Welcome to my travelogue! As a longtime HU reader, I could not be more pleased to contribute a verse to this great site. I have been inspired by Grant and Susan, of course, Peter & Kay Forwood, Greg Frazier, Chris & Erin, Dave & Erika, Chris & Liz, Rupert Young, Glen Heggstad, and everyone else who blazed a trail for others or themselves and then wrote about it here.
On May 29, 2005 I will depart San Francisco on my trusty KLR650 (aka "The Beagle") with two or three friends, hopefully, bound for Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. On the return we intend to follow the Continental Divide, much of it off-road, and then pause in Colorado July 7-10 at the HU meeting. With any luck, I will be inspired to continue the journey with them into Central America all the way to Panama. If I'm still having fun, South America beckons. Grant seems to think the blog title should be "Alaska to Tierra del Fuego", while I toyed with "SF to Colorado ... via Alaska." Who knows? Perhaps I will tuck tail and run home after the first night of rain or my first flat tire. We shall just have to wait and see ....
Please add your email address (in the upper right corner of the page) and you will receive updates as I post them (probably weekly, at the very least). I might also attempt what could be an HU first: podcasts. In addition to posting photos and writing regular entries, I will try to make and post audio recordings that you can click on to hear, or synch with your own media device via the RSS feed. No promises--I'm not bringing a laptop, so I'm at the mercy of internet cafe software compatibilities, not to mention the platform wars. Let's call it a goal. Full color, DVD quality audio/video blogs are certainly possible right now, if someone has a videocam, a laptop, and the patience to use them. A proper balance of sound files, photos and written journal entries should make this a well documented trip.
Quick update: Left on 30th. In Seattle at Green Tortoise Hostel tonight.
A dump, but standards have been lowered substantially after sleeping in tent in rain, and in hostel dorm with worst snorer ever. Day One went up to Blue Lake CA to mom's studio.
Day Two to a campground outside of Crater Lake in Oregon.
Roads closed in winter are still closed now. Descended back below the snow line to camp at rain line.
Managed to see Crater Lake the next morning, but the rim road is not open.
Night Three in Portland at Hawthorne Hostel after long I-5 drive. Not terrible: except for the snorer. Here’s the culprit—John, an SF fire medic:
Day Four spent on I-5 to Seattle. Took detour to see Mt. St. Helens. Saw only fog, but valley below impressive. No one else around!
I seem to be pushing winter northward as I go. If I wait two or three days I'd probably have sun the whole way. This hostel computer is equivalent to typewriter: no corrections possible, no uploads, no backspace. Miracle no errors yet. My bike doing fine, if pushed around by wind a bit. So what's it like, you ask? If I were to recreate without aid of motorcycle, I would say it's like sitting on an uncushioned bar stool in the #2 lane of freeway traffic during a Type V hurricane wearing sandwich board and plastic pail on your head.
Earplugs discovered on Day 2. Much improved. Now just like sitting on stool on tarmac behind747 blowing frigid air while holding two cricket wickets against wind. And the pail on head. In the rain. For 8 hours a day.
Somehow managing to continue North and not turn tail for home. Budget busted three days out of four. Camping in BC and YT and AK should bring that down a bit. Note to self: Must spend more time in Portland some day. Burning much oil; doing 80 mph on freeway will do that. Metal on metal sound from water pump when stopped makes me think washer left over on ground after tech day was probably mine. Uh oh. Saddlebags slightly singed on pipe, but OK otherwise. Developed "tweety" sound endemic to KLRs after wide open freeway riding. Instead of Harley, now sound like 1964 VW Beetle.
Corn on cob raw not that bad.
Tent not waterproof.
"Dirty" is relative.
Shoulda brought a laptop.
Riding like this is hard: I'm cold and wet, rained on, bugs on shield, traffic dangerous. Wind pushes you, muscles constantly tense, concentration at 100% constantly. But when you are on a two lane road through 150ft high redwood forests and you lean into a turn and you see the double yellow line give way to a dash on your side, you know the road straightens out after the next tree. So you twist the throttle more, pegs already near the ground, and you press yourself down into your seat and zoom into the next straight seeing trees and mountains and sun breaking through the clouds and no cars for the next mile, and it's all worth it. Photos and more when I can.
(Photos now added! 12/17/05)
The Portalnd snorer--one of my riding companions, John, has gone ahead up to BC. His snoring title was seriously challenged last night by Seattle snorer. Sleep hard to come by. Seattle is great town--felt like SF only nicer. Sorry SF! Even Safeco field beats PacBell Park.
I busted my budget last night and got a seat right behind the visitor dugout, four rows back. Awesome! It was free Ichiro nesting doll giveaway night (the things you have to do to draw fans to a Devil Rays game). Anyway, this little Ichiro is prominently featured in my photos of the park and I think he will find a place of honor on my dashboard for the remainder of the trip. Hilarious. Probably worth some money on eBay to collectors, but this one has a rendezvous with destiny in Deadhorse.
Was nice not to have to pack up bike for one day, but now a day further behind the race to AK. Hope to see Vancouver Island--even promised a tour by a fellow KLR owner there. May not be able to go unless we can figure out ferry boat option out of there. Would like to skip a chunk of Canada to make up for lost time, but may skip VI instead. Sigh.
The Sea to Sky Highway rates four stars according to snorer John's text messages. Also says he's peeing in a ziploc bag in his tent at night because the mosquitos are so bad. Lovely. Looking forward to that.
John is a SF paramedic. He said he only had equipment to treat a sucking chest wound if we got one. But he did have the credentials to "declare" us (dead). Nice gallows humor. Stopped at Touratech Seattle for a GPS mount and hard-wiring kit, and guys there were just great (Derek and Keemo(sp?)). Patient, and helpful. John just texted that his Duro (Taiwanese tire) is flying apart rapidly on the road. Luckily I got the top o' the line tire, so I should have no trouble. Nowhere to upload pics. Laptop would have been a good idea. No harder to secure than anything else, and free wi-fi is everywhere in Portland and Seattle. Dusting off my passport for border crossing today. Chain needs attention. Room reserved for three at hostel in Vancouver tonight.
"Let me esplain. No, there is no time. Let me sum up." -- Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride.
I write from an internet cafe in Teslin, Yukon Territories. So much has happened since Seattle, I don't know where to start. The biggies; the camera is kaput (dropped, while stopped at Burns Lake. Salvaged battery and 1gb memory card just purchased in Seattle. Photos should be linked by the time I finish this update. I'm trying to get to Skagway today. Here's a quick list of places I've stayed each night:
5/29 - SF
5/30 - Blue Lake (Mom's house)
5/31 - Farewell Bend Campground (rain, near Crater Lake, OR) $6 bucks
6/01 - Portland Hostel, Victorian House, Hawthorne district. Nice. Funky. Good coffee down the street at Powell's book store.
6/02 - Seattle Green Tortoise. Touratech for GPS mount.
6/03 - Seattle Green Tortoise. Explore Seattle. Another great bookstore, Elliot Bay. Fish market fun.
6/04 - Vancouver Hostel. Nice. Charged three times each for room (second charge was supposed to be a credit). Also got Hostel card, so about $100 for the night. Still being straightened out.
6/05 - Duncan, Vancouver Island. Darcy's (KLR650.net) house. Crazy day. Late start, rain, ferry to the Island. Darcy, Fred and Willie show us the back roads of Vancouver Island, including offroad to the top of a mountain. Best. View. Ever.
On the way back, Darcy breaks a footpeg--and his foot. Then Sacha crashes.
6/06 - Solo now, I hit Victoria and back up to Nanaimo, where I catch the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay, then stay at the most beautiful campground, right at the water, by a fjord. Around 12 midnight a freight train thunders through camp. Hmm, now I know why it is so cheap!
Porteau Cove :
6/07 - 100 Mile House, motel for drying out from rain.
Sea to Sky Highway was incredible. Imagine 100 miles of Yosemite Valley with no one around.
6/08 - Vanderhoof.
Mosquitos are hellacious. I camped by a river again.
6/09 - Bell II. Kind of a resort for heliskiers. They have a hot tub, sauna. I enjoy a shower. Staying light til 11 now. Today I saw Bear Glacier and Salmon Glacier after detour through Stewart and Hyder, AK.
Yep, Alaska before Yukon. Kooky. Tough offroading to get up to Salmon Glacier, but when the pictures get developed, you'll see something amazing. Tough day, very rewarding.
6/10 - Stayed at Watson Lake after conquering the Cassiar. The Cassiar was stormy, muddy. I saw a momma moose and two baby moose stopped on the road. I stopped too. Do not cross a momma moose, I'm told. They get very protective. Later I saw a black bear ramble into the woods as my howling bike came around a corner.
The bike broke down three times, twice from dirt clogging hoses to the carb and tank, and once I pulled over after nearly overheating in freezing rain. The first time it stalled at speed I wondered, did I lose all my oil? My coolant? Are there bears here? How will I survive? You have lots of time to think dire thoughts when your bike dies at 75 miles per hour and you coast to a stop, 50 miles in either direction from the nearest human. I ran through a mental checklist, took off all the luggage and the seat, and blew water through the vent hoses to discover the blockage. I got it running for another 10 miles only to stall and discover another. Luckily having all the luggage off and the seat a second time, I finally have access to the battery, and I installed heated grips. Maybe saved my life. "Hot Grip Saves Trip," I think. I solved the overheating problem by throwing river water on the radiator and clearing out the mud. A simple fix, but proper diagnosis is critical. Keep your eyes on the guages!
I took refuge later from driving rain at a jade store. There are two competing jade stores here, one across the road from the other. The chatty purveyor was trying to get me to buy $500 jade pieces. By the time I left he was trying to give me free jade. No thanks, got no need for the stuff and nowhere to put it!
At the end of the Cassiar the sky clears. I'm soaked to the bone and I hit the Alaska Highway! I reward myself with the meatloaf special at the junction cafe, including apple pie a la mode and coffee. Free camping was a joy after laundry downtown in Watson Lake. Saw the Signpost Forest--which I was saving for the return. Oh well.
Off to Skagway today for more waterfalls. Awesome trip so far. Hopefully you can click on a link here and see my photos (pre-broken camera).
This is hard travel. I have carpal tunnel syndrome for sure from 10 hours of death grip on the bars. My back is sore, but otherwise I sleep well in my tent as swarms of mosquitoes gather outside waiting for me to exit.
If Hyder counts, and if Skagway counts, then I'm about to enter Alaska for the third time, this time up at Tok.
Skagway was a beautiful drive, and the town is a cool tourist destination--the 17th most visited cruise ship port in the world.
Everyone gets off the boats and goes right into main street (Broadway) for gift shops, jewelery (they seem to specialize in Tanzanite, Mary, you should get up there) and seafood.
I treated myself again--this time to an Alaskan salmon filet. Not that different from home, actually. The locals are mostly seasonal. You can't get an apartment in town--at all--until winter. People come in to work the tourism trade; busses, bikes, jeeps, planes, and the aforementioned services. The town is historically significant, along with neighboring Dyea where I camped, for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Thousands of people heard about another gold strike to rival the 1849 strike at Sutter’s Mill. Off they went carrying tons of gear, enduring harsh conditions, building boats, surviving rapids, etc., only to get to the Yukon and find all the claims taken. 100 years before the dot com rush we still haven't learned our lesson about easy riches. I dropped my bike after dinner--right in front of the picture windows and all the diners inside. So embarrassing. Busboy came running over and helped me right it. What are you gonna do? It's heavy!
I pushed thru to Valdez--a 550 plus mile day. Spectacular views. The best so far.
The others will kick themselves if they don't come through here. Thought about an all day kayak ride today to see Colombia or Shoup Glaciers from the water. $150 busts my budget I'm afraid, and after that 14 hour riding day I didn't want to be up, packed, and in a kayak at 7:30 a.m. And when there are glaciers to see on the side of the road it's hard to ask for more.
I washed my bike today, and my clothes, and took a shower. I did so by traveling 75 miles per hour through driving rain for 3 hours.
I intend to catch ferry tomorrow 1130 a.m. out of Valdez over to Whittier (Kenai Peninsula) then down to Homer for the night of 15th. Anchorage the 16th. Denali the 17th. Fairbanks the 18th (and 19th?) for tires. If I leave the 20th for Coldfoot, I can arrive in Deadhorse the eve of the 21st--the longest day of the year. The sun already doesn't set until 11, the twilight lasts hours later. I don't think it gets completely dark in the middle of the night but I haven't checked. I've been sleeping like a rock. The bike continues to perform flawlessly and it is a joy just to hold onto the handlebars as each turn goes by. Huge mountains on either side, waterfalls running down mountains, hanging glaciers, another moose munching some tall grass by a river. So many great photo ops are lost because I'm traveling alone but Ichiro continues to be an enthusiastic presence and willing model.
Perhaps I can get a new digital camera in Anchorage. I'm having film developed soon and digitals put onto disk. I'll find a way to upload soon. (Done! JSM 12/17/05)
Just found out the ferry from Valdez through Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula is $75 for me and $75 more for the bike. Looks like I'm riding to Anchorage today. Time to saddle up.
Was pleased to receive email from David McMillan, also on HU, who is updating his California vehicle registration in Bulgaria. You don't want to know how.
I'm 5500 miles into the trip, now in Fairbanks.
I have seen moose, a bear, bald eagles, wolves (today in Denali, chomping on a Caribou leg), two dots I'm told were Caribou, two more dots I'm told were grizzly bears, and six dots I'm told were Dall Sheep.
Glaciers are everywhere and I saw Mt. McKinley (Denali, to locals) clearly driving North yesterday in the bright sunshine. I thought I could take better pictures of the mountain once IN the park, but alas--clouds today. So long story short, I have no proof of Denali. But as you can tell from some of these shots below I do have proof of some great views and good times on the road.
These shots were from disposable cameras developed at Walmart in Anchorage with prints and a digital disk of photos. The sharpness is not great, but film just looks better to me, even from the plastic camera. You get the picture (har har). My mom should have another disk developed soon and sent to me via email for upload. Gotta love the web. That set will have pictures of Salmon Glacier and Bear Glacier. (See previous entry! JSM 12/17/05)
The names of things around here are literal. Denali means ‘the Big One’ (mountain). Fox Creek is where someone once saw a fox. Lac la Hache is a lake where a Frenchman found an axe. Moose Run ... well, you get the picture. Makes me think Deadhorse won't be too pleasant.
So I have two new tires. I wore the other two square. The mechanic in Anchorage said I had 500 miles left on the rear tire (in the middle of the tread) or 2000 if I wanted to turn left and right for a while. Funny guy.
Also bought and installed a new air filter. The bike had been sluggish with poor mileage and I suspected the air filter. Took it out and it was like a used vacuum bag. Yecch. The Beagle can breathe again. I also did a second oil change but the bike was overheating and choking. I checked the label and though it was the right weight it wasn't the proper stuff. I did an emergency 3rd oil change in sand on the side of the road, spilling hot oil on my hands and emptying it into my 3 liter REI platypus drinking bag. To clean up the mess the dirtiest t-shirt in the laundry bag was sacrificed. You don't want sand on your oil plug when you reinstall it. The chain is starting to squeak despite the dousing of WD-40 it gets regularly. My chain is apparently in need of replacement and the sprockets too. Sorry, not before Deadhorse. Just gotta hope she holds together. Bought a new visor for the helmet too. I had been using abrasive paper towels to clean it and that's a no-no. It's like a whole new trip with a clean visor. But it sure collects bugs quickly.
I bought a new digital camera--Canon A95. The swiveling LCD display makes it perfect for self portraits. Ichiro fans need not worry; he'll still be prominently featured in the miles to come. I'll see if I can upload those shots soon.
It does not get dark here. The sun sets at 12:30 pm, sneaks along just barely under the horizon, then pops up again around 3:30 a.m. My flashlight and candles are lonely. I have camped at least 8 or 9 nights in row and the weather in AK has been glorious: 70's. Tonight, though, pouring rain and a backpacker's hostel near University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Since I last wrote I went from Valdez to Anchorage then down the Kenai Peninsula to Hope for a night, then Homer.
Along the way was Anchor Point, the furthest west you can drive (on a contiguous highway) in North America.
Soon I'll be at the northernmost road in North America. Denali was the highest mountain in North America. This is turning out to be the highest, Northest, Westest trip ever. Saw some big halibut in Homer--the self proclaimed Halibut Capital of World.
They have a great wildlife refuge center there. On the way back I camped at Russian River, I think, where salmon season had just opened and fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder pulling out limits of three salmon each as fast as they could get their lines in the water.
Denali is more a wildlife park than just a mountain. In fact you can't drive into it; you take a bus from the entrance of the park along some cliffs and through valleys looking out the window for wildlife. It was my first experience in a vehicle (not counting the Vancouver Ferry) since San Francisco. I was claustrophobic and nearly carsick.
When I finally got on the bike again the feeling was SO great. I tried to stretch and rest my weary hands on the bus ride. They are raw, burned, filthy and claw-like. They are stiff with chipped nails, black everywhere, callused, blistered. It's either arthritis, repetitive stress or worse. I used to be fastidiously clean. Now, I use those paws to take contacts in and out of my eyes. Laundry once a week--or longer, shower every third or fourth day, if possible.
Apologies for the scattershot blog style--no laptop means internet cafe is on a timer. A properly annotated blog with photos in the best places takes more time than I have. I realize that the Dalton Highway will be dangerous and grueling but plan to be in Deadhorse on the 21st for solstice. All of Alaska seems to celebrate with all night parties. Dawson City (or Creek, I can't remember) is supposed to be the best all night rager. In Deadhorse there shouldn't be too many travelers up there.
The goal was originally to hit the solstice in the northern and southern hemispheres--to chase the sun around the world and maximize sunshine (sunlight, at least). I think this trip will end for me in Phoenix. I’m beat already and I flogged that poor motorcycle. My budget is blown all the way to Panama by now. I'm also beside myself over the deaths of a chipmunk and a bird under my wheels.
I used to take bugs outside of my apartment rather than kill them, so you can imagine how bad I feel about the animals. I try to rationalize that these they just darted out in the road at the wrong time, or that natural selection weeded them out, but I realize that my speedy pleasure ride on a petroleum-combustion engine is part of the problem, not the solution. I came here to see the glaciers before they are gone from global warming and too see animals in the wild. I'm not helping either case. Maybe I'll trade the motorcycle in on a bike when I get back. You should see all the bike riders up here in Alaska. No matter where I go people react with amazement about my trip. "Wow, that's great. But we had a couple in here last week on bicycles!" Motorcycling to AK is so last year.
Bear Attack at Sukakpak! Solstice Ride: Three Days--and No Nights--Above the Arctic Circle. Smoke Jumping on the Alaska Pipeline! Alcan Sans Gas Can! These headlines write themselves.
I'm back from 70 point something degrees latitude with two fairly obvious observations: 1) the air is not thinner the further North you go--that's altitude, not latitude, 2) it's chilly near the Arctic Ocean. I was on a bus in Denali Park with a lady who said "They should bring out more bears!" so I shouldn't take for granted that everyone knows these things.
The Dalton Highway is sort of like the Mt. Everest of motorcycle touring. It is as far North as one can go on a North American highway, it's almost 1000 miles roundtrip of dirt, mud, gravel and sharp rocks. It can be muddy, dusty, and busy with 32 wheelers and grizzly bears. Rental car companies will not let you take their cars there. Some motorcycle adventure rentals will let you go--for an extra $500 non-refundable fee. Trucks use 10 ply tires--whatever those are. Brochures say to bring TWO extra spares already mounted on wheels. They also spread some kind of calcium chloride (or calcium sulfate, or calcium something), to keep the dust down. The only problem is that when it rains this stuff is slicker than the oil going through the pipeline. I only heard about it from this site and the people who blazed the trail by motorcycle and told the stories.
Mile One is rough wet dirt and sharp rocks protruding up. Imagine an ice rink in which lots of sharp rocks have been frozen every 5 or 6 inches. Now imagine a zamboni lays down a fresh layer of water on top. Only it's not water, it's like coffee colored mud. Add loose gravel on top of that. A few deep ruts, some pot-holes (deep) filled to the brim with the same coffee colored mud so you can't see them until you can make out the rim as you are on top of them. OK, now you've got 827 miles of this to go, most of it above the Arctic Circle. (On the barstool, in the hurricane, with the sandwich board and the pail on your head, etc.)
Gas is available at mile 56, mile 170, and mile 414 (Deadhorse). That's 244 miles between the middle two fill-ups, in the middle of frozen tundra, with nothing--I mean NOTHING--around. You had better bring enough. A 2 gallon gas can was added in Fairbanks. I got 215 miles to tankful on the Alcan, but that was at full throttle on good pavement. Hard to tell how much I will get on the Dalton.
Mile 13: A cross on the side of the road with a hard hat on it.
Mile 14: An 18 wheeler comes out of the mist slowly and doesn't throw much mud on me. That's good.
Miles 14-18: Smoke, fog, rain. You get a surreal tunnel vision like the movies where the thing in the background keeps receding while the trees on either side seem to be coming into the helmet. Freaky.
Mile 19: A sign: "Road Construction Ahead" (You mean it gets worse?)
Mile 19.5: The cleanest, smoothest asphalt I've seen in 5500 miles. Nicely painted lines, full shoulders. They sky lightens. I open my fogged visor to see. Is this the road to heaven? Have I been hit by a truck and I'm heading toward the light? Since it will take me 2.5 hours to get to mile 56 at this pace, I roll on the gas and roar towards 75, leaning into the turns. My GPS is way off the map now; I'm a little triangle pointer in a yellow field heading North.
Mile 22: Another sign: "Road Work Ends." Should have said "Road Ends." Things apparently mean the opposite on the Dalton.
Hard on the front brake as I approach hard-pack again. Hard on the rear brake when I hit it, downshifting the whole time. The pipeline is visible about 50 yards to my right. A vulnerable target for would-be terrorists, but as I understand it only three times have people messed with it--mostly unsuccessfully--as the pipeline is encased in insulation and pressurized to 100 psi.
Mile 28: A semi with about 32 wheels.
Mile 33: A tour bus?
Mile 34: Another cross.
Mile 35: With apologies to Satchel Paige, ALWAYS looks behind you; something might be gaining on you. A semi nearly rides up my tailpipe as I pull to the edge of the shoulder to let him by. The clouds are clearing and visibility is much better. It's 9 pm. This elevated dirt road is like a sumo wrestling ring, with about a four to five foot drop off into loose gravel if you fall off of it. The good and bad news is that a nearby tree should bring you to a rapid halt.
Mile 44: A Pontiac Fiero coming the other way. WTH?
Mile 55: Pump Station #6, a steep bridge and the Yukon River. At the bottom, Alex on his new KLR has raced ahead and reserved a room for $90 for three people. That's a budget buster for me. Given the rain and how soaked we are, we take it anyway. The place is a corrugated tin and plywood trailer-like thing. For the amenities this place makes the Trump honeymoon suite look like a bargain. In the dining hall, two beautiful young women are cleaning up. They are college students from Eastern Oregon U. (Is there such a school?) working here for the summer. Wow. Since we are the only guests in the place, we are allowed to use a room next to ours to dry out all our wet gear.
Next day, the 20th, we head north to Coldfoot. The day is clear and warm and though we encounter lots of washboard--tiny ups and downs that rattle the bolts right out of the bike--the ride is good. I manage to hit the Arctic Circle solo between tourist busses and I take all the pictures I want. Later I run into John the Snorer! He's coming down the road after having "done Deadhorse", having literally ridden through forest fires, crashed, having broken his chain oiler, oiled his rear brake permanently, having lost his speedometer borrowing one off a KLR owned by the daughter of the Leather Lady of Anchorage. (You can't make this stuff up, people!) But he's in a good mood as always. There's nothing to see in Deadhorse, he says. I believe him. I wonder why I'm doing $500 damage or more to my bike just to say I did it, but I ride on.
Coldfoot is the furthest North truck-stop in North America, perhaps the world. More beautiful girls were working there. Some work at the stop itself, others for Fish & Game, some at the Visitor's Center, and another at the hotel across the way. Who knew?
So I chat a bit with "The Girls of the Arctic Circle" and get all the info. I finally ride another 30 miles to Sukakpak and set up camp by the river.
I start a fire. It is 68-70 degrees out. It is 10 pm and the sun is shining. Anne comes by while I'm up to my knees in the river, skipping rocks. She's coming all the way from Fairbanks and is so excited she wants to go all the way to Deadhorse. At best she wouldn't get in until 3:30 a.m. But the sun won't go down, she said. Off she goes. I get a great night's sleep and head North in the morning. I woke up to the 21st, the solstice, like it was Christmas morning.
Atigun Pass is 4760 ft above sea level--further north than any trees can grow. In fact I passed the "Furthest North Spruce" on the way. The previous "Furthest North Spruce" was chopped down by vandals. They must have realized finally that no matter how much they chopped there would still be a "Furthest North Spruce" somewhere nearby. The Brooks Range is incredibly beautiful, part of the Continental Divide. Water falling here flows either to Arctic Ocean or the Pacific, depending on which side of the range it falls. I look down the North Slope into a glacier carved valley. I can see 20 miles in both directions (ahead and behind). I'm the only one there at 8 a.m. Awesome. These were the best views of the entire trip so far--and that includes Valdez. Just a pipeline, a dirt road and frozen tundra as far as the eye can see. I don't see any of the Dall Sheep that are supposed to come down to the pass to lick the calcium chloride. There should be a picture or two of the pass in the new album.
At 100 miles outside of Coldfoot I put the 2 gallon gas can into the tank. Better to have the 20 lbs of fluid in front of me than on the back. It would get me all the way to Deadhorse without reseverve.
As you ride, you sometimes daydream of nothing in particular; movies, people, conversations, songs. The funny part is that you almost wake up and think, "Hey, I'm on my motorcycle on the Dalton highway!" Pause. "Um, who has been doing driving for the last 10 miles?" I was very aware of this habit on the Dalton.
The tundra is very cool: like open rolling hills, pocked by open water and snow in patches like sand traps on a golf course. The ever-present stainless steel pipeline goes on and on and on like some crazy Christo art piece, 800+ miles from Valdez. "It's all about the oil, Ichiro." I say. He says nothing back. (Probably frozen after the 40 degree temperature drop from the day before.)
10 miles before Deadhorse I finally see Caribou. They look like reindeer sitting and standing between the pipeline and the road. I finally shiver into town feeling like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber after going up the rockies on his mini-bike with his snot frozen to his lip, "Th-th-that was c-c-cool, man!"
John was right: there is nothing to see in Deadhorse. It's a flat oilfield, basically, abutting the Arctic Ocean. The world must be out of oil, because to search for it, find it, and pump it out of here means that they must have tried everywhere else in the world first.
Some tourists at the corrugated tin hotel ask me about my ride. "How much do you pay for a gallon gas?" a lady from Ohio wants to know. "He'll pay what ever they're asking!" says a man from Indiana. They all roar with laughter for so long I don't get to answer. Funny guy. It's 2.89, by the way. $3.30 in Coldfoot.
I'm told by the concierge that there is a bear in town today and that I should take wide turns around building corners if I go outside. I cinch my beef jerky and Snicker's-stuffed jacket and make a run for the bike. It is 34 degrees outside and mostly cloudy. "Gorgeous weather!" say the oil workers.
The food at the Prudhoe Bay cafeteria is fantastic. Cinnamon rolls as big as your two fists for a dollar. They really feed these oil guys right. They work six days a week. I wonder where they go on their day off. Grilled salmon and prime rib tonight. Now I know what's on all those 18-32 wheelers coming up the highway.
Beyond here there be dragons, Ichiro!
I eat and head out of town one hour after getting in. I pumped gas from a barrel after throwing a few levers in a shed and inserting a credit card. I can't be too sure that all of Deadhorse isn't now pumping gas on my card. I fill the two gallon gas can again and strap it on securely (or so I thought) with bungees.
On the way out I snap a caribou picture while riding. Nowhere to stop and pull over. At 89 miles I'm ready to put some gas from the can. I pull over by a pipeline access road and reach back. No gas can. Oh crap. It fell off somewhere. But where?
Decision time. If the can is 10 miles back I'll pick it up and keep going. If it is 40 miles back I might as well go all the way back because now I'm short on gas again. What if the can fell off and broke? I didn't see gas cans for sale at Deadhorse. There might be nothing to fill when I get back there. Maybe I should wait for the others. Maybe they picked it up and are bringing it. But if I ride further ahead they may have already put the gas in their own tanks by then.
I ride back to Deadhorse about 500 feet then say screw it--I'm going on. I gotta get over Atigun Pass to the warm side in case I'm stranded. If I'm stranded 60 miles short of Coldfoot perhaps I can convince them to go on to Coldfoot and come back for me. Actually I shouldn't count on that either.
As luck would have it, not 10 miles later I find an old RV towing an ATV with three gas cans on the back. I pull over and knock on the door--which seems like a strange thing to do in the middle of the tundra in the middle of nowhere with nothing in any direction for miles. But someone answered. "My gas can fell off and I don't think I can make it all the way to Coldfoot. Could I possibly buy some gas from you?"
The man in the RV says "No, but you can have some."
"You might be surprised how much I'm willing to pay you for some right now."
"Heh, I'll bet." He hands me a three gallon gas can about 1/2 full. I don't want to impose so I only put in about 3/4 of a gallon, even though he told me I could take it all. Only later do I realize that if I'm still getting 185 to reserve, I didn't take enough to get to Coldfoot. I thank him profusely but he won't take my money. "I'll pay it forward to the next guy," I say. "That's the way to do it," he says.
So I ride on convinced more and more with each passing mile that I still didn't put enough in. Approaching Atigun Pass the dust is terrible. The fine stuff gets thrown up into the air whenever something touches it. I pull over and stop every time a truck comes in the opposite direction, making sure first that noone is behind me when I do. My lights are so covered with filth, they can't be seen. I wipe my visor with a wet towel from my pocket every 20 miles.
I make it over the pass and shut off the engine to coast down every hill. At a rest stop the others catch up with me. They saw a gas can on the side of the road outside of Deadhorse, but left it there! I ride ahead hoping to make it to Coldfoot. I do. The others catch me minutes later having split their own cans between them. I fill up and realize I was getting about 50mpg with my conservative ride downwind and downhill. Looks like I would have made it anyway even without the gas can.
Hit 10,000 miles on the way back.
At Coldfoot station I recount the story of the lost gas can for the girls there. Apparently someone left a gas can there the day before for someone in need to have for free. They happily give it to me. I sleep on it, and realize I'm not paying it forward, so I fill it with gas and leave it back at the counter with a note for the next rider in need. Those girls thought I was the greatest. They liked watching the pay-it-foreward saga continue.
At Yukon River camp, the lovely Natascha (E. Oregon U.) is there to welcome me back. I recount the gas can story. And what had someone dropped off, just that day? My old gas can (empty). Wow. Karma.
So at the end of 840 miles of the roughest road, what do you do? You take another 80 mile dirt road to some hot springs!
Again, absolutely nothing around. Just a dirt road through the wilderness for 80 miles, ending in a roadhouse with a trading post, a post office, a river, and a makeshift campground.
I rode miles and miles without seeing a single car, leaving dust swirling behind the rear wheel like a jet-trail. I saw ptarmigans, another moose, and lots of dragonflies. One splattered all over my GPS and I had to pick out the pieces later. Lovely. The locals all have their favorite bar stools at the roadhouse. They were on them that night. They were on them the next morning. They are probably on them now.
I'm headed for different hot springs tonight--just for comparison purposes of course. And my hands/claws could use it. It's actually after 8 p.m. now that I've been typing so long. Maybe that $25 hostel in town again. I'm beat--but the sun will still be up for hours.
Checked my bank account just now. I spent more money on this trip than I ever should have. A digital camera, memory card, and the two tires installed were the big stingers (almost $1000) but I haven't been too frugal daily either. I should be cooking my own food instead of eating at truck stops. Maybe open a can of tuna instead of having a $9 sandwich and coke.
Met a young guy at the Roadhouse who works road construction in AK in the summer, makes $10K/month driving a backhoe, then goes back to school in Florida. Room and board is covered at the roadhouse, and there is nothing to buy there, so he leaves town each fall with all $30K in the bank. I gotta rethink this Bay-Area-lawyer thing! Do you know how long it would take to save $30K free and clear when rent is over $2K per month in SF? If I did what this guy was doing, I could work three months a year and travel the other 9. I hear smoke jumpers make good money too. What do you think? Do you see me jumping out of planes and into burning forests?
I'm in Dawson City. Will post photos later; this is costing a fortune.
So I just get started towards Chicken when hail comes down the size of marbles. A truck pulls over to offer me a spot inside the double-cab for shelter. I gesture with a knock on the helmet that I'm protected. It was probably interpreted (correctly) as "I'm a knucklehead." They shake their heads and laugh and drive on. I take shelter under the bike, then a parked scraper, and wait it out.
The next day, not 20 miles up the Top of the World Highway, hail falls again, this time only small marble sized. Based on the heat of the early day in Chicken, I had decided to go with only jeans for the first time all trip. When you are traveling at 55 mph and marble sized hail hits your legs it's like someone coming the other way threw a bag of nails at you. Ouch. I'm laughing the whole time in my helmet, "Is that all you got?!" "Ow! Ow!" Lighting strikes the hills ahead of me. "Bring it on!" "Ow! Ow!" I pull over again to document the hail and ease the sting. Not sure if I'm safer from lightning when I ride or when I park.
The Top of the World Highway crosses into Canada along a 100 mile road winding along the crest of mountaintops 3500 to 4200 feet high. Think of riding the top of Mt. Diablo for 100 miles. Spectacular scenery and the road is solid enough to fly as fast as you like--with the occasional gravel curve for thrills. It is extremely dusty, and now that RV season is in fully swing the road is jammed with dust makers. So I come out of the rain and hail soaked, only to be covered in clouds of dust from passing RV's. It's like being in soaking wet clothes and being hit with a sack of flour. My poor air filter, changed just before the Dalton, the Denali (2x), and the Kennicott/McCarthy roads, is choked off again. It's supposed to go 20,000 between cleanings! That's a lot of dust my friends. Then sprinkles of rain and repeated dustings help seal the mixture into every fold of my gear. You could hit my jacket with a rug iron for a week and still get dust out of it.
Let me go back a bit. After the Dalton I rode out to Manley Hot Springs, then Chena Hot Springs, intending to go to the Top of the World and out back to Canada. But I ran into two BMW riders who loved the Denali Highway (134 miles of dirt back across the middle of Alaska toward Denali Park). I was still regretting missing the McCarthy road down by Valdez so I decided to do the Denali out and back in a day, then McCarthy the next. The Denali Highway was the best ride yet. You ride through another glacier carved valley looking at the Alaska range the whole way. Down in the valley below it is like something out of an African safari--miles of lakes, forests, fields, rivers, wildlife, etc. On the ride back I crossed a bridge over the river with a rainbow going right over my head, beginning and ending in the water on either side of me. No way to capture on film, but take my word for it, it was amazing. And I finally saw a grizzly bear! A small one, just chillin', looking for nuts and berries (or a pic-a-nic basket) about 40 to 50 yards away in the bush. I wouldn't have seen it but for the car coming the other way that had stopped to take photos. I was too late to get one myself. D'oh.
The McCarthy road first goes past the Copper River, where the uber-expensive copper red salmon are caught. The native peoples are allowed to build traps like water wheels that turned round and round from the sheer force of the river, scooping up any fish and sliding them out the side into baskets. I sampled a piece of cooked salmon, but the natives like to pepper and oil it so much you couldn't taste the salmon.
The road to the old Kennicott mine was the toughest of the trip. It follows the old railroad, and some old ties still stick up ready to claim tires if the potholes and loose gravel don't. I managed to survive but had to tighten everything down that night. Nearly shook everything off. So many tourists and vehicles made the dusty drive a chore. At the mine a road goes further up a spectacular glacier (Root), and the old mineshafts. The ranger turned me around and said I couldn't go up unless invited by someone who lives back there. Bummer. I wouldn't get to see what everyone bragged about. Quite a disappointing ride actually. The copper plant itself was amazingly well preserved.
The ride out to the Top of the World Highway and Canada goes through the town of Chicken, Alaska. This town has a bar, a mercantile, a restaurant and a gas station/cafe. Their claim to fame is the name of the town (no one could spell Ptarmigan, the legend says) and the t-shirts with eggs on them that read "I got laid in Chicken!" Not a flushing toilet in town, it is full of desperate gold miners still clinging to hope of gold. Pretty sketchy.
Dawson City in the Yukon Territories is a well preserved gold rush town with wooden boardwalks, saloons, can-can dancers, and a real turn-of the-Century feel. This is where Robert Service and Jack London spent time and where all those people coming from Skagway and Dyea were going. I feel like my journey has taken me to many of the same places in the same order. Those guys would scoff at how easy my trip has been by comparison. I intend to read more about the gold rush and re-read some Jack London classics, as well as visit Jack London Square in Oakland when I get back.
The Dempster Highway up to Inuviik, NWT is tempting and I may ride at least 50 miles up and back just to see the Tombstone mountains. But the shale on the side of the road is supposed to shred tires like arrowheads would. One trip above the Arctic Circle is enough for me, though Fort McPherson would have been a priceless photo (if anything is still there).
I ran into Robin, a Canadian who met up and rode with John the Snorer. John just thrashes his bike as you may recall from my last post. The latest John story was that his chain got so stretched, it was cutting into his swingarm, basically sawing through it. The tires were so bald you could see the air inside it, says Robin. Still John bombs along at 85 whenever possible. It is even money whether he made it to Whitehorse and a new chain and sprocket, says Robin. We took in the can-can show at Diamond Tooth Gertie's and played a little Red Dog at the casino. We broke even after 5 minutes being down and called it quits. The last thing we motorcycle adventure tourers like to do is take chances.
The long lost disposable-camera film photos are in, thanks to my Mom. The photos are small, limited to the max. of her dialup capability--and her patience, I'm sure. You get a tiny taste of what it was like to look down on Salmon Glacier and pull right up to Bear Glacier down by Hyder/Stewart in Southern Alaska--and to travel with Ichiro, the record holder for the most hits ever in a season.
I couldn't resist that headline. I've been repeating it in my helmet for several days and several hundred miles. So, as I understand it, a "Sourdough" is a true Northerner; someone who originally came to Alaska or Yukon for gold, or someone who is a hardcore arctic citizen through and through. "Mayo" is the town of Mayo, a stop I made on the Silver Trail on the way to Keno. And "moose turds" ... well, you'll see the photo.
An update is overdue. I spent nearly a week in Dawson City and two days in Keno City. I have a new attitude having decompressed from such a hectic pace: 8000 miles in one month. I'm near 10,000 for the whole trip so far--not bad considering I only had 4500 cautious city miles experience before I left. Almost time for a third rear tire. I estimated 20,000 miles total to get to Argentina. I could hit 20K before Mexico City. Revise, revise, revise! Big ride planned for the next couple of days up the Canol Road to the Northwest Territories; all dirt, no gas for 260 miles, then 280 miles. Keep your fingers crossed.
Some more random photos without context or comment taken in and around Dawson City, YT, and Keno City, YT. The set is called Whitehorse, where I spent far too long (and too much) uploading them.
In the interests of saving gas, tires, a slack chain, worn sprockets, wildlife preservation, and scenery enjoyment, I've been cruising at around 50 mph--nice when there is no traffic but unsafe when there are 30 wheelers on your tail. It gets me about 60 mpg at that speed, 50 mpg if I go to 60, 45 mpg at 65, 40 mpg at 70 mpg. Not sure how I would do if I went 15 mph.
So I ride on to Dawson Creek today for this update and a coffee break. I'm finally in cell range again and I had a message from my health ins. co. that said if my check isn't received by the end of the week, I'm SOL. Twice they returned my letters and in my absence my former office manager finally found the right one, apparently. However, my auto withdrawal hasn't been approved for some reason so I have to send $500 for the two months I've been healthy already. Considering the dangers that are ever-present on this ride, I'll pay.
On a very sad note, I got a message that a friend of a friend in the Bay Area died of cancer yesterday. He had a tumor on the adrenal gland last year and they thought that surgery, chemo and radiation had got it. But a couple weeks ago, apparently, he collapsed in pain. They took him in and found it had spread throughout his body. He has two daughters. He was a fun person to be with, a teacher, and I spent some time with him at ball games and bars, shooting pool and hanging out at our mutual friend's house. It's a real tragedy.
Last year a law school classmate died of a brain hemhorrage without warning of any kind. I have reflected on the meaning and purpose of this trip, life and death, and all the big picture questions. If I die on this motorcycle trip I don't want my only legacy to be this goofy blog. This trip has been amazing, and life changing, and I wouldn't trade it or anything. In deliberately shattering the rigid structure of my life, I'm putting the pieces back together in a different order based on different priorities. They include settling down--in the marriage and family sense--and being more actively involved with friends and the community and doing something creative and tangible, either as a profession or on the side. A dog is in the near future and you can bet weekends will be spent outdoors exploring. I'm not sure I've been gone long enough to want to live a reclusive life in the mountains as a hunter/trapper/goldminer, but an occasional overnight canoe and camping trip seems like a good idea once in a while. Central and South America are off the table; it will be National Parks down to New Mexico, then west to Phoenix, San Diego and them home to San Francisco.
That's all the shmaltzy stuff I wanted to say. Let the goofy blog continue in all it's glory with the next post. I may let Ichiro submit the next report with harrowing tales from the Southern Canol Road, Liard Hot Springs, and the best cinnamon rolls EVER somewhere between Muncho Lake and Toad River. Be well, everyone.
Some photos for your enjoyment below.
Old entries appear to be listed in the right hand column of this page. Click back to the beginning if you haven't been following along.
It covers the Keno City to Dawson Creek ride; most of the Yukon, in fact. It covers Mayo, Atlin, some Canol Road, some Campbell Hwy, Liard Hot Springs, Muncho Lake, some wildlife (I saw buffalo, elk, a black bear, a marmot, and something else--oh, a moose, and a caribou all in one day) and Ft. St. John and Sacha's crash site, and Dawson Creek (not the TV show). The food varies from canned salmon (i think they just put a whole salmon in the grinder--after removing the meat) to cinnamon rolls. The people in the photos include Ivan (the Argentinian former motocrosser who was once nearly paralyzed in a snowboard accident) and Anne, with whom I started this trip. Ivan has a great attitude and he's enjoying the Cassiar as we speak on a very bald tire. He rides very slowly (45 to 50) for all the same reasons I mentioned in an earlier post. He's also most afraid of winding up a quadraplegic after his snow-boarding accident years ago. Yet after Anne and I gave him a push start in Whitehorse (after 1/2 hour of electrical work had drained his battery), he popped a wheelie on his Africa Twin for about 100 meters (sans helmet). The guy could outride all of us put together but he takes his time. He tells great stories about outrunning Argentine police too. Like "MacGeever." I wish him well. He's on his way to Argentina too, so I'm sure I'll run into him again.
Off to Jasper National Park tomorrow. Should be spectacular. I may spend as many as 5 days there, we shall see. Then Glacier Nat'l Park, Yellowstone, Tetons, and south to as many parks as I can find. Some guys are trying to talk me into Sturgis for August 1. I don't think so. I rode into a Honda gathering today with all my gear, dirt, and miles apparent on my bike and riding gear. I got a few nasty looks (jealous looks?) from the Honda guys. Heh!
Turned 10,000 miles since the start of the trip yesterday. Awesome. Hopefully I can install a new chain, sprockets and rear tire in Wyoming. Many bugs on the praries today. Mustard opened in my tank bag. Argh. The bears will smell me for sure now.
In Jasper on Tuesday night I had planned a conference call with friends in California to have our second half rotisserie baseball draft (yes, I can leave my home, my job and all my possessions but The Chumpians must triumph by season's end!). So I was on a conference call from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Jasper time--long enough to see the local girls go out and back again ("Still on the phone? Must be talking with your sweetie!" I wish.). I drafted poorly, though I can't blame the 30 degree temperatures, the darkness, and standing up at the public phone without any stats in front of me. I just had no strategy.
When something breaks on the bike you can't really have a strategy either--you have to go with what you've got and make it work. So it was when I jumped off my bike at 8:30pm to take pictures of the sky between rainstorms on the icefield parkway at 6000 feet. The bike was still running and it decided to tip over all by itself on the right side into the shoulder. The weight of the luggage makes the rear shock sag downward slowly until the kickstand (which doesn't change length) becomes too long--and over she goes. This happened once in Seattle and resulted in only scratches. My other two drops were on the left side as I was backing down a hill and once, well, I just forgot to put down the kickstand.
I shut the bike off asap. Couldn't lift it back up to the asphalt with all the luggage so I raced to take it off before more gas leaked out. Jacket off, helmet, head wrap, earplugs, gloves, bungees, gas can, saddlebags, etc. in a minute flat. Cars going by didn't stop. If there was a mangy goat by the side of the road there would have been a traffic jam of RV's on both sides of the road, but a bike tipped over, a rider in the grass and luggage stewn everywhere?--"Eh, he'll be fine."
Well, I wasn't fine. The bike wouldn't start. I noticed the kill switch was busted out and i could see four little copper contacts inside the housing. The biggest piece of the red plastic kill switch was easy to find in the tundra/grass on the shoulder where it fell but the tiny springs and copper contacts that were apparently attached were now gone. I couldn't think of any way to bridge the contacts--if I even knew which ones needed bridging. I hunted in the grass some more and finally found one of the two it apparently had. I jammed it in and tried holding various combinations until the bike started and stayed running. If I shut it off I would need to bridge the contacts again, but to keep running it seemed to do OK on its own. I found the first campground I could find and got out the duct tape and the electrical diagram. Managed to set up the tent and "fix" the problem before the rains started again. Not sure what the other contact was for, as all the lights and everything seem to work with the one I've got in there now. But no more kill switch. Having already overridden the clutch safety and the kickstand safety, this bike starts in any gear and now won't stop unless the key is turned off. I also have a nice duct tape silver accent wad on my right control unit.
I also killed the battery the night of the baseball draft by leaving the heated grips on all night. After a near heart attack trying to push start a cold bike with 20w-50 oil, I got two guys in their 60's and one in his 20's to give me a push start. Seems to be fine now. Don't know about the 60 year-olds though.
The drops, the fixes, the oil changes, the setting up and taking down again are all part of the trip. When I was riding with Ivan he put it quite eloquently; you enjoy those things because they go with the adventure. I've heard other riders complain about the drudgery of an oil change or the general maintenance. I love it. You can't do a trip like this without doing these things, so you either hate them--and the trip--or you smile and laugh and enjoy it as much as everthing else. "I'm not having fun," Ivan explains to his friends back home, "I'm having good times." Meaning (I think), that everyday brings a general happiness and freedom from stress. We aren't having a laugh riot so much as we just look forward to each day and each new turn in the road. Anne and Ivan and I reflected on our trip so far when we shared a cabin in Keno City. We grew up in very different places (France, Argentina, USA and the Pacific Rim) yet here we were, all restless for the same motorcycle trip round the world. We all wanted to sustain our optimistic/positive feeling whenever we got back home. The danger is you crave the road so much you never go back home--you become a vagabond rider going from job to job and town to town round and round the world, not knowing how to stop or where. To some that is heaven. I just want to enjoy every day as much as I do now. I often think of the movie Groundhog Day, in which every day was the same (for Bill Murray's character and for the locals in Punxatawny), until he learned to incorporate new skills, make new friends, and generally try to make every day a new adventure even if he had to be stuck in the same place. Having grown up moving so frequently from place to place, I think I try to relive the "trauma" of being the new guy in school, in town, or the new guy on the job; and never more so than on a trip like this where I am the new guy everyday, everywhere I go. My new goal is to finally stay put somewhere and still make every day as different and rewarding as when I ride from province to province, state to state. Easier said than done, but if I employ all the enthusiasm, ingenuity, determination, creativity, strength, planning, self-reliance, and good judgment that I have used on this trip, I'll be fine. A fellow rider commented on my pictures, saying that I must be vain to have so many pictures of myself. Perhaps. But I think I just can't believe that is ME in all those places, doing this trip. It is so unlike me, I want to be able to log on a year from now and see myself to remind me what I was doing in case I lose my way.
So anyway Jasper was nice, if wet, and there was a vivid rainbow after one storm. The digital photos do not do it justice. Mt. Edith Cavell was spectacular, if wet, as was Maligne Lake. I spent some time at the laundrymat drying clothes and trying to work out my bank snafus--someone has been using my card without authorization and it is impossible to reply to a written claim form sent to my former address.
Lake Louise--beautiful. Banff--beautiful. Bow Lake Parkway--a great ride. More rain expected in Banff tonight and tomorrow. Canada makes Oregon look like a desert. Not sure whether to head Canada's Glacier Nat'l Park and for Nelson, BC, or take the 40 (a forestry road) south along the Continental Divide for 100 kilometers then head for Yellowstone. I could always do like John the Snorer and race back to SF in 4 1/2 days like he did, but I think I'll find something in between. I'm now looking for the most scenic roads South with the least amount of traffic. The best rides and the best times of this trip have been spent on obscure roads with no traffic in any direction and no other riders around.
The bike is otherwise running well and with my earplugs out I can hear a pretty good growl from the engine. I tightened up the chain and I think it will last a couple thousand more miles. I was told at 8000 that the chain and sprockets needed changing. I have 14500 on the bike now, after some of the toughest roads in AK and YT, so you can imagine it looks a little long in the tooth now--literally. I need an oil change NOW, and will take care of it as soon as possible, maybe today if someone will let me dispose of it properly. A new tire is due too. The kill switch will stay on life support until home.
UPDATE: I've ordered a chain, front and rear sprockets, front and rear brake pads to be delivered to my aunt in Jackson, Wyoming. I should be able to spend a couple days there doing maintenance. May have a rear tire sent there too.
By the way, if you are considering a ride like this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have lots of opinions about gear and parts and what works and what doesn't. I don't have any sponsors so I won't advertise here, but if you need advice I'm happy to help. I will say that my boots have been the number one decision I could have made. Warm, dry, tough, excellent. Keep the feet happy!
Banff is quite the resort town. I've never been to Aspen or Sundance, but this has to be as swanky, if not more so. Once there I ran into one of two BMW riding brothers I camped next to in Jasper. They sent me a nearby campground about 3 miles outside of town. In line I was spotted by Toddy--the Kiwi I ran into in Coldfoot on the Dalton Hwy, again in Dawson City, YT, and again in Keno City. He's a great guy, full of stories told in an accent so thick, and with colloquialisms so obscure, you aren't sure you understood the story but you laugh anyway. We split the pricey campsite and he wasted no time inviting two young ladies in the site next to ours to enjoy the fire. They were hitchhiking and backbacking from Germany, heading North after a couple days working on a cherry farm to make some cash. When we heard they hadn't eaten, Toddy and I broke out the provisions, offering leftover pasta salad, fruit salad, meuselix and Snickers bars. We won them over but they declined Toddy's invitation to abandon their croweded little tent for his spacious one. His approach is bold; at a local bar he asked the beautiful server where all the "chicks" were. "In New Zealand," he explains to her incredulous look, "we call them chicks or sheilas." "Well," she said, "you're in Canada now, and if you want to meet any of them you might want to refer to them as women or girls." Ouch.
We saw stars that night for the first time in two months. Rain dampened the exploration of the area the next couple days but we did have time for hot springs, a short hike to hoodoos, coffee and beers in town. I bought some provisions for the girls before they left for Lake Louise. As poor as I feel I haven't missed too many meals. We exchanged info and will keep in touch. (Octoberfest?).
The last morning I'm packing to leave Banff and realize I left the heated grips on again all night. This time I could not even get a dim light. I might have killed it for good. I puncture a juice box and think about my options. I managed to push start it--and pull a groin muscle in the process. I run it hard for 20 minutes the park and pack up. Once packed I try to start it again and ... nothing. The girls tried to help to push start it, to no avail. Then some guys pitched in to help and after a couple tries it got running again. But for how long? Looks like if I turn off the engine it's dead. It's Sunday. There are no motorcycle shops in Banff but there should be in Calgary--somewhere. Would they be open on a Sunday? Would they be open on a Monday? In the USA sometimes not. Could I park on a steep hill?
Well I get to the Olympic village ski jump hill on the west side of Calgary, start down the hill and put it in neutral. I shut off the engine then try to restart it with the starter button. It fires up! I'm good to go. I stop at the nearest gas station for fuel and my debit card is rejected. D'oh! A few calls later and I find out my unauthorized user made another attempt which was luckily denied. I got the green light for card usage. Traffic is insane and all of it cowboys and cowgirls coming from the Calgary Stampede; the annual ten-day animal abuse festival. This year nine horses were killed being stampeded into town. The local paper had an opinion letter to the editor saying "The Bible says the creatures are just lesser animals, so don't feel sorry for them, let's just do better next time." Swell. In Banff we caught some of the calf neck-wringing competition. 3.1 seconds flat? Impressive. I head back towards Banff then take the forest service roads south to avoid traffic.
Anyway, just arrived in West Yellowstone, looking for my campsite and will explore the north side of the park this afternoon. Have some pics to upload but primitive services here won't allow me.
How could I forget to mention Glacier Nat'l Park, right at the USA/BC border? The "Road to the Sun" is the most spectacular 20 miles of road I have seen on this trip, hands down. The mosquitos in Montana are the worst of any I've encountered. In Alaska they are big and noisy. You can hear them coming. In Montana they are small but swarm all over you from all directions. You can only laugh as you set up a tent while wearing helmet and all gear then jump inside to kill the ones that got in with you. Crazy.
Hope to see wolves here in Yellowstone. Tetons next up. Photos in a few days.
Three days in Yellowstone and I rode the entire park: every road, every entrance, every side road, everything. Lots of pictures to upload but no way to do it. I have about 12 minutes left on the public library internet.
So Yellowstone was devastated by fires in 1988. They had a "let it burn" policy, and while that might be great for the forest in the super long term, in the meantime at least 7 or 8 generations will pass before the trees look like they did before the fire. Time to rethink that policy.
At its best, the park is full of diverse wildlife and curious geological features like boiling mud puddles, geysers, waterfalls, steam vents, etc. At its worst it is like walking through a blackened hillside will the smell of rotten eggs (sulphur from the vents). All in all, it wasn't the most impressive site I have seen on this trip, but I'm glad someone had the wherewithall to preserve this place as our first national park and not turn it into another gold claim or private resort. When I found out the park was on top of a still-active volcano caldera I had a sleepless night. I had basically staked my tent on the crust of a piping hot lava pie. No guarantee it won't erupt again.
Anyway, I'm in Jackson Wyoming after just having come south through the Tetons. I like it here! This is where Philo Beddo and Clyde punched their way into Sanda Locke's heart in Any Which Way But Loose. The town square has the familiar antler arches at each corner. A tourist town for sure, but active with local hikers, rafters, bikers, swimmers, etc. Harrison Ford's house is just outside of town, as is the VP's. Yellowstone was so full of obese people it was unreal. Here everyone is active and fit. I'm staying with my aunt Mary and she has been tremendously generous in putting me up, feeding me and showing me around town. This a.m. we volunteered to "sweep" a race course up the local mountain. 2.5 miles zig-zagging up a black diamond ski slope. Then we went over to the other ski area (Jackson Hole) and took the tram to the top for another hike above 10,000 feet. Tonight a bar and a band. Tomorrow a strenuous hike through a valley in the Tetons. I head for Idaho Falls on Monday morning to try to find a tire shop unless my friend Ivan can get in touch with me about his spare. We shall see.
Anyway, of all the places I've seen this town seems like one I could live in and be happy year round. In the summer the rent is worse than San Francisco. I wonder if the California Bar membership is transferrable? I have pics I need to upload soon of me in front of Gerry Spense's Law firm wearing my new cowboy hat. Yee-haw! I'm embracing my inner redneck.
Ah yes, and apologies to John the Paramedic, who shall no longer be referred to as John the Snorer! He's home safe and I'm looking forward to riding with him when I get back to SF.
Inspiration is gushing out like Old Faithful--which was a cool geyser to see, actually. Either I got some bad info or the clockwork-like geyser decided to take an extra 45 minutes to blow when I went to see it. Oh well, still a great show. Most people were leaving before the geyser had finished its business. The waterfall at "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" was great, and the buffalo and elk were just sitting by the side of road people-watching. There are some pictures of the park in this set but mostly I was there to ride.
So I was having dinner (soup) on my little bunson burner-like camp stove when this hippy-ish guy comes up, sees the list of conquered states and provinces on my saddlebags. He asks about my trip and asks if he can hang out and cook his dinner. Harlo is his name, and he takes teens on overnight kayak adventures deep into the wild areas of yellowstone off the lake. He's a philosophy grad out of Bucknell, probably around 28 or 30, former pro-skier, slam poet, and kayak expert with some outfit in Jackson. We start talking about eastern philosphy, Ghandi, existentialism, anarchy, materialism, advertising and media (the institution primarily responsible, says Harlo, for turning kids into self-loathing materialistic drones instead of letting them realize their individualism and dreams), energy psychology, What the Bleep Do We Know?, Siddhartha, and forest fires. He cooks up a couscous dinner and wipes the inside of the bowl with a dirty finger. He likes my story and asks to hear some of my writing. I decline. He offers to read some of his poetry from his notebook and I encourage him. The poem was about the night before when he was kayaking and came around the bend into a small bay, and the full moon had just "tucked under a fushia blankent." This guy was a trip! He invites me to take a kayak trip the next day (his day off) and go into an area just opened up this week because of the large number of bears hanging around there. I thought it might be cool to give the bike a rest for a day and try kayaking, but a thunderstorm was due the next day. I didn't want to encounter a bear and I didn't want to leave the bike. I told him I would go, but slept on it and changed my mind in the a.m. The bike is my kayak and thus far I have had a strict rule: if the bike can't go there, I don't go there. Those handlebars are my paddle and the road is my river. I can make them rapids or I can make them a lazy float, all with a twist of the wrist. Harlo seemed to understand. I wish him well on his spiritual quest. He had locked his keys in the truck and was getting a late start after a morning of meditation.
The Tetons were grand, and I rolled into Jackson feeling quite at home. I found my aunt's house where she runs a day care center. The kids were all over me. I read them stories and showed them the bike. I tought them how to put bandanas on their heads and talk like pirates. "Argh! Where's me buried treasure matey?!" Mary gave us all popsicles.
In my last report I think I wrote about the race and today's hike. Well we went to Cascade Canyon, a long canyon perpendicular to the Teton range. It was at least 7 1/2 to 8 miles and up 2500 feet to Solitude Lake with incredible scenery and wildlife galore. At one rocky slide a marmot sentinel stood on his hind legs and gave a call. On either side of the trail for the next 100 yards marmots stood at attention. It was like Butch and Sundance riding through the valley to their hole in the wall with guards on either side of the range. Mary and I ran the marmot gauntlet without incident. She gave me a can of bear spray before we left and taught me how to use it. She wasn't foolin'. This is bear territory and we were on the "climber's boat"; the early boat that isn't advertised to the public. We would be the first people in the woods this day. Thankfully we saw no bears but plenty of deer, moose, and the aforementioned marmots--and one strange mink/marten/marmot animal we couldn't place. Again photos cannot do the hike justice. Wildflowers were everywhere, babbling brooks and streams. Absolute paradise.
So last night we went to the Silver Dollar Bar for dinner, beer, and to see Revolver, a rare rock band in a cowboy town. There are silver dollars pressed into the bar--hundreds of them. Good luck digging one out though. Anyway this couple sits down next to me at the bar and I notice the guy is wearing a Yamaha T-shirt--a fellow rider! We start talking, and it turns out he rides an R-6 (sport bike, one of the fastest around). His girlfriend is from Ross (near SF). He looks like Luke Wilson, and she looks kinda like Jennifer Garner. He's got the mustache that comes down like a goatee, but with nothing on the chin. He gives me his business card: he's the Head Wrangler at a local ranch. (Head Wrangler?!) I push my crisp new cowboy hat away on the bar. He's got a kokopelli baseball cap on. TJ is his name, and he's a real adventurer--not a faux cowboy poseur like me. He leads horse treks into the wilderness, float trips, big game hunting, winter recreation and fishing. This is all on his card. His office is the corner of a barn, apparently, with horse manure, a saddle and a hole in the wood ceiling above him. Yet he's curious about my trip and mostly how I went from the office to bike, not just how I went from SF to AK to WY. Finally, someone who gets it!
The interesting part of my story to me, at least, is not the ride, but it is how one makes up their mind and leaves everything behind. So I tell him. He nods. I won't tell you all--yet. That will be the final installment of this journal or maybe the theme of a book. We talk bikes, we talk local freeways, I tell them about the $50/day budget and how I busted it already, the planning, the rough route, the life lessons learned, Central and South America, etc. They finally get up to go and TJ shakes my hand and wishes me luck. In his handshake is the familiar feel of a wad of paper--like when my grandfather would shake my hand with a fiver in it when I was a kid. "What is this?" I ask. That's for you, he said. I look down as they go. It's money--a lot of it. I see a $20 and there is more in the roll. "I can't accept this!" "Just take it, he said, and smiled. "Safe journeys." I unfold the roll: exactly $50.
He may as well have given me a million. He--the Head Wrangler, the guy who spends half his days on a horse, and his nights on a sportbike--was inspired by my trip, and wanted to buy me an extra day. I was flabbergasted. I value my free time so much now and he just bought me another priceless day. Thank you TJ--you know I won't waste it. And I'm sorry I didn't get your girlfriend's name, but you two made a great couple. I may come back next summer and put that $50 toward a Wilderness pack trip.
My aunt and I next went to the Million Dollar Cowboy, where they have both country AND western music, where all the barstools are saddles, and my cowboy hat fit right in. I was feeling pretty good. Everyone's comments and encouragement by phone and email have been so great and to know people are even the slightest bit inspired or entertained by what I'm doing is amazing. I am living out loud now and it feels good. My friends new and old are all doing great things this year and they all inspire me too. It is a summer of change and it has a long way to go yet.
John the Snor--, I mean, Paramedic--originally named his bike Carmen, but changed it to Carmen The Wonder Bike after one particularly deft road-to-offroad recovery maneuver for which John seems to think he was not entirely responsible. Now that Beagle has endured the harsh Utah/Colorado desert shale, cacti and mud on a bald tire through heat and cold and all the drops to which I subjected her without missing a beat, 13,000 miles from the starting line she earns the "Mighty" prefix.
The last two days since Jackson have been very hard on the bike--and on me. Neither Jackson Wy, nor Idaho Falls had a tire in my size. At this point I would take anything round and made of rubber with a hole in middle. Salt Lake was the next large town South, so off I went down the dreaded interstate. Freeway driving is the worst and most dangerous, I think--especially when you are fully loaded and unable to keep up. I filled up with gas at place in Idaho not on the map and called Salt Lake to make sure someone would have my tire. LIttle did I know the 25th was a Utah state holiday and everything was closed. Now what? I called Fred at Arrowhead Motorsports in Moab. He had lots of tires that would fit if I could make it there. I could, but not on Monday. There being no reason to be on the interstate anymore, or to be anywhere but Moab by Tuesday afternoon, I pulled out the map and looked at my options. I was basically at a crossroads and could go any direction, all of which were unknown and circuitous. Ah yes, another metaphor. This particular day I was thinking of Tom Hanks' character in Castaway, standing at the crossroads at the end of the movie, trying to think of which way to go. Everyday we are at a crossroads if you think about it, and choices are almost limitless. Unfortunately time is always linear, and some of the forks we take in the road of life cannot be retraced. Sometimes a new fork will take you where you would have been had you taken on earlier, and sometimes that road is forever closed. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we have a rear view mirror called hindsight that lets us see whether our decisions were good or bad, even years later. On this trip, decisions have immediate consequences and judgment is tested without need to look behind you. Like Raul Julia's character in "Gumball Rally" said as he removed the rearview mirror, "The first rule of Italian race car driving is, what is behind you does not matter."
What was my point again? I forget. But I think I know what Tom Hanks' character was thinking at that moment. And I realize that everyone has their own decisions to make and their own adventures to take. At this point in the road hindsight wasn't going to help me. I looked forward at the options ahead of me, picked my route and went southeast.
And I chose ... poorly. The most boring ride through high scrub plains, 435 miles and a sore butt with nothing but my own thoughts about past relationships bouncing around and around in my head. After the great interactions in Jackson, it was a lonely ride to Flaming Gorge Nat'l Rec. Area. But when I got there the sun was setting and my shadow was cast across the road and in silhouette on hillsides. A beautiful night. I found a campground nearly deserted but for hares hopping all around every time I took a step. I put on my cowboy hat, unsaddled the Beagle at sunset and set up my tent.
From Flaming Gorge to Moab, you can either go the long way around through Colorado or the long way around through Utah. I saw a map somewhere that showed a dirt road that goes straight through the Utah desert, across rivers, through a forest and over a pass. Bald tire, low provisions, and heat wave be damned; I chose the short cut.
And I chose ... poorly. Again. This unmarked "road" follows a natural gas pipeline at least part of the way, so I did see an occasional big rig on the first half of the ride.
The road was filled with huge mud bogs up to two feet deep, dried ruts, gravel and razor sharp rocks that make the Dalton look like a cakewalk. So I go through one bog and just about lose it. The bike spins all over and I don't know which way it is going to stop. She rights herself and I take photos of the mud on my boots.
Little did I know, this was a dinky puddle compared to what was to come. The next major puddle was about 20 feet across, fairly dry to one side. I take it high on the pegs, revving high in first gear. But the caked front wheel went out, then the rear, and over the bank I went. D'oh!
I shut off the bike, shut off the petcock, take off the luggage, and still can't lift it. So I dig. The front tire is down the embankment, the rear up on the "road" in the mud. The bike weighs almost 435lbs, and the easiest way to push it upright is to roll it down to the brush. But would it ever get back up the soft embankment again? I remembered Sacha's first crash on Vancouver Island, and how we needed the 4x4 to tow it out. I saw no trucks for at least 30 minutes of trying.
It was at least 95 degrees by now, near noon. I had all my gear on since 7a.m. on what had been a cool morning at 6000 feet. I had eaten nothing all day. I had less than a liter of water, a Snicker's bar and a bruised banana in my bag. The sun was brutally hot and there was no shade anywhere. I don't know if you really get superhuman strength in these situations where you need it, but I managed to get it upright and drag it inch by inch back up to the mud. I put everything back on, fired it up, and went on.
I got about 1/4 mile and there was a 75 yard long puddle with no way around. It looked deep. I got off the bike and walked along the embankment, this one above the bog, for a way around. Maybe 45 yards of it is do-able, if I can get it up the soft embankment, but then I'd have to drop down into the mud again at the deepest part. A long flatbed semi comes up behind me to show me the way. He goes in slowly and the water/mud looks to be about 8-10 inches deep. About 50 yards across, it begins to slide left, and sinks another 10 inches deeper on the left side. He spins and chugs and straightens it out on the other side, leaving a wake that causes loose dirt on either side of the embankments to fall into the bog too. Oy.
Well, I wasn't about to turn back. It just wasn't an option. I picked a line on the right, stayed on the seat this time and used my feet as pontoons. I powered through at 5000 rpm, slipping the clutch, not so much steering the bike as setting the front wheel like a rudder. Another semi coming the other way stopped to watch me. I got through with mud dripping from shins down and axles down and pump my fist. "Yes!" The truck driver gives me the thumbs up.
And so it went, bog after bog. Some spots that appeared damp were really deep potholes. Others were deep ruts. All required patience, extremely slow speed, lots of sweat and strength and balance. All the while, the road is forking into equally-sized paths with no clue as to which is the correct one to go from Utah to Colorado and over the mountain pass. My GPS showed only a yellow field and a blue trail of dots behind me. My paper map showed a dashed line roughly straight south. I made choices again and again taking me onto ever smaller roads in the middle of nowhere until it clear that I was on roads that no one had traveled since the last rain. (When was that?, I wonder.) Just two ruts of dirt and gravel where the tires go, and one strip of weeds in between. I was 99% sure I was on some farmer's little used road that would end in a rusty tractor. This is the road I have chosen to cross from one state to another in the heat of July on a bald tire!
I see tracks finally and they appear to be bovine. Sure enough I round a switchback to go up a mountain and there is a small herd of cattle, including a bull looking straight at me from about 30 yards away. The rest of the herd is going around me. Two small calves stand behind the bull. I am surrounded by cattle and can't go anywhere. Instead of waiting for the angry looking bull to come at me, I revved the engine and scared some of them away, but not the bull. He waited until every single cow and calf had left the road before he let me pass. Thank you bull!
Up the road I continue, 7000 feet, 7200, and the trees are providing a bit more cover. I see more tracks, probably equine. As I round a turn at 25, a large animal darts out of the brush about 20 feet ahead of me and runs straight up the road ahead of me. It's not a cow, not an elk, not a deer. Legs are too thick, fur light brown. It's way too big to be a dog. It was a bear, and he was bookin'.
Every campground I've been to, from north of Vancouver to Montana warned about bears. Pamphlets and lectures accompanied every check-in, and the capabilities and proclivities of bears is quite explicit. "A bear can outrun you at 30 miles per hour; do X if you see a brown bear, Y if a grizzy but Z if a black bear, but not XX if being attacked; they eat this, they behave like that; you should do this, and you should do that; etc.
I can now confirm that the pamphlets are correct: a bear can go at least 25 mph. But I'm pretty sure the pamphlets are silent about the number bear-lengths a motorcyclist is supposed to leave behind a galloping grizzly. (And should you leave less for a black bear?) Who knows. In that 1/4 of a second I got off the gas and stopped lest there be a confrontation. As he ran into the bushes I stopped and wondered if I should go ahead and risk being jumped as I go by. Then I wondered if he had a buddy in the bushes behind me. I rode upward and onward. I still would not have been surprised if that road ended in a gate at any point on the hill.
Just before the summit a big buck was standing in the middle of road. On the descent rock slides made the road impassible to auto traffic. If someone had crossed this pass recently it wasn't in a car. More unmarked forks appeared, but I keep the bike pointed south and end up 100 miles later in Colorado, tires intact, mud dried and caked all over, in 100 degree heat. The Mighty Beagle rolls on.
The road to Moab is windy and picturesque, but I had to get there so I took no photos. I still hadn't had a drink of water or food all day. Not a drop. I just HAD to get there. I found my way into town and eventually to Arrowhead Motorsports, the place from which I have ordered many many parts from in the past. Fred is legendary--in the KLR community at least--for his quick shipping and great customer service. I spent 4 1/2 hours there. And despite telling all customers that he doesn't do any service but tire installation, he put on my new brakes, chain, sprockets and a new rear tire for me. More importantly, he taught me how to do it myself in the future. He charged me only $30 for all the labor. Insane! We chatted about Eagle Mike and Mark B, the two guys who came to Petaluma on tech day in April to help me upgrade the bike for travel. There's something about people like these who run their own businesses; their word is their bond, they go above and beyond to help people in need. Just amazing. Fred is on my permanent Christmas card list from now on. I got dinner at a taqueria and set up camp in the dark after the office closed. I was up and out for supplies by 7 a.m. before the office opened again. I went back later and told the lady there I stayed in her campground last night and paid her for the stay. I think she was surprised I came back. People who know me wouldn't be.
My aunt Mary, TJ the Wrangler, and all the people that let me use their oil pan to change the oil are all on my permanent IOU list. It seems that the more human interaction I have on this trip, the more generous people I have encountered and the richer my experience has been. The same is probably true if I weren't on this trip or on a motorcycle. I think of Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life."
Anyway, I'm going to Arches today, Slick Rock (hopefully), Canyonlands and working my way Southeast. I may head for SF before I go to San Diego for some beach time, but we'll see. Now that the bike had all the moving parts replaced it could probably make it to South America with nothing but a couple oil changes. Or maybe back up to Alaska. Or maybe East to Key West, then NYC. Another day, another fork in the road. I'm looking forward to it.
I have always loved doughnuts. LOVED 'em. My routine on weekends in SF was to go down to Chestnut street and get a doughnut from the local donuttery, then off to Peet's for the Sunday paper and a thick cup of coffee. Every time I'm in the donut shoppe I ask if they have strawberry/cherry (pink) icing. Every time they say more people asked for it, but they don't have any yet. (Yet? Is it that hard to get?) In 14,300 miles through two nations I have looked but not found a single cherry iced donut. This is remarkable considering you can buy fudge and cinnamon rolls in more places than you can buy gas on the Alcan Highway. I always thought that some day I would make tons of cherry icing and become the North American distributor and make a fortune. The demand is there, I'm telling you.
So it was with great surprise that I pulled into Safeway in Flagstaff AZ, and low and behold--pink donuts! Sadly, it was flavorless; just sweet. It may as well have been red dye in white icing. (What flavor is white?) The search continues...
Anyway, here is the route since Monday: Arches and Canyonlands; Natural Bridges and Capitol Reef; Glen Canyon and Grand Staircase/Escalante; Bryce and Zion (including Kolob reservoir); Grand Canyon (North Rim), Vermillion Cliffs and Sedona today.
A real geography lesson, let me tell you. Also a lesson in hydration: did you ever get a refill on a 44oz super big gulp--before you paid for the first cup?
Most of my time was spent between 5,000' and 8,000' elevation. Peaked at 9118 at the top of Bryce. Wow. Down in Zion it was 3800', yet the bottom layer of Bryce represents the top layer at Zion. Or maybe that's vice versa. Kooky either way. Someday I must return and hike The Narrows--the river that flows through the Zion canyon floor. Imagine 2000' cliffs straight up--and only 10 feet wide. Sometimes you wade chest deep in the river through the narrow gap. Oh and flash floods can happen at any time.
Above 7000' the air is cool, the trees grow, and the views are fantastic. The meadows at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon were spectacular all by themselves. The rock formations are incredible and no way do the photos do them justice. You just have to go there. The twisties in each of the parks was great for leaning out like Valentino Rossi and dragging a knee--especially early or late in the day. I nearly wore out the sides of my new tire in the last week!
Canyonlands is like riding on a giant puzzle piece, only the puzzle piece is 2000' high, and you twist around and around the rim looking down on views as spectacular as the Grand Canyon. Each park was unique in geography, but they all lead up to the Grand Canyon. It ain't called Grand for nothin'!
I was getting upset by the fact that it was getting dark at 9 pm in Utah--until I crossed into Arizona and lost another hour. It gets dark at 8!! I really miss Alaska and the Midnight Sun.
Pics galore in the Flagstaff Set, though I'm sorry I don't have time to organize them better for you. Just know that the Mighty Beagle rolls on without hesitation, though it has trouble keeping up with the "Bush/Cheney '04" Chevy trucks, and the "Christian Hunters and Anglers Association" Fords, the "God Bless our Troops" Dodge's, and the Jesus Fish Hummers on the highways. Despite Devil's Tower, Devil's Backbone, Devil's postpile, and Devil's Kitchen, etc., according to the bumper stickers this is God's country--and don't you forget it! Yet the Beagle continues in humble exploration through millions of years of geographic strata open like a book, surrounded by obvious wildlife adaptations and evolutionary changes--even dinosaur footprints. It's a curious country we live in.
John the Paramedic informs me he just got a used BMW 1150 GS to make Carmen the Wonder Bike jealous. I couldn't keep up with him when he had the 650. I want a faster bike too, otherwise riding with John in the future will consist of coffee at Peet's in the a.m., followed by a beer 8 hours later at some bar. Oh, by the way, best non-Peet's coffee on the trip was just outside Northern Arizona University at a place called Macy's. Some of my readers are familiar with this establishment.
I'm off to Sedona, where I once thought I should open a donut store called "Sedonut" where I would sell donuts with only pink icing. (The heat makes you do funny things, I'm telling you.) After Sedona, I'll be in San Diego for a couple days, then up to SF for the weekend. Then probably back to San Diego for a week or so. What does the future hold beyond that? A new apartment in SF. Or perhaps ... Hoboken?! If I've learned anything on this trip it is that the journey will continue whether the bike comes with me or not.
I was reminded of one particularly hot day going through Glen Canyon between national parks. It was absolutely scorching hot. A mid-day furnace with no place to hide, no shade anywhere, and 100 miles between gas stations. I was so thirsty, but it didn't seem worth it to stop in the sun and drink the hot water in my tank bag. Not much traffic at all, so it was easy to spot the headlights in my rear view mirror several miles behind me. The truck caught me in just a few minutes because I was going slowly, trying not to overheat the engine or my tires. So it finally gets right on my tail just as the twisties start. It looked like an armored car, and I remember wondering what it was doing way out here, and where it was going. For 10 to 15 miles, there was nowhere to pull over and nowhere to pass. Just a solid double yellow, in 110 degree heat, no one else around. Finally a straightaway appears, and he moves into the oncoming lane to pass me. That's when I notice the side of the truck. "ICE CREAM! Slushees! Popsicles! Ice Cold!" It leaves me in a cloud of hot diesel smoke feeling like I just saw a mirage, and wishing I could pull the guy over and sit inside the back of the truck for awhile, cover myself in popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.
The trip isn't over yet--but I'm taking a nice week-long break in La Jolla, and it feels good to rest. Makes me wish I had a home to call my own. More on that later.
The last week of riding was a week of extremes. I last camped in Jacob's Lake, just north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The next morning I rode down to Flagstaff, intending to continue to Sedona and dinner with an ex-girlfriend's Mom. (Always nice to keep in touch.) But a monsoon brewed up over Flagstaff and Sedona just as I got there, so I spent a bit of time inside a coffee shop, the bagelry, and the visitors' center trying not to get zapped by lightning. Finally I went down the canyon 25 miles to Sedona and got absolutely DRENCHED like no other time on this trip. I had sent home my winter rain gear from Moab, saving 11 lbs on the back of the bike, but leaving me vulnerable to the elements. My boots, which had served me so well, could not keep out the water that was rolling down my jacket and lap and legs. I arrived in Sedona in need of a shower and a campground, but found neither. I hadn't heard from the friend's mom, so back to Flagstaff I went--through the same monsoon again--and found a dive motel for $40. My cowboy hat, whose brim had been curved like a potato chip and just as crisp, was ruined.
The boots were removed, turned over, and several ounces of water poured out. They would not be dry for another week. I wore tennis shoes the final 500 miles to San Diego.
Had lunch with Sue the next day in Sedona, whom I had visited at Christmastime 2001 with my girlfriend at the time. The town continues to grow, and with its beautiful rock formations and proximity to so many parks, lakes, forests and outdoor activities, it is no wonder. You can tell I was eager to get going for home; for all the beautiful scenery of Sedona, I only took one photo.
It was hard to impress Sue with my tales of Alaska; she's already been to every continent except Antarctica, and she wants to go there next!
Again, I should have taken more photos. I was fuming about having been passed by a car in the pouring rain while coming down the narrow canyon. So much so that I confronted the driver when we got into town and parked. I took off my helmet and said, "Why did you pass me in the canyon like that?" He told me he was late for a Pink Jeep Tour (a four-wheel trip through the red rocks of Sedona). I exploded at him, telling him that he put my life in jeopardy just to get one car length in front of me, and that he better not do it again, that I wanted an apology, that other motorcyclists wouldn't be as restrained as I was being. I never do anything like this, but he had it coming. He apologized. Normally I just silently rage inside. Maybe this trip has changed me. Don't risk my life so you can get 1 second closer to a pink jeep tour--Jerk!
From Sedona, I went through the former mountain mining town of Jerome, which is now a twisty cycling paradise and nice little tourist village on the cool leeward side of a mountain. Next was Prescott, the last town on the edge of the massive Colorado Plateau on which all the canyons and amazing geological formations were carved. Hard to believe it was all once underwater, but the fossils don't lie. The ciccada's were screaming when I stopped at the auto parts store for a spare cotter pin (Keeps the rear wheel from flying off when you least want it to). I descended into the hot Arizona desert, and was treated to a brilliant perspective of the plateau on which I had been riding.
I made it all the way to Quartzite, right on the border with California, before a monsoon which had been on the horizon was now right on top of me. The gust of wind from the storm front blew from South to North (from my left to my right), and blew me from the right lane of the freeway onto a merging onramp. Had the onramp not been there, I would have been literally blown off the road. I merged right back into my original lane leaning at a 30 degree angle to my left. Semis were roaring by at 80 mph, and I was getting buffeted and blown around like crazy. This was as scared as I had been on the entire trip. I pulled into a gas station and the employees were chasing the signs and trash cans blowing away. The motels were closed, and I had to go another 6 miles down the freeway to Ehrlenberg, hoping not to get squashed by a truck, blown off the road, zapped by lightning, or tripped up by car-sized tumbleweeds rolling across the freeway. I was in a life and death game of Frogger, in a near hurricane. I expected a semi to tip over on top of me. Some got off the road, others keep rolling, trying to get ahead of the storm. It would be my second night in a row in a motel ("The Flying J"). The storm was beautiful to watch after I stopped, and the lightning was coming every half second. Incredible light show like I had never seen. I didn’t have a lens wide enough to capture the cloud formations all around.
The truck stop filled up with travelers trying to wait it out. This was my first time at an interstate truck stop, and they had all kinds of things to cater to truck drivers, including internet, massages, food, phones, and showers, which they called out like numbers at a deli. "Shower number 469..., shower number 470….”
Two nights of motels in a row is unprecedented on this trip. Alaska and Canada and Utah handed me some tough weather, but it was Arizona that whooped me. The next day I rolled down I-78, I believe, through southern Southern California. I saw where our beef comes from--and have not had a burger since. I also came through fields of crops that I couldn't place, but zillions of little yellow butterflies flew through them and across the road constantly. Try as I might, I could not avoid all of them, and had to pull a few from the radiator as well as out of my jacket and pant legs when I stopped to fill up. Not quite as bad as the butterflies for motorcycle rider in The Gumball Rally, but I felt his pain.
Finally into San Diego where the freeway was so fast, so crowded and so dangerous it made me want to sell the bike and give up riding. It was that insane. I stopped at a divey taqueria and had some real Mexican (or at least California-Mexican) food for the first time in months. Yum. Sorry Valdez, Alaska, but your canned salsa flown in from Seattle doesn't cut it.
Thankfully my friend Mary lent me her truck so I could make a quick weekend trip up to San Francisco to keep my promise to go fishing, and also to pick up mail. Being in a car was strange; so quiet, music playing, perfect temperature, comfortable seat. I wanted to nap! I found a Peet's Coffee in Thousand Oaks. I was grinning like crazy when I got my first Peet’s coffee since May 30 at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. Ahh! I also visited my cousin Carrie on the Paramount Studios set in Hollywood. She introduced me to actresses, directors and everyone else who works on the show Charmed. Great fun. On Saturday I went salmon fishing with former co-workers. I didn't get a nibble, but didn’t get seasick either. Given my history, I called it a success.
My generous friends and family have put me up now for more than a week. I think I have been in 10 beds, floors or sofas in 12 days. I definitely feel a longing for a place to call home. But just where should that be?
Several months before I left on this trip, I saw a message scrawled on a bathroom wall at Zeitgeist, a motorcycle bar in San Francisco: "Leap, and the net will appear." Positive, uplifting and inspirational quotes are not what one usually finds on motorcycle bar bathroom walls. Although I don’t believe in ‘signs’, I certainly recognized that sign-seers would see it as a sign. My friends said that opportunities I never anticipated would arise on this trip, and that not knowing what would happen after it was over shouldn't keep me from going on the trip of a lifetime while I had the chance. They were right, but the future is still unclear. I have opportunities in SF, LA, and NY, as well as an invitation to ride with friends all the way to South America. And Jackson Hole, WY, was my favorite place I visited on the trip.
As much as I would love to keep riding South, I didn't really prepare myself for it. I wouldn't know what to see, other than Copper Canyon and Macchu Picchu. A Lonely Planet Guide would help, but there is nothing like The Milepost, the essential turn by turn guide to Canada and Alaska Highways. I would love to keep entertaining everyone with tales from the road, but I feel like I have nothing more to prove to myself. I have truly convinced myself that there is nothing I can't do if I can just get over my fear of what could go wrong. That may have been the goal of the whole trip now that I think about it; to get rid of that nagging stress pain in the bottom of your stomach that tells you something in your life isn't going the way it was supposed to.
I need to be my own boss and see if I can control what I do from day to day, and maybe even how much I make in the long run. There has to be a way to incorporate creativity into the process too, rather than just doing things by the book or the way someone else did them before you. Making yourself uncomfortable for a while, like I did on this ride, forces you to see what is essential for survival, and what is merely a matter of comfort. You might be surprised when you find that running water and electricity are in the latter category, and that love, friendship, creativity, expression and adventure (the free things) are in the former.
So it looks like I'm headed up to SF next week, taking my time, driving up the coast on Hwy 1, which many say is the best ride in the USA. I will put mile 15,000 behind me along the way. Had I gone straight down the Pan American Highway to South America instead of up to Alaska, I would have been to Ushuaia and back up to Buenos Aires by now. I'm going to extend my summer for a few more weeks by flying to New York to visit my brother and sister-in-law, but I'll be back soon to find a place to live and set up shop. In the meantime, if you like motorcycle adventure stories, great photos, and stories from people learning about the world and themselves, you should follow along with my friends Dave and Ericka as they travel two-up from Paris to Australia.
Great writing, great photos, great people!
A couple more entries to go here and then I'll hand out some Ichies; the first (annual?) Ichiro awards. Stay tuned.
Excellent ride report and photo essay on the Continental Divide trail by Stephen Golub. This was the trail that Anne had originally convinced me to ride before we left San Francisco in May, but the lure of the national parks (Yellowstone, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, Escalante, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon) was too strong.
Poor Beagle lay fallow for 11 days while I R'ed & R'ed in La Jolla. When I went to start her up this morning and ... nada. The Mighty Beagle battery had been treated mighty poorly by me for the last couple of months, so I bought and installed a new one today. (Careful pouring in the acid!)
The kill switch is still holding firm with duct tape, but I spotted a small oil leak coming from the drain plug. Could be time to change the soft copper washer--or maybe just some dirt/sand on the threads, keeping it from making a tight seal. I'm not too worried. Next oil change I'll make sure everything is OK. (Have I really gone 2000 miles since Moab already? Sheesh.) Another casualty: the straps on my saddlebags--the ones that attach to the lower part of the frame--are gone. The right side strap was burned off by touching the exhaust, and the left side was chewed by the chain apparently. No biggie, the bags stay put across the top of the seat just fine without them. I aired out the tent and sleeping bag yesterday. The tent was still damp from when I packed it at Jacob's Lake almost two weeks ago. (Pew!) How do you wash a tent (and footprint and rain fly)?
I sent out postcards to a few people who helped and supported me along my "trip of a lifetime," but for Mary--my hostess for two weeks in San Diego--a thank you card just wouldn't do. As a counselor, she helped me process the lessons from this trip and helped make sense of why and did this and what comes next. Her encouragement and thoughtfulness and generosity and patience made only one souvenir meaningful; the coveted cowboy hat. And it fits her perfectly. Thank you Mary.
Before leaving San Diego, Mary and I went up to Irvine to visit my oldest friend, Mark, whom I've known since way back in Jr. High, High School and College. He's got two great kids, and we took some great photos, but papa says they aren't ready for the white hot spotlight and international fame that this web journal brings. (Yeah right!)
From San Diego I took the Coast Highway up to Oceanside, then "I'ed the Five" up to Dana Point, where I rejoined it. The Pacific Coast Highway is supposed to be one of the most beautiful rides in the USA, but I think it refers to the part between San Luis Obisbo and San Francisco, because Long Beach ain't much to look at.
I had to get a picture of the giant pink doughnut sign, because apparently my instincts are correct; there was a time in this country where the pink doughnut was a huge draw. To prominently display a 15 foot diameter pink doughnut thirty feet high is to send out a beacon of hope to doughnut lovers for miles around. Who traveled the furthest to get to this sign after seeing it on the horizon, I wonder. There were no pink doughnuts inside this establishment. I’m preparing a false advertising class action on behalf of the citizens of Long Beach when I get home. We will settle for nothing less than free pink doughnuts for all.
I stayed with my friend Darryl in Playa Del Rey, and he took me along to a bar to meet with his agent, who kindly offered to read anything I wrote. I'm learning a lot about the entertainment business lately.
This morning I hit the road for Mulholland Drive, the curvy crest of the Santa Monica Mountain range, but not before another Peet's Coffee, this one in Westwood, near my alma mater. Up through the canyons of Bel Air I got lost several times, always winding up at the gates of some mansion. I finally found my way along Mulholland Drive East to the Hollywood sign.
You can no longer hike up to it. (Terrorism, you know.) When I went to school here, I don't think I ever left campus.
Backtracking West, I got to where Mulholland turned into a dirt road and then ended abruptly. I was enjoying the first dirt road I had seen since Capitol Reef, UT, then had to backtrack to Sunset Blvd. and down to PCH. When I picked up Mulholland again, I took it to the famous Rock Store cafe, where Jay Leno, Brad Pitt and all the famous actors who own motorcycles like to hang. Yeah, it was closed. Weekends only.
I continued through some of the twistiest roads of the entire trip, scraping the pegs all the way down the ocean, and back up through Decker Canyon. Not a single car in front of me or behind me the whole way. I had to have passed the infamous Deadman's Curve where James Dean bought it, but I'll tell you; it could have been any one of a couple dozen switchbacks along the way. I didn't expect to have such solitude and such a great ride in LA.
My friends Greg and Amy are putting me up again in Westlake Village. They've got two great kids too--and three dogs to boot! I'm sad they are moving to Arizona this winter. Their place has been my home away from home for many years now.
In the morning I'm off to San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Hoping for light traffic, good weather, and great photos. Looks like I'll arrive in SF on Thursday evening or Friday evening. I would really like to get in Thursday to catch up with my softball team for pizza. Playoffs should be starting soon. Otherwise I'll be in Big Sur for one last night of camping before arriving in SF Friday. A helluva trip so far. I'm in the home stretch.
Near Laguna Seca race track in Monterrey I came across a dozen Lamborghinis parked for dinner at a roadhouse. I parked in between some of the cars and took a couple pictures of the Beagle among them. The looks I got from the owners/drivers were part "Don't scratch the paint," and part "Dang, look at all the places that guy has been!" Sorry guys, you couldn't buy a trip as great as this one has been.
As I was setting up my last camp at the Laguna Seca race track--the only campgrounds in all of Monterrey apparently--a couple came by in their truck. "Ah-ah-ah," the man said to me as he wagged a finger. "You can't camp here."
"Why not?" I asked.
"This space is reserved. We reserved it months ago for the classic car races this weekend."
I explained that there was no reserved sign on the post, and that if this really was their campsite, I was very sorry, and I would be glad to move my tent and all my gear to another site elsewhere. It was already getting dark. Fog had moved in, and I was frozen from riding up the coast since 8 a.m.
But this guy's attitude was strange. He was a little TOO adamant about the space being his. He kept saying I had to leave even after I told him I would. I asked to see a piece of paper that confirmed his reservation. He pulled his huge idling diesel pickup into my campsite, within inches of my tent, and produced a piece of paper that said he reserved the space for the 18th, 19th, and 20th (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
"Today is Wednesday. The 17th." I said, handing it back to him. An awkward pause.
"Well this is the first year they haven't put Wednesday on the invitation,” he said sheepishly.
"So you're telling me you already know that you don't have it for tonight, and you're just trying to trick me into moving to another site?"
I looked him in the eye, and he just smiled. "I'm not saying anything," he says.
I was so disgusted. I had ridden 15,500 miles to this point through Canada and the USA. I left my key in the ignition most nights, left my bags and helmet unsecured every time I parked, and never encountered anyone explicitly trying to swindle me--until I was 100 miles from home. A well-to-do married couple.
"Get out of my campsite." I said, and went back to setting up. The guy said nothing.
"This is the first year they didn't let us come on Wednesday," the wife repeated from inside the truck.
"If you have a problem, call the ranger." I turned my attention back to the tent.
If they had come to me in the beginning and said, "Hey, could you do us a favor and switch campsites with us?" I might have accommodated. No, they led with a lie and persisted with it, even after I called them on it. I wondered if they cheated at racing too.
That night the campgrounds all around me filled up with would-be racers bringing their classic cars from as far away as Southern California. They were meeting old friends and laughing and wrenching all night long. No consideration for the motorcyclist trying to sleep above turn 7. I barely slept at all. I should have let those swindlers have their space.
In the morning I took Hwy One up to Santa Cruz and searched in vain for a Peet's Coffee. The boardwalk and cliffside road made for nice viewing in the early morning.
Being familiar with Hwy One from there to SF, I decided to take the winding Hwy 9 through Great Basin park and then Skyline Highway to Alice's Restaurant.
The redwoods were spectacular, and I didn't mind getting lost in Great Basin and having to backtrack several miles. All off-roading is forbidden there, unfortunately, and I thought wistfully of all the great dirt roads I traveled in Alaska alone--probably 2000-2500 miles of it.
Unlike the Rock Store in LA, Alice's is open on weekdays. I had a burrito and struck up conversation with people there about my bike and the ride. "I'm 40 miles from the end of a 15,600 mile trip to Alaska," I told them.
"What was the highlight?" one wanted to know.
"The Dalton Highway," I said. Why? "The geography, the road, the weather, the animals, the pipeline, and the significance of riding that dirt road alone, all above the Arctic Circle, with 24 hours of daylight."
One guy on a Honda Valkyrie gave me a card for a free pass to the airplane museum where he works in Menlo Park. It read "VIP Pass." Nice guy. I felt like a VIP all day. Kinda like you feel on your birthday.
I knew everyone in SF was working this day, so there was no way to gather anyone for a welcome home party in the afternoon. I walked over to All Star Donuts, my ritual doughnut stop for 8 years.
"Do you have any doughnuts with pink icing?" I asked again of the young guy who works behind the counter. I have practically seen him grow up from 9 to 17 years old. One time I gave him two Giants v. Dodgers tickets I could not use. He still remembers.
"Not yet," he says, "but more people asked about it."
My turn to brag: "Well I just got back from a motorcycle trip to Alaska and down through the Rockies, and I can tell you, no one has it. I was thinking about starting my own doughnut shop and selling donuts with strawberry and cherry icing."
"You don't mind the competition?"
"Nah, it would be great."
I ate my chocolate donut, drank my Peet's coffee and looked at the Mighty Beagle. I took out my silver paint pen, shook it and added a "CA" to a string of states and provinces on my saddlebag that began with the very same two letters. My friend Mary was right: it wasn't just a list of states the Beagle had been in, it was a record of a single circular trip that introduced me to people I will never forget, wildlife I had never seen before, natural features and geology that can be seen in only one or two places in the world. I rode from California to California--by way of the Northernmost and Westernmost highways in North America; by way of pipelines, ferry boats, old railroad rights-of-way, high mountain passes and the Continental Divide. I explored the National Parks of the West, and understood a little better the importance of protecting them from the very people who are invited to visit. I shared the roads with tankers hauling oil, with trucks carrying food from farms to the cities, and with cars carrying people to and from family, work, and destinations unknown. I saw more, and experienced more in my 2 1/2 months than I had in the previous 16 years combined.
If you ride, and if you yearn for a trip like this, for goodness sake--go. It is so much more than you can imagine. And it grows exponentially in retrospect. The hardships (the breakdowns, the fixes, the crashes) become the biggest highlights.
I delayed writing this final entry because it meant the end of the trip, and I always want to feel like I am still on it, or that I could be at any minute. But the trip is indeed over. I am in Hoboken New Jersey and Beagle is secured in my grandparents' garage in Walnut Creek, battery cables disconnected. I feel uneasy without it. The last week in SF before my departure to Hoboken was a comedy of mind-changing and indecision. It continues to this day. But when you finally come to that fork in the road, you take the one you think is best based on what you know of yourself, and what you learned in all the miles behind you. If anything, my sight is attuned much further down the road than before. I can see already that the Hoboken fork is a short road, and it returns back to California soon enough. But for now, I will be glued to Horizons and my new friends' websites and enjoying their adventures even as I plan another of my own. After Alaska, I need to come up with a new dream ride. I just don't think it is Mexico and Central America. Not right now.
If you read Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos, or Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, you will understand that time and space are linked; that bodies in motion over great distances will pass the time more slowly than those at rest. It is therefore not incorrect to say that the Beagle is a time machine, and that for riding it I have extended my life about one quadrillionth of a second. But I have enriched it infinitely more than that. Keep moving, people.
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