Day 12: On the Alaska Highway At Last
We fired up the V-Twins early this morning, anxious to get started on our trek north on the Alaska Highway, and before 7 a.m., properly attired in heated jackets and gloves to accommodate the low 50s temperature, we logged our first miles on this 1,300 mile leg of the Adventure.
Only 21 miles out of Dawson Creek, I took a short detour to ride some of the original route, including the historic curved Kiskatinaw Bridge built in 1942 over the river of the same name .
The bridge still boasts the original wooden decking, and we found several places where the wood has begun to deteriorate seriously. The Alaska Highway has been straightened and a new bridge was built several miles upriver, but tourists who miss the Kiskatinaw Bridge miss an important piece of history and and an engineering marvel that still stands high above the river after nearly 75 years.
With such an early start, a pie stop was called for at 9 a.m. and we stopped at Mile 72 at the Shepherd’s Inn where three years ago, I enjoyed a huge piece of apple pie. Today, however, we each enjoyed a huge piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie and several cups of coffee.
Today’s ride took us through some of the more gentle terrain of the Alaska Highway, though several river crossings provided some downs and ups with sharp curves thrown in. For the most part, though, the ride was flat or gently rolling land through heavily forested pine and birch with only occasional road construction that stopped us in the middle of the road to wait for a pilot car to escort us to the other end of the resurfacing. In one instance, the entire road surface had been removed and we proceeded on dirt/gravel for about a mile. I promised Mark that this was a taste of what to expect later as we reached the more northerly portions of the Alaska Highway. For the first 150 miles or so today, heavy truck traffic related to logging and the oil fields caused us to be especially vigilant on the road, but for the final half of the ride, traffic consisted of mostly tourists with a few transport trucks in the mix.
We arrived early in Fort Nelson by design because I wanted to make sure we had time to explore the Fort Nelson Historical Society Museum on the north end of town. I had visited there once before three years ago with Marilyn and met an interesting character; I hoped he would be there again. As we dismounted from our bikes in the dusty parking lot, I spotted the white-bearded man I hoped to meet again. Marl Brown was out front and I introduced myself as someone who had met him three years and fondly remembered him and the incredible museum he founded .
Eclectic only begins describe this museum, a treasure trove of memorabilia and artifacts that reflects the town of Fort Nelson and the hearty souls who live there. We toured the inside of the museum, probably only aware of 10% of the flotsam and jetsam it contains that reminds visitors of the area’s fascinating history. Hundreds of taxidermy displays, household goods, remains of professional careers, mining equipment, military reminders–literally tens of thousands of items scattered throughout the building. And outside, it was much the same.
But the highlight of this visit, was the tour through the garage conducted by Marl (I misrepresented him as Merl three years ago). In the garage were parked more than a dozen antique automobiles owned by Marl, surrounded by old tools, road signs and parts and pieces of other autos and engines. Marl agreed to re-create the photograph I captured three years ago, much to my delight. (For the original picture, click here.) And then he walked us through the garage, explaining a little about each of the cars and actually starting a single-cyclinder 1906 Brush (which I had never heard of).
Mark also enjoyed the tour conducted by the museum’s founder and driving force, asking dozens of questions about the cars and trucks 84-year-old Marl had bought and restored during many decades of an active life. When I asked him what he did before he started the museum, he replied with a wink, “Pretty much what I’m doing now.”
We were also fortunate that museum summer employee Katelyn took time to show us through several other out buildings with exhibits ranging from telephone equipment, to postal services, to a trapper’s cabin and to explain some of the many artifacts scattered around the grounds. She was enthusiastic about the museum and her respect and admiration for Marl came through in everything she said.
Tomorrow, we continue westward on the Alaska Highway, finishing the day in the Yukon Territory at special accommodations with a history as old as the highway.