I'm currently in Fairbanks at a motel that has WIFI. I arrived yesterday in the late afternoon. I've been tired these last few days. I had arrived early so I could write but realized I was just stupid tired. I decided to take a day off and just extended my stay here a day. I'll probably hit the road tomorrow.
I've heard from so many people about the blog. It's a bit overwhelming. The idea that so many people are reading what I write and responding with encouragement and, three today, with selfishness. "Yermo, don't feel like you have to write every day", Phil, who I met in Deals' Gap wrote. Today he recanted and wants me to write more. A few others have said the same kind of thing.
One friend who I haven't seen in more than 20 years said she was enjoying the blog but didn't understand all the motorcycling references. I try to write for a diverse audience. I've got the Advrider.com guys. Friends. People I've met along the way. Other motorcyclists. If I write something or make some reference you don't understand and would like to know, please ask! It would help me if you asked. If I can learn to do this well, do this in a more accessible fashion, maybe I can do more of it. So please do feel free to ask questions.
I have to admit I really enjoyed Coldfoot Camp. It has a neat feel to it. It's a working camp. The motel is primarily there for truckers. As you go down the hallway, you'll see signs "Day Sleeper, please be quiet.". Many of these guys work the night shift. Like so many things up here, it all has an industrial, almost military, feel to it. There's dirt and mud everywhere. Huge tractor trailers pull into the muddy open space between the buildings. It can't really be called a parking lot. Truckers come and go. You can watch them as they work on their rigs, adjust and tighten loads.
The entrance to the cafe has huge steel grates for steps so you can shake the mud off your boots.
When I arrived at the motel, some tourists walked out that had just come up on the one of the busses. "Er muss Deutsch sein", I heard one woman say to the other woman. ("He must be German".) "Ja, so mehr oder weniger.", I replied. ("Yea, more or less."). Everyone in the group laughed. A man in the group, I have forgotten his name but hope he contacts me here to remind me, worked for BMW. So we chatted for a bit about the fundamental superiority of BMWs in a tongue in cheek fashion. In German, you often refer to motorcycles, and other transport, as "machines". "That's a superb machine for this kind of travel.", would be how one phrases it.
As has been the case with so many people from as far out as 1500 miles, I would see them again and again on my way up to Deadhorse.
Rob and Wayne, who I met at the Arctic circle, were already there. They had parked their bikes, BMW R1200 GS's, around the side of the motel. They were going to do their run up early the next day. We talked about what we had heard about the road.
In the cafe they had a buffet until 9pm. Unfortunately, because of my crazy restricted diet there was nothing I could eat. They reopened the kitchen at 9pm at which time I could order off the menu. This evening it was mostly tourists. There were alot of riders.
I was standing in the bar waiting for a glass of wine. Yea, beer and wine only and because of my inability to deal with starches I fall back to wine. In a trucker bar. Drinking a glass of wine. Riding a BMW. Maybe I should break out the espresso maker. Yea, I'm from DC. Not the impression I wanted to make. These are no nonsense folks and don't take kindly to no sophistication.
I got to talking to a guy, a rider, named Christopher. He had just come back down from Deadhorse with his two buddy's Mike and Greg. They all rode BMW R1200GS's. I sense a pattern developing. I asked him about the road and conditions still fearing that maybe up ahead I would encounter the hell that everyone had been talking about. He mentioned sections of road and gravel and mud, but nothing awe inspiring. He seemed to think I would make it but suggested that I get my bike power washed as soon as possible. The calcium chloride reacts with metal like road salt does and if you leave it on there your bike will be damaged.
I sat down with him and his buddys and sipped my glass of wine. Christopher is a professional photographer and my impression was that he was probably a very good one. Mike had just retired. Greg worked in business development, but I forget for what company. A good bunch of guys.
One thing I dislike about not writing every day is that I begin to forget names and details of conversations. I was pretty beat that evening, and I guess that affected things.
As we sat there, a group of four KLR riders showed up. "No, that can't be", I said aloud. Sure enough it was the four guys I had met at the Exxon Station some 1500 miles ago. Chris, Mike and Greg got up saying they wanted to get an early start. I figured I would not see them again so I said "see ya". Chris had written down the name, address and number of a shop that has a power washer and offers a service to clean off adventure bikes coming down off the Dalton and left it on the table next to my wine before he left. "Very thoughtful.", I said aloud.
I went down and greeted the four KLR riders. They've told me their names like 5 times but I have forgotten all of them. Bummer. Really good guys. We ended up having great conversations. They came in to eat. I had already eaten but I sat with them and we chatted for a good while. This was like the third long conversation we had had on our way up this far. They had just returned from Deadhorse and were going to grab a quick bite to eat before heading south to a campsite. Eventually, they asked me, as so many have done, "Why are you doing this long trip?". "I'm out here trying to get Away so I can get my head screwed on straight. I've been through kind of a wringer nightmare these last several years.". Some people leave it at that others ask more. They wanted to know more so I told them a bit about what had happened.
I've been very surprised. Random strangers have been very kind. Not a single person I've met has been accusational, or negative, or anything other than complimentary and supportive. It's a bit unnerving and is messing with my world view a bit. That's good. That's part of why I'm out here. To change the way I think.
The dad in the group, again I've forgotten his name, said he was never able to do what I was doing because of the farm and raising a family. There were always obligations. "8 weeks on a motorcycle does not make up for 17 years", I said. Everyone agreed. "Yea, that would just not be worth it.", one replied."We could trade lives.", I joked. "Yea, no". Good answer. I wouldn't wish my life on any human being except maybe my worst enemies.
It got late. I was tired. The sun was still blazing in the sky. The Alaska sun up North is a bitch. It's like this searing radiation source that burns as soon as it touches you. The light comes in at a crazy low angle. Even at midnight the sun is still seen on the horizon.
The motel was loud. Really loud. Trucks idling in the parking lot, people shouting to one another and paper thin walls conspired to prevent me from sleeping.
6AM rolled around and I still couldn't sleep. "Now this is a recipe for disaster.", I said quietly to myself as I crawled out of bed. I was showered and packed up and at the gas pump by 6:30. Anyone who knows me knows that this is the sign of the end times. I probably got less than 3 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I had many hundreds of dollars of non-refundable reservations.
As I was walking to the gas pump I noticed something I hadn't seen before. A post office. Mail is delivered every Monday. I have a friend who works as a postal historian and the office there made me think of her. With Jenny in mind, I snapped this photo.
Between Camp Coldfoot and Deadhorse is 240 miles of nothing. It's the longest stretch in the USA without services. My bike can just barely do 240 miles on it's 4.2 gallon tank so I had, as previously mentioned, picked up a 2 gallon gas can. I filled the tank and the gas can and using a better approach than the previous day bungied the thing onto my bike.
This extra weight was the difference between a bike that was heavy and one that was, in my humble opinion, too heavy. Getting this beast up on the center stand on uneven ground turned out to be quite a challenge.
I re-injured my back the first time I did it as I parked my bike in front of the cafe. I had injured my back pretty seriously back in September. Donna, a very close friend who is also a chiropractor, worked on me for ages to fix it. I had been afraid it would cause me problems but until recently it's been fine. Now it hurts again and my heels are all tingly. I considered briefly how an injury could really put me down. It's probably a greater risk than crashing.
I went into the cafe and had breakfast. As I was sipping my coffee Chris, Mike and Greg showed up so I got up, coffee in hand, and sat down with them. I was dead tired, so it was like my fifth cup of coffee. I remember being impressed by the fact that both Chris and Greg got up to stretch. They didn't care at all that they were in a trucker cafe. They just walked over to an empty spot on the floor and did various stretches. Greg had injured his back putting his bike up on the center stand. It's a common affliction. Chris practiced Yoga. He was a tall and muscular man who was also surprisingly flexible. I would guess he was around my age. You might think he was one of those flakey new age yoga types, but this guy had a seriousness to him. A substantive nature. It was as if the calm and peace he exuded was real, not a false affectation.
And, he did ride his R1200GS up and back from Deadhorse.
"Membership.", I thought. Here I was allowing my view of another human being to be expanded because of a single symbol. It's strange how that works, even in me. When you tell someone who hasn't been there yet that you've been up and back to Deadhorse it changes their view of you almost instantaneously. It imbues you with certain meta-data, certain attributes in the listeners mind that may or may not have any basis in reality.When I'm the subject of that view change, I'm stymied by it. "It's just some road to some arbitrary place in the middle of no where. It's just a destination as an excuse for a journey. I'm just some guy out for a Long Sunday Drive. Infrastructure in this part of the hemisphere is fantastic. The magic of gasoline can be readily found everywhere. This is no big deal.", I would think. But here I was, applying that same view change to another human being and he had "only" ridden up from California. "That's a long serious ride.", I found myself thinking ignoring the ride I've done completely. It's always fascinating to pay attention to how things are different when you see something in someone else and then to compare how that same thing feels when you are the subject.
He went and got the business card of the shop that had the pressure washer. "Wow. That's very thoughtful.", I said. "Damn thoughtful indeed. Good guy.", I thought to myself.
They needed to get going to get to a three day Ferry. They were going to camp on deck. I wonder how that went.
I sat alone for a little bit. Trucks came and went. Most of the tourists were gone.
I pondered the road to come. I had been told the stretch of the Dalton Highway up to Camp Coldfoot was the easy part and that it got bad going North. "Gravel the size of baseballs. Deep mud. 'horrible!", I had been told by many. Many others would say, "oh, you'll be fine".
The KLR riders had said the mosquitoes were terrible up there. "Like out of National Geographic", one said.
The time came to be gone. so off I went.
Out of the parking lot and onto the Dalton and it was less than 10 yards before I ran into my first contruction section where I had to wait.
Most of the contruction sections on the route from Coldfoot to Deadhorse involve pilot cars. You have to stand and wait. I had been told that the waits are terrible so I was prepared to hang out for a good long while. The Slow/Stop Sign guy waved for me to be up front so I went around the semi and parked next to him.
A few minutes later the pilot car showed up and I was off again. The pilot cars move very slowly and will stop randomly depending on what truckers and construction equipment are doing. I would guess I followed the pilot car for between 5 and 10 miles.
As I think I've mentioned elsewhere, they use calcium chloride, essentially a salt, to bind gravel and dirt together to control the dust. It forms a surface the approximates pavement for a fraction of the cost. In the process of creating the top surface of the road they dump out sections of the stuff. Then graders come to distribute it evenly across the road. Then the water trucks come and wet the stuff down. As it dries it hardens. However, while it is wet it's muck.
This section had been wetted a while ago so it wasn't too bad. It had not yet hardened. The surface was relatively soft with small gravel and stones.
But it wasn't bad. Once the pilot car pulled over I could easily do 45 to 55mph with a wide margin for error.
The surface of the road changes randomly and as I mentioned previously, what makes the Dalton Highway very dangerous is not that it's difficult. It's that it changes without warning.
The beauty of the landscape is also a danger. While it is not difficult, it does take attention to detail to ride this road. Looking around can distract you from potholes and larger bits of gravel, dips, etc. As you ride along you see views like this.
This mountain was impressive. The road here looks good but if you wander too close to the shoulders it becomes very loose and very deep very quickly.
There are bridges. Most have a wooden surface. This one stream was probably the clearest stream I have ever seen. The water was nearly invisible. I stopped on the bridge to try to capture it.
Mike and Greg had been talking about the photos Chris had been taking. He's a professional photographer. I would be curious to see what photos he took. I don't have contact info for them, but I hope they contact me here to let me know where their trip photos will be posted.
Along the Dalton there are countless streams flowing down from mountains and along valleys.
"The worst road in the world?", I thought. "Hmmm. Look. Bridge with guardrail. hmmm".
In places it's hard to tell if the road is actually paved or if it's the calcium chloride hardpack.
Many of the streams here had a skyblue tint to them.
Probably the most famous section of the road is Atigen Pass which is supposed to be crazy steep and just one long slog up and over a mountain. It's supposed to be miles long.
I came upon a pass and wondered if this was it.
There was no sign but I didn't think this was it. It was a long pass but not that long nor that steep. It opened up into this incredible valley.
I had still not run into anything really hard. I had been slightly caught off guard from time to time. Surface changes from pavement to gravel can wake you up. They happen very infrequently though.
After some more miles of uneventful hardpack and gravel road, I came across the Atigen Pass sign.
I had heard that the grade of the pass was something crazy steep. It wasn't. It was just reasonable steep. It was, however, long. The surface was a bit crumbly as if the hardpack was breaking up a bit. There were quite a few places for tractor trailers to pull over, so I had plenty of opportunities to snap photos.
The pass was just beautiful. Maybe it was that it had been hyped up so much or maybe it was that it was in fact that spectacular. It's hard to tell given how subjective these experiences are.
Avalanches are clearly a problem here as the guard rails can attest to.
The worst road in the world has guardrails. Yea.
The surface here was a bit dusty so I would go very slowly as tractor trailers passed. The dust would turn visibility to near zero for a few seconds. Fortunately, there was a strong breeze.
Going down the other side seemed more challenging than coming up the South side. Down is generally harder than up, but my impression was the grade on the North side of the pass was steeper than the South side. However it was not nearly as steep as some of the dips earlier on. I would be told by a trucker later that some of those dips, several hundred feet deep can reach grades of 12%.
This, however, was not 12%, I don't think.
Of course, the photos does not capture the down grade angle. Let's put it this way, my foot is on the brake to prevent the bike from rolling forward. If you put a bowling ball down here, it would roll away at increasing speed.
As you go through the North side of Atigen Pass, you'll notice critters on the road. On the last trip we called them Kamikazees. They like to run out and try to commit suicide as you pass on the interstate. These ones, truly tired of life and all it's burdens, just lie out in the road by the dozens.
These were seen every few hundred yards for over a hundred miles. I tried my best. I really did not to hit any of them. I try to dodge the butterflies as well. ("He's so sensitive". Yea, whatever.)
I would hit the horn if they didn't scatter. One time one of the little buggers lying in the road got up ran to the left and just as I was approaching made a mad dash for the front wheel. "SHIT!! Oh little guy, I'm so sorry! Shit!" as the little guy sliced himself in half, achieving his warriors dream. I beat myself up about it. I still do. I hate killing critters. ("Oh, he's so sensitive". Yea, whatever.) Cute little critters, albeit somewhat suicidal.
They talk about baseball sized gravel. Yea, there's gravel as you can see in the photo, but it's rare and it's concentrated on the sides of the road. In the traffic lanes, it's pounded down and really isn't all that hard to ride on. You can see the progression of gravel sizes from the lower end of the photo to the upper. The upper is closer to the edge of the road. (These guys weren't entirely in the middle of the road, although most would like out in the traffic lanes, I'm guessing because it's more comfortable.)
As you descend down the Northern side of the pass, it opens up into yet another overwhelmingly beautiful valley. How many dozens of these have I seen so far? I never get tired of them.
Remember the German tourists I met at the Camp Coldfoot motel? I'm pretty sure I saw them in this group as I passed by. Tour busses run this route up to Deadhorse. Run of the mill normal tour busses. I didn't see anything special about them, not even extra mud guards.
As I approached the far end, the mountains opened up into yet another vast rolling plain.
There's a quality to this land that's different. You really do feel far away when you're standing around out here. In many places, as far as the eye can see there's hardly any trace of human presence. Traffic is heavier than I was told. A truck, bus, or RV will go by at least every half hour or so. Often it's more frequent. Strangely I saw very very few motorcycles either up or back. Maybe 3 in total. All of them were adventure bikes. I did not see a single sport touring bike like mine.
I thought back to what Chris and others had told me. Calcium chloride gets all over the bike and it eventually eats into the metal causing pitting. Leave it on there long enough and even stainless steel can be eaten through. I thought about my bike. I had given Duncan and Ian a hard time about their pretty supermodel bikes. I had joked that I would take a Ducati up here, but now, seeing how sticky this calcium chloride muck is, I would think twice. I would at least put some kind of fork slider cover on, like I have on my bike. I think without some kind of cover on the forks, the fork seals and possibly even the tubes would be toast by the end of the ride.
At this point the bike wasn't bad yet, but I did ponder what it would look like before the end of the trip. Duncan had asked if I really wanted to take my pristine looking bike on such a trip. "Of course. That's what it's for. To be ridden.", I replied. He wondered if I shouldn't put a plastic film over all exposed parts of the bike or somehow protect it's appearance.
I can understand that, but it's not me. If I own something, I want to use it. I do not want the ownership of a thing to limit me. A motorcycle is a symbol of freedom. Attempting too much to hold back the hands of time and Use becomes just another cage. Another reason Not To Do A Thing.
I take care of it as evidenced by the fact I've owned it for 18 years and am riding it, so far successfully, across country. But I am not compulsive about it. I do not let it stop me from riding it whereever I want in whatever conditions, whenever. If I crash it and it dies, I am prepared to let it go even though I love my bike and would be very sad to see it go.The more I ride it the more I love it. This has been going on for years. But I have to ride it. There's no point just leaving it in the garage. I pondered how bad it would look when I was done. What if she really started to look like an 18 year old bike and not near showroom new?
"Just because she's doesn't look as young as she used to, doesn't mean you love her any less.", I mused.
I think I see another parallel to human relationships.
I once had a discussion a long time ago with a friend, Pilar, who is simply model beautiful. She was telling me about a photo shoot that reminded her of her modelling days when she was "young and beautiful".
I had thought about it long and hard and replied, "What do you mean "when"? There are passing fads in this world. things that in one context are beautiful and when you revisit them some time later they've lost their charm. Then there is that rare kind of enduring beauty. The kind that becomes more meaningful, more engaging, more nuanced the longer you experience it. That kind of beauty can never grow old.".
I think about my bike. I get more compliments from more people about my bike now than I ever have before. My own impression about how good my bike looks has changed, improved, with experience. Even cracked, faded, scratched, dulled, dented and scraped, I love the way my bike looks now more than ever. Each scratch, crack and blemish is a story.
People say that men grow more distinctive with age and women just grow old.
I think that's one of those things, like the Dalton Highway and Atigen Pass, that you just hear so often it colors your experience of it so in your mind, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you still believe what you were told. I know so many women my age who look so much better, so much more interesting, so much more beautiful than they did when they younger. This applies to the youngin's I've known over the past few years as well. Yes, Rachel K., you too.
Alone, out here in the middle of nowhere, free to think. Free to be open, I began to understand, to experience, what it meant to be Away from the voices of the maddening crowd.
This calcium chloride is much nastier than I thought. This may do my bike in. "How can you do that?!? It's such a nice bike. It'll be a collectors item", they would say. But, alone, here out in the open vastness, I can let my bike grow old, on this ride if it happens. I love my bike and I know it cannot be replaced, but despite that I will not fear the day I lose it, even if that day is today. I will experience it as a moment and enjoy it.
I think there in lies another lesson for me. I do not do the same with people. When it comes to people I care about, my fear of losing them or causing them pain overrides everything else. I become paralyzed. I try so hard. I will not "take them out in the dirt" as it were. If I think I may lose them tomorrow, I pull back, sometimes abruptly. I'm like a parent so afraid of losing a child, I prevent that child from playing in the mud or getting scraped. Without those bumps, those bruises, those stories will that child grow up to be interesting? Interested in the world? Or just afraid?
I think I see now that this fear prevents me from doing many things that I would probably do if I were not Afraid, not afraid of the bumps, scapes, dings and scratches I may cause as we move through life, through this moment together.
It was really peaceful out here in the vast openness.
As I stood there, thinking the road was an easy cakewalk, a watering truck passed by.
"Bummer. More muck.", I thought. "But it's really not that bad. The bike will just get a little dirtier. That's ok."
It doesn't look so bad, and it isn't really. It's just that when wet this stuff turns into a kind of sticky dough that gets sluffed up and covers the bike turning into a kind of cement. You can pick at it with a pocket knife and it's hard and crumbly but sticks tenaciously.
The wet didn't last long. I guess the truck had just started it's run and the construction I thought was going to materialize didn't. Usually they wet the road down just after they put down new surface gravel and calcium chloride, which tends to be alot muckier. More on that later.
I passed one of those mega-oversized-loads. I should have taken more photos. I think there was a setup behind with motors that pushed. This was crazy large.
I was cruising along for some many miles on perfectly smooth hardpack similar to what you see in the photo above. There's usually a small layer of dust and ground up gravel on top so it's not exactly like driving on pavement. The tires tend to wander a bit and you feel that stopping performance won't be nearly as good. But you get used to it. And after many more miles you unconsciously pick up speed.
Then, as I've been saying, the road changes unexpectedly. Sometimes you can't really tell where the transition is until you've passed over it.
I hit it doing about 65 or 70. I got lost in thought and hadn't realized I was going that fast. It was a little squirrelly but not too bad. You don't hit the brakes. You don't grab the bars too tightly. The front wheel will do whatever it's going to do. You let off the throttle slowly, if you can and let the engine slow you down.
It's no problem. You just don't want to make any really sudden changes.
Once I slowed down I was able to cruise along at something like 45mph without a problem.
This gravel, about 80 miles outside of Deadhorse wasn't that bad.
What's interesting is that out here the road is built up in places 16 feet off the permafrost. I was told that they have a layer of styrofoam at the base to further protect the permafrost from melting. Underneath here there is 1500 feet of frozen earth, which is why water pools so readily on the surface. This pooled water is also why there is an amazing mosquito population.
So basically the road is a big mound in the middle of the permafrost. Many of the truck accidents you hear about are truckers tending too close to the edge of the road in the snow and falling over.
The Dalton Highway follows the Alaskan Pipeline. The pipeline is the reason the road even exists.
I did not know how central the pipeline and Prudhoe Bay are to the Alaskan economy. I have the feeling the pipeline touches every Alaskan's life in one way or another.
I eventually came upon the big bouncy gravel that everyone said was so hard. "Baseball sized gravel!", they said. "Yea, if you run off the road, maybe.", I thought as I saw this new type of gravel. Yea, this stuff was bouncy. It was uneven, but it was totally doable. You just get rattled a little bit. No where was there anything large enough to cause you a tank slapper or anything that might tip you. The Telluride fire trail up the side of the mountain I tried was orders of magnitude more challenging. This was easy.
It's the same as everywhere else. Don't hit the brakes too hard. Keep your hands loose. Keep the speed to something reasonable. I think I was doing 40mph or so. Don't make any sudden changes. Scan ahead. Watch the ruts. Etc. No problem.
Now if you wander too close to the edges, yes, there are big bits of gravel. So don't do that.
As I got closer to Deadhorse the temperature dropped suddenly. It went down from the mid sixties to the thirties in no time. A strong wind developed. In the distance I saw bluffs that still had snow.
I came upon a hiker who said he saw Muskoxen but unfortunately I did not see any. As a matter of fact, other than the little Kamikazee critters who continued to try to commit ritual suicide under my tires but failed miserably, I didn't see any critters at all.
As I got close to Deadhorse I saw a place a truck ran into the permafrost. It's soft. It sinks. "It would suck if I drove my bike into that.", I thought.
The gravel continued.
From here out it got really cold. I had heard from the KLR riders that it had been really warm in Deadhorse the previous day and that the mosquitoes were fierce. It was in the 30's with a strong wind. There were no mosquitoes and also no rain.
I should have put on the electric vest. It was cold out there. But the fleece jacket thing I had bought in Victoria and was wearing under my Transit Suit was working like a champ. That combined with the heated grips Duncan got me for was enough to keep me just comfortable enough to keep going. I really didn't want to have to take my jacket and fleece liner off in that wind to put the electric vest on. It was foolish. A moments discomfort for hours of warm bliss is a sacrifice I should have made.
There in lies another parallel. Sometimes we endure uncomfortable situations for much longer than we should because we don't want to deal with a short but finite much greater discomfort.
So I froze my ass a bit all the way to Deadhorse. By the time I rolled into town I was really tired and bloody cold. The lack of sleep had caught up to me. I figured I would be on the tour the next day so I could take pictures of Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse then.
The crazy thing was I made it up to Deadhorse on a single tank of gas. 246 miles indicated after putting around a bit. I only have a 4.2 gallon tank. "Pretty cool.", I thought. My motorcycle, which as I've said I simply love, is also crazy fuel efficient.
I found the Arctic Carribou Inn, checked in, and got myself a cup of coffee to wake up and warm up. The Inn was much like the one at Camp Coldfoot. This one had an even more military barracks feel to it. There were alot of tourists.
As I walked around inside, I ran into the German tourists with the guy that works at BMW. Small world up here. Very small world, in a very big place.
Then I headed over to the General Store, which was a ways away, to take obligatory "I made it to Deadhorse, that's gotta mean something" shot.
Where I ran into Rob and Wayne. They had arrived some hours before and were staying at a different "hotel". There are quite a number of "hotels" up at Deadhorse.
One guy was telling me they get a lot of motorcyclists up there, some from as far away as Argentina.
"How many times have I heard about the 'Tierra Del Fuego' ride on this trip?", I wondered beginning to realize I should not think about that too much. Just a little while ago, just today, before I started writing this entry I ran into three Brazillians who were going up to Prudhoe. The stickers on the one GS they had indicated it had been in most South American countries.
"Oh, this is not good. An Idea is starting to form ...", I began to worry as I thought "I am honestly afraid of South America because of all the stories I've heard .. but fear paralyzes me and keeps me static. If the stories of Deadhorse were so exaggerated could the stories of South America be as well?" I had talked to several people, Tom, Zan, these Brazillian guys. "It's doable. A great trip. People all along the way are wonderful.", they would say. "No Problem".
As I stood here with the Deadhorse sign as a backdrop, I began to ponder ... "How long it would take me to relearn Spanish? Can I do something to train my body to handle starches and sugars again? Could I do a trip like that on a BMW K100RS?".
Today I got an email from some German friends saying there's a guy that's done it on an R1 ...
I wonder ...
I'm not feeling well today. I had trouble sleeping again last and woke up feeling very off and unmotivated. I had another episode of my guts letting loose yesterday. To top things off, while I didn't notice the smoke myself, the forest fire on the horizon has apparently been sending some smoke this way. I had noticed I was starting to get tired yesterday, a common allergic symptom for me, and today I was already completely wiped out.
So I've decided to stay at the hotel here in Fairbanks another day and see if I feel any better. I hope to catch up on all my writing and then get under way to Valdez tomorrow. I've been told it's the Switzerland of Alaska. There are boat tours that go out to a glacier which I would like to do.
I've been invited to join a ride in early August up to Nova Scotia with Phil who I met in Deal's Gap. I am sorely tempted to go, but I am feeling the pressure to make it back when I said I would, namely in early August. I have dear friends who miss me, problems that my mom needs help with and I need to get back to the business.
My business partner, Anatoly, has been extremely understanding and patient with me as I mess around out here trying to get my head screwed on straight. He's been extremely patient through the six years of the hardcore Nightmare that kept taking so much of my time. There wasn't much of me left to help. I am behind on so many internal projects, some of them by an embarrasing number of years. Can you say the new ecommerce system?
You can't imagine a better partner. But things with our little huge multinational corporation of two people are not going well. I was hoping to get some brilliant insights into what we need to do to turn things around, but so far I've just come up with simple ideas that may or may not help. It's not a good time to be trying to sell stock market investment software for the Windows PC. Websites and brokerages have gotten so good of late that our bread and butter target demographic, beginning and intermediate investors, no longer have a compelling need to buy our software. Most who do use it rip it off. Add to that the ascendance of the Mac along with a whole spectrum of varied hand held devices from the iPhone to the Android, and we have a near perfect storm of forces making our lives difficult. The investors we do reach these days tend to be more advanced portfolio management types, but we don't reach enough of them. In addition, we are competing against mega million dollar companies for their attention.
Despite the fact that our products are very highly regarded, investors who use it love us and that we've gotten all kinds of positive press and reviews, the bottom has dropped out of our business and we need to find a new and creative way to reposition what we do to survive.
I confess I feel very guilty about how badly things are going. I haven't been able to find any new relationships that are producing; just a series of small attempts that have brought exactly zero. Anatoly could easily make bank anywhere. A couple of phone calls and he'd be involved in the next big project making six figures along with equity, easily. He's the best applications software developer/engineer I've ever met. What he is able to accomplish with the level of professionalism and engineering discipline he brings to his work is simply unparalleled.
It's strange. The blog has helped me see what I do, motorcycling and this trip, through other peoples eyes. It helps me point out things I would never have thought to mention; things I would never have thought were interesting. This may turn out to be the one of the most important lessons from the trip.
We have an excellent product. It rivals Quicken in it's polish and professionalism and completeness. As a matter of fact, being out here and talking to so many people has made me realize, the best way to describe what Anatoly has built is probably "Personal Stock Monitor is for investors what Quicken is for personal finance.".
For our business, I need to see through other people eyes. I need to get out and talk to people. I need to listen. I need to write. I need to give people a personal insight into what we do. I need to show them that we are much more than just a couple of guys with a little product. We've tried before but everything we've written has been too technical, too matter of fact, too dry. There's an interesting story to tell about what we've done, who we are, if only we can get the courage to tell it.
I think this trip and the blog I am compelled to write is helping me see that. Maybe I can learn how to do this for the business. Maybe I can find a marketing partner or even a buyer.
I simply write about what I think about. I've been loathe to write about the business and about some other topics. Too personal. Too revealing. Too many reasons not to. But I spend alot of time thinking about the business.
I also spend alot of time thinking about the Nightmare, wondering how much I should reveal. I feel compelled to. I want to, but I fear to as well. There are illusions about my family that would be shattered if they knew. There are so many reasons not to.
So for the moment, sitting here feeling rather ill in my hotel room, I'll continue on with my motorcycling story. Sorry for rambling off topic.
When I arrived it was really cold. The tour guide would say later on that it had reached 25defF but I don't think it was quite that cold. Maybe 32. Having not slept the night before and having done 240 miles of mixed dirt, gravel and paved road requiring constant concentration I had no energy to go out and walk around. So I stayed in my little military style room in the Arctic Caribou Inn and wrote. I should have gone to bed after I finished but I ended up chatting with a few friends on Facebook until after midnight. This would have consequences later.
It was still light out when I went to bed. I bet I could have seen the sun if it weren't for the thick layer of clouds.
The Prudhoe Bay oil field operation is simply massive. It resembles a massive construction site. There are temporary buildings raised up off the ground to house workers. There are oil rigs in various states of readiness waiting to be deployed, others in operation. There are vast rows of construction equipment. Backhoes, graders, and other strange vehicles whose purpose I do not know.
It feels like a temporary camp. The temporal nature of this operation is evident everywhere. Moving through this place you can just feel how, once the oil and gas runs out, it'll all be abandoned. In fact, it was supposed to have been abandoned 10 years ago as the original estimate for the field was that it could only be operated for 20 years. It's now past 30.
I was told this operation supplies something between 20% and 30% of the oil in the US. It is in decline however. It used to produce 2,000,000 barrels a day but now produces less than 1,000,000, if I remember correctly. I'll have to look up and verify that I have my stats correct.
I had to get up early. Wicked early. At 6AM, which rolled around much too soon, I was up. By 6:30 I was at breakfast. I had a few cups of coffee after breakfast and went to the tour assembly room.
To go on a guided tour of the Prudhoe Bay operation you have to call 24 hours in advance. Each hotel can hook you up with a tour, but you have to provide them with your identity information, either a passport number or drivers license number. They do a simple background check on you before letting you enter the field.
The German tourists I had met in Coldfoot camp were there and sat down next to me. I continued to enjoy seeing the same faces as I travelled.
We were shown a short 17 minute movie about the history and operation of the oil field. In the movie, through the apparent rules and during the subsequent tour, they really attempt to do a good PR job about how they limit the environmental impact of their operations. While much of it is clearly a PR effort, some of it is very real. For instance, what I did not understand was how they set up the wells. As drilling techniques have improved they are able to place the well heads closer and closer together thereby allowing them to create a smaller gravel pad on which to place said well heads. From there they drill out in all directions for miles.
(I'll have to remember to ask Robyn from Prince George, BC about the realities of the environmental impact when I meet her for coffee on the return trip.)
After the movie we were herded out of the room and onto a bus. Each person had to show ID before being allowed on the bus. It had been raining for some time.
I should have taken notes or maybe they should have produced a flyer with relevant facts to hand out on the tour because I've forgotten too many of the details of what was discussed. The tour consisted of a several mile long drive around the center of the operation.
Oil rigs could be seen everywhere.
It's a muddy dirty place. As I mentioned, it feels like a massive construction site.
To the left an oil rig. To the right one of the "hotels".
Construction materials are stacked everywhere.
It doesn't feel or look like a "town". Imagine a flat space of dirt several square miles wide. Roll a trailer in here. Put a huge piece of equipment over there. Set up a tent in some other place. Pile up a bunch of wood and supplies in some other place. Now start driving around between the various places where you've put stuff. Eventually you decide to put down some gravel so the mud doesn't get too deep, and after a while you start thinking of it as a "town", but really it's just piles of equipment and temporary housing haphazardly dropped where ever it ended up when you first delivered it. At least, this is what it feels like.
Another thing that can be seen are seemingly endless arrays of pipes running from the various rigs, some miles and miles away, to the separation plants. I forget what the correct term is, but when crude is pumped out of the ground it contains impurities such as water, natural gas, bacteria, and sand. This has to be separated out before the crude oil can be sent down the Alaska pipeline.
Some of the stranger vehicles we were shown were these low impact crawlers designed to ride out on the permafrost and tundra without sinking in, and thus without impacting the ground too much. The tour guide told a story about how the pressure these exert on the ground as they roll is so low they could roll over a human being lying on the ground without injuring the person. The tall tale is that this is how these machines were originally demonstrated to the oil field operators. The tires are never inflated. They roll as the are seen here.
It is my understanding that the structures here are all built up off the ground to protect the permafrost. If too much heat escapes below a structure the ground can melt causing it to become unstable. Here's is yet another improvisational looking motel.
There are very interesting contrasts on this trip. I spent time with people at Dancing Rabbit whose very mission in life is to have the smallest environmental impacts possible. I now stand in the midst of what I believe is probably the single largest environmental impacts in existence, the oil and gas industry. "A necessary evil.", Robyn said and I agree with her. Without this industry, at this time, it is unlikely that even Dancing Rabbit could exist. They may not see it that way, but I think I could make a pretty compelling case for it.
Our modern lives are so dependent upon this industry that we are, to a large degree, held hostage by it. The very reason that I, a single middle class guy, have the economic muscle to, by myself, mount a machine and travel on it across many thousands of miles all the while staying in contact with everyone, being able to write this blog, is because of this industry. I imagine much of the gasoline, that magic substance that makes my bike Go, came from oil pumped out of the ground here.
As we toured the facilities, one thing that became very apparent to me are the tremendous risks involved in an operation like this. They deal with simply huge quantities of the highest energy transportation fuels we know of. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of pipe. Seemingly millions of pieces of interconnected equipment.
On the one hand we know what can happen when things go terribly wrong. There is always the business desire to reduce costs to increase profits. Infrastructure upgrades are always painful and with publically traded companies, such upgrades reduce quarterly earnings and thus affect stock prices. Often times, with lax regulation, safety protocols are ignored and Bad Things Happen as we are seeing in the gulf.
This is apparently similar to the device that failed in the Gulf.
But I imagined being an engineer, or a safety guy or an operations guy, who was responsible for designing this place. Imagine the magnitude of that task. Imagine coming up with the information systems, the mechanical systems and the human systems policies and procedures to make an operation like this run.
From what I see here, it's amazing this place runs. It's seems like such a hazardous line of work. Tens of thousands of individuals. Millions of pieces of equipment. And it all works, more of less, most of the time.
Everywhere around you can see small buildings dotting the horizon which cover the well heads themselves. Safety valves such as the one above are contained in each small building.
The tourguide, a native Alaskan who has done a tremendous amount of hunting, had this uncanny ability to see wildlife all around the operation I would never have noticed. I would strain to see the critters he was pointing out to the left and right. It's an excellent PR move on their part to have someone so versed in wildlife conducting the tour.
When a given critter crosses the road traffic stops. I watched as other vehicles also stopped, not just tour busses.
I was impressed by the number of critters seemingly living out their lives in the fields between the rigs unbothered by the presence of all this construction equipment. The tour guide pointed out a number of red foxes.
One of the scarier aspects of this operation is "natural gas injection". In the case of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the oil isn't actually pumped out of the ground. It hadn't dawned on me but one doesn't see of the Texas style pumps out here anywhere.
What they do is take a portion of the natural gas that's separated from the oil and the reinject it into the ground pressurizing the entire field which forces more oil out of the pores of the rock.
The pressure use to reinject the gas into the ground is astronomical. Apparently a single uncontrolled spark at the injection site could cause the entire site and surrounding buildings to explode. The blast radius would be miles wide. If memory serves, there are several such injection sites at Prudhoe Bay. If any one of them were to go, the entire operation could be shut down for years.
The furthest point of the tour was on Prudhoe Bay, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. We were allowed out for the obligatory "walk around and dip toe into water" part.
The tour guide and I talked for a while about the operation. He was kind enough to shoot this photo of me.
There are a few islands in the distance across the water on which are oil well heads.
So I opted for the "boots in the arctic ocean" shot. I wasn't about to take my boots off out in this cold.The waterproofing goo I applied to my boots seems to work.
I talked to the German tourists a bit. They offered to snap a photo of me too.
We returned to the bus and having dallied at the water too long attempted to get back to the hotel quickly. Our progress was thwarted by caribou in the road. Traffic on both sides came to a halt. The tour guide explained that across the Prudhoe Bay operation wildlife has the right of way.
While we were at the water he had explained that grizzly and polar bears can be quite a problem. The grizzlies hibernate in the sand dunes in the field. Polar bears come back on land at some point. Taking photos of polar bears in forbidden. This is apparently due to it changing the behavior of the polar bear. They do hunt humans after all. Anyone caught taking a photo of a polar bear will be fined. For workers there, the tour guide said they could lose their contract. If a polar bear starts changing it's behavior and pursues humans it has to be destroyed.
We passed the Alaskan Clean Seas operation. These guys are experts in oil spill cleanup. I noticed the OSHA VPP Star certification and thought of my buddy Bruce, whose family I joined camping in Ouray, Colorado. Bruce is a safety specialist so I've heard alot of stories of what's involved in that line of work. Looking around the Prudhoe Bay operation I think Bruce would have a field day here. He has this incredible insight into how truly large operations are organized, both from a physical perspective and a human management policies and procedures one. I used to rent a room from him ages ago in College Park, before I bought my house. I learned alot about business from listening to him. I don't think he actually realizes how much I learned from him then and continue to learn from him now.
Signs of construction and construction equipment everywhere.
We got back from the tour. I was pretty tired at this point, not having slept the night before and having only gotten about 5 hours of sleep. I thought about taking a nap but I was told I had to vacate my room immediately.
So I got my stuff packed on the bike and had a couple huge cups of coffee. The KLR riders had reported massive mosquitoes. The tour guide had said the day before I arrived was the worst he had ever seen the mosquitoes in all the years he had been up there.
I walked out to my bike to leave when the sun came out and the wind died down. Within seconds of this, literally seconds, the mosquitoes were everywhere. One landed next to my keys.
Sorry it's blurry. THe mosquito is the huge thing in the upper right of the photo. It's was about half as long as the key. The wind would come and they would disappear for a few moments. Then they would be back with a vengeance. I put my helment and gloves on. The evil blood suckers attacked my transit suit. The bug spray I bought at Camp Coldfoot was working like a champ.
Then I noticed the first kamikazee of the day. This one seemed to be enjoying life for the moment.
During the tour the guide spent a great deal of time talking about cold weather conditions. All the roads around the operation had tall reflectors set up on the shoulders spaced evenly apart. Blizzards are a common occurance on the North Slope, what the larger area around Prudhoe Bay is called. Blizzards are measured in "Phases". Each phase is measured by the number of reflectors one can see from the cab of a truck. I forget, but Phase I is something like 4 reflectors. By phase III all traffic is forbidden except specialized emergency equipment.
Making sure engines can start in the extreme cold, which can reach -50degF or colder is a constant task. There are banks of extension cord racks in each parking lot. All the vehicles up here are equiped with block heaters, which you can tell from what look like extension cords hanging out of the front grills on these vehicles. Once it gets too cold engine oil gels and prevents engines from being started. A block heater keeps the engine oil warm enough to allow the engine to start in even the coldest conditions.
I wanted to find something I could attach to my bike to attest to the fact that I was up here. Ever since the very understated Deals' Gap Dragon sticker I put on my bike I've been looking for understated ways of marking my bike. Most guys just plaster their saddle bags with huge stickers. I hate the way that looks, so I wanted to find something small and understated.
For Pikes Peak and Yellowstone I picked up metal pins, like you would put on a shirt. I'll just file down the pin part and epoxy it on the bike. They are really small, like 1/2" wide, so only someone who looks really closely will notice them.
I headed over to the one "General Store", which had kind of a hard core construction and trucking feel to it. Upstairs they had some stuff to cater to the tourist crowd, of which I was firmly a member at this point. Outside the general store I snapped this photo. It's just another rig.
I looked around a bit. They had some native Alaskan art. I had wanted to bring some things back and had asked a friend what I could bring back for her. She mentioned liking "Dream Catchers", so I looked around the shop. They had some but none that I liked or would feel good about giving. "Too commercial.", I thought.
I did pick up a post card for a friend who asked me to send her one. Then I found a pin that would work. I paid for my items and headed back outside into the mosquito infested outdoors and headed out of town to points South. As I left I saw rain on the horizon.
Maybe I would experience how "truly 'orrible" the Dalton Highway can be. I was pretty seriously tired but awake enough to ride. As I headed out of town, I ran through swarms of mosquitoes. These things are so large you can actually feel them as they impact the helmet. You can hear them as well. Huge blood suckers. Even the caribou try to avoid them.
The road turned away from the looming rain storms on the horizon. I thought maybe my incredible luck streak would continue until ...
I've heard from people who live up here that the Dalton can become a real mess if it rains for too long. I guess I was going to find out.
It rained pretty hard for a while. It was long enough for the road surface to become good and wet. To top that off, for quite a stretch they found it necessary to wet the road even more using the water trucks. In addition, I found myself in a section where they were putting down new surface material, calcium chloride. There was a good wind from the right, for which I was grateful, since trucks coming from the opposite direction would throw up quite a spray of muck.
But even this road surface wasn't too bad. Yes, it was slippery. Yes, it was muddy. Muck got all over everything. But in the end, it really wasn't too bad. I was able to easily do 40mph on this stuff, slip sliding away.
In the intervals where it didn't rain they seemed to think it was necessary to water the road down some more. I had moved to the extreme right as I was sure I was about to get sprayed but this trucker turned off the water right before he passed. In contrast to what I had expected, truckers were very courteous on the road. They would move over if it was dusty. They would turn the water off as they passed. They would wave.
I was stopped at one of those pilot car required construction sites. I got to talking to the stop/slow guy for some time. It was a 20 minute wait until the pilot car came. He asked about the bike and told me stories of locals. There was some guy who had gotten very familiar with some black and brown bears in the area. He had semi-tamed them and would fly out to his shack somewhere out on the tundra. Eventually, wildlife and game or some other agency got wind of this. They fined him and took away his pilots license. Feeding bears is illegal because it makes them associate human activity with food which can be very dangerous. The construction guy seemed to think the guy knew what he was doing and should not have been fined like that.
Then he mentioned the naturalist who was eaten by grizzlies not too long ago, it was a famous case. And a woman who was attacked and killed by wolves who had been fed by humans.
There's alot of anecdotal evidence to say feeding wildlife is a Bad Thing.
The mosquitoes here were just harsh. It's strange. If you're moving they seem to disappear quickly but once you stop they swarm. It's as if they lie in wait for hours until some critter approaches then they pounce. I had to keep my visor down they were so thick. Some would get up in the visor and start buzzing around the helmet in terror. I had the bug spray on. Disgusting stuff but the mosquitoes seemed to hate it more than I did.
The pilot truck arrived and I was able to get underway. Within seconds I no longer heard the smack of terminating bloodsuckers. The road was good and wet and slippery for a while. Muck continued to accumulate on the bike. I was extremely tired and as I had shot photos of this area before I just rode on. Every now and again I would stop to take a picture.
This is not too far from Atigen Pass. As I approach the pass I noticed these low clouds that blanketed the tops of the mountains. I wondered what it would be like through the pass.
As had been the case for hours, the rain wasn't bad. It was just an on again off again drizzle that was just enough to wet the road surface in places. Most of the time the road was only damp.
As I approach Atigen Pass I noticed fog reaching to the ground.
"This could get interesting.", I thought as I wondered if I would run into anything difficult on this road. By now riding on this surface seemed entirely normal and I was able to do it without too much thinking. I was making really good time. At this rate I would be at Camp Coldfoot ini under 5.5 hours. I was really tired by this point, however.
I made my way to the area which had fog in it and just as I arrived and headed up the pass a breeze started and the fog was pushed out. The sun poked through and it got noticably warmer. I was making my way up the North side of the pass when I stopped in a pulloff to take a picture. I went to reposition the bike for a better view and let out the clutch lever out to go.
As had happened before, Nothing Happened.
I also knew, immediately, that this was not due to a piece of gravel stuck under the lower clutch lever arm.
"This could get really interesting.", I said aloud as I pondered being stuck here for an extended period. It was sunny here and warm with a strong breeze. Trucks passed by every now and again.
I stood there for a while taking in the moment. I took off my helmet and gloves and pulled out my earplugs. I surveyed the bike. It was covered in calcium chloride. It had caked on pretty thick, just like you would imagine cement does if you lob it at your bike for hours.
"Yea, I bet I know what happened.", I thought. I peered back to the lower clutch lever and sure enough, calcium chloride muck had accumulated under the arm and hardened layer after layer eventually preventing the clutch lever from dropping all the way. Hence the reason the motorcycle Would Not Go.
At this point, I was grateful for the gravel incident before. If it had not been for that, I don't know that I would have recognized that the lever was not all the way down.
I know this photo is a bit confusing. It was the best I could do. The band on the right is actually the rear tire. The camera is over the exhaust pipe, which is covered in calcium chloride and is lit by sunlight in the lower left of the photo. Directly in the lower middle of the photo is a muck covered catalytic converter. It's made of shiny stainless steel. As you can see, everything looks like it's covered in cement.
Above the catalytic coverter, in pretty much the exact center of the photo is a bar extending from right to left. That's the lower clutch lever arm. If you look, there's a little bit of space between the catalytic converter and the arm.
There should be alot of space there. You should be able to see clearly through to the engine. I hope that gives some indication to just how caked up this is.
So I got out my trusty victorinox and patiently attempted to contort my hand and arm in such a way to allow me to chip away at this stuff. This stuff is HARD. It's not quite as hard as cement, but almost. You chip at it with a blade and all that happens is a bit of dust comes off. You drill with the knife to cut a little hole into it and sometimes larger chunks come off. I worked on this for half an hour after which time I had made virtually no progress. I simply couldn't put enough force on the knife from that angle to get through the muck.
"Damn.", I thought, "I'm going to have to unpack everything, pull out the tools, and see if I can remove the rear wheel.". I was tired. Really tired. I took a break, had my remaining water and then thought, "Time to man up."
I pulled off all the gear and got under the seat to pull out my tool roll. "I have never used this toolset before to remove a wheel. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever need to make a repair on my bike using it before", I mused as I looked at my tools. The extension for the tire wrench had not been removed since the day I put it in the roll, 18 years ago. It had become fused with the roll.
It took 20 minutes to get the damn tire wrench extension out of the tool roll. It was glued in there pretty good. Without the extension there was no way to remove the tire.
Next, and I was starting to really hurt from fatigue, was removing the saddle bags. This was an operation that I had performed so often, it's like taking off shoes. It's something you don't think about or consider. Calcium chloride had built up to such a degree it took me over 20 minutes just to get the damned bags off.
I was really hurting now. It was all easy work but I was so tired.
I pulled off the little cover over the rear wheel bolts, dirt and dust getting all over me. I thought about how someone who was squeemish about their new $1400 leathers might be much more frustrated. "I bought this Transit Suit to wear to protect me, not to look good in.", I reminded myself as I get more and more covered in dirt, dust and calcium chloride. It got all over everything. Me, my hands, my gear, my clothes.
Using the extension and the tire wrench went to loosen the wheel bolts.
"Ummm, duh.", I thought. What problem could I possibly have encountered?
Wheel bolts are on pretty tightly. There's alot of torque on those bolts so when you go to remove them the wheel spins.
I put the engine in gear and thus the engine spins.
I put the bike on the sidestand. The whole bike moves.
What I usually do is have someone step on the rear brake, but inconveniently no one was around and the little Kamikazees were no help, being too occupied trying to achieve their warriors dream of ritual suicide.
"Ok, this could be interesting. Thwarted.", I thought as I imagined how long I could be stuck here. "How to push the rear brake pedal down?", I pondered. I couldn't tie it to anything. Maybe I could use a rock. Then it hit me.
Gas can! I hung the two gallon gas can full of fuel off the rear brake lever and it worked like a champ.
I got the rear wheel removed, but I had forgotten that you had to loosen the rear brake caliper to get the wheel completely out. Looking at how encrusted it was, it would take me hours to clean up enough to a point where I'd be comfortable taking it off. I pulled the wheel aside to see if I could get a better angle on the lower clutch lever.
Using the trusty victorinox swisstool and contorting myself from the right side of the bike, I started slowly chipping away at the rock hard muck. Pick, scratch, hit, pry, drill, scrape, scrape scrape to clear way the chips and dust. Repeat process.
I don't know how long this took. Probably three quarters of an hour before I got enough of the muck scraped away to let the lower enough to engage the clutch. I cleaned it out a bit further for good measure figuring I had more of the muck to travel through and I didn't really want to do this again.
At least it wasn't raining and it wasn't cold. I was out in the blazing sun but with the breeze it didn't get too hot.
As I re-mounted the rear wheel I wondered about torque settings. I could just hear Duncan asking "So Yermo, what's the torque spec on those bolts?". Defiantly, I tightened them tigher, probably tighter than spec but not too tight. The rear tire will need to be switched out in Washington State anyways so I'll address the torque setting then.
I packed some of the gear back on the bike and took a photo. No trucks had come by for some time.
And this was the photo I stopped to take originally. Over two hours had passed. I was really tired and what I had failed to notice was how dry the air was and the toll the sun had taken on me.
The shot wasn't that good. But it was good that I had the problem here at a pulloff rather than going up the middle of the pass at speed shifting between gears. That could have sucked.
I went over the pass, tired out of my mind and continued on. There weren't any shots I hadn't already taken. Atigen Pass was not quite as impressive the second time through. "It's just another beautiful pass.", I thought as I struggled to stay awake.
The road wore on but I was making good time. The clutch continued to work. The Dalton was not the road everyone said it was, but the risks were there. They were mundane risks. Fatigue. Dehydration. Mechanical failure. They were the usual risks.
But it's a good road. And by this point, despite being crazy tired, I was enjoying it. It felt right to be on this road.
The last 50 miles were hell. I started getting so tired I could no longer see straight. Innuits are said to have 200 words describing snow. I probably have as many to describe pain and fatigue.
I was horizontal hold lost hurting tired. I get so tired sometimes all my joints ache and my eyes lose horizontal hold. It's like they oscillate turning everything into a blur. Every once of my being wants to shut down. My body screams to let it sleep. I get to so I can't even form sentences any more and short term memory goes out the door. I shake my head violently trying not to close my eyes. Vision restored for another few moments. I tried to stretch, tense my muscles. I thought about stopping, I really wanted to stop, but I was concerned about bears. Grizzlies to be specific. I knew I would just fall asleep right on my bike and I would be easy pickings for the beasts. I soldiered on. It was a risk either way.
But it sucked, only because I was beyond the point of exhaustion.
I arrived at Camp Coldfoot about 3 hours later than I had expected. It was evening now. I parked my bike, got my room key, carried my gear into the room and promptly passed out, muck covered and boots still on. I don't know how long I was out, but it was a while.
After some time I woke out of one of those feverish sleep you get after you've overexerted yourself and every muscle and joint in your body just aches. Your hands and feet swell up. A callous had split open on my right hand and in general my right hand hurt like crazy. It ached just moving my fingers. My feet had swollen in my boots so they hurt. My back was in agony and every joint creaked.
So I got up and dragged my hurtin' worthless sorry carcass across the parking lot. There were no motorcycles. No busses. Just trucks. All the tourists were gone. I continued the slog to drag my carcass into the cafe and sat down at the bar still semi asleep and having trouble thinking. After quite a while, a different bartender than the one from the one the other night showed up, a hurried man with a curled mustache. I ordered a wine. He looked at me as if I was crazy and I said "man, if I could have a beer I would. I so want a beer but I'm sick so I can't, but I can drink wine and you don't have whiskey". "Fair enough", he replied.
I sipped my bad merlot and contemplated the ride down here when a man sat down next to me. He was watching the bartender. Some kid worker type playing cards at a table behind us shouted at the bartender rudely for another round of beers and the bartender jumped, leaving us, to bring the kid out his beers.
"Punk kid. That's just rude.", the guy next to me said. "He should get up and get his own fucking beer from the bar. He's just a punk kid. It's disrespectful." We got to talking about respect, courtesy and good manners. He was a bitter man, I would guess in his 50's. We talked about this work. He was a trucker working for one of the companies involved with the Alaska Pipeline.
"Maintenance. These fuckers aren't doing the maintenance that needs to be done.", he complained as I thought about the tour and impressions I had. "So much isn't being done that needs to be. As the oilfield is depleted, more and more sand is sent down the pipeline causing it to corrode. There's also this bacteria", he went on. "Like idiots we bought all the steel from Japan and it's cheap grade. I guarantee you it's not 3/4" any more. It's corroded. It'll bite them in the ass eventually. We just had a couple hundred thousand barrel spill up here not long ago, and that was just a small one."
Then he asked about where I was from and I told him about me being on a cross country trip. "Then I need to chide you about riding. You riders never pay attention. Make sure when you pass a trucker, to first be visible in his rear views. I had some idiot just blow by me and you know, we use the whole road as we're driving. I went to dodge a big hole and nearly ran the fucker off the road.".
I told him about my riding style, "Yea, if it had been me you would have seen me in your rearviews until we made eye contact, and I would have waved as I passed by. I'm the kind of guy when I see a trucker in the right side of a left hand turn lane I stop behind his tailer and prevent traffic from bunching next to him. Then after he's made the corner, because we know they have to cut the inside lane and would normally have to wait for all these cars to pass probably causing him to miss the light, then I go. I always enjoy the four way blinker thank you I get."
"Well, that makes you more considerate and more aware than about 99% of people out there", he replied.
"The way I see it, I'm a tourist out here just screwing around, you guys are the ones working, so I try to give extra consideration", I said. "That's smart", he said "you never know how many hours the guy has been working. After about 9 hours you get really tired". We talked for a while longer. He mentioned he was in his pickup truck and had given a guy who was broken down a ride. "15 miles out of my way and then 15 miles back!", he exclaimed. "I went out of my way. Gave him a ride. Dropped him off and the rude fucker didn't even say thank you! That just gets to me!". I told him one of the things I had been thinking about on my trip was how kind words, courtesy, nice gestures seem to have much less of a lasting effect than one rude event. "Yea, I know. When someone does something you expect, when they are courteous it's what you expect, so you think for a moment, 'that was nice', and move on. But when someone is an asshole, it sticks with you like a thorn in your back. That's probably why I'm still angry about this rude fucker three years later". Uncomfortably he got up and left.
I found myself thinking about the things I cannot let go. They are of a much greater magnitude. In some cases they are things people did with malice to hurt the ones I care about. They put real effort behind it, in some cases decades, in other cases years. I keep thinking about whether or not to write about it.
One spent a year and half going after my mother and me to do us harm after my sister was killed in an auto-accident. She got the absolute cheapest rental car imaginable because he complained so much about the money. He didn't want her to get a rental car at all. He wanted her to rely on my mom, my 70+ year old semi-disabled mom, to drive her around. I had offered her my car, a solid Mercedes. They had a combined income in excess of $250K/year and lived as if they made $40K.
After Gesa was killed in the horrific half on halk head on collision and her daughter in the rear child safety seat suffered a broken neck and other traumas, he filed a legal action against my mom. When that didn't work, he would call and threaten her, "You will never see your granddaughter again.". He wanted to be paid. He wanted part of my fathers estate, money from my mom, money from me. He was the one that left us holding the bag with over $13K of funeral expenses he had promised to pay back. That's what life insurance is for, asshole.
This was the man who prevented my mom from having any time at all with her granddaughter at the funeral and who tried to sneak her out during the reception without even saying goodbye. If it hadn't been for my friends, my friends who mean so much more to me than family ever could, my mom would not even had the 15 seconds to say good bye.
What kind of human being does that?
So, distraught, she would drink and then she would fall down and hurt herself, sometimes very badly. Sometimes very very badly. I call her every day, but I don't see her all that often. Unless she called me to pick her up off the floor when she couldn't get up herself, she wouldn't tell me what happened. "Why didn't you go to the emergency room!", I would yell after seeing her bloodied and blackened face. Yea, Nightmare, and this was only a very small part of it.
I was left having to pick up the pieces time and time again being terrified wondering what I could do. Powerless again. And this was in combination with everything else that was going on at the same time.
All my mom wanted was to see her granddaughter again. Using the tools of patience and sacrifice, I worked on it doing what little I could. I was careful to do everything very correctly, as I always do. It took a year and a half, to just this last August, to get him to stop and, at least, partially see what he was doing made no sense. "Evil is blind. Evil makes excuses", Kyrin would say. Yes, this was evil incarnate. "But you don't know how hard it is. I'm the one suffering.", he would complain having absolutely no compassion or insight into the pain of others. Evil not aware of what it's doing and making excuses.
The attornies and accountants would call me and warn that he sounded like he was out to do me physical harm and that he was out to do as much financial damage as he could. He actually came do DC specifically to go after my mom. At one point even I thought he might become physical.
I made no threats, no violence and took no legal actions in response, just in case you were wondering. I confess, that I can squelch any feelings I have and do what's "right", makes me feel impotent at times. There's a powerlessness to it. You feel so weak.
I find myself wondering what guys like Phil would do in situation like this. He's an ass kicker and fixer. I don't think the evil fuck would have faired as well if I had been more like Phil. But I'm me and I don't know, or maybe I've unlearned, how to be like that.
My niece, the poor child only 3 years old, had suffered enough and her father was too fragile and mentally ill to handle any kind of direct effort. I just carefully used words to get through his delusion. It took a lot of patience and time and enduring alot of abuse.
This was all after I moved heaven and earth to help him when my sister died, because he was too much of a weakling to do anything himself. He asked me to do /everything/ including all the funeral arrangements, all the coordination with his parents and getting them into the country, all the legal investigations into his options with regard to the driver that killed my sister. I stepped up. I was asked to. He was supposedly family. What else was I going to do? There wasn't anyone else. My mom was in no shape to do it. So I did it, again. Friends came out of the woodwork to help. Everyone pitched in. Then he pulled the rug out from under me. I was left having to apologize to everyone, including a close friends father would had been so kind to help us with the injury and insurance angle of things.
I commented to my mom at the height of his misbehavior, "You have 6 portraits of him up here in the house, but not a single one of me. Given how much he's tried to hurt you and how much I've tried to help you all these years, does that make any sense?". "But he's got my granddaughter.", she would reply.
Donna and others say I have to forgive the evil fuck for what he did.
That will never happen.
Stewing just like the angry trucker who had just left, I thought my time will come. Eventually that door that was closed to allow me to do what I did will open again and the pain will come out. It may be years from now, but I know it's coming and I am not looking forward to that day.
I turned my attention to the TV. There was some kind of outdoor life show on. It was a hunting show. So much of life up here in Alaska seems to be focused on killing critters. The show showed some clean cut clearly city slicker looking guy who was all excited about ending the life of some large critter. They showed how they went out in the woods with their scent blocking clothes and other advanced gear.
They stalked a critter and the footage of this huge bull moose with just impressive antlers walking out of the woods was just incredible. It was a magnificent beast. I wish I could see a moose like this in the wild. They made a few attempts on the thing but it would sense something and move off.
Then they finally got an angle on it. I thought they were going to use a bow, but used a rifle instead. The guy pulled the trigger and you saw the moose flinch and run off. I thought it would drop right there, but I guess it was a bad shot so the moose, that magnificent beast, suffered needlessly.
That image will burn in my mind for some time. Such a magnificent critter. There's something magical about the remaining large Beasts in the world. I think the world was better off with the beast alive in it than having it's antlers mounted on some wall somewhere.
Conceptually I have no problem with hunting, but sport hunting just for trophies; wasteful hunting seems like a crime to me. The tour guide up in Deadhorse said the caribou population has exploded and the herd was in danger of collapse because it's consuming up all available food. "Another analogy for humans.". In this case, hunting caribou, to save a herd makes sense and is necessary, absent enough predators to keep things in balance.
But this moose. It was huge and impressive. "Moose numbers are in decline.", someone said.
A guy sat down next to me, a bear of a man with scraggly beard and crooked teeth. I think he said his name was James. He had a calm demeanor about him, a kindness. No anger. He said, "Yea, watch to see if they can haul that thing out." "So how much does a beast like that weigh?", I asked. "About 2500 lbs", he replied, "They'll have have to quarter it up to get it out, if they get it out at all. We get alot of guys coming up here to shoot moose and they shoot them too close to water. A bullet in the gut is hot and the moose will run to the water to cool off. Once it does that, there's no getting it out." "Wasteful.", I said. "Yea.", he replied.
I was really bothered by the scene of the moose being killed. There was no respect. No apologizing to the animal. Nothing ritual about it. It was just pulling a trigger and putting an end to some beast. "That's not the way it's supposed to be.", I thought.
The bartender walked in and switched the channel to the "Ice Road Truckers" show. He had been interviewed for the show some time before and, as he explained it, they had asked for his consent. He said he would give it if he got a copy of the raw footage. They never provided that but went ahead and aired the footage anyway. He was none to pleased.
James exclaimed while laughing, "Aww, man, I don't want to watch work!".
It turns out James was an ice road trucker, although he wouldn't call himself that. He was a trucker. He hauls stuff year round. Sometimes he hauls things on ice.
I asked how realistic the show was. He replied, "Not that realistic really. Sure, stuff like that happens but what they show in one show might happen in 5 years."
These are professional truckers after all. These guys know how to do this job.
James said he had seen some of those guys around. "They hauled in a bunch of guys from Canada and the lower 48 just to make trouble. I think they want the accidents and the mishaps. It makes a better story."
There was a scene on where some guy is driving through a blizzard. "And so and so is driving through a Phase III", the announcer said. "That ain't no phase III. You can see 5 reflectors. That's hardly a Phase I. That's what I call good driving weather!", James said while chuckling.
The the next while he talked about what conditions on ice were really like and some of the mishaps and challenges he's faced. In a phase III, it's blowing snow so hard you can only see your reflection in the windshield. There's no progress. Sometimes they'll go behind construction equipment like a grader. "They can pull some serious weight", or something like that he would say. He talked about going up Atigen Pass and having a truck come down the hill too fast on the ice and start to jackknife. He recovered before they passed each other but they were so close the mirrors smacked. He talked about being in blizzard conditions in a convoy of trucks where visibility is so limited you can hardly see one reflector. "It's the last guy in line that's screwed. By the time the convoy moves he's the one furthest behind and they stop being able to see the truck in front of them. I've seen guys run off the road in those conditions, but there was nothing I could do so I kept driving", he would explain. I asked about what happens to those guys. "Well, they have heaters. The old guys would keep parachutes that they would strap over their rigs. They'd crack the windows and run camp stoves until someone came to pull them out.".
He said -25degF was good driving weather. "The ice isn't too brittle.", he would say. "Get to -50defF and it cracks".
We talked for a good long while. He talked about the company he works for. At one point, this bear of a man asked me why I was on for such a long ride. "I'm out here, Away, trying to get my head screwed on straight.", I replied. I figured he would be dismissive but surprisingly he said, "Yea, I can understand that. I did the same thing for year. I went out and hunted and fished. Then it came time to get back on with things."
He asked me about being on the road on the motorcycle. "Not too bad. It's not all that", I would say, "I thought this was going to be a real challenge." "You're about 5 years too late for that. The road is in the best shape it's ever been. It's that show and the tour companies. It's brought alot of attention to the road.", he explained.
I mentioned the one section of deep gravel. "Yea, there's 2 mile that can be challenging", he said. I asked where 2 mile was, was it a 2 mile hill? He explained that he meant mile marker two. You'll see that terminology used all over the place, even on maps. "At 25 mile turn right" kind of thing.
He was on the night shift so had just gotten up but it was his day off. He was bored. I should have asked whether or not he'd be open to talking more, maybe showing me the rig he drives and giving me more of an insight into this life. but I was exhausted. I had some dinner and went back to my room and promptly collapsed.
I like Camp Coldfoot. It's got that kind of staging area feel to it. You have the feeling you can glimpse into other lives very easily by just sitting at the bar.
Despite how exhausted I was the day before, I got up early and was fairly well rested. I had learned my lesson. Earplugs. Unfortunately for those in the other rooms, I didn't hear the alarm for some time because the earplugs I use are so good.
I got up, grabbed a shower and put on my gear. I wanted to get to Fairbanks early and grab a motel with WIFI so I could get to writing about this section of the trip. I knew it would take me some time to say everything I wanted to.
I checked out and grabbed breakfast at the breakfast buffet. Breakfast consisted of too many eggs, some bacon and sausages. They did have fresh fruit. I don't want to think about what my blood work will look like after this trip. Chloresterol of 1000, at least.
I sat quietly outside for quite some time. A couple hours I think. It was cool, not cold. There was a slight breeze. There was some commotion inside. I couldn't hear exactly what was going on but a pilot was having some trouble finding a way to approach the camp. I heard rumor of a forest fire not far away.
I pulled my bike around to get gas. Travelling the previous day across all that muck had certainly taken a toll on my bikes good looks. "I'll need to get it power washed before the salt starts corroding everything.", I thought as I surveyed the muck.
I went back to the cafe for another cup of coffee. It didn't feel like time to leave yet.
"I like this place.", I thought as I sipped bad trucker cafe coffee which was served from an endless pot. I could hear something that I thought was coming from inside the cafe, sounds from some kind of nature show.
But somethihng didn't sound right about it. The sound of diesel trucks ceased for a moment and I could tell the sound was coming from distant hills ... I pondered what it could be when I heard that distinctive howl.
A pack of wolves was not far off. I could hear them howling to one another. I have never heard wolves in the wild. My sum total experience with wolves was with one that a friend of Gesa's was keeping as a pet. She had visited Fort Lamers and brought the wolf. She said I was the only man the wolf ever liked. Strange critter.
I tried to get the camera in movie mode to capture the sound but a diesel van rolled up making too much noise. By the time all the senior citizens got out to go to the bathroom and stopped making noise, the wolves had gone quiet.
There's something about wolves, about forest covered trees, about this landscape that invokes the shadow of a memory; a memory I've never had. But there was something strangely familiar about it. It's just a feeling, but it was a very powerful one.
In the parking lot you could see a trucker trying to get his rig started. It sounds like starter motor trouble. Overall it was a quiet morning, with little going on.
I like it here. It's got kind of a spaceport feel to it. People are always travelling through. Some come and go, others just pass through once not to return. There are stories. Reports of goings on. Tales of things that went wrong. People come up and talk to you to tell you what has happened or to ask you about your experiences.
"How's the road", is a frequent question.
I went into the cafe to get yet another cup of coffee. At this point I had had Too Much but kept going.
In the bar, they had a little souvenier stand, but nothing that I really liked. I had wanted a little Camp Coldfoot metal pin to attach to my bike, but they had no such thing. They did have cheesy thermometers listing Coldfoot as the coldest recorded spot in North America or some such. So I got one to hang up in my house somewhere.
There was a collage of photos on the wall which seemed to capture more realistically the kinds of mishaps that can happen up here.
I didn't want to post it too much larger. Some of that really invokes "ouch".
The "motel" I spent the night in .. strangely I'm going to miss this place.
I enjoyed hanging out and listening to the truckers stories and seeing into the lives of people who did Real Work.
I passed one of the rigs. The previous night one of the truckers mentioned the hazards of gravel that gets stuck in truck tires. "It can be a problem", one said. "Not really, I've got a full faced helmet and good leathers.", I replied. "Yea, but for these guys riding up here without a face shield or leather they can be lethal.". That I can see.
Clouds were still pervasive and hung low over the cafe.
I sat there, outside on the porch, for quite some time hoping I would hear the wolves again. I think they had moved off further away. Every now and again I could just barely hear them, but the ambient noise from diesel engines and the goings on in the cafe prevented me from hearing clearly.
I saw a couple of tourists walk off into the woods in the direction of the wolves. "I don't know if that's such a good idea.", I found myself wondering. But I would have really liked to see a pack of wolves, from a distance, a very safe distance.
The time came when I got that sense of "Goodbye". It was time to leave. I was making time. The road was wet. It was raining in places. I was going faster than I had at any time before on this road. And I was leaving a wide margin for error. I had gotten comfortable with how the bike felt on the dirt, over the ruts, the gravel and the other conditions.
I was even catching a little lean in corners, on gravel, a thing I would never have imagined possible.
The rumor of a forest fire turned out to be true. I started to smell smoke and saw a haze hanging down over the tree shrub things.
The excess coffee that I consumed made itself known as I had to stop and take a leak several times on the way down. I really did have way too much coffee.
In the little access roads that lead to the pipeline every so and so many miles, you see these kinds of security signs.
I tried to capture some of the hills and the steep grades you encounter on the road. I was thinking of Rick, the bicyclist, when I took this photo.
It doesn't do it justice. The far side is wicked steep. Doing down this road on the wet muck was a bit unnerving, but too bad.
I was still on my dream-catcher quest. I saw a sign for a gift shop and stopped in. No native art, but they did have coffee. I continued my efforts to over-caffeinate myself to death.
It was a funky improvisational camp style little outpost. A generator could be heard running in the back. And this is what I enjoy about having requests. It causes me, like my arbitrary destinations, to see things I would not have seen. Had it not been for the request, I would not have stopped here and seen this.
"Cool.", I thought. I talked to the proprietor for a while. She had this an array of "no bitching, no moaning, no complaining" signs pasted up everywhere while she complained about the weather and how cold and rainy it's been. She said the previous day had winds so strong it blew all of her stuff around.
I continued on down the road to Yukon River Camp to get gas. Since I had no reason to see it before, I failed to notice the little "Local Crafts" stand out in front of the camp. A rough outdoorsy looking woman, missing a few teeth, ran the stand. Unfortunately for my quest, everything she sold she made herself. She trapped furs of various critters such as wolverine, muskrat, lynx, etc. She had a disturbing wolverine purse, where the skin of the head of the thing made the flap that closed the purse.
She also made little canoes about of bark and other items.
She started showing me photos of her house, which she and her family had built off in the woods. I did not know you could mill your own lumber, to pretty exacting standards, using a chain saw. She showed me how her stand had been made using the trees they felled on their property.
She had photos of a forest fire, of clearing the lot and how they built the support stand to raise the structure off the ground. They built the entire thing in just a few months bringing in little more than tools. Aside from electricals and some modest plumbing, if I understood her correctly they manufactured everything right there to build the house.
I listened to her for a good 30 minutes and suggested she make a little book with her photos. "That's a story I think people would be willing to buy.", I suggested to her.
It was cool. Another life, very different from my own, all because of a quest. Cool.
I got gas at the Yukon River Camp and picked up a post card and an arctic circle pin for the bike. I was off again.
I happened upon this long sloping hill that turned into a right hander that I recognized. I slammed on the brakes just beofre I hit the deep irregular gravel. This was the spot that that tractor trailer had slid into my lane on the way up. I had asked James if that happens and he said it happened all the time, so I guess I wasn't imagining things.
It was in worse condition than the last time I was here. The photo doesn't do it justice, but this 100 yards was the only "bad" part of the Dalton I experience. It's a 15mph section.
(The phone just rang. I got called by a friend I haven't talked to in nearly 10 years. It's crazy how life and obligations gets in the way ... but now I have a new task. After coming back from Valdez I've been instructed, rather forcefully, that I should go see an Ice Castle at a hot springs resort ... hmmm, but checking google I'm not seeing it immediately. I'll have to look again later. There are a few other friends I haven't seen in 10 years I would like to hear from.)
This was just a 100 yard section. The gravel was several inches deep and confused. Hitting this in the condition it was in at too high a speed will likely result in a crash. It was around 30 mile or so.
I liked this shot.
This section of the Dalton highway is also built up crazy high. I walked down to the base and tried to capture it.
But it looks too flat. The bike, as you can see in the other photo, is on the edge of the road. So it's uphill from the point of the camera basically to the wheels of the bike.
Not long after the gravel spot I came upon the end of the road. As soon as I hit pavement, contrary to what I would have thought, I missed the dirt almost immediately. "That had been fun.", I thought as I stopped a the Dalton Highway sign.
"I wonder if this bike and I will ever be in this spot again?", I thought.
I kind of doubt it. This is not the kind of place you visit more than once. Maybe I would ride up here if I got some kind of contract to work at the oil field, but as a tourist I don't think it makes sense to come back. There are other places to see.
This road was fun though. I thought it was a lot of fun, but my sense of "fun" may be a little disturbed.
I hit the road down towards Fairbanks. It's a windy albeit frost heaved bouncy road. Coming off the Dalton riding on pavement seemed almost too easy. I was going at a good clip leaning into corners more than I had at any point on the trip before. The bike felt good.
Eventually I came upon another "gift shop" advertising "native art". "Maybe I can find something appropriate there.", I thought as I pulled in.
It was an odd place.
It looked like something you might see at Dancing Rabbit. The inside was clean and well organized though. They did have some dream catchers, but they were too large, made out of elk horn. The smaller ones they had looked like plastic. Ok, that won't work. I asked about bathrooms and they directed me to the outhouses outside.
They looked like something out of Tolkien, a common comment I make. I figured, "No problem. I've gotten used to pit toilets by this point.".
OMG. That was the foulest, vilest, most disgusting outhouse I have ever seen. I still cannot get the memory of that smell to leave my consciousness. I am forever scarred.
Chris, the R1200GS yoga stretching photographer guy I had met at Coldfoot Camp had given me the card for AdvCycleWorks and repeatedly suggested that I go by there to have my bike pressure washed to get all the muck off it. Given how hard it was caked on I was curious how well that was going to work out.
They run the shop out of their house. It's off a dirt road a ways out of the way, but well worth the trip. They specialize in tires for adventure bikes that are in the area to run up and down the Dalton and other "challenging" roads.
I arrived and hung out for a while. I wanted to let the bike cool before putting water on it. The exhaust system on 16valve K100RS's has a propensity for cracking badly. We chatted for a bit. Dan, the proprietor, suggested that I visit Valdez on the coast. There are a number of tour boats that go out to a glacier. He highly recommended the one called Lulubelle. He said it was the Switzerland of Alaska and worth a look-see. A number of other people I've talked to concurred, so I'm going. I'll leave for Valdez tomorrow, assuming I feel better. I'll probably hang out there for a day and then start the return trip. I'll check out this Ice Castle, assuming I can find it, and then travel on to Prince George then Victoria. From there I'll probably just do the top route across the US. I want to go through Glacier, the Badlands and take a look-see at Sturgis, even though I'll be there a week early.
Dan suggested I stay at the University of Alaska. They open up the dorm rooms to travellers in the off-season, but I looked and it appeared to be more trouble than it was worth. I wanted something closer to food.
At this point I was hungry. I was absolutely starving, so riding around town I stopped at a bar and grill and sat down at the bar. The characters there were, how should I say this politely, colorful. Political correctness was nowhere to be found. A friend of mine, Micro, would have felt right at home.
A guy sat down next to me, I think his name was Brian. He worked on oil rigs up on the North Slope and Prudhoe Bay. He was too lit to really have a conversation about it. All he said was he seemed to get assigned all the highest profile drills.
The food in the place was really good. I had ordered a steak with a salad and the salad was monstrous, and good. Guys at the bar were making off color comments about the bartender, as guys at bars seem to do when there's a cute bartender. It's something that I've never liked. She's working. Let her work. If you like her, just give her a good tip and leave it at that.
I guess there in lies the problem. They saw a cute blonde. Just some thing. I saw a person who was trying to work, and was doing a reasonably good job at it.
Some ages ago I sat at the Outback when Rachel K was working. It was a similar scene, but not nearly as bad as this. Guys at the bar were professing their undying love for Rachel, which happens. "So how often do your customers profess their undying love for you?", I asked. "All the time", she replied. "It gets creepy when it's the really old guys. You know, the ones over 40.". Laugh. Ouch. "Ok, then I'll be the one that never does that.", I promised. So it's become kind of a game. I sit at the bar and she's always takes especially good care of me, especially on those days during the Nightmare when I just wanted someone to look out for me for a change. I would say, "I'm thinking it, but I can't say it.". That always got a smile.
So I asked this bartender the same question. "I've lost count.", she said giggling. Good answer. The guy next to me starts saying rather loudly which body parts of her he liked the most, then turned his attention to the TV and started doing the same about the women he saw there. "Not good.", I thought. Oh well. It's just that I always hate that kind of thing. I just keep thinking about all the horror stories women have told me ... maybe I spend too much time remembering them.
I finished my steak and went to find a motel.
After stopping at some ridiculously overpriced hotels, I happened upon a relatively cheap one, at least for this area, across from a BMW, Harley, etc dealer. As I rode down the street to the motel I saw a clear sign of the forest fire in the distance.
I got a room. I was going to write but was too tired, so I headed out and asked where I could find a local bar. They directed me to the Boatel Bar, a dive down the street in walking distance.
It was serious local scene. You could tell everyone there had known everyone else for years. Customers who were also friends traded gossip with the bartender. She had a persistent uncomfortable laugh. Coincidently after a short while, the guy that sat next to me at the grill from before, came in from outside. He saw me, remembered my name and invited me to join him and his friends outside. The sun was extremely low and bright on the horizon bathing the back of the deck in an erry intensely orange light.
If I understood correctly, his two friends were in from out of town. California somewhere, I think. They mostly ignored me at first just talking about local antics. I hung out for a few hours with them. The one friends name was Nora, but I can't remember her boyfriends name. At some point they asked me why I was out here. So I gave the standard answer, "out here getting my head screwed on straight". After some more indirect questions, I think they concluded I had been through some kind of divorce. Later they asked me directly to tell them what happened. So I gave a quick executive summary of the Nightmare, obligations, lack of choice.
Nora's boyfriend, whose name I forget, suddenly became serious. He was not the serious type, constantly joking, but he was very serious and asked some more questions. After a while he said something interesting that I had not considered, which is the point of telling this part of the story in the first place.
"It sounds like you were playing the martyr.", he said.
That one comment has stuck with me these last couple of days. I've looked back over everything that happened over all these years and I've wondered if I had not stepped up, if I had not tried to do everything I did, how bad would things have gotten? Was all this effort in vain? Did I, through all that I did for everyone else, only make things worse?
I struggle with these questions. I struggled with them while I was going through it all. Could I have walked away? Everyone kept asking me that. "It's only money.", they would say. But it's more than that. It's security. It's about my mom being able to sleep at night.
"Martyr.", I would think. But if I look at it honestly, I just don't know. I don't /think/ so. But maybe it's possible.
If I look at the kinds of problems I get pulled into, they all seem to involve a great deal of self-sacrifice. I seem to be really good at that and am able to do it with ease. I am very rarely the kind of person who puts his foot down to impose my will on someone else.
Hmmm. Martyr. He might be on to something.
It's something that I'll have to think about some more.
I spent the next two days at the hotel. I haven't been feeling well, so I've holed up here. I've had some interesting conversations with one of the women that runs the hotel. She said at one point, about running the Dalton, "Maybe it was so easy for you because you're a better rider. We hear of guys not making it all the time. Many have to turn around. Some crash.".
That's another thing I'll have to think about for a while.
So I've spent the whole day writing. I'm going to go off in search of some food and will try to get some rest. Maybe I'll stop by that dive bar again for a bit.
A friend busted my chops about the "martyr" musings in the my last post. She had been there through the latter part of the Nightmare and saw much of the worst of it. Not to the degree that Duncan did, but much of it. So she, virtually, hit me upside the head to remind me I had little choice in the matter and was not, in fact, a martyr.
There's an interesting aspect to the psychology going on in me. It makes no sense, but then again this kind of damage rarely does. You're raised in an environment where you are blamed for everything. You are the scapegoat that's used so your parents can avoid their own failings. They tell you the company is failing and the house is being foreclosed upon because you didn't do some little thing. "Your mom will be homeless and it is solely your fault.", he would say. You're 12 and you absolutely believe him and the implications terrify you. This goes well into adulthood. "Get over it, you're an adult now.", I think from time to time. But you can't change how you feel, at least not easily or quickly. Like some tall oak tree that's grown up organically on crooked ground, when you look at the world level it seems crooked. It's not the ground you're used to walking on.
At some point when things get difficult, because it's what you're familiar with and it's what you've been trained to believe, you want to believe that it's your fault. It makes so much more sense to you that somehow the bad things happened because you did something wrong. If only you could do it better the bad things wouldn't happen. As I write this I realize I sound somewhat like a abused wife. You know, that typical thing you always hear abused women say, "If only I didn't do the things that make him angry, he wouldn't do the bad things he does to me. It's my fault.".
It's the same with being sick. I keep thinking at some point that I am in fact not sick, I've just been making it all up. Then I have a beer or eat something with starch or sugar in it and the next 5 days are spoken for. It's similar with the Nightmare. The hardest thing to accept is that it wasn't my fault, that I did the best I could and was just up against impossible odds and managed to pull it all out at the end. Seeing it that way is too "level". Even six months after it all resolved by the skin of all of our collective teeth, I still can't shake the feeling that I made it worse. (And notice I didn't say "I resolved" ... ) That somehow someone else in the same circumstances could have done it better. My attornies and broker have told me otherwise, and yet I still can't shake the feeling. I feel no sense of accomplishment. I feel no sense of pride. I don't even really feel relief. I don't know what I feel, but it's not good.
So when Matt said I sounded like a Martyr at some emotional level I felt, "Aha! Now that makes sense. That explains everything. I brought it on myself ...".
The night before I left Fairbanks, I went back to a local dive called the Boatel Bar for a drink. It's strictly a locals hangout and was, once again, a place filled with colorful characters. As fate would have it, or habit, Brian from the previous night was there. He had not had quite as much to drink and was more talkative. He apologized for asking me pointed questions the night before. "It was a bit long and boring. No fun. I apologize for asking.", he said. Fair enough. He got to talking and while he talked for a very long time it was never boring. An energetic, almost spastic guy with twitchy movements as if sped up by stims, he described his antics. "Little impulse control.", I remembered myself thinking. "Yea, I'm the guy, if you say jump off a bridge I'd be like 'yea!'", he exclaimed making a V sign with his hands and waving them wildly.
He describe snowmobiling across water in some detail. I had seen snowmobiles cross finite bodies of water at speed but what I did not know is if you balance them right you can just keep going. He talked about going back and forth across the open water in February. There's a powerplant up the river that dumps its hot waste water which keeps the ice melted.
Well, as it happened he was running across the water at speed when he realized the ledge he used to get back up on the ice had fallen in and it was now a 2ft tall embankment. As he told the story, waving wildly and moving around on the bar stool emulating his body position on the sled (snowmobile) like a motorcycle racer sometimes does, he described carving a short left hand turn only to have the sled point to high up losing it's bouyancy. Down it went with him on it into the drink, in Alaskan February temperatures. He went on to describe getting to near hypothermia as he swam and broke through ice to get back on shore and back into the bar. The entire story had happened right behind the bar, which as the name implies is directly on the river. Listening to him talk about spending the next five days trying to recover the sled was amusing. He said once he got it out of the water and extracted an eel from the airbox, he was able to revive it with some work and still runs it.
He works up in Prudhoe Bay on an oil rig and makes in six months nearly what I make in a year. It seems like a good gig, if you can get it. I asked him a some questions about his job and he described some facets of his daily routine but didn't seem to interested in describing it in detail. What he did mention sounded like really hard work.
He mentioned he had an aunt who lived not far from the Yukon River bridge on the Dalton highway. He talked about masks that members of his family had made, some of which are on display at the Smithsonian he said.
As I watched him waving his hands around with exaggerated facial expressions, I realized, finally, what his appearance reminded me of. A Vulcan. Same haircut. Same general facial features. He could have gotten cast on the spot, well, that is if he could calm down a bit. An amusing guy to listen to although I don't think I'd get in a vehicle with him behind the controls. "Impulse control.", I thought.
He did get serious at one point where he talked about how he helps support his mom. He's got some demons of his own. In a way he reminded me of Lance, always moving so that he doesn't have to stop and think.
He wanted to head to some other bar. "We probably won't ever meet again.", I said as we both got up to leave. "Yea, I guess not." he replied. "It was good meeting you."
I have to admit this has been an unanticipated part of this trip. I've gotten to get glimpses into quite a number of diverse lives. Out here I am less judgemental and more open. Out here I seem to be completely comfortable talking to people who, at home, I would probably not engage in conversation. There is probably a lesson in there.
I headed back to my room at the motel, all the while smelling the overpowering camp fire smell of a nearby forest fire that had been raging for some days now.
Morning came again, as it usually does, too early, but I had managed to sleep fairly well for a change. It had rained yesterday and overnight. It was much colder today, however.
I answered some emails, packed up my gear and headed to a nearby Denny's that claims to be the northernmost Denny's there is.
As I went to get gas I noticed how ominous the clouds looked. "Hmm. I'm heading to the coast today. I wonder if it's going to be like that trip to Prince Rupert with Duncan all those years ago.", I thought as I shuddered.
"I've had a pretty good run. Actually it's been a strangely long run of good weather. My luck is bound to run out.", I thought as I got back on the bike and headed out. A thermometer on a billboard read 51degF.
I headed South towards Delta Junction with the intention of reaching Valdez that evening. Valdez is only 366 miles from Fairbanks. "I should be able to make that with time to spare.", I considered naively. Within 20 miles, the drizzle started. It was an annoying kind of drizzle that wets the faceshield of the helmet just enough that you have to wipe it repeated to restore your vision. The road was already thoroughly wet. The further south I went, the further the temperature dropped.
Clouds hung eerily low over the horizon and surrounding mountains. The drizzle slowly turned into a persistent cold soaking rain. I had to stop to put the tank bag rain cover on. I couldn't take pictures with the good camera, because it was raining too hard.
Despite the rain and the darkness of the clouds I was making good time. RV's and trucks were causing their usual spray but I was getting around them handily. There were plenty of good passing sections. At one point a car flashed it's lights at me so I slowed down thinking there was an officer ahead. But none was to be seen. Then a while thereafter another car flashed it's lights at me and then another. "Shit. I bet my headlight has failed.", I thought. Sure enough, the 18 year old headlight bulb had burned out. I had a spare buried in the rear cowling under the seat under all of my gear. It was raining solidly now and puddles of water were forming in the depressions of the uneven frost heaved road. Some of these puddles were deep enough to shock you awake.
I really didn't want to replace the headlight in the rain. That would have sucked so I continued on constantly looking for a covered place to do this job. The rain got worse. As had been predicted, the water proofing I put on my boots only works for a finite period. My feet were good and soaked through by now. After 20+ years or wearing military issue combat boots I fear I may finally need to break down and get myself a waterproof riding set.
According to the thermometer it was now in the high 30's. The rain mits that I put over my gloves also have a defect. Eventually water starts running down your arm and into the mits and soaking your leather gloves. Unpleasant. The Transit Suit fits too tightly around my arms to put the suit over the gloves and mits. "Thank you Duncan once again for the heated handle bar grips.", I said aloud as I switched them on high. My hands may have been wet but they were not freezing.
The Transit Suit, as advertised, was completely water proof IF you remember to close the pockets. As I have mentioned before and I am sure you believe me, I am a genious. I left all the suit pockets unzipped. Yea, Genius I tell you.
The rain mits have a nice squeegy thing on them which makes clearly the faceshield of water mist and rain a breeze. Unfortunately, this was the kind of rain where you found yourself doing that constantly, at least every 30 seconds just so you could see.
The clouds got darker and darker. Everything was wet on the outside. I was starting to get concerned about visibility. Without my headlight oncoming traffic can't see me. It seemed like ages before I finally came upon a gas station at a lodge.
It was really coming down now and to add insult to injury it was coming down at an angle.
I walked in to the office to pay for gas and asked if I could stay under the gas pump cover, which was at least partially out of the rain so I could replace the headlight bulb. "I can do better than that. Around back there's a large generator shed. It's covered and because the generator is running it's warm.", the attendant said.
This turned out to be a lifesaver.
Despite the electric vest and the heated handle grips I was pretty good and cold. Soaked frozen feet were making it uncomfortable to walk. The "shed" was more like a huge barn with a concrete floor. The generator which occupied a quarter of the space provided all the power for the lodge. It was warm, albeit poorly lit.
I remember seeing a couple of guys, one with a passenger, on a couple of mid-70's vintage 400cc bikes. I think they may have been Kawasaki's or Hondas. I couldn't tell. They had milk cartons bungied to the 70's style sissy bars. They didn't have any good gear and looked like hippies. "That's how you do it.", I had thought at the time. "Slowly, on a shoe string budget going from campground to campground. Not high dollar, on some German machine with all this gear and electronics.", I thought as I pondered how unfortunate I was that I was so fortunate and could afford to travel the way I do.
"Today, I am grateful I am fortunate. I love my heated vest, my heated handlebar grips and this expensive water proof Transit Suit.", I thought as I slowly started taking gear off. "If I were those guys, I'd be hating life much more than I am right now. I am just uncomfortable. In this weather they would be miserable.". It was pouring down rain outside, but the heat from the generator felt good.
It had been 18 years since I changed the lightbulb in my bike. The spare is also that old. I'll have to remember to get another spare as soon as I can. Getting stranded without a headlight on a bike is a Bad Thing. I checked the owners manual to review how to remove the thing. As is the case with most things, getting this !#$!@# headlight bulb out involved some contortionism, patience and pain.
It took me over 45 minutes to get the old one out and the new one installed. But I was strangely calm about it. It took the time that it took. I didn't rush it. I had no schedule. "I'll roll into Valdez around 10PM", I thought. "That might be a problem.". But I was committed now. Unhurried, I checked tire pressure which I hadn't done in a while. I added some air to the front and rear using this cool Aerostich mini-compressor I got and packed up my gear. "Yea, I'm fortunate to be fortunate.", I thought.
I thanks the attendant for the use of the shed and then headed back out into the pouring rain and was on my way. I just rode. There were things I would have taken photos of, but it was raining too hard. Then I remember the backup indestructible camera that takes lousy photos. I pulled it out and put it into my pocket.
Duh. "Remember to zip up the pockets. Nobody reminded me to do that. They're always telling me not to die or get eaten by grizzly bears but ...", I laughed.
I was good and cold, but it was not unbearable. I have certainly been much colder. "This is going to be one of those standard comments after a while. Maybe it'll become standard comment #1. 'Thank you Duncan for the grips'", I kept thinking over and over again. There are few things in life that feel as good as release from discomfort. Hands cold. Press button. Hands warm now. Ahhhh.
As was the case in 1992, when, for 500 miles in the rain, Duncan would persistently say with that annoying optimism he musters simply to bug me, "Look! There's a break in the clouds. I'm sure the rain will stop any minute now!". It's didn't. Prince Rupert is some kind of Northern Rain Forest. It rains all the time.
So when I saw in the distance ...
... I thought, "Ah, mother Nature, I'm on to you. You teased me before but I'm just not buying it this time!". On I rode undeterred by the sunshine peering through the clouds. "Sucker hole", I thought.
Now having the indestructible camera soaking in my wet pocket, I was free to take pictures.
I pondered , "How can you tell you're in Alaska?".
Yup. If you have to be reminded not to shoot from the roadway, you're in Alaska.
Mother Nature continued to try to tease me, but I coldly ignored her advances, knowing that she was just trying to make me hopeful so she could crush me again. Abuses relationships are like that, after all. You just have to learn to stop hoping and realize She's Evil.
At one point she actually made it stop raining for a while, maybe 45 minutes. I thought to myself this can't be true. The clouds were hanging very low overhead. I don't remember ever seeing clouds like this before.
These clouds were crazy low. The rain stopped and started. It would turn to drizzle for a while. Then, as I started to climb what I thought was a pass, I saw some very ominous looking clouds. These clouds were a dark blue and situated between two mountain peaks.
I started running into a mist as if I was riding through a cloud. It was an annoying mist requiring me to constantly clear the faceshield. It had gotten colder still and the shield was fogging up quickly on the inside.
The clouds continued to amaze.
There was this one cloud hanging down low in front of a mountain seemingly just a few hundred feet above the road.
It started to rain again just I had started becoming hopeful. Then I saw it.
I hoped to see the glacier I've been told you can walk on. I've never seen a glacier up close before. The rain continued as I climbed the mountain. Temperatures had risen for a while but were no dropping well into the mid thirties.
Then I ran into fog, only it wasn't fog, it was a cloud.
I've ridden in fog before but this was ridiculous. It was wet. Very wet. So wet in fact that I couldn't keep the faceshield clear. I suffered constant visibility problems and could only do about 15 mph. It got much thicker than what's depicted in the photo. This was taken right at the beginning.
It went on for miles. I rode with the fourway blinkers on. It got so thick that while riding next to the yellow line in the middle I could not see the white line on the side. I was afraid some idiot would come through too fast and run me over I was travelling so slowly.
But I couldn't go any faster safely. To make matters worse, the road surface was very slick.
This seemingly went on for miles and miles.
On the other side of the pass I descended and ended up in a very cool steep and narrow canyon filled with low handing clouds and waterfalls.
Of course, it was still raining but no longer quite as hard. It was still cold.
I finally made it into Valdez just before 10PM. To my dismay seemingly every hotel was booked solid. I was thoroughly chilled and not looking forward to attempting to camp or riding back three hours to next nearest town. I went to three separate hotels until I found a motel with a room available.
The amount of money I've spent on hotels, eating out and gear is starting to make me sick. Maybe we'll call this the Worlds Most Expensive Sunday Drive. Things in Canada and Alaska are just crazy expensive.
There was a restaurant in walking distance that was still open. Leaving all my gear on the bike, I walked over because I was starving. It was a weird place. As Duncan would say, "There's only bad music on the water.". This was true of this place as well. The bartender, who really couldn't be bothered to tend bar, was playing with her iphone that she had plugged into the stereo.
Eventually I managed to get a drink and dinner. Eventually a guy sat down next to me just before the kitchen closed and ordered dinner. I thought I recognized the accent but I wasn't entirely sure. I asked him where he was from. "Germany", he replied. "Wo aus Deutschland?", I asked (Where in Germany?). He was from Berlin. They have a slightly different accent there which is why I didn't recognize it. His name is Eike. He had been kayaking on the Yukon river for some long time by himself. Hard Core. We talked for a good long while. I mentioned the boat tours, but the forecast for the next day was supposed to resemble what I had just experienced. We agreed to meet at 11AM in front of the restaurant and would decide what to do then.
It's simply crazy how many people I'm meeting. Maybe it's because most of the people I'm meeting are themselves travelling and are thus in that same open state of mind. I don't know.
I went back to the my room and promptly took a long hot shower and went to bed.
I didn't sleep well. Morning rolled around and I was awake shortly before 8. The hotel made a big deal out of breakfast. They have a full breakfast room with a complete kitchen so I had hopes for breakfast. Cold cereal and muffins is all they had. Great. I walked around town in search of a place to get something to eat.
Along the way I thought, how can you tell if you're in Alaska?
If the bars open at 8AM, you're in Alaska.
It was still dark from thick clouds which still hung eerily slow over the landscape.
The water in the marina here at Valdez has this unnatural aquamarine color.
I had breakfast at another inn and a couple cups of coffee. I was once again a a stupid tired walking corpse. Despite that, I kept a careful watch on the time since we had said 11AM.
Now if he had been an American, I would have questioned whether or not he would even have shown up. Even then, one would have considered a window of maybe half an hour early or late to be "normal".
But this was a German and that means two things. He'll be there because, he said he would be there and he'll be on time.
So I quickly walked over to a coffee stand, got my fifth cup of coffee for that morning, and headed over to the agreed upon spot. I was 2 minutes early and he was no where to be seen. At exactly 30 seconds before the hour, he walked up coffee cup in hand.
I have some difficult understanding him. He uses a lot of vocabulary and slang I'm not used to but I can follow along. I haven't been speaking enough German lately so I was looking forward to a day in the language. The weather was still off. Clouds and fog were everywhere. We decided that a boat tour wouldn't be worth it so we opted to walk around town. He had wanted to check out some kayaking and sports stores looking for a hand held radio or Personal Locator Beacon. We walked around town chatting. At one point we came upon an interesting tracked vehicle.
For when the snow if Really Deep.
We walked over to the tourist center because I wanted to get some information on the boat tours. The lady there started showing us photos she had taken nearby. "The salmon are running. It's low tied. There will probably be bears and eagles as well. If you hurry you might still be able to make it.", she said.
Eike had a rental car so we raced, jumped into it and headed to the place the lady had mentioned. It took much longer to get there than one would have guessed looking at the tourist map.
When we arrived the tide was already coming back in, but we could see quite a number of birds and alot of fishermen. "This must be the place.", Eike said. We got out of the car, cameras in hand and climbed down the rock embankment. Watching the water carefully you could occasionally see the splashing of salmon as they ran through shallow parts.
It's the splashing of a salmon. It was the best I could do.
In the distance I spotted an eagle. There had been a number of them while we were in the car, but most had flown off.
One could get a sense of how much the tidal difference in this area is. Most of the ground we were standing on, many feet above the water line, was still wet and covered in what I guess was kelp.
Fishermen lined this one little section of stream through which, apparently, a crazy number of salmon were swimming.
They didn't even bait the hooks. The salmon that were being pulled out weren't even hook on their mouths. Maybe were hooked on the side.
They would simply cast the line out, drag the hook across the stream and pull out salmon after salmon. One guy were saw, in particular, bothered both of us. He pulled out salmon after salmon and as he pulled the fish off the hook, he threw it on the ground and just stepped on it.
Both Eike and I were appalled at the simple disregard. "No respect. No decency.", he said. He went on to talk about the hunting license you get in Germany and how, when you learn to hunt in Germany, a certain amount of culture and respect is included. If you don't demonstrate an understanding of the hunters code, you don't get your license.
I mentioned the show I had seen where the moose was assassinated and his comments mirrored the ones I made in the blog at the time. Maybe it's just a German thing. There's a different set of values, a different way of looking at the world. There are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.
Hooking some fish and smashing it on a rock just isn't right. "You have to use a knife and make it quick.", Eike said. Most fish lying on the beach after having been stomped on were still moving.
This scene is going to stick with me for a while. It disgusted both of us so we left. The next low tide is as midnight. We've been told to be careful as we're planning on heading back out there to see if we can see any grizzlies. Yes, yes, I'll be careful.
We talked about the bears and were warned by one of the fishermen that they tended to lurk just on the other side of the road. Eike had a rather sizeable rifle with him which he pulled out and put together.
Germans with guns.
He said in principle he has no problems with hunting but couldn't see himself going out and killing some beast. We discussed the relative merits of bear spray versus guns. I've been told most of the time a gun will just piss a bear off and that the bear spray tends to be more effective. Eike's point was that the reason the taser was invented is that people can learn to withstand pepper spray. He had heard if a bear has been sprayed in the past it's less likely to be stopped the second time around.
After leaving the salmon hatchery, we headed over to Valdez Glacier. I had heard from someone that you can walk right up to it. It took us a while to get there, but at least it was on the way back. It turned out I had been misinformed.
There really wasn't much of the glacier to see. It looked to me like it had receded quite a bit. There was a good sized pond and the glacier itself was far too long a walk for us to attempt it. We were both hungry at this point.
As we were getting ready to leave I saw a critter I have only seen once before.
Yermo the nature photographer. I'm guessing this is some kind of porcupine. We stalked the slow moving waddling beast but it was on to us and moved off into a weird grove of trees where it refused to pose for the camera.
All these trees were leaning to the right as if pushed by some force.
As we opened the door of the car to leave the glacier the mosquitoes swarmed. A dozen or so got into the car with us. Very annoying.
Eike suggested that we buy lunch at the grocery store and have lunch at the campsite where he was staying. It was an awful RV park with RV's of every shape and size visible as far as the eye could see.
"It'd be a great view without all the RV's.", I said. He complained about RV's that left their generators on after 11PM preventing him from getting a good nights sleep. "There are rules against that.", he said perplexed. It's a German thing. Rules are to be followed. For Americans, rules are more like guidelines. If it says 55mph, they usually don't ticket you unless you're doing over 75mph.
As we sat in the campground, this crazy bird walked up and stood staring at me from maybe less than 6 feet away.
It just stood there staring at me. Eike threw it some chicken, but the bird flew away. "I guess he didn't get it.", Eike said.
He had wanted to go to the Valdez museum. I decided rather than do that, since I was so tired, I would go back to my motel room and see about doing some laundry. Maybe I could sleep.
On the way to the motel, I stopped at the Lulubelle Boat office to see when the boat left the next day. It turns out they only run it once a day starting at 1PM. The nice lady is holding a spot for me. If the weather holds, I think I'll do it tomorrow. They say you can see whales on most days. Unfortunately, the tour lasts until 7 or 8PM depending on the wildlife they see. This means I'll be here another day. I think I'll try camping. The hotel costs are starting to hurt.
As I looked around the Lulubelle Office I saw it. The perfect dream catcher. "That's it!", I thought. I had had a vision of what I wanted to get and that matched it almost exactly. It was not for sale. Thwarted again.
I checked a few shops on the way back to the motel but found nothing. I took a short nap, did some laundry and checked email. Originally, I was thinking I was far too tired to write this post. "I won't have enough time.", I had thought.
But then I got this friend request on facebook by a guy from Dubai who was googling about trips to Alaska. He started reading the blog and send me a message about it. It turns out he likes the blog and wants me to continue writing it.
So with a little encouragement from a random stranger I mustered the gumption to put together this entry ...
I wonder, once I get back to my life, will I have anything to say that people will want to read?
And if I don't stop now I'll be late ... so I leave it as it is with all my usually typos and mis-edited sentences. My apologies to the readers. I wonder if we'll see any bear tonight.
"You should write a book about your travels.", the gift shop lady said. "Actually, so many friends asked me to send them emails to let them know I'm still alive that one suggested I just write a blog. That way everyone who's interested can check and see if I've croaked.", I replied. "I don't know about that internet. There's just so much bad stuff out there. You hear about it all the time. And you on that motorcycle, that's so dangerous. We had a guy killed here last year.", she said. "There's always a reason not to do a thing. You can play it perfectly safe and let the years roll on but in the end there'll be so little that you'll do.", I commented. "Yup. That's what I want. To die safely on my couch. Adventure is not for me.", she replied.
That comment surprised me.
There is so much to be afraid of. There are so many risks. Even she agreed that she would get into a car. I've known far more people who've died or gotten seriously injured in cars than on motorcycles.
It got me to thinking again about risk.
In Fairbanks, I was talking to a guy from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I mentioned to him that I was beginning to consider the long trip down. "Don't do it! Buenos Aires and much of South America is just terrible. Terrible! If you are European, Canadian, American they kidnap you. Chop off an ear or a finger and send it to you family. Hundreds. Thousands of people kidnapped in this way! I left. Got out of there.", he said being obviously agitated by the subject.
I've heard these stories too often. Everyone knows some story of bad things that happened to someone in South America. I know people who've had to leave South America because they were being persued. But what's the real risk? Why does this risk affect me more than the risk of motorcycling?
I think it's "unknown" risk. The Dalton Highway was supposed to be this impossible road. It was a cakewalk, possibly because I was properly prepared. But "unknown" risks, the risks that we have no experience with, tend to magnify in our minds. I also know many people from South America. I know a few who live down there. I have a distant cousin, Cari, who lives in Buenos Aires. I've talked to a surprising number of riders who have done the trip down. They didn't have any problems. But yet, the risk seems unmanageable in my mind. I feel the same way about the Middle East. Maybe it's that I feel I would be a target, a target that would attract unwanted attention.
It's an irrational uneducated fear. It should be possible that mitigate and manage these risks somehow.
I ride a motorcycle over what many seem to think is difficult terrain. The downside risk is extreme. I could be mamed, paralyzed or die. Yet, I am willing to take this extreme risk. We all take the same risk every time we get in a car, but we don't think about it. It's a familiar risk. Everyone does it so we become numb to it.
There are other risks we take unconsciously.
Many people have asked me how I am able to afford the time off of work. How can I afford to do this? Aren't I afraid of not having enough for retirement? This is another form of risk I'm taking which may, eventually, have more serious consequences. It is something I worry about. The money I have spent on my bikes, my boat, and this trip add up to a non-trivial sum. I feel guilty about it. If I had responsibly saved that sum I would be much closer to having enough to live on in my later years.
That's the conventional wisdom. That's what makes sense to people. Get a good paying "secure" job. Climb the company ladder. Spend responsibly. Save. Worry about retirement.
I'm self employed, a kind of entrepreneur. I haven't had regular paycheck or something called a "job" in 17 years. I am responsible for making my own money. That's another kind of risk most people are not willing to take yet I take without even thinking twice about it. I actually view the opposite as extreme risk. By taking a job I am risking not having the upside potential of an enterprise I've built myself.
I've worked my ass off for the last 17 years. Most weeks I have put in 7 days. I've done 100 hour weeks for multiple nine month stretches. In part, as I stand now, I'm a burned out workaholic. And aside from having resolved the Nightmare, I don't really have much to show for that effort. We worked harder but many others far less experienced and technically savvy have gone on to become millionaires building huge companies.
It's funny the risks I'll take and the ones I won't. I'll gladly build a new business on a shoestring budget allowing myself to come close to bankruptcy doing it, but I won't risk involving outside parties such as venture capitalists or allow us to be bought. I fear that "unmanaged" risk. It seems to great to me.
It's just more irrational fear. A downside risk that is understood, that's been investigated and analyzed is far less of a problem than the unknown risks.
So it seems to me, what I need to realize is when I am confronted by a risk that seems unmanageable and scary, the trick is to identify the fact that's it's an unknown risk and study it. Make the unknown familiar. All risks can be mitigated to a greater or lesser degree. We all take extreme risks in some areas of our lives, such as getting into a car, but we won't take even small risks in other areas because we are irrationally afraid of them.
When I set out on this journey I thought this would be the "last big trip". As I contemplate my return trip now, I wonder what is the greatest risk I take?
Maybe the greatest risk I've taken in life is having lived a life that was not worth living.
"How many good years do you have left? Maybe 20 if that?", asked Matt in Fairbanks. "If that", I replied.
Something is going to have to change, otherwise this thing I call a life is just a waste of time.
Onto other topics ...
When perusing gift shops in Alaska, take heed. Most goods they sell are, in fact, not made in Alaska. Many are made in China, New York and other places. This is true even of the little native alaskan looking camp shacks you see along the sides of the road in the remote areas. Remember to ask.
It's time for me to get something to eat ... I will continue writing later. This connection is flakey and my "save draft" feature is not working for some reason, so I'll save this out and come back to it later ... my apologies to those who have "Watch Blog" turned on.
Two nights before, Eike and I had agreed we would meet at the restaurant at 8:30. I made sure to be a minute or two early. He was already there.
We talked for a while about his business, mine and growing companies. He's loathe to grow his business beyond what it is because he would have to deal with employees and additional taxes. I find myself also thinking I am loathe to grow a business that involves hiring people. I idealize businesses like plentyoffish.com, a one man show. Unfortunately, those are the rock-star businesses. Businesses that are more luck than skill.
I was hungry so I had a bite to eat. Low tide was to be at midnight. Eike and I wanted to get back to the salmon hatchery to see if we could spot any grizzlies. So, in typical German fashion, we decided that it would be best to arrive one and a half hours before low tide. This way we could watch the whole progression. At a little past 10 we left. Eike drove. He had a rental SUV.
It was a cloudy evening. "What business does that cloud have being that low?", I said, translated from German. Eike laughed. The clouds here in Valdez really are something worth seeing.
It had been a couple of days where everything I said was false. Regardless of what I would state, it would turn out to be false. "This is not a parking spot." False. "You are supposed to be able to walk up to the glacier.". False. "The salmon hatchery is just around the corner.". False.
If it had persisted any longer I would have developed a complex. At least I didn't say, "Grizzlies are harmless.".
We arrived at what I thought was the salmon hatchery. False. I was 200 or more meters off. It was quite a scene. Eagles were waiting patiently as were an array of fishermen.
There was this sense of anticipation in the air. It was more than a human thing. It was as if the animals around felt it too. We were all gathered for a common purpose, to witness the salmon running.
Eagles flew overhead.
As we passed, a fisherman said there were grizzlies ahead around the bend. In the SUV, we continued on all the while I said "I think this is where he meant.". False. We turned around and headed back to where the fisherman said they would be ... still no sign. "False again.", I said. Eike laughed. We creeped along and suddenly a number of cars stopped.
A momma and her three cubs were playing in the grass next to the road. Watching these majestic beasts play, you couldn't help but feel there was something familiar about it, something human. The mother bear was gentle yet playful with her cubs. A cub would jump on her back and she would, gently, fling it over onto the grass with her huge arm. There was a patience to her that was unexpected. The sense of care could be felt from a distance. They played and harrassed each other as if completely oblivious to the attention they were getting.
Every once in a while the the mother bear would peer up at the onlookers, but for the most part just paid attention to her cubs.
Eike got out his gun fearing the grizzlies might attack. From my perspective, bear spray ready in my pocket, it seemed to me that as long as we didn't bother them they wouldn't bother us.
Midnight was still a ways off but I got the sense the grizzlies knew exactly what time it was and were biding their time playing in the grass.
Watching these critter play it was so easy to forget how awesomely dangerous they can be. There was this urge to join in the fun and romp around with them. Of course, such an action would be Very Ill Advised. Well, that is as long as one didn't have a death wish.
Midnight arrived which was low tide. Unlike before the water didn't empty out to the same degree so we didn't see the massive numbers of salmon we had hoped to. Fishermen attempted to pull out what they could from the deep water.
The grizzlies, moving as if the humans were irrelevant, crossed the road.
The hatchery cleared of fishermen. Everyone waited on the road while the grizzlies made their way down river. It took quite some time.
We decided it was time to go. The tide was not low enough and the bears were gone. We had seen what we had come to see. If I had not met Eike I would not have seen any of this.
He dropped me off at my hotel. Unceremoniously, he said he might join me on the boat cruise the next day depending on the weather otherwise he would be on his way. We parted company. I went to my room and crashed.
I didn't sleep well, again. Morning came too early, again.
I went and had an omellete for breakfast. I got an Americano (watered down espresso) at one of the stands and made my way to the Lulu Belle boat for my 6 hour tour.
It was a good sized boat. I'll have to look it up how large it was but I would guess 75 feet. I talked to the captain briefly. He said he had bought the bare hull in '76 and built the boat up from that himself in a span of 10 months. Amazing. The quaility of the craftsmanship in the boat is truly impressive. I can't imagine doing that amount of work.
Then again, I can't believe my cousin Olaf built the house that he did.
It was a semi-plaining trawler type boat. We headed out into the sound. There was an oil spill recovery practice operation under way.
One thing that impressed me about this tour was that it was somewhat open ended. The tour would last between 6 and 8 hours depending on the wildlife enountered.
We saw sea otters. Cute critters.
These are supposed to be an indicator species. If they are present it is supposed to mean the environment is healthy, which is impressive given that a huge oil port is located here.
As we continued on the captain slowed the boat saying that we should look at the back of the approaching vessel.
The woman on the boat said they were 400lb "Salmon sharks". Similar to how I felt about the moose, it seemed to me the world would be a better place with these huge creatures terrorizing the seas than lying lifeless on some boat.
We also passed a huge number of sea lions. The captian did not seem to like sea lions. They stank.
At one point the captain decided to try to show his guests some puffins. These puffins were supposedly cooped up in a cave on the coast of this island. To my surprise he put the bow of the boat in the cave with only a few feet to spare on each side.
Despite the size of the boat, he did not have a bow thruster and instead relied solely on the rear two engines. Now I could probably have done the same maneuver. I am told I'm a fairly good boat pilot, but I do not believe I could do this reliably day after day. I figure I would hit the rocks one in five days I tried it, at least.
And we saw whales!
Hump back whales are as difficult to photograph as dolphins. They are just camera shy. They pop up for a frustrating second then dive under the water for tens of minutes.
And then they have the audacity to surface where ever they pleased, which was always exactly where you didn't have your camera pointed.
After spending quite a while hunting whales, we turned our attention to the glacier which was breaking apart enough to cause quite a huge number of icebergs. I kept invoking the Titanic as the sound of icebergs scraping against the hull made me uneasy.
I would be very nervous piloting through these waters. Fear again.
I asked a nice lady if she could take my photo. I'm trying to get more photos of my ugly mug for this blog. (to which I should point out that I have been chided from Ireland, I think it was, for referring to my ugly mug as my ugly mug ... she seemed to think it was Not True and was undermining my credibility ... could be. But I still refer to my ugly mug as my ugly mug because, well, I'm old and set in my ways and I look in the mirror and I see an ugly mug ... oftentimes I will complain to waitstaff at restaurants that the mirrors in the mens room is broken 'cause sumpin' unappealing keeps staring back at me blankly.)
And we got as close to the tidal glacier as we could ... which was 8 miles away.
Some years ago before this ice field formed, the boat could travel all the way to the face of the glacier. It was in the high thirties with a strong breeze here. I was uneasy about being in this ice field in a fiberglass boat. One could hear the ice scrape the hull as the boat passed too close to one iceberg or the other. I kept imagining being on my boat navigating this icefield.
The Alaska Pipeline terminates in Valdez. Tankers come in to transport the oil to poinits south. According to the boat captain, Valdez is the northernmost port that remains free during the winter, which is why this location was chosen.
It made for a nice symmetry to the trip. I saw the beginning of the pipeline at Prudhoe Bay. On a whim I rode the length of the it. And here, I saw the end of it.
The evening was uneventful. Restaurants close early here. Only a few stay open past 9PM. I talked to a couple of older guys from Wisconsin. "If it's a bear, we shoot it. We don't care.", one said at one point. They knew somebody with a boat and were here to go fishing.
I didn't sleep well again. In the morning, I noticed that I was being stalked by a vorpal.
It's been a long time since I've seen a "normal" critter. But this vorpal was black. They're not supposed to be black, are they? Evil black vorpal bunny.
This day marked the start of my trip back. I spent too many days in Fairbanks and Valdez. As a result, I'm starting to feel the pressure to return. I had said I would be back during the first week of August. It looks like this is going to slip into the second week of August, but I don't want it to get any later than that. I've been gone a long time and soon it will be time to "get back to it", unfortunately.
Phil and Geo have changed their trip a bit and are going to ride out and meet me in Thunder Bay, Ontario. So my plan is to ride straight there across Canada instead of taking the northern route through the States. It's another redirection. I hadn't considered going across Canada, but who knows what I'll find as a result?
I sat at the same restaurant, the Totem Inn, that I had gone to each morning. I spoke to the owner a bit about the differences between his business and mine. There are times when I think it would be nice to run a business that doesn't involve creativity and invention each and every day. A hotel. It's a nice simple business that everyone can understand.
It was raining and cold again in Valdez. I left town. Along the way, as usual, I felt compelled to take the obligatory beautiful mountain photo.
In the middle of nowhere I stopped at a campground/gas station and talked to the owner there. This was on the Tok highway bypass, or whatever they call it. He had moved here from upstate New York to get away from all the rude people.
And, of course, there's the obligatory panorama.
There was alot more I wanted to write, but the connectivity here is TERRIBLE. In the last little bit it's gotten a bit better so I was able to get this done, but it's not what I wanted it to be. I have to check out in 15 minutes so I've got to pack up my gear and get going.
Hopefully I'll have better connectivity in Whitehorse tonight.
I don't know what got to me. Something did. Some thought, sound or image. It happens sometimes. It's not just that a memory is triggered, at times a feeling is triggered and I'm back in that dark place I spent so much time in and with no one around to pull me out I descend into it's depths.
I didn't sleep well. I had fitful dreams and when I finally did awake I was in an even darker place. Burdened as if by a terrible weight and withdrawn, it was as if my reason for waking up was no longer there. Where did it go? Wasn't I, even just a day ago, motivated to get up, to wander, to explore? But this morning, hands swollen, tired, and deep inside myself, I felt no will to live. I felt as if I didn't even have the energy to exist. I was removed from the world. I was peering out through a distant tunnel. Vision as if through a haze. Sounds muffled. Even my sense of touch somehow muted. I was suffering an existential fatigue.
I get like this sometimes. Deep deep sadness. At home, when this happens, I halt. I do nothing. But out here, on the road I was forced to get up and get moving by external forces. Checkout time loomed large and I had to attempt to write. Obligation, in this case checkout time, drove me through the haze.
The internet connection at the hotel was terrible. It took forever to load anything and even then, after a while of editing, it wouldn't go through. It didn't matter. I was dismayed at my inability to write. All the openness I felt and all the insights were gone. Frustrated at my own emptiness, I typed in a few sentences and hit submit. I read what I wrote and thought "That's the me I remember. Not the me here, but the me there. Mired in the stress and closed."
It was time to find some coffee and something to eat. I dragged my gear and mounted it onto the bike. There was a diner down the street. To my dismay they had just stopped serving breakfast literally one minute before. I sat there, still in a daze, still seeing the world as if through a distant lens. A KTM rider was there but I had no desire to talk to him. I couldn't think of anything to say. He looked, like so many others, as if he were heading up to the Dalton Highway.
After breakfast, which looked like lunch, I went to get gas just to be safe. I couldn't remember how far away the next gas station was. I was so unhappy about seeing the "route east" signs. A man walked up to me and said, "I've been riding BMW's for 20 years and have three of them." We got to talking a bit, but I was still having trouble. A heavy weight still hung over me and I tried to force myself to continue the conversation. He had been all the way to Tierra Del Fuego in addition to a bunch of other places. He had done the Dalton 5 times. I started snapping out of my malaise a bit, but still heavy I asked him a few questions about it. He seemed to think going through Columbia was a bit dicey, but other than a few minor mechanical problems, he didn't have any problems on his trip. He gave me his contact info saying, "You should do that trip. It's a great one.". I'll contact him when I get home. I'm thinking about that trip more now ...
As I was about to leave the station, an enduro rider pulled up the gas pump. "Heading up the Dalton?", I asked. "Of course. You know it's gotta be done.". It's funny how almost any enduro or adventure rider on the Alcan highway is heading up to Deadhorse. I chatted with him for a few moments and then donned my gear and still bearing this weight headed on down the road.
I didn't feel like taking any pictures. We've already seen it all before. Beautiful mountains. Check. Incredible lakes. Check. Critters. Check. I mused about how miserable I was feeling as I passed through endless forests bounded by glacier capped peaks punctuated by deep blue lakes on a once in a lifetime trip that so many would like to undertake. This place seems normal to me now. I've seen bear, moose, caribou, buffalo, wolverines, fox, and a host of other critters. Without some deeper insight, some deeper more meaningful way to experience the subject, once you've seen one, the others tend to not be as interesting. I thought about that for a while.
There's something silly about "seeing". I've "seen" thousands of bears in books and on the television. I've "seen" endless mountainscapes and lakes. But there is something to "seeing" in person that differentiates the experience. To see a glacier up close and personal. To feel the cold wind coming down off it. To "be" in front of the thing is different. It's more real somehow. But I find this desire, this almost need, to delve into each place to a greater depth but am unable to do so. Travelling across this vast land I feel like a dilettante just glossing over everything quickly, never being able to fully experience any one spot or person. I get tastes of a place. Tastes of people. But that's it. I never get the chance to fill in the collage and am left with a canvas of mostly empty space with only a few colorful outlines and I am frustrated by it.
I wanted to reach Whitehorse. It was only 388 miles away but these were hard miles because of how I was feelinig. It was cool, but not cold. The sun was not too intense. The miles dragged on though. Normally 50 miles pass before I check the odometer but today I was checking it every 5 miles feeling like it had been 50. Everything hurt and I was still heavy with the burdensome dreams of the previous night.
As I rode further down the Alcan, the sun came out in earnest and it got to be slightly warmer. The bugs came out. Suddenly there were just a ridiculous number of dragon flies. I mean truly ridiculous. They were everywhere. Unlike any other time on this ride, they seemed to find every possible way to get around the fairing and impact me directly. Dragon fly guts everywhere, I was becoming actively unhappy. These dragonflies are large. Very large. One got me in the chest, another on the neck which hurt!
Disgusting. Poor dragonflies.
I had forgotten about the construction on the Alcan. It was 20 miles of perfectly graded and compacted earth over which a water truck drove just ahead of me. The road turned to muck and it got all over everything. Slippery, nasty, sticky muck.
As I rolled up to the visitor center not far from the Canadian border, I grabbed the front brake as I usually do an "Oh Shit! no brakes!" as nothing happened and I rolled quite a bit further, like 5 feet, than I had intended to.
I'm guessing the muck got all over the rotors and on the pads preventing the brakes from grabbing. I wasn't going fast. I usually use the engine to slow down and reserve the brake for the last little bit. But I was on gravel at the time I needed the brake. It was a bit startling.
I was awake now. My brake rotors look a little worse for wear. I will probably need a new set of front rotors by the time I get back. They are expensive.
I hung out for a little while outside at the visitor center. I wanted to let the water truck get on down the road. I was tired of the mud spray getting over everything.
As is the case with so many buildings, it was built in a log cabin style using simply huge beams. This building also had a green roof which I failed to notice the first time I was here. I have to admit I really like this style of construction.
My fog was slowly beginning to lift but I was still very unhappy. My earplugs had started to really hurt again and my right hip was causing me trouble not to mention my back and shoulders were really sore.
Bitch. Moan. Complain.
I got back on the bike and rode however many miles of dirt, mud and muck until I got through the Canadian border.
You can sense an immediate change when you enter Canada. It starts with the customs officer. He's nice. He's friendly. He smiles. The anger is just not there.
You also immediately notice how clean everything is. There's alot of trash in Alaska as there is in most of the US. But Canada is clean. It's as if Canadians like their country and want it to look pretty.
I entered the bad section of the Alcan between Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay. Yes, there's a place called Destruction Bay. This was that section of road that was supposed to be so horrible but was a cakewalk on the way up.
I don't remember it being this challenging. I guess it was because I was down, tired and carrying some mysterious weight that made what was previously very easy much more difficult. I didn't remember how deep these ruts were or how frequent. On a few occasions I had to stand up on the pegs because I missed a rift in the road and drove right through it. I wondered if maybe the angle of the sun was making it more difficult to see the heaves, dips and cracks in the road or if maybe the eastern route was just worse than the other side. Nevertheless, it proved to be a much more disquieting ride than the ride up. Maybe it was because I now had it set in my mind that it was easy. Looking at the speedometer I think I was also trying to go faster than I should have. It's all about perspective and perception. Believe it's hard and it becomes easy. Visa versa seems to also be true.
I had stopped at Beaver Creek for gas. I saw on Facebook that Rick was leaving Destruction Bay so thinking ahead I grabbed a large bottle of water for him on the off chance I would actually see him on my way down. Having set a precedent I wanted to keep up the tradition.
As I rode on I noticed some movement in a small lake. Moose in water! Funny critters. It stopped at one point and raised it's ears in my general direction looking rather silly while staring at me. Unfortunately, I didn't capture that because it went back to what it was doing too quickly.
I was beginning to worry that maybe I had passed Rick without realizing it. I saw a number of bicyclists but none of them had Rick's yellow gear. Then I saw him in the distance at a rest stop.
He seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him. I rolled up next to his bicycle and said "Good to see you again!", shaking his hand.
We chatted for a bit about conditions on the Dalton. He was concerned about the cold and the mosquitoes. Horseflies were buzzing about around us. My impression was the road has started to wear on him. He's had too many cold nights of camping and it seemed like he wanted his trip to be in the rearview.
Me on the other hand, I simultaneously don't want to go home but, at least today, have little energy to keep going.
He had had the same concern as I did. He said he kept looking at BMW riders. I guess we all look the same. (laugh).
He had met a few pairs of riders who were doing the Prudhoe Bay to Tierra Del Fuego run on bicycles. One couple he talked to was taking out 18 months to do that trip. "That's too long for me!", he said. "I miss my bed. I miss my dog. I'm tired of camping. Every day it's a new pain.".
If crazy Europeans can do it on bicycles ... then again, we don't hear much from the ones who don't make it and get kidnapped having body parts shipped back as proof for ransom.
I shared with him what I knew of the Dalton and gave him the bottle of water I got for him. I was going to give him my bear spray since he's been running into more grizzlies than I have, but he already had a can.
He's been doing crazy mileage from my point of view. He said something like 70 to 90 miles per day. Day after day. That's nuts. I do 200 on a motorcycle and I already feel it. I can't imagine the discomfort he must be feeling on a bicycle going that distance.
This is one of those times where the trip sucks. You meet people along the way that you want to get to know better, that you want to spend more time with but the time is finite. It's here and then it's gone. That's happened a lot. I've met a crazy number of people and there have been more than one occasion where saying goodbye has not been as easy as it should have been.
He pedalled off to continue his adventure. I rode south continuing on my Long Sunday Drive.
Things were improving a bit with my state of mind, but I was still burdened. The Alcan was proving to be unnecessarily challenging. This was mostly because I couldn't bring the level to attention to the task at hand I really needed to. My mind was endlessly Elsewhere.
I happened upon a tractor trailer accident in the middle of a straight stretch where the road was actually not that bad.
A tractor trailer load of fresh silver salmon had just been spilled. People were coming from up to 100 miles away to stack up on salmon. I understand the driver had to be taken away in an ambulance.
"Good thing I'm on a safe maneuverable motorcycle instead of some dangerous semi on this road.", I thought. I saw quite a few semis nearly lose it in the rough spots. One had his trailer skid to the right onto the gravel. It created quite the spray of gravel and dust cloud.
I rode on. The temperature dropped enough that I began to consider adding another layer. The last 50 miles really hurt. I was glad to pull into Whitehorse, but of course, I had forgotten that the edge of town is 12km from it's center. I'm staying at the same hotel I stayed at the last time I was here. The attendant remembered me.
The restaurant was open until 10:30. The kitchen closes at 10. "Good. Plenty of time.", I thought as I walked in. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice that I crossed a timezone. It was now 10:15. The kitchen had closed. I ordered a glass of wine and chatted with the bartender about my trip for a moment. He had immediately remembered me and thought that maybe I had stayed the whole time in Whitehorse. "Nope. I went up to Deadhorse and back.", I replied.
He suggested I try a couple of restaurants that were only a few blocks away. Motivated because I had skipped lunch, I walked to the restaurant he suggested. It was closed but they directed me to a bar and grill that served food until midnight. I hurried the block and a half to where the place was and walked in.
The place was a bar with a pooltable. The bartender, Nicole, had a vague resemblance to Jolene Blalock who starred in that terrible Enterprise series. Beautiful woman, terrible show. When I ordered a hamburger sans bun she seemed interested and asked me about it. As it turns out, nutrition and food allergies are an interest of hers. We got to talking for a bit. Canadians. Polite. Nice. Interested. I like Canadians. I have really grown to like the Canadian soul.
But of course, as it would happen, as soon as I have an interesting conversation with an attractive bartender the place fills up. It took like 10 minutes to go from dead to being bustling.
I have two effects on bars. In the case of the Outback where Rachel and Dale work, I show up and the bar clears out, unless of course, I'm trying to have a conversation with Rachel. It's uncanny. In the case of Claudia at Piratz, when she used to work there, I would show up and the bar would fill up within minutes. The story was the same with Wendy, a bartender who saved my sorry ass at one point during the Nightmare and to whom I will forever be grateful. She would joke that she should give me a percentage of her tips. Always entrepreneurial, Wendy was something very special.
Nicole was nice. Despite being busy attending to the 15 or so people who had just walked into the bar, she took time out to chat with me. That was really nice. The bar had a good selection of scotches so I ordered a Talisker. "I haven't gotten that far yet.", she said pointing at the scotch. "I've had the Aberlour.", she mentioned. "So you want to be the woman who impresses all the men by her knowledge of scotch?", I asked. "yes, most definitely", she replied. I said if I had had more time I would have introduced her to more scotches. "Aberlour 12 is a good scotch for introducing women to scotch. It has a wine like complexity to it.", I opined. She asked what the next scotch she should try is. "Balvenie 12 Doublewood would be my suggestion pointing at the top shelf.". A good scotch, but finished in a cherry cask so it bothers me. Bummer.
I mentioned how everyone was asking me to send them messages and that one person suggested I just write a blog. "Oh really? What's the address of your blog, I'll check it out.". I told her she would be mentioned here. I enjoyed meeting Nicole. She's another one that, given more time, I would get to know better if I could.
I'm back at the hotel now. My hands are still swollen and I still feel this weight. I think it's that I'm pointed Eastward. I don't want to go home except to see a few close and special friends, none of whom I get to see or experience nearly enough. I guess that's life. I need to remember what a privilege it is to experience what I do. Even these people out here, these glimpses of lifes I get, are worthwhile, special and worth remembering. The parts of lives that people back home share with me have a value to me I cannot put into words ...
I hope I'm in a better frame of mind tomorrow, otherwise these miles are going to drag on something fierce. Hopefully tomorrow I'll find a reason to wake up ...
I did not sleep well. Exhausted, I dragged my worthless feeling carcass out of bed and stood under the shower for a while trying to shake this funk I was still in. It wasn't as bad as the previous day, but I was still down.
The hotel wasn't bad and there was a cafe downstairs. I had an omelette, which has become customary on this entire trip. The waitress, who I believe was Chinese and spoke with a thick accent, remembered me from before and asked me if I was staying in town. I mentioned that I had ridden up to Deadhorse and back and was just passing through on my way back home. It's funny how people react to this idea of riding a motorcycle somewhere. It doesn't matter the persons background or culture there's something about doing a lot of miles by motorcycle that captures peoples imagination.
I had noticed a Starbucks down the street the night before and eagerly awaited my first cup of real coffee in what seems like forever. My little motorcycle espresso maker hasn't been doing well for me. I don't know if I have a bad bag of espresso or the machine just isn't getting hot enough, but the espresso it makes isn't nearly as good as it used to be.
"Ahh, real coffee ...", I thought as I sat outside with my sunglasses on. The sun was shining and it was warm. The bike had been making an odd noise which I was having trouble identifying. This was because, well, I'm a fucking genius. More on that later. A friend who had read my last post was concerned about me. She was texting trying to pull me out of the darkness. Sometimes the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact. A number of friends sent messages. Thank you. My friends are family. Without them I would never have made it and I would not be standing now.
My guts were hurting again. It seems like this has been happening more often. I was, once again, fortunate to be so close to a bathroom. This has started to get a bit old.
As I pondered the state of my motorcycle and my guts, I was reminded that I was in the Yukon. You ask, "How can you tell you're in the Yukon?". Well, a very hot barby doll blonde wearing silly sunglasses walked up and started talking to an Innuit looking guy pretty much right in front of me. She could not have been more than 21.
"Hiya!", she says to the Innuit looking guy who was probably in his early 60's. He speaks very softly and I couldn't hear what he was saying. She exclaimed to the guy, "Oh ja, In the fall, I'll head up North of Fort Yukon to my uncles cabin, eh? Ja. I gotta haul some wood. Then I'll go huntin' and trappin'. Maybe I'll do some fishin'. Cool, eh?". I can never remember where they put the "Ja"'s and the "Eh?"'s, but you get the idea. "Ja, I know, right, eh?".
If the hot blondes haul wood, hunt, trap and fish, you know you're in the Yukon.
They parted company and I was once again left with my thoughts. "It's going to get less interesting from here on out.", I thought as I considered the difference between heading up to Deadhorse and heading away. On the route up, I met countless like minded adventure riders who all had the same goal. It added a group quality to a solo trip to see the same faces randomly over and over on the ride up. But now, with all those riders dispersed I figured this would be much less likely to happen.
I mustered the willpower to avoid a second cup of coffee, got on my bike and headed for points East and South on the Alcan highway.
It was beautiful as it had been before. There were a ridiculous number of lakes.
Some were larger.
Some were smaller.
The weather was beautiful and I was feeling a bit better than I had been evidenced by the fact that 66 miles rolled by before I looked at the odometer.
It was warm and the bugs were out in force.
I rode on, still not in the mood to take photographs. I spent the time thinking. "This writing thing helps.", I would think as I considered what effect it's had.
In this space I attempt to share this journey. With that sharing, I have to explain and describe myself in ways I never have. It's happened quite a few times now that I write something only to read it later and realize that I've never thought of myself in those particular terms. There are things on this trip, details about travelling by motorcycle, details about myself, that people seem to find interesting that I would never have considered describing.
I have often said that "knowing yourself" is not an accurate phrase. You know who you are to yourself alone in the dark. What's important is to know yourself in relation to others. If I know how I am different than you, how my experience is different from yours and yours from mine, we can have a basis for better understanding how to get to know one another. We can better know how to explain ourselves to each other. Misunderstandings, misconceptions and miscommunications are easier to avoid if you understand yourself in relation to the person or people you are with.
But somehow, you have to discover these differences.
In my case, writing this blog has helped me see some of these differences, differences in experience.
"What other things would I never think to write about?", is a question I repeatedly ask myself.
I ride a motorcycle. Not everyone does. Fewer ride a motorcycle well. Fewer still have ridden one for over 250K miles or travelled across country. Even fewer have ridden for as long as I have. I was forced into riding motorcycles at the age of 7 which was 35 years ago but that's a story for another time.
Out here you forget that not everyone rides or has taken Long Sunday Drives. Everyone rides a motorcycle and I am the noob, the untravelled one. My story as a motorcyclist out here is completely uninteresting. "It's just miles.", one rider said.
But the vast majority of people who I know have never ridden. "Interesting.", I thought. "Is there something here, something so familiar to me, that it would never dawn on me to describe?", I asked of myself.
Why a motorcycle and why not a car? The thought of travelling by car is entirely unappealing to me for some reason. I think about a car. You're in this cage, this box. You can't feel the wind. You can't really feel the road or the engine. You are looking at everything through a glass window much like a television set. These are the typical things I hear riders say. I say them myself.
But there's more to riding miles by motorcycle than being out in the elements. There's more to it than being able to lean, or feel like, as so many say, you're "one with the machine", a cliche that's gotten over used. I could use flowery language and attempt to capture the culture, the poetry, the romance, and the calm meditativeness of many miles by motorcycle.
In a car, you jump in, distracted by gadgetry, you turn the ignition and you go. It's purely a means to an end and the focus of most vehicles especially now a days is to isolate you from the details; maximize convenience, minimize involvement with "the machine". It's a means to an end. A way to get from here to there with a minimum of hassle.
In contrast, travelling by motorcycle is almost nothing but hassle. It's cold. It's wet. There are bugs. BIG bugs. And they splatter all over the place. After a while, your leathers, despite all the comments that have been made about them, begin to stink something fierce. You hurt. You hurt alot. You get dirty. You have all this gear which you have to load and unload. Your tires wear out in 6,000 miles, not 60,000. You can fall down. Parking lot maneuvers especially on wavy gravel can be embarrassingly challenging. It's tiring. Because of the Risk, you are more vigilant on a bike than you are in a car.
"But yet", I thought, "I would gladly travel across this country on a motorcycle, on my motorcycle, than in any car. Well, maybe with the exception of a Porsche 911 twin turbo. Why is that?".
And that is a question I have never asked. The answer for me is so self evident, so inately obvious, I don't know if I can capture it in words. Anyone with a pulse who has been Out Here knows this, understands this. You can just tell. It's evident on the faces of riders everywhere.
There is something visceral, something primal about the motorcycle. It seems to cross all cultural and racial boundaries. It may be that it evokes some primeval genetic memory of riding horseback.
There's an inherent culture and ritual to motorcycling. All of us Out Here feel it. It's not some made up artificial ritual that we decided upon because we felt out of touch. The rituals of motorcycling grow organically within each motorcyclist just out of the necessity of the task at hand. And out of this necessity that produced these rituals a common culture evolves. And this culture trancends political boundaries.
This is not over-romanticized. It's a simple fact. Talk to any rider from any country anywhere in the world. There is an instant common basis for communication, for exchange, for understanding. There is an instant basis upon which to share an adventure with that person. It goes well beyond a shared hobby, some little diversion.
I would imagine sailors share something similar.
As I considered what's different about the riders out here and I consider my closest friends I ride with, Ian, Duncan, Bruce, I found myself wondering what is it about motorcyclists, the ones who do this seriously, that produces this instant common basis, this common culture.
Motorcycling is dangerous. It involves risk. We all understand this. We talk about it all the time. "A friend of mine crashed yesterday on the Dalton and shattered two vertebrate.", was a conversation today. I have always felt it's this common understanding of risk, that we are Out Here doing something challenging, something risky, that produces the ritual of waving. As you ride and you see a motorcyclist approaching, you wave. The left hand comes off the bar and you hold your hand out low as a sign of respect.
It's part of the common culture. You will see motorcyclists everywhere around the world do this. I wave at every single motorcyclist that I pass. It's courtesy. I've done it maybe 50 times this very day. I even catch myself from time to time doing it when I walk down the street. The first time someone waves at you when you are on a bike, it feels like a rite of passage. "yes, you too are now Out Here, one of us, solely because you have taken this risk to be on two wheels."
A Harley rider once said, "It don't matter, as long as you're on two wheels with a motor I wave.".
Strangely, I don't wave at scooter riders. Scooters are about convenience and I think that's what separates them from motorcyclists. The rituals just aren't there on a scooter because it's too convenient and thus there isn't the factual basis for a shared culture.
Motorcycling is inconvenient. Beyond risk, there are other practical realities of miles by motorcycle that create a ritualistic backdrop to the activity.
In the morning, and yes Out Here I experience mornings, you have to pack up your gear. Space is very tight on a motorcycle. You can always tell the ones who have been Out Here for a while. Each and every item they carry on their bike is considered and has it's place. There's an order and process to packing the motorcycle which is born out of necessity. There's just not a lot of room. Do this enough times and it becomes ritual. Be around someone else who has done this enough times and there is instantly a common ritual.
The gear is carried out to the bike. There's a tank bag which is affixed atop the gas tank, hence it's name "tank bag". Here is where you carry your camera, wallet, maps, gps and other gear that you use while you ride or stop on the side of the road. There's the tail bag, which goes on the back seat of the bike or the rear cowling, which typically contains your clothes, your tent, maybe food, stuff you only use once you've stopped somewhere.
It takes time. Ride with someone who has done this for a while and there is no sense of rush. It takes however long it takes. Sometimes you fumble. Sometimes you just can't get it all put away just right. It's part of the experience.
Then you put on your jacket. It has impact armor around the shoulders, in the elbows and down the back. You have long since put on your "lowers", your armored pants which have impact armor around the hips and knees. There are few pockets, so what you would normally carry in jeans pockets, you put in the tank bag. Putting on the jacket is awkward.
There's a silly zipper that you use to connect the jacket to the pants. If you fall and go skidding down the road you don't want the jacket to ride up on you exposing your back. Not everyone zips their pants to their jacket, but I do.
Then in go the earplugs. Especially on my bike, there's alot of wind noise. On goes the helmet. Often times, this is the point where you've forgotten to get out the plastic cleaner and rag to clean off the array of bug entrails that have splattered against the face shield. It happens to you. You are patient when it happens to others. You affix the strap and put on your sunglasses. You put on your gloves and wrap the gauntlet around the outside of the end of your jacket sleeves so no bugs can fly up into your jacket that way. Yes, that happened to me once.
You throw your leg over the bike, or if you have alot of gear it's more of a step through motion that looks silly. You put effort into lifting the bike off the side stand or pushing it off the center stand. Key in the ignition you set the fast idle and press the ignition. I usually wait a couple of seconds before pushing the ignition. No reason, it feels right to me.
Then you wait. Virtually every serious motorcyclist you will ever see will pause at this moment. The engine idles slightly fast, but not too fast. The oil is let to circulate through the motor for a few moments. Then, if you are riding with someone, you nod acknowledging who will be leader and who will follow. The clutch lever, on the left bar, is pulled in. You click the bike into gear with your left foot giving it just a little bit of throttle and you let out the clutch. You lift both feet simultenously and put them on the pegs regardless of the surface you're on. (Newbie riders will always "walk" the bike along or leave their legs out while they gain enough speed for lack of confidence.) Riding relatively slowly you don't rev the motor too high until it's reached operating temperature because you are more involved with the engine and tires on a motorcycle. Through experience you know the bike doesn't feel right cold. It vibrates more. It doesn't make the power it's supposed to. The tires slip much more easily. So you wait, you wait until the bike is warmed up. The tires are warm and sticky.
Then you go.
This reality, from having to lug gear and affix it to a bike "just so", to donning all that gear like some middle ages knight preparing for battle, to being involved with the machine .. it all takes time. After you have done it enough times, it becomes a kind of meditation. To go by motorcycle involves this time. There's no getting around it. Even if you are in a rush, even if you have to go NOW, you must go through this ritual. Do it too hasitly and gear falls off the bike. Your helmet isn't on right. You've forgotten your earplugs or sunglasses. Things just aren't Right.
And, as I think about what makes miles by motorcycle so different than miles by car, it's these rituals. It forces you to pause. To prepare. To understand that there is a ritual separation between being still and Going. By the time you are under way, you are in a different place internally.
You are more involved with the machine when riding a motorcycle. You feel the engine, how it vibrates. You feel the tires and can immediately tell how well they are gripping. You are more involved with the road. Surface becomes a concept. "good road, good tarmac, good pavement" are concepts. The little squiggly black stripes you ignore in a car, called tar snakes, are slippery when hot. When wet, did you know the yellow and white paint lines are a slippery as oil? Every motorcyclist who's ever hit brakes on one or taken a corner too sharp over one knows. It's quite the wakeup call. Different kinds of pavement, different surfaces, have a different feeling. You can sense it on a motorcycle.
Motorcycling is active, not passive. You are Out There. You lean. To brake you tense up your leg, stomach and arm muscles to counter the braking effect so you're not thrown over the handlebars. You worry about "the line". A corner comes up. How often do you think, in a car, about how you're going to take that corner? Is it ever a thought? You approach a slow right hand corner on a fast road, you move to the left of your lane. You move your whole body to the right a bit. If it's a sharp corner and you're going fast, maybe you move your ass off the seat and stick your right leg out preparing for a lean all the while counteracting the center of gravity change which makes the bike went to lean. Then you pick your entry point to the corner. You go in late, letting the bike go further into the corner than you would in a car. This enables you to look through the corner to see where your exit point will be and what hazards there might be. Then you let the bike lean ... and it falls into the corner with the feeling that you're flying. Sometimes you can lean the bike over so far your feet will scrape the ground. And when you've travelled through you accelerate moving your body back towards center and with a slight press on the handlebar the bikes stands up again.
On a motorcycle each corner is prepared for and considered. There's planning. Forethought. You have to. Of course, there are time you slip up and you don't plan right and you come into a corner too hot and get scared. Or there's gravel. Motorcyclists fear gravel. In motorcycling there is fear.
It's another thing that binds us. Common fear.
Riding is also a strangely lonesome yet social activity. You are confined in your helmet stuck on this machine carving canyons. It's alone time. It's quiet time. It's time to think. To imagine. Away from the distractions and interruptions of life.
I think I travel by motorcycle because of all of the above. The process, the rituals, the culture, the riding, the challenge, the skill. It centers and focuses me. It fires my imagination and fuels my dreams. It provides me a ritual space where I meditate. It calms me. Out Here I am free to think and dream in a way I find impossible in a car or at home.
I hope to find some time at some point to bind all this together better. It's a hint at what I feel and think about motorcycling, but in rereading it doesn't capture it as well as I would like.
But more than enough rambling for now.
I was feeling ok. The miles were ticking by. The bike felt good. The road surface was good with just the occasional gravel patch. I was making good time.
I stopped to get gas. I was well on my way to Liard Hot Springs where I had intended on camping. So many people had said to go there, that I was intent on making it. It was 400 miles from Whitehorse.
It was a log cabin lodge and restaurant like so many gas stations along the Alcan. Despite feeling pressure that I wanted to make time, I decided to stop and get something to eat. I wasn't hungry but I knew I wasn't feeling well and being hungry would just add to my burdens.
As I sat there, waiting for my food and sipping on a cup of bad coffee, through the window I saw an adventure rider roll up. He was riding a Honda Transalp which I immediately recognized as a European-only bike. "Ok, that's interesting.", I thought. I saw a sticker for his web site, www.daninviaggio.it. I saw the "Long Way Dany" sticker and thought this was someone to talk to. "Long Way Round" is one of my all time favorite movies/miniseries.
He walked in and I asked pointedly, "So where are you riding in from?" With an Italian accent he answered, "Land of Fire, Argentina". "Damn!, how long have you been on the road?", I asked, which is the typical question one asks. When I say 46 days most people seem to be impressed.
"Two years", he said.
"Holy shit!", I thought. "Here, sit down, please join me.", I said pointing to the seat in front of me. He wanted coffee and asked the waittress. She pointed him at the pot. He poured himself a cup and then offered to refill mine.
We got to talking. Because of the number of people who have said I need to do that trip and the varied impressions I've gotten I was very curious.
"So how was it travelling from Tierra Del Fuego to here? Did you run into any problems?". He said, "No not really. The bike ran good." "I mean with people. I hear all kinds of bad stories. Did you have any problems with people?", I asked.
"Oh. Yes. I got robbed three times. Twice with a knife. Once I was camping and three guys broke into the tent while I was sleeping.", he said matter of factly, "but it can happen anywhere. You just have to expect it."
"What happened?", I asked with increasing interest. "They took stuff. Money. Once they stole my laptop. It's manageable. You just have to be smart and careful. Keep your money separated".
He went on to explain that he had planned and saved up for two years to do this trip. When he started out he had no real agenda as to where he was going to go. For, I believe he said, the first year and a half his, now ex, girlfriend was with him. He travelled from Argentina all the way up to Deadhorse and was now travelling across Canada to New York. He was doing this on the most incredibly tight shoe string budget. "I have $1200 right now. It has to last. I've been camping for the last 30 days straight. You live in a tent for two years, it gets to be old.", he commented without sounding at all like he was complaining. He needed to get tires soon and was worried about the expense. He explained that he would stop in places and get odd jobs to make money to fund his trip.
He had also intended on heading to the Liard Hot Springs.
"Why don't we ride over there together?", I suggested. He was hungry so ordered the same thing I was having, a salsbury steak without sauce along with a bunch of steamed carrots.
"Do you have a woman?", he asked. I looked at him puzzled. "I mean you married, kids? or have a girlfriend?", he clarified. "Nope. Nothing. No wife. No kids. No girlfriend", I replied. "Is best.", he said. Then he corrected himself, "I mean when you travelling. Maybe for life is not so good. It's good to have a woman to share your life with, just not when you are travelling for a long time.". I mentioned Thomas and Andrea, who travelled together by motorcycle for one and a half years. They stayed with me for a wonderful week. I host their website, miles-to-ride.com. "If a relationship can withstand a trip like that, it can withstand anything.", I said.
I was really enjoying the conversation. He was very Italian and had that European perspective that I encounter too rarely outside of the German meetup group I attend.
As I listened to his stories of travelling for this length of time and invoking famous stories from ages ago, I found myself thinking, "now this is a real adventure rider".
"It's just kilometers.", he said. "I don't care about how long or how many kilometers. That's irrelevant. I like to travel. I have a passion for motorcycles. I combine the two. What's important for me is what I learn along the way. The people I meet. The story."
"This sounds strangely familiar to me.", I replied thinking about things I believe I mentioned even within this blog. "A kindred spirit.", I found myself thinking, "maybe it's a European thing.". So much of what he said rang true to me.
He had mentioned how tight money was and how he wanted to get back to Italy and possible ride South through Africa or maybe East through Asia. "When you are Italian, you can do these things. Nobody cares about Italians. We are not important.", he would say. "People always say 'oh, Italians, good looking, good food, beautiful women.". "But if you have a US passport it's hard. I've seen so many Americans have problems at border crossings. From what I have seen the world does not like Americans.", he cautioned as I mentioned maybe wanting to do other trips. "It's best to have an EU passport. You'll have no trouble.", he advised.
I asked if he wrote a blog. "I have a website but it's only in Italian. My english is not so good.", he explained, "mostly I produce videos. Sometimes I write for magazines."
When the bill came I asked if I could buy lunch for him. "I have some money.", I said. I paid the bill and we agreed to travel together to Liard. "I haven't camped in two weeks, I think.", I said. "I've camped every night for the last 30 days.", he replied. "Well, if I have someone to camp with, to talk to around a campfire, then I'm happy to camp. This is good.", I replied.
It was agreed. We walked out to the bikes, got on our gear. Because I had never ridden with him before I suggested he lead. I didn't know what kind of rider he was or how fast he liked to travel. He was riding a Transalp, which is a 650 twin. not a very fast motorcycle but bulletproof and very highly regarded. Many world travellers ride them.
We got underway. He has what I would imagine is an Italian riding style. He likes to use the entire lane swaying back and forth. This was a bit disconcerting. My friends and I ride military style, in a formation. The leader picks a side of the lane. The follower rides on the other side. The rest behind stagger accordingly to offer each rider the maximum view and stopping distance in front of him. Dani liked to use the whole road. But it was ok. I got used to it and the speed was reasonable.
His bike is not as fuel efficient as mine so we did stop to get gas along the way in Watson Lake. The bugs were just terrible. It seemed like we had to stop every 50 miles or so to clear the faceshields.
Eventually we crossed from the Yukon into British Columbia.
We got onto the section of the Alcan where they were doing construction. Alot of construction. More than I remember. So we stopped at one of the stop/slow guys. It was a several minute wait so we pulled off our helmets. I was grateful for this as my earplugs were killing me. Agony.
The slow/stop construction guy was happy to take a photo of us.
After we got through the construction site, the sun was pretty low on the horizon and we heading east. He had mentioned that he liked to shoot video so I had mentioned my GoPro hero cam that I can mount to my helmet. I rode ahead and motioned for us to stop. "Would you like me to shoot some video of you on your bike?", I asked figuring that maybe he didn't have any shots of him for his videos underway. "It shoots in 720p", I explained.
"Yes! Thank you! In two years I never thought to ask anyone!", he said.
So I fumbled with the camera, started recording, mounted it to the helmet, adjusted the angle and we got undderway.
It's always too easy to misalign the camera so you never know how it's going to turn out. Later on we found that we had done it correctly. The video wasn't bad at all. Good light.
After about 16 minutes of filming I stopped to pull of the camera. At 70mph, Kevin the mounty, that's a typo, I mean 70km, the wind resistance on the camera is quite strong and it strains my neck.
We rode on and once again encountered the buffalo. He had never seen one before.
We rode on for the rest of the way. It was a 200 mile stretch that we rode together. By the end it was starting to feel like a long way. The fact that I had not slept much the last two nights was catching up to me. I was having some trouble staying awake. Then we came up on Liard Hot Springs.
"Shit, campsite full", I thought as I read the sign. We stopped. "The campsite is full. I don't know how far the next campground is.", he said. I was tired. I was too tired to continue. We were in the parking lot of the lodge. I saw a vacancy sign in the window. "Fuck it. Let's get a room at the lodge.", I complained because I was tired. "I can't afford it.", he said looking very tentative and apologetic. "I bet they have rooms with two beds. My treat. I can't ride any further.", I said.
"I haven't slept in a bed in 30 days.", he said looking grateful in that honest way that only someone who has truly been uncomfortable can muster.
We checked into the room, performed the ritual unpacking of the motorcycles, and decided, since it was still light, to go check out the hotsprings. Thankfully Bruce had given me a pair of swimming trunks. I grabbed a towel, the trunks and a camera. Dani grabbed similar items. We stuffed them all into a bag and we walked to the springs not knowing what to expect. "Oh look. Beautiful sunset. We should take a picture.", he said.
And we took a photo at the hotsprings park entrance.
There was a long boardwalk through a landscape that reminded me of Yellowstone. Most of the land here was covered in mineral water.
The hotsprings themselves are exactly as advertised. Beautiful.
This is actually where the hot water emanates. It creates a layer of near scaldingly hot water about 3 inches deep on the top. This mixes with another cooler spring, not shown in the photo, to the right.
They are not entirely wild though. There's a changing room and a bathroom and steps leading into the springs.
There's a small falls and a lower pool that is much cooler. It the flows into a small stream that I can only describe as being something out of Pan's Labyrinth. The stream has cut a winding tunnel like moss covered path between the trees. Ledges angled in. I should have, if I was the genius I claim to be, taken the indestructible water proof camera. It was simply beautiful and was a landscape described in fantasy novels. Amazing. I have not seen any place like it ever.
Since we were here, despite it being near closing time, we decided to give it a try.
The Italian seemed comfortable in this nearly searing hot water.
The pale displaced Germanic beast from the deep was less so.
Egads say it isn't so. It went into the water. Without it's shirt on.
It was hot. Very hot. But you got used to it. So of course, being masochists, we had to move towards the source of the hot water. It was crazy hot. Near skin burning hot, but we perservered. The formations and the source and how the water bubbles up in little streams from underground was fascinating. Very cool indeed.
We only stayed for about half an hour. It was just too hot.
As we walked back, I heard something in the distance. I do not know why but, upon hearing the sound, I immediately knew what it was.
Moose! Or as Carol might have said, "Meese!"
This time I captured the silly ears up being curious look mooses are prone to make when looking at something they don't understand. This moose and it's calf were quite a ways away. At extreme zoom in low light my camera does not do that well.
We went back to the room and examined the videos we had shot earlier. He showed me some of the videos he had produced which are available on YouTube. Some are in English.
I had a bottle of Irish Whiskey and I offered him a shot. "BMW guys seem to always have Whiskey", he said knowingly.
He had asked me some time earlier, as so many people have, what are you doing out here. My answer has been simply, "I've been through some bad times. I'm out here trying to get my head screwed on straight.".
I was tired and about ready to call it a night when he asked, "So tell me, what happened?". This is always dangerous, but he seemed honestly interested and asked questions, so I gave him a moderately brief yet honest run down of the Nightmare. Strangely, in this telling, it seemed worse to me. I shared with him maybe 25% of what happened and even with that he said, "It's too much.". Meaning I guess it's too much for a person to handle.
"I can tell you still have alot of pain, alot of anger, about this story. But it's over. You have to close that door and live you life. Enjoy you life.", he commented.
"That's not hard. What's hard is trying to figure out how what's happened is affecting how I make decisions. Part of why I am out here is to See and Think Differently, but to do that I can't close those doors. I have to understand how what happened is coloring my views of what I think is possible."
It's a small world. I spent a day with a guy whose trip makes mine really look like just a simple and mundane Long Sunday Drive. He's from Italy and he rode his bike up from Tierra Del Fuego, was robbed at knifepoint more than once, has had untold real adventures. I found myself thinking he's a kind of man who seems out of place in this modern world. In this time. The age of exploration is over, but this man would have fit into that age very well.
To which he would say, "It's only kilometers. I've met people out here who have been riding for years. 5, 10, 15. It's just numbers. What have they learned?".
Brake problems and miles and not sleeping much have conspired to prevent me from having the kind of time to write.
I hope to have some time tomorrow to catch up on travel events ...
My apologies for having taken the longest pause between updates. Between lack of sleep, brake issues with the bike and a new friend here in Prince George who has helped me out tremendously, there's been little time to even think about what to write.
Back several days ago ...
Despite having gone to bed at around 1:30AM after having been in the hot springs too long, I woke up around 6:30AM feeling too tired. After trying to go to sleep for what seemed like a very long time, I misread my watch and decided to get up. I thought it was 8:30, but it was in fact 7:30. When he heard me milling about quietly, Dani got up as well.
Coffee and breakfast were in order so we headed downstairs to the restaurant. Because of his funding issues, I offered to treat breakfast, which turned out to be the most expensive bloody breakfast of the trip. The prices at this lodge were simply outrageous but, not thinking, I didn't discover that until the bill came. Oh well.
As I had mentioned, Dani had been on the road for two years. He would ride a while and then get odd jobs while camping and living as inexpensively as he could. Once he was able to save enough money for the next leg of his journey, he would ride on never really knowing where he was going or where he would end up next. He was a bit older than I had expected, being almost 32. He had worked in Italy for 10 years, I believe for a hotel. He had hated the job and had prepared for his trip for over two years.
I had been wondering how he was able to do all this since he was travelling on such a shoestring budget.
I asked about insurance, "How do you afford health insurance? If something were to happen to you on the road it could get to be very expensive very quickly."
"I'm Italian. We have free health insurance.", he replied. He went on to talk about a friend of his who was riding an older Gold Wing up the Dalton Highway when he had a nasty fall which turned into a bad accident. He had shattered two vertebrate and needed to be medivaced down to Anchorage. "The helicopter bill alone was $55,000 and he didn't have any insurance.", Dani explained. "Then he had to have multiple surgeries. I think the whole bill was more than $250,000 just for the surgeries. And they charged him $2,000 to move his bike down. He's screwed.". We went on to discuss health care and insurance in the United States. "It's not fair!", he went on. "It's human to make mistakes. To have accidents. Here you cannot have an accident, you cannot make a mistake. One mistake and your life can be over. My friend will never earn enough money to pay those bills even if he works his entire life.", he complained. "It's no way to live like that, always afraid of an accident or mistake. After what I saw happen to my friend, I got travellers insurance just in case. When my girlfriend and I got to the States she needed a blood test. Just a blood test to see if she had an infection. They wouldn't listen and put her in the emergency room. $2000 they charged us." He went on to explain after that incident his girlfriend no longer wanted to come to the States. "You could not pay me enough to live here. Even $50,000 a month I would not live here.", he said.
"What about retirement? Aren't you concerned about that if you spend all these years riding a motorcycle not really saving any money?", I asked thinking through more scenarios. "That's taken care of too. I get a retirement from Italy. I have to work 40 years or I have to reach the age of 65 and I get a retirement.", he replied.
I started to think through what effects not having to worry about retirement or health insurance would have on a life as we commented, "Of course, we don't have the same opportunities. It's very difficult to become rich in Italy."
Not having to worry about retirement, about your increased expenses in the future would have a huge impact on what you thought you could do with your life. I have read articles that claim we need about $6M in investments by the time my generation reaches retirement age to maintain the same middle class standard of living.
I hardly know anyone who is on track to amass that kind of fortune in the next 25 years. I certainly am not and my financial adviser tells me I'm doing much better than average. I have no debt other than a mortage. The house, boat, car and motorcycles are all paid for. I never hold a balance on a credit card. And I have about two years worth living expenses saved. But even so, at this rate I won't ever be able to retire.
Dani said, "Trips like this are no big deal. I've met people who have been out here for 5, 10 and even 20 years.". "Nomads.", one friend would say later.
"For Americans, the fact that I'm off for only 60 days is something only very very few people ever get to do in a lifetime. The average American takes less than two weeks of vacation per year.", I explained. "You need at least a month a year for sanity.", he replied.
I suspect this is why you see so many vacationing Europeans all over the place. Unfettered by health insurance and the pressing need to amass a fortune, they are freer to live lives like the one Dani is living. If I understood what he was explaining, the likelihood that he'll be homeless later in the life is somewhat limited. Contrast that to the US, where the leading cause of bankruptcy, and I suspect a contributor to homelessness, is serious illness.
We finished breakfast and started the morning ritual of gathering our gear, packing it just so and carrying it down to the bikes. While we were doing this, I noticed another adventure bike with stickers on it from all over the world. "Another real adventure rider.", I thought. There were stickers from all over the world plastered all over his cases. Shortly thereafter, he walked out of the cafe and we chatted briefly.
I asked him if he had gone up to Deadhorse. "Yea, just coming back down.", he said in a thick Irish accent. "How did you go up?", I asked. "I didn't. I came across from Magadan in Russia.", he explained. His name was Oisin Hughes and he was on the last leg of a Round the World Tour. He gave me his card and suggested I read the free ebook he wrote about his last trip which I promised I would link to although I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
"That guy came through Siberia.", I said to Dani enthusiastically. Unimpressed, Dani replied, "Russa is just a 15km ride. I've met countless guys like that." I thought about my little Sunday Drive which, as I spend more time out here, seems less and less noteworthy until Dani comments. "It's about the story.".
It took a little time to get a photo of Oisin and his bike. Dani, frying in his suit, took off down the road. I followed shortly afterwards and caugh up with him.
Dani was in the lead riding in his Italian style, but less so today. We rarely stopped. I was dead tired, having not had nearly enough sleep.
At one point we saw a bunch of mountain sheep, or are they goats, licking the calcium chloride on the side of the road. As cars passed they would pretend to scatter but then immediately turn around to continue their salt feast. I had been warned that they did this. Silly acting creatures.
The mosquitoes, biting flies and other bugs were just horrific this day. We would ride for 30 miles at which time we would have to stop to clear our shields. This too became it's own ritual.
We came upon Muncho Lake, on which the Northern Rockies Lodge that I stayed at was situated. We stopped at a nice view where Dani wanted to take some photos for his videos. I walked down to the clear green and blue water and Dani snapped a photo.
This was a truly beautiful lake even the second time around.
But as we travelled down the Alcan I realized I became more aware that I've become used to this land. It no longer seems strange or new. The novelty has slowly started to wear off. The beauty hasn't. Not wanting to slow Dani down since he needed to make Edmonton to meet a friend combined with having seen it all, I didn't take many shots. There was much beauty as there has been the whole way up, but if you want to see what it looked like just look at the posts about the way up.
We arrived in Fort Nelson. At one of our stops to clear our shields, I mentioned to Dani that I was going to stay in Fort Nelson. I was just too tired to do any serious riding. I needed a good nights sleep.
We stopped at a gas station where Dani filled up. I waited so I could say good bye to him. While I waited I inspected the front brakes on my bike more closely. They had been making some very disturbing sounds on the way down and they had grabbed surprisingly as I went to stop in the parking lot.
"Oh shit.", I thought. The entire pad material of the brake pads had worn away and I was running metal on metal which had scored my very expensive rotors badly. "Well, I'm not going anywhere until I can fix this. No problem.", I thought with the calm that has been typical of this trip. "I'll just have parts fedex'd. I'll stay here one more day. I'll fix them tomorrow or the next day and I'll still be able to meet Robyn as planned.", I thought. Robyn was the self-described advocate for environmental capitalism I had met in Prince George on my way up. It was a completely improbable meeting. She and I had had a wonderful time talking at a bar one night and I had promised I would meet up with her for espresso and wine on my way back down. I do try to keep my promises.
Dani and I said our goodbyes and off he went. I went off in search of a hotel with WIFI. Fort Nelson strikes me as a trucking town. There isn't much there. There are a few motels. I checked the first inexpensive looking one. No WIFI. The second one had WIFI but it was down. The clerk there had run into some problem with her computer while she was trying to diagnose the wifi connection. I helped her get her computer back up and running and went on to a third hotel. They didn't have WIFI either but pointed me to the Fort Nelson hotel which was older but quite nice, well at least in comparison to the kinds of places I had gotten used to.
I got into my room, got online and immediately started calling BMW dealers in British Columbia. My thought was fedex'ing something from the East Coast might be very expensive so getting something in-country would be better.
I finally found a dealer that had the pads in stock. Pacifc Yamaha BMW. The woman in parts, Anaz I think her name was, despite being at the counter alone really took care of me. I ordered the parts and she would ship them overnight via the express company they used. Fedex was not an option.
Some time later I got a call back. At this time it was after close on Wednesday. "The fastest I can get them to Fort Nelson would be Tuesday, at the easiest.".
At that very moment, the calm I had was gone. My Schedule was in jeopardy. "Shit! I'm supposed to meet Robyn on Friday?", I thought. As I considered Tuesday at the earliest and all the other issues I would have I became less and less calm. "Shit. How am I going to find a place to do the work? How will I wash the bike?" The stress mounted.
I hate letting people down to an almost pathological degree. Once I say I'm going to do something and something gets in the way of me making that happens, I'll damn near panic. It's completely irrational and is tied in with the Nightmare and the psychology resulting from it.
In the YML.COM forum Lance suggested that the calcium chloride muck had probably prevented the pads from moving causing them to wear prematurely. That makes sense.
On facebook, a couple of friends pointed out that when pads are worn down this far, it's possible for the brake pistons to push out far enough to cause fluid to leak by the seals Ruining Your Whole Day. Of course, this would most likely occur during a panic stop.
I paused. I considered spending five days in Fort Nelson waiting for parts. I considered the money it would cost to stay at a hotel there.
I called the shipping company to see if maybe they could ship to some nearby town more quickly. No luck. The northernmost point they could ship to overnight was Prince George, which was 500 miles away.
"Too far.", I thought as I realized trying to make time down to Prince George with dysfunctional brakes would be a crazy risk.
I felt defeated.
Then in a moment of clarity I remembered being stuck with a disfunctional clutch lever on Atigen Pass on the Dalton Highway. At that moment I felt none of the stress I was feeling now. All these other thoughts were crowding in preventing me from thinking more clearly.
What was different now?
I wanted to see Robyn. She owed me a glass of wine after all.
I wanted to meet Phil and Geo.
I had made commitments. People had made plans and changed schedules. Phil and Geo changed plans entirely. Just for me.
What was different at this moment was that other people were involved. Their lives affected by what I was able to accomplish or not accomplish. Stress.
I feared letting them down. I feared that sick to my stomach guilt when others have gone out of their way for me and I have to change plans. "I feel that way about not swinging back around to see Ian. I had said I would, but I spent too much time in Fairbanks and Valdez. I really wanted to see Ian and Tanya again.", I thought.
Can I let that fear go? Can I accept that maybe I will have to let them down?
"Maybe I could ride down to Prince George.", I considered. "The front brakes sort of work; they can stop the bike if I really need them to. The rear brake works but not well. Engine braking works. The road is sparsely travelled. I haven't had to do a single serious panic stop in the entire trip."
If I let go that /need/ to get down there. If I make a calm and measured attempt, without stress, without obligation, without the need to get there. I may have to decide it's too dangerous. I may have to stop at any moment. I may have no choice but to let them all down. If I can accept that with the same calm I had on the Dalton Highway, then maybe I can make the trip down, evaluating at each moment how dangerous it is.
"I'll go, but I'll go slowly and if I feel the risk is to great I'll just stop, even if it's on the side of the road.", I thought. "To accomplish a difficult task you have to decide what you are going to risk. I won't risk my life, but I will risk my commitments."
And I decided to do it slowly. Instead of trying to do the entire 500 mile run to Prince George in one day I would break it up into two days. I'll ride to Dawson Creek and then onto Prince George the next day. I reasoned that once I reached Dawson Creek I could evaluate the days ride and would then decide if I would continue on.
Feeling resolved and once again having that calm that I have grown to like Out Here, I walked over to the pub next door to the Fort Nelson Hotel and grabbed a bite to eat. There were truckers there and they matched the stereotype I had in my mind as to how truckers would behave. This was a serious contrast to James, the bear of a man I had met in Camp Coldfoot. One trucker leaned over and said, "I have a joke for you. Did you know that Kodak has invented a camera that can capture the millisecond when a woman has actually shut up?".
"And, if you had half a brain, you'd wonder why you're sitting here in this bar by yourself, asshole.", I thought as I considered the women whose stories I love to listen to. I didn't respond to him though. There was just no point.
First thing Thursday morning, I called the motel I had stayed at in Prince George to see if they could accept a package for me. I made a reservation and then called the motorcycle shop and asked them to overnight the brake pads to the motel.
I checked out, grabbed a quick bite to eat which, of course, was another omelette, packed up the bike and headed off tentatively. As I headed down the service road to the Alcan Highway, I tested the rear brake. It wasn't working very well. I practiced engine braking. I tried an aggressive engine brake downshifting through the gears to first. That worked reasonably well. "As long as nothing runs directly in front of me.", I thought.
I headed down the Alcan Highway and it was largely ok. There are wide margins on each side of the highway for most of it so you can see when a large critter is running out onto the road well in advance. Traffic was very light. Where there was traffic I opted to pass it. Cars and trucks have a nasty habit of randomly stepping on the brakes. When you have brakes that work well, this is not a problem. But in this situation, I didn't want anything in front of me.
Of course it started to rain heavily.
I rode on through the rain having to stop only to put the tank bag rain cover on. It had gotten quite cold so I decided not to make the mistake I had made on the Dalton Highway on the way to Deadhorse. I braved the cold and seriously wet for a few moments while I fumbled to put on the electric vest, trying to rush it. "To go fast you have to go slow.", Ryan, who races, would always say.
I let the rain come down and calmly put on the now somewhat wet electric vest and put my jacket over it. I plugged it in and flipped the switch.
"Ahhh. Warmth is good.".
I continued on through a whole tank of gas. I didn't stop to take any photos. I didn't want the distraction. I was making good time but aside from having to do two quick engine braking maneuvers when vehicles in front of me decided to randomly slow down to 30mph, the ride was entirely uneventful. As a matter of fact it was easy. The whole way I was honestly prepared to stop at any moment and give it all up.
Eventually, I needed to stop for gas.
I stopped at a lodge. They had coffee and some benches outside. A group of motorcyclists were there. Six or so in total. They were travelling up to Alaska. I paid for gas, grabbed a cup of coffee and stood outside chatting with them. They were older, I would guess in their mid to late 60's. They, of course, asked where I was coming from and I said "Deadhorse". One was going to try to head up to Deadhorse so they called over to him, "Hey, this guy just came down from there.". They asked me what the ride was like and I said it was a cakewalk.
This older gentleman was riding an R1200GS, an adventure style bike well suited for that road. He had tried to ride up to Deadhorse a few years earlier and said it was too sketchy so he turned around. He thought the road was terrible.
I asked him a few questions about the conditions and they seemed to match what I had ridden through. "It was just too sketchy. I couldn't maintain any kind of speed through the muck.", he said. That seemed telling to me. So I asked some more questions and he replied, "A buddy of mine was waiting for me. He didn't want to ride it so I thought I could just ride up quickly, do it, and ride back down. I had a schedule to keep.".
"So while you were riding you were always worrying about how much time was passing? Feeling stressed that you needed to make it in a certain period of time?", I asked. "Yea, if I kept going that slowly it would have taken 12 hours just to get up there. I just didn't have that kind of time.", he replied.
"Yea, that'll make it difficult. It's not the road that's difficult. It's the way you're riding it. The Dalton Highway is a road that needs it's own time. If you approach it thinking you have to do it in a certain time and have no room for errors, it will stress and distract you from the task at hand. If, however, you give the road all the time it needs, being willing at any moment to go slowly or even calmly stop, then the road becomes very easy and more fun. When you reach the 25mph sections, you do 25mph. When you have to stop to scrape off the hardened muck from your bike you just do it.", I explained.
"But what if I don't have the time?, he asked. "Then just don't ride the road", I replied.
He thanked me and decided to change his schedule up and back. He was going to do it in the four stages that I had done.
Lance always says "You have to give problems their own time. You can't force them. They take as long to solve as they take." The same applies to doing anything difficult. The trick is finding that balance between giving a problem it's time and letting it drag on far too long. When you are calm, that balance is much easier to find.
But it's more than just time. They take a clear mind. Adding extra layers of stress in addition to the problem you are trying to solve diverts your attention and energy from the task at hand and makes you more likely to make a mistake.
I thought for a long time about how I've been working these last several years. There have been so many distractions. There has been so much at stake. The Nightmare was made much worse by the feelings of obligation, duty and so badly not wanting to let important people down. All these distractions added up to create a buzz of stress in my mind which I could feel down as low as my chest.
I didn't have the calm in those times that I had now as I rode down the Alcan without well functioning brakes.
And then it hit me. The reason the Dalton Highway and now this Alcan trip were so easy was not that I didn't fear failure.
It was that I was willing to fail at any moment, when it made sense to.
I rolled into Dawson Creek early, around 5pm and checked into a hotel. I laid down for what I thought was a second only to realize two hours had passed.
I got dinner at a surprisingly nice steak house. After that I went back to the hotel and once again laid down on the bed still in my boots. I woke up after 3AM feet and hands swollen. I hate when that happens. Fall asleep wrong and my hands swell up around my ring making it impossible to take off. My feet had swollen in my boots. Painful.
I managed to pull all that off and went back to sleep for a few hours. It got up the next morning and repeated the process I had performed the previous day. Omelette. Pack the bike. Head on down the road.
The sun was shining. It was perfect weather. I was tired and had way too much coffee. Traffic was sparse. At one point, coming up on a construction site I saw a black bear cub cross the road a couple hundred yards ahead of me. I didn't need to slow down, but I did to tell the stop/slow sign woman that I saw a cub but did not see the mother. She thanked me for that several times.
I rode on, continuing my careful sans brakes riding style. Eventually, the coffee and water I had caught up to me and I need to stop to take a leak. On the far side of a bridge I found a little access path. I parked the bike and walked down the path.
Of course, there were pretty flowers.
The path itself was rideable but challenging. When adventure riders would describe the gravel sections of the Dalton Highway I always imagined it would be a road like this.
Now this stuff will tear up tires.
Deciding, since I was still tired, that I should take a longer break I walked down to the river to take a look. It was simply a beautiful day, of which I have had so many up here in British Columbia.
I eventually went back to the bike and continued to ride on through the rest of my tank of gas and then another. On the second gas stop, only 50 miles outside of Prince George I ran into a guy named Steve who was riding a Harley. We had actually seen each other at a construction stop/slow sign. He was headed somewhere around Prince Rupert. At first he seemed like a "real" Harley guy, whatever that is. But slowly the geek in him came out. I asked him what he did and he replied, "Small engine work and blacksmithing.". "Blacksmithing?", I said quizzicaly. "Yea, I make battle axes and knifes. You know, SCA stuff.", he replied. He had two battle axes with him but he didn't feel like unpacking everything to show them to me, but he did have a knife he had made. It was highly polished, thick and well made.
What I had envisioned as a quick pitstop turned into an extended conversation. We talked for quite a while. He's on facebook and I think mentioned that he had a page where he shows some of his creations. We were both heading towards Prince George so he suggested we ride together. So we did.
I was a little concerned about the traffic into Prince George. It was much heavier than it had been anywhere else on the Alcan. Some of the stop lights were a bit challenging to stop for. Steve rode on to his destination and I followed the GPS's instructions to the Downtown Motel. I got there around 6. The parts were there and they were the right ones.
I txt'd Robyn to let her know I had arrived. We agreed to meet at the restaurant where we first me at 8. It was around the corner from the motel so I could walk. She had a few things to take care of. I needed to remind myself to ask her if there was any place in town she could think of where I might be able to wash my bike and work on it. That would be the first thing I would have to do the next day. I figured I could wash the bike, get the pads replaced and be on my way by the early afternoon.
As I write this I am still in Prince George, BC and it's now Monday morning. I am now about to hit the road once again.
Am way too tired to write. Was so tired I pulled off on a dirt road and slept on the bike for half an hour.
There's too much to say about the last three days and the words are just not coming to me right now ... maybe tomorrow.
I'm currently in Jasper on my way to Calgary to get new tires and an oil change on the bike before I head to the Thunder Bay area.
Too many things pointed to Calgary, so I'm heading there instead of Edmonton.
I have incredible friends. A huge storm blew through College Park and one of my large oaks was toppled. As it fell, it destroyed a telephone pole and knocked down power and communication lines.
The generator kicked in keeping the whole operation going for a few hours but eventually something happened and the network was unreachable for several hours.
In addition to knocking down trees, large sections of my fence have been blown over.
Lance and others today did what they could to fix the fence for me and deal with the other issues.
I have extremely good friends ... they watch out for me.