Day 13: Amazing “Typical” Day
Today as I rode steadily west by northwest on the Alaska Highway , I found myself with two complementary trains of thought. First, I was amazed at the incredible variety of things we encountered: wild critters most people only see in a zoo, regal mountains rising to the clouds, a natural hot springs that soothes aching muscles, dusty road construction, and an historic site that has become a shrine of sorts for travelers. Second, I considered that what I saw today can be seen on nearly any 300 mile drive on the Alaska Highway. Today was fairly typical. Was it Amazing? or was it Typical? My conclusion is that amazing IS typical on this road, and I’ll settle for amazing any time I venture forth on two wheels.
For the first hour we rode on fairly flat ground as we left Fort Nelson and headed toward the northern terminus of the Rocky Mountains north of the Liard (pronounced Lee Ard) River. But soon we saw the Rockies in the distance and before another hour passed, we were in them, climbing and descending, leaning into curves, and enjoying the thrill that mountain roads give only to motorcycle riders. The weather was chilly enough to require heated gear, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable. At least we had dry, smooth roads. Until we didn’t.
It’s said in this northern country there are two seasons: Winter and road construction. We are clearly in the resurfacing season, as work crews appear out of nowhere spreading oil and crushed rock on the roads to reseal them, giving travelers the job of smashing the rock into the oil and thereby sealing it to the surface. Unfortunately one of those rocks didn’t adhere as it should have and a passing RV took perfect aim at my bike. Now I have a star-like crack in the middle of my windshield; I think of it as an Alaska Highway Badge of Honor and will probably not replace the windshield. At a couple locations, road crews had obliterated the old road and were laying a completely new base and surface. In the meantime, cars, trucks and motorcycles detoured on a dusty parallel road after waiting 15 minutes for a pilot truck to return to their end of the road. Fortunately, accepted practice calls for motorcycles to go to the head of any line that forms, so at least we didn’t have to eat road dust thrown up by the other waylaid vehicles.
If Critter Bingo was a game (and it probably should be), we would have done well today. We spotted a deer, Stone Sheep, a young caribou, a black bear and a herd of Woods Bison. I’m still waiting to be moosed. Some days are better than others for critter spotting on the Highway, but you are unlikely to get skunked. Unless you hit a skunk.
By noon we had been on the road for nearly six hours and even the huge cinnamon roll we had at Tetsa Campground wasn’t enough to keep us going. But we were prepared because we had our swimming trunks handy and spent an hour at the Liard Hot Springs, soothing our aging joints and aching muscles. I had stopped there three years ago and looked forward to another soak in the hot mineral water. Mark and I duplicated a picture taken when Marilyn and I came through in 2013 on the first Great Alaska Adventure. (To see the original, click here.)
The day ended in Watson Lake, famous for the Sign Post Forest. This iconic spot on the highway started in 1942 when a lonely soldier erected a sign telling everyone that his hometown in Illinois was more than 3,000 miles away. Soon other soldiers joined in and by the end of the war there were dozens of poles with signs pointing the direction home. During the next 70 years, people from all over the world have left names, hometowns, and various handmade signs to prove that they, too, had passed through Watson Lake, Yukon Territory and were thinking of home. Mark and I did not add to the signage proliferation, but I did see three different people nailing new signs to well-used sign posts, adding their number to the total of nearly 100,000 signs.
Tomorrow, we go mostly west across the Yukon. We just overheard a conversation between two other bikers at our historic motel that indicated tomorrow’s ride will also be full of construction. Another typically amazing day on the Alaska Highway seems to be in store.