Saturday, July 1, 2017

02 AK 1 - My Rookie Tour

   I recall sitting on a new Suzuki GS750 in Don Pink's showroom in the early spring of 1977. It was before one of our weekly Crotona club meetings, and I was wondering if someday I might break down and buy another road machine and do some serious touring. I was 51 at the time, and I was thinking about a type of touring where I could reap benefit from all of the enduro competition and dirt riding I had been doing for the past 30 years. I rarely took tours of any kind, and I rarely even rode to and from work because I always wore suits with white shirts and ties, which IBM expected of me at the time.

  During the club meeting that evening, my mind wandered a lot, and by the time the meeting was over, I had concocted a plan to ride to California and visit with my youngest daughter Donna who was in the Air Force there. Before I left Pink's that evening, I owned the machine I had been sitting on. A few weeks later, before taking delivery, my original plan developed into something much greater. I thought since I would be on the west coast anyway, it would be an excellent opportunity to launch my long dreamed of adventure to Alaska; and for an additional challenge, I included the Arctic Circle and maybe even Prudhoe Bay into my plans.

  I took delivery of the Suzuki in April, after having a few extras installed, like safety guards to protect the engine cases if I dropped it somewhere along the 2,500 miles of gravel roads in various stages of construction and repair in the springtime in western Canada; a homemade chain oiler operated from the handlebars; a Dunlop K81 front tire to perform a little better on wet gravel roads; a beefed-up rear luggage carrier; an extra tooth on the countershaft sprocket for gas mileage; a Vetter Windjammer III fairing; and a touring saddle. It felt like I was setting it up for a national championship enduro. While breaking it in over the next few months, I proceeded to accumulate things I might need, like a tent, a sleeping bag and camping gear. I had never slept on the ground or in a bag before, and I had never been away from my family for that long, which was a major concern; but with Lillian’s encouragement I continued to prepare for the trip.

   Day 1 - I left on a Saturday morning, Memorial Day weekend with Knoxville, Tennessee as my first day's objective. "Don't worry about the kids", Lilli said as we made our good-byes. She was smiling, but I was concerned how she felt about the whole thing. I was also concerned about how my three sons, ages 12, 18 and 20 would react to their disciplinary Dad being gone for a month, and how they would probably take advantage of Lillian’s easy-going nature. For at least the first hour, I wondered if I was doing the right thing by heading out alone like that, leaving the total responsibility of the kids and our home with Lillian for a whole month. But as I merged onto the Cross Bronx Expressway and headed west across the George Washington Bridge, I peered far out into the western sky as chills of anticipation ran up my spine. I realized I was on my way and passing a point of no return.

  After weaving carefully through the last of the slow-moving traffic around Allentown, PA, the congestion of the metropolitan areas soon became a fading memory. The few high clouds that drifted over the Pennsylvania countryside gave way to clear blue, and the Shenandoah Valley lay open and uncongested ahead. It got hot in Virginia as the temperature rose to over 90°. I realized early that I had packed nothing to wear in the broiling sun, which was far too strong for me to ride with only a T-shirt, and the best thing I had to protect my skin was a heavy green sweatshirt. It certainly lived up to its name. The sweat poured off of me whenever I stopped for gas or a brief rest. A long-sleeve white cotton T-shirt or jersey would have served much better.

  It clouded up around Bristol and I considered looking for a place to stop for the night. But since I didn't want to abort my route sheet so soon, I pressed on. About 60 miles short of Knoxville, the sky darkened, thunder and lightning threatened, and suddenly the skies opened up. I sat out most of that late afternoon downpour beneath an overpass with two local riders on their way to a Saturday night stock car race. As soon as the heaviest rain passed, I put on my rain suit and left, only to stop again under another overpass ten miles up the road to escape the next downpour.

  I found a low-priced motel a few miles west of Knoxville and checked in at 9:45 after covering 785 miles on that first day. I ate my first evening meal  at a KFC next-door. When I returned, I found that a leak in the water heater had soaked some of the carpet. The guy in the office expressed regrets, but he said there was no one available to fix it and I had the last room in the place. The carpet was totally soaked by morning.

   Day 2 - The second day began in a thick fog that gave way to mostly cloudy skies as the Suzuki climbed easily into the Cumberland Mountains. My back was sore between the shoulder blades, but otherwise I felt good as I enjoyed the sights and enjoyed the ride. I could see remains of strip-mining operations from the interstate where it looked as though attempts had been made to grade the area and plant trees, but it will take years before the scars disappear and natural beauty returns to the landscape there.

  As I descended into Nashville, I sailed through two police radar checks. I was traveling well over the speed limit but apparently within their tolerance. I didn't get stopped. By 10:00, the fog cleared and the sun beamed down more of its unyielding heat. After crossing the Mississippi River near Memphis, the land leveled and it got hot and humid, and I saw less trees. All afternoon the temperature stayed between 95 and 100°. It was especially hot riding, as the light-colored pavement reflected the heat and the darker pavement absorbed and radiated heat. Sometimes it seemed like more heat was coming up from the road than down from the sun. I had planned to stop every 150 miles for gas and refreshments, but I was dehydrating so fast that I stopped halfway between gas stops for water to keep from dehydrating. I really needed those occasional breaks from the heat.

  Local community groups set up refreshment stands at some of the rest areas for Memorial Day weekend travelers. They served lemonade, cookies and coffee, and collected donations in a cookie jar. The extra stops helped considerably to ward off dehydration. During one stop I met a rider and his wife from Washington, DC who were headed for California on a BMW R900RT to visit with their son in college. At a stop in Arkansas, I chatted with a charming old lady who stayed in her car while her husband used the facilities. I mentioned that the heat was almost unbearable to me. She smiled and said, "You haven't seen anything yet." She was right. Everything on the bike was running incredibly hot, especially the engine and tires. When I realized that the chain was also hot to the touch, I soaked it with oil from a liquid soap bottle filled with 20W50 oil, which I was carrying. I originally intended that oil for when I got to the gravel roads. I would put the bike on the center stand and run a thin stream of oil along each set of O-rings and on the rollers. I repeated the operation at every gas stop for the remainder of the trip. My homemade chain oiler just wasn't doing as well as I had hoped. The speed that I was traveling was far too fast for oil to settle only on the chain, and as a result, it got spread over everything back there. Oiling the chain manually at the gas stops seemed to do the trick though, because I rode more than 4,000 miles before making the first minor chain adjustment.

  I detoured for about 20 miles along old US Rte 70 in Arkansas where I saw many poor dilapidated shacks like those I had seen in the movie "Sounder". What an awful way for people to have to live! I didn't realize that so many people in this country still live that way, even with dirt floors. The detour also made me realize that I was missing a lot of interesting scenery, as well as the local activities and people, by using the interstate highways. It seemed that the most interesting part of the trip was the people I saw and sometimes met and spoke with along the byways. I was convinced I would return someday on a back-road tour of the USA, alone, like I remember seeing once on the 1970 TV series, "Then Came Bronson."

  I learned on the long stretches of highway in eastern Oklahoma that the early evening is the most peaceful part of the day, and is a great time for traveling, even though it means riding directly into the setting sun. Most travelers and truck drivers have quit for the day, and the commuter rush subsides. I would then enjoy the solitude and cooler temperatures of the early evening, and cover hundreds of miles before darkness set in. I finally stopped in Oklahoma City after 880 miles on the longest single day of my trip. I got a $9.00 room at a 6 Motel. I ate my evening meal at a McDonald’s just before it closed at 11:00. I managed to do my first oil change in a nearby vacant lot in total darkness.

    Day 3 - Early the next morning, I rolled out of Oklahoma City under the clearest, bluest sky I think I had ever seen. It was a beautiful day, I felt great, and the bike was running smoothly on a fresh change of oil and a full tank of gas. I settled back, took deep breaths of the fresh air, and watched countless miles of treeless farmland go by. I saw a lot of corn, wheat and several other crops growing, and I saw huge herds of cattle grazing on the open prairie wherever there were no crops.

  Ten miles out of Oklahoma City, a sparkling new eighteen-wheel rig out of Tulsa flew by, looking like he really had places to go. The name "Bounty Hunter" on his rear bumper seemed appropriate. The highway patrol must have been on holiday that day. When he was about a quarter-mile ahead of me where I wasn't buffeted by his draft, I tagged along and followed him until my main tank almost ran out after only 116 miles. I had been getting about 40 miles per gallon during the previous two days of heat and normal highway speeds, mostly 70, but now with the stronger headwinds, higher altitudes and much higher speeds, sometimes as high as 85, my gas mileage dropped to around 28 mpg.

   After gassing up, I continued to push hard along I-40 through Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, tailgating cars and trucks with CB antennas whenever I thought they knew what they were doing. I went through a few towns east of Amarillo where the interstate was still under construction and where local traffic moved slowly through the towns. West of Amarillo, the land was dry and barren, the road was flat and straight for miles, and the weather was very hot and dry, which I figured was doing a number on my hydration level.

   I stopped at a rest area in New Mexico for water where I drank some and splashed a lot over myself like a camel driver at an oasis. I was still wearing the green sweatshirt, which wasn’t helping much. I wondered how long I could take this level of heat and exposure to the sun. I stopped later that afternoon in Tucumcari for lunch where I-40 was still under construction. I sat for a long while in the shade, observing the people. I was in the midst of Navajo country where most of the people I saw were Navajo Indians. Of those driving, four out of five were in pickup trucks. I never saw so many pickup trucks in one town in my life.

  The farther I got into my trip the quieter I rode, especially in the afternoons after an apparent overdose of heat. In the mornings I would usually ride along singing to myself, but the singing would stop in the afternoon when I got really tired, and I would get deeply engrossed in thought and preoccupied with all of the interesting surroundings. Sometimes I would even slip into a kind of trance. It crossed my mind that the heat was getting to me. The temperature in Santa Rosa was more than 105 when I began to feel emotional about some of the things I was seeing and imagining. I thought about the hardships that the Navajo apparently endure, living as they do out on the bare, sandy desert with no means of escape from the heat. I wondered what they saw in the area and what keeps them there.

  Then I began to think about the early settlers and the hardships they must have faced as they trudged across the barren desert in the blistering heat in broken-down Conestoga wagons. I visualized men and women getting down and pushing as the wagons became mired in the deep sand. Tears filled my eyes and began to run down my face. The heat, the exhaustion, and constant pain were taking their toll on me. I also had a bad case of sunburn on my face and the backs of my hands, and I had pain in my back, my butt, my neck and between my shoulder blades. Many of the competitive endurance runs  I rode through the years weren’t nearly as tough as this!

  The entrance road had a few scenic viewpoints like the Little Colorado, where I stopped along the canyon rim for photos. At the main lookout near Grand Canyon Village, I stared in awe at what looked to me like one heck of a big hole in the ground. I concluded it was much too big for Evel Knievel to jump across like he once said he would. I met three riders from Amarillo there, and we spent a few minutes swapping stories before I left, heading northeast on a meandering tour of the area toward Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, where I intended to pitch my tent for the night.

  I stopped for lunch at a small snack shop in Tuba City in the heart of Indian country and shared a small table with a few of the local native Americans. No one spoke a single word during lunch. I couldn’t even tell if they spoke English as we all sat eating in silence. I think they were as curious about me as I was about them. The temperature was already over 100°. After lunch I made a brief visit to the Navajo National Monument, a small park near there, before pressing on for Mesa Verde, which was still more than 300 miles to the northeast.
Entering Monument Valley
  Entering Monument Valley was like stepping into a different world. It's basically a sandy, dry desert with huge buttes of strange shapes and sizes, standing tall and silent everywhere. The area has been featured many times in western movies, most notably John Ford's classic "Stagecoach". Very few travelers were on the road that afternoon, and being alone in this strange world gave me an eerie feeling, like I was tiny, and I was walking around in what I imagined to be a huge cemetery. I saw a sign on the approach road for the Visitor’s Center that said, "No motorcycles or dune buggies allowed in the park." I thought it couldn't possibly mean me, although the entrance road was in terrible condition, with deep loose sand and washouts. I learned while struggling through it that the poor-handling Suzuki, especially the way it was loaded, was definitely not a dual sport bike. The steering flipped uncontrollably from “stop-to-stop” as I churned through a quarter-mile of the deep sand with great difficulty, using both feet as outriggers. I worried that if I ran into similar road surfaces for any great distance on my way to Alaska, I would be in serious trouble. Maybe the “No Motorcycles” sign was meant for me after all. I'm sure the poor handling was due mainly to the poor weight distribution of my luggage. The bike had a relatively short wheelbase and I had piled far too much behind the rear axle. It's too bad the fairing didn't have more room for luggage to improve the weight distribution. I carried only my tools there, and a few other small but heavy items.

  From Butte, Utah I planned to follow an obscure secondary road that I found in my road atlas that went for about 12 miles into Montezuma Creek. There was a note in the atlas cautioning travelers not to enter the area without a guide, but I thought it would give me an excellent view of the barrens of Utah, and I have a fairly good sense of direction. I also figured it would give me practice riding on loose terrain. When I inquired about directions, I was first told there was no such road. I eventually found a guy at the local hardware store who knew about the road but he said no one uses it anymore, and washouts often wipe out all traces of it. He didn’t sound encouraging. After following his directions to the start of the road, it led me across some of the most barren landscape I had ever seen. There was a lot of loose sand and rocks that caused serious handling problems, while the extreme heat compounded the discomfort. After about 12 miles of it, when I thought I should have been within sight of a town, I felt sure I was lost; but I figured it was safer at that point to keep going because I didn't think I would ever find my way back to Butte, and it was getting late. With the help of the sun and a few lucky guesses, I eventually bumbled my way into Montezuma Creek.

  It was getting late and it was far past time for me to be buckling down for Mesa Verde. I saw four natives loading a pickup truck in Montezuma Creek and I asked them for directions to Cortez. Three of them said they didn't know, and the fourth said he thought it was "over that way." He said, "If you see a Texaco station on your left, it's the right road." I double-checked my bearings with the sun and shadows and figured the road that he pointed to was probably my best bet. After about 40 miles of totally deserted two-lane, unmarked tar road, I did finally see a Texaco station on the left. At that point it was almost 7 PM, and I was wiped out from a long, tough day. My strength was totally drained and I still had almost two hours to reach Mesa Verde from there, and I was totally exhausted, I began to have thoughts of actually not making it to Mesa Verde that night, and I worried about where I might pitch my tent if I didn't get there in time.

Rarely used, obscure gravel shortcut between Butte, Utah and Montezuma Creek

Giant butte overlooks the entrance road into Mesa Verde National Park
My first experience at tent camping, in Mesa Verde National Park

   I finally reached the entrance to Mesa Verde as darkness was settling in around me and I was feeling very weak and helpless. It was a sight to behold with a steep, winding road that ascended toward a tremendous butte that loomed in an intimidating way over the entrance road like a giant sentry staring down at me. Looking up at that huge commanding form against the darkening sky made me feel very small, weak and insignificant. My long silent trances, coupled with almost total exhaustion, brought tears to my eyes as I rode slowly into the park. I was feeling a great deal of relief. It was yet another incredible day, and I still had 22 days to go.

  There was barely enough daylight to set up my tent, which was a new experience, as I had never done any tent camping. I had a hamburger at the park snack shop, and later I drank a quart of milk from the park general store. I called home for the first time from a phone booth and tried to describe my experiences of the past four days, including the almost unbearable heat, my impressions of the magnificence of everything that I had seen so far, and how totally insignificant it all made me feel. When my voice began to waver, I cut the phone call a little short so Lilli wouldn't think I was losing it.

   While sitting outside my tent and reflecting on the first four incredible days, a local native stopped by and struck up a conversation. He said he was half Apache and half Navajo, and he played a guitar in a four-man group. I suspected from the way he moved and the smell of his breath that he had been drinking quite a bit. He said he once owned a big Harley and he would sure like to have another. He said he smashed his into a tree. He asked how fast my Suzuki would go, and every few minutes he would ask if I had anything to drink or smoke. I offered him my canteen of water but I was sure that wasn’t what he had in mind. I don’t think he had tailor-made cigarettes in mind either. He chattered on for about a half hour before he suddenly turned and disappeared into the underbrush like in an old western movie.

  My first night in the tent and sleeping bag was not a good one, to say the least. I took a sleeping pill, which didn't help. Soon after I got into the bag I began to sweat. It was an extremely warm night, so I peeled off everything and got out of the bag altogether but that didn't help either. I wondered what I would do if someone like my newfound Apache friend began to walk off with my bike, and I had to chase him barefoot and naked through the park. I couldn't relax at all. I tossed and turned until almost dawn.

     Day 5 - The tent was wet with dew and the ground tarp was soaked from condensation. I never realized how long it would take to dry everything. I decided it was probably best to camp only when it wasn't possible to find a room due to my schedule. The alternative meant rolling up everything wet. After drying it all and loading the bike, I toured the park and visited a few of the ruins along the cliff edges and on the mesa tops. The park museum is one of the best I had ever seen. It is said that the Anasazi, meaning "ancient ones", who lived there, vanished several hundred years ago. Ranchers, rounding up their stray cattle, discovered the spectacular cliff dwellings early in the 20th century. I vowed to bring Lillian to see it sometime in the future. She was more into the history thing than I was.

  It was almost noon when I left Mesa Verde. I stopped for steak and eggs outside the park, which served as both my breakfast and lunch. I located a Suzuki dealer later in Durango for an overdue 2,000-mile service. I wanted to be sure everything was OK after the bike’s exceptionally hot break-in. I knew I would have to wait for the engine to cool for the mechanic to adjust the valves, which were already clattering a little. They finally got to it after servicing a GT750 for a guy from Illinois.

  Route 550 was the most scenic road I traveled so far on the trip. It scales three 10,000-foot passes, and is built alongside several breathtaking drops. One section of it is known as the Million Dollar Highway. The Rocky Mountains in the background were still covered with snow. A few times I experienced the thrill of hitting an unexpected patch of sand on the outside of a curve, which was heart-stopping when the bike was leaning way over and the shoulder of the road was only a foot wide, with no guardrails. The drop over the edge in some places was several hundred feet. I reached Silverton with only a few miles of gas left in the tank.

Scenes along US 550 on the west side of the Rocky Mountains
  I stopped several times on my way down the west side of the Rockies to view the sights and take photos. I saw at least one gold mine on the western slopes, and a large rainbow waterfall. Later I visited a box canyon in Ouray. A good deal of the winter snow was still on the mountaintops. Late that afternoon I descended into Grand Junction and back into the heat.

  I turned the bike west into the brilliant setting sun, and not thinking about my gas. A short while later the main tank ran out on a desolate stretch of interstate in eastern Utah. By the time I finally reached a highway exit I was already 15 miles into my reserve and there was no sign of gas where I got off the highway. A guy at a small construction office nearby said the nearest gas was 16 miles back, by way of the old road, or 42 miles ahead at the next exit. I chose the old road and drove slowly to stretch my gas. I barely made it to the station. I had always been very fortunate that way. I rarely thought of it as luck. Instead, I would thank God.

  I located a motel in Green River, Utah and ate a home-style meal at a local restaurant where I planned the following day. My daughter Donna was stationed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, CA in a U2 reconnaissance squadron. I told her earlier that I would be there from Friday night until Monday morning. Since it was already Wednesday, there wasn't enough time for any other meaningful side trips like Beartooth Pass, Yellowstone Park or others that I might be tempted to visit, so I continued on a direct course for Marysville with a possible stop for the night in Reno or Lake Tahoe. I was convinced there would be other times to visit all of those other beautiful places on my growing bucket list.

     Day 6 - The day began with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. I was happy that it was a little cooler than the previous five days. I followed US Rte 50 for a long while through desolate cattle country. Occasionally the open range would appear lush with thick green grass, but it was mostly dry and desolate with tumbleweed, sagebrush and range grass, but always interesting. I went through one 82-mile stretch with no gas stations at all, and not much of anything else.

  Eastern Nevada was generally greener and the cattle looked a little fatter than in Utah. I came through Reno ahead of schedule. Truck traffic was heavy, so I decided to press on and spend any extra time with Donna. I stopped for gas near Lake Tahoe and spoke with a young biker from Pennsylvania who was riding a BMW 750. He said he was headed east after having toured much of California. He raved about the coastal highway north of San Francisco. The temperature dropped quite a bit at Donner Pass, and I had to dig for more clothes. I tried in vain to contact Donna a few more times and finally called home to ask Lillian to keep trying so Donna would know I was arriving a day early.

  The strong smell of evergreens mixed with the delicious aroma of steaks cooking over open campfires filled the air as I rode leisurely through a beautiful camp area and into Nevada City in the peaceful early evening. Donna was still food shopping when I reached Marysville, so I had dinner at a small family restaurant in town while reminiscing the day's events. I had covered 775 miles that day for a total of 4,200 in my first six days. By the time I finished dinner, Donna had returned from food shopping.

     Day 7 - I slept late Friday morning and washed the bike at a do-it-yourself car wash. Later I took it to the local Suzuki dealer for service. It needed different shims in the exhaust valves again, new plugs, points, oil filter and its first chain adjustment of the trip. I figured I must have oiled the chain more than 30 times during the first six days. The only bike problem I had was with the light front end, especially in sand, gravel, mud, hot tar, or whenever I made tight maneuvers below 30 mph. I was sure it was due mostly to my having loaded far too much weight on the rear luggage carrier, but I had little alternative.

     Day 8 - I didn't ride at all on Saturday. Donna and I went to a huge flea market in Sacramento in her car. She searched in vain for something she never found for one of her crafts. We wandered through acres of junk in what seemed like one of the world's largest flea markets. Later we visited an arts and crafts exhibit at the Air Force base where she had won first place for her macramé, and second place in a photo contest. We stopped at the Base Exchange where I picked up a few things. That evening we went into Sacramento with her date for steaks at Victoria Station Restaurant, which was an interesting reproduction of an old English railway station. After dinner we visited Old Sacramento, which was a reconstruction of the city during gold rush days.

People searching for gold near Sutter's Mill

     Day 9 - On Sunday, I took Donna for a bike ride to tour 1849 gold-rush country. We took several photos in Grass Valley, Auburn and Sutter's Mill where gold was discovered. We generally followed Rte 49, which was named after the “forty-niners” of 1849 Gold Rush days. CA Rte 49 connects many historic points of interest. We stopped for lunch at a roadside ice cream parlor near Coloma where the temperature rose to 105°. We were both exhausted from walking in the extreme heat. We returned by way of Sacramento where we stopped briefly for gas and much-needed liquid refreshments.

  On a two-lane highway leading back to Marysville, we came upon a serious two-car crash that happened only seconds before we got there. It was obvious that two people had been killed and three others were in grave condition. At least one of the others looked like he wouldn’t make it from his massive injuries. I tried to comfort him, but there was not much I could do. He was in shock and somewhat delirious. The other two survivors also looked very critical, and appeared to be in shock. We stayed until the paramedics arrived. I learned later that one of the men died on the way to the hospital. It was the most horrendous sight either of us had ever seen, and it left a very somber impression on both of us. I was sorry we had to stop but we were the first to arrive on the scene and we couldn't just ride on by.

    Day 10 - Monday morning I visited Beale Air Force base as Donna's guest. We chased U2 touch-and-go landings on the runway in a Chevy El Camino. One of the pilots drove, and he described the operation as we sped along. As the U2 entered its final approach, nearing touchdown, the El Camino would pull out onto the runway, practically alongside the landing aircraft. Driving one-handed at 90 and 100 mph, the driver would speak into a microphone that he held in his other hand, "Three feet, two feet, two feet, one foot", etc, to inform the pilot how far his wheels were from the ground, because landing visibility is very poor from the U2 cockpit. Later Donna introduced me to her Commanding Officer and several of the pilots in the ready room. She was assigned as a video photographer working with the landing support team to record all U2 landings for training purposes, and for their permanent record.

   I left the base around 11 AM and headed north. I was tempted to use the scenic coastal highway but I used the interstate instead to save time. I was anxious to get on with my Alaskan adventure. Temperatures in the valley were expected to reach 110° that day. The peach orchards and rice fields seemed to absorb water as fast as the farmers irrigated the fields. I wondered how they could spare so much for farming after I heard that water was so scarce in the area. I could see why the valley is famous for fruit and rice production. The soil is very rich, the temperature is hot all the time, and the ground is kept wet or totally covered.

   The huge peak of Mt. Shasta was clearly visible from the interstate. In spite of the extreme heat in the valley, the mountain top was covered with snow. The sharp contrast in temperatures caused a thick white cloud, shaped like a huge halo, to form around California's tallest mountain peak. Except for that single cloud, the sky over the Cascade Range was deep blue and crystal clear. The sweeping mountain curves provided a very enjoyable ride, and the scenery was beautiful in every direction.

   Soon after I entered Oregon, I began to look for a place to camp. I found a peaceful county campground about 20 miles south of Eugene with only a few campers, with a general store nearby. I decided to try one of the freeze-dried macaroni and cheese dinners that I packed for emergencies, which turned out to be awful. The dried scrambled eggs for breakfast was even worse. The freeze-dried stuff may be okay as an alternative to starvation, but I decided as long as I could find something else to eat, I would keep it for emergencies only. I also experimented with my butane hiker's stove for the first time, and found it to be very useful for heating meals on the road and for making tea or coffee.

   I met a guy named Jeff there from Ontario, CA riding a Kawasaki 900. He said he was a radio disk jockey, and that he was headed for the Canadian Rockies where he planned to rough it for a few days. He was sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag with no tent. I didn't care much for that idea, especially with bears and other night creatures crawling into your bag or chewing on your face, not to mention rain. He asked if I minded his company the next day. I enjoyed meeting people along the way but I wasn't enthusiastic about riding with anyone, especially someone I didn’t know. To avoid appearing antisocial I said he was welcome; but I added, "... if we’re ready to leave at the same time."

     Day 11 - I woke at 6:30, washed up and prepared the dried eggs, which I eventually threw out. I only partially dried my gear in the early morning sunshine as I got ready to leave. Jeff got up at 8:30 and said he needed to take a shower to wash the bugs out of his hair first, and that he would be ready to leave in about an hour. I shook his hand, wished him well and left. Soon after crossing the Columbia River into Washington, I stopped at a Sambo’s for steak and eggs. I was getting really bored with the interstates and I was anxious to get on with my adventure. Soon after passing Seattle, I turned onto two-lane blacktop and headed for Sumas at the Canadian border. It felt great to be on a two-lane road again, and I almost charged too fast into the first few turns.

   I remarked to the Canadian customs guy about the beautiful weather. He said I should come by more often because maybe I brought it with me. He said it was the first time they had seen the sun in three weeks. I learned later that the rain returned the very next day. I thought maybe the good weather was following me after all. He asked about my travel plans. When I told him I was headed for Alaska, he asked, “Are you taking the Alaska Highway or going by the ferry?” I said “Neither. I’m taking the Cassiar Highway to where it connects with the Alaska Highway near Watson Lake in the Yukon.” He frowned and said, “The what?” and he reached for a huge map of British Columbia that he spread out on the countertop. He said he had never heard of a Cassiar Highway, and that there were only two ways to get to Alaska - by the Alaska Highway or by ferry. He said, “Show me where you’re going.”

   I pointed to a faint dotted line on his map and said, “There it is.” He shook his head and said, “That’s not a road. A dotted line means it’s a trail.” I told him his map was out of date, and that I read about a new road opening up through there eight months ago. He said, “You’re looking at almost 500 miles of pure wilderness. Are you carrying a gun?” I said, “Of course not. What would I do with a gun?” He said he had a preacher come through the previous week who was carrying three of them. I told him the preacher must have had some kind of problem I don't think I have. He continued to shake his head and strongly advised that I check with the Mounties before ever venturing into that area alone. After making a few additional comments about the risks of traveling alone in that area, he wished me well and said, “I hope you make it”. He didn't sound very encouraging.

   I had a peaceful evening ride along the north rim of Fraser River Canyon. I thought the water far below looked ideal for white-water rafting. The temperature climbed to around 85°. I stopped briefly to peel off a layer of clothes before pressing on through some treeless butte country for Cache Creek. The landscape around Cache Creek is made up of light gray hills and buttes as far as I could see. The strange-looking outcroppings looked like piles of powdered volcanic ash, or maybe the remains from mining operations. I reached Cache Creek a little before 9:00 and priced a few of the motels before paying $17 for the least expensive. It was the highest price I paid so far on the trip. The farther north I got, the higher the prices seemed to get on everything.

     Day 12 - The day started out clear, although it was only 62°. I skipped breakfast to get on the road as soon as possible. It felt good to ride in the cool morning air after so many scorching days. My skin was still burned from the sun. Before I reached 100-Mile House, the temperature dropped another 10° in 75 miles, and it began to cloud over. I was stiff from the cold by that time and my fingers were hurting. It looked and felt like snow. I stopped for breakfast at 100-Mile House and lingered over a third cup of coffee to give the pain in my fingers time to ease. The local hardware store opened at 9:00, and I was their first customer for a pair of lined mittens to solve at least one of my problems. I put on another layer of clothes and my rain suit before heading north again. It began to drizzle lightly as I left the restaurant.

   I got the feeling that I was leaving the populated world behind as I continued to ride farther north into the thick green forests of central British Columbia, also known as "Bigfoot Country" for the many sightings. I rode in intermittent light rain all day, which wasn't bad in the rain suit but a few times it changed to sleet and hail while I was moving at a pretty good speed. The sunburn on my face was tender, and the windshield didn't offer nearly enough protection from the hail, no matter how close I ducked behind it. The tiny ice pellets whipped around the sides of the windshield and stung my already sore face like bullets. I stopped to dig out a face shield, but by the time I found it, the hail stopped. My face shield was scuffed up pretty bad by that time anyway from being packed away. At one point, the road was covered with tiny hailstones, making it slippery in spots. Later, in road construction, the loose dirt and gravel presented similar handling problems.

   I got several interesting comments when I asked at gas stations about the Cassiar Highway. A trucker in Quesnel, who was also a biker, said he wouldn't travel that road with his Honda 750 on a bet. He said it cuts almost 500 miles off the trip from Prince George to Watson Lake, but when he traveled it in his truck the previous September, he spent the entire trip bouncing between the seat and the roof of the cab. He said it was torture, and he felt it wasn't worth the time he saved. Most people I asked never heard of it. If they did, they didn't know anything about conditions on it.

   My original plan called for stopping at Prince George to replace the rear tire. Before reaching the cutoff for town, I examined the tire to try and determine how many miles it had left, and I pondered the alternatives. There weren't many places along my route where I could buy a tire, and I knew that the trip into Prince George would probably take several hours. So when I reached the cutoff, I just kept going, rather than heading into the city. The tire still had a little tread left, and I guessed it would reach Whitehorse, where I only hoped I could get one. At that point I was mainly concerned about reaching New Hazelton before nightfall, and I was already running late for that.

   It was almost 9:00 when I finally reached New Hazelton. All of the rooms at the motel, as well as the local hotel, were sold out. The people at the hotel located a room for me at an old hotel in South Hazelton, a few miles off my course, but a nice room. I took a short walk after dinner and stared with some misgivings at the snowcapped peaks that loomed over my morning route. For the first time on the trip, I began to wonder if it wouldn’t have been smarter to have a riding partner along like my long-time enduro teammate Bud Peck. It rained most of the spring season, and I was envisioning deep mud, snow and impassable mountain passes. I couldn't get a forecast of the area, or find anyone who knew what the weather might be like up there. I wondered what I would do if I dropped the bike and broke something on it, or if I got really stuck in the mud. I tried to think about other more pleasant things.

   Some encouragement came from a guy I met after dinner, who said he worked on road construction along the Cassiar. He claimed to have traveled the entire length seven times in the past five months in a pickup truck. He raved about it, and expounded on the virtues of this “vital link to the Yukon.” He also got wound up talking about the gas shortage and how Canadians all across the country were preparing for it by breeding more horses to take over farming, and for transportation. He said in a few years Canadians all over the country would be riding horses instead of driving cars. He was starting to get a little too theatrical, and beginning to lose credibility. It made me wonder if he really traveled the length of the Cassiar seven times.

   I called home to make sure everything was good there before entering this phase of my trip. I kept thinking that in the morning I would be making my “initial assault” on the Cassiar, and I wasn't sure what communications I might have with the outside world for the next few days. It probably wouldn’t have taken much of a problem at home for me to turn around at that point, but everything was going along fine without me. At least that's what Lillian said. I had trouble getting to sleep that night, which may have been because it was still light at 11:00, but more likely it was because of my anxiety and premonitions.

     Day 13 - I woke early on my thirteenth day and went about preparations as if I were setting up for a long, tough enduro. I ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs before riding 27 miles into Kitwanga to top off the tank, recheck the luggage tie-downs and air pressure in the tires. I inquired about the condition of the road again at the gas station but no one there seemed to know anything about it. The Alaska Highway connection was said to be 482 miles of narrow dirt and gravel road, for which I allowed two days. As I left Kitwanga on the 102-mile first leg to Stewart Junction, I left the macadam pavement behind, and moved out with some trepidation on the narrow, twisting dirt road. I began cautiously, but gradually picked up speed as I gained confidence in the road and the handling of the bike on the fairly firm surface.

Start of the Cassiar Highway near Kitwanga, BC in 1977

  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 100 miles to Stewart Junction was the most enjoyable part of my trip by far. Spring rains had given the ground the right amount of moisture to hold the dust down and make the tires hold firm. 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 would certainly have enjoyed this part of the trip. I probably wore a big grin from the time I left Kitwanga until I rolled across the long single-lane wooden bridge that spans the Nass River into Stewart Junction where I was able to fill up on gas.

The first part of Cassiar Highway was a logging road with no shoulders.

Construction  through "Bigfoot" country
Long narrow bridge across the Nass River into Stewart Junction

  On one curve I suddenly faced the massive grill and heavy steel fenders of a logging truck that took up 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 or easing up on the throttle. 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 seconds, and I wondered if he ever knew what happened to me, or if he cared. It made me wonder if a robot was driving the truck. I remembered seeing a sign several miles back about the logging company having control of a large tract of land in the area. The sign also said I was on their land and that the trucks had the right of way. I climbed out of the ditch and continued on my way, keeping a sharper eye for the next one.

   There was a small service complex at the junction with a gas station,  restaurant, general store and 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 I 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 said Kitwanga, and he looked surprised. He said he didn't know the road was open because he hadn't seen anyone come up it in almost 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.”

The next anything was 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 notice 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 road and the small single-lane wooden bridges across so many of the brooks and white-water streams. For hours I enjoyed total solitude. I was able to maintain speeds 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 oiled 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 trees and snowcapped mountains in the background. The thought crossed my mind, "It don't get no better than this." The lakes were so clear I could see small pebbles through several feet of water. I took many photos and regretted not having brought a better camera. I was carrying a tiny Kodak Brownie with 110 film. The negatives were less than an inch wide and a half-inch high.

  The road was generally wide enough to be considered two lanes for cars and trucks, but it was a squeeze in some places. The surface was hard-packed dirt with loose gravel between the tire tracks. Whenever I switched from one tire track to another, I would hold the handlebars a little tighter because of the loose gravel. Most of the way, I could maintain a decent speed, except on the small single-lane bridges where I would usually slow down because the foot-wide tire planks were often an inch or more higher than the road surface. I suspected they wouldn't fit some of the larger trucks. Occasionally I would risk coming onto a plank a little faster if it appeared level with the road; but once, just before reaching one of the planks, my front wheel hit a stone that threw me an inch or more off course, and I almost missed the plank altogether and nearly sideswiped the side rail of the bridge. I was more careful after that.

  Iskut was the first tiny 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 general store. Iskut is a small Indian village of the Tahltan Nation. I didn't see any houses. Several young teenagers gathered to look at the bike as I shopped at the clean, new co-op store. 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 I wasn't, but he didn't seem to believe me. He saw my plate and thought I was a New York cop who had come up into the wilderness to track a fugitive. He said most people who come through are either cops or fugitives. He added that there was a fugitive on the loose somewhere in the area at that time.

  I bought canned steak cubes and canned spinach for my dinner, and a can of baked beans and a can of grapefruit sections for my breakfast. The “colonel” talked nonstop while I was in his store, which he said was operated for the benefit of the natives. He showed me some of the odd stuff he said the former proprietor had stocked. In spite of there being no electricity for hundreds of miles, he carried several small electric appliances like an electric charcoal starter for backyard barbecues. I laughed when he said he was running a special sale that week on the charcoal starter. He said, "If you think that's funny, what would you say if I told you I sold six of them since the sale started?" He must have been joking.

   I left after spending a few minutes outside talking with an Indian teenager who seemed to take a special liking to my Suzuki. They rarely saw a motorcycle in the village, and mine may have been the first one of that size they ever saw. Several of the children waved as I left. I planned to look for a campsite about 50 miles north of there in the wilderness. The colonel said I should be able to find a good spot anywhere along there. When I got to the vicinity that he described, I noticed a few spots to camp, but each one had a lone camper already parked there - maybe for several days. I kept going because I preferred to camp alone.

   About forty miles north of Dease Lake, near some freshly bulldozed dirt, I found a narrow trail into the woods. I followed it for about a quarter-mile off the highway through deep puddles and around a few fallen trees. The trail ended at a swift-running, 75-foot-wide glacier stream where there was an area large enough to set up my camp amidst the tall spruce and balsam trees in the shadow of a huge mountain. The water in the stream was so cold it was painful to dip my fingers into it for even a few seconds.

One of many small bridges along the Cassiar
I camped near this glacier stream
  I heated and ate my evening meal near the edge of the rushing water while sitting on a big rock and watching the water rush by. It was an incredibly beautiful setting, although I felt very alone and uneasy for the first time, and I felt quite helpless as I thought about the problems that could arise, especially with being unable to hear anything approaching from behind because of the sound of the rushing water. I was mainly concerned about bears, but I also remembered what the colonel said about a fugitive on the loose, and I thought about him; and I thought about what the customs guy said about carrying a gun. While I prepared and ate my evening meal, I kept looking behind me and thinking I heard something.

   A huge dark cloud suddenly loomed over the mountains, and it began to rain. I got up, grabbed a few things and ducked into the tent to finish my meal. When the rain stopped, I washed the utensils and empty cans in the icy stream and cleaned away any odors that might attract bears or other wild animals. The rushing water played tricks with my hearing. I thought I heard something behind me several times. I would turn quickly and it was always my imagination. After crawling into the tent and slipping into my bag, I unsheathed my hunting knife and placed it close by my side. Still feeling uneasy, I unsheathed my small hatchet and placed that on my other side. As I lay there, I imagined a huge bear coming through the side of the tent with a single powerful sweep of his claw. I thought about attaching the weapons to my hands with duct tape so I could get at them quicker, but I imagined what might happen if I got a mosquito bite in my sleep. I felt better after communicating with the Almighty, and I was soon fast asleep.

     Day 14 - It rained during the night, which soaked the tent floor and part of the sleeping bag. I suppose I should have dug a small trench around the outside edge of the tent to deflect the water. The weather turned much colder and the frozen water droplets hung from the bushes and tree branches around my tent. I heated and ate breakfast outside, and tried in vain to dry some of my gear. The shade from the surrounding mountains prevented sunlight from getting through, so I rolled up everything wet and headed out. I planned to find a room in Whitehorse that night, where hopefully, I could dry everything. The sun was out when I got to the gravel road. I was anxious to get underway on my 52nd birthday.

   I had to ride into the town of Cassiar to get gas, which was an 18-mile roundtrip. I paid $1.50 per gallon, the highest price on the trip. The average price in the US at the time was around 89 cents. In most of northwestern Canada it was around $1.25. After oiling the chain, I headed out over several miles of scarcely maintained tar road to the Alaska Highway junction, which was still 88 miles farther north. I recalled that the guy I met in South Hazelton said that British Columbia would probably pave the entire Cassiar before the Alaska Highway is paved. He said the contracts for road maintenance on the Alaska Highway are highly political, and that current politics favor maintaining gravel roads vs. tar. 400 miles of dirt remained on the Cassiar in 1977, while the Alaska Highway still had more than a thousand miles of dirt in BC and the Yukon Territory at the time.

   The road surface of the Alaska Highway was being re-graded in that area when I got there. The huge tank trucks that would soften the surface with a mixture of water and calcium chloride were followed minutes later by two huge graders, traveling at 25 to 30 mph. The road between the tanker truck and the graders often got soft and slippery. To give the water time to penetrate and seep into the surface, there is sometimes a mile or more between the tanker and the graders. If there is too much water on the surface, either from the tank truck or from a sudden rain shower, the surface can become very muddy and slippery. I barreled onto one of those wet, slippery surfaces while traveling about 65 mph, and really had my hands full, especially with the bike's poor handling.

   After the surface is leveled by the graders and packed down by cars, trucks and RVs, it often looks and feels like concrete, but it also leaves many loose stones on the surface that become uprooted by the graders. Those stones often fly from under the tires of fast moving vehicles like missiles at your windshield or headlight. I learned to duck my head behind the windshield whenever a vehicle approached from the opposite direction to avoid getting hit in the face. Several stones hit the top of my helmet while I was ducking, which sometimes hit so hard, it would make my ears ring.

Scenes along the Cassiar in 1977
  I met a few brief showers on the Alaska Highway, but generally the good weather held. Traffic was very light, which I thought was odd because of what I had heard about the heavy truck and RV traffic on the Alaska Highway. When I stopped at a rest area to oil the chain, a guy from a big Winnebago asked how I managed to get by the landslide. I said, “What landslide?” He said the spring thaw and heavy rains had caused landslides east of Watson Lake, and that the highway department has blocked the road for the past several days. He said he had been there for two days, waiting for the road to be reopened. I was glad I came up the Cassiar, which I told him about, but I also warned him about the many narrow bridges, and the heavy road construction on the south end. I said that I didn't recommend it for his huge motor home.

   The Mounties stopped me twice that afternoon to warn me not to stop for anyone on foot. They said two guys had stolen a car in Alaska the previous day. They crashed the border and eluded the Mounties twice, once was with a shoot-out. Their car was found out of gas and abandoned. The fugitives were assumed to be on foot, and probably desperate. I learned several days later that they were caught the following morning in Watson Lake without a struggle.
Section of the Alaska Highway east of Whitehorse, YT
   When I stopped for gas at Jake's Corner, there was a sign at the pump, "Do not operate pump yourself." Another sign said, "Free ice cream with fill-up." Jake didn't come out right away, but I figured if I ignored the first sign and pumped my own gas, he’d probably get mad and I wouldn't get the free ice cream. He looked annoyed when he finally did come out, and he said gruffly, "Whadda you want?" He was a big, burly guy with long red hair and a big red handlebar mustache. I thought, this must be Jake. When I said I wanted a fill-up, he jerked the nozzle from the pump and jammed it hard into my already open tank with a single sweeping motion. He put only about three gallons in the tank, which didn’t quite fill it. As he was hanging the nozzle back on the pump I asked if he would please top off my tank. He answered gruffly, "You're full", and he put his hand out for the money. He scowled when I handed him a credit card because he had to walk back to the office to get the imprint, and it was uphill all the way, with steps included. After signing the receipt, I asked politely if I could have my free ice cream now. He stood for a few moments and glared at me, but he finally walked back up into the office a second time for the tiny cone and handed it to me, which I suspect was begrudgingly. I smiled and said, “Thank you.”

   It was sunny and warm when I reached a 30-mile stretch of new tar road that took the Alaska Highway into Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. Whitehorse is a small, friendly and fairly modern city with supermarkets, department stores and several other cosmopolitan conveniences. I found a nice room for only $16 at a very old and rustic-looking hotel. I had ridden only 400 miles that day, but I was exhausted from struggling with loose gravel and slippery mud most of the day. I hung my camping gear around the room to dry, and went out to eat at a nearby KFC. Later I checked the bike over and oiled the chain, which didn't need a second adjustment in spite of all the mud and dirt roads. Oiling it about every 75 miles while on the dirt was paying off.
      Day 15 - The sun was already high in the sky when I left the hotel. There were just a few cumulus clouds around. Occasionally, a few dark clouds would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and soon afterward it would rain. I rode through several brief showers that morning. I noticed there were more sudden weather changes in the far north than any place I had ever been. I wore my rain suit constantly because of it and the cool winds. The suit also protected my clothes from dust when the roads dried up.

   The gravel surface was firm, smooth and slightly damp west of Whitehorse, although with many loose stones; but I could still go at almost any speed I chose. I stopped often to enjoy the scenery, and I took several pictures around Lake Kluane. The deep blue of the lake, the largest body of water in the Yukon, contrasted with the snow-covered mountains and the sparsely growing, deep-green spruce and balsam trees in the background, making for excellent photos. Almost every place I stopped reminded me of a scene from a picture post card. I ate lunch at a relatively new restaurant overlooking the lake. The service complexes were located about every hundred miles or less along the highway with gas, food and usually lodging available. There was almost no traffic, which I assumed was still at least partially due to the landslide east of Watson Lake.

   In the Beaver Creek area, thirty miles from the Alaskan border, the rain was steady, although the road wasn't very slippery. The surface appeared to be crushed black cinders that had a mild rippling washboard effect. The faster I rode, the smoother it felt, but the suspension was getting a real workout. After clearing through the US border, I moved out on some fairly good blacktop toward Tok Junction, where I turned southwest on the Glenn Highway for Anchorage. My first impressions of Alaska were that it was a God-forsaken place, and I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to live in such a cold, wet wilderness. A steady drizzle and the darkness of the day made it look particularly bad. A single beam of sunshine glistened on the peaks of the Wrangle Mountains far to the south, across hundreds of square miles of dark, foreboding muskeg, pockmarked with many puddles of water that probably spawned billions of mosquitoes for which the area is infamous. I could see glaciers on the distant mountain range.

   I rode through a lot of construction while approaching Glennallen that was the realization of my worst nightmare. The roadbed was dug out, leveled and covered with at least four to five inches of 3/4-inch gravel. Obviously they intended to pave over it, but hadn't gotten that far. I used my feet as outriggers for 15 miles through the heavy, loose stones, trying to maintain 30 mph because riding slower made it even worse, and going faster was far too weird for my blood. I stopped several times to rest when I got totally exhausted from struggling for control.

   In Glennallen I met more people who reminded me of the guy at Jake's Corner. None seemed to be very affable. Most seemed to be carrying a lot of anger. I thought it might have been due to the oil pipeline that runs through their back yards, which maybe they resented. I assumed most people were associated in some way with it, and maybe they were not there so much because of a love for Alaska, but more for making money off the pipeline; and maybe they thought I had come to compete for their jobs. People seemed surprised when I told them I was on vacation.

   Most prices around the pipeline were very high. I paid the highest for gas of the entire trip in Glennallen - $1.65 per gallon, which was double what I paid in the "lower forty-eight". The least expensive motel in the area was $25, plus a $5 key deposit. The room was very old, dirty, and in a sorry state of disrepair. The water was so hard I couldn't wash in it, and the night clerk advised me not to drink it. I looked into the adjoining restaurant and decided against eating there because of its "greasy-spoon" appearance. I found a small food market nearby and bought a can of Dinty Moore stew, canned vegetables and a quart of milk. I also got some canned baked beans and canned peaches for breakfast. I heated the food in the room on my little butane camp stove.

     Day 16 - The day began with a dark, overcast sky and drizzling rain. It was the first and only day of my trip that started in the rain. I took extra time eating breakfast and getting dressed because I was in no hurry to start the day in the rain.  I certainly didn’t care for the idea of spending a whole day in Glennallen either. I was thinking it was one of the worst towns I had ever been in. When I went to the office to pick up my key deposit, the desk clerk said he had no record of any key deposits. I'm sure he sensed my extreme annoyance, which is an understatement, and he eventually came up with the five dollars.

   About an hour after leaving, the rain tapered to intermittent light showers and the day brightened. I stopped for gas in Palmer, quickly changed the oil, and I made the second chain adjustment of the trip. The weather was sunny and warm when I stopped for lunch at a small roadside café just west of Palmer. The people there were friendly and the food was good, which was a welcome change from the past few days. I rode into Anchorage on Sunday morning and threw in the towel for the day because I had to catch up on postcards, replenish my film supply and tend to a few other chores, like washing the bike at a do-it-yourself car wash. I talked with three guys on two Kawasaki 900s from Sacramento who had taken the ferry from Prince Rupert, BC to Haines, AK, meaning they bypassed the beautiful and most scenic, mountainous regions of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.

     Day 17 - Monday morning I opened the drapes to another beautiful day and headed for the Alyeska Pipeline Company to see if I could get permission to use the pipeline road to Prudhoe Bay. My timing was very bad because within a week they were supposed to start the oil flowing, and they were having more than their share of startup problems. They were especially concerned about the possibility of having to rescue me from a breakdown or worse, hundreds of miles up the Haul Road. He said if the press ever got hold of a story like that, they wouldn't know how to explain it to President Jimmy Carter. I realized that I had done very little planning for Prudhoe Bay side-trip anyway, so dropping the idea wasn’t a big deal. There was still lots more I was anxious to see.

   I left Anchorage at 10:30 AM and headed for Denali Park and Fairbanks. One of the things I noticed along many of the Alaskan highways was that almost all of the road signs had bullet holes through them. Some signs were riddled with bullets, probably from moving vehicles. Many things about Alaska reminded me of the old wild west. Another thing I noticed was that Alaskan motorcyclists never waved, even when I waved to them with plenty of time to return it. The waves I got during the trip varied from clenched fist salutes and thumbs-up gestures to the old-fashioned open hand wave that I got mostly in Canada. I think the waves tell a lot about the rider’s disposition, as does the absence of one.

   I stopped about 90 miles south of Denali at a scenic overlook where I could see the entire Alaskan Range with the 20,320-foot peak of Mount McKinley above all of the others. Soon afterward, it got very overcast and started to rain, mixed with hail, and it got much colder. I stopped at an alpine-type restaurant near the park entrance to warm up with a hot bowl of soup. I decided against going deep into the park because of the poor weather. I already knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to ride the motorcycle past the Visitor’s Center anyway. I knew they offered bus tours inside the park, but I was in Alaska primarily for adventure motorcycling. 

   South of Nenana, I came upon a very rough section of road for about 30 miles, with huge potholes and a heavy washboard surface. The bike’s suspension bottomed hard several times and the front forks got a severe workout. I was concerned that I might damage the machine, but I continued to move at highway speeds, and faster, because the weather was getting progressively worse. After getting gas in Nenana, I ran into a heavy downpour and rode 25 miles through torrents of rain with thunder and lightning. I don't recall ever riding in heavier rain. At one point I was down to less than 20 mph because I couldn't see anything. So much water was getting into my mouth that it felt like I was drowning. By the time I reached Fairbanks, I was totally soaked, even inside my rain suit. I noticed that the prices in Fairbanks were even higher than Glennallen. It was too wet outdoors for camping, so I looked for a motel. I finally found a plain one like the one I paid $22 for in Anchorage, but they wanted more than twice that. I asked the guy where I might find something a little less. He directed me to a place about a mile up the road called the Frontier Lodge.

   I didn’t see an entrance as I approached the huge log-cabin-style building, which was a combination hotel and old-fashioned saloon with a rustic wood-frame design. I didn't see any windows on the first floor, and a narrow walkway, or porch, encircled most of the second. There was no pavement of any kind around the building. When I ventured around back to look for the entrance door, I found only a lot of mud. I returned to the front to park, and entered through a small-unmarked door that was ajar. I stepped into a large kitchen and asked an oriental cook how do I go about renting a room. He pointed a big wooden spoon toward a narrow, unlit hallway and said the bartender rents the rooms. My footsteps sounded loud on the thin wooden floors as I made my way down the hall toward the bar. I had to duck through a few low doorways that reminded me of an old John Wayne movie.

   It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. The only light was coming from the floor behind the bar. Tending bar was a tall, attractive blonde of college age, wearing tiny white "hot pants". Her legs were complimented by the lighting. She greeted me with a big smile and said, "What will it be?" It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light and to regain my composure from seeing this beautiful woman. I said I wanted to rent a room. "Private or semiprivate", she asked with a smile, and went on to explain that she was referring to the toilet facilities. I said semiprivate would be fine, and I handed her the $12 she quoted. I wondered what a $12 room would be like when most of the prices in the area were above $50. She handed me the key and said with a nice smile, "See you later, OK?"

   Her directions were to go by way of an outside staircase to a second floor porch that surrounds the building. A big wooden door in the back opened into a large sitting room with several pieces of shabby, overstuffed furniture and a badly worn carpet that only partially covered the dirty wooden floor. An old black-and-white TV was turned on, showing a dim picture that flopped over every few seconds. I also passed through a WWII-army-style community toilet before getting to my room. The toilet had a rusty six-foot-long urinal along one wall, and metal stalls with no doors along the other wall, with dirty toilet bowls in some and dripping showerheads in the others. A vile odor of urine coming from the urinal and the floor around it filled the entire room.

   My room, which was actually a cubicle, was 7' by 7', with walls that were only 7' high. The cubicle was built from old crate wood. The small window with a torn curtain overlooked the parking area. Most other cubicles were in the center of the building with no outside view. I could see the inside of the huge slant roof from my cubicle. The place was built like a huge log cabin. The door to my cubicle was an old cross-buck type with a hook on the inside to lock it. A small metal chest-of-drawers with no mirror was there, along with a steel army cot and a musty-smelling, thin cotton mattress. My window had no blinds - just the old, torn curtain. I sat on the edge of the rickety old cot, looking around at the dirt, the close unpainted walls, and the heavy logs that supported the roof overhead as I tried to get some consolation from the $12 price. I rationalized that it was probably better than pitching my tent on that cold, rainy night. The room was directly above the bar where the jukebox blared most of the night, along with loud voices and laughter. It was quite a memorable experience.

   I took a Benedryl around 9:00, and tried to get some sleep in spite of the noise and the daylight streaming through the window well past 11:00. The thin floors offered very little sound barrier from the racket below. Radios in the other cubicles and the community TV in the sitting room competed with the noises from the bar; and a guy spent almost two hours on a pay telephone outside my room making calls to friends in Kansas. I learned from eavesdropping on his calls that most of the tenants were young guys who worked on the oil pipeline. They pay $40 a week for cubicles like mine, most without a window. The noise from the bar continued until closing time at 3 AM, after which a heavy outside door with a strong spring slammed loudly every time someone left. Several patrons continued to talk in the parking lot. It never really got dark outside, just a little dim between 2:00 and 3:00. It was much like a clear moonlit night at home. I looked out shortly after 3:00, and saw the guys clearly as they stood talking near their vehicles. As soon as the voices began to quiet down, around 3:45, sunlight began to stream through my window. The leaky showers dripping on the metal floors in several of the shower stalls became an annoying encore to the earlier racket. I got up around 4:15 and twisted all of the shower valves tight, and tried to get some sleep; but by that time the effects of the sleeping pill were just about worn off, and I only drifted in and out of a half-sleep for about an hour. When a few early-birds in adjoining cubicles got up for work at 5:30, I gave up trying and got up, packed my things, and left.

     Day 18 - I was on the road by 6:00. Like with Glennallen, I was anxious to put Fairbanks behind me. I rode around a few streets in the city to take a quick look, but I soon turned east and headed out of town. Fairbanks is a fraction of the size of Anchorage, and it's definitely a frontier town. It's called, "The Last Frontier". The bike was running fine but the fork seals were weeping oil from the beating they took on the muddy, washboard surfaces the day before. The rear tire was beginning to show significant wear. I realized I should have gotten one in Anchorage. It was raining lightly where the oil pipeline crosses the Tanana River. At first glance, the pipeline structure across the river looked like a highway suspension bridge. An armed security guard watched closely as I stopped to snap a photo.

Section of the oil pipeline crossing the Tanana River near Fairbanks

  My map showed the Taylor Highway turning northeast toward Dawson City at a place called Tetlin Junction. While I was getting gas there, I asked the attendant for directions to the road to Dawson City. He said, “That’s it, right there.” We were at the intersection at the time. I asked him about the condition of the road, and he said, "I don't know. I've never been up it." I asked if many people use it, and he answered, "Once in a while I see someone go that way, but I don't know how far they go." After starting up the road, I saw a vehicle about every 20 to 30 minutes. About 50 miles from the junction, while I was down on one knee oiling the chain, I thought I heard a sound behind me. I turned and saw a huge black bear crossing the road less than 60 feet from me. I was awe-struck for a moment. I fumbled for my camera, but the bear disappeared into the low underbrush before I could get it out and ready. I ran after him hoping he would pause for a moment in a clearing, but he disappeared in the shrubs and bushes that were growing on the tundra.

   The first 75 miles of the Taylor Highway went through a portion of the historic 1898 gold-rush country. The next hundred miles of the Taylor Highway went through a portion of the historic 1898 gold-rush country. The next hundred miles consisted of mostly scenic, hilly tundra. The temperature was a comfortable 70°, and the sun was shining. There were patches of snow on the north sides of many of the hills, but the rest of the tundra was clear of snow and beginning to come to life with many varieties of knee- and waist-high greenery sprouting buds.

   I noticed a few small communities like Chicken, AK along the route that consisted of a half-dozen rustic shacks, probably occupied by trappers and die-hard gold miners; but I saw no one. I inspected a large abandoned gold-dredging machine in a riverbed where it was apparently used in bygone days. I got gas at a tiny place called Boundary, near the Canadian border, with a few rustic buildings, a landing strip for planes, a gas station and a place to eat. I could see the tiny settlement for miles as I approached across the rolling hills. The gas pump was the manual type with a large measuring jar at the top. A gasoline storage tank sat above the ground, next to the pump. The tank wasn’t buried because of the permafrost. The friendly middle-aged woman who came out to literally pump my gas with a four-foot-long handle, called the antique contraption "an oldie but a goodie." When I remarked about the size of her tiny town she answered with a smile, "Oh, we're pretty big sometimes, when we git agoin'."

Old abandoned gold dredge in Jack Wade Creek
Canadian customs at the start of the Top of the World Road
  Seven miles east of Boundary, on the Top of the World Road, I saw two buildings standing alone on the open tundra. A rustic-looking US customs and immigration building on the north side of the gravel road faced a clean, white-shingled Canadian customs building on the south side of the road. I stopped at the Canadian building and spent several minutes talking with the agent. He gave the impression he would continue talking for as long as I was willing to listen. I thought maybe he was lonesome out there.

   Farther out on the tundra, from vantage points near the highest elevations, I could see almost a hundred miles in every direction. I saw rain far to the southeast, clearing in the west, and brightness in the north. Almost all of the vegetation was less than four feet high for as far as I could see. The rolling hills and shoulder-high growth combined to create an illusion of miniature mountain ranges and a miniature forest. I felt like a giant in the land of Lilliput. The close appearance of the horizons all around, added to the illusion that the earth was very small, and that I was standing on this huge globe as it hurtled through space. A steady breeze against my face added to the feeling that I was in motion. It was one of the most fascinating perspectives I ever experienced. Many people in the Yukon know the road as "60-Mile Pass", although it's more widely known as the "Top of the World Road". It became one of my all-time favorite most-memorable rides, especially being there completely alone on a beautiful clear day.

   A little farther out, I came upon what appeared to be an overnight rest stop for travelers of another era. It was a small, one-room log cabin with a dirt floor and grass roof. A sign outside said it was once used as a stagecoach stop on a regular route between Dawson City and Fairbanks. I climbed an embankment not far from there to get a better view of the area, and I stumbled upon a lone, secluded grave near one of the highest and most beautiful spots on the tundra. Carved on a handmade wooden cross that marked the grave, was the epitaph, "The Mad Trapper - The end of his trap line - R.I.P." A very old weather-beaten hat hung from the top of the rustic wooden cross. I understood why someone might want to be buried there. It was not only a very beautiful spot, but the strange top-of-the-world setting actually gave the impression of being closer to my faith. I learned later that there was once an infamous fugitive who was called, “The Mad Trapper” who became a notorious legend in the Yukon for killing people for the gold in their teeth. It is said that the Mounties finally caught up with him, shot him on the spot, and buried his body where he fell. The exact location of his grave has never been known because the Mounties never made a map. I thought perhaps I had accidentally stumbled upon that grave. In any case, I thought it was quite unusual.

Abandoned stagecoach stop between Fairbanks, AK and Dawson City, YT

"The Mad Trapper - The end of his trap line - R.I.P."
Waiting for the ferry boat at the Yukon River
  I crested the final hill 175 miles after leaving Tetlin Junction, and I saw Dawson City spread out in the valley far below. Dawson is the second largest city in the Yukon Territory, in the heart of historic Klondike gold-rush country. It is situated on the northeast bank of the Yukon River near its confluence with the Klondike River. I marveled at the panorama from where I stood in a narrow pull-off area of the road. After a long, steep descent, the road ended abruptly at the water's edge, diagonally across the fast-moving Yukon River from Dawson City. A small government-owned free ferry that operates continuously to carry vehicles and people across came and dropped its steel ramp onto the dirt road in front of me. After boarding, I sat on a box beside the bike so I could hold it and make sure it didn't fall over during the crossing. The ferry churned diagonally upstream across the quarter-mile-wide river. No other vehicles were aboard at the time. I made the 10-minute crossing with two native boys and their dog. The steel ramp was then dropped onto the dirt road on the north shore, a few hundred yards from the center of Dawson City.
Downtown Dawson City, Yukon Territory
    The city looked like a frontier town with its dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, and many old buildings. The town is generally clean, and being kept much like it was in gold-rush days. Tourists from British Columbia and Alberta often come there on bus tours. From Dawson, they sometimes continue over the Top of the World Road into Alaska. I stayed at the Downtown Hotel, which was a western-style hotel-saloon, where the bartender rents the rooms. The saloon entrance had traditional swinging doors at the corner of the building, which were accessible from a wooden sidewalk. The place bore no resemblance at all to the Frontier Lodge where I stayed in Fairbanks. It was clean, cheerful and quiet, and the bartender wore an old-fashioned gingham dress. The scene reminded me of Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon in the TV series, “Gunsmoke”.
   A strong wind blew through town soon after I arrived, which raised clouds of dust along the unpaved streets, as it warned of an impending storm that made everyone scurry for cover. After the storm passed, I found a nice restaurant, and I enjoyed a steak dinner in the company of two secretaries on an auto trip from Kamloops, BC. We shared a four-place table because the place was crowded, and they invited me to join them. They also invited me to accompany them to the Gay-Nineties Revue at the local opera house, but I declined because I needed time to service the bike, study my maps, and look into a possible side trip that I hoped to take up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle in the morning. That night I adjusted the spokes for the first time, and the chain for the third time. About a dozen spokes, mostly on the rear wheel, needed adjustment. The rear tire was totally bald, and almost showing its casing. I could see where several deep rock cuts had actually reached the casing. Whitehorse, where I hoped to be the following day, was now my only hope for a new tire.

     Day 19 - The weather was perfect when I left Dawson at 9:00. I definitely had to forgo earlier plans of riding up the Dempster Highway due to the condition of tire. I learned that the Dempster was completed to just beyond the Arctic Circle at Mile 245. Gas was available at two maintenance camps at Mile 129 and 231. But the problem at hand was getting to Whitehorse safely, which was 355 miles of rough gravel road away. I spent a nerve-wracking day dodging millions of stones on the Klondike Highway, and trying not to think about how much I might get torn up if the tire blew, and I came into contact with the stones at that speed. But I still kept pushing between 60 and 65 mph because I was worried that the cycle shop, if there was one, might close before I got there. I located a "sport shop" in Whitehorse, and bought the only 400X18 motorcycle tire they had, which was a soft-composition Yokohama tire. I changed it that night outside my hotel in Whitehorse.

     Day 20 - I intended to use the Alaska Highway on my return home, which goes through the Canadian Rockies, but the traffic was simply too heavy on it, even after the earlier landslide had been cleared. I met one long caravan of Airstream trailers heading for Alaska, and I was hit several times by stones thrown up from their tires. One cracked my headlight lens and several others hit the windshield and the top of my helmet. By the time I got to the Cassiar Highway junction, I was fed up with it, so I decided to return on the same road I used coming up, rather than continue down the Alaska Highway. It hadn't rained since I came through a week earlier, so the 480 miles of it were extremely dusty. The traffic had also increased, and I was pelted several times by flying stones, and choked by dust from on-coming vehicles.

Camping at Tatogga Lake, BC, south of Iskut
  I stopped for gas and food at the same co-op store in Iskut where I stopped on my way up. Later I located a beautiful lake about 22 miles farther south, where I pitched my tent under some tall trees near the shoreline. The silence offered a sharp contrast to the steady roar of the glacier stream where I camped a week earlier. I think it was quieter by the lake than any place I have ever been. I would listen for a long while, and hear absolutely nothing, not even a loon on the lake. For the first time since I began sleeping in the tent I enjoyed a very restful night. There were no vehicles on the road all night, so it stayed totally quiet.

     Day 21 - I got up early with sunlight streaming through the trees. The lake glistened like a mirror. I hated to leave, but my gear dried quickly as I prepared and ate breakfast. The dust problem became much worse that day. Fast-moving vehicles would leave  a half-mile trail of dust. It was a big difference from the total solitude I experienced on my trip up a week earlier. Often when I got behind someone, the guy would speed up, and try to keep me from passing on the very narrow road, thereby creating even more dust. Whenever I moved left to pass, the bike would drift from the loose gravel on the shoulder, making passing very difficult. My drive chain was getting coated with dust, so I oiled it about every 30 to 40 miles. I stopped at Stewart Junction for an early lunch of ham and three eggs with toast and coffee, which cost about double what it would in the US, but I was glad I stopped.

   Passing vehicles on the final leg of the Cassiar became even more difficult because the road got narrower and the dust trails were even longer. I could seldom get within 200 feet of another vehicle. I managed to get by one guy on the left shoulder when a gust of wind blew his dust the other way. I charged in with only inches between the side of his pickup and the ditch. Fortunately he didn’t swerve toward me to miss a stone. I got by a camper after he slowly crossed a single-lane wooden bridge and he hadn't resumed speed yet, although it meant riding on the shoulder in the loose gravel. I passed another camper in soft dirt in a construction area. I got behind a massive logging truck and tried several times to get close enough to attempt a pass, but there was never enough room. I didn’t trust the guy either. I eventually followed him 15 miles into Kitwanga. By the time I got there, I was a mess.

   I tried to get the bike up to highway speeds on the blacktop but I couldn't get the RPMs up because the air filter was clogged with dust. I stopped at the first gas station and cleaned it in a bucket with gasoline. I also made another chain adjustment and changed the oil. Later I found a nice motel in Smithers after 300 difficult miles that day. I visited a Laundromat that evening to wash my clothes. I also washed the calcium chloride off the bike at a car wash, and later I soaked myself in the tub at the motel.

     Day 22 - I left Smithers at 7:30 AM, feeling refreshed. It was a beautiful sunny day as I headed out on good blacktop. I stopped near Prince George for a snack before beginning the long, steady, and very beautiful climb into the Canadian Rockies. The road runs alongside a narrow slow-moving river to Mt. Robson Park. It didn't look anything like the raging white-water river I saw earlier on the trip, farther downstream. I had a spectacular view of Mt. Robson's 12,972-foot peak near the Continental Divide. I rode into Jasper Village to pick up overnight provisions. The town was filled with young people on vacation. Jasper was like a mythical Shangri-La nestled in the mountains. I called home from there, and I thought I sensed anxiety in Lilli's voice, like maybe she was having difficulty with the boys, although she didn’t say so; but I figured it was about time I should be getting home. I planned to camp that night before turning east in the morning and stepping up my pace.

   I was in total awe of the spectacular panoramas as I rode south along the Icefields Parkway in search of a campsite. The view in every direction was spectacular. The road follows a broad clearing in the Athabasca River valley as it winds between the giant snow-covered granite mountains that stand back from the highway on both sides. I would have liked to capture the whole thing on film,

but whenever I looked into the viewfinder I saw only a small piece of the beautiful panorama with beautiful lakes, ice fields and majestic mountains for the full 360°. I really enjoyed the evening ride where I rarely saw another vehicle. I traveled 95 miles before locating a vacancy in Banff Park where the scenery was no less spectacular. The Icefields Parkway is near the top of my list of all-time most memorable rides. I rode about 565 miles that day.

Along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada
  The campsite I found was in the Thompson Creek Campgrounds on Highway 11, just off the parkway. I pitched the tent on a thick bed of pine needles in a grove of huge evergreen trees, and in the midst of several solid granite mountain peaks. The small creek from which the camp got its name trickled peacefully by my tent. I shared the campground with many recreational vehicles of all shapes and sizes. My site in the tent section had a picnic table and a hibachi. I heated and ate my evening meal outside as twilight settled ever so peacefully over the Canadian Rockies. The weather was clear and mild. I slept soundly on a soft bed of pine needles under the tent. In the morning my gear wasn't even damp, and the ground tarp that was usually wet with condensation was bone dry. Since it was chilly outside, I prepared a hot breakfast inside the tent before packing to leave. It was a pleasure to pack my camping gear without having to dry everything first.

     Day 23 - Soon after returning to the Icefields Parkway, the early morning sunshine gave way to a heavy cloud cover, and it got so cold I had to dig into my bag for more clothes. I wasn’t sure of the elevation, but I assumed it was quite high. I was in Banff Park at the time. I followed the 141-mile Icefields Parkway for another hour before reaching TC-1, where I turned east and rode another 40 miles before getting totally clear of the mountain clouds. It was midmorning and sunny when I passed through Calgary and saw many people on horseback in fancy cowboy regalia. I thought maybe they were preparing for a parade, which I thought might be related to the famous Calgary Stampede.

   I met the first strong headwinds of the trip on the prairie east of Calgary. My gas mileage dropped sharply to less than 100 miles on the main tank. I wasn’t aware at the time that Saskatchewan gas adversely affects engine performance. I continued to hold a heavy throttle most of the day, while worrying all the time about my long-overdue service to the valves. The engine seemed to be losing power even when there was no wind, and it was impossible to find bike service on Sunday. Not knowing about the Saskatchewan gas, I decided to look for a bike shop in Regina and stop for the night.

   Much of Saskatchewan is flat as a tabletop. The monotony of the prairie scenery is broken only occasionally by huge grain elevators in the small towns, and by the oil-well pump-jacks rocking in the open fields. I got to Regina early after passing through towns with names like Medicine Hat, Swift Current and Moose Jaw. The weather was clear, but the headwinds were strong and constant. I found a clean, comfortable motel in Regina and got directions to the local Suzuki shop from the desk clerk before turning in.

     Day 24 - I found the shop easily, but I got there far too early, even after having taken extra time for breakfast. I decided to look for a shop later that morning in Minot, ND instead. I entered the US at Portal, ND, and was ordered by the US customs official to empty all of my bags. I figured I must have fit some kind of profile, or maybe just because I'm a biker. It was a real pain. It was the first and only time my luggage has ever been thoroughly searched at any border. I was detained for almost a half hour, unpacking and repacking the duffel bag and all of my camping gear on a large outdoor table. He went through everything with a fine-tooth comb, looking into every film container and every vitamin pill bottle, even after reading the labels, and he acting very official and unfriendly. He responded to my light chatter with only terse answers, if he responded at all. Finally, after apparently satisfying himself that I was totally clean, he acted a little more amicable, but he had never heard of a Suzuki dealer in Minot, or anywhere else for that matter. He certainly wasn't much help.

   Unable to find one in Minot, I pressed on. I came close to getting a speeding ticket about 10 miles west of Grand Forks when I sailed through a radar check at almost 75 mph on a scarcely traveled section of US 2 where the limit was 65. I was sure I had "bought the farm". I chopped the throttle and coasted by, preparing to stop and take my lumps, but he never made a move toward me. When I mentioned this good fortune to a gas station attendant a few miles up the road, he said, "Oh, he wouldn't bother you. He's laying for those big grain trucks. They come through there at speeds you wouldn't believe." It was late afternoon when I got to Grand Forks where I stopped to check the yellow pages for a dealer but found none there either. I called the Harley dealer, the only bike dealer in the book, who seemed to get great pleasure out of telling me that both the Suzuki and Kawasaki dealers in Grand Forks had gone "belly-up" a year ago. He thought the nearest “surviving” Suzuki dealer was now in Duluth, 265 miles farther east. I bought a quart of milk at a grocery store and picked up some chicken at a KFC, and carried it all to a picnic area a few miles out of town because the weather was perfect for it. I figured if I made Duluth that night I would have covered 725 miles that day.

   I stopped in Bagley, MN to call home, and give Lilli my ETA. A few miles east of there I spotted a Suzuki dealer in Shevlin, in the midst of farm country. The corn in the area was so high it nearly obscured the building as I approached. The shop was still open when I pulled in at 8:00. He didn't have time to work on it then, so we made an appointment for 9 AM, and I returned to Bagley for a room. After writing a few final postcards, I went out to look for a post office. I asked for directions from a guy sitting on his front steps who turned out to be another biker. He invited me on a tour of his garage where he showed me three motorcycles of his own.

     Day 25 - The dealer re-shimmed five of the valves, and two others were slightly off, although he didn't have the right shims in stock for those. He said he shimmed them to be slightly on the loose side. Two of the intake valves were too tight, which may have contributed to my loss of power. He also adjusted the points, changed the plugs and the oil, and checked the compression, which he said was fine. Time passed quickly as I talked with a few competition drag racers who dropped by. When the dealer returned from a road-test of the bike, he said the lack of power in the headwinds was probably due to the “tall” sprocket I was using. Apparently the engine was designed to perform better at the higher RPMs. He charged me far less for service than I paid anywhere. My gas mileage improved noticeably after the tune-up.

   It was mostly cloudy that afternoon with a weather front moving in from the west, accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain. I stopped for lunch in Bemidji and had a late supper at a Burger King in Ashland, Wisconsin, overlooking Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. I finally called it a day in Ironwood, Michigan where I was two long days from home. I found a nice room for only $7.00. It was large and clean with a double bed and a single bed, color TV, and wall-to-wall carpeting. The bathroom had a tub as well as a shower. It was hard to believe they could make a profit from renting rooms like that for $7 a night. The beaches on the north shore of Lake Michigan were deserted, as no one was swimming or sunbathing, probably because the water was too cold.

     Day 26 - The weather got noticeably warmer after crossing the huge single-span bridge at Mackinaw. I rode through Jack Pine Enduro country and reminisced several enduros I competed in there during the 1960s. I made a short detour to look for the famous Rifle River crossing that was used in almost every Jack Pine run, but I couldn’t get close enough to it by road. I noticed big changes in Detroit from when I went to school there after WWII. I looked for a room, but didn't find one until I got to Toledo where I packed it in after  775 miles.

     Day 27 - I loaded the bike for my final day, and left around 9:00. Truck traffic on the Ohio Turnpike was heavy. The exhaust fumes and other pollution from the factories around Cleveland were a sharp contrast from the air I enjoyed just a few days earlier in the Canadian Rockies. I realized that my tour was almost to an end. I enjoyed the ride through Pennsylvania where the truck traffic was much lighter and the scenery was much nicer than along the Ohio Turnpike. Most of the farms were clean and well-kept with fresh paint on many of the farmhouses and barns.

   I did a lot of thinking about the trip and wondered as I rode where I might go next. I reflected on what I should have taken on this trip. A long-sleeve white shirt was at the top of the list of things to take next time, while dried food was at the top of my list of things to leave behind. I'll also remember to take gloves and mittens for every condition. Different weight jackets would also be helpful, but they take up a lot more room. On this trip, I carried extra layers of sweatshirts. A pair of leisure shoes would be useful. Aside from providing comfort in the evenings, I could ride with them in the heat. Good sunglasses are a must for my next trip. Two pairs of jeans seemed about right. I wore a pair and carried a pair, and I washed one of them whenever spotted a Laundromat. I washed some of the smaller things in the motel sinks that dried overnight, like socks, shorts and handkerchiefs.

   The next time I travel on a lot of dirt roads, I'll carry an extra tire, a tire repair kit, spare tubes, tire irons and an air pump. I did remember to bring my owner's manual, a spoke wrench, extra oil, a siphon hose, the warranty card and a special insurance card for Canada. I also remembered to carry a 25' length of quarter-inch-nylon rope for emergency towing. Fortunately I didn’t need it. For some of the places I could have broken down, it might have been the only way to get out, provided I could find someone to tow me. I need to figure a way to carry a spare face shield without scuffing it.

   I would have benefited from a lightweight blanket for when it got too hot for the sleeping bag. My small butane hiker’s stove was very useful. I used three butane cartridges during the trip. I carried Brillo pads for cleaning my cooking pots, and I brought a small bottle of detergent for dishes, socks, etc. I’ll definitely bring a water canteen the next time. I remembered to bring mosquito repellent, which I used a lot, especially in the far north.

   Fifteen dollars a day was more than enough cash to carry on this trip. I used my credit cards for lodging and gas, and I could have used it to eat in a few places. My rule-of-thumb for cash was that I would bring only as much as I needed to buy food along the way, and I would use credit cards for just about everything else. I spent a total of $150 for bike service, which included the new tire. Along with the telephone bill that I paid later, the trip cost a little more than $1200, or an average of $45 per day. Only about $12 a day of which was in cash. Buying canned food for camping kept my eating expenses down. Eating at travel restaurants and fast-food places rather than camping probably would have cost at least $5 to $10 a day more. I'm known as being very frugal, so I suspect that I travel for far less than the average rider would, and most of the prices on things have doubled and tripled since 1977.

   The bike averaged about 36 mpg on the trip. Gas mileage varied from around 26 mpg in the strong headwinds in Saskatchewan to more than 50 with a tailwind, especially when I kept my speed under 50 mph, which was mostly on some of the gravel roads and through towns. The bike needed a little extra care to the valve shims and points than a bike with hydraulic lifters and electronic ignition would. I dressed the points myself, but the valves required special tools, and took specific size shims and a lot more time. The bike’s handling on unstable surfaces left a great deal to be desired, and the ride was stiffer than a true adventure touring bike. The pain below the back of my neck, between my shoulder blades, bothered me quite a bit throughout the trip. I lost about 15 pounds during my four weeks on the road; but on balance, I felt good. The numbness on the insides of my thighs, which was apparently due to the seat, took a few months to clear up.

   The weather front that followed me most of the way across the country was still a day behind when I crossed the George Washington Bridge into NYC. By the time I got home, 40 miles north of the city, I had covered a total of 12,741 miles in 27 days, for an average of 472 miles a day, which included the day in California when I didn't ride at all, and a few other days when I rode only part of the day. I estimate that I averaged roughly 500 miles a day on my full-travel days. To make it a more comfortable trip, with a lot of tent camping, would have taken much longer. With all things considered, I thought it was a great ride that I'll never forget. I learned a lot from it, and I was convinced I would do it again.

   I prefer to explore and travel the hinterlands on my own terms, to enjoy the solitude and take pleasure in occasionally meeting new and interesting people. Traveling alone means I'll account to no one, and I will be able to stay in places that strike my fancy longer or take off in any direction as I wish, without having to compromise with others or stick to anyone's itinerary, including my own. If you enjoy quiet time and being on your own, then that's the only way to go. Experiencing the world alone is a more intense, reverent and sometimes religious experience. You're out there by yourself, and you must face the world on the world's terms, whatever they may be.

The 1977 Suzuki GS750 as it was set up for my Rookie Tour

The Next chapter is:  03 AK2 - The Tough One

No comments:

Post a Comment