Every summer since I retired four years ago I’ve explored parts of North America many people dream about but never see. And I’ve done it on two wheels. Nearly 50,000 miles of riding, exploring, discovering and learning have led me to some of the most beautiful places in the world and, more importantly, have led me to people whose brief but extraordinary intersections with my life have made it exceptional and far more interesting than it would have been without them.
I’ve used “Alaska Redux” several times during the writing of this blog over the past 43 days and will probably use it again as the title for the consequent blog-based book. It means, of course, Alaska “brought back.” More than simply a return to places visited three years ago with Marilyn on my first post-retirement motorcycle excursion, this year’s ride has “brought back” to me the adventuresome spirit of Alaska, the always-present possibility of discovering or rediscovering something or someone that enriches my quotidian life. It has “brought back” to me the awesome and endless wonder of nature. It has “brought back” to me the critical reality that the vast majority of people are good, kind, generous and caring.
Anyone who rereads the blog or flips through the pages of the book to be produced will see what I mean. Look carefully at the pictures published in the blog and you’ll see the breathtaking wonder of soaring, rugged, snowy mountains, the tranquil but powerful cascading of glacier-fed waterfalls and the enticing beauty of small but hardy flowers blooming with unmatchable colors in a harsh environment. Look again and you’ll see a few of the many creatures whose presence in the vast wilderness reminds me of my own small place in the scheme of things and of generations of people who lived harmoniously with nature. Look again and you’ll meet amazing people whose small contributions provide essential and complementary addenda to my conventional and unremarkable life.
Some people I met remained nameless: helpful strangers who pointed me in the right direction or cheerfully guided me to a surprising discovery. Others, whom I met for the first time and whose names I learned–think of Rachael the traveling physical therapist or Greg the outstanding fishing guide or Näntsäna the information-filled Tutchone woman or Mikel the optometrist–offered small lessons in how to live a good life by doing the right thing and caring deeply about what they do. And family and friends–Jon and Ulla, Kent and Josiah, Linda, Jaylene–who reminded me of good times past and the promise of memories yet to be created.
Riding a motorcycle 12,000 miles isn’t about wearing out rubber and thoughtlessly consuming hundreds of gallons of gasoline. It isn’t about desperately trying to remain dry and warm when everything around you is wet and cold. It isn’t about successfully avoiding untoward encounters with giant potholes and wayward critters large and small. No, riding a motorcycle 12,000 miles is about “bringing back” the excitement of living, the joy of learning, the exhilaration of discovery, the enthusiasm of adventure.
This ride differed from the last two adventures that took me to Newfoundland and the Rockies because I had a riding partner. Mark Stevens had followed along on earlier blogs as I rode to Alaska, to the Maritimes and Newfoundland, and to the mountains of mid-continent North America. He decided when his time for retirement came, a long-distance motorcycle adventure had to be part of his new non-working life. Mark and I have ridden together for more than ten years, with an increasing number of shared miles in the past few years. No two people get the same experience out of an adventure like this, even when they cover the same roads together, but I think Mark returned home with new perspectives. We mostly rode quietly, without communicating with each other, enjoying that elemental sentience only true motorcyclists can appreciate. We shared thoughts at the end of each day, but we also mulled alone our silent thoughts. Throughout the 43 days together, Mark’s frequent “Wow!” succinctly suggested he was glad he made the trip.
Next year Marilyn and I will embark on a two-week, 50th Anniversary river cruise down the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest, so a long motorcycle ride is unlikely. But I’m already formulating my next extended, two-wheel trip, and this one may be my most challenging yet.
I’m planning a ride that will begin with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to the Oregon coast, serving up a huge portion of history accompanied by a substantial helping of beautiful scenery. From the Oregon coast, I want to head to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and there begin a cross-Canada ride ending in St. Johns, Newfoundland, before returning home. Depending on side trips, that ride could equal in length my 2013 Key West to Fairbanks jaunt. I have plenty of time to plan this two-month adventure, but right now it sounds like a trip worth taking.
I continue to be an evangelist for retirement. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed and that were fulfilling, but other than raising two daughters, nothing has brought me more pleasure than these long motorcycle rides. It’s probably a good thing my financial resources limit me to one trip a year or I’d be gone all the time. Anyone thinking about retiring and who is close to it should make the move sooner rather than later and should use their newly unencumbered time to explore the world around them in ways that weren’t possible when the demands of a job held them back.
As I sit here sipping a small glass of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and write this final post, I can only say “Thanks again” to everyone who followed this year’s blog, who kept Mark and me in their thoughts. If I made anyone envious, I’m pleased. Knowing friends and family waited for the daily critter count or pie report or foul weather update made sitting with a glass of Jack at my laptop and writing at the end of a long day much, much easier. My audience was small but loyal. Thank you.
If yesterday’s ride was uneventful, today’s was down right boring. Cruising along the Interstates on a Saturday with little traffic, almost no construction, good weather and good roads, there isn’t much to do but reflect on the days behind you and plan for rides yet to come.
I left Paducah a few minutes after 6 a.m. as the rising sun broke through the scattered clouds, giving me a beautiful sunrise to start my day. It was cool but not raining so I wore neither rain gear nor heated gear for the first time in many days. I savored the soothing sound of my worn but adequate tires rolling down the road, enjoyed the sensation of a chill wind blowing against my skin, and watched the sun paint the gray clouds rich hues of pink, orange, yellow and red. Being alone on a motorcycle rolling effortlessly along an open road is a good time to collect and sort one’s thoughts.
A couple of short gas stops in Tennessee and a brief lunch break and I was able to coast down my Maggie Valley driveway at 2:30 to a great welcome home from Marilyn and two motorcycle friends from Orange Park, Steve and Ruth, who are spending the last two days of their 10-day motorcycle riding adventure with us. We compared ride experiences, friendly and unfriendly border crossings, inclement weather, various wrong turns and surprise finds along the way. Motorcycle adventures, whether 10 days or 43 days always result in tales to tell and re-tell to willing and unwilling listeners.
This weekend as time permits, I’ll collect some thoughts for a final post summarizing this year’s motorcycle trip and laying out hopes and plans for the next one.
For now, I’ll just say thanks to all who followed the blog again this year; I couldn’t hear you, but I could imagine you commiserating with my rain stories, envying my fishing stories, and laughing at my pie stories. I could imagine the “oohs” and “aaahhhs” as you opened mountain pictures, critter pictures, flower pictures, and, of course, pie pictures. It was nice to have cyber company who took the time to join in the trip. I hope I can take you along again on another adventure somewhere.
Some days nothing much happens. Today was one of those days.
I only scheduled a 325 mile ride today and the single challenge was getting through St. Louis, which, with the help of the GPS, we did easily. The GPS routed me differently than I’ve gone in the past, and I think it was a better route. It was a little longer by a few miles, but it avoided the worst of downtown St. Louis traffic.
Rain threatened this morning as we left our Boonville lodging, so we donned rain gear once again and kept it on until we stopped for gas about 10:30. We checked the weather radar at the gas stop and saw that storms were developing south and east of us, precisely the direction we would be traveling. After coffee, we got back on the road, put the bikes on cruise control and had an uneventful ride until we reached Marion, Illinois, and saw ominous black storm clouds barring our way. We exited the Interstate to put our wet weather gear back on and to check the radar.
Looking for a place to park temporarily, Mark led us to a Menards where we checked the radar and discovered lots of red, orange and yellow rain headed our way. But since the pie selection at Menards (a home improvement store) was sorely lacking, we moved on to a Bob Evans restaurant which at least had some pies. I selected French Silk while Mark attacked a slice of apple pie and we waited for an hour for the storm to pass.
As it turned out, our timing was perfect and we missed all the rain. The temperature , however, did climb above 90 and we were still in our rain gear, so we were each a little damp from our traveling sauna when we finally pulled into our Paducah motel.
See, I told you nothing much happened. With luck, tomorrow will be the same for each of us. Mark will depart early (i.e. 5 a.m.) and head to Orange Park, 730 miles away. I only have a 400 mile trip ahead of me to Maggie Valley, so my departure will be a few hours later.
Tomorrow night, I’ll write a short post and then, as I always do, I’ll compose a summary post of this year’s adventure and various miscellaneous thoughts.
For the past three days, the Adventure has been more adventuresome for me than for Mark, I’m afraid. Two days ago I visited our friend Linda in Laramie. Yesterday I visited my brother and nephew in Lincoln. And today, I visited my hometown of Topeka and a friend I’ve known since we were in the third grade together 60 years ago and struggled (well I struggled, anyway) our way through the educational and social pitfalls of high school. Of all the people I knew in my hometown growing up, Jaylene is the only one I’m in touch with, and that only rarely. Last year when Marilyn and I made our Miata trip to California and back, we stopped in Topeka to look around and have lunch with Jaylene. Today we had another chance to reminisce about the “old days.”
But first Mark and I had to get to Topeka from Lincoln. Yesterday we arrived in Lincoln after riding in the rain for an hour. Today as we left the Nebraska capital rain was falling again and fell for two hours until after we crossed the border into Kansas. Our decision in Alaska to add additional rain jackets to our riding apparel was a good one, and the double layers kept us dry. Above the belt. Below the belt continues to be a different story. My Gorilla Tape addenda have held up pretty well, but after two hours of riding in a steady rain, the seat of my jeans was still a little damp. For Mark, apparently, “damp” would be a gross understatement, despite the application of a half roll of the black, sticky tape to the seams of his rain pants. We’ve concluded that Harley-Davidson logo rain gear is only meant to be effective for about 15 minutes until you can pull over and get under cover. Maybe $500 Gor-Tex pants will keep you completely dry while you continue riding, but not Harley gear.
Still, being the hard-core riders we are, we pressed on to arrive on time for our 11 a.m.lunch engagement with Jaylene at her favorite restaurant, Paisanos. This is the same restaurant Marilyn and I enjoyed with her last year. And once again, the food was very good, especially the Chocolate Mousse Torte all three of us shared. But the service was almost comical. Our waiter, who shall remain nameless, worked hard (you could tell by the sweat beading up and dripping off his forehead) but he should probably find a more suitable line of employment. He tried hard and was pleasant, but he forgot items, he was slow to bring refills, he couldn’t remember what we ordered, he assumed Mark wanted one soup when Mark actually wanted the other, he tried to correct Jaylene on what deserts they had when he was wrong and she was right. At least he didn’t spill anything on us. (He spilled a lemonade on Jaylene the last time she was there with her grandkids.) I didn’t even take a chance he would realize we needed clean forks for the shared dessert and reminded him to bring new ones, spoiling the possibility of a table bet on whether he would bring clean forks or not. I tipped him , but only because I figured he would need the cash until his meagre unemployment checks start to arrive. Hey, at least Jaylene got to share in part of Mark’s and my adventure.
After lunch, Jaylene wanted to see the bikes that have carried us more than 10,000 miles so far on this adventure. I apologized for their filthy condition and pointed out that a significant part of Canada and Alaska and numerous of their flying creatures were attached to our chassis and tin. She was impressed with our ability (she didn’t say “at your age” but I’m sure she was thinking it) to ride 8-10 hours a day through the very conditions that had so badly besmirched our once-clean scoots. We said our goodbyes and Mark and I mounted up for the remaining three-hour, rain-free ride to Booneville, Missouri.
Tomorrow, no great adventures are expected as we continue to reduce the dwindling miles that lie between us and home. But you never know.
On these long rides, I always try to plan routes that combine riding adventure with time for friends and family, getting the biggest bang out of my limited travel bucks. Last night, of course, was time with Linda at the ranch. Tonight in Lincoln, it was time with brother Kent and nephew Josiah.
Nothing much to report on the ride from Laramie to Lincoln. An early start was called for in order to cover 500 miles while losing an hour in a time zone change (mountain time to central time), so we left Laramie at 7 a.m but not before checking the weather radar. Rain showed up near the Wyoming-Nebraska border, but not heavy and we were already in our rain gear.
For the next 300 miles we set the cruise control at (or near) the speed limit, slowed down a little for about 30 miles of road construction, and ticked off the miles and the minutes. But at our last gas stop, rain showed up again on the radar, so we donned several layers of rain gear and made a 50-mile run in moderately heavy rain behind a big blue truck that was easy to see even with rain drops covering my face shield. At least my new rain jacket worked to keep the leaks in the Harley rain jacket from penetrating to my shirt.
When I arrived at our hotel in Lincoln, I called Kent and we made arrangements to be picked up for dinner. Kent and Josiah took Mark and me on a brief tour of a bustling downtown Lincoln before settling on dinner at Billy’s, one of Lincoln’s premier eateries. Billy’s is located in the completely restored home (picture left) of William Jennings Bryan, an orator and politician at the turn of the 20th century who was the Democratic/Populist nominee for president in 1896, 1900 and 1908. He later served as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. Lincolnites are proud of their Bryan heritage as the various statues, photographs and plaques around town attest. Billy’s has a short but ambitious menu and everything we had tonight (I had Steak Diane) demonstrated the prowess of chef/owner Nadar Farahbod who not only cooked our meal but came by our table to chat for awhile. Great food in a great setting always leads to great conversation, and we had a pleasant three hours catching up on family affairs.
My family is spread out from Wisconsin to Louisiana, from the plains to the West Coast, and I don’t get to my kids and brothers enough, so including them in motorcycle adventures always adds to the value of these trips.
Tomorrow a short visit to Topeka where I grew up then we move closer to home as this Adventure winds down.
I have been at our friend Linda’s ranch all evening and it’s going on 11 p.m. so this post will be short.
First, my return visit to the optometrist’s office this morning went well. The scratched cornea is already beginning to heal and other than a little blurred vision in the right eye that will be gone in a few days, everything is fine.
Most of the miles we put on the bikes today were at Montana and Wyoming speed limits, which vary from 70 to 80 mph. That made the 435 miles we had to cover go very quickly.
No specific stops were planned for today, but I did point out to Mark a couple of the things I remembered from my days in Wyoming. One of those was the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow where we stopped for pie and coffee and a quick look at the 1909 hotel that still has the original bar and whose rooms have been furnished with period pieces. The hotel was named in honor of the book written by Owen Wister of the same title, some of whose scenes were set in the town of Medicine Bow. The book The Virginian set the stage for “Western” novels and made famous the phrase “If you’re going to call me that, smile.”
Once we checked into our motel, I quickly confirmed arrangements to go visit Marilyn’s and my best friend from our Wyoming days, Linda. Readers of previous blogs know of Linda and her life as the sole operator of an 8,000 acre ranch. Nothing much has changed and she’s still one of the best story tellers I know. She insisted I come to the ranch rather than meet us in town because she had a surprise to show me. I got fajitas for four from our favorite Mexican restaurant and her mother picked us up and drove us to the ranch where I immediately saw the surprise: She’s building a new house. It’s going to be twice as big as her existing home and will perfectly suit her when it’s finished.
We enjoyed beer and fajitas on her front lawn while a doe and two fawns paraded past in the waning light. Mark enjoyed the visit to the ranch, too, and thought getting to spend time with Linda and her mom was a “hoot.” She’s a special friend to Marilyn and me and great fun to be with. I hated to be able to visit for only a few hours, but it was certainly the high point of today’s adventure. Of course Linda and I engaged in our traditional “Tequila Toast,” a ritual we indulge in every time we get together. She even opened a “premier” tequila she brought back from Mexico in honor of my visit–smooooth.
Tomorrow we shrink the miles between us and home as we head to Lincoln and a visit with my brother Kent.
When I crossed the border from Canada to the United States, the friendly but by-the-book Customs and Border Protection agent asked among her many questions, “Are you bringing anything back from Canada?” No, I said. I lied. But I didn’t know it at the time.
Two days ago, as I was writing my blog after a day on the Ice Fields Parkway and and a downhill sprint to Radium Hot Springs, something was irritating my right eye. I rubbed it. No relief. I stretched the eyelid to release what I though might be a stray eyelash. No relief. I rinsed the eye several times. No relief. The something was still there. After several more rinsings, I went to bed, assuming whatever was there would work itself out or maybe the eye fairy would pluck it out and leave me a quarter. The next morning the eye was still irritated, but not painful, and I assumed the object had worked itself out, so we fired up the Harleys for the day’s ride that would return us to our natal country at the Piegan Border Crossing.
Along the way that day, I rubbed the eye from time to time because I felt a minor irritation, but nothing serious. We rode across the windy plains of Alberta and the eye watered some, but, again I thought, nothing serious. And then we crossed the border and I dishonestly but innocently declared I was bringing nothing in from Canada.
Last night, at our Great Falls hotel, the offending eye bothered me a little more, but it was still just an irritant I couldn’t seem to resolve. A little more rubbing. A little more watering. Surely it would be gone in the morning.
Nope. Still there this morning and more irritating than before. Nothing to do though, but get on the road to Billings because we needed to get to Beartooth Harley-Davidson for some routine maintenance on Mark’s bike and we needed to be there by noon. But as we rode east and then south toward Billings, the pain increased to the point where I had to stop on the roadside to rinse the eye using my water bottle. I even put in some Visine from my first-aid kit hoping that might help. Back on the road. But only for 20 miles. Then I had to stop again to rinse again. By now the problem had worsened substantially. I was having trouble seeing out of the right eye because of swelling and tearing and keeping it open was becoming increasingly difficult. Finally, I let Mark lead the rest of the way to Billings because I was having trouble focusing (literally and figuratively) on the road. I would try to follow his tail light. For the final 50 miles to Billings, I held my right eye shut with one hand and steered with the other. I knew I was going to have to find a medical solution to my agonizing vision problem.
At the Harley dealership, while I tried with little success to focus my blurred vision on my cell phone and its Google search, Mark mentioned my situation to the service writer who was setting up an oil change. He recommended Beartooth Vision Center not far away because he had seen them for an eye injury and was pleased with the outcome and the quality of care. He even printed out a page for me from their website with the address and phone number.
I called the office, described my worsening symptoms and growing level of discomfort; they said they could work me in as an appointment at 3:15. I’ll take it, I said.
Mark’s service was finished by 1:30, and with no place else to go I rode with one eye on the road to Beartooth Vision Center. When I walked in, Dr. Mikel Mettler, recognizing I needed relief ASAP, said she had 20 minutes before her next patient and would see me right then.
The required new-patient paperwork was quickly completed and I was seated in her exam chair in about five minutes. She gave me a quick but thorough general eye exam before turning back my reddened eyelid to reveal the boulder I had inadvertently smuggled in from Canada and about which I lied to the unsuspecting border agent. The sharp-edged rock had firmly attached itself to my eyelid and, abetted by my constant rubbing and blinking, had scratched the cornea and left me with what Dr. Mettler professionally described as a corneal abrasion. With gentle hands and a soft Q-tip she removed the offending foreign (i.e. Canadian) object and my ophthalmic torment quickly dissipated. She added a few drops of antibiotic, wrote a prescription for more of the same, and explained that the healing process would take several months. Dr. Mikel Mettler earns my vote for hero of the day and a nomination for an Optometric Nobel Prize.
I have to go back to Beartooth Vision Center in the morning for a final check-up before hitting the road to Laramie, but that will give me a chance to thank her again for her role in letting the Alaska Redux adventure play out to its expected conclusion in Maggie Valley in five more days.
Four weeks after I crossed the border into Canada, I returned again to the Lower 48 with a filthy motorcycle, a nearly empty wallet, an SD card full of digital images, a blog that will no doubt become another best selling book and memories of people, places and events that may dim but will never go away. Alaska Redux, nearing its conclusion, has been another great adventure.
Today’s route mostly retraced roads I took last year on the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure, but I wanted to show Mark one amazing place in Alberta. We left Radium Hot Springs after saying our goodbyes to our Big Horn Sheep friends who patrol the streets there. Chilly temperatures at or below 50 degrees required we once again don heated gear and windbreakers until the sun rose a little higher in the bright blue sky.
On the way to Frank Slide in Crowsnest Pass, we passed by the “The World’s Biggest Truck” I made famous on last year’s blog, so I thought I’d recreate the scene for this year’s blog with Mark standing where I stood. It’s still a very big truck and Mark, though impressed, decided not to buy it for mud bogging in Florida. We enjoyed the scenery through Crowsnest Pass on Crowsnest Highway, past Crowsnest Creek, Crowsnest River, Crowsnest Mountain and various Crowsnest business establishments. It would be our last close-up look at the mountains we’ve enjoyed so much for the past month.
Today’s only planned stop was at Frank Slide in Blairmore, Alberta, where in April 1903 the side of Turtle Mountain came crashing down on the sleeping coal mining town of Frank and a nearby railroad work camp, killing about 90 of its 600 inhabitants. I wrote about Frank Slide last year and included pictures, but I wanted to include it again because it’s so impressive. We didn’t have time to go through the interpretive center, but we viewed the rubble from viewing platforms and listened to a brief but informative talk by one of the young docents at the center. The mountain, before the slide, was 400 feet taller than it is today and the mountain itself is thinner by 350 million tons of rock. The docent noted that if the rock that fell in 1903 was stacked 5 feet wide and 20 feet high it would create a wall that would stretch across all of Canada.
Only 30 minutes after leaving Blairmore, we were out of the mountains and onto the plains where strong winds blew across hay and alfalfa fields and turned the blades of huge wind turbines that dotted the ridge tops. Before long we were digging out our passports at the Piegan Border Crossing near Babbs, Montana. Only one border agent at one portal was on duty and it took 30 minutes to work through the line of travellers waiting in their cars to get to us. We politely answered the routine questions regarding guns, alcohol, fruits and vegetables, vanity license plate, and destination and were handed back our passports and allowed to enter the country where speed limits are higher and prices are lower. It was good to be back.
Today’s ride was a long one. Nearly 450 miles, so I had lots of time to think. I thought about other rides I’ve taken. I thought about last year’s ride through the Rocky Mountains, which twice took me through Wichita where I spent time with my mother. It was the last time I would spend with her because she died several weeks after I passed through the second time. Mom never did like motorcycles but she was glad I rode mine through Wichita. Today would have been her 89th birthday. Happy Birthday Mom.
I’ve now ridden the Icefields Parkway in Alberta five times. Once with Marilyn, twice last year coming and going and twice this year coming and going. It never gets old. The craggy, snow-covered peaks, the massive ever-changing glaciers, the solid rock faces rising thousands of feet at 45 degree angles, the teal colored glacier-fed lakes and rivers, the unmistakable sweet fragrance of the lush spruce and pine trees.
I wish I could describe the awe-inspiring, breath-taking, soul-satisfying view from the Ice Fields Parkway adequately, but I can’t. Maybe a Nobel Laureate poet can. I wish the pictures I take could do it justice, but they can’t. Perhaps the world’s best professional nature photographers can capture a brief moment and a small portion of it’s incredible beauty. How can anyone fully capture in a few paragraphs or a few pixels what it took hundreds of millions of years to build, to sculpt, to paint with a palette only nature possesses? My advice? Just go there. Drive it slowly. See it for yourself. Stop often on the many pullouts to breathe deeply and hope some of its majesty goes home with you.
We stopped first today at the Mt. Robson Visitor Center, along with teeming busloads of nattering tourists, but the view of the mountain was obscured by clouds as it usually is, so we explored exhibits related to climbing the mountain, building the Yellowhead Highway, and the flora and fauna of the area. In the process of going through the visitor center I finally got a shot of a moose with a nice set of antlers. I’m afraid it’s the best I’ll do for moose this trip.
In the past when I’ve been on the Yellowhead Highway and the Icefields Parkway, I’ve seen an abundance of wildlife. But today not so much as a scraggly goat or a mangy caribou. After we left the Parkway and headed southwest on the final leg of today’s journey to Radium Hot Springs, we did, once again, see a black bear briefly standing on its hind legs next to the road looking curiously at passing traffic before dropping to all fours and lumbering downhill into the bushes and non-tourist tranquility.
No day on the road, it seems, is complete without a stop for road construction, but at least today’s stop had the advantage of a great 360 degree view of mountains all around. I even spied a raptor of some sort perched high on a leafless tree several hundred yards away. Extending my camera lens to its fullest length and trying to hold it still, I shot what I think is a Cooper’s Hawk, though I wouldn’t swear to it. If there are any ornithologists out there who would like to correct me, please feel free.
The traffic stop at the construction site was extended for about 15 minutes while workers maneuvered a huge yellow Caterpillar excavator onto an equally huge 18 wheeler for transport to another location. The behemoth Cat crawled and creaked its way up the truck’s ramps and was finally situated and tied down for its trip to who knows where. But not before nearly 100 cars and RVs full of tourists were nose to tail on the road in both directions waiting for their trips to resume to who knows where.
Tomorrow is our last day in Canada, with its Loonies and Toonies, liters and meters, and lots of memorable folks. It’s the last day in Canada for this trip but not the last time I’ll return to Maple Leaf country. The draw is too powerful. I’m still dreaming of a cross-Canada motorcycle ride from Newfoundland to Vancouver at some point. And maybe someday I’ll ride to the Northwest Territory, one of two Canadian territories I haven’t seen yet. Although I’ve been to all ten Canadian Provinces and one Territory, there’s much of this welcoming country I haven’t seen and much that I’ve seen and want to see again.
I think Mark has also developed a fondness for Canada country and Canadians and I don’t doubt that he’ll make an effort to return someday, too. But for now, like me, he’ll be glad to return to the land of the Stars and Stripes.
I love traveling in Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia. Beautiful scenery, plenty of critters, and lots of friendly people. But after only three trips, some of this territory looks more than vaguely familiar. Marilyn and I were on the Yellowhead in 2013. Last year I was on parts of it twice when I looped around the Rockies. And now I’m on it again. In this part of the world, there aren’t many surface travel alternatives.
I imagine Mark is getting tired of hearing me say, “I ate here” or “I stayed here” or “Here’s where I had ____ pie” or “Here’s where I shot the picture of the grizzly.” I’m just thinking out loud and keying the CB mike at the same time.
One place we visited today was where I had a great experience last year, eating fresh-caught salmon and learning about First Nations culture at the Morricetown Canyon on the Skeena River. We arrived there about 7:15 and I was afraid no one would be on the rocks that early dip netting salmon. But a half dozen First Nations Wet’suwet’en fishermen were hard at work when we rode up, pulling salmon out of the river–sometimes two at a time–in their huge, long-handled dip nets.
After a short while, I realized they weren’t keeping the salmon, and Mark noticed a big tube into which they slid the salmon they had just caught and measured, returning them to the river upstream from the falls. No one was there for us to ask why they were doing what they were doing, but here’s what Mark and I concluded: Their community subsistence fishing was finished for the year, and now members of the local Wet’suwet’en band were protecting the salmon population by helping a greater number of salmon survive the fast-flowing canyon falls and move into the wider, slower flowing river upstream from the narrow gorge. By ensuring that more fish survived upstream to spawn, they would help replace the thousands of fish they caught and smoked for winter eating, ensuring bountiful harvests year after year for them and for people who lived upstream from them.
I noted yesterday that things seemed more civilized now that we were on the Yellowhead Highway. Today we had another example of that. We groaned and swore into our CBs as we approached our first “Road Construction” “Be Prepared to Stop” “One Lane Traffic” signs. Those signs for the past three weeks have meant dust, rocks, mud and lengthy delays. Today, as road crews resurfaced the asphalt without tearing up the road they were resurfacing, our three-minute delay was followed by a short ride behind a pilot truck on freshly laid asphalt. A very civilized road repair project, indeed.
We passed through a dozen small towns with a variety of services valuable to travellers like ourselves. We also passed through a countryside flush with expansive hayfields, grazing cattle and other signs of agricultural industry against a backdrop of rolling foothills and small mountains. Additionally, we passed several lumber processing plants, including one outside Vanderhoof that stretched for a half mile with acres of processed trees and endless stacks of milled 2x4s. For several hours today as we covered the distance between the British Columbia Interior Mountains and the Northern Rocky Mountains, the scenery varied dramatically from what we had become accustomed to seeing, but, by the end of the day, we were back in the Rockies and within sight once again of towering snow-covered peaks.
I saw two black bears today on separate occasions, but both bruins quickly retreated back into the brush from whence they had emerged when I slowed the big Harley in hopes of a photo shoot. Sometimes critters pose and sometimes they don’t.
On the pie front: I stopped for lunch at a cafe/museum Marilyn and I visited three years ago that had an extensive pie selection, but as luck would have it, they were closed. Pie makers, like bears, don’t always cooperate. Tonight, however, I scored a piece of lemon icebox pie for desert. Commercial grade, but acceptable in a pie pinch.
Tomorrow, on our penultimate day in Canada, we retrace our tracks on the unbelievably beautiful Ice Fields Parkway. Weather conditions are expected to be perfect with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. It should be a great ride with several scenic photo ops.