Sunday, November 28, 2010
Louise has recently moved from Nashville to Charlotte, NC and made the trip from Charlotte to Aiken to join her mother and I for Thanksgiving.
Her husband, Shane, would join us on Wednesday.
Louise was anticipating putting her new digital camera to use while we were riding.
Here is her contribution:
Friday, November 26, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Alaska and the Arctic Circle (Updated 11/20/2010)
This journal is dedicated to Jeff Van Syckle and his wife Kay.
Jeff was a very close friend. We shared stories, swapped lies, and exposed our inner weaknesses to one another as though we were brothers. We became this close by riding long distances on our motorcycles. We lost Jeff to cancer this year. Luckier than most, I guess, I have had the good fortune to have had more than my share of good friends and I can confirm the old saw:
If you have two friends in your lifetime, you're lucky. If you have one good friend, you're more than lucky."
---Bryon Douglas, That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton
These are the zero dark thirty musings of a chronic insomniac who also happens to be motorcycle enthusiast. I write this to offset a memory that is in serious retrograde and for my own amusement. If I misspoke or dented someone’s feelings, I can assure you it was not intentional.
Let it also be known that this adventure would never have been possible had it not been for the love, tolerance and good will of our respective spouses. We left them alone to deal with headaches of everyday challenges. Each performed magnificently and I thank them all for their sacrifices.
The Cast of Characters
Like all stories, this one has its share of players.
During a previous trip to the four corners of the US in 2008, one of my fellow riders, Stu Schippereit, and I were discussing how we would top this trip once the four corners trip was over. I told Stu that I had already begun the mental planning for a trip to... Stu breaks into my sentence and energetically states "Alaska". At first I was amazed at the coincidence but put that aside and said, "how about next year". Stu said that 2009 was out because of a family trip already in the works. We agreed to plan for 2010.
Stu is a retired Navy Commander living in Key West, FL who, at one time, had been a customer of mine when I was a project manager for two firms, ATI and PRC domiciled in Crystal City, VA. Stu was a naval intelligence officer, a Spook, and for reasons that still seem weird to me today, we struck up a relationship that was something just a little more than customer/vendor. After I left the government support business, many years went by before I ran into Stu again. This time the contact was made via a mutual friend, Ed Moore, who advised me that Stu was a Harley rider. I have no idea why, after almost four years of seeing Stu every work day, I did not pick up on the fact that he was a motorcycle rider. Must be my acute sense of observation. In any event, I contacted Stu and we agreed to meet at a friends house just outside Jacksonville, FL and then ride to Daytona for Bike Week. That was March 2003. Since that time, Stu and I have had plenty opportunities to get together on our Harleys and enjoyed the experiences.
I started planning this trip the week I got back from the four corners trip. Just a little over two years. Stu, however, was instrumental in putting together the coordination for our stay in Denali National Park and researched the Alaska Highway (ALCAN), the weather, gas and lodging availability , etc. Stu's Spook mind naturally lends itself to mistrust of all things trusted. Well, perhaps not all but most all things. So he tweezed out data from the web and the record of all things Canadian/Alaska highways, "The Milepost". This book, published annually, tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the highways in western Canada and Alaska. When I say everything, that is what it has...everything. Each highway has a journal written on its entire length that points out, gas, history, lodging, camping, road conditions, weather, fishing camps, construction, good places to eat, drink and sleep, traditions, laws, dos and don'ts. Everything!
After all this work and anticipation, it was not to be for Stu. While doing some handyman work at his mother-in-laws, he cut his left hand bad enough to require stitches. He received the wound close enough to our departure to question whether it would be ready for the trip. In addition, Stu had had some work done on his bike in preparation for the trip. Subsequent to the maintenance, Stu discovered that the clutch was not disengaging the transmission properly so he was unable to shift gears normally. A few days before he was to depart, the clutch caused him to drop the bike. In the process of righting the bike, he did a job on his back. He called the day he was to depart and advised me that the hand, the back and the condition of the bike was going to make it impossible for him to make the trip. I was speechless. All that work he did; all the anticipation, the disappointment he must be experiencing came down on me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to cry. but guys don't do that so we swapped some inane words of condolence, said our good buys and hung up.
The trip would not be the same without Stu and I knew it and I was profoundly saddened. I made a promise to myself that we would do our best to keep him in the loop as we traveled.
Rider number two is Rex Decker. Rex once lived in the same subdivision that I do now, Cedar Creek. We came to know each other through resident golf matches and short distance rides through out Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Rex and I were also members of a very loose knit group of motorcycle enthusiast residing here in the Cedar Creek subdivision. As participants within the Cedar Creek motorcycling community, we made several trips to the Honda Hoot in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN. But our first ride of substance was when we rode to the Sturgis, SD bike rally in 2005. This ride was about 4,600 miles in length. Our second long trip was to the west coast and took place after Rex returned to Oklahoma to take care of family matters there. On this trip, we road through Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. We picked up our wives at the airport in Seattle, WA and road the coast roads through Washington, Oregon and California. Our wives flew back to their respective homes from California and Rex and I returned via the bikes.
This trip, for me, was 9,600 miles in length and took about 24 days. With this history, I put the idea of an Alaska trip to Rex. He had some considerations that he had to coordinate with his family, but he managed to have his bride, Deb, fly to Denver where she met Rex who had ridden his bike from Broken Arrow, OK to Denver. They toured Yellowstone on the bike then made the trek out to Vancouver, BC where they met me and Dick Ward.
Dick Ward, Peter Room, Jackal all names that were part of a successful career in the Marine Corps. Dick and I served together in two F-4 training squadrons, VMFAT-201 on the east coast in Cherry Pt. NC and VMFAT-101 in Yuma, Arizona. Like Stu and Rex, I am lucky to be able to call Dick one of my very best friends.
In Dick's case, however, our families were able to do things together that I was not able to do with Rex and Stu. We did all the things that most military families do together when you are stationed on the same base, but we also made camping trips to the White Mountains of Arizona, the parched banks of the Gila River, the shores of Lake Havasue and the beaches of San Filipe on he eastern coast of the Baja Peninsula. But most of all, we rode a set of Kawasaki Enduro 250's in the deserts surrounding Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, AZ. This is where we learned, the hard way, how to ride motorcycles. These desert rides could be a journal unto themselves but time and memory prohibit me from doing it justice.
In Yuma, I concocted a rare disease called Coccidioidomycosis or Valley Fever. and I was in the hospital for about four months and on limited duty for six months. During that time, Dick got a set of orders to go the University of Arizona in Flagstaff where he completed his undergraduate degree and masters in Bartending and Show girls. He would need both for his upcoming career in the Corps. These two events separated us from each other for about ten years until we met up as staff officers in the Department of Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps, Navy Annex, Arlington, VA. Our jobs and the separation of our homes prevented the reintegration of our lives. We saw each other mostly in official Marine Corps settings, but the separation was deepened when he retired and went to work for American Airlines and then I retired and went to work at a real job as a beltway bandit.
About 21 years pass and Dick reads a comment on Facebook from my Margaret about something, I don't remember what and he writes to say hello. (Dick's daughter, Kelly, [Dick calls her Phred], used to work with Margaret and I as a technical writer in our IT department of a mortgage company. Margaret and Kelly are friends on Facebook. Kelly and her Dad are friends on Facebook. This stuff goes on forever. I hate Facebook.
Back to the hello. Dick bust my chops for not keeping in touch... as if he had been writing to me for two decades. With that out of the way, we talk and motorcycles enters the conversation. He says he now lives in DeLand, Fl. but sold his Harley when he left NY to come south. So he is bike less. I mentioned my four corners trip and asked him if he would be interested in reading my journal. He feigns interest so I send it to him anyway.
The most minor of acts can sometimes have an out of proportion consequence. This is one of those times. Dick is fascinated with trip. He calls me and is really excited about riding again. I counter with something helpful like, "Talk is cheap. You got more money than God. Go buy a bike". I am known nation wide for my personal empathy. We discuss bikes and what he might get. I also tell him that the Cedar Creek, the development where I live, motorcycle group has a ride planned to Pigeon Forge, TN in the next month and he is welcome to join us if he can. Apparently, that was all Dick needed. He did some quick shopping and to everyone's surprise, he buys a 2009 Victory Vision. The bike is George Jetson modern, but beautiful in a way that requires some getting used to. It is also a well designed and moving machine.
Dick joins us in Pigeon Forge and sooner or later the talk turns to Alaska. (Thought I would never get there, huh?) I ask Dick if he would be interested in joining us on the trip. He quickly and properly demurs because he has a 16 year old bonus baby and does not want to spend six weeks away from his boy at this age. We drop the subject. It is now May. Some weeks after the mountain trip, Dick calls me and wants to know if he is still invited on the Alaska trip. I eagerly tell him yes and he says that he surfaced the subject with his wife Chris and was surprised when Chris was all for the trip and recommended he do it before the ravages of time took their toll and he might be physically restricted in some way. Dick was a go! What a hoot! I could barely contain myself. A great trip with really good friends.
We have the group, sadly without Stu. Now all that is left is last minute planning, updating equipment, PMs for the bikes, new tires and practice loading all of our stuff.
For this much stuff we needed check lists like this one:
|Air mattress and bag||Charge blower||y|
|Mineral Oil and two rags||y|
|Spare head set||y|
|Spare medication containers||y|
|Tie Downs 6||y|
|SAE and Metric Allen Wrenches||y|
|Tire repair kit||y|
|Tire inflation kit||y|
|Small wrench set||y|
|Plastic cleaner 2||y|
|Micro rags 6||y|
|Fuses: Many and Multiple Amps||y|
|Blue Jeans 3||y|
|Socks 6 summer 2 W.||y|
|Shoes 1 loafers||y|
|long sleeve shirt 3||y|
|sweater/sweat shirt 1||NO|
|First Gear under gear 2||y|
|Head Bug net||y|
|Rain Suit 1 set||y|
|Gators 1 set||y|
|First Gear Jacket 1||y|
|First Gear Pants 1||y|
|Heated jacket liner 1||y|
|Joe Rocket Jacket 1||y|
|Summer Jacket 1||y|
|Heated Controller 1||y|
|Heated Gloves 1 pair||y|
|Summer Gloves 1 pair||y|
|Medium Gloves 1 pair||y|
|Cooling Vest and Bag||y|
|Razors, one pack||y|
|Eyeglass cleaning rag||y|
|Beard trimmer and charger||y|
|First Aid Kit|
|Pepcid (Famotidine) 10mg||y|
|Cepacol Throat losenges||y|
|No Doz 200mg||y|
|Chap Stick 3||y|
|Band Aids Multiple||y|
|After Bite Anti Itch||y|
|Icy Hot Balm||y|
|Sunscreen 50 Cream||y|
|Tylenol Cold Gels||y|
|Cell Phone||Check numbers on list||y|
|Electronic Chargers and Cables|
|Camera Charger and USB Cable||y|
|iPod Charger device and Cord||y|
|Cell phone charger and cable||y|
|Thumb drives 2||y|
|Three plug adapter||y|
|Laptop power cables + USB cables||y|
|DVD Player/Burner with cables||y|
|Registration for Bike||y|
|Proof of Insurance + Canada||Policy numbers on phone||y|
|Copies of credit cards||y|
|Copies of all ID cards||y|
|Copy of Drivers License||y|
|Copy of Bill of Sale for bike||y|
|Copy of Title for Bike||y|
|Duplicate of all this for Stu, Dick or Rex||y|
|Notify credit card companies||y|
|Ensure insurance, registration, and license decal do not expire while on the trip.||y|
|Ferry and Denali paperwork||y|
|Keys to Motorcycle||One on you, one in external luggage|
If this trip was nothing, it was planned. It was planned down to the nats back side.
Dick leaves DeLand Florida on 4 July and meets me half way between DeLand and Aiken and we both ride to Aiken to Remain Over Night (RON). On the same day, Stu leaves Key West and rides as far as he is comfortable and RONs. The 5th of July, Dick and Gus leave Aiken and arrive at Louse's (my daughter) house in Nashville, TN where we will meet Stu and all three of us will RON at Louise's house. The three of us will depart Nashville, TN on the AM of the sixth and make a short ride to the west side of St. Louis, MO.
We will crash at 1800 and sleep until midnight when we will arise and pack all our stuff and be ready to hit the road at 0100. The goal...ride 1000 miles, about Sundance Wyoming, before 0100 the following day. We will RON in the area of Moorcroft, Wy on the evening of the 7th.. Depending on our progress, we will try to ride through Sturgis and photograph the Vision in front of the Harley dealership.
ONLY READ FURTHER if you are a masochist for detail. The 8th we leave Moorcroft and proceed to Cody, Wy and RON. 9th to Great Falls, Mt. and RON. 10th to Calgary, Alberta and RON, 11th to Jasper, Alberta and back to Lake Louise with a RON in Revelstoke, BC. 12th to Surrey BC RON. 13th meet Rex and Deb and visit Buchart Gardens. RON in Victoria, BC. 14th and 15th ride Vancouver Island RON where ever. 16th we put Deb on a plane and depending on its departure time head north. In any case, we have to be headed north from Vancouver NLT the 17 so we can meet the ferry in Prince Rupert. 17th depart Vancouver for Quesnel, BC and RON. 18th depart Quesnel and RON in the Hazeltons, BC. 19th Depart Hazeltons and visit Hyder, Alaska and return to Prince Rupert for a RON. 20th board the ferry for Haines, Alaska. Disembark from the ferry at o'dark thirty in Haines on the 22nd and ride to Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory and RON. 23rd depart Beaver Creek and make to Fairbanks, Alaska for a day of rest. RON 23rd and 24th. Real early get up on the 25th to make a 0730 show time for the Denali Tour. Before we left, we changed this to no rest and RON outside of Denali on the PM of the 24th. RON the 25th outside Denali. Depart the 26th for the Yukon River. Somewhere in here we had some communications with the Harley, Honda, BMW and Victory dealership in Fairbanks and he painted a very bleak picture for those trying to make the Arctic Circle on touring bikes like ours. So we decided to put the continuance of the trip to the circle in limbo until we got there and looked at the road ourselves. Also, Deb was scheduled for some medical procedures and Rex had to be home by the 8th or 9th of August. This would be impossible if he were to attempt the ride to Cold Foot and back and still make Broken Arrow in time.
So we basically put the plan in action through the Denali Tour and then everything would be by the seat of our pants. Generally, however, we would do or not do the Circle and then proceed to Anchorage and RON. Then to Homer . RON and press on to Seward and back to Anchorage. The last legs of the trip would be from Anchorage via Hwy 1 to Tot, Alaska and the ride the ALCAN all the way to Dawson's Creek. From there it was across Alberta into Saskatchewan; down through the Dakotas into Iowa where we would visit the Victory Vision assembly plant. Down to Broken Arrow, OK where Dick and I would RON two nights before hitting the road for Key West. From Key West to DeLand for Dick and I and a rendezvous with Dick's brother John and the rest of the Ward family. The next day I was off to Home.
Like all well made or ill made plans, this one had some substantial changes, most of which actually made the trip better. Read on for the execution of the plan.
As a general rule, most riders try to avoid riding on the "Slab". The slab is any interstate or interstate looking road. The reasons for this aversion are various:
1. Lots of big trucks are dangerous to motorcycles (From here on, I will refer to a motorcycle as a bike.) Here's why: a) They have dramatic wind currents that blow out from their vehicles and these currents buffet and push a bike around a lot. This fact alone would keep me off the slab. Also, riding in dense traffic and around trucks requires a lot of focus, much more than you would use in cage (Cage is bike for car). The result, for me, is early fatigue in a days ride. As all of us know, fatigue foreshadows poor decisions. b) Each tractor trailer on the road possesses eighteen ticking time bombs. That's right. Its tires. You can not drive a slab and not see huge chunks of rubber from the tires of these eighteen wheelers scattered all over the road. This rubber comes from tires exploding or being torn to shreds after they go flat. Bikers call these chunks of rubber alligators or gators. They are bad juju if you hit one. c) These trucks hide large portions of the road and anything that might be lying in the road. So if a truck straddles a gator and you are right behind the truck there may not be enough reaction time for you to avoid the hazard. Trucks can also hit a gator and get it airborne. A truck can hit anything and get it airborne. Its not just gators. Think of all the detritus you have encountered on the slab. None of that stuff is friendly to bikes. Of course, the closer you follow the truck the worse it gets. d) In rain, dust or any other visibility limiting environment, trucks make it worse. This is especially true if you are passing or are being passed by a truck. There is not a driver out there who has been in the safety of a cage and not been frightened by the loss of visibility and situational awareness when a truck either splashed lots of water on your windshield or created is own water cloud as it goes down the road. So place yourself on a bike and you are in the right lane of a slab and its raining moderately. You are passed by a truck and engulfed in the mist. So, you got the wind pushing you around and you now have water on both sides of your windshield, no wipers of course, water on both sides of your face shield and water on perhaps two sides of your glasses. You are now blind for however long it takes the water to blow off your see through surfaces. Being blind to your surroundings when the traffic is blowing by at 70 mph and cars are flying up your backside and you see fellow bikers jammed up against each other under an overpass in a thunderstorm drive you to quickly ask yourself...what the hell am I doing here. We don't want to be there. We then seek an overpass to wait out a storm or we get off the slab and do something else, almost anything else.
2. Believe it or not, there are drivers out there who will intentionally attempt to do you harm. Most of us have experienced some kind of crazy. There are less of them on two lane back roads.
3. There are also drivers who are not crazy, but don't believe that bikers are real soft skinned people. They do not respect the bikers place in their society and as such neglect to show a biker the same consideration that they would another cage.
4. Mostly unsaid but accepted by even the most considerate of drivers is the fact they know, down deep, if they push the rules with a biker, the biker will ALWAYS lose. So, we travel the two lane back roads whenever possible and almost completely avoid these hazards.
Road surfaces come in several varieties but are mainly dependent on the weather at the site of the road. Most interstate highways are surfaced with concrete. This is a smooth surface, except for the occasional section that has elevated expansion gaps. In this case you will have the irritation of the thump, thump, thump as the gaps slap the both tires of the bike. Since we do not spend much time on these kinds of roads, I will let that description do.
State, county and city/town roads are generally of the asphalt aggregate mixture type. These roads do not have the half life of an interstate, but they cost a lot less as well. For the most part, these roads are more than adequate for safe biking. There are some farm to market roads that are surfaced with macadam. A macadam road has, through history, changed a great deal. The idea of the Macadam road was that it could have its roadbed made from local soils vice trucking in clays or loam type soils. The first roads just had small stones that would pass through a two inch metal ring and rolled onto the road bed. With the advent of the motorcar, these roads would deteriorate by vehicles sucking up the soil around the stones in the form of dust. Wait long enough, and the stones would start to separate and the road would come apart. To fix this, road builders would seal the stones with coal tar and later on with asphalt referred to a blacktop. Although very functional, these roads are very rough and are hard on tires and machines.
Finally, you have the roads that must carry traffic regardless of the weather. The are called "All Weather Roads", what else. No known surface material will withstand the pressures generated by ice ridges or heaves under the road or road bed. Consequently, these roads have substantial road beds but dirt and gravel surfaces. This makes the road "economical" to repair. These roads are found, mostly, in the remote regions of Canada and Alaska on this continent. These roads have two condition states: Rough and dusty or rough and slick as hell. If they are wet, its no place for a touring bike.
To finish, what's a road without a road sign. Those of you who have suffered the boredom to read this far know as much about road signs as I do. However, there are some subtle meanings in signs. For example, if you are riding on a state asphalt road that has a painted center line and you see a yellow diamond with an arrow indicating a turn, your only concern is any blind spot that the curve might generate, but that is all. Your speed can stay constant. If the speed limit is 55 and you see the above sign with a yellow speed number associated with it, this speed is only a recommendation. In our case if the speed is 45, you need not disengaged the cruise control. Just roll into the curve and enjoy the turn. If the sign says 35 you come out of cruise control cover both the hand break, foot break and the clutch and enter the turn able to slow down if required. If the sign says 25, you slow down and judge your speed based on the turn. If the sign looks like a snake with an arrow head on the top you know that there are multiple turns ahead and you can allow yourself a wry smile and begin to set up for the turns.
Curves on the road are the grist that feeds the pleasure, satisfaction and pride that are part of the biking experience. To carve a turn properly takes experience and practice and a healthy respect for the road, the limitations of your bike and most important, your own personal skill and experience limitations. Be honest about your own limitations and there is much satisfaction in your future.
To derive the most pleasure and keep it safe for all to ride another day requires you to take into account some stuff about the road you are on at the time. Is it dry? Is there commercial traffic? How experienced are your fellow riders? Any wet leaves, manhole covers, sand on gravel on the road. To best of your ability you must know these goblins to do it right.
The perfect curve? Who knows! For me the turn is more than a 100 degrees. Its nice if the road is banked into the turn. One year old asphalt aggregate. No traffic. The road surface dry and free of debris. Most important... three well experienced riders.
On this leg, Rex has the lead, Dick is second and I am taking up the rear. We run a staggered formation with the leader owning the left half of our side of the road with Dick on the right half and me back on the left half. We ride on state and county roads with about two to three seconds of separation from nose to tail. At this interval, we are close enough to see small changes in relative motion and still gives ourselves room to stop or slow down if the bike in front needs to break for some reason. If the speed limit is 55, we will be within four mph of that number.
We are relaxed from doing this for thousands of miles together. For Dick and I, that trust and confidence extends to when we flew F-4s in the Marine Corps in VMFAT-101. It is all so familiar. We spot the sign telling us a curve is coming. A small butt adjustment and perhaps a change of the hand on the throttle and clutch lever. The left foot is positioned to down or up shift as required. Muscles are relaxed but you begin to focus your senses. Scanning gages, the road and your riding partners. Dick rides the Victory Vision and it has relatively large mirrors. I can actually look into his face. Dick is a handsome dude with the quickest smile in Florida. But now he is focused. Eyes intent on Rex but his features are calm with a subtle sense of anticipation. His eyes come to me once to check my position then immediately back to the road ahead. Rex leads us into the turn and sets a bank angle that will carve the turn so we reach the apex of the turn with precision. It is a thing of beauty. Three 900 pound bikes make three identical banking moves and lock into the turn. For just a few seconds your finger tips make very small throttle corrections and your big muscles are perfectly still. I can still see Dick in his windows to the soul. As Rex reaches the apex, he begins to squeeze on the throttle so we come out of the turn accelerating. Dick and I have to be quick with the gas so as to not get sucked in the turn. (In aviation flying, being out of position by falling back from the correct position is referred to as getting sucked in the formation. There is no other meaning!!) As we exit the turn, we make any adjustments needed to get back into formation. As we do, I have one of those rare experiences in my life. I come inside to check my speed. When I look up I see Dick in his left mirror. He is looking directly at me and all I can see is teeth. The skin around his eyes is crinkled so much he looks almost Asian. I know this look. His smile expresses what I am feeling. These three aging bikers recall past years but hold no false thoughts that we are the same as we were then. But we remember. We take pride in knowing that we still have a little of the right stuff and are able to put together the experiences of a lifetime and blend them with the current gifts that a creator saw fit to endow to our minds and bodies. The result, unknown to anyone else, is an act of precision of the interface between men and their machines. It is something, in which, I take unashamed pride. We do not do it this well all the time. But we try.
However, as I write these sentences, it comes to me that this feeling is the hardest thing to relate to others. Even if I could express my emotions properly and the listener actually understood the concept of what I was trying to transfer, I am just a little saddened and disappointed that many attach so little value to what I am feeling. When I showed this paragraph to Dick, he took exception and believes that this is a perception that is misplaced. On more than one occasion, however, I have had folks express that this adventure is silly for a man of my age. Silly or not, I wish that all who read this could have the joy Rex, Dick and I experienced on this trip.
I brighten, however, when I consider the words to Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem in which he says:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
I hold it true, no matter the quest;
I feel it most with wind in my face;
'Tis better to have ridden in jest
Than never to have taken the test.
My regrets to Lord Tennyson!
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 1
During my last journal writing, I chose, because I did not think about it, to write in some sort of stream of consciousness. I did not give much, if any, thought to how events were organized and whether that had any impact on the enjoyment of the reader. Since I do this for myself, it did not seem to matter. In fact, I do not know if it did matter, but I thought I would generally follow the trip in some rough chronological order but not be a slave to day 1, day 2, day3, etc. There will be some of that out of necessity, but my plan is to tell the tales as we experienced them along the way.
Having said all that...on day one...5 July 2010 after a major photo session, Dick and I are headed north west to RON at my daughter's house in Nashville, TN. We are not alone! Almost a dozen of my regular Tuesday riding group have come out for breakfast and to escort us out of town and to lunch with us at the Fitzpatrick Hotel in Washington, GA. What a great bunch of guys!
The visit with Louise and Shane was such fun. Louise and Dick had not seen each other since the 70's so they had a lot to catch up on and only a short time to do it. Shane and I took up our usual postures as experts on Constitutional Law and began hammering each other over the nuances of the 10th Amendment. Who teaches these kids to day? What kind of legal instructor postures that the 10th Amendment has been overcome by events at the hands of the Supreme Court. Well...this ole southern boy is still strong believer in those powers not delegated in the Constitution belong to the several states. Wait! This is motorcycle story not an article rebuttal to David Brooks or Paul Krugman of the NYTs. Shane may change my mind, but I love the verbal back and forth. Louise hates this and if it had not been for Dick taking up her time, she would have hushed the two of us up. It was a great visit and I was not all that happy to depart early the next AM.
Since our trip, Louise has been down sized out of a job, her husband saw no future in his current law position so they have taken the bold stroke to bet on Shane and two of his law school buddies to make a go at a practice in Charlotte, NC. Louise is still in Nashville finishing out her tour in her old firm to ensure that the stay bonuses are upheld, while Shane is in Charlotte doing lawyer stuff. Good luck to them both.
Here is a slick way to win a drink at the bar! Bet you can't tell me who and where the artist that did the Popeye cartoons lived. They will never know, but now you do. His name was E. C. Segars and he was born and raised in Chester, IL. The town is way proud of this favored son as the pics will attest.
The next leg on the 6th of July is intentionally a short one to the west side of St. Louis, MO. I say short because we check into a motel right off I-70 after just 374 miles. We do this short leg in preparation for the upcoming staged event, the attempt by Dick to qualify for the Iron Butt Association's Saddle Sore certificate.
Now there may one or two of you out there who's life style does not bring you into contact with those who are thus raised above the masses of motorcyclist. Those who are officially certified are considered the toughest riders in the world. Walter Brennan would say, "No brag, just fact".
To be certified, you must be able to PROVE that you have ridden a 1,000 miles in under 24 hours, or 1,500 miles in under 36 hours, or 11,000 miles in under 11 days or, ultimately, 100,000 in less than 365 days.
By prove, I mean you must have an individual on either end of your route who will affirm to an Iron Butt official that you departed on this date, at that time, from this gas station to the same data at the end of the route. You must receive and save all gas receipts. You must stop at a gas station, even if you do not need gas, and get some gas so that you can get a receipt proving that you made a turn at this location and did not cut the hypotenuse off of a triangle in your route. They are very strict. They do not allow two riders trying for a qualification to ride together. Looks like racing to the press. (I could ride with Dick because I was already certified.) If you were riding the Saddle Sore event of 1000 miles, you could theoretically ride, non-stop for 24 hours and never exceed 45 miles per hour. What do you get if you qualify? A certificate. A Iron Butt Association license plate holder and the pride that goes with doing something special.
So we hit the hay at 6PM and got up at midnight on the 7th. We packed all our gear and drove to the first gas station for Dick to get his first receipt. Dick has the lead because navigation is an important part of the certification.
Its 1AM and we do the classic clover leaf turns onto I-70 west out of St. Louis. The night is cool and clear and the traffic on the slab is sparse. It's perfect. We settle in with the cruise controls between 65 and 70 and the miles just melt under our Dunlop Elite 3s.
This may be a good place for me to diverge for a moment. There is a cold fact about aging. It sucks. For me, I have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnea. The RLS is mostly under control through medication, but the docs are still wrestling with the sleep apnea. Bottom line, I don't sleep much and that sleep that I do get is not REM sleep so I get very sleepy when I sit, recline or lay down during the day. Most importantly, this happens when I drive a car or ride a motorcycle. Falling asleep behind the wheel of a car is really dangerous. Doing the same on motorcycle is much worse. I have expensive medication that is supposed to help with the sleeping on the road but it is not always effective. I have been this way for years but now my riding must always take into effect the need to pull over and take a break when I feel myself getting drowsy. Its no joke and I use every tool I can find to stay alert. If I am doing the leading, the mental activity of navigating, listening to the jerks on cable TV via XM radio or digging my rock and rolla music from the MP3 player in my GPS helps. Doing anything that will grab my attention so that my mind does not wander. I NEVER take this for granted and we make many stops to address my lethargy.
With that out of the way, I find myself watching Dick's bike out of the corner of my eye because to stare at it is mesmerizing. Passing double trailer trucks helps. Being passed by double trailer trucks is also an eye opener. Pun intended.
The wind makes a subtle vibration as it momentarily caresses the clear polymer of my windshield then dashes past the trailing edge and tags me on the helmet as it vanishes into the darkness behind me. Now, the black air is nothing more than a diminishing vortex awaiting its destiny of following traffic.
This is the first of many surreal stimuli that repeatedly brings me back to this Zen like state. My body is completely relaxed but my senses are active and focused. Its like an opiate without all the bad after affects. I am quick to admit that it is also addictive.
Dick and I swap some pics of each other in the darkness and then await the glory and magnificence of a sunrise that will appear over our right shoulders. What is really cool is that we witness this beauty through the optics of our rear view mirrors. If there are any clouds, and there are, the light from the east will start to illuminate the ones right above our heads, then the sky in your mirror will start to glow bright orange until the first crescent of sun breaks the horizon. On this AM, it's too bright to look right at it.
For folks like me who have doubts about the idea of a god worthy of adoration, I have no doubts about the existence of a creator. A Creator capable of designing and executing the laws of nature that gave us the sight to see and the intellect to appreciate a vision that opens like the stage curtains of a New York play right here on the prairie of Kansas. Behold the wonder of our solar system! Did I mention Zen like experiences?
Our route takes us west on I-70 to Kansas City then north on I-29 to I-90 and west on that road until we get into the area of Sundance, Wyoming. Like I said, that was the plan. Somewhere on I-29, Dick and I agree over the CB radio we need two things; food and gas. Dick says we will take the next exit and fill up our tummies and tanks. He grabs the next exit and its the wrong one. This turn has us wandering many of the back roads of Missouri while Dick tries to get us back on track. This is a diversion and cuts into our Iron Butt timing.
Never look a diversion in the face! This short sojourn turns out to be a welcome break from the slab and we get a bonus of nice rolling farm land on good roads. It is from the unexpected that good things happen. Dick finally gets us squared away as the gas in our tanks is starting to turn into fumes. We stop at a little town, unknown, to get gas and its closed. Must be Sunday. We finally pull into the Golden Arches near I-29 for some breakfast and run into a situation that we will experience for the balance of the trip. There are so many places where old men gather at breakfast time to have coffee or just past the time and socialize with their buddies. It happens everywhere. In this case, however, this was the first and last time we saw a group gathered in a McDonalds. The town was Aultville, MO. See pic nearby. We came across a group at an A&W in Canada though. (Update Nov 20, 2010: Jackal informed me that the McDonald's was not in Aultville, MO. He is right. Aultville, MO is on I-70 not I-29 and the McDonalds is in Missouri Valley, Iowa)
I never take a picture of a group like this until I ask their permission. Normally, I introduce myself as a retired Marine (some times this puts some at rest if they served in the military) on a long motorcycle trip and I like to take pictures of the folks I meet so that I can remember them at a later time. In only one case was I asked not to take a picture. This happened in Cody, WY when the young girl behind the counter in a motel asked me not to take her picture. Characteristically, there is almost always someone who is not real happy about the picture taking. In this case, take a look at the gentleman in the orange shirt on the right of the pic. He never looked at me the entire time I was talking to his group. Most, however, are courteous and pleasant to talk to. If you want to know what's happening in town, these guys will know. You will experience on more than one occasion gatherings of this type in this journal. We fill the gut; go across the street and fill the tanks and back to I-29 for the continuation of the assault on the Iron Butt. Going west now on I-90 headed for Sturgis, SD so Dick can photograph his Vision in front of a Harley dealership in Sturgis.
Half way across South Dakota I see an exit sign for Pierre (pronounced pier) the capital of SD. Pierre triggers a memory from the four corners trip when Stu, Steve Sena and myself went looking for a place to eat and ended up at restaurant nine miles south of Pierre called the Cattleman's Club. We met a young man who served us at the bar and his name was Austin. His family owned and operated the place using family labor. Here is why I remember the place. See pics close by. Best piece of beef I ever put in my mouth. Nicest young man you would ever want to meet.
With my mouth watering, I get on the phone (my bike has Bluetooth technology through my GPS which is integrated in the bike's sound system so I can make a call without touching the phone. It's really cool.) and call the Cattleman's Club and guess who answers the phone? Yup, its Austin. No way can he remember meeting us but I retell the story anyway. I ask if I can make a reservation for dinner on our way back from Alaska. He advises that they do not take reservations but if I call a couple of hours before we get into Pierre he will make sure our wait is short. What a guy! We exchange pleasantries and I close the call. Man...I can't wait to sink my teeth into one of their steaks again. I share all of this over the CB with Dick and we press on towards Sturgis. I bet I think of the Cattleman's Club every day for the rest of the trip. I will pick up the rest of the tale as we return to SD on way home.
Very relaxed. I am a very lucky person. The miles just slide by and its again time to refuel. We use the exit for Murdo, SD and are greeted with an interesting sight.
It's an add for an auto museum. I wish we had time to stop and check it out, but gas and miles are our primary interest. The next gas stop is in Wasta, SD. It has the first completely self serve set of gas pumps I have ever seen. We gas up but need something to put in our tummies, and we motor over about 100 yards to a mercantile of some stripe. I am not sure mercantile is the right word but the door is open and the place is absolutely deserted. I sing out, but there is no answer. We pack it in and remount to go a little deeper into the village. At the first turn there is the Dixie Diner where you honk for hops. See the pics nearby. There is a very nice young lady tending the place and there are no customers. What a bizarre place. We buy some candy because they don't have fountain sodas so no ice for the cup holder. We say a pleasant farewell to the nice lady and head off down the slab.
Now here is the thing. We have been riding for more than twelve hours and I do not feel it at all. I check Dick on the CB and he swears he is a fresh as a daisy. Well... if I was riding a bike that looked like his, daisy is probably the right word. How come he is not as fresh as sorghum or barley? Check out the bike!
The day is beyond clear. You can see forever. Check the pic nearby. We eat up the miles and role into downtown Sturgis as fresh as... well, you know! We ride up and down the main drag checking out the place and it is another world compared to Bike Week. I lead us over to the Harley dealership and dismount to take a pic of Dick, the Vision and Sturgis Harley dealership in the background. You might know. Here come the looky loos who want to have sex with Dick's Vision. I am not kidding. Bikers from all over the continent drool in it's presence. Its beyond disgusting and it goes on the entire trip. Oh well, jealousy is an evil thing, it will eat you up from the inside out and make you look foolish. So what do I have to worry about? I will not give Dick the pleasure of admitting he has a cool bike. So, if I am jealous, and I am not, I would never let Dick know. So I capture a group of Harley old guys lusting over the Vision in a Sturgis Harley parking lot no less. Oh! the loss of face for these bikers.
OK, enough of this stalling. I pull Dick away from his admirers and point him down the road to the Iron Butt thingy. We can see the end in sight. The rest of the ride is truly uneventful and we cross Sundance, WY with hours to spare. However, the mileage on the GPS and our odometers don't match so we press on another ten or twenty miles to make sure we have covered 1000.
We end up in Moorcroft, WY pleasantly bushed and find a nice motel in town. We hog up on foot longs out of the local Subway and return to the room to unwind, refuel the body, check in with our brides to refuel the soul and crash early. Man what a day and a half. Dick and I will remember it until the end of days.
Next day return to the homestead. All in the next chapter.
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 2
If you look at a map, you will see that Hulett, Wyoming is north east from Moorcroft. North east is not the way we are headed, but remember...never pass up a side trip if you have the time. Dick was having a conversation with Chris, his bride, on our family check in after the completion of the Iron Butt. He happened to mention that Hulett, Chris' ancestral home, was only a short way away and it reminded him of their trip to Hulett where Dick had a chance to meet Chris' grand mother.
Wow! Chris got all excited and wanted Dick to go and take a picture of the manse before nature or man destroyed the home. This was all sorts of fun for me because I got to watch Dick dance around wanting to make Chris happy but not wanting to put a dent in our travel plans. Dick gave me this doe eyed look of supplication and I smiled knowingly and agreed that this would be easy to do. Had no clue it was going to such fun.
A quick map study and it turns out a trip to Hulett will have us pass the Devils Tower which is always fun. Dick also remembered that Hulett had this cool place to eat breakfast. We rolled out early and headed out to Hulett leaving Moorcroft and The Rangeland Motel and RV Park with its very nice hostess behind. It was crisp and clear with the sun a half circle on the horizon. I never get over the majesty that accompanies the morning sunrise. The road to Hulett is wonderfully curvy, dry, clean, empty and filled with beautiful vistas. Check out the pics nearby. Jackal, aka Dick and I pull into the little town of Hulett and right there on the main street is the Ponderosa Cafe and Bar, the place Dick remembered having breakfast.
We tie up our steeds at the curb, and saunter into the cafe portion of the building. The place is jumping and right in the middle is Hulett's version of the men's club. The difference here, it appears, is that this group of guys are working farmers or ag guys of some kind. They give us the once over as we come in then return to their eggs, bacon, hash browns and coffee. This part of the world has not yet been properly indoctrinated on the food group called grits so when in Hulett do hash browns.
We grab a table and a another nice lady comes over and takes our order. Before she leaves, Jackal asked her if she knew Chris' family. She says she does not but that the guy in the lower left hand corner of the Hulett's Men Club picture probably would. Jackal is not bashful so he walks up to the group, makes his regrets for interrupting their conversation, and then seeks the information he needs. Turns out, it always does, the guy in the picture was a student in the high school that Chris' grand father was the principle. The guy, I never heard his name, still recalled the disciplinarian that his principal was. Jackal gets the location of the house and we sit down to a mound of food.
Once our delicate appetites are sated, we mount up and go house hunting. We drive a block and a half, and there it is. We take pictures for Chris and pause to savor the moment while attempting to bring back some of our own memories of these days gone by. We back track our way to Moorcroft where we gas up before hitting the trail toward Cody, Wy. All in all, the side trip was more than worth the small delay and we got some terrific riding out of the deal.
We stop for gas in Gillette, Wy and I note with horror that my cell phone has gone missing from my hip. It pains me to admit that this loss is only the tip of an ugly iceberg. My short term memory is only a faint glow from my past. I forget everything that just happened. I can not leave the house without returning at least twice to get something I should have remembered. Hell, sometimes I forget what I forgot and why I am standing like an idiot in the hall with no clue why I am there. The humor in this condition soon fades like the memory that sparked the conversation. If you ask Rex or Dick they will tell you that I lost my keys three times a day at a minimum. I refuse to put keys back in the same place each time I finish using them. Is this a lack of discipline? No...its just that I DON'T REMEMBER TO PUT THEM IN THE SAME PLACE. I can not tell you how embarrassing this can be around guys with whom you are pretending to be cool. So, I do the best I can and I refuse to be surprised or even embarrassed. My memory is not why the cell phone came off my hip. That remains a mystery.
The loss of this cell phone is the cause of one of two selfless acts on the part of complete strangers directed at Dick and myself.
Still in Gillette, I look up a Verizon store and we visit the place hoping there is an inexpensive way to replace the phone. Bottom line, no such luck. To replace the phone like I had it's going to cost over $300. So I start asking about alternatives and we are in the process of weaning out the more costly options, when a young, slightly scruffy looking man asked what model I lost. I tell him and he replies with the following: "This phone (the one in his hand) is one model under yours but I am waiting for the data from a previous phone to be transferred to a new one I just purchased. I have no use for this phone and you are welcome to it if you like." I am afraid that I stared at the young man in disbelief. The verbal offer is heard by Jackal and he rises from his chair to hear the rest of the deal. I ask the fellow what he wants for the phone. He replies, "Nothing, it has no value to me at all." Again, I go with the staring at this gracious human being. Then it comes to me. I ask him if he has ever seen the movie Pay It Forward? He has not. So I briefly tell him the gist of the movie is a kind act by one person could and should be repaid by multiple kind acts to others. I promise him that I will Pay It Forward every time I remember. He seems to like this idea. The guy behind the counter likes the idea and says he and Verizon will start Paying It Forward by not charging the man for the transfer of data to his new phone. How cool is that!!! After many thanks to all present, we start toward Cody, Wy again.
On the way, we ride through the Big Horn National Park and ride over Big Horn Powder Pass at 9666 feet elevation. On the way out of the park, we pass through the interestingly named town of Tensleep. We grab a quick bite at the Tensleep Saloon and once again head out to Cody.
Cody, Wyoming is named after its cofounder William Fredrick Cody, better known as Wild Bill. (This is not a proper segue. Do you have words in your lexicon that you love to hear spoken? I do and one of those words is Shoshone. It is, of course, the name of a tribe, and is also the name of the river that winds its way through Cody. The river is 100 miles long and has its headwaters in the Shoshone National Forest and ends when it runs into the Big Horn river. During it's hundred mile trip, it flows through a series of fumaroles that are the result of the huge magma chamber that resides beneath the Yellowstone Park and Cody. These fumaroles impart the aroma of sulfa to the river and for years it was known as the Stinking Waters River. To almost everyone's delight, the rivers name was official changed in 1901.)
The town is a mixture of tourist, farmers, cowmen and this week the venue for the Female Harley Davidson Bike Week. Hotel rooms are scarce and pricy. We do some shopping and find a decent place to stay. As we pull up to our room, there is a couple sitting in chairs outside their room door sipping Bud and smoking. They are very pleasant folks from Canada and they come to the lower 48 to buy booze, cigarettes and a little relaxation. We spend about 20 minutes talking with them about some of the differences between Canada and the US then finish unloading the bikes. When we return from unpacking, the couple has moved inside and we never see them again. That's the way it is. Here is a pic of the couple.
As a side note, this was the motel where the lady behind the counter would not let me take her picture.
During our ride from Gillette to Cody, I discovered that my free telephone will not communicate with the BlueTooth firmware in my GPs even though the phone has BlueTooth capability. I learn later that the phone will only connect to hands free headsets and is not compatible with the Garmin Zumo 550. All this means is that I can not use the phone while I am riding on the bike. This is a major deal because when we are close to finding a place to stop, I am calling motels from about 30 miles out.
I leave Dick to do some laundry and I go and wait for the Verizon store to open. I spend about an hour in the store trying to discover what is wrong with the cell phone. The tech finally finds a link on the web that uncovers the mystery. I will have to get a new phone anyway. This I do and I return to the motel to pick up Dick. The two of us mount up and ride the bikes across the street to get some gas. Well... don't forget its Female Bike Week and gals and their squeezes all gather around Dick and his Magenta painted bike to ooh and ahh. But I am not jealous. I show my support by cheerfully taking their pictures. See nearby.
It is in Cody that we make our first major modification to our plan. The Iron Butt thing was much less demanding on us physically than we had anticipated and if we extend one days ride from 250 miles to 350 miles we will gain an entire day. So...instead of going from Sundance to Great Falls MT and then to Calgary we agree to press ahead due west and ride through Yellowstone and then divert north west to East Glacier National Park and then to Banff direct and skip Calgary.
The ride into Yellowstone was very pleasant and was conducted without incident. That is to say that nothing of interest happened. The park is beautiful, as always, but I have done this before and I find little that strikes my interest like the little couple at the motel. Jackal and I do some picture stuff but the place is crowed with traffic back ups caused by people stopping in the middle of the street to get out and photograph some wild animal or by construction that had us waiting for over a half an hour at just one site. So, when we start the switch back turns that mark the northern boundaries of the park the traffic keeps us from carving any of the turns and I am now ready to find food, booze and sleep.
Under overcast skies, we motor through the North Entrance Gate of Yellowstone Park and find a motel in the tourist town of Gardiner, Montana. There are plenty of fast food places but we rebel and seek help at the front desk for a good place to eat. The clerk is quick to point out a place on the south side of town just past the Yellowstone gate. We are further instructed that the name we will see is "Town Cafe" but that is not what we want. Although there is OK food at the Town Cafe, the place we want is in the same building but on the second floor with a great view of the Park's entrance with the mountains in the back ground.
We speed up the unpacking of the bikes and motor back to the cafe. The parking spaces in front of the establishment are down hill and covered in gravel. Any rider will tell you this is a sketchy environment. Sure enough, while Jackal is trying to back his bike into a parking slot, he loses his footing on the gravel and he and the bike go down. The Vision may be "pretty" but it is also well engineered so the fall does no damage to the bike or the rider other than the obvious blow to Jackal's image of a bon vivant riding a Magenta swoosh machine. But I am not jealous. I help Dick right the machine and he parks it without further ado. (When I mentioned well engineered, the makers of the Vision realized that big bikes like this are going to fall at some time or another. Dropping a bike is like blowing a tire in an F-4 Phantom. There are those that have and those that are going to. Its only a matter of time.) As much as I love him, I would have loved to have a picture of Dick standing over his dropped machine with his patented smile and a pouting look that no mother could refuse to comfort with a, "There, there Dick, you will forget all about this in the morning". In fact, when I asked him if he was OK just after the bike went down, he said, "My only problem is I had to drop the bike with you watching.". Now I immediately felt crushed because my very best friend believed that I might find some perverse pleasure in finding him in a less than flattering condition. Even worse, I am sure he believed, without cause, that I might be critical in some way. As if I would demean my riding companion for any reason whatsoever. Not me [:~)
(At the end of this journal I claim that no one dropped a bike which is untrue. I intentionally omit this event because it was not due to operator error or poor head work)
The mishap is quickly forgotten as we look for the entrance to our restaurant. The entrance to the Town Cafe reveals no stairs. There is a less than middle age man leaning against the wall of the Town Cafe with the classic cowboy stance of one boot up on the wall. He is a serious looking dude but Dick and I walk up to him a ask him if knows how to get upstairs. He gives us both a quick once over, smiles and tells us the stairs are on the far end of the building. We thank him and turn to leave. He pulls us up in our strides with a "Semper Fi".
I digress once more. During this trip, Dick and I were greeted with this salutation of "Semper Fi" a half a dozen times. The reason this happened, was because Dick and I were both wearing motorcycle jackets with Marine Corps patches and name tags. Semper Fi is a shortened version of Semper Fidelis which is Latin for "Always Faithful" and has been the official motto of the United States Marine Corps since the eighth Commandant made it so in 1883. Current and former Marines greet one another with this phrase when they are in "mufti", civilian clothing, but some how recognize a fellow Marine. During WWII, the expression, "Semper Fi Mac", was a derogatory expression that basically meant "Screw you, I got mine". That translation has been, thankfully, left to the pages of history.
Here is a quote from Cam Beck a former Marine: " What is left unsaid in the motto is also notable. The phrase is "Always faithful." It isn't "Sometimes Faithful." Nor is it "Usually Faithful," but always. It is not negotiable. It is not relative, but absolute. Who is always faithful, though. and to what, exactly are they faithful? Interestingly, the simplicity of the phrase and the calculated neglect to specify its parameters seems to strengthen it. Marines pride themselves on their straightforward mission and steadfast dedication to accomplish it. Things do not need to be spelled out for them; they know what it means and what to do about it". And..." The longer I am out of the service, the more I recognize my draw to and longing for the culture of "Semper Fidelis." I suspect that reading this will impart nothing significant to Marines, as they already are aware of their glorious charge. It is my earnest hope, however, that it may help others understand the reason Marines hold the Corps in such high esteem. All those references by former Marines, in their new jobs, to "back when I was in The Corps," will begin to make a little more sense. Marines are imbued with Semper Fidelis, and all it means, and because they lived it for so long, they have difficulty accepting any less from others."
So this perfect stranger stops us both and we turn around shake hands and play a little, "where were you when". He was not a career Marine but was deeply imbued with the traditions that are the Corps. After a very short time, we shake hands and depart for the stairs at the end of the building. The short meeting is forgotten for the present. The restaurant's billing for a good view and good food holds true. Jackal and I order steaks, a couple of glasses of wine and all the fixings. We spend close to an hour of pleasant relaxation and request our check from the waitress.
Have you ever looked at a person and knew, just knew, that the next words out of the person’s mouth was going to be an untruth? Well, the waitress starts staring at the floor, presumably to count the eyelets in her tennis shoes, and advises us the bill has been paid. Dick and I look at each other and then do a search of the room to see who might have done this gracious thing. There is no one. I ask the young lady who paid for the meal and she's back to staring at the floor again this time drawing little infinity signs on the carpet with her toe. I press my question and she says its a secret and that she was told not to tell. Jackal is not big on epiphanies, but he gets a doozy this time. He ask the waitress was it the guy from down stairs? She nods her head up and down and all three of us break out in grins. Jackal and I leave healthy tips and, without consultation, head downstairs and walk into the bar. It's dark in the bar so we stand close to the entrance until our eyes adjust to the cave like environment. Standing behind the bar talking with a customer and wearing a cowboy hat is our fellow Marine and benefactor. He turns our way and breaks out in a smile that would make Dick proud. We mosey up, shake hands again, regale him profusely with our thanks and complete surprise at his generosity.
Think about it. Here is a blue collar hard working guy who is, for some unknown reason, motivated to treat his fellow comrades in arms, complete strangers in his life, to what I would consider a lavish meal.
What is it? Why is it? Why us? Dick and I are just two of thousands of bikers on the road who must have passed through this town in a day.
The two of us are rapidly building up a deficit to Pay It Forward.
I reflect on these random acts of kindness and I know that it's not just Marines who do these kind of things, but these experiences leave me with a profound sense of humility. I don't have a clue right now where my car keys are but I remember a quote from a young Lance Corporal, Tim Craft, dug in at Khe Sanh, Vietnam in 1968. It goes, "For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected shall never know." Perhaps there are synapses in our brain housing groups that the Drill Instructors (DI's) in the boot camps of Quantico, Virginia, Parris Island, South Carolina or MCRD San Diego, California nurture based on hundreds of years of experience and tradition. These DI's turn out a product, a dedicated Marine, who retains his essential loyalty to country and Corps even after his discharge.
One thing is clear. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
On to Alaska The Circle, Tales Part 3
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 3
Next stop, Glacier National Park. The ride from Gardiner, MT to East Glacier, MT is normally, and was this time, a relaxing passage through lots of tribal reservations, (you know this only by looking at a map) huge fields of barley and wheat and the little towns that service the Ag business. These towns house the nation’s salt of the earth. Fast on the trigger with a smile, a hello and how can I help you attitude, they are a pure pleasure to talk to. We stop for gas in a little town called Fairfield, MT. While pumping gas, a portly gentleman in a seersucker jump suit and a Tam O'Shanter joins us at the pumps. He is interested in Dick's bike, of course, and so the gentleman and Dick start a conversation and I document it with a pic. Just as soon as I take the picture, I get a flash back to the West Coast Trip.
Yup, Rex and I stopped here for gas and food as well in 2006. What made me remember is the bar/grill in the background of the nearby pic. The place used to be just a cafe but is now a bar and mini casino.
The people here are proud of the fact they grow most of the barley used by Budweiser in the making of their brew. It was a little sad to discover that Budweiser had been bought out by a European lager brewery and that they were going to diversify their vendors leaving some of these people out in the cold.
The bar keep and manger of the place is most pleasant and helpful. Turns out the grill part of the old grill has been retained by the original owners and is a building around the corner. We provide the keep with an idea of what we want and she calls the place and puts in an order for us. A half a glass of ice tea later, another citizen arrives with the food in to-go bags and we enjoy some of the best burgers of the trip. In the middle of lunch, this burley man with a huge smile saunters up to our table and shyly inquires into the ownership of the Victory Vision outside. Here we go again! Remember, I am not jealous. Burley Man regales us with his dreams of owning a Vision and shares his plans of how he is going to get his wife to allow the purchase of such a sweet machine. He spends five or ten pleasant minutes with us and is then gone to never be seen by us again. This is a great little town with great folks and I wish them all the luck in the world for their respective futures with Budweiser.
The rest of the ride to East Glacier is uneventful but very enjoyable. I start calling motels thirty miles out and there are no vacancies anywhere. This also happened on the 4 corners trip. I drive immediately to the East Glacier Lodge and begin a painful routine of trying to find a place to sleep. The guys and gals behind the counter are more than helpful but there is no room in the inn anywhere within a two hours drive. I am just about ready to admit defeat and find a place to pitch the tent when the desk clerk ask me if we had tried Brownies just down the street. I told her I saw no motels where she was pointing. Oh no, she exclaims. It's not a motel, its a deli and a hostel. Now there is a combo I have never seen before! The desk calls Brownies and yes they have room in their dorm. Thanks all around and we are off to Brownies.
Just like advertised. Bunks, a head and $20 apiece. Before chow, we meet, perhaps, one of the most unique if not tragic character of the trip. It is now 10 July. This man has been on the road riding single since March. He has already been to the Circle and is now wondering around the US just killing time and dollars. There was some event back home that caused him to sell most of his stuff and set out on the bike looking for lord knows what. He was starving for companionship and we, ultimately, had to beg off to escape for dinner. He did let us in on the idea that rooms were cheap in the dorms of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. We filed that data for future use. (Let it be known that this man tied or broke all records for nocturnal chain saw noises. He was the best, or worse depending on where you were lying.) We unload the dirty steeds and lock up what we can and then its off to the best Mexican food anywhere on the planet with the possible exception of the Oh My God Mexican Restaurant in Oak Park outside of Chicago.
The place opens at six and we are there at five thirty and there is already a line. See nearby pic. The folks in line are terrific and we enjoy a nice chat while waiting for the place to open. Look at those smiles! Jackal and I make the first sitting and I am a little worried that my hype of the place will be misplaced and there will be disappointment. I need not have worried. The chow was great and the service was equal to the task. A side note. Most of the wait staffs in all of these tourist type businesses are filled with college kids from all over the world who have been given special work permits to do a summer's worth of work and receive exposure to the American culture.
After dinner its back to the dorm. We pour a little Blue Heaven, booze is prohibited in the dorm, I go to the PC and Dick heads to the little porch above the Deli to schmooze the locals. Schmoozing and PCing done, we shower and hit the bunk beds.
We awake to a drizzle and fog encrusted landscape. We are up too early to get our key deposits back so we bag it anyway and hit the road for the Many Glaciers portion of the park. We stop at the Many Glaciers Lodge and have the worst breakfast with the best view ever. Starbucks coffee, packaged carbohydrates with stuff on top, microwaved. Yuck! But the view...c'est magnifique. See nearby pics. OK, here it comes again. Dick and I are walking out of the lodge and heading for the observation deck and we pass a man and women and Dick and I hold the doors for the couple. As we do, the man says...you guessed it, Semper Fi. We stop and start to exchange the regular stuff, the wife heads into the lodge. This gentleman, bless his heart, talked our ears off about the Corps and his experiences. As always, Dick, the good listener, showed deference and respect for the comrade in arms. We were finally able to separate our selves by taking pictures. We wished this gentle soul fond farewell.
"Breakfast" and glacier gazing behind us, we headed north to cross the border into our northern neighbor.
Alaska and The Circle Tale 4 follows:
Alaska and the Circle, The Tales Part 4
The ride through the Canadian park is breathtaking and runs down hill through sweeping turns of the road with every curve exposing another vista. This landscape was also unique in that the down hill run always opens up to a far mountain range to the north west and what looked like an endless valley running to the north and slightly east. The only reason I mention this is because of the vastness of the land. Every thing stretched to the horizon. When we finally bottomed out, it was like the plains of North and South Dakota, flat and wordless for a description. It's approaching mid-day and the carbohydrates with stuff on top is wearing off quickly.
The next town is Plainview and I pull off into what looks like a deli type place. Its a beer joint without food so I move on up the road to the Twin Cities Hotel. There are several bikes at the place so we know we will be welcome. We are not disappointed. Before we go inside, a group of riders is on its way out and gives us some good dope on the best way to get to Banff, Alberta. They motor out and we go sit on the deck out front and watch the traffic go buy while our hotdog or hamburger or something is prepared. It always happens! Into the parking lot pulls a beautiful Harley Heritage Classic with a cool dude aboard. This guy is a local and he enters the hotel, walks out on the deck and sits down at our table. We are a little taken aback, but not unhappy at this intrusion. Its worth it! The cool dude regales us with tales and directions to Banff. He was an absolute pleasure to have as our guest at the table. His picture tells the tale, I believe.
The ride from Plainview to Banff was pleasant but without notable events. Banff is a town, but it is also a Canadian National Park that has beautiful mountains surrounding the quaint tourist town. We chow down, bed down and awaken to a clear morning but with a forecast for rain ALL DAY.
The temperature is on the crisp side. We decide to suit up with cold weather gear and heated clothing. Best decision to date.
We take Hwy 1 to the Lake Louise area with the intent of stopping at the lake but there is mega construction going on and the turnoff confounds me so I simply take Hwy 93 north to Jasper, Alberta. It has started to rain and the temperature is dropping. Its raining hard off and on and the clouds are down obscuring the mountains and any views a clear day may have presented.
We left without breakfast, but this road is devoid of stores and gas stations. We press on and then out of now where, pops from the clouds a lake with a lodge attached to the north end. We pull in to a muddy gravel drive way and pick our way up to a place to park the steeds. This is always my most stressful time on the bike. All it takes is to put your foot down and have it slip out from under you because of mud, water, oil, gravel, etc. and down you go. We are successful and dismount and check out the surroundings. The name over the door is a tongue twister. It's the Num-ti-jah lodge. Even in this weather, the place and the land come together to form a beautiful scene within the Jasper National Park and Canadian Rocky Mountains. Like most lodges, this one is made up of a rustic wooden decor but lacks the visuals that make up some of the previous places we have visited. Its warm and dry and for now that will do. We opt for the healthy breakfast and settle on cereal, orange juice, yogurt and coffee. If my memory is correct, this breakfast cost us just under $20 Canadian.
Shortly after our arrival, we are joined by another motorcycle riding group of three couples. We introduce ourselves and then discuss the weather and what we expect up the road. Fellow bike travelers are a superior source of intell when it comes to weather and road conditions. We depart to get back on the road and reach our objective.
By now, you should have discovered that the weather sucks. You should also know that my riding partner is an irrepressible optimist. I have visual proof that he may be the only human on earth to put the two together. The picture says it all.
We gas up in Jasper. There were two very large filling stations on the main drag and both were absolutely jammed with traffic. Dick and I gassed up, parked the bikes and walked across the street to some fast food place I have never been to and we took off some of our outer gear and relaxed with food and drink for about a half hour. When we finished, we suited up again, reluctantly, drug ourselves over to the bikes both of which started gleefully.
From this point on, it was a ride of endurance until we found a motel just off Hwy 93 on Hwy 1. We had now been in the saddle and in the rain for over eight hours and we were both beat and ready to get dry and warm. Next to the motel was a gas station so we pulled into the pumps and filled while we were still wet. I had to go inside to pay and as I did, I pulled off one of my heated gloves and a cup of water spilled out on the floor. The proprietor saw this and laughed. I looked at him and told him I was having a hard time finding the humor in my condition. My tone and expression must have convinced the poor fellow that I was in state of discomfort and short on humor at that moment. He immediately apologized and I felt terrible for being such an ass. A wet, tired and cold ass, but an ass nonetheless.
This ride proved, again, that there is no such thing as water proof riding gear. Sooner or later all of it leaks. In my case, the water enters through openings around my neck. Once the water finds clothing, it will inexorably wick its way to all parts of the body soaking a person from top to bottom. Or, if you have a leak any where on your lower leg, the water will soak the jeans and any undergarments and work its way down to your socks into your boots where it comes to rest and begins to form a substantial freshwater lake in the boot that any Minnesotan would be proud to claim. If you do not have heated socks or insoles, your feet are going to get really cold. To add insult to injury, if you have anything made of paper or leather, like your wallet, in your jeans and not in a waterproof pocket all this will get soaked and stay that way for days.
Having said all that, we went to our room and began taking everything apart and unpacking all our gear so that we could dry it out. We were fairly successful, but we made the room smell like a locker room of a pro football team.
The next morning, 13 July, it was still misting when we departed the motel but started to clear up as we drove west towards our destination of Vancouver. I forgot to mention that when we turned west on Hwy 1 the previous day, we left Alberta province and entered British Columbia.
Finally, we can now see the Canadian Rockies and it is worth the wait. Our route toward a town called Revelstoke passes sheer canyons festooned with conifers and hardwoods. All is green and lush. The passing rains have created waterfalls everywhere and the sights are more than the eye and soul can absorb. I still try to take it all in and put it some place in long term memory that will allow me to recall the sights as I saw them. It's impossible. Some of it still comes back to me today but the details are only passing and generally the details only come back when I am writing.
We pass Canadian Pacific trains of incredible length whose course through the passes make them appear as huge snakes inching their way eastward. The trains serve to give perspective to the sights. Like putting a dime or ruler next to an object when you want to photograph the object yet show its size in relation to something else the mind is familiar seeing in context. How were we to know that these wonderful moments of eye candy were only a prelude of things to come.
There is another interesting thing about this part of the world. The names of things. We did not touch all of these places, but the names of towns, cities, villages, parks, etc are mostly derived from North American tribal names. This is also true in the lower forty eight, but I found these interesting: Okanagan, Kootenay, Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack to name a few.
We work our way west through the Rocky, Cariboo, Columbia, Selkirk and Monashee Mountains headed for Vancouver and the Costal Mountains. Did I mention that mountains are a bikers very best friend?
Somewhere just this side of Hope, BC, Jackal and I discuss over the CB how we are going to coordinate his need to get a scheduled tire replacement in Mt. Vernon, Washington and still make the meet with Deb and Rex. We decide to reenter the US and I find a motel in Bellingham, WA and make a reservation. We divert and cross the border at Sumas, WA and bed down back in the US. Jackal makes some calls and arranges a meet with his daughter and her new baby after he delivers his bike for the rear tire change. I call Rex and we set up a meet at his motel in Vancouver the following day, the 14th of July.
Jackal will meet up with us at the motel in the PM of that same day. Things are coming together. Nothing like a good plan!
Just a small side note: You may have noticed that Jackal has an American Flag flying from his bike. The morning we departed Bellingham, we had breakfast at an IHOP right next door to our motel. We ordered omelets that were advertised to be three eggs. The cook had to have put at least six in each one. They were HUMONGUS and hung off the sides of the plates. While we attempted to put the eggs away, I noticed that the restaurant had decorated a shelf above the kitchen alcove with American and Canadian flags. I asked if I could buy one of each. They were not for sale, but our waitperson gave me two anyway. Some folks are just nice.
I meet with Deb and Rex, as planned, on the 14th and without much ado, we mount up and head for Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria and its world famous Buchart Gardens. The ferry ride is beautiful and strangely calming but also expensive. This will play a major part in a significant change to our plan the following day.
I characterized the ferry trip as strangely calming, but in retrospect, the strangely calming feeling is a aura emanating from Deb and Rex. I am not a person known for my sensitivity, but this couple seems more intimate and comfortable with each other than I remember from the past. Not a public display of emotion, but a sense that they just fit together standing on the rail of the ferry smiling at the camera. For me, a voyeur at my core, it seems to bring a sense of union to the adventure. They are fun to be around and will soon have the same affect on Dick.
The Buchart Gardens did not get to be famous without cause. Here is how it all began, plagiarized from their web site, followed by some visuals.
In 1888, near his birthplace, Owen Sound, Ontario, the former dry goods merchant, Robert Pim Butchart, began manufacturing Portland cement. By the turn of the century he had become a highly successful pioneer in this burgeoning North American industry. Attracted to the West Coast of Canada by rich limestone deposits vital for cement production, he built a factory at Tod Inlet, on Vancouver Island. There, in 1904, he and his family established their home.
As Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jennie, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, under Jennie Butchart's supervision, the abandoned quarry blossomed into the spectacular Sunken Garden.
We spent several hours in the gardens and when we had soaked up as much color and texture as one mind can possibly process, we returned to our two wheeled transportation. My singular impression was how well the gardens are maintained and how the garden's elevations change so rapidly. The morning and noon time temperature were perfect so we were all 'touristed' out when we returned to the motel and joined up with Dick.
Dick was riding on a new set of tires and was refurbished on the inside by his visit with Phred and grand daughter.
The four of us held an very informal meeting in my room to discuss our plans for the following day and relax with some Bombay Sapphire. Deb was all set with a van to take her to the airport for her trip back to Broken Arrow first thing in the morning. We puttered around the idea of crossing back over to Vancouver Island, ride the island and then exit off the north end of the island to Prince Rupert via ferry. Two things. One, it was expensive and two, we would miss the trip from Vancouver to Hyder, Alaska and Prince Rupert. This turned out to be the best decision we were to make on the trip. The planning session over, we looked for a place to eat close by so we would not have to drive after sipping the gin. With the help of the front desk, we found a seafood restaurant directly across the street.
The restaurant was ensconced in an industrial area and was a long and narrow building from the out side. (Margaret says I am weird for noticing stuff like this.) But I was not prepared for the sight that pounded my retinas. The tables and customers sitting at them seem to stretch out for what looked like an entire city block. We followed a member of the wait staff toward our table and I noticed a group of folks coming our way. They seemed oddly familiar in some way. It was then that I realized that the folks coming our way was us. The restaurant had a wall to wall and floor to ceiling mirror at the end of the serving area that made the place look huge. What a hoot! Dinner was pleasant if not outstanding. More mirror than haut cuisine.
The next AM, the 15th we depart and start a trek through the City of Vancouver. I am following Sue religiously but we come to some detours and now I am clearly flailing around. We all need gas pretty bad. I get Sue to search for the nearest gas station and we are off. I don't go two blocks and another detour. More flailing but I figure it out and find the gas station and we fill up.
Another digression. Each time I fill up, I put the stations location into Sue to help me write this journal. I also keep a home made log of mileage, date, location, price/gal/L, total dollars/Canadian dollars. I am going to take a picture of the log now, Wednesday, October 06, 2010 to show how I was keeping this data. Wait...I will be right back!
That was just a short delay, but gives me the excuse to pause and begin a new chapter.
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 5
The weather in British Columbia (BC) was clear and brisk with hardly a cloud in the sky as we began to work our way up and through the Coast Mountains via Hwy 99. In all of my motorcycle riding I have done over the past 12 years, this was the beginning of so many visual extravaganzas that I lack the skills to properly put them to you. But, I will try.
First, under no circumstances is it possible for me to catch a vision in a two dimensional medium such as a digital camera. Not only is the single sense of sight incapable of truly representing what you see, what you see involves at least three and perhaps more of the six senses to do justice to a scenic wonder.
As an example: What is the total experience of watching a sunrise over the marshes of the south eastern inland waterway without the ubiquitous odor of the plough (pronounced pluff) mud. Here is a good quote on the subject. " When Lowcountry natives write of the fragrance of the marsh, they are describing the experience of plough mud. Todd Ballantine describes the fragrance as “essence d’estuary.” The mud is the build up of soil washed off the land, detritus from marsh creatures, decayed marsh grass, and sand transported in by the tides. Anyone that has stepped into the marsh knows that plough mud in the Lowcountry is just as soft as the mud up north in the spring thaw."
The point is...a painting or a photo of any scene does not convey the vivid character of the view because it can not render that odor when you see the photo on a Blog Site. Without the odor, the image seems somehow flawed.
There is much more. How cold was the air when you got your first glimpse of fiord type mountains? Mountains tilting into the salt water that has a slight chop with the wind freshening from the sea. There are so many trees that long stretches of road or railroad track are hidden from view by the armies of pine and oak that grow right down to the water's edge. To see this view and not smell the aroma of pitch from the conifers leaves the experience wanting.
Beyond my belief that odor is important to appreciate a particular natural environment, the idea of texture shares the spot light. What my eyes see are the lines of demarcation between elements of the scene. These are lines of texture. The line that separates horizontal smooth water from the tilting rough tree line of a natural phenomenon can be analogous to the artist's strokes of a brush or knife on an oil painting. As one might imagine, the farther or closer you are to a scene, the impact of texture changes. Not for the good or bad, it just changes the character of a scene. So where we are now, a lake that is glass smooth and reflects its surroundings like a Versailles mirror is a completely different scene when compared to the same perspective that has the wind ripple the surface of the lake. Wheat stubble looks rough when viewed from the roadside but smooth when viewed from a mile away.
So when a pastoral view presents itself, I, now, seldom go for my camera. I try to make those comparisons of shape, texture and aroma as I draw in the scene. I find it freshens and refreshes a memory that I see in my head made up of subtle and not so subtle changes in the textures of the landscape. Overlap this with color and add the ingredients of fresh cut grass and cow manure aroma and you have a vivid memory, not just a picture in your head.
For me...to look at the view provided by these wonderful lakes generates one instant memory and that memory is immediately modified when I dismount from the bike and feel the texture of the gravel under my boots and look at the same creation of nature. One is not superior to the other, they are just two different memories.
Finally, I am close to exhausting my modifiers and superlatives to do justice to the scenes I describe because they are followed immediately by a view that is more stunning than the previous view. So it will not be long before I have used or misused the superlative adjectives and adverbs and will be relegated to: Gosh, Oh Gee Wilikers.
We had been on the road an hour or so and tummies were feeling the pain. We stopped at the Golden Arches for a quick calorie and grease fortification. I stepped up to the counter and was greeted by a pleasant young man who solicited my order. I said I wanted a sausage biscuit and a cup of black coffee. This guy looked at me like I just asked for negiri sushi and hot saki served by a topless Geisha. He told me that they did not have sausage biscuits. What? McDonalds and no biscuits? Who ever heard of such a thing? If you want a sausage patty between anything in BC, it has to be between a McDonalds muffin sliced in half.
OK, I get it. This is one of those cultural things that I can enjoy and live with. Now the coffee. "The Kid" now informs us that he has never had anyone ask him for coffee without cream. I really felt like Scotty had beamed me, without my consent, to Manhattan, where a "regular" coffee comes automatically with cream/milk. I am not kidding you, I have traveled over a lot of this globe and this was the biggest system shock of the entire trip.
We took our "breakfast" out on the patio and struck up a conversation with some local bikers taking the morning air. These guys wanted to see our bikes but we first asked for local customs regarding speed limits and the such. I forced down the sausage McMuffin and washed the taste out of my mouth with black coffee before I brought the "Wing" back to life and hit the road of Oh Gee Wilikers again.
There is a famous biker road in Tennessee and North Carolina called the Tail of the Dragon, or The Dragon, or Deals Gap. It's Hwy 129 that passes through Deals Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountain range. It has 312 really sketchy turns in 11 miles of road. While in Alaska, I met a Brit, an Austrian and a South African who had ridden the Dragon. Like I said, it is a famous biker road.
Hwy 99 out of Vancouver is no Dragon, but it had turns that lasted all day, not just 11 miles. It is a bikers dream because the turns expose some of the nicest real estate on the planet. This days ride, and there was more to come, made the trip worthwhile.
We transition to Hwy 97 at Williams Lake and head due north. We bed down in the town of Quisnel, BC on the 15th of July. I have absolutely no memory of this town or anything that happened there. (Late entry: Dick briefed me on Quisnel, but I will omit his briefing items because without his update, I would never have remembered.) It’s a purist thing.
Its the 16th. For the last couple of days, Jackal has been having difficulties with his helmet head set and we decide we will try to get it fixed in Prince George, BC.
On the way to Price George, we pass through a little community called Hixon, BC. Most of the community must be off Hwy 97 because all we saw was one dated gas station. Not to worry, we gas up and I go inside to pay. Rex and Jackal are using the one working pump to fill their bikes. As I turn to my left to leave, this is what I saw:
This was the best bunch of guys we met on the entire trip. They are just like all the other "Old Guy Coffee Klatch Klub" we saw along our way, but these fellows had the best sense of humor and were immediately open to our efforts to make friends. Well, the guy on the right was not so pleased, but you can't win them all.
We actually find a Victory dealership and Jackal spends about two hours trying to get a fix. In the meantime, Rex makes a side trip to a WalMart, I believe, to purchase something he needs and I start kicking cans outside to pass the time. A couple pulls into the parking lot on a Gold Wing Trike and a Harley Sportster. After a few polite moments, I approach the couple and we start the requisite polite pleasantries and I discover that down Hwy 16, to the west, is a town called Smithers. This town has some good motels and just past Smithers is a tribal salmon fishing ground on a rock gorge just off the highway. If I had not had this conversation, what follows would have never happened.
Rex returns, the dealership gives up on fixing Jackals CB problem and I relay the couples story about the salmon and a good place to sleep tonight.
Its off to Smithers and the fish. The couple had said that the gorge was visible from the road and we could not miss it. They were right! We pulled in, found a firm piece of ground with an up slope and pegged the kick stands in the dirt. (If you own a 900lb bike, you do not want to park it down hill because you will need a 20 Mule Team from Borax and a small child to push the bike out of the parking space. That is unless you own a Gold Wing which has a reverse gear [:~)
Try to picture this. A medium sized river, say 150 to 200 yards wide passing through a natural slice in the rock that is no more than ten yards wide.
What a sight! A Kodak moment! Jackal and I head down a dirt path to get closer to watch the tribal guys fish with dip nets. Not Rex!
Rex sees an old tribal guy sitting on a long bench staring at the river. Rex walks up to the bench and sits a respectable distance from the elder gentleman. Rex is now casting his strings of historical experiences across those of the old man. (See Tales Part 8 for an explanation) They talk. Rex never leaves the bench. When Jackal and I are finished taking photos, we return to the motorcycles and have to drag Rex away from his new found friend. I smile as I write this. Rex is a man for the ages. He never met a person he could not engage in conversation. Jackal and I look at each other and share this moment with Rex. Damn...what a day!
The best places to rest are back in Smithers, so we hitch up and make the 20 or so miles in no time and find a room that is cheap and great.
This is an early stop today so we go to a car wash next door and do the best we can for the bikes. Then to a fast food joint next to the car wash where there is a local antique car show in progress. These folks meet here every week, I think, to show off their cars to swap lies with the looker's-on. But in Rex, they have met their match. He gets immediately wound up in multiple conversations and we wait until he has done all he can do and we go in to eat. Their four or five dollar special just ended five minutes ago so I end up spending $15 for a silly fast food sandwich.
The 17th, I think, we depart Smithers and head west toward Hyder, Alaska. For me, this turned out to be the second best part of the trip. We are going west on Hwy 16 and need to turn right/north on Hwy 37. This is how hard it was to find the turn.
Are these dudes cool or what?
Have you noticed how, after all the photos you have looked at so far, Jackal seems really photogenic? Well he is but it did not occur to me, until I looked at this picture again, that the dog is striking a pose at every snap. Look at this guy! The only thing missing is for Jackal to have his left hand tucked into his jacket and voila...Napoleon on a Vision. OK, OK its just jealousy eating me up from the inside out. Off to Hyder.
Hyder, Alaska is the first US town that can be accessed by road from Canada unless you drive up Hwy 37 through BC, into the Yukon territory, west on Hwy 1 then south on Hwy 2 back into BC and then into Alaska to visit the seaport of Skagway, Alaska. Hyder, Alaska and Steward, BC almost touch each other across an invisible line that demarks the US from Canada at this one spot of thousands. To get there you must make the right turn at Hwy 37 and proceed north through really Golly Gee scenery. But the Golly Gee gives way to WOW when you turn west again on Hwy 37A. This really well kept road twist and turns it's way along the general path of the Bear River through some of the steepest slopes I have ever seen. Slopes covered in trees and glaciers that shade the road for most of its travel. A tough place to be in the winter.
Take a look at some examples and the popular Bear Glacier.
This ride is about 60 miles long but was just off the page in its staggering visual impacts. The picture, nearby, with a spawning glacier the top of the frame was taken with camera pointed up at least 70 degrees. For all other purposes, you are looking straight up! You can not see this from a car.
As we drive through these steep canyons, I start to feel something different. I did not know what it was at the time, but it came to me later.
As you ride toward these two very remote communities, you are forced to ask the obvious question...Why do these places exist? One answer is that many of the folks that live here desire this kind of isolation. Some are hiding from family, responsibility, the law or just the pressures of the "World". As far as I am concerned, every single soul in Steward and Hyder were born with or developed personalities that defines them as characters. The population is replete with unique and interesting personalities.
There is another reason they come to this part of Alaska and that is commerce. The commerce, now, is logging. Trees are logged out of these mountains and floated down either the Bear or Salmon Rivers to the tidal pools of Stewart. Its hard for me to see how the Bear River could be used because it is very shallow except during the spring snow melt. In fact, the entire river's source of water are the snow and glacier melts.
Once the logs reach the area of Stewart, they are assembled in huge rafts that are towed down the Portland Canal to the Hecate Straits and the Pacific Ocean where Japanese logging and lumber ships await them for transport to Japan. This was not always the case. In the early part of the 20th century, gold, silver, copper and some trace minerals caused a boom between 1920 and 1940. The last of these mines closed down in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, the location is the nexus of many long distance motorcycle riders and actually has an annual Memorial Day event called Hyder Seek. The Seek draws long distance riders from all over the lower 48. The population of Hyder is 97.
This wonderful ride finally comes to an end when the valley of the Bear River gives way to the open waters and tidal flats of the Portland Canal. We take our time passing through Stewart, BC and we slip through the Border check and take our first but not our last picture of Hyder.
To say that Hyder is out of the way may one of the great understatements of our times. This fact, however, is the cause celebre for its popularity for motorcycle enthusiast. There are no paved streets. It took us less than five minutes to ride all the roads in Hyder. Both of them! There are as many boarded up buildings as there are one's in use. It has a thoroughly modern Post Office. Another reason the USPS is bankrupt. There is a bare basics, motel, laundry, gift shop, general store and totally unique bus food service. More on that later.
Most important, however, are the two more than adequate combination bars, dance floors and good places to eat. They are named Sealaska and the Glacier Inn. Sealaska has the motel and laundry and is owned and operated by a former Marine who employs two of the most wise ass female bartenders I have ever seen. They are terrific. You check in to the motel by going to the bar. This is one hell of a good idea. We get a quick tour by one of the nice ladies and take some stupid pictures with us and a stuffed Griz. We get keys, unload the bikes and I set up my air mattress and sleeping bag on the floor and we go downstairs to explore Hyder. We decide to get something to eat so we cruise over to the Glacier Inn and are taken aback by the character of this place. Words would take too long so here come a series of pics.
As you can see, the lunch was outstanding. Folks up here are big on what I refer to as Texas Toast. The gal doing the cooking, bakes her own bread every day and makes here own breakfast pastries. The bread was to die for. Note the deer head on the wall with paper money as wall paper. There was money from all over the world on these walls and most with the names and home towns of the passers by who put the money on the wall.
Take a look at the blond wait person with her arm around the portly biker. She told us that if we were interested in the best haddock in Alaska, we should visit the Bus cafe a couple of blocks down the dirt road to the north. We took her word for it, but now it was time to see the sights.
Our initial idea was to ride the entire length of the one dirt road headed out of town . We wanted to see the area from a higher elevation. We mounted the steeds and went about a block and stopped at the Post Office so Rex could mail some post cards. The Post Office was closed. We continued up the road and it became clear that this dusty, graveled and washboard of a road was going to beat our bikes to death. We were looking for a place to turn around, when we came upon a Tsongas National Parks station that was a formal viewing area to watch the bears. We were told that the salmon had not gotten this far up the river yet so there were no bears to see. We still investigated the viewing area .
The idea that you should protect the satellite antennae from the snow is pretty straight forward. But look at the angle of he antennae. Its pointed straight out parallel with the horizon. Then it dawned on me...we were so high in latitudes, that the geosynchronous TV satellite was very low on the horizon. Cool huh?
To kill a little time that was created by our cutting off the road trip up the mountain, we decided to get gas in Stewart now vice stopping in the morning on our way out of town. Like most of our unscheduled digressions and stops, this one also held a happy surprise. The gas station in Stewart was a thing of beauty if you are into old style hardware and parts stores. The station looked normal from the outside but held a treasure trove of "stuff" inside. What you see in the pic is just the tip of its ice berg.
Since this time of year in Alaska has about 22 hours of daylight, we noted, via our watches and tummies, that it was getting close to dinner time. Where did the time go? So we parked the bikes and began a walk up to the Bus Grill. It was a short walk with only one turn off the main drag and there it was. An old school bus that had been converted to a kitchen with places to sit on picnic tables resting on clapboard flooring with a flimsy sun shade.
The specialty was fried haddock sandwiches. We ordered three of these sandwiches. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with a couple who had place on Hwy 37A from which they... (ask Dick about what they did) What amazed me was they had driven forty or fifty miles just to enjoy the haddock at the Bus Grill. Not a lot to do in this part of Alaska and Canada. As we are talking, the young lady, Karen, from the Glacier Inn walks up and we offer her a place to sit and an opportunity to join our little group. The sandwiches arrive about this time. I push the bread aside and enjoy the best fried fish ever! The fish is fresh, tender, flaky and flavorful like none I have ever consumed. Cooked to perfection with a light crusty batter on the surface that holds the heat and flavor. What a treat!
But there is another treat in progress. Karen is explaining why she lives in Hyder. At some previous time in her youth, she was arrested and convicted of DUI. She had her license revoked and consequently lost her job because she could no longer commute. She can not live or work in Canada because they do not allow DUIs to cross its borders. Because she lives in such an out of the way place, here movements across the border to go into Stewart consist of the border guards looking the other way. Her home is on the west coast, so when she needs to go home, its a chartered float plane from Hyder to the states. She has a dog that keeps her company, but she is waiting for the DUI conviction to time out and be erased from her records so she can return to her native land in the lower forty eight. She is a very nice person and is a great waitress at the Glacier Inn.
The food and company were all terrific. We begin our short trek back to the motel and we notice an old beat up boat that someone is trying to restore. I separate from my compatriots to record this effort. The boat is a real mess with lots of work to be done but whoever is doing the work is doing a good job. Take a look!
By the time I get back to the motel, Dick and Rex have already covered their bikes and are warming stools in the bar. I follow suit, but I am not long for the world so I stay for a while then say by goodbyes and go upstairs and hit the hay.
Our visit to Hyder has been an experience of unique and exciting people as much as its been a place of natural beauty. Both of which it has in abundance. Nonetheless, the road beckons and the there is a ferry schedule we have to meet.
The next day, the 18th, we have a light breakfast at the Glacier Inn and bid Hyder and Stewart adieu and put the low tide mud flats in our rear view mirrors.
We retrace our tracks over Hwy 37A and Hwy 37 back to its intersection with Hwy 16. The views on the way out are better than on the way in because the sun is shining and every thing looks clean and new.
Because we have spare time, Rex enters the gas station at the intersection and starts asking around if there are some interesting things to see or do between here and Prince Rupert on the coast. When he comes out, he has the word on a local tribe's totem poles and the place is just around the corner and across the river.
We remount and go back across the river and take the first right and voila there they are. This is what the maps call the Gitwangak Indian Reservation #1. This is sacred land and it is probably a ceremonial burying ground but there are no markers. I surmise this fact by the name of the first side road we cross which is named Graveyard. There are ten poles lined up along the side of the road with a variety of motifs.
We respectfully stop and dismount and record the phenomenon with our cameras. Strange, however, that right across the street is St. Paul's Anglican Episcopal Church with a very bizarre structure in the front yard. I am struck by these two stark contrast that seem out of place and time as well as out of some historical context. The context is probably there, there is just no one here to explain it to us.
With these sights in our memories we head out for Prince Rupert and the ferry. See Alaska and the Arctic Circle, Tales Part 6
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 6
After the totem pole experience, we head due west toward Prince Rupert and our rendezvous with the Alaskan State Ferry System. This portion of Hwy 16 parallels the Skeena River which widens dramatically and shallows the closer it gets to the Pacific. The river finally empties into Chatham Sound and then into the Hecate Straits.
These deltas seem to be universally filled with a grayish colored silt that are the tailings of uncountable glaciers that empty into this and almost every river of the BC and Alaska landscape. The route is straight forward but consultations about our stay in Prince Rupert are a requirement.
We spot a motel as soon as we enter Prince Rupert and peel off into their parking lot. They actually have a room with three beds and we snap it up. We are going to be here for two nights so we want to do laundry, wash the bikes, rest and talk with our families over Skype.
Prince Rupert is a big fishing town and this motel is used mostly by fishermen staying over a few days to catch whatever is running at that time of year. That explains the sign in the lobby prohibiting cooking fish in the rooms.
This is a really lazy time for us compared to much of the hectic traveling we have and will be doing. All three of us welcome the break. We relax with some Blue Elixir and then dine out at the Mickey Dees next door and I respond to the nightly game of fending off Dick to use my Netbook. I know, I know I said it was for all our use, but Dick is getting his nightly dose of Skype plus texting and checking his mail on his PO. Staying connected for Dick is a minute by minute addiction for which there is no cure. So, as usual, I give in and let him have some more time on the Netbook.
When we started the trip, he was very aggressive in helping me edit the pics of the day and deciding what we put up on the web. Now...he is migrating to just reviewing what I have chosen and critiquing my choices. To avoid this unhelpful condition, I have gone to doing the pictures while he is asleep or otherwise occupied. Only two weeks on the road and I have weakened to the point where I am becoming sneaky about the use of the Netbook. What a schlemiel!
OK Dick, here is the Netbook. He liked that!
The next day we breakfast at Tim Hortons. Horton's is basically a Dunkin Doughnut, slightly up scale, Canadian style. We intend to find the car wash after we bolt down some coffee and pastries, but before we saddle up, I notice six or seven off road bikes across the street at a local hotel.
Since I am a world class busy body, I walk over and check out the bikes. Jackal joins me. There are five Kawasaki KLR 650s and one BMW 850. They are hard ridden. One bike has the sign Snivelers on the back. I tell Jackal I am going to see if these guys are in the hotel restaurant. He seems a little skeptical but is also intrigued and follows me in. I spot four guys at the end of the room and walk up and introduce Dick and myself. These guys are from California and have just come back from Alaska and are on their way home. They call themselves the Snivelers and they are just like our group. Past middle age but determined to see it all. Also, like us, they all grew Van Dykes for their trip. (Jackal will have to confirm this, but seems to me the sign on the bike goes to the guy who sniveled the most the day before.) Apparently they vote. I am not sure who would get such an award in our group, but I am confident it would not be me.
We wish all good luck and safe riding.
Note: Rex is lost to us. He came out of Tim Horton's with us but is now no where to be seen. His bike is still there but no Rex. As we scan this huge parking lot, in the distance is a bright red truck with two individuals next to it conversing. Yup! It's Rex and the owner. We learn later that Rex had seen the truck with his trained eye and went over to investigate. As he did, the owner showed up and its off to "strings of historical experience" again. We waited for about 15 minutes until Rex had gathered all the information he could and he returned and regaled us with the truck restoration project the old man he was talking to had completed. Bottom line...the truck had been restored and the old man was very proud of his truck. He should have been, it was a beauty.
We finally get to a car wash and spend some time giving the trusted bikes a once over. Because there are only two spots, I move my bike under a shed after I finish. Dick and Rex follow suit and we are wiping down the machines when a young guy shows up and tells us he is the proud owner of the car wash. Now you would have to admit...if you were in a cage (car) and you had just finished washing it and were wiping the water off, how many people of any kind would walk up to you and start a conversation. This happens to us all day every day. We exchange some interesting ideas about America and Canada from the two different perspectives. Unlike a lot of similar discussion held in the US, this one was respectful and civil. The exchange was pleasant and educational.
I don't remember why, but I needed to stop at an auto supply store and get something for the bike. We found a NAPA and pulled into the parking lot and Dick and I went in to find that they did not have whatever it was that I was searching for. So back to the bikes and we find, surprise, surprise, Rex talking with a couple two up on a brand new Harley Ultra with a candied two tone paint job. The couple was all decked out in matching Harley leathers with the big patch of the Christian Motorcycle Club on the back. They were taking the same ferry we were and we were to see them off and on from that point on until we passed them on the road from Haines to Haines Junction. They were nice folks and gave us some good advice about the roads and gas stations.
We returned to the motel to finish laundry, take naps and generally goof off until dinner time. We had been given the name of the Smiles Restaurant for good seafood. So down to the dock area we went and found this neat place right on the water. The eatery was pleasantly crowded and it was clear that we were going to have some good chow. I placed an order for a bottle of white Merlot and we ordered two dishes of fish and chips (haddock) and one grilled salmon. Dick always eats good stuff! Our waiter would have been lucky if he was over four feet tall and older than yesterdays milk. He was a good kid, made some errors but was completely dedicated to his work. In a collage nearby, you will see our waiter, his supervisor?, the wine and the food and customers. The meal was wonderful and I would recommend the wine to all.
The next AM, the 20th, was a unhurried wash, shave, pack and load the bikes kind of morning. We checked out of the motel and rode to a recommended restaurant for breakfast. The meal was completely underwhelming to give it a good take. But all is not lost to this band of explorers. As we are rinsing this breakfast down with mediocre coffee, we note a rain gear store across the street. If we were not already fitted out, this was a great place with good stuff. In fact Dick tried on a knit cap that was clearly all him and then refused to buy the cap. What a waste. Don't take my word for it, check him out!
We leave the store without the cap and proceed to a practice ride to the ferry entrance so we will know exactly how to get there later in the day. I am glad we did this.
Next we visit the local grocery store and pack in some cheese, crackers and fruit to eat on the ferry. From this moment until we return to the ferry, I have no recall of how the time passed.
We arrived at the ferry two hours before departure. So with tickets and passports in hand, we enter the customs office and find ourselves first in line and being processed by a less than attractive person, but one who is full of life and herself. She makes the 30 minutes we stand there pass in a flash. I was sorry that we had to leave her because she was smart and so much fun. Think how hard it must be to deal with the public like she does yet still retain a sense of humor and a commitment to accomplishing a sometime demanding job. She was my person of the week.
Back out to the bikes and await the arrival of the ferry. The ship shows up about an hour and half before departure time when we learn the ferry is running off of Alaska time and we are still on local Pacific Coast time. This means its about two and a half hours until sail time vice one and a half. Oh well, we are retired and have no better place to be. This gives us time to make some quick acquaintances and for some to take a nap in the sun. The weather is cool but delightful. Its the last good weather we will see for three days.
It's amazing: A woman riding on a vintage Ridley. One of the few bikes on the market to have an automatic transmission: The Christian Motorcyclist with a bad ass handlebar: A woman riding alone who learned how to pack a motorcycle from her Dust Bowl relatives and Stu Schippereit: A lean, cigarette smoking, pony tailed, tatted up, hiker with a six foot hiking stick tied down cross ways on the back of his Harley Ultra. [The guy was shy and a loner but as gracious as one could be. He did not say much, but I found him to be fascinating and the salt of the earth kind of guy. Proof, again, that bikers may look unusual and they may be unusual (depends on the observer I guess) but they are friendly, courteous and generous to a fault]: Three old guys with dreams of adventure and comradeship. All waiting to enter the bowels of this inland waterways ship.
We park the bikes in the vehicle hold. Lash them to the deck. Unload our gear. Find the purser and get our keys to the cabin. Jackal has a small coordination problem that has him smiling up at us from the flat of his back. It was a good move. A healthy snack of cheese, apple and crackers, and then a walk on the weather deck to watch our departure.
For me, this was the best part of the trip. As soon as we sailed, the weather started to go down hill and never really lifted for the entire voyage. It was chilly, wet and dreary. We saw some whales broaching, visited some interesting towns, met some nice folks on the boat, but I could not wait to get off. I was B-O-R-E-D. It reminded be of trip I took as the CO of troops aboard a USN LST back in the early eighties. We were in the Sea of Japan and there was a fierce gale blowing which rocked the flat bottomed boat mercilessly. There was absolutely nothing to do because you could not go out onto any decks in the bad weather.
The only break in the boredom was the three meals they served each day. Even the sea sick guys looked forward to something different.
Well, I don't think anyone on the ferry was sea sick, but man the time dragged for me. I don't remember asking Dick or Rex how they felt about the ferry ride other than hear them express disappointment that the weather had not been more friendly. I have included some pics from the ferry, but I admit to having little enthusiasm in the task.
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 7
It's really early when we dock in Haines but the long summer days makes it look like midday. Once we get the motors going, the crew rushes us off the boat and I need to pull over with the gang in tow so that Sue (Did I mention that Sue is my Garmin GPS?) can do her boot up stuff while we are waiting along the side of the road. The Christian Motorcycle couple waves as they pass us and head out north. I lead us from the port area to down town Haines and immediately make a wrong turn. Not Sue's fault, mine. This is not a good start and I begin to worry about the goblins and gods of the cycle world taking revenge for our good fortune to date. I need not have worried.
Its only a two lane road, but it is in pretty good shape and I engage the cruise control at 4 mph above the speed limit and let the Wing purr along. We try to take pictures of some beautiful mountain ranges, but the clouds are putting a hurt on the Kodak moments. We don't travel far when its time leave the US again and reenter BC.
At this border crossing, we experienced only one of two occasions where we met up with mosquitoes. A quick change to a head net and I am cool until its time to roll and then my helmet does most of the protection until we are on the move again. The weather starts to break and we begin to see why we came here.
The original plan called for us to RON in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, but we got word that there was a 14-16 mile strip of road just past the Border Check near Beaver Creek that was wet now but might get worse if it rained over night. So with a short stop for pics at the entry to the Yukon, we pressed ahead to Tok, Alaska as our new destination. The intel was valid. We soon hit the construction and the wet muddy road had been caused by the construction crews wetting the surface down to keep the dust under control. It was really slippery and a white knuckle maker in some places. All three managed to keep the machines upright.
We stop at Haines Junction for lunch and meet up with a group of bikers who are pilots in real life and live in Alaska. They are on an annual pilgrimage riding around their state and are having as much fun as we are. We never met an unhappy rider. Well, maybe the guy in the hostel in East Glacier.
Tok, Alaska is at the intersection of the ALCAN Hwy and Hwy 1. If you go to the trouble to look it up on a map you will discover that it is in the middle of no place. The town seems to have only one element of commerce, and that is the support of all vehicles that pass through this intersection headed for Fairbanks, Skagway, Anchorage and Dawson Creek, BC. A dozen motels, that many places to eat, repair shops and a couple of gas stations and you have Tok.
I viewed it as an essential logistics location. We find a room on the second try. We unpack, set up the air mattress and head out for some chow. I was so hungry I don't remember what I had but it was filling. I don't believe it was nutritious. No working WiFi here so no Skype tonight. We crash early and wake up to a downpour outside our windows.
This is going to be miserable! We get packed and dressed in our rain gear before we go to the bikes. Some of us relearn the old lesson that you never go indoors without taking your rain gear with you. There are few things more miserable than putting on your rain gear in a down pour.
We agree to skip breakfast until later down the road. There are two guys riding a BMW and a Vstrom we met the night before who decide to wait until the rain lets up. As it turns out, that would have worked for us as well. We mount up and head north west toward Fairbanks in a real gully washer. Fortunately for us, the rain lets up in about an hour and we stop at a Diner in Delta Junction for breakfast. Just as we are leaving, the two guys from Tok show up no worse for ware.
Times a wasting. We beat feet for Fairbanks and the Harley, BMW, Victory, Honda dealership. I need an oil change and Dick still needs to get his head set fixed.
The guys at the dealership can not help so he takes off to a radio shop to see if they can help. No luck there either. We meet an elder rider who is originally from South Africa but makes the states his home now.
He had ridden past the Circle and was hold up in Cold Foot trying to build up the nerve to try for Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay. He was concerned because he was by himself. So a couple of young guys took him under their wings and they all made it to Deadhorse and back to Fairbanks without much trouble. A couple of little falls, but nothing serious. This guy must have owned every bike ever made. He could tell stories about almost any bike. He was a real character.
Remember way back in the story when we told you about a guy we met in East Glacier that told us they had rooms at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks? Well, he was right and we got a couple of rooms for about $20 each person. At this time of year there are no classes so there is plenty of room in the dorms. The parking lot of these dorms are filled with motorcycles. All going or coming from the Artic Circle and perhaps Deadhorse. All have their own stories and it is more than fascinating to talk to them and hear how they got here and how they are getting home. Many are from foreign lands.
So the time is at hand. The Honda dealership told us they tell all their customers to avoid the Haul Road if you are riding a touring bike. We hear all kinds of stories but the ones we are now hearing tell us that we can make the Circle without any difficulty as long as the roads are dry. If they get wet, it could be problematic. It has not rained in two days here in Fairbanks and the same is true for the Yukon River station. There is no forecast for rain. So...we agree to ride up to the road, try it and make the decision then if we are going to make a try for the circle. This we do. We find the road to be no worse than some of the gravel patches we have already experienced on the ALCAN. We decide to make a go of it. The ride has some lovely patches, but mostly it is scrub permafrost and is not particularly attractive. I am left with the sole impression of isolation. In addition, the road requires all of your focus so eyeball liberty is rare. We reach the Yukon River station and gas up and partake of a low cal breakfast. See pictures close by.
We depart the Yukon River station and proceed without incident to the Circle. There is just a small sign pointing to the right. You proceed up what is nothing more than a drive way and then in front of you is a big sign and viewing deck. Its like a little park with toilets.
We are really proud of ourselves and our smiles show it! There is a surveying crew at the sight taking measurements for which there was no explanation that I heard. They are just college kids having a grand summer in Alaska.
Documenting this ride with out mentioning the pipeline would be a significant omission. As far as we can tell, its only impact on the land is its presence. It is a marvel of engineering and is huge. I mean huge! The pipeline is either routed under ground or is elevated high above the tundra. The bottom of the insulated shock proof pipe is high enough to allow a herd of Mastodons to walk underneath the pipe without lowering their heads. The pipeline has its own all weather service road. Other than that, the tundra grows under and around the pipeline without any visible deleterious affects. It would be impossible to see how any migrating animal herds would be affected by its presence.
Having accomplished our goal, we head back to Fairbanks and stop at the Yukon River Camp one more time to get gas. After that, its the road condition that we have to watch. In this regard, I recall that for some reason, I had to lag way behind Rex and Jackal because the dust they were generating hid some real ice heaves that more than once had my butt kicked off the seat and in one case my feet came off the foot pegs. So I let them know over the CB that I was not going to be able to keep up with the speed they were setting. I just laid back and caught up to them when I could.
We pulled into Fairbanks in the mood to celebrate our good fortune. We picked a TGIF kind of restaurant and went inside to relax. I must tell you that one of the daily irritations for me, I know I never caused any for anyone else, was the fact that Dick and Rex both need glasses for some part of their lives and they refuse to wear them all the time. This could be vanity: For Dick, absolutely; For Rex no way! Or it could be lack of attention to their need until the need is right in front of them. A need like reading a menu. Every day one or both of them forgets to bring his glasses into an eating place and they go the same routine of trying to order without looking at the menu. This is funny for the first 40 times but after that its embarrassing to sit there while they try to fool some poor young little wait person that they are just taking their time deciding.
This time is no different. But this time, Dick tells Rex that if you make a fist with you fingers making a very small hole to look through, it has the same affect as reading glasses. Rex takes this on board and begins to practice. This generates one of the best photos of the trip. See pic nearby.
Our waiter comes up and introduces himself and asks us what we want to drink. We tell him we want a bottle of his house Merlot. He looks at us kinda strange and shares with us the fact that he has been a waiter in this and other similar restaurants and this is the first time that any one has ordered a bottle of wine. Glasses of wine by the millions, but never a bottle. Call Guiness' Book of World Records. I don't recall what we ate, but it was a grand time and fitting celebration. I did record, however, the low cal desert that Dick consumed without taking a breath. Wow, two records in one meal!
Sated with food and wine, we head back to the dorm for some well earned rest. The only problem with that comment is that I did not get any, rest that is. My RLS kept me awake all night even with my medication. Finally, at about 0300, I gave up. I got dressed, went downstairs, unlimbered the bike and started into to town to look for some all night restaurant that I could kill some time until it was a decent hour to return to the dorm and awake my riding partners.
Although it is now 0330, it is daylight outside and I wander from gas station to gas station, to a closed Mickey Dees, to a 24 hour grocery store and finally to an all night Denney's.
The place was packed with college kids working off a night of debauchery. It was loud! I moved twice so I could hear myself think. I had breakfast, then coffee and more coffee and on to diet Coke and more coffee. Around 0600 I tossed in the towel and returned to the dorm where I found my room mate up and about. We discussed what happened and I took a shower, shaved, brushed my teeth and felt much better. All three of us packed our goods, bade farewell to the University staff and headed south to the North Pole.
That's right, the North Pole. North Pole, Alaska is about 10 minutes south east of Fairbanks and is the place where all letters addressed to Santa Clause, North Pole are forwarded. The place is nothing but candy cane stripped buildings and signs. Really tacky but still fun to see.
Now its off to Denali National Park and a ride through some really pretty country side to get there. Take a look at the map nearby. You will note that going south east on Hwy 2 toward Delta Junction then go due south on Hwy 4 from Fairbanks, the road basically follows the Tanana and Delta Rivers. Likewise, if you proceed south west from Fairbanks toward Denali you follow the Nenana River. These two water ways encompass a vast delta in the middle of the landscape. This is new to me because I always thought deltas were at the end of rivers as the emptied into one sea or another. This landscape is drained by at least ten lesser rivers and accounts for the flatness of the land. Although I don't know it for a fact, but I would guess that this land is also the product of a huge glacier that left this moraine and its mini rivers.
I provide this introduction to try and set up the following experience. I promise this will be the next to last description of a natural landscape in the journal.
Frst...the day is unbelievable. Notwithstanding my lack of sleep, I feel refreshed and stimulated by riding gentle mountain roads with just a bite of crisp in the air. I am, however, mildly disappointed because we can not see much of the scenery because the road winds it way through continuous stands of White Spruce and there is nothing for us view.
Without a cloud in the sky and at an altitude that I estimate from the map at something over 1000 meters, we start one of many gentle right turns and the land on our left, uncharacteristically, drops off out of sight and opens the road side to a completely unobstructed view of the flats, Mt Hayes (104 miles away) and Fairbanks to our rear. You can see it ALL. You can see forever! You can see past your imagination. It is breathtaking; and mesmerizing; and soul wrenching; and way too short.
The view is visible no longer than 10 seconds and then disappears behind the White Spruce again. I blink. What did I just see? Next to time spent with Dick and Rex, this was the single most rewarding event so far. I want to go back and do it again. Really soak up what I saw and press it into my synapses. But I can't, so I spend the rest of the riding day and many days that follow practicing how I am going to word the view I saw. My meager creative juices were not up to the task. But as I write this, I can still see it, still feel the majesty, still question the who or what is the responsible entity for such an amazing grace.
The repetitive and monotonous sheet of green provided by the Spruce forest disappears in a flash of bright light bouncing off the hundreds of square miles of flat lands opening up towards Mt. Hayes to the south east and back toward Fairbanks. There is no monotony of pastels or grays or haze filtered landscape. All is as clear as looking through a diamond.
In the periphery of my vision there is the rough texture of the nearby trees that abruptly ends and is replaced by the smooth appearance of tundra like growth which, if viewed up close, is anything but smooth.
The flats extend over a hundred miles but their smoothness reluctantly gives up its texture and morphs into the crags of distant mountain ranges. Each transition of texture is accompanied by a similar transition in color. The lines of separation are clear and distinct. This canvas of natural creation passes by like a timed photo taken by the venerable shutter of an old Speed Graphic camera. But alas, it passes and only the emotion of gratitude remains. For those of us fortunate enough to share this experience I render my sincere thanks to the laws of physics and nature that make possible a creation of such complexity and ethereal wonder.
The rest of the ride to Denali is relaxing and empty of stimuli that might interfere with my musings on the scene I just described. It is such a pleasure to ride in a mental solitude that permits the simultaneous exercise of five of the six senses but still allows room to contemplate the immediate past and present.
The day ends at a motel just north of the entrance to Denali. Its a little unusual because the "lobby and office" are enclosed in the space of an old railway car. Several other rail cars dot the property, but they are mostly used for storage. We check in, unpack and start to unwind.
Two events happened here that I remember some how. First, Dick dropped and/or stepped on his reading glasses and popped a screw right out of the frame. I get an idea of a way to fix the frames and I am off on a snipe hunt for some electrical wire. The lady in the office is helpful and calls her husband on a cell and we leave the office toward the south forty where she takes me through a stand of trees that exposes a small trailer park with mobile homes/campers parked and plugged in. Employees only. She drags her husband out and tells him to give me what ever I want. The husband rummages around in a parts box and comes up with some 16 gauge wire which I pocket and thank him profusely.
Back in the room, I strip all the insulation off the wire and separate out about four strands of the thin copper wire. I assemble the glasses frame and thread the now twisted four strands of wire through the hole that the screw was in and twist the two ends together. Snip off the excess and voila...Dick can see his menus again.
The second thing was the disappearance of my heated gloves. When I dismounted the bike at the motel, the bayonet fitting on the right glove simply separated from the wire going to the glove. This is the last time I remember seeing the glove. I did not discover the loss until the morning following our tour at Denali. The three of us tore the motel room apart looking for both of the gloves. I emptied all my bags, all my saddle bags and trunk. I have no idea what happened to them but they are gone! Even my two compatriots, who are accustomed to me losing stuff, are miffed at the disappearance. Oh well!
We are told by the folks in the motel office there is a good food place just up the road in the direction from which we came. The name of the place is Rose's Cafe. We meet bikers and college students in the place which serves average chow. We spend about a half hour with an unnamed biker from California traveling alone. Here was another guy eager for conversation. Traveling alone sucks.
We have an early start in the AM and settle for a Subway breakfast and then to the park to mount our tour bus.
All things about a trip that is as long as broad ranging as this one, can not be totally wonderful. Speaking for myself only, Denali was not wonderful. The bus ride is cramped and takes all day. The driver was terrific and did a good job outlining the facts about the park. This place is dark, cold and without food for more than eight months out of the year. Since the park is over 6 million acres and there are less than 8,000 animals, that's more than 700 acres of land for every animal. That means they are hard to find and see. When you do see a bear, a moose, an elk or a Dall sheep, they are so far away that I found it not worth doing.
We saw more moose and bison on the side of the road than we did in Denali. The short of the matter is that Denali is so poor in sustenance for the animals, there are few of them. The weather also dictates the most hearty of vegetation. So there are few species that do well. You are limited to White Spruce and Cotton Woods for trees and the ubiquitous fire weed for color. The park possesses many glaciers but the largest is so old that the ice is covered in tundra vegetation and if someone did not point it out to you, you would never know there was a glacier present.
Most of the time there are clouds pressing down on the mountain ranges so the overall sensation is that you are in a gray uninteresting place. The exception of course is Mt. McKinley. The only problem is you can't see Mt. McKinley because it is shrouded in clouds and remains that way most of the time. Check out the nearby collage. All the backgrounds are gray with clouds.
I would not do it again!
There was about an hour out of the trip that showed promise but the clouds closed in again. See pic with blue skies but notice how barren the land is. It's no one's fault. It's just too damned cold for too many months out the year for anything to prosper here. I don't get it? What is there about this place that gets so many people worked up over its...? I am ready to get off the bus before we reach the end point.
Enough with the negativity already! Not my favorite place, but still an experience in the reality of nature.
It's the 27th of July and we have reservations in a B&B in Homer, Alaska for tonight. So, its off to Homer without breakfast. We all gassed up on our way into town but I was the guy who made the round trip from the motel into Denali and back to get some Subway sandwiches on our first night in the hotel. Total mileage...about thirty five. This is going to be important.
We take Hwy 3 south and ride in a dreary, misty, chilly rolling country side for over an hour. I start looking for gas stations using Sue. I find one about another hour down the road and make the decision to stop there for gas.
When we arrive, the gas station has just gas and there is no place for breakfast. Rex request that we stop at a place that has both, so we continue south.
I am brain dead!
I have been caught three times on the road making a decision to pass up a gas station not knowing the exact location or operating hours of the next available. Like an idiot, I press south and start using Sue to look for gas. The next station that the GPS has listed is almost 90 miles away and I am down to a quarter of a tank. I am guessing that I can make 70 miles at the most and I start planning on what I am going to do when, not if, I run out of fuel. Over the radio, I tell both riders that they are going to have to give up a quarter of a gallon of fuel from their tanks when I run out or go to the nearest station and bring back a gallon. Although both Dick and Rex have enough to make the station, this may not be so cut and dried if they have to give me gas.
Additionally, Jackal's lip mike is still not working so we are making do with mike clicks to communicate. According to the owners manual, when my low fuel light comes on I should have about one gallon of fuel remaining. The GPS says 55 miles to the station when the light comes on. At 55mph, I should be able to get 40+ mpg. My light has been on for 35 miles and its still 20 miles to the station. I am not going to make it!
Suck it up Gus. It was your dumb idea to press ahead. I start mentally going over a check list. 1) Do I run it out of gas or pull over while it's still running? 2) If I do the latter, that will allow me to pick a place clear of any traffic and allow me a spot to bed down if the situation really turns to caca. 3) How am I going to protect the bike and myself from the weather and possible bad folks? 4) I wonder if my cell phone has any bars? 5) My roadside assistance insurance covers this if I could call them.
There may have been other thoughts, but they fly from the play with an exit stage left. Making a gentle curve to the left, I spy a gas station not listed on the GPS. What a relief! I pull up to the pump, pay inside type, and as I insert the nozzle into the tank a very pleasant woman steps out of the store and advises me that they have no electrical power and the pumps don't work. What! No! A mental snap back to the check list.
No, she has no clue when the power is expected to return. No, there are no sources of gasoline that we can siphon off a few gallons. No, because of the power situation she can not fix us breakfast. OK, how about this... is there another gas station close by with power. Of course, she retorts. "There is a station right down the road on the left", she advises. Jackal ask the relevant question, "How far down the road" ? The pause that follows has the theatrical timing of a Bill Cosby stand up routine mixed with the drama of the movie "Psycho". "Why...", she intones, "it's just a few blocks." Do they have power? Yup, they have their own generator.
The trifecta of sighs from the three of us is so loud that my own breath exiting my lungs makes a roar like a wind storm of hurricane proportions.
Once again, we are fixated on the unsolicited kindness offered to us daily in all places by all types of people in all socio and economic spheres. It is, indeed, the single most valued trait of the humans we meet and it is in abundance.
As advertised, the gas station is less than a half mile from the nice lady. We gas up making sure we top the tanks off; move the bikes closer to the building and go in to find we can get a home made breakfast here.
They have gravy biscuits!!!
They also have two very weird customers. One guy is sitting two tables down from us with a laptop in front of him and an ear bud stuck in his head. Crimmany, this place even has WiFi. But this guy is not just on the web, he is Skyping someone. So if people, like me, who consider it rude and impolite to talk on a cell phone in a public restaurant, then Skyping is thrice as rude. Not only that, but this guy, of dark complexion, is speaking in a foreign language that seems eastern European in origin. It's not Farsi or Arabic, nor French or any other Romance language. Additionally, his parents taught him how to whisper while working in a saw mill! He is there shooting off his mouth when we walk in and he is still there when we leave. It's impossible to carry on a decent conversation with my mates. I do not try, but I find that I have put this guys face back in the recent synapse file. Well, as far as I am concerned the faster we are out of here, the better. But Mr. Skype is not alone. Another guy comes in; sits at the table behind us and drags out his cell phone and begins a conversation with some poor schmuck who he, on more than one occasion, threatens with physical violence. I crave fresh air!
On to "Alaska and the Circle, The Tales Part 8"
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 8
The rest of the ride to Anchorage is uneventful. We do, however, have a mission. We need to get Dick's headset fixed so we can talk to him and he can respond. I use Sue to find the local Victory dealer and we head over there for some technical help. While Dick is in with the service department, I head outside and bump into a very nice couple from Denmark.
They have purchased a bright blue Gold Wing with a matching side car. They are riding two up and using the side car for luggage and stuff. They bought the bike some place in the mid west and plan to sell it before returning to Denmark. It's hard to believe, but we will meet this couple two more times, once in Alaska and once on the ALCAN Hwy in the Yukon.
Coincidences of this kind are not rare. They occur every day all around us. But the processes of work and family give us little time to explore these events in our earlier years. For me, they are, now that I am retired and capable of spending the time on such things, the stuff of unseen angels.
What follows is hard to do, so try to hang in there and roll with the uncomfortable. Imagine, if you will, your presence in the void of the cosmos is represented by the sum of every experience you have ever had. But because we do not live solo in this space, our experiences are always affected by our interaction with other people and the elements of our environment. I visualize this as a ball of energy and from the ball there are strings of historical experiences shooting out in every possible direction in this three dimensional, perhaps four dimensional place. As I stipulated, you are not alone. All around you are people who have similar strings jutting out in every direction. As two or more balls of energy come close to one another, their strings will touch and provide the opportunity to move from passive history to a shared experience. But...if there is no energy expended, then the potential for a "shared" experience is lost as the balls move away from each other.
This is how I visualize a coincidence.
It takes effort to expose the contact between two or more strings of historical experience or coincidences. Here is what I mean. My fellow rider Rex Decker, like Dick and I, is a very gregarious guy. But he is not just gregarious. He is the master of approaching a stranger, talking with the person for more than a couple of minutes and always, I mean always, discovering some place, some thing, some experience he and the people to whom he is speaking have in common. He can always whip his collection of strings around and ultimately make contact with the string of a stranger.
On a trip of this length, a huge portion of the satisfaction of such a ride is the interaction one has with perfect strangers. String whipping is the greatest game in town. But this game requires us to stop, pause, smile and take time to talk to everyone who will listen. Smell the roses and make a friend. Good manners and the respect for others is a universal precondition for getting to know someone.
Again, the Victory dealership is of no help. They recommend we visit a place called Alaska Leathers. A leather shop with electronics. This we gotta see.
This place is the berries. The have leathers, for sure, but they carry helmets, head sets, Gerbing heated gear and of course, their world famous sheepskin butt pad. What they got the most of is Noah. Noah is a young man from California who appears to have but one goal in life and that is to make you happy. He did everything we asked him to and more. I hope the owner is aware of just how much value this young man is to Alaska Leathers. Noah finds a solution to Dick's headset problem, it is very expensive and we will have to return the following day to get all the parts.
Homer, Alaska, here we come.
The ride out of Anchorage is like any other big city but as we approach Cook inlet, the world starts to change. Hwy 1 or the Seward Highway turns sharply left and heads east. The road's course is determined by the mud flats of the Turnagain Arm and the shear wall of the mountains of Chugach State Park. The Turnagain Arm is the product of huge tidal changes twice a day and the long term impact of more than a dozen glaciers whose snow and ice runoffs brings with them the now classic grey colored tailings of the rocks ground up by the movement of the glaciers. This place is huge! The tide is out, the sky is bright blue with little puffy mares tails, the road is great, the traffic is light and I am zoned out with the visuals of snow capped mountains with hundreds of small waterfalls and...Emmy Lou Harris crooning "Michelangelo", Don Williams' "Lord I Hope This Day Is Good" and the eclectic Queen doing their "Another One Bites the Dust". My good friend Stu believes that all this electronic stuff takes away from the purist view of your surroundings on a motorcycle.
He has a point, but I find the music adds the sense of hearing to the three or four already in play and provides a sensory backdrop to the pleasures of bike riding. Different strokes...
We soak up the visuals of the Turnagain Arm and it's surrounding mountains, then drive west through the Kenai mountains and south following the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula until we get to Homer.
The Kenai Peninsula has two forks at its end with Home on the tip of the western fork and the magnificent structures of the Kenai Mountain range on the eastern fork. Kachemak Bay separates the two forks. About a mile out of Homer, the landscape climbs slightly and peaks at something just under a 1000 feet. As you crest this modest topography, Homer, the Spit, Kachemak Bay and miles and miles of snow covered peaks and valleys of glaciers of the Kenai Mountain Range unfold to our view.
This is a real Golly Gee Wiz! I know when I first see this landscape that I will not have enough modifiers in my personal thesaurus to do this view justice. It is just drop dead gorgeous.
The Spit is a very narrow piece of land that juts out eastward into the bay and is the home of old boat bone yards, good restaurants, and the fleet of commercial and charter fishing boats. It is several miles long and is a great ride. We had supper at a seafood place on the spit and returned to the "mainland" to find our resting place. (I may have that chronology reversed) Below are some collages of views of the area.
There was not even a sign outside to let you know this was a B&B. Our host has just had a new hardwood floor installed and was uber picky about walking on the wood in anything but socks. This was a problem while we were trying to unload our bikes and make multiple trips back and forth from the bedrooms to our bikes.
The place was nice and clean and she prepared a wholesome breakfast. During breakfast, she filled us in on the differences between Eskimos and Indians. It serves no purpose to repeat these local stories because their veracity is in question. The thing I do recall is that there are more tribes and cultures within tribes and among the entire population that calls itself Native Americans than you can imagine. Everyone of these groups has a treaty with the US and probably gets money.
It's the 28th of July and we start back up Hwy 1 to make our way to Seward, Alaska.
As you might imagine, this town is named after the Secretary of State, William H. Seward. In 1867, Secretary Seward initiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Alaska was 586,412 square miles. This comes to 2.3 cents/ acre. The liberal press of New York referred to the purchase as "Seward's Folly". It is not known if Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune learned how to eat crow before he died.
It never fails to amaze and sometimes confounds me the energy and resources man will expend to achieve some unknown and perhaps obscure goal that makes sense to them and only them.
This journal may be an example of that amazement, but this picture is a better fit for what I had in mind:
The ride to Seward was a comfortable and easy trip. We stopped once for gas and I found a Victory dealership with the hope that Dick could finally get his headset fixed. Rex stayed outside while Dick and I went in to see what we could do. The answer was not much but there was a short diversion. Remember, never look a diversion in the mouth.
The woman behind the desk at the dealership appeared to be a person of multiple life experiences and wore her badges of these experiences with unashamed grace. This cool melted when Rex entered the room and asked for directions to the men's room. It was clear to me that the lady would have gladly taken his hand to show him the way. To help keep things on an even keel, I mentioned to our opposite gender that he was a serial killer. Her eyes brightened and she exclaimed... "Really?"
Her excitement was only mildly dampened when I added that he was a serial killer with AIDS. I do not recall if we ever told her otherwise before we left. I hope not!
Seward was a pleasant little seaport nestled up against the Kenai Mountain range. But, to be candid, I recall little if anything it would posses that made it stand out from other quaint seaport towns throughout North America.
It did have one very special attribute. It marked the point at which the gang turned its head toward the lower forty eight and began the trek to Key West. So, after another Halibut lunch, we pointed the Elite 3's toward Anchorage and an evening of rest, Elixer, laundry and conversation. We planned to stop at Alaska Leathers the next morning and see if they had the parts for Dick's headset before we hit the road toward home.
At this time of year in Anchorage, the sun sets at 10:53 PM and rises at 5:25 AM. This gives us lots of daylight in which to travel . So, on the 29th of July we make for Alaska Leathers and sure enough they have the parts. Turns out though, Jackal’s helmet will need to be modified before the new headset can be installed. This will take a while, so Jackal calls his cousin Rhonda Butterfiedl and sets up a meet at the Leather place. We spend a very pleasant couple of hours relating tales of our younger days.
The helmet is ready to go and so are we. We say our farewells and excitedly hit the road.
Check out Part 9 for the trip toward home.
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 9
Ya see! Here is why we make these trips!
Hwy 1 from Anchorage to Tok is defined as a scenic route, and it is. But the landscape is only one element that makes up the total experience that is touring on a bike.
Here is another. Its the people and places these people live and work. Chickatoon is a bump in the road that possess the King Mountain Lodge which serves gasoline, diesel, great chow and the most interesting ambiance and wait staff that you could possible want.
The place is a combo restaurant, gas station, bar, lounge, museum and Headquarters for the World Order of Smart Asses. The restaurant did not have much more than 10 tables as I recall, but the walls and floors of the atrium and eating area are covered in mementos and "antique" furniture. They also have one of those chilled rotating pie racks. Cool! Check out the collages I made with most of this stuff on them. In the rear of the bar there is a place that is made for cold weather warm ups. There are several sofas and a fire place with surrounding chairs. It is very neat.
I have no recollection of what we ate, but it was good. I do recall that our waitress must have been on commission for the sale of lemon pie. She asked us if we wanted lemon pie when we sat down, when we ordered, while we were eating and when she gave us our checks. I think Rex may have had some. You will have to ask him if it was good.
This was one entertaining stop for the three of us and one that will remain with me for a long time.
As we travel east along Hwy 1, the road starts to straighten out. The weather is so good that we can see some of the peaks of the Wrangle St. Elias NP Reserve. This reserve encompasses the major portion of the Wrangle Mountains to include Mt.Drum, Mt. Jarvis, Mt. Sanford and Mt. Blackburn. Mt. Blackburn is the tallest of the bunch at 4996 meters. That's about 15,000 feet. We stop for gas in Eureka, AK.
Hwy 1 bends slightly to the north and demarks the northern boundary of the preserve. The ride is so beautiful and so comfortable that I do not want it to end. A couple score of miles outside of Tok, the road is really flat and straight with White Spruce lining the road on both sides like soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder at the position of attention. Relaxed is not the word that does the feeling justice. High on nature, I believe, is the 60's metaphor for this substitute to the addiction of opiates.
We saunter into to Tok and find a room at the same motel we stayed in on our way up. Now we look for a place to eat and leave the bikes at the motel. The first place is closed. The second place is not taking anymore customers. We must be late or something. Oh yeah... the land of eternal light and darkness. So much daylight makes you forget how late in the evening it can be. We spy a bar and liquor store across the road and check it out. A very dark place with some locals sucking down the suds at the bar and no place to eat. We walk out and spy another place back across the road just kitty corner from the bar. Last chance! Good news... the place is open. Well, almost. There is one brave lady who is greeter, hostess, cook and chief bottle washer all in one. The owner is getting his money's worth. We order, but the place has no booze, so Dick walks back to the bar, buys a bottle and we have some Blue Elixir before the food comes. Food was unremarkable as you might guess. We tip the lady big and hit the road for the motel.
It is then that we come face to face with the infamous Alaskan mosquito. We speed up our pace and take a shortcut to the motel to escape this natural menace.
The WiFi signal is not strong enough, so I do a little photo downloads on the netbook and then we crash and sleep the sleep of the innocent.
Up early on the 30th of July and making for White Horse, Yukon Territory. Gas up and hit the road. At Beaver Creek, we make a pit stop at Buckshot Betty's for breakfast. Betty's is a cool place with decent food. There is no Betty of course, just a couple of young guys working at summer jobs. After breakfast we ride south east until we come to that magnificent lake called Lake Kluane. It is just as magnificent riding south east as it was riding north west. Stretching for miles along the ALCAN highway, we comment, I believe for the second time why there are no boats on the water and we see absolutely no houses on the shore. But Dick comes up with the probable reason and that is the weather is just too tough to have a home here year round.
It's today or yesterday that was Dick's birthday. We celebrate by sticking out our tongues when he tells us how old he is. He is just a baby! But I do get a classic bday picture on the hills overlooking Lake Kluane. Here tis.
Down the road a piece, for lunch, is the Swift River Lodge. Great burgers at a price that would empty your wallet. Jackal is playing the role of Rex at this place and Rex and I eat while Dick does the jawboning.
Do you remember that couple from Denmark we met in Anchorage? Well they show up on the Gold Wing and sidecar as we are departing. It was also interesting that there were a group of young guys who were staying at the Swift River Lodge and working on road projects during the summer. I wish I had done that on one of my college summers.
The road awaits.
Now as you can probably tell by now, I am one of the groups more sensitive fellows and I always like to give my fellow world citizens the benefit of the doubt when required. I have also been know to make an exception to this rule.
White Horse is one of those exceptions. I pull into town at the local Best Western with my companions right behind as we enter the lobby. Now way back in the trip, we stayed at a Best Western and responded to a request to join a Best Western "deal" where we could stay for free if we had stayed for two previous nights. Well, this Best Western was the third place. I will not bore the reader more than to say they would not honor our deal. I accomplished a smart about face and exited the place to search for a cheaper and available replacement. Dick and Rex stayed behind trying to get a room. I only had to walk a half a block and found a place on the corner that would have us and at a much reduced rate. Back to the Best Western and called my companions outside where I gave them the good news and we left the place with the staff checking out the seats of our well worn Levis. Best Western is on my not to visit list. We tried a local Chinese food place that had a nice wait person, but the chow was unsat.
The hotel we stayed in had a spotty WiFi capability, but the management allowed us to use some empty rooms that had good reception or CAT V capability. We did the Skype thing and crashed. Not me. No sleep for me this night. I gave up about 0330 in the AM and took my computer out to one of the spare rooms and did my PC thing for a couple of hours. It was light out and I went looking for a place to eat and read a paper. Never found one that I can remember. Checked back in with my compatriots and we hit the road for Watson Lake and the sign post forest.
The sign post forest was much more than I anticipated. Here is what Wikipedia says about the forest: In 1942, a simple signpost pointing out the distances to various points along the tote road being built was damaged by a bulldozier. Private Carl K. Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers, was ordered to repair the sign, and decided to personalize the job by adding a sign pointing to his home town,Danville, IL. Several other people added directions to their home towns, and the idea has been snowballing ever since.
The forest is over four acres in size and is growing every day. See nearby collages:
Why do people do this? Is it just to get your name up in a public place? Most of these signs are not about individuals, but about places so that does not seem to support the name thingy. What I believe is most folks long for a sense of identity in history. At some point we acknowledge the fact that we are soft tissue subject to aging, injury, disease and death. They want to leave something behind. Something that may be as simple as a sign left in the Sign Post Forest. Perhaps not for eternity, but clearly for decades. If being a part of history is your goal, this is such a place. We do the "find a hotel room" and unload and unpack. The local restaurant does not appear to be interesting, so we walk across the street and load up on stuff we can take back to the room and eat.
After our repast, at Rex's request, I take my beard clippers and give Rex a buzz cut down to the scalp. He really likes it and thanks me by falling asleep on the bed next to Dick who is already deep in the arms of Morpheus.
The noise is unbelievable. As I snuggle up in my sleeping bag, they both awake and get undressed and get into their separate beds. Immediately, the room is filled with the sound of lumber jack music. You know...the vibrant and dulcet tones of a saw mill or perhaps a chain saw. I get out my iPod and turn up Emmy Lou Harris until the chain saws go away. Since I got zero sleep last night, tonight I sleep regardless of the racket in our room.
It's the first of August. Time is flying by. We are off to Ft. Nelson via Coal River, Muncho Lake and Toad River. All these places are filled with characters. Characters who live there and characters, like us, who are just passing through. Have not met an evil soul! The cook at Coal River was the only person I saw working in the place and he was a little short on his Emily Post's Etiquette Edition 17 but he was up on his Betty Crocker and managed a smile when I took his photo.
The other members of the motorcycle folks were charter members of the Jane Fonda workout video team and were feasting on goat yogurt, fresh fruit and flax seed. I breakfasted on the leavings of Jackal and Rex who were putting a real dent in the Canadian egg supply. Note the menu:
On the way to Ft. Nelson, we saw plenty of wildlife along the side of the road, the always beautiful Muncho Lake and a gas stop at Toad River.
About the animals along the side of the road.
Today is November 3, 2010. Election day. Did you vote? If you did not vote, you have no standing to gripe about our government. Right?
Back to the animals along the side of the road. Why are they there you might ask? In fact, I did ask. One of my Tuesday riding buddies told me the following to day: It seems that in addition to the tender grasses growing near the road, they enjoy the salt that collects from the roads after salt has been used to clear the roads during the winter months. No clue if this is fact or BS, but it is an interesting thought.
Wash the bikes and laundry in Ft. Nelson. Down the road to Dawson's Creek the following AM, the second of August.
Dawson's Creek is a huge milestone for us all. It is both the beginning and end of the Alaska/ALCAN Highway depending on where you start. It made us feel like we had really accomplished something and we had. We were heroes in our own minds so that means that you have to have hero pictures. Just so happens...
With Dawson Creek behind us, we point our always high beams south east and push to reenter the US.
We make a gas stop in Sexsmith, Alberta. Well, they had to name the town something! As if I had not had enough of the hero worship lavished on the Victory, another group of bikers swarmed all over the bike and Dick while he was getting gas. Note the pained expression on his face. Not!
Out of Sexsmith, we again encounter the beauty of a horizon to horizon landscape of cereal and silage crops. The most amazing is a plant they call Birdfoot Trefoil. I have to admit that Dick came up with the name and what I know about the plant I learned from Wikipedia this afternoon.
Suffice it to say that the plant grows in poorly drained, high ph and poor soils. For this reason, southern Canada and the northern US states use it regularly for silage. From our view, however, its the bright yellow seed flowers that join their petals to form a silk and wool carpet that shows no boundaries other than the one demarked by the road from which we gaze this man made wonder.
The plant is very peculiar. Up close it has the appealing appearance of a harvested cotton plant. But, this child of nature, from a distance, clearly demonstrates the brush strokes of an inspired creator. The picture is just not up to the task of representing the Birdfoot Trefoil in its glorious pastoral yellows.
We bed own in a little community on the south side of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan called Grasswood.
Nothing to report here, so we bolt out of town on the AM of 4 August, 2010. Great riding! After about an hour, my tummy is growling and I look for a place to eat. We take an exit for the town of Davidson and I lead our group endlessly through the streets of this quaint little town without spying any restaurants. I did stop and ask a couple walking in the street about a place to eat and they mentioned the Shell station out on the highway. I was not to keen on this option, so I kept wandering.
Finally, I gave up and tried to find an exit from the town back on to the highway. Made a lucky turn and there it is...the shell station. Oh well they do have a place to eat.
The place is called The Keepers Restaurant and Lounge. In the front of the place there are about five tables lined up against the windowed wall of the eatery. There is one old man sitting at the back, but we notice a doorway (open) to the rear. We enter a wonderland of creative imagination and bygone objects d'art. Each dining alcove has its own theme. Its amazing! Please see the nearby collage. The food was hearty and plentiful and the wait staff patient, courteous and historical docents to the origins of the theme settings. The name Keepers comes from the idea that all of the "stuff" in the restaurant was worth saving and Keeping. "You had to be there", is a common expression to use when you lack the ability to describe a scene or event. It's true here. What a wonderful place and experience. Check out the dining smile on Jackal. On the way out, we meet again the couple we stopped and talked to about where to eat.
Fortified with one hell of a breakfast, we press south and cross back into the "Good Old" US of A just south of Estiban, Saskatchewan.
We have a long wait to cross the border for reasons that are still a mystery. Who knows after 9/11? I pull into the inspection station and they make me unload the entire motorcycle and inspect every bag on the bike. My following companions are passed through without any inspection. Like I said, who knows?
There is an unexplained comfort in returning to the states. I just feel more safe that I do in foreign lands. There are also awakenings. We ride through a small town called Flaxton, ND. The town is dead. What residents are there look as though they are illegals hiding from the INS. It is a depressing experience and one that sticks with me regardless of how hard I try to put it in the back of my memory. There is an old town hall dedicated to the veterans of WW II, but now boarded up.
At the end of one street is a deserted school house with its windows broken and/or boarded up. I stop and take some photos and fall behind my buddies. I speed to catch up and search for gas and leave this sad place a faint dot slowly easing its way to infinity in the confines of my mirror.
Dick whips into the next exit for gas and we stumble across a very large group of bicycle riders who are on some annual bike outing. The little park is filled with small camping tents and bicycles and riders every where.
We find a single gas station and fill up. No credit cards here on the pumps, so its inside to pay. The counter is run by two cute young ladies who are helping an elder local citizen. This female senior citizen is exclaiming to the two young ladies, who are listening intently, that she has not, in her entire life here in Bowbells, ND, seen a stranger walking the streets of this little town. Now there are strangers every where.
What a great day! We pay and I ask the ladies where is the closest fast food restaurant. She notes without the slightest hesitation that there is a Mickey Dees in Minot, ND which is 68 miles away as the crow flies.
Did you know that between Bowbells, ND and Minot, ND there is a town called Strausburg and it is the birthplace of Lawrence Welk? Cool Huh?
Falling south along Hwy 83 to a potential bed down in Bismark, ND, I start calling motels in the town trying to find some room. After about nine calls, I give up and we ride into town and stop at a national chain motel and ask for a room. We are told that there is rock concert that evening and that there is probably no place in the Inn. She makes several calls in our behalf but has no luck.
We are tired and do not look forward to riding a hundred miles to another town. We mope outside and I get on the phone again. While I am calling, the nice lady behind the counter comes running out tells us the motel just across the street has called her back and told her they have a cancellation if we are still interested. We give her our best smiles and express our utmost appreciation and head to the motel. Show nuff they have a room.
Now it's the guy behind the counter who turns on the charm and allows us to park right out front so the bikes are safe. It's another sleepless night in Bismark for Gus. I spend most of the night in the breakfast room watching TV and working on the Netbook. Dawn arrives and we pack up after breakfast in the hotel and make for Pierre, SD for lunch at the Cattleman’s Club.
Not so fast!!! We, on the way south on Hwy 83, stop for gas in a single stop light town called Selby, SD. Just for gas you understand.
Man what a stop! As we pull into the only gas station, we mix it up at the pumps with a local antique auto club out showing off their stuff. And some stuff it is. Beautiful chopped and lowered vehicles. But most surprising, was a gaggle of Harleys across the street who were members of a HOG (Harley’s Owner Group) from France. You might say it was HOG FROGS. Not me, you understand, but perhaps you.
This group was on its way to Sturgis but if they were, they were going the long way around. Because they were headed north on Hwy 83 and Sturgis is south on Hwy 83 then west on I-90. We spent a relaxing 30 minutes here until the French HOGS sailed north. What a sight! Check out the collage nearby.
Back on the road, I call the Cattleman’s Club to make sure we are OK for lunch only to discover that they serve only dinner. This never occurred to me. What a bummer! I had been looking forward to that meal for weeks.
No worries, I just head due east and we make a bee line for Spirit Lake and the Victory Vision assembly plant. See the final part ten for the rest of the trip.
Alaska The Circle, The Tales Part 10
Spirit Lake, Iowa is the home of the Victory Vision motorcycle assembly plant which also produces tons of four wheel drive ATVs.
Dick was encouraged by the dealer who sold him his Vision to drop by the plant and let them know that his bike had been from Florida to the Arctic Circle and was on its way to Key West, FL.
We bedded down in a cheap motel and got up early enough to wash our bikes before we went to the plant. Need to look good for the factory workers.
As we departed the motel on our way to the plant, I had my one and only very close call with a pick up truck. All three of us were in the mouth of the drive way for the motel waiting for traffic to go by so we could make a left turn into the far two lanes. In the outside lane of the road coming towards us was a very large double cab truck. I waited until the truck passed and began pulling out into the highway. What I could not see was another truck in the inside lane that was hidden by the first truck. I had the bike in motion pulling out as the first truck passed and saw the second truck just in time to stop in the outside lane. I could hear Rex yell at me over the CB at the same time I saw the second truck. Whew!
Now I must tell you that the Victory plant was a disappointment.
Although we had made reservations, we were thrown in with a group of school kids, who were really cool, and although the tour guide was knowledgeable, the tour, itself, was poorly organized and did little to show how the bikes were assembled.
I felt sorry for Dick because this was to have been a real excitement for him.
The tour lasted about and hour and we pointed the steeds south headed for Broken Arrow and a real home cooked meal.
Well, the home cooked meal came sooner than we anticipated.
You can hardly ever go wrong when you see a bunch of bikes outside a restaurant. This was no exception. Roast beef on white bread with lots of brown gravy and veggies. Man-o-man! The also had some bodacious pies. It was hard to finish the lunch, because many of the customers wanted to ask us about our trip. Or tell us about their bikes and past trips. These folks are almost always lots of fun.
For the past five weeks, we have been having some of the most pleasant weather you can imagine. Starting when we crossed into the US, the temperature started up and did not stop. All the riding for the rest of the trip would be sweat producing. The ride from Spirit Lake to a little town called Sabetha, Kansas was hot, boring and generally unpleasant. But... I found a motel in Sabetha for $45/night for all three of us.
The help would not win a prize for friendliness, but who could be friendly working in this place. Dick crashed for a power nap and we went to Gus' Place for dinner where Dick and Rex's gregariousness would get them hooked up to a glob of bubble gum stuck to their shoes.
After eating, this gentleman came up and introduced himself to us and we talked for a few minutes about various subjects. I was bushed, so I eased my way out to the bike and waited for my two companions to follow.
When they came out, I discovered that the gent inside was a lodger at our motel. Great! I went to bed and the last thing I remember was Dick and Rex and their gum sticking buddy beating their gums about some subject I could not care to remember. I have no clue when they came to bed.
We are up in the darkness and somehow I managed to get packed, dressed, loaded on the bike, started and waiting at the end of the driveway before the other guys were even packed. If I thought for a moment that sitting on my bike with the engine running indicating I was ready would stimulate my buds to hurry, I was sorely mistaken. Oh well, I listened to the news on XM Radio until they were ready. These are my buds. Who gives a hoot about ready or not?
At some time during the trip, I had badly scratched my glasses and Dick needed to have the screw replaced in his. We agreed that when we got to Tulsa, I would head into town and visit the local Lens Crafters to get our glasses fixed. Dicks glasses were fixed in five minutes, but my lenses had to be replaced and would not be ready until the next AM. I left my glasses and wore a spare I had brought and beat feet back to Broken Arrow and some Blue Elixer.
Dick and Rex had a head start on me. Deb put up a real feast with a terrific lasagna and very good red wine. A combination of a long hot ride, gin, food and red wine put Rex into the Greek arms of Dionysus (Baccahus if you are a Roman) and Morpheus the god of dreams. He slept well and did not look any worse for ware in the morning.
Sunday, the 8th, I drive Deb's caddy into Tulsa and pick up my glasses. Sure is great to be able to see everything clearly again.
Dick and I changed oil in our bikes. Dick, always the more dramatic, required three sets of hands to change his oil especially after he got his finger stuck in the oil drain. He got his finger stuck because he had to shut off the flow of oil that was getting ready to overflow the oil drain pan. You had to be there.
It can not be overstated that Rex and Deborah provide Dick and I some of the most hospitable treatment we ever had. Two days of R&R and the best lasagna I have ever put in my mouth.
Rex and Deb thanks ever so much for the welcome and treatment you lavished on us. We will always remember that stay.
Because of the heat, we say our goodbye's to Rex and Deb in the evening and make an O'dark thirty departure. Man, it is dark on the back roads of eastern Oklahoma! But for every bad there is the possibility of good on the road.
So as we ride east on Hwy 51 the sun begins its renewal and the promise of a new day. The road begins to wind but this is not cool yet because it is still dark down here on the ground. As we pick our way through the turns in the magic that is a pre dawn glow, I can now see Dick's bike as something other than a bright tail light. I can now make out the form of this super stylized machine. Now... I can make out the edge of the roadway and forms of the trees that line the asphalt path. Now... the numbers on the mailboxes but still the sun is under the horizon. It is a magnificent time of day and as we bear left onto Hwy 62, the turns come in earnest and we start carving them one by one. The speed picks up a little, but not much, because without a word between us, we are grooving on the moment and want it to last as long as possible.
We pop out of the foothills and are greeted by the blinding light of our sun that immediately starts to warm the air. It's only in our eyes for a short time, because we turn south on to Hwy 59 and into the Ozark's National Forest.
I am telling Dick on the CB that I remember this part of the country from a previous ride. No sooner had I gotten the words out then I pass a sign announcing Natural Dam, Arkansas. I get on the binders and immediately spy what I am seeking. Its a combo one pump station and restaurant called the Sunshine Cafe.
The folks here are really nice and the owner takes pictures of motorcyclist and hangs them on his wall. They are all over the place. The help is all family and they are excited because there is going to be a rodeo arena built right across the street and that should mean more business.
The breakfast was average but the conversation was superior. There is also a group of farmers and ranchers gathered in the back sipping coffee. They don't seem overly happy so I leave them alone and do not photograph them.
We ask the owner about the origin of the name Natural Dam. He tells us to ride a block down the road just across the street and we will see the origin of the name. This we do and discover a rock formation that is perhaps six feet tall at it's highest and runs, exposed, for, perhaps, a 100 yards. A natural dam for a stream fed pond. See collage below.
It's time to be candid. The trip from Natural Dam, AR, to Key West, FL, was a heat dominated endurance run without much visceral or intellectual stimulation. To paraphrase a line of Adrian Cronauer's from Good Morning Vietnam: "The forecast for today is HOT, damn HOT, real HOT, HOT today, HOT tomorrow and HOT all next week." So it is with our trip to Key West. Check out the temp on Dick's instrument panel.
One night in Albany, GA and another in Clewiston, FL and we are ready for the final push to Key West.
We check in with Stu, make sure we have reservations at the Navy Lodge in Key West and happily head for Alabama Jacks on Card Sound.
I enjoy the ride from Clewiston to Florida City (a community just west of Miami) via the Seminole Nation. I have ridden this road a half a dozen times but have never seen the monument on private property before.
As I ride, I notice a very neat and well kept house and yard. As I go by, I see what looks like a life sized figure of a combat soldier with his weapon at the ready and a flag pole with an American Flag and the flag of MIA service people.
I tell Dick over the CB that I want to turn around. So I stop waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass so that I can turn into a driveway and make a 180. The last vehicle to pass is a large black four wheel drive truck. I make the turn with Dick in trail and pull off the road in front of the house with the flag pole.
I notice, strangely, the black truck pull into the drive way of the same house. The truck pulls through a horseshoe drive way and stops at the end and gets out to see who these folks are stopping in front of his house.
I am off my bike and introduce myself as a former Marine and ask him about the combat soldier model in his front yard. The gentleman is wearing cowboy boots, Levi's, a western style shirt with a red bandanna topped off with a white straw Stetson. He tells us he was a Marine in Vietnam and was medically discharged due to wounds he received in that war. He found the soldier at a flea market and built the little memorial with Marine, Flag and dog. He was happy to pose for us to take pictures. See below:
This was one proud man and he had every right to be proud of his service to his country. We talked for a short while and bid him farewell and returned to the bikes.
With no small fear of repetition: why did I see this house this time and never before? What made me decide to stop and turnaround to see the house? How is it that at that moment, on that day the former Marine was retuning to his house just as we were pulling up on his property? How do I explain to you or even myself what things had to be aligned to bring this meeting about? Can you see and feel the strings of historical experience searching the cosmos for other strings to establish a common bond at a unique juncture in the vagaries of time and space.
These things are not abstract ideas to me.
I have experienced them so many times in the past five years that they are real to me.
I am also confident of another part of my theory of coincidences. As an individual, you may or may not recognize the touching of the strings when it occurs. However, if you open your conscious mind to seek these contacts then there is still one action that must be taken. You MUST stop what you are doing and actively investigate this sensation of mutual common ground. This is the hardest part because our culture discourages our deviation from the task at hand.
I am positive my retirement has provided me with the time to stop, smell the roses and look for the things that join me to others who are out there waiting for me make the first move.
The satisfaction and recognition of self achievement is, perhaps, some of the most rewarding moments I have experienced outside my family and the Corps.
It's hot out, but there is a breeze and we are in the shade of Alabama Jacks pavilion hovering over the water that is alive with fish and wildlife due, in part, to the mangrove islands that populate this part of the keys.
Things could not be more terrific. A margarita, fish and chips another margarita and the time to savor our rest and not hurry to Key West.
When we are completely nourished and again getting antsy to ride, its soak the evaporation vest, mount up, catch up and cross the bridge from Card Sound to North Key Largo.
Its the best ride in all the Keys.
The ride to Key West is basically a bummer. There are a couple of bridges that make for a scenic interlude, but mostly it is tourist traffic that is stop and go. The stop part means we are sitting and standing on hot asphalt with no breeze waiting for the traffic to move. No fun!
Once on the last Key, we check in to the Navy Lodge and call Stu and Marianne to set up a dinner engagement. But...before all of this, there is some record keeping to complete. Here tis:
We head to the beginning and end of Hwy 1 in downtown Key West. I pull up into a drive way of the Court House to take some photos. As I put the kick stand down, I see a policeman coming our way and before he can say "Get the hell off my Court House property", I blurt out something about just arriving from the Arctic Circle. He melts. Tells us to leave the bikes where they are and he will take both our cameras and take pics of Dick and I together. As we approach the "End of the Rainbow" sign, Dick and I give each other a big hug then shake hands for the picture. The police man says we can hug again for a photo if we like. "After all, he states with ho hum interest, this is Key West you know" That's why Dick and I are laughing so hard in the picture.
Its lobster and beer with Stu and Marianne as we try, without too much detail, relating some of the stories and experiences we had on this Mother of all Motorcycle trips. I would like to state again that I was heart broken when I discovered that Stu would not be able to make the trip. He and I have done a lot of miles together and I know he would have had a ball. The flags are what is left of our most treasured national ensign. They did yeomen's duty and will be put to rest appropriately with a long standing traditional disposal. We bid farewell to Stu and Marianne, return to the lodge and sleep deep for a change.
The next day, 13 August, it's on the road early to beat the heat and we make Dick's home in DeLand, FL in one day. Dick and Christine had arranged for Dick's brother John and his wife to join us for drinks dinner and fellowship.
The entire family are wonderful folks with lots of personality and gregarious character traits. Gregarious is way cool. We tell all sorts of lies and I listen, with interest, to their tales of family outings on a lake in upper NY state and how they all come together to renew themselves with close contact amongst all the children and grand children.
My family was always separated by large geographic distances and some sibling rivalry that made large family gatherings tense. I feel a certain envy of their cohesive family. This takes work to keep going and I am remiss in not putting forth that kind of effort.
My last day of riding begins early again. I have, over the past six weeks, reestablished a bond with a good friend and I find it hard to admit that this trip is over and we will return to our regular wonderful lives. Dick and I make the goodbyes short and I let out the clutch to start home.
I ride until my hunger gets the best of me and I stop at Steamboat Lilly's in Hilliard, Florida. My Margaret and I have eaten there before so I thought I would give it a try.
They have what they call a real Florida Breakfast. It consist of fried catfish, eggs, grits and a huge Cat's Head biscuit with brown gravy.
Whoa! And guess what else...it has its own group of locals who gather here every day to sip java and enjoy the comradeship of their mates. (When Margaret and I came here years ago, it was probably this same group of guys who were having their morning breakfast. You could not help but over hear their conversation. One gentleman was describing how he was trying to fix a piece of farm machinery and he needed a half inch piece of cold rolled steel. He exclaimed that he scrubbed that steel with his hacksaw until he ran out of scrubbing power. He opined that the steel bar was: "As hard as Japanese 'rithmatick". Never heard that one before! This tale brings a smile to my face every time I retell it.) They allow me to take my last pictures of the trip.
The ride home was lonely and depressing. The end was nigh.
I traveled 14,707 miles. Filled my gas tank 99 times. Spent $1,142.00 on gas. Averaged 42 miles/gal. None of the bikes were dropped (well there was one minor incident that hardly deserves mentioning), had an accident, blew a tire or had any other major mechanical problem. Never stopped by a policeman. We traveled through 20 states and four provinces of Canada. We rode the ALCAN Hwy in it's full length. Rode to the Arctic Circle and back. Completed one of the longest one way trips in America from the Arctic Circle to Key West, Florida. Got Dick Iron Butt certified. Reaffirmed friendships I will treasure forever. We did this while collecting Social Security.
I would like to wax poetic or at least prosetic (not a word) but I have said much already.
So...I had a grand time and the grass needs cutting.