Great Alaska Adventure: Through the Rockies to Yukon
June 21. The longest day of the year. (Actually it’s the same 24 hour length as all the others so I’m not sure why it gets undue credit for being the longest.) It’s 11 p.m. in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, and the sun is thinking about setting, though I’m not at all sure it will. I woke this morning at 4 a.m. and the sun was up. This “Land of the Midnight Sun” stuff makes for a long day. Nevertheless, since you bothered to show up to read the blog, I’ll write something, pull the shades and try to go to sleep. Sol will set or not without my observance and at this point I don’t care.
I wish I wasn’t so tired because there really is a lot to write about today’s leg of the Great Alaska Adventure. Where do I start?
I suppose the first question everyone asks these days is, “Did he have pie.” Well, no. Not today. But I did find a bakery in the middle of Nowhere British Columbia along the Alaska Highway that offered up the finest, hot, dripping 10,000 calorie cinnamon bun you could imagine. The folks at Tetsa River Outfitters have been making these buns at this location for three generations. I think they’ve got it about right. It was only an hour and a half after breakfast, so I only had one. Next to pie (of any kind) this is a great way to start the day.
The ride? Oh yeah. We finally got into some real mountains. The northern Rockies of British Columbia. Now they’re not the size or the riding challenge of the Colorado Rockies I rode last August with brother Jon and then with the Twisted Riders. But the weather was great and the roads were fun, even at Grandma Marilyn speed. Along the way through this immense fenceless zoo with endless trees and roaring rivers, we saw another moose (this one hip deep in a pond), several black bears, dozens of bison, several flocks of Stone Sheep, and a bald eagle that we raced for several seconds before he landed in the very top of an emaciated pine tree next to the road. This was clearly the best ride we’ve had so far this trip and I know it will get even better as we head further west and north into Alaska.
One of the roadside attractions I discovered when I researched the route for the Great Alaska Adventure was the Liard Hot Springs. (Yes it’s Liard, not Laird). Sitting in the springs was on my GAA “to do” list. And today I checked it off. It’s at a BC provincial park about 120 miles from Watson Lake (today’s destination). A quick right turn off the Alaska Highway, then $10 to the park official at the gate. That princely sum included admission to the park and a promise to guard the bikes while we soaked road-weary bones. Seemed like a good deal to me. A short walk to the springs, change into my trunks and I had my own slightly sulphered hot tub. Crystal clear water. About 105 degrees. 20 minutes of bliss. Then back on the road to finish the day’s ride.
All had gone well to that point. Then, about 50 miles before we crossed into Yukon Territory and 100 miles before we finished for the day, we entered “The Construction Zone.” (Not exactly like the Twilight Zone but there are eerie similarities.) Chip Sealing Ahead, the sign said. For the next 16 kilometers. (About nine miles for you non-metric American provincials.) I was impressed with what a good job they had done for the first five miles. Than I spotted the friendly flagwoman with a big red STOP sign. We were first in line, so we chatted. Turns out the first five miles hadn’t been done yet. They were starting at the other end. And we had a 15 minute wait for the Pilot Car to return. Finally, the pilot car returned, the pilot relieved herself by the side of the road, and we were off through the Great Chip Seal Adventure. Chip Seal, as some of you may know, starts out as pretty much rock and dirt spread out over a little oil on the road then compressed with heavy highway equipment until it resembles asphalt. But the process requires vehicles, including motorcycles piloted by a 60-something grandmother who hates to ride on gravel, to negotiate several miles of loose gravel and dirt, much of which swirled though the air as trucks, tractors, graders, and other highway mechanical monsters try to make it stay in place by the odd method of seeming to throw it everywhere. But we got through. The dust cleared. The road smoothed and we had clear sailing to Watson Lake, I thought naively.
Yeah, right. About another 25 miles down the road, the sign said “Chip Sealing Next 30 Kilometers.” Except this time they were only doing spots of chip sealing. They’d lay down about 100 yards, skip 200, then lay down another 100. But the highway crews were done with their part of the work and it was up to the unpaid traveling public to apparently complete the final phase of this public works boondoggle and try to seal the remaining loose gravel to the road and rid the surface of residual dust by throwing it high into the air where the zephyrs would do their part by spreading the dust cloud to the horizon and beyond. At least we could actually drive on this section at about 50 mph, so, I thought, this won’t be too bad. And then the first 18 wheeler coming the opposite direction roared by (at well above 50 mph, I might add) and kicked up a dust and gravel storm that obscured our vision and pelted our bikes and our selves indiscriminately painfully sharp pieces of small stones. 20 miles of this. And RVs were almost as bad as the 18 wheelers at throwing gravel our way. Still, despite the gravel gauntlet, we made it to Yukon Territory and Watson Lake, about 11 hours after we left Fort Nelson. I was not amused, you can imagine, when I checked for damage and discovered that the right spot light on the Ultra Classic had been shattered by one of the gravel bullets. Oh well, at least with the sun staying up all day, I won’t really need the light.
It wouldn’t be an adventure, I guess, if a small dose of daily poop didn’t accompany the ride.
Tomorrow: On to Whitehorse (pop 25K), capital of Yukon Territory, and another Play Day to lick our wounds, wash our laundry and see what lays in store for the Great Alaska Adventurers.