Thursday, October 4, 2012

Excerpts from Motorcycling Stories

I wrote "Motorcycling Stories - Adventure Touring from the Northwest Territories to the Yucatan Peninsula" in 2001. The book has 272 pages and contains the 13 adventure touring stories listed below. The more than 700 photos that I took while on these trips are in this blog (See the index in the right-hand column under the title, Labels.)

Chapters included:
Alaska 1 - My Rookie Tour
Alaska 2 - The Tough One
Alaska 3 - A Fast One
Shakedown for the North Slope
Back Roads, USA     
Copper Canyon with a Gold Wing   
A Return to Newfoundland     
Alaska 4 - Saga of the Ailing BMWs   
Alaska 5 – The Canol Road     
Visiting Mayan Ruins       
Alaska 6 - The Three Musketeers
Goose Bay on a Lightweight
Alaska 7 - Robyn’s Graduation

The thirteen stories of my "Motorcycling Stories" book listed above begin in 1977. The first excerpt from the book, shown below, is from the first chapter entitled, “Alaska 1 – My Rookie Tour” and refers to a portion of my 11th day on the road.

            “What a spectacular ride it turned out to be and what a beautiful day!  The Cassiar Highway that morning was a dirt rider's dream. The first hundred miles to Stewart Junction was the most enjoyable part of my trip by far. Spring rains had given the ground just the right amount of moisture to hold the dust down and make the tires stick. The forty miles of construction I went through was a blast! I had a great time dodging bulldozers, graders, and surprised construction workers. I rode as if I were in an enduro heading for a checkpoint, and trying to stay “within my minute.” It reminded me of the Corduroy Enduro in Ontario, and I thought about Bud Peck again. He really would have enjoyed this part of the trip. I probably wore a broad grin from the time I left Kitwanga until I rolled across the long single-lane wooden bridge over the Nass River into Stewart Junction.
            On one curve I suddenly faced the massive grill and heavy steel fenders of a logging truck that spanned the entire road from ditch to ditch. He came at me at about 40 miles per hour with no apparent intention of yielding even an inch of the narrow roadway to a motorcycle. I was coming at him at approximately the same speed.  My reflexes helped me to veer into the right-hand ditch as I simultaneously locked both brakes. I managed to stay upright and came to a bumpy stop in the ditch. The truck was out of sight in a few seconds and I wondered if he ever knew what happened to me, or if he cared. I remembered seeing a sign several miles back about the logging company having control of a large tract of land in that area and it said that I was on their land. I climbed out of the ditch and continued on my way, keeping a sharp eye for another one.
            There was a small service complex at the junction with a gas station, a restaurant, a general store, and a repair garage, all probably owned by the same person.  I didn’t notice any other buildings around the junction. I dodged a few deep mud puddles as I made my way to the gas island and parked between the puddles. As I started pumping my gas a guy came out of the garage wiping oil from his hands. He walked toward me with a big smile and said, "Where on earth did you come from?" I told him Kitwanga and he looked surprised. He said he didn't know the road was open because he hadn't seen anyone come up it for about a week. He asked if I was interested in something to eat. I told him thanks but I was having too much fun to eat. I asked if it was true that the next service was 161 miles. He laughed and said, “The next anything is 161 miles.”  As I pulled out a few minutes later I heard him say, “Don’t go near the female moose with newborn.” Apparently they can be more unpredictable than bears. I glanced back to see that he was still smiling.
            In that next 161 miles I didn't see a house, a car, or even a sign that anyone had ever been there, except that someone must have built the narrow dirt road and the small single-lane wooden bridges across the many brooks and white-water streams. For several hours I enjoyed total solitude. I was able to maintain between 50 and 55 MPH most of the way. I stopped at some of the most beautiful spots, shut off the engine, put the bike on the center stand in the middle of the road, and I proceeded to oil the chain.  There were no sounds at all. I would look around for several minutes admiring the incredible beauty and serenity of it all. The dark-blue lakes reflected a mirror image of the evergreen trees and snowcapped mountains in the background. The lakes were so clear I could see pebbles very clearly through several feet of water. I took many photos and regretted not having brought a better camera.
            The road was generally wide enough to be considered two lanes. The surface was hard-packed dirt, with some loose gravel between the tire tracks. Whenever I switched from one track to another, I would hold the handlebars a little tighter because of this strip of loose gravel. Most of the way I could maintain my desired speed, except on the small single-lane bridges. I usually slowed down for the bridges because the foot-wide tire planks were often an inch or more higher than the road surface. Occasionally I risked coming onto a plank a little faster if it appeared level with the road; but once, just before reaching one of these planks, my front wheel struck a stone, which threw me a few inches off course. I almost missed the plank altogether and nearly sideswiped the side rail of the bridge. I was more careful approaching the bridges after that close call.
            Iskut was the first small village I saw on the Cassiar. I continued on to the second of two gas stations, which I understood from my Milepost Travel Guide included a complete general store. Iskut is a small Indian village of the Tahltan tribe. Several children and teenagers gathered to admire the bike as I shopped in the clean, new co-op store where I bought canned foods for camping. The proprietor was a friendly little guy from Vancouver who looked like Colonel Sanders. The first thing he said when he came out to the pump was, "Hi, are you a cop?" I laughed and said that I wasn't but he didn't seem to believe me. He thought I was a New York cop who had come up there looking for someone. He said that most people who come through are either cops or fugitives. He told me there was a fugitive on the loose somewhere in the area at that time."

This second excerpt is from the second chapter, entitled “Alaska 2 – the Tough One.” It refers to a portion of my 8th day on the road on that trip:

            “I rode into Dawson City to stock up on provisions for my three days on the Dempster Highway. I planned to reach Eagle Plains that night. I figured my second day would be the longest and probably the toughest, which would be a 460-mile round trip from Eagle Plains to Inuvik, provided of course I could make it through the passes and across the rivers. The third day would consist of returning from Eagle Plains to Dawson City and hopefully beyond.  It took about an hour and a half to make the 60-mile round trip into Dawson. I stopped again at the gas station near the junction to top off my tank and fill the two Prestone bottles I was carrying with spare gas. I had made makeshift saddlebags from an old pair of Carhartt pants sewed at the bottoms to carry the extra gas. I inserted a bottle into each leg and draped the pants over the rear seat under my other gear. It was 1:30 PM when I squeezed around the barrier and started up the deserted Dempster Highway.
      The scenery was outstanding. The road surface of the first 40 miles was in excellent condition, which reminded me of my 1977 trip up the Cassiar Highway shortly after it opened. It was drizzling and overcast as I climbed into the Ogilvie Mountains. At times I was down into second gear picking my way around and through minor washouts on the steep, twisty incline. The view from the summit was incredible. I almost lost control of the bike as I turned to look and became totally mesmerized by the breathtaking view, which was a fantastic panorama of heavily snow-clad mountains. Snow was also piled high along the edges of the road. The entire scene was like a winter wonderland. I felt like I was getting my own private showing of the top of the world where I was completely alone, although suddenly I looked up and saw a guy walking toward me. I could hardly believe my eyes. A young guy with a beard, wearing a parka, was leisurely walking down this deserted road. I wondered whether he was a hiker or if he lived up there. We exchanged smiles and waves and continued on our respective ways. About eight miles farther on I saw a small, well-kept log cabin with a sign, "Pete Jensen, Outfitters." Tools and other paraphernalia for panning gold were strewn around the yard and hanging from the sides of the building.
            A wide, flat plateau began around Mile 60 where an ice-covered stream ran alongside the road. I was traveling only about 30 to 40 MPH because of the billions of loose stones, which presented more and more of a handling problem. First there was just a strip of half-inch gravel in berms in the center and on the edges. Farther north there were many more stones of all shapes and sizes spread across the entire road, many of which were sharp, crushed stones, and some were crushed shale. My wheels kept crunching and snapping stones up under the bike. Stones constantly smacked against the underside and skittered out in all directions. It was impossible to pick a clear path through the stones. I was in a constant struggle to maintain control, with white knuckles and sometimes cramps in my hands from holding the grips so tight. I was getting totally exhausted.
            I saw a small settlement that might have been an Indian village. A sign near there said that the road was originally a trail established in 1905 by the Mounties. I tore the leg of my rain suit on my buddy peg during one of my stops when I tried to get the bike on the center stand to oil the chain. The bike was extra heavy with the spare gas and food provisions and I was not as strong as I was when I started, especially on only two hours sleep for the second consecutive night. Actually I had slept very little during the past three nights.
I came across a one-ton pickup with a small utility trailer attached, which was abandoned in the middle of the road. There were three loose wheels with flat tires lying in the rear bed and a fourth flat tire on the rear wheel of the truck. The doors of the cab were unlocked and the window on the passenger side was open. There was a Sanyo tape deck in clear view on the front seat with a full box of tapes. He probably figured if someone had theft in mind, at least his window wouldn’t get smashed with a rock in the process of stealing the tape deck.
            The mountains were a pastel shade of blue and I wondered if it was the actual color of the stone. At Mile 136 I stopped to rest and to catch my breath from constantly fighting the loose stones. I was huffing and puffing as if I had just run a half-mile sprint and I said half out of breath into my tape recorder, "Stones, stones, billions of stones!  When will it ever end?" I transferred the two extra gallons of gas from the Prestone bottles into the tank there. Birds that looked like small swallows would often alight just a few feet from me, apparently unafraid and hungry. The temperature was only in the high thirties and it was raining lightly at the time.  In spite of my constant activity of fighting for control, my feet were cold, my hands were cold, and I was getting cold around my shoulders.
            When the rain turned to snow I stopped to put on my rain suit top, which was the only thing I had left that I wasn't already wearing.  As I was about to get off the machine I saw a huge form on the shoulder of the road and I turned to look. A bear was sitting there on its hindquarters looking back at me. He was about the same height sitting as I was on the bike. He stared at me with a somewhat puzzled look. I restarted the engine and got out of there as quickly as I could and went down the road another mile or two to put on the rain suit top. I recalled what the gas station attendant back at the junction had told me about huge grizzly bears often seen in that area. I wasn't sure what kind of bear it was, but I was not about to wait around to find out. All I knew was that he was big.
            A heavy fog settled in near Mile 180. Actually I might have been in the clouds at the time because I was at a fairly high altitude crossing the Continental Divide, which the Dempster Highway does about three times along its 465-mile length. In any case it was cold. Ice had formed on the low bushes on both sides of the road. The road surface had become extremely muddy and only too soon there was a four-inch quagmire of slimy mud on top of the frozen tundra. The thought of turning around crossed my mind several times but I had already passed the point where I would have used up half of my gas, so I had to keep going. I was in first gear, churning through mud for more than eight miles, and a few times I got the bike momentarily stuck in it. I rode mile after mile with both feet skidding along the ground. In some spots where the mud was not as deep I would try to ride with my feet up on the foot pegs, but invariably I would lose it again and have to put one or both feet down.
            At around Mile 200 I was surprised to see headlights in my rear view mirror through the snow and dense fog. I was struggling with both feet down at the time and traveling less than 10 MPH. He didn’t close the gap very fast but eventually he came up alongside and we both stopped. It was the maintenance superintendent from Eagle Plains in a VW bug. He said he had been trying to figure out what was making those strange tracks. He said he would see three tracks, then sometimes two, and occasionally only one. He laughed and said, “Mostly three.” He asked if I was OK.  I responded by asking how far it was to Eagle Plains. He said, “Maybe another 30 miles.” I answered, “Oh hell. I guess if I’ve come this far, I can make another 30 miles, as long as it doesn’t get much worse.” He said if I were not in within an hour or so from the time he gets in, he’d send help. He wished me good luck and slowly moved away with his wheels churning in the mud.”

I took many photos on these first two Alaska trips and also on the 11 other trips in this book. Hundreds of photos from most of these trips can be found by going to the links in the right-hand column of this blog, listed under the heading of: Labels.

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