Great Alaska Adventure: At Mile Marker Zero, Again
About three weeks ago, I sat on my bike in Key West in front of Mile Marker Zero, the southernmost point in the United States.
Today, about 4,200 miles later I sat on my bike in Dawson Creek, BC, in front of Mile Marker Zero, the southernmost (and beginning) point on the Alaska Highway. Only 1,532 miles to go to Fairbanks. The Great Alaska Adventure is definitely on.
I purposely planned today’s ride to be short because I wanted to be able to spend time in Dawson Creek visiting several museums, a gallery, and taking the obligatory tourist pictures. As a result, we delayed our departure from Grande Prairie, AB, until a little after 10 a.m., which allowed us to stay just behind the westward moving rain that we rode in yesterday. We had a few sprinkles today and rode on some wet roads but left the rain suits securely stowed in the saddlebags. The ride today was only 85 miles, and it gave me time to do a little big game hunting.
I bagged the biggest beaver I’ve ever seen. I’m going to leave it where I found it though, because there’s not a wall big enough in our North Carolina cabin to mount a beaver as big as this one.
We arrived in Dawson Creek about noon. Or so I thought. Turns out we had gone through another time zone and it was only 11 a.m. (By the way, for you folks in Orange Park, that means as I write this a little past 9 p.m. it’s now after midnight on the First Coast.) And we’ll move one time zone earlier when we get to Alaska in six days.
We wandered through a local museum in a converted railroad depot that portrayed the history of Dawson Creek and the arrival of the northern terminus of the railroad there. It was an interesting, eclectic little museum as most local museums are. This one had a reconstruction of the station master’s house, a room with about 100 taxidermy specimens, a room with miscellaneous “old stuff” people had donated, and a small section devoted to the Alaska Highway. You can’t expect local historical societies to re-create The Smithsonian, but a lot of small, local museums most of us pass by without visiting are full of interesting tidbits that help explain not just a particular town but often an entire geographic region. Some of the most meaningful work I did as an historian was working with local historical societies helping them develop interpretive themes in their museums.
We also visited a small (and the curators hope temporary) exhibit focused on the building of the Alaska Highway (known for years as the ALCAN Highway) in 1942 as the United States prepared to defend against an invasion of North America by the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. There’s no point going through the entire history of the building of the road since there are plenty of websites and books that offer thorough explanations, but I will say that it was a remarkable feat. More than 11,000 soldiers built a 1,500 mile road through rugged wilderness in some of the worst climate and environmental conditions and did it in only 8 months. Much of the highway I’ll travel in the next six days will follow exactly the path (and it was little more than a path) that they blazed. I’m excited to see the incredible scenery that’s ahead, but I hope I remember and appreciate the almost superhuman sacrifices of those who built this engineering marvel.
Our last cultural stop today was at an art museum and gallery located in an old grain elevator in Dawson Creek. The building was beautifully preserved on the outside and reconstructed on the inside, rising four stories using an inclined walkway that hugged the interior walls of the building. Art created largely by local artists populated the walls. The ground floor gallery had a variety of art for sale, but we passed on it since most of what I liked was pottery that would not likely make the return trip to Florida intact.
Then it was time for a couple pictures for posterity (and this blog).
Tomorrow we follow the compass needle north as we set our sights on Fort Nelson, BC, about 280 miles from here. Lots to see on the Alaska Highway and the weather is supposed to be some of the best we’ve had since we started out. Blue skies and temperatures most of the day in the 60s and 70s.
Great Alaska Adventure: New Blog Editor
My previous blog editing program seems to have disappeared completely. I can’t even find it when I searched the App Store. So I’ve downloaded a new one. I’m not sure how this works, so for the next few days every post will be a practice post. Please stick around. After all, this is an adventure.
OK. We’re making progress. I just published the first paragraph and got it to show up after about five tries. Now I’m editing my first BlogPad Pro post by adding this paragraph. If this works, I’ll try to add a picture.
OK. This paragraph is the fourth update (including the first paragraph) and the picture. Oh, by the way, don’t forget to click on the picture to see a full-size version.
Great Alaska Adventure: Problems with blog
My normal blog posting program has quit working and I just tried an alternative. After writing for half an hour, everything I had written disappeared. Here’s the condensed version and then I’m quitting for tonight.
No more prairies and farms. Moved into rolling hills and fragrant forests. More rain in the afternoon. Bikes are filthy. On to Dawson City and the start of the Alaska Highway tomorrow.
Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the blog tomorrow.
Great Alaska Adventure: Edmonton Play Day
Since leaving Bloomer last Thursday, we’ve logged more than 1,400 miles. Time for a day off for a little R&R and to launder the burgeoning bag of dirty clothes. We did all that and more.
Marilyn and Hanna slept in while I packed up the laundry in the Ultra’s tour pack and headed for a laundromat a mile down the road from our hotel. The laundry facility was next to a coffee shop with many choices of choice pastry, so everything worked out fine. Three people times four days multiplied by a little rain equals a heap of dirty duds. But the commercial washers and dryers had me finished by nine and it was time for the recreation part of the day.
We decided yesterday to head to the Telus World of Science because we learned that their premier exhibit was “Body Worlds and the Cycle of Life,” a show I’ve wanted to see for years. It’s a show that uses more than 200 real cadavers and body parts preserved in a process known as “plastination” to reveal all the internal workings of the human body and many of the frailties that afflict and affect us as we age or abuse our bodies. It’s hard to describe, but you can learn more if you’re interested by clicking here. I expected the exhibit to be good and it was better than I expected. What an amazing way to learn about who we are and how we work, at least from a physiological perspective. There are several traveling exhibits using this process; if you get the chance to see it, go.
One of the things I saw was a real aortic valve. That was dear to my heart, given my implanted titanium valve.
But the Telus World of Science in Edmonton had much more to offer than this one fabulous exhibit. We also visited four other galleries in the museum that ranged from the environment to crime detection to space exploration. Much of the exhibit material is geared to kids and today there were several visiting school groups, but there was also much that adults could learn and enjoy as well.
In all, we spent more than six hours at the World of Science and it was a good non-riding day.
When we left the museum, we headed for the West Edmonton Mall. I’m not much of a mall person and almost never go to the one three blocks from my house, but the WEM is pretty special, eh? It’s similar to the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis. In addition to 800 stores/kiosks (36 of which are dedicated to footwear and another 45 are categorized as “Ladies Wear”) there are more than a dozen sit down restaurants plus several dozen fast food outlets. And did I mention the skating/hocky rink? And the Galaxyland Amusement Park. And the world’s largest indoor lake? And the ropes course? And the waterpark. And the bowling alley. And the hotel attached to the Mall? Holy Crap! It’s the Mecca of indoor shopping and entertainment. I think I heard they also have the world’s biggest parking lot. Two hours, including a pretty good dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory was enough for me. I really am ready to get on the road again.
Fortunately Marilyn and Hanna were content with a single shopping foray into Bath and Body Works and I only had to sit and wait on the Man Bench in front of the store for 20 minutes. While I was there I noticed that Edmonton really has an international cosmopolitan flavor. Not what I expected from what is basically an oil town.
The bikes are gassed, we’ve got three packs of clean clothes, and tomorrow we continue motoring west to Grande Prairie, Alberta. Rain is a possibility by the end of the ride, but we’ll start out dry.
Thanks again for following along on the Great Alaska Adventure and for your various blog comments.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: Riding Straight Up and Down Again
The sky was overcast when we left Saskatoon at 8 a.m. and the weather forecasters were suggesting rain was a possibility along the corridor to Edmonton, so we suited up again. But other than additional protection from cool weather we never needed rain gear today. And more importantly, what little wind there was blew directly at us as we headed west. Riding perpendicular to the road again was a pleasant change from yesterday’s wind-blown slant riding. Today was chilly (53-63 degrees) but not bad and warmer than we’ll probably find after we turn north again in a few days as we head toward Fairbanks on the Alaska Highway. I didn’t wear heated gear and didn’t feel like I needed it, but Marilyn enjoyed her toasty jacket liner and gloves, leaving her leather jacket in the saddle bags.
The ride through Saskatchewan this morning was more of the flat, endless acres of wheat and other crops broken by prairie pothole ponds. But almost immediately after lunch and entry into Alberta, the character of the ground changed and rolling hills became the dominant feature.
The ride was generally uneventful, but I’m not complaining. There will be eventual days ahead, I’m sure.
Hanna was excited to get to Edmonton because Alberta has an 18-year-old drinking age and she chose for her first (legal) drink a chocolate, Kahlua and rum mixture. I suggested a shot of Mr. Daniel’s fine Tennessee elixir but she was set on her choice. Bottoms up. I can’t remember my first “legal” drink. Plenty of experience in high school and the Navy before I turned 21, though. I guess “legal” didn’t matter much by the time I got there.
A day off tomorrow in Edmonton for laundry, sight seeing and maybe a short night on the town.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: Wet, Windy Welcome to Canada
I’ve said repeatedly that this trip was an adventure not a vacation. Today proved my point, again. Wind and rain made the day’s entry into Canada a rather unpleasant and extremely tiring ride. From the time we left Kenmare, ND, to the time we finally got to Saskatoon 11 hours later we rode through the second worst wind I’ve ever driven in (Wyoming was the worst) and the worst Marilyn has ever driven in. We were headed north-northwest today and all day long the wind blew 25-35 mph out of the west.
Those who know me fairly well, know that I’m generally left leaning and today I leaned left for 300 miles trying to keep the Ultra Classic beast on the road. Both Marilyn and I ended the day with sore left wrists from compensating for the wind and keeping the bikes from being blown off the road to the right. And our gas mileage dropped from 42 mpg to 36. And Canadian gas is $5.50 a gallon.
While the first 200 miles was windy and dry, the next 150 were windy and wet and cold. We survived, of course, and we have a story to tell when we regale everyone with our adventures, but, trust me, it was not fun. One day into Canada and Marilyn got to try out her new heated gear. It worked, but it took about 50 miles of driving in the wind and rain before we could find a Saskatchewan town with paved streets and a gas station where we could adjust our gear to the worsening weather. I have to say, though, that the guy who ran the convenience store took pity on three bedraggled wayfarers and gave us coffee on the house. Canadians as a group, I discover every time I ride here, are very friendly people.
I mentioned in the first paragraph that today’s ride took 11 hours and those who are paying attention are thinking, “Wait a minute that’s only an average speed of 31.818181 miles per hour. How slow were they going?” Well, we were riding a few kilometers per hour below the speed limit of 100 out of due regard for the wind and rain, but we also had to stop at the border crossing for about 20 minutes as the Canadian Border Patrol dutifully made sure we were neither terrorists nor money launders nor arms smugglers, asking us where we were going and why and how long we were going to take doing it and what my 18-year-old granddaughter did when she wasn’t traveling on a motorcycle. By the way, check the ribbon on Marilyn’s helmet Biker Braid during our stop at the border crossing to see evidence of the wind. (Biker Braids could also be sold as Biker Anemometers.)
And the wind was beating us so bad that when we stopped in Canada for the first time for coffee and donuts (and apple fritters and cinnamon rolls and raspberry filled donut holes) we lingered longer than a normal break warranted. And we did the same thing at lunch, after which we spent additional time donning rain gear for the impending deluge. And of course there was the break to re-arrange gear in the packs when the wind (have I mentioned the wind) ripped the cover off my T-Bag Dekker Bag in the driving rain and sent it sailing across the Saskatchewan prairie toward Manitoba.
Hanna’s entry into the world of international travel was certainly memorable and she kept her spirits pretty well, despite getting a little chilled before we could find a place to pull over and adjust gear. She had to put her camera away early because of the rain, but I really liked this shot she got of iron wheat.
The Trouper-of-the-Day award goes, as it always does, to Marilyn who, despite continued sore ribs from her fall a week ago, revived sufficiently during our final stop to add her heated jacket liner and gloves to her precipitation-friendly ensemble for the final slog to Saskatoon. And she’ll be ready to go again tomorrow when more rain but a little less wind is predicted for our two-wheel trek to Edmonton. (Heather and Hilary: You have a pretty incredible mom.)
When we reach Edmonton tomorrow we have a non-travel day scheduled to see some sights and relax a little.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: North Dakota Lesson
Yesterday I included a snide remark about North Dakota’s low scenic value. I apologize for that. Today I learned that North Dakota is not the flat, boring wheat-field patterned state I imagined it to be. Turns out there’s a striking beauty that’s been there thousands of years.
We started out today in Fargo at 8 a.m. under overcast skies that darkened gradually as we headed west on I-94. We had only motored about 60 miles when a look at the minacious clouds scuttling northeast in the distance convinced me that rain gear was the appropriate dress code for the rest of the morning, and we all suited up. About 20 miles down the road we saw a few puddles on the sides of the pavement and as we veered northwest at Jamestown we caught a few sprinkles. Although we saw significant rain in the distance to our left and right, we fortuitously dodged heavy rain, at least for a while.
As we approached the third hour of today’s ride, the skies again darkened dramatically and we stopped again for another iPad-assisted radar weather check. As luck would have it, the cafe we stopped at had PIE! The Chieftain Motel, Lounge and Restaurant in Carrington offered several tempting varieties of pie. I selected a big enough slice of Coconut Creme to last long enough for the approaching rain to come and go. Nothing says lunch-on-the-road like freshly baked Coconut Creme pie.
Marilyn met a big man at the cafe as the picture suggests, but ultimately he didn’t measure up to me and she saddled up and continued to follow my tail light north.
The black clouds turned gray and then billowing white as the final three hours of the ride went through country that precipitated the apology in the initial paragraph of this post. It turns out that North Dakota (and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) have a common feature known as the Pothole Prairie Region dotted with hundreds of thousands of small lakes and ponds, especially in the spring and early summer as winter snows melt and, instead of draining in creeks, streams and rivers, fill up the holes that had been created through glacial action 10,000 years ago.
It turns out that the ponds and lakes make perfect habitat for migrating and procreating waterfowl (e.g. ducks) that swam and flew in great numbers along our route. (As an ironic aside, while I was watching one of the ducks swimming in a pothole I hit a deep, non-glacial pothole in the North Dakota highway. No damage, but I could have ducked it if I hadn’t been watching the duck.)
The ride got even more interesting as we neared Minot because the flat land started to develop bumps. Not mountains, by any stretch, but nice rolling hills that framed the valley through which we were riding. I had all along thought North Dakota was flat as a billiard table. See what you can learn when you go on a 12,000-mile ride through this beautiful country of ours?
Tonight we’re about 40 miles from the northern border of the United States and tomorrow we present our passports and put away our cell phones, which become very expensive at $.59 a minute in the Dominion of Canada. Destination tomorrow: Saskatoon. Weather forecast: Clear to start and rain to finish. Hey, it’s an adventure.
(Don’t forget to double click on the pictures for larger images.)
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: Now We Are Three
Since May 30 and for 2,822 miles Marilyn and I rode as a twosome. Today’s 348 miles from Bloomer to Fargo was ridden as a threesome with Hanna appropriately perched on the princess seat behind me. For the next 34 days and 6,000 miles or so she’ll see Canada, Alaska and parts of the western United States from her new throne. Other than a little sunburn on her face, I think it was a good beginning. The weather cooperated with no rain and temps in the mid-50s at 7 a.m., reaching 80 degrees by the time we rolled into Fargo.
For those of you keeping track (and no one but me really is), when I crossed under the Welcome to North Dakota sign I checked off my 48th state on a motorcycle. If my luck and my Harley hold up, I’ll notch number 49 when I ride into Alaska in eight days. I’m not sure I’ll ever tally all 50. After all, now that I’ve seen scenic North Dakota, Hawaii would just be a let down.
There were two ways to get from Bloomer to Fargo: The quick way on the super slab or the longer way on roads less traveled. I chose the latter as I generally do.
U.S. highways, state highways, county highways and even some un-numbered roads today took us through fecund Wisconsin and Minnesota farm lands covered with waving grains and grasses that a city boy has no hope of identifying but which no doubt will, in various ways, feed people across the country and around the world. Whenever I travel in the countryside I’m always reminded–and amazed–at how much work America’s growing class puts in to feed the rest of us.
We saw a few of the more than 10,000 lakes that dot Minnesota’s countryside. I wish we could have seen more but they were too frequently secreted by dense forests blocking the view of road-bound travelers. My GPS teasingly revealed hundreds of blue dots and specks as we sped by, but despite efforts to peer between the dense branches of lofty pines, I rarely caught more than a glimpse of the lakes and shores lined with aging vacation cabins and pristine resorts. But I knew they were there, waiting for another trip.
Chance sightings of relics from days before superhighways reward riders who take what author William Least Heat Moon referred to as “Blue Highways,” minor roads on maps that usually show up as meandering blue lines connecting county dots with names like Barron, Almena and Turtle Lake. Today’s roadside parade of cultural artifacts included a 30-foot tall root beer mug, a 25-foot chef with a wooden spoon cruelly menacing a 4-foot snowman and a motley army of misshapen tin soldiers of various sizes manufactured by a folksy metalsmith with too much time and scrap on his hands. Hanna saw the same thing and captured them with her Nikon for me to use this evening as illustrations to my tale.
Tomorrow’s ride goes to Kenmare, ND, our last stop before crossing into Canada, eh (I’m practicing my “ehs” so I’ll fit in while were in Canada.) Could see some rain tomorrow, eh?
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: A Deep Breath and Another Slice of Pie
This was our final day in Bloomer with daughter Heather and granddaughter Lucy. It was also Hanna’s last chance to say goodbye to friends and get in one more practice with her band. She, by the way, is a talented vocalist who would like to parlay her talents into a music career. Anyone out there have any contacts with record companies?
Over the next 30+ days you’ll learn more about 18-year-old Hanna and you’ll discover why we’re so delighted she’s joining us on the Great Alaska Adventure. After today, most of the pictures you see on this blog will come from her. I’ve seen her photographic work and she has an exceptional eye for composition and unique views. Having her along is going to be special.
Marilyn and I said goodbye to Heather and promised to take good care of her middle spawn. We don’t know when we’ll be back this way or when she’ll make another trip to Florida, but hopefully the gap between visits will be short. Marilyn also got to spend additional time joyfully fulfilling her grandma duties with Lucy, who is growing up much too fast.
I need to apologize for an untruth in yesterday’s blog. I said the Main Street Cafe produced 30 different pies. In fact, they have 50 pies on their menu as the attached photos document.
Of course, I had to go back to the MSC and, after thoroughly enjoying the Wednesday lunch special of pork roast, potato dumpling and sauerkraut, I tried in vain to satisfy my pie craving with a honkin’ big slice of transcendent banana cream pie. It was outstanding. But, I said to myself, is that all? Was this to be my final Main Street Cafe delight? The end of the Bloomer pie road?
I offered up a “Pastry Noster” and my prayer was answered when Lucy was unable to eat more than a few bites of her vanilla ice cream-topped Caramel Apple pie before succumbing to satiety and giving me a pieful reprieve. So, for two consecutive glorious days I gorged on two different kinds of peerless pies. I may have to put some more air in the air shocks to accommodate my growing girth.
Tomorrow, Marilyn AND HANNA and I will set out on Wisconsin and Minnesota back roads, heading west until we enter North Dakota at the Fargo portal.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Great Alaska Adventure: Great Pie
Bloomer, Wisconsin, has much to offer, if you like snow, cold weather, fishing for northern pike and being able to leave your house unlocked because everyone knows everyone else. But it’s main claim to fame should be the Main Street Cafe, home to an amazing bakery producing more than 30 different kinds of pie. Those who know my road trip dietary predilections know that pie has a prominent place in the food hierarchy. Today I entered bakery nirvana.
Choosing from more than two dozen fruit- and cream-filled pastry offerings, a veritable plethora of pies, I selected an enormous slice of a pecan caramel cream cheese masterpiece, heightened in its pastry perfection by a scoop of velvety vanilla ice cream made, no doubt, from the finest milk of Wisconsin’s pampered dairy herds.
My fellow traveling gourmands, Marilyn and Hanna, attacked a Lemon Meringue wedge and a chocolate-fudge-ribbon-something-or-other respectively. Each pastry item, of course, was topped with its own massive scoop of vanilla heaven.
After gorging ourselves, we waddled back to the bikes and went shopping to finish our purchases of biker chick necessities. Hanna, though a neophyte biker, is taking to riding like a biker takes to pie, so this should be a good trip.
While Hanna went to say some final goodbyes to friends this evening, I thought a cold beverage would finish the day nicely, so I sent Marilyn for some Moosehead. This is what she brought back. I’ll settle for a glass of Mr. Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash.
Tomorrow is another day and will, no doubt, bring another piece of pie (or two) before we say goodbye to Bloomer and head for Fargo, ND, on Thursday.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”