August 09, 2008 GMT
Canada - Yukon and BC

Onwards to Canada - Yukon Territory and British Columbia. Entered Canada via the Top of the World Highway. 40 miles are gravel on the Alaska side, but a great road none the less. Its narrow and twisting, with only a few RV's and bikes for company. The Canadian border / customs post is kind of strange - right up in the mountains all by itself. On the Canada side the road runs along a ridge with great views down over the hilltops on either side. The lanscape here is more rounded - not quite as rugged like Alaska. It may have been coincidental, but the sun was shining on the Canada side - nice to see. A short ferry crossing takes you onto Dawson City - an original gold mining town, although slightly recreated for the tourists, but still has a nice feel. The campsite was right in town here, which is handy for an evening stroll, but resembled little more than a gravel car park with a small area for tents.

Onwards to Whitehorse. Again a nice town on the banks of the Yukon river. Everything in these parts stems from the gold rush so its fairly heavy tourist country. July is probably peak tourist season, but not overly busy. Can recommend the campsite in Whitehorse - close to town, riverside setting and tents only - all for $12. So good I stayed two nights.

Skagway was recommended in the tourist blurb, so a 200mile detour was in order. Its back in Alaska (way down in the southern part) so back through immigration / customs. Although the day way bright, getting there involves a high mountain pass. For me this was above the cloud base - god it was cold. Seems like fog is a good reason to use your hazard lights in the US. Couldn't find the switch on the KLR!! Skagway was heaving with tourists - a disapointment to someone like me with a mild dislike for tourists. Seems like Skagway is Cruise central in Alaska - there were 4 large cruise liners docked in the port. Strange people tourists.

Route 37 south - the alternative to the much hyped Alaska highway. Definetly the better bike road. Although the scenery's great, not a whole lot to do but ride - 300miles a day is typical right now and easy to do. On the way down the 37 I noticed a strange thing - darkness. Actually it was at Dease Lake campground at 3.00 in the morning. I had grown accustomed to 24 hour daylight - what a great concept. The other great thing about the 37 was my first sighting of a bear. I had become more relaxed about bears / camping, but this one was pretty big and shaggy - definately not cuddly or cute. It was just wandering about in a layby at the side of the road. Considered going back for a photo, but sense prevailed and kept going. Saw a second one later the same day - this one was small and black and probably was cute.

At the bottom of the 37 things change - civilisation!! More habitation, more farming and more traffic. Nobody here drives to the speedlimit - so the KLR at 60mph (which is the speedlimit) feels slow. Watching the mirrors and letting the big 16wheelers pass is all part of the fun.

From here its onwards to Vancouver. Have to recommend highway 99 - pretty much all ofthe way from the 97 to Whistler. This is the only road so far worthy of a sports bike - even on the KLR it was good riding. Stunning scenery also (Marble Canyon) - but hard to ride fast and gawke at the same time. It was also the hottest day so far - blue skies and sunshine. Whistler got a brief whistle stop tour (ha ha!!). Looks really nice - they are hosting the 2010 winter olympics here. T-shirts available now. Even in summer this place was buzzing - can only imagine what it would be like in winter. Major roadworks (sorry - I mean construction) from here to Vancouver.

First stop in Vancouver - Burnaby Kawasaki for two new tyres (or tires even). Front was OK, but rear well squared off after 4500 highway (99% straight) miles. Some obscure Taiwanese brand - Kenda. However they were cheap ($70 / 80 each) and the guys in the shop recommended them. Dunlops were $150 each. They did a great job of fitting them right there and then, even though their shop was fully booked. Great service and really friendly bunch. I have to say that after 500 miles, they are performing well.

Had a quick cruise round downtown Vancouver - it was kind of hot so looked like everyone was on the beach. Think it was Friday, so I guess a great way to spend the afternoon.

Vancouver Island gets a brief visit - about a 2 hour ferry ride ($40 for me and bike). At 280miles long its reasonably large. Effectively one paved (that means tarred) highway from top to bottom with all other minor roads being forestry track - more gravel. After 60 miles of rough gravel - time to wash the bike yet again. A soap and rinse can be done on the KLR for $2 at the local jetwash. Good value and nice to be riding a shiny machine again. For me it was a case of a quick brush down. Finished off here in Victoria. Its certainly worth a visit and the centre is very reminicant of the UK. Had a change of accomodation here, securing a room at the University of Victoria. $32 gets a private room. Good value and something I need to try again in the future (UCLA?).

Slightly different ferry route back to mainland - only $39 this time.

Interesting facts about Canada:

i. Distances and speeds are in Km / Km/h which is a pain, but temperatutres are in deg C which is nice (32deg C in Vancouver - bit hot on the bike).
ii. A loonie is a $1 coin, a tooie is a $2 coin. Campsite showers need a loonie for 5 minutes hot water.
iii. The Yukon river rises 15miles from the Pacific Ocean, but empties into the Bering sea, 2300miles away.

Hence, onwards and downwards to the lower 48. To enter Canada took all of 30 seconds. To enter the USA from Canada took me 30 seconds also, but only after a 1 hour wait along with everyone else in the queue. Oh well!!

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Posted by Graham Shee at 06:27 PM GMT
August 16, 2008 GMT
The Lower 48

The Lower 48 - that what people in Alaska call the rest of the USA. For me thats Washington, Oregon and California.

The geatest thing so far is seeing things change as I head south. Obviously the weather or rather the temperature, but also the landscape, the people (yes the people), the prices (gas and food is noticably cheaper here) and vehicle licence plates. Its much warmer now - 104F (apparently) in the valley coming down from Mount Hood - thats 40 deg C. Not sure which is preferable - riding in the cold or riding in the heat. At least in the cold you just add more layers.

The Alaska plate on the bike is starting to give people interest now - makes me appreciate the distance that I have covered already - 6,500miles at Crescent City, just into California. Each state here has a different licence plate - makes it easy for me to remember where I am. Also interesting, for me, is that once you cross a state line, all of the plates pretty much change to that state. This may sound obvious, but I find it surprising that there is no in between area with plates from states either side of the line. Its almost like folk dont travel out of state - or maybe its the 'purchase tax / buy within the state' law. Dont know?

Highlights of Washington have to be Seattle and Mount Rainier. Had hoped to stay a night in Seattle, but instead settled for a days cruising the sights on the bike. Having the bike makes this real easy (more so than a car and definately more so than public transport). I loved the residential area of Seattle - the big hill above the bay (sorry if I cant be more precise and give it a name). I can only assume that this is the 'historic' upmarket area, as I cant believe everyone here lives in such a nice neighbourhood. Downtown Seattle, I guess, is like most big cities - office blocks and shops so nothing new here.

Onwards to Mount Rainier - a defunct (at least it was while I was there) volcano standing at 14,500ft high. As you approach it, it stands out impressively on the horizon, everything else round about being low rise. Took the road to Paradise - thats what the centre is called half way up. Was hoping for a big sign proclaiming "Welcome to Paradise", but it wasnt there - shame. However the view made up for it. You can climb Mt Rainier - its a two day trek to the top. 90 people have died trying so gave that a miss.

And then Mount St Helens, another volcano. This one is active, last blowing its top in 1980, killing 57 people (had to look that up). It was hard to get close to get a decent picture, most small roads being closed nearby, reputedly due to flooding / washout. Maybe they are just nervous of letting people get too close.

It seemed like I was on the volcano trail - into Oregon and Mount Hood. Again this is visually stunning and very accessible via some great twisty mountain roads. At 11,200ft high, it offers all year round skiing. How good is that (well it is if you are into skiing!!). It was really strange standing in the carpark at Timberline watching all these skiers and snowboarding dudes heading off for the slopes. You could see them on the mountain - tiny little dots. Timberline deserves a special mention. Its a mountain lodge built during the great depression as a federal project. This place (essentially a hotel) oozes character and atmosphere and is totally original. Much of the work was done by artists as well as craftsmen. Well worth a visit and would make a great overnight stop.

At this stage, with 104deg F, I decided the beach was the place to be - head for the coast. Unfortunately the Oregon coast suffers from coastal inversion. Dont know how it works, but when its hot in the valley its cold at the beach. 55deg F and thick wet fog. Mmmm!! Its like riding in rain - you get wet, but strangely the road remains dry. However the stop in Newport did give me a chance to meet Blane and Rikki at the campsite - great people to bump into and chat with over a beer. Gravel roads have also been a feature of Oregon - you dont have to go looking for them - if you use the black roads on the map, chances are that it will change to gravel at some point. These were great roads - small single track roads crossing the Cascade mountains. You feel really isolated on these - my only contact was meeting a fire truck on one downhill section (heard him coming thankfully) and loads of deer - I counted eight within a hour. But no bears!!

Of general note, the KLR is performing exemplary (that means really well). Gave it an oil and filter change at 6,000miles. Another wash (thats four or five). Lots of people ask about it - my panniers (they call them boxes) in particular. My Kenda tyres are spot on also - will try and use again. Camping is really easy, although some of the sites are more RV orientated than tent. Tents seem to get stuck into the less desirable places. Typically $16 - $20 with showers which is OK. Launderette are common also, some at campsites. At $1.50 per wash and $1 for hot dry really good value. Keeps you smelling fresh. What has been impressive is the level of information available for tourists. Nearly every town (and village) has an information centre with loads of info, maps, brochures etc. freely available. Interpretive centres are also provided at all major attractions. This has been the case all the way since Anchorage and makes things really easy. I think the UK could learn from this.

And then into California. I was expecting great things of California - especially sunshine. However seems like the northern california coast suffers from fog also. Its kind of strange - when inland you head for the coast to escape the heat and when on the coast you head inland to get warmed up. That was certainly the case for me.

I have been to San Francisco before, but was keen to be there 'on the bike'. My last nights camping before the luxury of a motel, was north of SF at Petaluma. At $44 I thought it was steep but they justified it by stating they were only 40miles from SF. Yeah right!! However still better than $150 for SF - this was after some serious haggling. Still good value and a nice place close to the centre. I like SF - a good walking city where you can just wander about and relax - provided you skip the tourist hot spots. My only concession to the tourist trail was taking the bike down Lombard street - billed as the crookedest street in the world. However having joined the queue, crawling down in the KLR 6inches off the bumper of an SUV was not ideal. Crawling up some of the SF hills was not ideal either, but the KLR coped admirably.

And then on to LA - Los Angeles. At Santa Barbara things brightened up - continuous sunshine at last - hooray!!. Santa Monica was another motel stop - my 4th night in a bed in 6 weeks. Used the bike to cover the usual haunts - Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, Hollywood etc. (not that I'm into name dropping). Cruising Beverly Hills looking for Britney Spear's house was pretty cool. Didnt see her, but thats probably because I didnt have 'the map' and I hadnt a clue where her house was. However I did manage to find the Hollywood sign. Was every bit as hard to fond this time ans it was 20 years ago. Next time - I will buy the map.

And onwards ever south. I'm now an expert of US camping. State parks are the place to be - $25 versus $50 for private RV type parks. The ones on the beach are the best and exceptionally busy - even full sometimes. However dont believe the 'campground full' sign - they usually have space for a small tent. Staying on the beach gives an opportunity to go swimming - dont believe all the stories about California's golden sands and azure seas. It was kind of murcky with bits of seaweed floating around. However after the initial cold shock it does feel pleasantly warm.

Now in San Diego, but only briefly. Next stop - Mexico.

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Posted by Graham Shee at 06:57 PM GMT

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