Yesterday was a bit of a hack along the long main coastal highway, which I'd been so adament about avoiding as much as possible. The truth of the matter being I'm running out of time to get up north and start the ride through the Rockies. If I don't get a move on I'll be snowed in at some point and I can't be arsed to get in a place for days; unless its by choice. So I got away early from Port Alberni and only stopped for a late brunch. Luckily the route wasn't too boring there were still nice scenic views for much of the way. The road was generally only single carriageway, with enough strtches to pass any other traffic. As I got further north there was vitually no traffic anyway, so I didn't get to play with too many cars. I had my destination in mind, so Route 19 until just before Port Hardy then a detour to Telegraph bay.
This bay was recommended by a park warder from the south end of the Island. She was really impressed with the operation last year, not a great big place and small groups. At least she got the first bit right. Telegraph Bay is a small place, with nothing there but tourism. OK, so it was fairly quiet! Still at the higher end of the tourist chain. On offer were all things involving boats: sport fishing, kayaking, Grizzly tours form the water and Whale watching.
There was only one campsite, so it had to do. Despite feeling niggled over a lack of space for my tent on the pitch it was fine. I even had some wood left over from the last campers. The pegs went in fine, the facilities were nice and people who passed were friendly. But I felt alone, desperately so! And down came the tears, they lasted all the time pitching and sorting out a fire. Still didn't stop as I went to phone Al and lauren, I just needed a friend to talk to, to hear someone voices that meant something to me. Mainly I wanted to be able to talk to Cai, but I can't and won't be able to again. I don't mind grieving, I know it does me good; but I wish I could have some control when. To be able to feel it and put it aside till later, not for the tears to just roll down my where ever I am. It isn't that I'm ashamed either, I just don't want to have to explain what is wrong to any onlookers.
Call me a miserable shite if you like, but, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in a boat with a few dozen tourist plebs crowding round the rail and getting in everyone's way. And thats exactly what I got! The early morning sailing was meant to be the quiet one; WRONG!! Fifty people, whilst friendly enough to talk to, who rushed onto their chosen rail and no way were they moving for anyone. Even when I saw something and lifted up my camara to try and shoot something some pillock instantly jumped in front my lense. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The naturalist on the boat saw my frustration and had a quiet word. Actually she asked if there were anything she could do to help, "throw half the passengers off" was my reply. She did understand completely, which is why she noticed. Once advised the best place to go the trip improved dramatically. Each time the engines were cut I got up in front the wheel house and had a grandstand view. So I could stop being a grumpy old git, but I do so hate being surrounded by tourists.
So what did I see? You've already seen from the photos so I don't need to tell you. OK, the Stella sea lions have just arrived back into the area, couldn't get a better shot; grrrrrrrrr, tourist blockade! But the rest just got better and better. They get reports by spotter plan where the resident Orca's are. So off we set, to view what I'd been set on seeing. And it wasn't long, despite detouring to look for some Humpback whales. On the way there we happened upon the Orca's; so much for the supposed report. There were two males and half a dozen or so females, we got closer and closer (have to stay 100 yds away though) and loads of photo opportunities. Then it was decided to go see the Humpbacks, as they are less frequently seen. Amazingly there were three together feeding, a sight not seen often. We got to see them surfacing for a lunge feed and their tail sweep as they descended again. And then the Orca's appeared again, close to the Humpbacks. Bloody great, Orca's on one side and Humpbacks on the other, coool! We stayed watching for quite some time, spoilt for choice!
While backing away a report of some Pacific White side Dolphins came in so off we went to investigate , a supposed large group. By buggery it was, a very large group. Hundreds of them and we meet them just as they started our way. The buggers are so hard to get a good shot of, but I did manage a few decent ones. To be honest, like the whales beyond a certain point you missed the best by trying to get decent photos. The dolphins were lined up in groups of four or more riding the same bow wave, only a couple of feet away from the boat. Gorgeous and amazing, it really lifted my spirits. It also brought on the tears! It was excellent but would have been perfect seeing all this with Cai, jeez I do miss him so much!!
Knowing my good friends from home, Creative Recycling, are on the look out for a new truck I thought I'd help them out. Here's one I found on Vancouver Island that could use a bit of very creative recycling. It has plenty of potential and even more character!
Since leaving Port Hardy I've sailed the Inland Passage up to Prince Rupert. There is no where else to go from there except to Terrace on Route 37. Keen to stay off large highways where possible I took a smaller road through New Aiyansh and Nass Camp to Cranberry Junction, where I rejoined the 37. Many hours and a day and a half of riding brought me onto the Alaskan highway (route 1) now I have to follow this East and south until I can find another, smaller, route. One that can provide me with more of a challenge, which will be more fun.
The scenery from Prince Rupert was great, a long, wide sea inlet with a backdrop of mountains, still enhanced with last year's snow. Best of all take a gander at the beauty I saw on the way to Terrace. Isn't it lovely? My first bear sighting, and I got some good photo's, even if the close up is a wee bit out of focus. He was fine with a number of cars stopping and taking photos until one idjeet, with an expensive camera and king dong lense, had to get real close. Shame it wasn't a grizzly!
Its unbelievable the variation you can find in mountains, lakes, trees, snow, mist and clouds. It seems like each bend brings on a whole new vista. Too much to photo or describe, purely there to appreciate.
My first mistake in Canada, not refueling at every available opportunity. On the way to Terrace I had to retrace my route for over twenty miles when I unexpectedly went onto to reserve. Hot damn, at least I've learnt my lesson now! It would appear that I can make it between fuel stops without extra containers. And it brings you into some nice, secluded little communities, this one is the centre of the Naga'a people. The mountain setting around them is stunning, awesome looking rock and gorgeous snow streaked crevices; and I do like snowy crevices!
I certainly picked the correct route, it wasn't long before my second bear sighting, and this one was mine alone. I passed before noticing him, so turned back round and approached really slow, getting about ten metres away. Luckily I got my photos before some yippies in a VW screamed to a stop right next to him and scared him away. But hey, I saw two more that day and three the day after. No chances of more photos, they didn't hang around long enough. The more you get into the wilderness the more afraid of humans or vehicles they become. Good news as I'm about to camp in the wilds alone.
My choice of route proved doubly appreciated when I hit the wilderness road (means unsurfaced and not maintained)from Nass Camp and Cranberry Junction. This was windy, very pot holed and muddy gravel, added up equals enormous fun and a massive boost of confidence. I was more than happy riding at 40-50 mph, hell it was great! The pot holes proved no problem, stand on the foot pegs and open it up. The bike damn flew over them, very impressed with it's performance on trails. So much so I nearly lost it when I looked at the speedo and saw it reading 60 mph, I didn't slow down, there was no need to I felt totally in control. It paved the way for anxiety free tackling of rougher surfaces. The road pictured here was yesterday's 30 miles stint on muddy packed earth. I didn't bother going less than 60 mph; shit if I go over I'll only slide, worse is a broken bone or two, as long as there's no big rig around. Me and the bike got covered in crud, and I'm still minging, so its a hotel tonight to get clean.
It was my intention to blast out a 400 mile ride yesterday but I seemed reluctant to hit town and be out the wilds. A few times I tried tracks off the road, but they always turned out to private property. So I thought bugger it, ride to town; then for some inexplicable reason I tried another track. I followed it for nigh on a mile, hey presto! It came out by a gorgeous lake, room to park and even a deserted log cabin. How good was that? OK, so the windows were put through and it was full of rat shit; but hey, it was more aesthetically pleasing than the rat infested loggers cabin I found to stay in the night before. It took me an hour to clean it reasonable enough for my domestic satisfaction, there was even a dry fold down sofa, which I put my sleep mat on and slept as sweet as a babe.
apart from the freezing temperature the hide away was ideal. A lake who's water had barely a ripple, surrounded by trees and mountains and the only sound was the water running out and down the fast flowing creek. Oh, such tranquility! I could have been the only person alive for all I could see or hear. Near dusk I got a fire going and just stood around mesmerised, watching the fish jump. Then I noticed something swimming over the far side of the lake, a couple of minutes later it appeared over my side. It was right in the reflection of the water and it was too dark to see clearly, I'm sure it was too small to be an otter. Then it dived and I never saw it again, any one know any other creatures it could be? It was definitely at least 9 inches or so long with fur, I got a dark picture of it which I'll keep and try to uncover the mystery.
All these things are amazing and really make me feel alive, as does the biting cold of riding hour after hour. But the nature and wildlife make me miss Cai so much. I still find it hard to believe he's gone, still can't imagine a life worth living without him. Every day is filled with thoughts of him, and punctuated with tears of my loss. But they're not desperate, and I do bring him to mind in a positive light. I bring him into my heart and feel the tremendous love I have for him.
Route 1 from Watson Lake only took me to Contact creek, from there it was south on Highway 97; for two days. The map shows the Rockies starting around Watson, it was another hundred miles before they really came into view. They got me really excited, it was after all, what we originally planned to come here for. They are absolutely gob smacking, spectacular, awesome, and every other word you can come up with. It seems impossible to describe all the subtle differences when faced with wall to wall mountains, but different they were.
I could easily tell the direction of the prevailing wind. A series of gently sloping outcrops were completely devoid of vegetation, yet the steep, craggy, leeward side bristled with conifers. Behind them was an upturned cone, crumpled and scrunched to form a multitude of ridges running down all sides. There were numerous cwms lined up one after the other, it looked like someone had come along and scooped out the rock as if it were ice cream. Snow filled gulley's abound, still there since last winter; many looking almost like molars, cracked and broken, exposed to the cold. My favourite was the rounded breast, its pert nipple pointing skyward. Yesterday was a glorious day for the sheer magnitude of rock, also magnificent for the wildlife.
It doesn't do to be complacent about Bears, yet I got within twenty five feet of one, then even closer to another. Their eyesight is not too good, move slowly and carefully and its possible to get reasonably close without scaring them away. It was delightful to finish off my memory card with a 30 second video of one feeding, oblivious of my presence; being upwind of him. So many delights to report, a trio of Daal sheep had decided to come down lower than generally seen and present themselves especially for me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Caribou were meant to go about in sodding great herds. I saw one, on its own, not that big and very skittish.Didn't like the noise of my bike, but that gets cut as soon as I see 'owt now. So I managed a photo of that too. A lone Bison was unperturbed by me or the bike, just stayed munching, giving me only a cursory glance to let me know It'd seen me. Lastly, this morning I had the pleasure of seeing a Beaver dam. No damn Beaver though, and I'd have liked to see a nice beaver.
Its a real shame the first experience of the Rockies was cut short, the road swung back away from them, heading to Fort Nelson, a dreary shit hole that didn't impress me at all. Neither did the day's riding today, a long way with a tantalising glimpse of the hills, always looking as if I'd swing back to them, alas the road would sweep the other way. So the day was spent cloud gazing as I pottered along at 70 mph. .A decision's been made, no need to rush, best to conserve fuel. So although there were only clouds to stare at it was fine. Actually reminded me of being in Tobago with Cai just before sunset, two enormous clouds in the shape of Ogres, made angry by the redness of the setting sun. Although he was only four then, its a memory he carried all his life, only recently we talked about it.
Tedium doesn't begin to explain the ride from Fort Nelson to Fort St John on route 97. A straight road and very little to look at, I hardly even had to stay awake (Actually been finding it hard to do so, maybe its a slow diminishing of my energy levels; maybe have a couple of days rest soon). This river view was one of the only worthwhile things to look at. So by the time I made it to town I felt deflated. No way was I about to spend another night in a crap town, and Fort St John looked no better than Nelson. I took a side trip through Hudson's Hope, round Route 29, taking me into and along Peace valley. AT Chetwynd route 97 was rejoined and taken all the way down to Prince George. I was back on track, heading towards the mountains; then, at last, the Rockies loomed large, right in front of me.Oh, such joy; a whoopin' and a hollerin' I most certainly was. I'd been in a seriously awful mood for the last two days, frustrated and angry. I nearly kicked in a campsite's roadside advertising board, just because they refused to allow bikers in. Peace valley did its job on me, the anger went, just leaving me flat and grumpy. A shame I didn't get a grip and enjoy the valley more, its proposed to flood it all for a another hydro-electric dam. At least being refused made me seek out an independent campsite. Very serene, I camped out by the river, pepper spray to hand, ready for any Grizzly sneaking up on me.
Feeling a grumpy bore can't be good to maintain, ask any ex of mine, and luckily I snapped out of it; even before the mountains re-appeared. The good folk of Hudson's Hope helped me out there, very nice and friendly, good to meet and feed off some of their pleasure of life. I even let the kind Welsh woman, from the museum, take my picture with her pride and joy. So thanx, and here it is in all its splendour!
I know its their job, but everyone I've meet at the Visitor Centres have been so friendly; not just helpful. Its been clear they enjoy what they're doing. Certainly no sign of surliness which seems common in places in the UK, though not necessarily in tourist offices specifically(before I upset someone else), the public service industry as a whole. At Chetwynd it was the Visitor Centre who organise the annual chainsaw carving competition. Some of the work was not really my ideal style, too may bears on trees, but well made all the same. This Indian I was impressed with, it stands about eight feet tall. The detail is something else, contestants spend about 30 hours on them over four days.
It was after Chetwynd the road turned very twisty, I could have soiled my underwear with delight. It followed a river meandering down the valley with a backdrop of the Rockies, lovely sweeping bends taken at full tilt. For days I've kept my speed to 70mph to conserve fuel, not when faced with such beautiful windy roads. They're much too frilling, I just had to open the bike up; it is such a delight to ride that way, who am I to deprive it of its natural prowess, swooping round the lumpy tarmac.
From Prince George I've followed route 16, towards Jasper, which I should reach today. This is written in McBride, a typical old styled American railroad town (despite being in Canada. Shhh, don't tell them that's how I described it.) I loved the converted station house, gorgeous food and people. Even the graffiti on passing trains is artistic, rather than autistic. This rail old railway carriage looks like its being lived in now, just as well, I'd have squatted it. The surrounding mountains are truly amazing , all topped with snow. With that observation, winter really is nipping at my heels, I'm going to have to head straight down south, without detours for visits. Bummer, I wanted to see friends again on the way south.
As a point of interest, this is not a Polar Bear: its a white, Black Bear! Often referred to as "Ghost Bears", people are very lucky to see one. They are found mainly in one region of Canada, which you can look up on the Internet, coz I've forgotten. But just let me get close enough to a black bear with my bottle of peroxide!
From Canal Flats on Highway 95 I took a forest/logging trail to White Swan Lake, and camped the night. Following morning (Monday that is) I decided to follow the track for about 100 km, making it a total of 125 km; supposedly. I rode at an average of 40 mph for 90 minutes, a bit slower for another hour, and then a sign said another 100 km. As my trip meter got broke I didn't know how far it actual was. I can only say over 100 miles, and leave it at that! I came out at Galloway, and headed down to the US border.
The track was quite varied in the quality of surface I was riding on, at best it was loose and dry gravel, and at it's worst it was ball breaking. I was going confidently at 40-50 mph with a big grin on my face, the ride was great; even when faced with bottomless chasms. Well actually, seeing my front wheel skimming along, an inch from the edge of a massive drop did slow me down for a wee while. But not for long, despite feeling the twitches and slight slipping of the tyres, the bike held it's course; point it where you want to go and open the throttle, easy. Well almost; coming round a bend I was suddenly faced with huge trenches covering the entire width of the road, running along the road for a good twenty metres. Miraculously I managed to keep the bike out the ruts, maintaining control on a narrow band of dirt and emerging unscathed. Phew! I seriously worried about the cleanliness of my thermals after that, but was pleased with how I tackled the problem and sped off. Oh, boy! Maybe I should have reassessed the track at that point. Neither the troughs or the horrendous drops were a match for the fearsome boulder field I was to come across though.
Oh, boy! Why can't I have more foresight. Why can't I see round bends? And why isn't the bike indestructible? Within a few hundred yards of the rutted death trap a section of large cobbles appeared on the left side of the track. No sweat, there was plenty of space to the right, and it was fairly well compacted. Simple, ease off a touch for the bend and swing round on the right, right? WRONG! Find myself faced with a long stretch of boulders filling two thirds of the track, my two thirds of it! Before I could do anything I was being bounced all over the place, struggling to keep control of the bike. Despite the best efforts of the boulder field, I managed to aim the bike towards the flattish side. I was stood on the pegs for more control, struggling with motorcycle epilepsy and trying to knock it down a gear for proper traction. Too much for me: Boulder field 1 - 0 Les. Down and out for the count, both me and the bike, me underneath to break the bike's fall. Due to the rather large nature of the boulders it was relatively easy to extract myself. Free and unhurt was a relief, being unable to move the bike more than an inch was not. God, when did it become that heavy? Probably by falling into a slight ditch, leaving the handlebars lower than the wheels. I tried from a few different angles, no chance at all. Being dressed in full thermal regalia I instantly broke into a profuse sweat. This was definitely going to more than a quick lift, so off came helmet, gloves and all the top layers. When did it suddenly get so hot? Tried maneuvering it into a better position, no joy! Found a length of timber to lever up one end, it broke! Found a stronger piece, risked snapping the lower portion of the nose fairing; nearly done it. OK, try again from a better position. Nearer, get my knee under the tank, swear loudly and heave; crap, not quite! Make a support out of large flat bounders to wedge the lever, then I won't have to lift as much, hhheeeaaave. Double shite, pile of boulders are in the way! At this point I can see petrol leaking out he tank, not a good sight, don't want to lose too much and get stranded. It's obvious I've got to sort this out without any help, had been immediately. I know it took long enough to decide but there is no alternative now, off comes all the luggage, which reveals an even steadier flow of fuel from the rear fuel overflow. This could be crucial now, if I lose too much fuel I've got a long walk, at least 40-50 miles. With renewed vigour and half a litre of water I give all the grunt I can muster, f*** you b******, get the f*** up aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!! Yes, yes, yes, phew! How relieved can one man be? Believe me, VERY! It nearly fell over the other way though, that caused me a seizure. But all's well that ends well!
Almost a shame I didn't move it onto safer, more even ground before reloading. Not to worry, it get out the boulders with no more fuss and I was on my way. That's enough excitement for one day. Though riding another hour before a sign declaring another 100 km to the highway could have caused distress, if I hadn't thoroughly enjoyed getting out the predicament alone.
The rest of the ride out was uneventful, in comparison. There were a few minor wheel slides and twitchy moments with the handle bars, but hey, all in a good days ride, right? Reaching Montana gave way to more open countryside and some lovely pastoral landscapes. Loads of gorgeous lakes and rivers, slightly more windy roads and a more relaxed pace. My Back tyre has no grip left at all in the centre, so I'm taking it easy until I get a new one.
From McBride it was Route 16 right on down to Jasper. A night's camp in cold conditions saw me fit for the next leg, expected to be one of the highlights! Highway 93, all the way through the glacial fields and on into the Montana. Like so many of the Canadian roads they promised nothing of excitement in the road itself, fairly straight and monotonous, depending almost solely on the surrounding countryside for relief from terminal boredom. Many people had talked about this section of road, from Jasper to Banff, as a not to be missed journey. From what I'd seen coming towards jasper, and from the town itself, it showed a lot of promise.
I was utterly awestruck, capable of only making noises to the effect of Waaaaa and sshhhiiii-iiiitte. Speed was kept at no more than 60 mph, yes it was that good, with constant stops. I couldn't believe it took me over an hour and a half to cover 50 miles. It got the the point where it had to force myself to continue riding; otherwise I would never have left the park. I just wanted to photograph everything, from every angle. The views to one side would have me totally mesmerised, then I'd glance round and be swept away by how phenomenal the formations were on that side.
Amazing layered rock, most of what I could see; a big variation in the colour though. One series would be sandy coloured, obviously sedimentary, whilst others would be multi-hued and veined with snow. From the angle of layers it was easy to see from where, and in what direction, the original push on the earth's crust was. Even two peaks joined by a ridge had contorted differently, one receiving loads more upthrust along one edge; the other had risen fairly equally.
The immensity was something else, how easy it was to feel small and insignificant. Shown here is one mountain a few miles beyond what can be seen of the road. The distance between the ranges on each side of the road wasn't that far, this is meant to be one of the longest glacial troughs there are. Called the Columbian Ice fields, nothing to do with that country, it carries on much further than I followed it for.
Obviously the glacial field was highlighted for the glaciers themselves. To be honest I didn't stop at the largest, or supposed, most spectacular. These were heaving with people and bus tours! And I don't just mean buses carrying them to the glacier, they were special designed buses for trips over the glacier. As I didn't think they'd let me have a go on the bike, I only had a cursory look and carried on.
Far more interesting was the way the glaciers flowed down the mountainsides. Some looked almost like cream flowing out a jug, it gathered on successive ledges as it descended, to flow even thicker to the next ledge. There were many like this, such a shame they couldn't all be closely observed with no time restrictions. With light flurries of snow, on such a bright sunny day, I really can't shake the feeling of needing to head south. Anyway, the only way to take in very much would be to walk the whole route. A whole stack of memory cards would be useful as well, I've got through so much already.
The whole day was exception, spent in a mountain wonderland, absolutely spectacular. My head state was much improved before this, afterwards....head state, what's that? But I have kept Cai very much in mind, positively! Yep, I even speak to him; shame he doesn't answer, but if it makes me feel good, then so be it. More importantly is opening up my heart and feeling the love I'll always hold for him. I can even write that without crying, at the moment anyway. I'm sure it hasn't suddenly gone, never to return!
As you can see, I've decided my old lid was too loose, allowing too much wind noise, after many attempts I finally found another I'm happy with. So I've got a nice shiney helmet!
Many thanks to kind hearted Aunts, eh? Not even my own aunt, that of Sioned, friend and late employee from home. Amazing how people can rise to the occasion and come up trumps. Iona didn't even know to expect me, yet when I called she steered straight through my own awkwardness and invited me to stay. So while my bike got star treatment at Couer d'Alene's Kawasaki dealer I received some of the same at Iona's home. Obviously the bike was cleaned and organised before I saw to my own needs! Five days rest were definitely in need and I left feeling refreshed and revived. Unfortunately I seem to have left another canine friend; Jo, the Coon hound, who I hope won't miss me too much.
Back on the road, and some very nice ones at that! A quick trip east on the Interstate 90 allowed me to get on the scenic byway (route 97), ride along Couer d'Alene Lake to route 3 and into St. Marie's, then the St. Joe's river road (route 50) all the way into Montana. Three days riding since leaving Iona's and they've all been along scenic routes, definitely not the shortest way to Yellowstone National Park. I entered Montana at St. Regis and took routes 135, to Paradise, 200 west to Plains, then the 28 north to reach Flathead Lake. The 93 took me along Flathead to the Northern tip, where I used the 82 East purely to link up with the 83, to head back down South again. My route seems all over the place, but the scenery and roads I've travelled make it so worth while. Highway 83 connects back up to the 200, which I took just for a few miles, going off road at Ovando, through Helmville and down to Drummond (last section is county route 271). With no other choice from Drummond I used tarmac, route 1 through Philipsburg, turning onto the 38 at Porters Corner. The 38 was mainly gravel road, going over the Shalkaho Pass @ 7,260 ft, and to the base of the Bitterroot mountains; which I'm going to follow for a few days before swinging back round en route for Yellowstone. Hopefully I won't get dizzy with all the zig-zagging and miss Yellowstone altogether.
Pheww! That's just the route, without any details, of which there are, of course, many. The ride along Couer d'Alene Lake was damned good riding, undulating twists and turns, rising high above the lake then snaking back down to cross ancient bridges, over muddy creaks, and giving my new tyres a really good trial run. Yep, they'll do! A pair of Avon's, actually made in Britain; rather than the Dunlop's, which are now made in Thailand! But I diverse, its so nice to be back on roads that beg to be ridden, tyres that cry out "lean further, please, please". But for some reason my better sense holds true and I take it relatively easy, rarely exceeding 70 mph. Even down the spectacular ride along St Joe's river I kept it reasonable, despite the temptation to give it full throttle round the delightful bends, as they followed the course of the river through its lazy meandering for many miles.
The jaunt up and around Flathead lake was similar for the lake views, yet more open and developed. The East side was better, where I rode past smaller lakes with less houses and only a few staging posts for trade. This ride was endured through heavy rain, though it still couldn't detract form the beauty of the area. So many log structures being built, real ones not log clad plywood, as I'd seen before. If only I could have taken out my camera, but it was way too wet to even take the rain cover off my tank bag. The logs were not pre-prepared, I saw a guy shaving off the bark before use. The variety of different types of buildings was phenomenal, they really are common in this part of Montana. Mind you, geodesic domes seem to be popping up unexpectedly as well.
Many of the roads now are being chosen for their high passes and off road properties, they are only open part of the year, so I've gotta get my arse into gear and do as many as possible before the snow arrives. I should still have time though! Coming over the Shalkaho Pass was awesome, very narrow track, really windy, very steep and with deep, deep drop offs. The road surface itself wasn't too bad, but I took it easy, there are too many hunters driving up there, I never know what might be round the next corner. So a bit of sense from yours truly, it has to happen sometimes, even to me.
Wow, what a few days I've had. As I left the library from writing the last blog is was pouring with rain, and I mean pouring. Not one to shy away from a bit of water I just donned the waterproofs and got on with the ride.
Carried on travelling south on route 93, taking the 28 from Salmon down to Leodore. Route 29 (Idaho) and 324 (Montana) took me over the Bannock pass 7,672ft, a missed turn meant I had to take a quick blast up Interstate 15 to Dillon. Dirt riding became the order of the day, a sand/mud track provided the way to get to Alder, where route 287 went all the way into Yellowstone park.
I'm so glad that on waking yesterday morning the sun was out and the scenery was bright, breezy and oh, so clear. What a delight after the last two days, from Darby to Salmon I had to go over Chief Joseph's Pass 7,264ft; NIGHTMARE!! It had been raining hard, when I ascended the pass it turned to heavy sleet. It was bitterly cold, my visor kept misting up, so I could hardly see with it open or closed, warmer with it closed though! I could almost feel the mountain scenery just out of reach, but could see bugger all, I was deep into the clouds. Hein Gericke's waterproof gloves aren't, with sodden hands I could hardly feel them. Bloody luxury lad, zilch vision, no feeling and potentially a very slippy road. Holy moly, not my idea of fun! For once I actually cheered at the sight of a truck in front of me. His nice heavy, wide wheels cleared some of the crap off the road giving a better track to follow in; if I stayed far enough back I avoided his road spray as well. Ain't life good? At least when its that bad you know you're alive, and boy was I alive A fairly nice Motel was gladly taken that night, I deserved a bit a luxury.
I'd hoped for better weather the following morning, it wasn't raining to start with, that was an A1 improvement. But not for long, less than an hour before I had to stop and don the waterproofs. Even worse was the looming clouds over the range of mountains I had to pass over for the morning's ride (as you can see in the second picture). I decided to take a lower pass, but missed the turn, so went with the original plan. By the time I'd gone two miles along the gravel track I was in two minds; a newly layed layer of gravel was found a bit daunting, then I hit the cloud bank. At this point I lost any semblance of sanity and carried on, don't ask me why, I couldn't say. I knew when I got to the state line, in the middle of the cloud, alone, freezing weather; I felt great! So glad I hadn't turned back, a small but excellent sense of achievement. And armed with renewed confidence in my abilities to tackle the world, off I set again, just a wee bit faster.
Now its becoming more a point of finding as many tracks to follow as I can. Which is what I'd planned on doing together with Cai, just didn't think I'd be up to it alone. Well stuff it, we'll see what I can and can't do alone. There's only one way to find out! On this new high I was determined to find the next trail, going from Dillon to Alder, taking in the ghost towns of Nevada City and Virginia City on the way to Yellowstone.
What a delight, for the first time a track I took was not mainly gravel or stone, it was real dirt, yeeha! It isn't second nature for me riding dirt, I learnt to ride in heavy town traffic and my skills have all been learnt on road. I've only ever had short little goes on soft and loose surfaces. I'm getting there though, this sandy dirt was great, (3rd picture form top)I loved it. Although the bike hit the dirt again, though not with me on it. As I stopped to take the damned picture it went over, despite having checked the ground was hard enough to take the weight. No problem, pick the heap of junk up and set off, just a bit sweatier, and with a bent hand guard. It'd been such a good couple of days I took a night in a warm, cosy log cabin and got absolutely plastered with a local couple. Following morning, day lit up and Off to Yellowstone I went.
The scenery in Yellowstone can't be faulted, it was stunning. Gorgeous mountain ranges, excellent vistas from very high elevations and hot springs aplenty. The roads are all 45 mph maximum, which is a good idea, to protect the wildlife; bloody frustrating though! After spending so much time with open, empty roads, hardly anyone in sight for most the day, it was hard to sit behind a long line of traffic and not feel frustration. I couldn't sit at a reasonable speed (45-50 mph) because I had to constantly watch the other vehicles, who were likely to stop suddenly at any moment and block the whole road. I had to stop and think though, I came here now because its the end of the season and there are few people here. Oh yes Les, imagine what it would be like in mid season and count your blessings boy. So I did, and felt better. I even got to stalk a deer, well three but only really got pictures of this one, ain't it cute?
I don't think I can take anymore about the weather at home, it ain't got a patch on what I'm facing here now. In the last few days I've had snow laying around me, slept at 9,500ft in heaving rain, rode for hours in thunderstorms and smiled for most the way. I do need to get a move on, its getting close to risking being snowed in, which would mean swapping the bike for a skidoo; now there's an idea! Actually the thought of coming back into some of these areas for a quick trip in the snow is very tempting. I've always fancied a skidoo tour, not for too long though, a week would be enough. Meanwhile, I'd rather not use my bike as a means of combating snowy conditions.
Since leaving Yellowstone I've centred my route along highway 191, though enjoyed a number of side excursions. Between Daniel and Pinedale I took county route 352 up to Green River Lake, a return trip as it was a dead end. From Pinedale I went to Elkheart Park in the Bridger Wilderness Area, just to camp for the night, which was another return trip. And yesterday I took county route 353, through Big Sandy, out to the Continental Divide and onto route 28, about 20 miles Northeast of Farson. So I had to ride back to the 191 in torrential rain, very good timing though.
The first two pictures are of mountains I passed by, first from Yellowstone and the second from Dell fork Ranch, home of Barbara and Paul Elwin (could be Elwood), my kind hosts for a night of rest and bodily cleansing. Their ranch was amazing, they still do their haymaking by horse and the proximity and admiration of nature is wonderful. I stayed a night after being invited, it was absolute bliss. Woke early in the morning to horses grazing around the cabin, Pronghorn deer grazing up the track, with Harris's hawk and Bald Eagle flying past. All this with the magnificent backdrop of the wind river mountain range, talk about uplifting, WOW!
They advised me to go see the Elkheart Park, standing at about 9,500ft, "a spiritual experience," they said, as if their own ranch wasn't! But hey, the snow topped mountains were viewed from this park, after a night of heavy rain at my altitude, no wonder it was a bit nippy the next morning. As far as I recall this is the highest I've ever camped out at, higher than Turkey by at least 2,000ft. It was almost a shame to ride away and leave it all behind! Knowing there was much more to come made it bearable though, what I didn't know at the time was the more to come was thunder storms and very wet rides for a number of days.
Does wet and cold equal misery and gloom? Well bugger me, no it doesn't have to! OK, it would be nice to have glorious sunshine; and free fuel, as much beer as I wanted and cord en bleu cooking. However, the knack of life is to make what you can of what you've got, which is what I've been managing. The thought that came into my head whilst riding was, "I ain't running, I ain't scared, throw at me what you want." So, at present, I'm starting to feel pretty strong, at least bloody stubborn. For sure I've had torrents of tears streaming down my face, if I hadn't I'd be worried. But in my heart I hold more love for Cai than I could have imagined, and it isn't going away. Unlike this bloody Chipmunk, who wouldn't keep still!
Riding tracks and trails has been a delight, and a fright; generally both at the same time. To Green River Lake I had the most horrid washboard effect I've experienced so far, just when I thought I'd got it sorted. No problem at first, open the throttle and coast over it all; if you go fast enough it smooths out. So I got pretty confident and felt happy at 50+ mph; until I hit deeper, wider corrugations with deep, loose gravel strewn over it. It felt like I was on a bucking bronco set to vibrator mode, not nice at all. It was easier on the way back though, especially as I was expecting it.
The route through Big Sandy was aptly named, it was sandy mud for many miles. Heading straight for the mountains, over enormous open plains at very high altitude; pure joy, well almost. Being compacted earth was lovely to see after riding over so much gravel, and good speeds were kept. Having learnt my lesson I did take a more cautious approach to cornering, but even that got more confident and felt better leaning the bike over and accelerating through. Not quite the same when the earth isn't so compact and turns to mud! Again, I took it easy at first, while I got used to it. By the end, when seeing a muddy patch in front I didn't slow down at all, just gave it a handful. WRONG, the bike snaked horribly, scared the life out of me, and had me laughing manically. Scary, but really good fun! Although it will take me a bit longer before being quite so foolhardy with the throttle. My timing was perfect thjough, just as I reached the highway it starting pouring with rain, and hasn't stopped yet, 24 hrs later.
The weather has failed to detract from the amazingly beautiful scenery I've been constantly passing through. Not one place can be given precedence over any others, they're all magnificent. Each mile, each hour, each day, each state has been unique and I feel so privileged to have been able to do this. My mind has been blown away at every instant, its such a shame others can't experience these things, in this manner. The tremendous feelings could never be communicated fully, I can only give the most minute aspect of what its like. But again, I feel honoured that everyone has joined in and made it worth while for me to do. This first photo is on the road from Rock Springs to Vernal, a gorgeous ride over high plains, it actually let up raining fro nearly an hour, so I could get the camera out.
What was that about getting down south before the snow fell? Oh well, it was a good plan! Even though I'd seen it coming lower, and gloried in its proximity, I didn't actually believe I'd get caught out by it. Me, what could possibly befall me? These photo's were taken when I stopped to put my gloves on the engine and warm up a bit. It got heavier and colder, I bent my head down and sang stupid songs. Thanks for that idea Tor! Mind you I think the motorists who were stopped, to take photo's, must have thought I was mad.
Without joking though, it was bitterly cold! No, I didn't get disheartened, which I felt real proud about. Over twelve years ago I decided this was one side of motorcycling I did not want to experience, I'd had enough. So here I am again, and it hasn't put me off. What is becoming a major effort is the lonely nights in hotel rooms, alone. And no, I don't want to go and trawl the local bars for company, I'd rather be a sad, lonely, old git thank you. The grief I can bear, well, better all the time. The thoughts of a future, without Cai I can't comprehend; can't even begin to get my head round it. Even getting far enough to write this opens up the void, one I can't face, one this trip will not sort out. At least that I feel sure about now, so if nothing else, it has already been a valuable lesson. I haven't been writing much about the tears, the pain, how often it comes, or how bad. Shit, you'd all be fed up by now and I'd have no readers. So you see, this has changed from this being all about me, to being something that is to share, with you all!
I finally left route 191 at Vernal, it had taken me a lot further away from the Continental divide than a wanted to be, so zig-zaging it has to be. And wasn't it just worth it, I've now crossed it numerous times and experienced a continuous variation in the scenery and roads. The roads and directions I've taken make no sense, mainly because I choose each day as it comes. Because my head is firmly rooted up my arse, it changes track every minute, let alone every day. Anyway, I headed East From Vernal, in Utah, on State route 40 for bloody ages, almost to Denver. God'damn, had to ride along the freeway! A scoot along Interstate 70, cut south through El Ranco, Evergreen and Conifer to reach route 285 for a few hours ride South, to Poncha Springs and joining the 50 headed West. Arrived in Montrose where I plan to head south again, for the ancient cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde. But that is yet to do, and who can predict the future?
From Wyoming, through the corner of Utah and into Colorado proved never ending pleasure. All the riding has become that way, I've used all my memory cards and missed more photo opportunities than taken. This part of the ride had brought me closer to the actual rock again, no longer looming monsters in the distance. There are rock overhangs at the roadside, crumbly, treacherous looking sandstone, with constant warnings of falling rock. Only one solution, the less time spent riding past, the less risk there is, right? I haven't been thrashing the bike at all recently though, rarely ridden faster than 70 mph. I tend to keep at about that speed, round as many of the bends as possible, maybe ease off to look longer at specific views; but try and maintain a respecable speed of at least 60 mph. So I proclaim yet again, how brilliant!
After my snowy experience two days ago the weather has been a lot nicer. Mind you, I have ridden in much snowier conditions at home, it just seems more severe when away on a long trip. I must remind myself as well, that knowledge still doesn't make for a more pleasurable ride at the time; its still as cold and unpleasant! Even the town where I stayed, Granby, stood at 8,600 ft, and it started to snow heavily once dark. I fully expected to get snowed in, all ways out of town were over high passes, that doesn't sound promising to me. All I wanted to do was ride round the Rocky Mountain National Park, its been impassable for the last couple of days, and the pass down South is the highest around, at 11,315 ft, though was fine earlier.
With some relief I awoke to clear roads, no snow; just heavy frost! A phone call confirmed the national park was a non-stater, so Southward is the only choice. Done no checks on road conditions south, just went for it. If I can get through I will; if not, well at least I tried. Jeeez was it cold, glorious scenery though! As is often the case with heavy frosts, it was bright and amazingly clear; a crispy, winter wonderland. The views from the top of Bertoud Pass were phenomenal, no way could I stop for photo's, so only got one on the way up. So many of the spectacular sights I've seen have gone unrecorded: actually they haven't, they're in my head and my heart! They're part of the experience, at times stopping and taking a photo can detract from that experience. It breaks it up, making it lots of smaller parts, rather than a smooth continuation of the ride. One of the most joyous things is to allow the road and scenery to take over my consciousness, it really is about being at one with my surroundings, totally absorbed!
The whole of yesterday took me over numerous mountain passes, the majority close to 10,000 ft, the highest over 11,000; so the thermals have stayed on so far! It has all been awesome, every bend opening up a whole new vista, every angle shows a different scene. When stopping I've looked around and been amazed at the view behind, how did I miss that? I'd have to ride every road from every direction to truly appreciate all it has to offer, and then of course any variation on weather would give it a whole new perspective too. I so wish I didn't have to marvel at all this alone; I'd swap it all, to share one more moment with Cai, just to say one more time how precious he's been to my life. Too many why's don't help, I know; but why can't we have just one thing in life we could change? Probably because we'd all use it up a million times, before we most needed it! No, why is a question, in these circumstances, that brings so much extra grief.
Its good when things just happen, you go with the flow and are well rewarded. I got away from the motel as late as I could, and buggered around in the library for a couple of hours too. But it was worth it, being unsure of which scenic route to take south, a chance meeting with another biker decided for me. He was emphatic about taking the 550, from Granby to Durango, then heading east to Cortez and the Mesa Verde. where the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians could be found. All too often such strongly put advice can put me off, but a bit of trust doesn't necessarily amiss, in this case it was well placed. What an inspiring ride it was, from only a few miles out of Granby, almost to Durango itself. I've missed having close proximity to rugged, breath taking rock, rising vertically from the roadside, or dropping dramatically within inches of the kurb (or where the curb should be).
Definately one of those rides to write home about! Switchbacks came thick and fast, hellishly steep climbs for thousands of feet, the bends were of dreamlike quallity. Wide sweeping bends, curving round back onto themselves, then tight dramatic turns on the very edge of gorgeous chasms. Ooooh, its bliss! And there were an infinate number of noises, much better at communicating contentment, pleasure and pure adrenalin. The road just sucked me in, took me breathless to the very edge, then forced me to retreat. No matter how desperate I was to give it more on the throttle, to do so would mean a long plummet, down a gobsmacking gorge.
It was amazing the amount of restraint I showed, whenever getting stuck behind other traffic I just pulled over and got the camera out. Anywhere I could pull over provided a good photo opportunity, I would have been rude not to have made the most of it. It didn't matter whether the road was between tight cliffs, cut from the bare rock, or meandering through an open valley floor; it was still incredible to see, wonderful to feel the majestic beauty of the passes.
Due to the lateness of my departure this morning I didn't think I'd have reached the Mesa Verde, but I did. Once clear of the mountains there was no stopping me, open the throttle and let here rip. Not really that bad, I kept at 80 mph for a couple of hours, only stopping to buy some Tequila. So, by the time it was dark, I was putting up my tent. Spent the evening chatting to a couple who were about for the Louisianna hurrican, it didn't sound nice, and made worst by the complete lack of response from government sources.
Today's humour was delightfully provided by some older guy, he had just the cutest white socks on you can imagine, they really suited his sandles! OK, I was about to swing my leg over the saddle when he said something I couldn't hear at all, because of my crash helmet. Apologising for not hearing, I stepped closer, "How does your bike work?" I was absolutely sure he didn't want me explain the four stroke cycle, maybe it was the means of transmission he didn't understand. Naa, haven't the time! I was so perplexed by the question I could only ask what he meant. I know, I'm horrid, I've an aweful sense of humour and I shouldn't be so wicked to such innocent, sartorial guru's. He settled on knowing the engine size, amd from his reaction it was obvious he found it to his satisfaction. A truly bizzare meeting, it tickled me though.
It's been hard for me, the type of questions I've been punishing myself with! Everything from why did I get Cai interested in bikes to why didn't I give him a couple of grand and let him go off for a nice, group, summer of fun? Its obvious, there are endless ways to prolong the grief, will it serve any useful purpose though? Of course bloody not! Feeling sorry for myself, and finding ways of further diminishing my self esteem, is not good. If I respect Cai, as the equal he was, then I must respect his choices, his ability to think for himself and follow his own dreams. Ain't guilt a funny thing?
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