on my gear. By the time I got my earplugs in, helmet, sunglasses and gloves on he was quite a ways up the road and this was on one serious incline. That guy can move on a bicycle! "Hard core", I thought.
I waved as I passed him and headed up the mountain side to the pass.
At the pass, which was only a couple of kilometers up I stopped abruptly when I saw a large black bear. It was rummaging around in the bush and then walked out on the road.
I thought about riding back down and giving Rick my bear spray; but I figured he had already encountered quite a few bear and was probably prepared. So I rode on. I passed Steamboat, which as I feared was a ghosttown.
I rode on for a bit. Road work seems to be a constant on the Alcan. There are sections of gravel. Most of them are marked pretty well. It's the ones that are unmarked that are a problem because often the color of the pavement masks the transition to gravel.
Several miles later on the other side of the pass I noticed a state campground. It seemed strangely out of place in the middle of nowhere. The sign said there was camping there. I thought about how high the pass was and how far the campground was. I looked at my range trying to guess how far back Rick was. I thought I should ride back and tell him about the campground. It was a pretty high climb and then for the most part a nice easy coast down. "well, from the perspective of a motorcycle.", I thought. How far had I ridden? 10 miles maybe? Or was it 20? If it was 20 then riding back to him would add 40 miles which might put me close to not making it to the gas station in 150 miles.
"Fuck it. This is me and I do this kind of thing.", I decided. I have to admit I felt a bit questionable about turning around just to tell him about the campground, but he had been dehydrated and having seen the bear I thought it would be a decent thing to do to let him know. So off I went. It turns out it was 13 miles. He was pushing his bicycle up the hill. I rolled past, turned around and came up beside and told him about the campground and about Steamboat. He mentioned he had found a stream, had gotten some water and was purifying it with iodine tablets. He thanked me and I was off again.
I'm always doing this kind of thing, it seems. I rarely talk about it. I give people rides. I try to help out when I have the opportunity to. When I'm on "vacation" do it much more frequently.
Something Rick said stuck with me. He said he wanted to show his kids that his old man still had it in him.
I thought back to the Nightmare and how I always seem to try to do for others as best as I can no matter what else is going on in my life.
Writing helps. By attempting to describe things I've done in prose it sheds a new light on the stories. I can tell the stories verbally but other than conveying what happened, I don't really gain any new insights from the telling.
However, in putting it down in words without having someone in front of me to see my facial reactions, or lack thereof, puts things in a different context. It raises different questions.
Before the Nightmare Proper began, actually just a couple of weeks before, I was in Germany for my mothers 70th birthday party. My aunt, Lena, had asked if I could talk to her son Ludwig about a crazy plan he had to ride a bicycle across the United States. She was very worred. Actually, she was near panic about it. Life has not been kind of her and if something were to happen to either of her sons it would be devastating.
Ludwig is partially disabled. He had been in a terrible car crash at the age of 25. He's in his 50's now. The crash left him mostly blind. He's been on disability and to make some additional cash he does a paper route using an old German Post bicycle. These things are three speeds and made of steel. Sturdy but extremely heavy.
My aunt had pleaded with me to please try to talk him out of it. She said she had tried but it had turned into such a sore subject that he wouldn't listen. Many people had tried.
I thought about it for a long time. I imagined being disabled but being the kind of person he was. A person doggedly determined not to let it stop him. I imagined what it would be like to say I wanted to do something and everyone telling me that it will fail. That it's not a good idea.
"What would he hear if I told him that this effort of his will fail?", I questioned. "You're disabled", I decided. That's what he would hear. I suspected this entire trip idea of his was about proving he was not disabled. So contrary to what my aunt wished I realized I could not tell him not to do it. I had to carefully not make it about him or his disability.
When the opportunity arose to talk to him about it he said "I want to do something my kids can be proud of". That hit me pretty hard. I talked to him for a while and told him that without the proper preparation that I thought it would be unwise. It's a dangerous country. It's a very big country. Few people who do a trip like this do it alone.
And that's where I left it. When I came home the Nightmare took off in earnest and I was completely overwhelmed by obligations and responsibilities beyond my capability to handle. That was November 2005. I forget exactly when but it must have been June or July of 2006 I get a call from my mother. She's screaming at me that she heard that Ludwig is actually going to go through with the trip.
Now Ludwig has lived his entire life in a small town in Northern Germany. He's an intelligent man who has read an impressive amount. He's curious and interested in the world. But he has not experienced alot of it directly. We all judge descriptions based on our own experience. He would easily do 100 kilometers in Germany so he reasoned he could do that in the States. Of course, Northern Germany is also called the Flatland. He had read about others who had done the trip.
Now one can say that it was an ill-conceived trip and one can be accusational and say he should never have considered a trip of this magnitude. It was, after all, a fools errand. But he had heard nothing but he's disabled for so long, I reasoned this was his way of attempting to prove them wrong.
Life was falling apart around me. We were on the verge of losing the building, a huge part of the Nightmare, due to lack of funds. I was desperately trying to sell a piece of property for my mom to get some funds to keep the building sale afloat. My girlfriend and I had broken up, again. My company had a huge contract that was taking more than full time hours. The alarm at the building was going off regularly requiring me to run down there at all hours of night. My mom would call up late at night, drunk, screaming at me because she was powerless due to the Nightmare and needed to unleash on someone. I was the only one who would listen, so I got the brunt of it. "You're incompetent. I can do this better than you can! I'm going to go down there and do it myself!" kind of thing. The building in question was part of an estate; an estate my attornies described as the most messed up, evil, antagonistic estate they had ever seen. The way my father left things left my mother largely powerless; a fact that had been eating away at her for the last 17 years. Small stresses became huge stresses. She didn't trust men, me included. But the idea of a 70+ year old woman going down into the hood of Oxon Hill by herself to do "something" terrified me. She would sober up and the next day the whole screaming fit would have been forgotten. Of course, I didn't forget. I spent yet another sleepless night worried about downside consequences. My mothers future well being hung in the balance if I didn't make this work somehow. Then there was the trouble with my sister and her husband which was making my life even more difficult.
In the midst of all of this, I get the call. It's Ludwig. He tells me he's going to arrive in something like a week just up the street and was wondering if I could pick him up. He was arriving at Kennedy Airport.
Shit. You know that feeling you get at the top of your stomach when a new surprise stress has been unleashed? That feeling of a knife going through down into your guts as your heart starts to race and your mind realizes the magnitude of the problem.
Blind German Northlander. New York City. Kennedy Airport. No experience. Doesn't speak the language. All alone. No contacts.
He'll stubbornly leave if I don't pick him up.
He's gonna get himself killed if I don't do something.
My mom called shortly afterwards, screaming at me at the top of her lungs as usual. "Don't you dare pick him up! We all told him. He's a grown man. It's his own stupid fault if he gets hurt!".
The grown man argument. It's a topic Duncan and I have discussed at great length. "At some point a person just has to start acting like an adult.", he would say, in reference to people not growing up. I would alway reply "Until you can see, someone can tell you but it won't get through. People learn when they are internally open to it and externally have the opportunity. Both have to line up.". I thought about this. Ludwig was a grown man and responsible for his actions. But he was moving forward on an erroneous assumption. He's an intelligent man, just misguided.
I was also very afraid. Once again I found myself in the situation I have found myself in so often over the last many years. I had all the responsibility to fix an intractable problem but no authority.
The idea of not picking him up never entered my mind. If something happened to him and it was believed that I had the opportunity to affect the outcome, my relationship with my family in Germany, my safe haven, my sanctuary, would be forever changed. I would not be able to look my aunt in the eye again.
I had to do something. But how do I make a blind man see?
So I devised a plan. A plan to make him see. I would pick him up. At least he wouldn't come to an unfortunate end in the city. I had to find a place to put him that was relatively safe and that would highlight as quickly as possible how difficult this trip of his was going to be. I investigated bike routes and found a company that produced them. I had them fedex me some maps of a route that started in upstate New York in the mountains. "Excellent.", I thought. I also got a smart phone with a GPS feature. This way if my plan worked and he gave up after a few days or several, he would have a way of calling me and telling me exactly where he was.
Whenever you are in the too much responsibility too little authority situation, you have to decide what are you going to sacrifice? In this case, I was going to sacrifice time. I was going to give this problem however long it would take. I would take the laptop and stay at a motel somewhere near the route and hope he calls. If need be I'd follow him for days if necessary.
But this took a serious toll on me. I was responsible for the building and the company. I had dealings with lawyers, attornies, brokers and customers. What happens if there's a problem? What happens if I don't succeed? I remembered the sound of desperation and panic in my aunts voice. If something happens to him ...
The day arrived and with maps and cellphone in hand I drove up to Kennedy Airport through some of the worst most epic traffic I have ever seen. I arrived nearly two hours late. He was not yet out of customs. Some problem had occurred and he had been held up and questioned. Looking like a homeless person they rolled him out in a wheelchair. "Shit", I thought. He didn't recognize me at first but then realized it was me. "Where's your bicycle?", I asked. They wheeled him back in and 45 minutes later back out again with pieces of his bike. It had been damaged. One of the tires was flat and they had lost his tire pump. Of course it was a German stemso any pump I had in the car wouldn't work.
"It's really hot out here", he said in the parking lot. "It's only 85F. It gets alot hotter than this". Again, I was very careful never to say anything about his disability or that he couldn't do it. He got his stuff together and we mounted his extremely heavy bike on the bicycle rack I brought and off we went.
As a fortunate accident I took a wrong turn and we drove through the city. I was surprised at the kinds of things he could see clearly and what he could not. It was as if his eyes were permanently at one focus depth. As things passed through that depth he could see them clearly. Street signs. Sidewalks. Buildings. "I wouldn't be allowed to ride there, would I?" he would ask about a tunnel or a bridge or a freeway. "No, not there", I would reply.
We eventually made it onto the highway and I told him that I would be taking him to the Adirondack Mountains where the route starts that I had selected for him. "It's in a state park and there are good bicycling roads there", I said. "We'll be there tomorrow sometime", I carefully stated.
We drove along for hours discussing various aspects of traffic laws in the US. Fortunately, as the sun was going down we happened upon a motorcyclist who was out of gas. I stopped to help the guy but he said he couldn't leave his bike because it would get stolen. He would just have to push it for the mile or two to the next gas station. "Bummer. Sorry i can't help you". Unbeknownst to me, Ludwig understood the conversation.
It got late so we stopped and I got us hotel rooms. He had asked alot of questions but I saw no indication that he was "getting it". I decided to get two rooms. I would let him sit in a room alone and think.
I took him to dinner and showed him the cellphone and the maps and we went over the route I had found. He carefully studied the phone and the GPS feature, looked at the map and asked some more questions.
"Time", I thought. "I just need time. If he goes off on his own he is going to get himself killed.".
We called it a night. I called my mom to let her know what had transpired. She wasn't too unreasonable. Her sister had been calling wondering what was going on and whether I was with Ludwig.
I didn't sleep much. If this didn't work out I would be blamed. I had stepped up and taken responsibility. If it fails, like with so many other things going on, I would be blamed. It had now become My Problem.
Morning came too early and I knocked on Ludwigs room. "How did you sleep?", I asked. "Not at all", he said. We went to breakfast and were talking about routes when out of the blue he said "I've really screwed up, haven't I? This trip of mine is not going to work, is it?"
"No", I replied.
It was the motorcyclist not wanting to leave his bike alone in the dark that hit it home for him. How would he manage since he was alone to park his bike, go into a store and figure out what he needed.
"That's why you don't like to travel alone, isn't it?", he asked.
"What do I do now?"
"Come back with me. Have a vacation and we'll figure out what to do next".
Success. But I was spent. By the time I got to my mom's house where I had decided to drop Ludwig off, since I really had too much work to do, I was spent. It was over 1000 miles of driving, no sleep and too much stress. I passed out.
But it was a success. It's funny to think that it doesn't feel like a success. Whenever I'm confronted with problems like this and I use the tools I have at my disposal, namely my ability to force myself to do anything necessary regardless of how I feel about it personally, I feel badly about it afterwards. It always feels like there should be a way to force a situation; to in some manly fashion use the force of will to solve problems.
But it never seems to be the case in my life. Self sacrifice seems to be the tool I use most often.
My aunt, however, was extremely pleased and continues to thank me for my efforts to this day. Getting through to Ludwig about anything at all is extremely difficult. It can be done, however, it just takes time and sacrifice.
A very similar story would, two years later, play itself out where I once again used the same tools to, at least partially, get through to someone to make them stop; someone who was hell bent on hurting my mom. That was a much bigger part of the Nightmare. How can someone torture a mother who had just lost her daughter? One and a half years it took. But that's a story for another time.
These are the kinds of memories that are invoked from time to time. I considered Rick and his epic journey. He was doing it alone but he was prepared and didn't have vision problems. Ludwig could have made it if he was better prepared, more reasonable and had someone to travel with that could act as a guide.
But even for Rick the trip is not without it's risks. I heard a rumor today that a grizzly went after some bicyclists. After how fast that black bear could run I don't think a bicyclist can out pace a grizzly.
I rode on. Sections of the Alcan reduce to a very small road. In one section it was completely torn up and was just dirt. It wasn't even packed all that well.
There were more critters to be seen. Carribou, for instance.
And mountain sheep.
At one point the road opened up into what I would, unknowingly, describe as a glacial plain. It just looked like this had been carved out by some massive glacier. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and is always the case the photo just doesn't capture even the slightest hint of how spectacular this view is.
Road conditions continued to vary widely. For instance, "Corner. Gravel. Nice.", is what I thought at this particular spot.
Many bridges here are just steel grates. The bike gets squirrelly on it. Sometimes the plates are bent causing them to move as you ride over them. This can be quite disconcerting.
There are these rocky fresh streams that can be seen everywhere. It's as if the route of the stream gets recarved daily. The branches of the stream criss cross haphazardly between mounds of sand and rock. In some places they widen out into vast plains.
As I mentioned, the Alcan makes the impression of a working road. There are endless tractor trailers and other trucks running it's length. I came upon some 4x4 beams, sections of steel, hooks and chains in the middle of the road around a blind corner. "Oh that's not good". I thought about it for all of 5 seconds and got off my bike and started hoofing it to move all the debris off the road. I could just seem some motorcycle coming around that corner and crashing. I didn't want that on my conscience.
The chain was much heavier than it looked. I think I tweaked my back moving it. It's been hurting ever since.
I am always doing things like this. I rarely mention it to anyone though.
Did I mention the lakes? There are incredible number of lakes along the Alcan.
I was starting to get concerned about gas and lodging. It was getting pretty late and I was getting tired when suddenly.
Moose are big.
Up this far north the sun doesn't seem to really set all the way. It just kinds of turns dim. As the sun was turning dim I came upon Muncho Lake.
As with so many other scenes here it was beautiful, and dangerous. Notice the mud in the left lane, how it's wet and slopes down towards the water.
I have two additional days of Alcan photos and stories to share but I don't know if I'll have time. I have reservations in Coldfoot tomorrow and Deadhorse on Saturday. I need to leave early tomorrow and have not yet had dinner.
Based on conversations with countless riders, I've concluded it only really sucks in the rain. Looking at the 10 day forecast however, there doesn't seem to be a clear path of weather in the foreseeable future. The nice lady at the Inn in Deadhorse said that today was the nicest day they've had all summer. Today it didn't rain.
I don't know what I'll encounter on the road up. Maybe it'll be ok. Maybe it'll be a slog. Maybe it'll be misery. I simply don't know.
I'm going to give the problem the time it deserves and take it slowly. If I have WIFI in Coldfoot and/or Deadhorse I'll try to be in touch.
But I am going.
I slept like a rock last night but I woke up really tired and stayed that way. I'm in Fairbanks, Alaska now. It's 10PM and the sunshine is brutal. Just being outside for moments make you feel like your skin is on fire. I swear at this latitude, the sun is much brighter.
After working on the last post I thought I'd probably call it a night but it's too early to fall asleep and there's nothing to do. I went over to the Denny's, which is next door to the hotel, for dinner. It claims to be the northernmost Denny's in the world. I can believe it.
My first night on the Alcan I stayed at the Northern Rockies Lodge. There's no commercial power so they run generators full time to power the place. I think they said they go through 1600 gallons of diesel a month.
It's own by a Swiss couple. The swiss influence is readily apparent. Most of the staff is Swiss. The restaurant is in the main lodge. I got the last room in the place at the old lodge.
They have a float plane and do trips out to remote cabins, fly fishing spots and an arial tour of a glacier. You have to have at least two people for the float plane. I wanted to go on the glacier tour and was thinking about who I could conn into joining me.
At breakfast I noticed a guy who looked like a GS rider. We got to talking. He rode a GS, a R1200GS and had just done the Dalton Highway up to Prudhoe Bay. I asked him how it was and he didn't seem to think it was that difficult. "Maybe it was because I had good weather", he said. I have forgotten his name but he was a pilot for Netjets and was an avid rider. "When someone tells me something is difficult I take it with a grain of salt.". That's a mistake I often make. When someone tells me something is difficult I interpret it from my own perspective. What do I think is difficult? How would I define a "slog". "I'd say if I have to get out a shovel to move the bike it can probably safely be called a slog.", I proposed. He laugh. "Yea".
"So far I'd say this trip has been nothing but a long Sunday drive.", I commented. The Alcan is not hard. It's a good road with some rough spots. I wonder how truly difficult this road up to Deadhorse will be. If it snows I could see it being very bad. Many people have told me not to do it on street tires. This guy, I wish I remembered his name, did it on mostly street tires. Guys have done it on Goldwings and Harleys.
Leaving the lodge there were more critters. A mountain goat?
And foreshadowing ...
yup ... a whole herd.
Each bridge seemed to have this kind of cable car setup next to it. I wondered what they were used for.
And there were more bears.
And flowers. Interestingly they seemed to grow in particular numbers in burnt sections of forest.
There's rider culture up here. Virtually every time I stopped to shoot some photos a rider would slow down and give me the "thumbs up? thumbs down?" sign to see if I was already. "Thumbs up" I would gesture and on they would ride. It's cool. I've stopped for a few riders myself.
And there were more bears.
Sections of the road were one lane only. A pilot truck would guide a caravan of cars through the construction. The road surface is dusty and with an unusual courtesy they signaled that I should go to the front of the line. It's apparently policy. Canadians are so considerate.
Yermo in the Yukon!
In the town of, I think it's called, Watsons Lake there's a thing called the signpost forest. Visitors have brought signs from all over the world.
There were alot from Germany.
I looked for a sign from Ahuasen or anything from Kreis Rotenburg but didn't find one.
A nice lady offered to snap a photo for me.
Yea, I had been walking around without bothering to take my helmet off.
I think it was in this town and not in Fort Nelson that I saw the Most Beautiful Gas Station Attendent in the World, who will now join the legendary Canadian Info Booth Girl of 1992 in the annals of travelling mythology. Completely improbable. The woman should be a model. But that's how it is in Canada. Many things improbable things are just common place here. Bear. Seen bunches. Moose? Yea, that too. Beautiful women? Yup, simply an overabundance. In DC, she'd have rich businessmen offering to buy her Ferrari's and take her to Paris. Here they simply get put to work at gas stations pumping gas and cleaning windows of mud laden work trucks.
I was going to write a long monologue about how the Most Beautiful Gas Station Attendant in the World was able to do her work without being bothered. Truckers would drive up. She would come out and, being something like 5'11' or so, would diligently clean windshields, pump gas and do payments without so much as a single bad comment being made. No one bothered her. No one made lewd comments. No one hit on her. No one did anything but show her respect and let her do her work.
I liked that.
In the States, I don't think it would have been the same.
The more time I spend in Canada, the more I like Canadians.
Out of Watsons Lake, or whatever that town was called, my bike turned over 60K.
So I stopped and took a pic of the spot where it happened just to be random.
And I tried to be artistic in my photography.
I kind of like how the flower leans left while the bike leans right. There was a pretty strong breeze.
The Alcan highway ... there isn't alot of traffic on the highway, but there's enough that I wouldn't want to take a nap on it.
I kind of like this shot.
Of course there were more beautiful vistas.
and more lakes...
And weird skies. Misty clouds that partially obscured the sun.
And I made it to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, under a dramatic and even weirder sky.
Whitehorse was not what I expected. I had expected it to be an oil industry focused dirty industrial town. It was more like a hippy enclave filled with transients from all over. I stayed in a hotel in the city with an attached up-scale Italian restaurant.
I was in search of Away. I was in the Yukon after all. I sit down at the far end of the bar. At the other end of the bar were four attractive young women chatting away in French. No one bothered them for the entire evening. "I like Canada.", I thought. The bartender asked me where I was from. "College Park, Maryland. It's Northeast of Washington, DC".
"Yea, I know, I was just there. I go to Baltimore every year to watch baseball", he replied.
WTF!?!?! I'm in the F!#@$!@#$ Yukon and the first person I talk to had just been in College Park?
What's worse is, remember the four adventure riders I was mentioning in the previous post? The one guy who's in the Navy, had a girlfriend in Bremen, Germany of all places and he's fairly certain he drove through Ahausen at one point.
It's a crazy small world.
So I was sitting at the bar minding my own business when four women walked in. There were only three stools open next to me at the bar so I said I could scoot over and they could grab another one from the other side and sit down together.
I'm always doing that kind of thing as Outback Rachel and Dale can attest.
They seemed to appreciate that. They were from Washington State.
The one had just turned 50 and seemd to be feeling badly about it. Her sister and friends were a bit older. They were doing some kind of active bicycle pub crawl and were near the end of their run. They told me about a bunch of other things they had been doing.
"They say men age better than women do, but from what I've seen I don't think that's true.", I commented.
They all piped up. "Why do you say that?"
"So how many men your age do you know that go bicycling out from pub to pub, do the hikes and other things you've done. You're more active and alive than most 50 year old men I know."
"Come to think of it, I think you might be right ...", one of them replied.
It's the truth. Many women I know are far more active than most of the men I know. How many 40 year old + men do you know with flat stomachs? How many women? Me, I know far more women who are that fit than men. I know women in their 40's who looks better now than they did in their 20's.
And this bs about men aging more gracefully I think is a crock. Women are just more forgiving I think when it comes to appearance in men.
They were pretty lit, but it was ok.
They asked me where I was from and what I was doing and whatnot so I told them. At one point one of them asked why, so I mentioned the meatgrinder hell I'd been through. A few more probing questions and I told them a bit about the nightmare. I've got to find a better of way of being honest without bringing up the really bad stuff. I'm just too honest.
When I mentioned how the brother in law had gone after my mom, the woman who was sitting next to me started to cry a bit. "I think my sister thinks my husband is just like that. She hates him.".
Women being mistreated. I can recognize it a mile away.
I was able to divert the conversation to lighter subjects and it was ok. By the time I got up to leave they were so drunk they didn't even notice. I'm sure they won't remember my existence in the morning.
I should probably go to bed but I think I'll post a few pictures from yesterday's and today's ride.
I had wanted to make some mileage so I got up relatively early and had breakfast at the adjoining restaurant. My room was on the third floor so getting all my gear back down and on the bike was kind of a pain.
I was trying to make some miles so I didn't stop too often to snap photos. I did notice after a while that the landscape had once again change. Under a layer of vegetation it looked like sand.
I found this rather curious. I wonder if this sand was deposited as a result of the last ice age.
And, of course, there were more beautiful vistas of mountains and trees.
And yet more beautiful lakes.
And even more ...
And strange mountains ...
And due to budget cuts ...
I wonder if Kevin the Mounty needs to worry. :)
Actually, the officer who pulled me over for going to fast has been following the blog and sent me some nice messages through the Contact Yermo link. He said he liked the blog. Amazing. I've been floored at the positive feedback I've gotten about this blog. It makes it so that I want to continue trying to write.
I stopped for gas and lunch in a small town. I have forgotten the name of the place. It was 100 miles or so south of Beaver Creek. I was eating lunch when a guy on a GS rode up. I nodded when he came in and we got to talking.
His name is Gary Wallen. (This one I wrote down.) He had just done the trip up to Prudhoe bay and back again at speed. He had a schedule to keep and had been doing it at around 70mph. Damn that's fast. We talked for quite some time. I got the impression he did not enjoy the run up. At first he said "If I could talk you out of it I would" but after some more conversation he just said to be careful.
He asked me how it was that I was able to do this at such a young age. "I recently completely a rather difficult real-estate transaction." was my answer. He asked why I was doing it so we got into the Nightmare a bit. I told him that I was out here for no particular reason at all. Deadhorse is not a destination, it's an excuse for a journey. My destination is each point along the way. He was waiting for the friends he was travelling with to show up. When I told him I was going very slowly he said "Good for you.".
He went on to say, "You know, for me, it's the autumn of my life. For years I was concerned about raising a family, about work. At this age health becomes an issue. After a few heart attacks ..." and then his friends arrived and he abruptly ended the conversation and left. Too bad. I would like to have heard what he would have said.
Before he left he gave me his contact info. He has a blog about his trip over at blogspot.
I've encountered many people who are envious of this trip of mine. It's primarily the older guys, The ones who are my age and older who get it. The younger ones tend to still be caught up in numbers. In miles.
I hope to hear from Gary again. It was interesting talking to him. He thought the way I was going to do Deadhorse was the right way. Four days. One day to Coldfoot. One Day to Deadhorse. Repeat process on the way back. "The road is miserable", I've heard so often. It's over 200 miles of dirt, mud and rock.
It could be interesting.
I rode on. More beauty.
I came upon an impressive bridge over some kind of river/wash. There was a dirt road down to the water. I stopped to view the scene. The horseflies were oppressive.
I tried my hand at a little more artistic photography. Small vs large.
A couple in a Toyota Fourrunner or similar vehicle showed up and followed the trail down to the water. They got out of the track and I offered, as I usually do, to take a photo of the two of them. They weren't interested so I asked them if they would mind taking one of me.
They had taken their brand new 4x4 up to Prudhoe Bay and back again. They describe the Calcium Chloride and how it bound to their wheels so tightly it caused them to be out of balance. They ended up chipping away at the stuff.
Steve and Phyllis. Steve contacted me here and suggested I take photos of the guardrails at Atigun pass.
"No tagging guard rails.", she said. I have to remember that.
I rode on and encountered even more beautiful lakes.
The 100 miles or so before Beaver Creek are supposed to be Bad(tm). I was told by a number of people just how bad the road is. "Terrible!", one person said. My four adventure riding friends were told not to go on the road because it was so bad.
It was a cakewalk. Yea, there were sections where the frost heaves were large enough that you could catch air if you went too fast. There were places where the road had sunken and deformed.
It's a bit late. I was going to write a treatise on how experts make choices that make their jobs easier on them. I was going to describe a pool match between a master pool player and an upstart. The announcer saying, after the upstart had made a serious of just incredible shots, "this is the difference between a good pool player and a great one. The good one brings out her best shot each and every time, and eventually misses losing the game. The great one makes her own life easy and sets herself up to make the shot.".
If you ride to make it easy on yourself, the Alcan is an easy road. But you do have to pay attention and it is tiring. There are places, rare places, on this road where if you are not paying attention you could easily crash.
In places on the Alcan it's just a mud road.
Along this section I came across what I believe is a coyote. At first I thought it was injured. It just lay there. It looked at me but didn't move much.
But then it got up and, very doglike, just walked over to me.
I assume someone probably fed it and it's started associating humans with food. I left before it got too close.
After some more miles I arrived at the Alaska border!
Yermo at Alaska. Did you know Alaska has it's own time zone? Me neither.
A couple on a Harley took this shot for me.
We had been passing each other all day long. I would stop at a rest stop and they would pass. Eventually I would catch up and pass them. This had been going on all day long.
I was already at the sign when they showed up. In the Yukon and Alaska pavement is rare in parking lots. This area around the sign was on a slope and when he put his foot down he lost footing on some gravel and his Harley dresser went down. I ran over to help. Together with alot of effort we managed the right the bike. A few pieces were a bit bent but the bike seemed to be ok.
They took it all in stride. Nice people. They too were intent on making it up to Deadhorse. On a Harley. With a trailer. Duncan would be envious.
The landscape in Alaska is much as it was in the Yukon.
There was construction and yet another pilot vehicle construction zone. I saw this sticker.
One thing I haven't commented on is the dust. The roads here are dusty. Most parking lots are not paved. Tractor trailers kick up alot of dust.
And so the bike is covered in dust. I expect it'll be alot worse on the Dalton.
I had left Tok and headed to Fairbanks. I needed to make time so I rarely stopped to shoot photos but as I was riding through the landscape here, which continued to be beautiful, it dawned on me that I have not often mentioned the horror show that's been unfolding on my helment and bike.
Ever since I got into British Columbia, the bugs have just been horrific. I remember the mosquitos from the '92 trip, but this is much different. These beasts are HUGE. I don't know what kind of bugs they are but some leave truly nastly large green splotches. My Transit Suit is covered with them as is the bike. When they hit my helmet, it's such an impact that I can feel it through the padding. In addition, there seems to be an explosion in the dragon fly population. I have never hit a dragon fly before but now I'm hitting them left and right. These are not your average little dragon flies. These are beasts. When they hit the leathers I feel it as if it were a small stone. Yuck. It's going to take forever to clean this mess up.
The bugs are a constant. But after a while you just get used to it, so used to it that you forget to mention it.
At a gas station I saw one of the only older BMW's I've seen on the trip. This styles is called an "air head". They stopped making them in the '80s, but I think this one probably dates back to the late '70s. Bruce has one, an R100RS.
"Have you seen one of these before?", he said as he pointed to a patch on his jacket. He had his BMW 1,000,000 Mile patch. "Yea, but it's been a while.", I replied. I thought about that momentary exhange for some days to come. "Status symbol", I thought, "not one that I would ever want to have.". Riding used to be about numbers to me. How many miles did you do today? How far have you gone? Always numbers. Numbers don't mean much to me anymore. I haven't checked how far I've travelled. Is it 7000 or 8000 miles? More? Less? I don't know and I don't really care.
I saw more moose along the way.
I had stayed in a Super 8 Motel with WIFI, which took FOREVER to find. I had wanted to catch up on the blog since I hadn't written any posts in a few days.
It was hot in Fairbanks, really hot. Somehow the sun in Alaska is brighter and hotter than it is elsewhere. You can feel it immediately when you walk outside, even late at night. It burns. I imagine it's a small hint of what radiation burns must feel like. It's intense. I was hot and very unhappy about it. The Transit Suit does not do well in slow traffic in the heat. You just cook.
The next day I got up early because I wanted to make it to Camp Coldfoot on the Dalton. I had expensive reservations at the "motel" for Friday and Sunday, and a separate reservation at the Caribou Inn in Deadhorse. So I had to keep a schedule. Rooms book up quickly in both locations and given I didn't know what the Dalton Highway was going to be like I didn't want to press my luck by camping. I needed a good nights sleep. The reservations were non-refundable.
The section of the Dalton Highway from Camp Coldfoot to Deadhorse is 240 miles of nothing. No services, no stops, no nothing. My bike can just barely do 240 miles on a tank so I didn't want to push it. After some searching around I finally found a store that had some smallish gas cans. I could have chosen the one gallon can but I thought I should carry a bit more in case I encounter an out of gas rider. I would have plenty to spare.
With the empty can bungied down I headed out of town. Once you get north of Fairbanks things start getting remote very quickly. It wasn't too many miles up the road to the Dalton before I started seeing heavy equipment being hauled.
I had heard about grading repair construction on the Dalton which involved a grader evening out piles of material on the road. I was surprised to run into a section of road where this was being done well in advance of getting to the Dalton.
The mound of material was too high for me to cross. "This could become a real problem if I needed to jump sides quickly.", I wondered as I considered the roads ahead. When they do this work, they also wet the road making it slippery. The front and rear wheels slip and slide a bit. If you have no off-road experience this can be rather disconcerting. It was of no concern to me. The bike went in the general direction I wanted it to. "The Dalton is said to be much worse", I thought.
I came upon an overlook and wanted to take a photo. The scenery was spectacular as it has been for ages now, but I'm still not tired of it. I rolled left, came to a stop and when I wanted to move forward I let out the clutch but nothing happened. The clutch lever was loose and it would not engage. It felt as if the clutch cable had just broken.
I examined the clutch lever and could see that the cable was still, for the first 1/2 inch of lever travel, pulling the lever, but it would stop. "Hmmm, the clutch cable must finally be stuck." I got off the bike, took off my gloves, helmet and removed my ear plugs. It was hot in the direct sun. I played with the clutch lever some more and heard a clunking sound.
"Now this could get interesting.", I said outloud with zen like calm as I considered that the most likely explanation for the clunking sound was that my clutch had just disintegrated basically putting an immediate end to my trip.
I was calm. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to realize, as I stood there on the side of the road out in the middle of No Where with a broken motorcycle that Would Not Go, that I had no emotional reaction to this event at all. I started to imagine what would happen. I considered starting to tear the bike down right there. Maybe I could patch something together. I thought about how long I would have to wait. I checked the cellphone. Yup, no signal. I played with the lever some more confirming that an ugly sound was emanating from below. I thought about inconvenient fortuitous interruptions. "$600 in hotel reservations gone.", I realized. Oh well.
If this had been during the Nightmare where everything on earth would go wrong all the time, I would have had a strong emotional reaction. I would have felt that this breakdown was somehow my fault. It would have confirmed my worst fears about myself. The fact that my machine let me down would have brought back memories of being told "you're a failure", so many times. I would have found some reason to tie this event to my own self worth. It would have devastated me inside. Only those who know me the best could tell when this happened.
But today, Away, I was calm. In a strange way I was looking forward to the consequences. I could let Deadhorse go. "Deadhorse is an arbitrary excuse for a Journey. Maybe this new journey will be more interesting.". I poked around the lever. Yup. Let the lever go, and it only moves about 1/2 inch leaving the rest of the travel useless. Put the bike in gear, let the lever go, yup. Nothing. Bike No Go. I thought maybe if I engaged and disengaged the lever and thus the partially actuating clutch, maybe it would collapse enough to let me ride off in first. I kept hearing the clunking sound from underneath. "Before I jump to conclusions, let me investigate. I tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion and while most often it's been the correct one, maybe this time is different.". I played with the clutch some more, all the while frying in the intense blazing Alaskan Sun. "That's funny. I left the clutch lever out abruptly and the clunking noise I hear is coming from the exhaust." I began to imagine catastrophic internal engine damage, but realized I couldn't come up with a scenario that made any sense where the clutch self destructing would affect the exhaust. I looked underneath the bike. The clutch cable connects to a lever that is parallel with the exhaust on the rear of the engine. There's alot of mud down there. I reached up, pulled and let the clutch lever go. I could see the lower level raise and lower and heard the clunking sound.
"Now look at that.", I actually said aloud.
A rock had lodged itself exactly between the lower lever and the exhaust. When I let the clutch lever out the lower lever was hitting the rock and would move no further, thus not engaging the clutch. I pulled out my trusty Victorinox Swisstool and five minutes later I had a working clutch. I snapped a photo of the spot where this happened.
"There's a lesson here.", I pondered as I was finally able to feel a breeze again.
Some time later I came upon the start of the Dalton Highway.
This road is somewhat of a legend made famous by the show Ice Road Truckers. The legend was magnified in my mind by the seemingly countless riders I met along the way that told me, in essence, that I was crazy to ride this road. "Even with an adventure bike running knobby tires I wouldn't ride that road. It's the most hellish road on earth.", they would say.
I wondered what I was going to find. I imagined a road like the impassable trails I had followed in Missouri. I imagined stones the size of the ones on the firetrail in Telluride. I thought about the times I got my dirtbike stuck in two feet of watery mud. I had said to the Netjets pilot, "It's a slog if you have to get out a shovel.". I wondered how many times would I have to get the shovel out.
I also was interested to see what modifications had been done to the tractor trailers and RV's and other vehicles that drive this road to allow them to pass "the most hellish road on earth.".
Clearly I wasn't thinking it through very clearly.
I didn't have to wait long to see what it was like. Within 500 feet the pavement ended. "So much for it being paved to the Arctic Circle.", I thought.
"Heavy industrial traffic", it said. Great. I had heard of baseball sized gravel being kicked up and killing 10 riders at a time. Well, not really. I had heard people had gotten injured by baseball sized gravel being kicked up as tractor trailers passed. I was looking forward to seeing some of this gravel. "Baseball sized? How do they drive on that?".I would be disappointed. I got hit by a cherry sized piece of gravel once. It bounced off the leathers without ill effect.
The next clue I ignored, still being full enthralled by the legend of how difficult this road is supposed to be.
"50mph? These must be some World Rally Championship truck drivers.", I thought. 50mph on rutted wet mud roads? Are they kidding.
"This should be interesting."
I had read about the calcium chloride they use to bind gravel together. What I did not realize is it creates a surface that approximates pavement. It's a bit crumbly on top with some loose gravel and dust, but on the whole it's not as bad as riding your average farm dirt road. It's much harder and you can carry speed on it. The bike doesn't track quite as linearly as it does on pavement but the squirreliness is easy to deal with. Keeping up a speed of 50mph is no problem on this stuff.
It was early still and I only had 175 miles to go. I was making really good time but I was keeping the speed around the limit. I had that sense that conditions could change any any moment. I had heard the road north of Coldfoot is much worse than the road south of it.
The road continued on. The landscape was green and rolling. It didn't vary much however. Mile after mile it mostly looked the same. The quality of the road changed little in the first 50 miles or so.
I was beginning to think this was being too easy as I approached a section where they were working on the road. They were adding some gravel which was being graded. As had been described to me, they first put down a mound of the stuff and then run a grader over it. The mounds are pretty high and I would have been hard pressed to cross them with my bike. I think I could probably have done it but try it often enough and I would eventually fall over.
Then just as I was beginning to believe the stories of pavement were tall tales, paved sections appeared. This was not a good thing. The paved sections lulled you into a false sense of security. They would go from perfect pavement, to bouncy, jarring nightmarishly pothole filled sections one second to the next. But it was all still entirely manageable until ...
I was coming up a paved hill that had a sharp left hand sweeper up ahead. I was doing about 60mph. A tractor trailer throwing up alot of dust was coming down the hill towards the sweeper. I watched as the tractor and trailer slid laterally from the left lane into my lane as he came around the corner throwing up even more dust. He recovered as if he had done this 1000 times, but the meaning didn't dawn on me until too late.
I hit the corner doing about 50mph only to realize it was about 3" of uneven gravel. There were furrows and mounds of it in all kinds of haphazard patterns. I struggled to keep the bike going in more of less the right direction while shaving off speed. Just as I thought I was going to lose it I gained control of the bike and slipped and slid my way over the uneven terrain up the hill. It lasted less than 100 yards.
It wasn't that bad. It just caught me off guard. At 50mph it's undoable on my bike. At 25 to 30 it was just fine.
And therein lies the danger of the Dalton Highway. Conditions change instantaneously but it happens so infrequently that it easily catches you by surprise. It would be another 400 miles before I ran into another spot of deep gravel. It caught me by surprise too, but the outcome was the same. An elevated heart rate and increased vigilance.
I pondered how I was riding and thought how I should pay more attention. But, contrary to common wisdom, it's unwise to exert that kind of effort. Fatigue is the enemy. If you strain too much watching for particular hazards you become target fixated on them, miss other hazards and you waste a tremendous amount of energy in the process. "I've been riding like this for 35 years and it's served me well. I'll just continue and trust that I'll be able to handle what comes.". I am a very careful rider, but I am not over cautious. Surprises happen. I could have done the road at 15mph and the hazard would have been tractor trailers from behind, which, in my humble opinion, is much more dangerous.
As I pondered how easy the road was in comparison to what I had been told, I came across a dreaded "new wet calcium chloride" section. I had seen bikes covered in mud from top to bottom. I had heard stories of how this stuff clogs radiators and can stop wheels from spinning.
What I didn't realize was how sticky this stuff was. Within about 100 yards my bike already looked as bad as some of those riders I had seen. Then I understood. They too had only gone through a little bit of the stuff. It was a mud-like wet mixture about 2 or 3 inches deep. I had to keep the speed under 30mph and even then it would slip and slide as the tires tried to redirect me into every rut and fissure in the road. It was tricky riding. It also only lasted about a mile. My bike and I were covered in this thick cement like mud.
I now looked like I had been on the Dalton. "Well, that wasn't all that.", I thought.
Then I happened upon a bicyclist. She was also doing a charity ride. At first I understood her to say she was going from Prudhoe to Florida, but it looks like she's going to a place called Palmer. Her name is Caren Cioppa. Her charity page is at http://pages.teamintraining.org/wa/bigwilds10/habataku. I promised her I would link to it.
The lower Dalton runs through rolling hills covered with shrub like trees.
Every once in a great while you would see another rider, on a BMW GS of course. Actually, there was the occasional KLR and KTM. I saw no other sport touring bikes though.
I came upon the Yukon River Bridge. It's made of wood!
The Yukon River is a good sized river.
I stopped and got gas the Yukon River Camp. The worst surfaces I've ridden on in this trip have been the parking lots of the various "camps" along the way. Actually they matched what I feared the Dalton would be. Rutted. Irregular. Deep potholes.
In this part of the world you get a strange appreciation for fuel. You are keenly aware of it. I think it's in part due to the fact that fuel tanks are above ground but also because fuel is so rare here and running out is a real possibility. It takes a truly awe inspiring amount of fuel to enable modern life out here.
And it's expensive.
Another sight you don't see normally is planes parked by the road. This plane clearly uses the Dalton as a runway.
The Dalton Highway follows the Alaskan Pipeline all the way up to Prudhoe Bay.
As I mentioned the scenery between Fairbanks and Coldfoot Camp really doesn't change all that much.
Eventually it starts getting a bit hilly.
About 60 miles before you reach Coldfoot Camp, you cross the Arctic Circle. 18 years ago we had intended on reaching this point. We did a hell ride across the country with the intention of reaching this point on a tight schedule. We did between 750 and 950 miles a day for days on end. By the time I reached Washington State my health gave out and I had to withdraw from the ride. Duncan stayed behind with me. The other two went on to reach the Arctic Circle.
It was a strange reflective moment standing at the circle thinking about the intervening 18 years and everything that transpired; everything I sacrificed or lost.
I was standing there when a Suburban drove up and three women got out. They offered to take a photo for me.
I didn't get their names but my impression was it was a mother, daughter and friend trio. The mother wanted to have her photo taken on my bike. So I moved it around so it was at a better angle and helped her aboard. She seemed to get a kick out of it.
Their Suburban was covered in dust and mud.
They were really nice. The daughter took one look at me and then compassionately offered me a large bottle of water. "You must be hot." They offered me food as well. Also touchingly thoughtful. I didn't have the heart to tell them about the Illness and that I couldn't have sandwiches or that I was allergic to cherries. I was grateful for the water though.
After a little while two GS riders arrived, Rob and Wayne. As it would turn out, we would run into each other multiple times all the way up to Deadhorse. They are business partners who run a heating company. I told them "Too bad Anatoly doesn't ride. That's so cool of you guys to do together." Their business is apparently doing extremely well. At least somebody's is.
Slowly the scenery began to become more interesting.
I arrived at the "motel" in Camp Coldfoot in the early evening. The sun never set. I stayed at the Inn. It was basically temporary housing turned into a makeshift lodging facility. It was not quite as nice as the Deal's Gap resort, but it served it's purpose.
My bike wasn't too bad off. All in all the road from the beginning of the Dalton Highway up to Coldfoot camp did not live up to it's reputation.
I am currently in Deadhorse. I arrived around 4pm today. I have to get up at 6am tomorrow to make it to breakfast in time so I can go on the Prudhoe Bay tour. As a result I won't be able to finish up the Coldfoot to Deadhorse entry until after I get back to Fairbanks. There's no WIFI in Coldfoot.
Even all the way up to Deadhorse, the difficulty of this road has been so oversold as to be an outright exaggeration. The road itself is not difficult. I can see how it would be much more challenging in the rain, but even then my impression is, based on the wet sections I went through today, that it would still be entirely doable. There's always the risk that one might encounter the odd heap of construction gravel or tag the side of a rut the wrong way and go down. But nothing that I saw today in any way matched the kinds of horror stories that people had told me about.
So I spent quite some time thinking about where these stories come from. Experiences are, after all, subjective.
When I observe a behavior that I do not understand, instead of dismissing it out of a hand, I try very hard to imagine a set of circumstances in which I would exhibit the same behavior. I'm the one who looks at a homeless person and asks "what can happen to me today to cause me to be like him tomorrow". I always come up with plausible answers which keeps me humbler than most would suspect. This "the Dalton Highway is hell" scenario is no different.
The Dalton Highway is challenging in places, but not because it's difficult. There's nothing "difficult" about it. It's just long. It does require attention. Fatigue is the real problem. Hazards appear randomly after long periods of monotonous road conditions. Even I fell trap to lowering my guard after the 50th mile of perfect pavement or hardpack. Potholes in pavement can do serious damage. Some potholes can be a foot across and 8" deep. But potholes are relatively rare. Most of the pavement is very good.
The hardpack does tend of have a layer of light gravel and dust on it which causes your wheels to wander a bit. If you are not used to riding in the dirt or gravel this can be disconcerting. It is, however, not a problem. The muddy sections can be a bit challenging but are entirely doable, even on street tires. The wandering is much more pronounced and on the Michelin street tires I have, this is exaggerated. In addition, as your tires find the edges of ruts they tend to move in way that pitches the bike violently making you feel as if it's going to drop. However, there really isn't any need in my opinion to run knobby tires on this road. I think I could do this road in the same conditions as today on racing slicks. If it were raining I might change my opinion. And I may yet have the opportunity to.
So I thought long and hard about all these horror stories. Did those riders just have no experience? Two guys I talked to had been riding almost as long as I have. One said he had extensive hard core offroad experience.
Then I remember a Woman's pool match I watched on television some years ago. If I remember correctly, it was a championship match between the reigning champion and an unlikely upstart that had made her way to the finals. This was causing alot of commotion.
I enjoy the game of pool and it's one of the few competitions that I'll watch on the television when I get a chance.
It was also the only time an announcer has said something that made me pause and think.
It was the upstarts turn. She was making one jaw dropping shot after the next. Her shooting style was impressive and dramatic. She was pulling off shots that I could only do 1 in 10 times on my best night and she was doing them time and time again. But she would eventually miss a shot and the champion would have her turn.
In contrast she seemed only to do easy shots. Each shot was a straight line beginners shot like I could do 95 times out of a100. I didn't really think about it until the announcer said:
"Now that's the difference between championship material and the rest."
I thought he was commenting on the challenger and how good she was shooting.
"A champion makes her job easy intentionally. She plans ahead to make her life easy so she can reserve her best shots only when she needs them. In contrast, the challenger has to pull out her best shot each time and she'll eventually miss.".
Sure enough, she lost the match.
That comment has stuck with me. The Champion won because she put all her work in preparing for the shot, so that when it was done she was set up for the next easy shot.
I thought back to the comments the guys who said the Dalton was 'orrible made. Each one of them had a schedule. "I had to be up and back in two days.". Each went fast. "I was doing 70mph through most of it.".
And then it hit me. Each and every person who said the Dalton was a horrible road attempted to ride the Dalton on their own terms and on a tight schedule. They attempted to ride a partially improved road with random hazards the same way they ride a highway. They were going to ride this road pulling out their best shots at each corner and through each hazard.
They did not give this road the time or respect it needs to be done safely or well. They didn't make things easy for themselves.
While we worked on my boat, Lance once said "You have to give problems the time they need. If you try to force something quickly, bad things happen.".
I imagined not taking my time. I imagined having my self worth and identity tied up in how quickly I could ride up this road and back again. I imagined wanting to brag to my imaginary friends about how cool or tough I was that I could do the Dalton in a Paris-Dakar style.
And I think that is why I had a wonderful relatively peaceful ride and enjoyed the scenery and was unfazed by this road. Seriously, it's an easy road with some hazards that requires attention but is in no way difficult. I had no schedule. If things went badly I was willing to turn around. I was willing to camp. I was willing to push the bike through bad parts if need be. If it rained I was willing to let each section take all day, or longer. I was humbly willing to give the road it's due and as a result it was easy. Strangely, I had no ego tied up in this endeavor. I didn't need to go fast. I didn't need to do it quickly. But I also think that I have had the experience of taking vehicles, including my K100RS, through some truly difficult risky roads. So I did not approach the Dalton from a highway mentality. I approached it from an offroad travelling mentality and not a racing one.
What I enjoyed most, actually, was sitting in the cafes talking to other riders. I met Christopher, Greg and Mike in Coldfoot and had dinner with them. The next morning I happened to be up when they were leaving, because I couldn't sleep, and sat down and chatted with them for a while. Travelling is about stories, not miles or numbers.
For me it's about letting go the deterministic and letting chaos direct me. And I think therein lies another difference.
As a kid I was always fascinated by the game of pinball. Here you have a game where your inputs are so restricted. You have two flippers. The ball can do whatever chaotic thing it's going to do. If you attempt to control the ball deterministically, you lose. It won't do what you demand of it and instead will go down the chute every time. But if you let go. If you work with the game on it's terms knowing full well the that your inputs are limited to "influence", not "control", counterintuitively you can keep the ball in play for a long time.
It is similar thing when driving or riding off road vehicles or piloting a boat. It's less about control and more about influence. Once you let go the deterministic and embrace the chaotic with humility and patience you find you can enjoy them much more and be more successful than someone who attempts to force the machines, and thereby the road, to work on their terms. The latter tends to cause Bad Things to happen.
I have been thinking alot about the parallels between riding a motorcycle and human relationships. Yes, my mind actually does work like that. I believe I've begun to understand that when it comes to people, and especially those relationships most important to me, I do not do what I intuitively do when I ride or pilot a boat. Human relationships are not deterministic. They are chaotic. They have their own terms, just like the Dalton Highway. They are not difficult, but when forced Bad Things happen and they can appear difficult. I have always felts that if only I could teach better, influence better, control better I could be more good to those who I care about.
And in that, I believe I may have been making the same mistake that those unfortunate riders who try to force the Dalton make. I have not humbly embraced with patience my lack of control, my limited influence and just "let go" and accepted these relationships on their own terms. As a result Bad Things happened time and time again and I did not understand.
And for that, I am truly sorry.
I'm back in Fairbanks at a hotel. I'm too beat to write much today and there's alot to tell. I'm thinking I'm just going to hole up here tomorrow and write a long report about the Dalton Highway, Deadhorse and the return trip.
I think then I'm going to take a day trip down to Valdez the next day. There's supposed to be a glacier you can see from the road and a boat tour that sees the same. I've never seen a glacier so I was thinking I'd like to.
I was hanging out in the Coldfoot Camp bar when the bartender switched on the Ice Road Truckers show because someone mentioned he was on it.
"I don't want to watch work!", the guy next to me said. That led to a very interesting conversation.
More on that later. I'll be a very long post. My apologies in advance.