Five members of the RAMS Motorcycle Club traveled together to Alaska in 1991. The group consisted of myself, the oldest at 66 on a GL1200 Honda Gold Wing; Jake Herzog, a 52-year-old head of a specialty welding business supporting the petroleum industry in the Albany, NY area on a BMW R100GS; Ed McIntyre, a 61-year-old retired mailman from Somers, CT, whose friends in the Postal Service said at his retirement party, "One thing you can say about Eddie, he's steady" on a 1983 BMW R80RT; Bud Peck, a 61-year-old stone mason and staunchly conservative Yankee from Stow, MA who my wife referred to as "The Salt of the Earth", on a BMW K75; and the youngest member of our group, John Thurber, a 48-year-old building contractor from West Dover, VT, who has been just about everywhere including a bike tour through the Alps and another in the Soviet Union. John rode a new Suzuki VX800 on this trip. A few things we shared in common, besides belonging to the same club, are that we're all longtime dirt riders, and we all have Type-A personalities. We had a combined total of more than 200 years of motorcycling experience. Ed was our token bachelor. It was their first trip to Alaska, and my fourth.
Our first of several disagreements arose before we even got started when John said of my planned route, “I wouldn't ride through Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma in July on a bet. Don't you realize the temperature often reaches 110° down there?” I tried to convince John that I had chosen the best back road bike route across the country, and that a spirited ride through the Ozarks would make him forget about the heat. That didn't cut any ice with John, and eventually Jake and Ed sided with him after John laid out a cooler route across Ontario, Upper Michigan and northern Minnesota. This conflict served as a harbinger for many of the tribulations we would face as our individual idiosyncrasies surfaced. This is my version of the trip:
Day 1 - Bud and I left my home on July 8th. It was a comfortable 74° with cloudy skies, with showers in the forecast. Bud was put on his toes early when a car pulled out in front of him during morning rush-hour at a traffic circle only eleven miles from my house. I heard the screech of tires behind me as he barely missed the guy, thereby avoiding a bad scene. Temperatures dipped slightly as we rode through some light showers in northern New Jersey and crossed the Delaware River on a narrow steel-deck bridge north of Easton. That was followed by a series of scenic two-lane country roads through eastern Pennsylvania. We stopped for lunch at a Hardee’s near the Susquehanna River. The temperature rose into the low 80s, and it didn’t rain at all after lunch.
We crossed the Potomac River from Maryland to West Virginia over a low, single-lane wooden bridge at water level. It seemed to move from our weight as we crossed it. We then rode about eight miles of scarcely-traveled dirt roads through C&O Canal National Park in West Virginia, followed by a spirited ride on WV Rte 55 between Petersburg and Elkins. We arrived at the Econolodge around 6:00, just ahead of a heavy thundershower, and shared a batch of whiskey sours before walking next-door to the KFC. We wondered how the rest of the group fared on their first day, having left around the same time from Jake's home in Slingerlands, NY.
Day 2 - It was heavily overcast and 68° when we left Elkins after a complimentary breakfast of fruit, donuts and coffee. The weather held for the first 40 miles, except for some early morning fog. It was so thick in one spot that we had to slow down to 10 mph to see where we were going on the extremely twisty road. We rode through a few light showers later between Valley Head and Webster Springs. When we got there it was clear and sunny. We stopped for a second breakfast at a Hardee’s in Summerville.
One of the highlights of our day was a remote secondary road I had chosen between Belva and US 60 in West Virginia. The south side of the Kanawha River was another interesting ride, although it was congested. We had lunch at a Dairy Queen in Kermit before entering Kentucky where the temperature rose to 86°. It was also congested for the first five or ten miles through a few of the small towns we passed through in Kentucky. We saw places where many Appalachian mountain folk live in dilapidated hovels, and we saw other areas that were totally overrun by the noxious Kudzu weed that can smother and kill an entire forest.
Day 3 - It was barely first light when we left the motel at 5:30, which was 4:30 just a few miles down the road. We left early to allow extra time for our Mississippi River crossing where we planned to use the same tiny ferry across the river that we used in 1988. The fog and haze that hung over the mountains didn't prevent us from enjoying some really nice scenery in the first 60 miles. Route 100, which we took most of the way across Kentucky was an excellent two-lane bike road. We saw rice, tobacco, corn, sorghum, soybeans and other crops. Western Kentucky didn't look nearly as poor as the eastern part, although I did see one guy working with a hand plow behind a mule. In Fairview we saw a monument to Jefferson Davis that looked a lot like the Washington Monument, only much smaller. The large familiar-looking spire seemed out of place in the farmland setting. When we reached Hickman, we learned that the ferry we intended to take had stopped running two years earlier, so we detoured for several miles to cross the river into Tennessee. The temperature climbed to 100° before we stopped at a small motel in Hardy, Arkansas.
Day 4 - The roads were congested around the vacation areas of Mountain Home and Eureka Springs, but it was much better west of there on the steep, twisty descent from the Ozarks into Oklahoma. We had practically no traffic through the gently rolling hills and remote ranches of eastern Oklahoma, although it got very hot. We had lunch at a tiny convenience store in a small town, after which the heat became quite uncomfortable.
The skies looked threatening west of Severy, Kansas. When the wind became very strong, we stopped and sat on the grass in front of a cemetery for a few minutes to see what it would do. It actually looked like there was a tornado brewing. Eventually we concluded that most of the lightning and the heaviest part of the storm was north of us, so when the strongest winds subsided, we left; but a few minutes later the rain came in torrents. By the time I found a spot to pull over, it was too late to suit-up, so we stood in the heavy downpour and got drenched. We reached the Star Dust Motel in El Dorado, KS about an hour later where we checked in and wrung out our wet clothes. After a batch of whiskey sours, we walked next door for a steak at the Golden Corral.
When I called home the previous evening, I asked Lilli to check on the progress of the others. She reported back that Jake had figured out a way for Arlene to meet us in Billings for our planned Montana loop, where Lilli was already planning to meet us. Arlene had wanted to go, but when Jake chose to ride his iron-head BMW rather than his Harley, Arlene said "No way!" So Jake's new plan was to rent a car for the Montana loop and Arlene could join us. Bud had been resting on the bed when I told him about Jake’s latest plan. He looked at me with indignation over his half-empty whiskey sour glass and yelled, "Jake is going to rent a WHAT?"
Day 5 - There was still a lot of lightning around when we got up at 5:15, and the sky in our direction looked very ominous. It began to rain soon after we left the motel. We put on rain suits as we neared Council Grove, and rode about 20 miles in a very strong thundershower. There wasn't much wind with it, but there were several close lightning flashes. Later, we saw a sign in Cassoday proclaiming it to be the “World Capital of the Prairie Chicken”. I learned later that a prairie chicken is a small grouse. Most of the two-lane roads we traveled that day in Kansas had fairly nice scenery with no traffic. There was a lot of gently rolling prairie, and a lot of cornfields. The winter wheat had already been harvested and the beans were about ankle high. The rolling hills eventually gave way to the flat lands of western Nebraska and eastern Colorado where we saw a long trainload of coal coming out of Wyoming. We didn’t see many sunflowers, which is one of the popular crops in western Kansas, and what the state is named for. We had lunch at a small café in Stockton, Nebraska, and dinner at a KFC in Sterling, Colorado. We walked to from the motel for dinner. The temperature rose to the mid 90s by early afternoon, although it eased up later in the day to the high 80s.
Day 6 - We decided to try McDonald’s promotional burritos for breakfast. We agreed it was a mistake. With the temperature at a cool 55°, I wore two jackets and used my Hot Grips for the first time. We saw mostly corn, wheat, onions, beans and sugar beets on the prairie between Sterling and Ft. Collins where we stopped for a more substantial breakfast at a Hardee’s. Our view of the Rocky Mountains and other scenery north of Ft. Collins was spectacular. The scenery got even more spectacular as we climbed through Medicine Bow National Forest to the 10,000-foot level. The road from Laramie to Walcott was our scenic highlight of the day. It was also excellent through Wind River Canyon between Riverton and Shoshoni. We saw several pronghorn antelopes grazing with the cattle near Muddy Gap before we stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s in Rawlins, which was crowded. We began to see a mysterious crop with yellow blossoms and light green leaves that for the lack of a better name, Bud began to refer to as “the yellow s---." It would be ten days before we finally identified it. The temperature again reached 100° before we stopped for the day.
During the afternoon Bud's rear shock blew its seal and lost all of its fluid, causing it to lose the damping action in the rear, which affected handling. After trying to contact the listed BMW dealer in Billings, who we learned had gone out of business 3 years ago, Bud contacted his son George in New Hampshire and asked him to call Razee’s shop in Rhode Island to work out the details for shipping one to our planned motel in Helena, 2nd Day Air. George called back a half hour later to confirm that it was on its way. Bud also blew a fuse that afternoon when the wire to his Hot Grips shorted against the fork. He changed the fuse at the side of the road and taped the bare wire. His K75 had 88,000 miles on it at that point. It's the same one he rode on our Back Roads, USA tour.
We stopped at Thermopolis to view the hot spring, where clear water and sulfur gasses emerge from the ground at more than 130°, and creates a deep, 20-foot diameter pool. The crystal-clear water is then piped from the spring into the local hotels and health resorts where it's used for hot mineral baths. Our final 300 miles that day consisted of a lot of rangeland with a backdrop of a tall scenic mountain range, which is typical of much of western Wyoming.
Day 7 - We were on the road by 6:30, following breakfast at a truck stop. We rode through Shell Creek Canyon, which was truly spectacular with steep, rock-canyon walls on both sides of a twisty road alongside a fast-running creek that was flowing through the canyon. At the 10,000-foot level in Big Horn Forest we saw a huge herd of sheep in the road for almost a mile. We eased our way through. Later I surprised two young elk standing in the road. A twisty 9-mile descent took us to the Big Horn River.
It was our day to meet Lillian and Arlene at Billings Airport for our planned one-week loop through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. We arrived in Billings at 10:30 and had an early lunch on our way to the airport. We looked around to see if Jake and the others were there before taking a short ride to kill time. The plane arrived at noon, after which Arlene rented the car, and I transferred some of my stuff into the trunk, like my tent and sleeping bag to make room for Lilli and her luggage on the bike. Jake, John, Ed and Ralph Spencer were waiting at the motel in Red Lodge. Ralph had come from Sun City, Arizona to join us for our scenic loop. We did some laundry, had a few batches of whiskey sours to celebrate the rendezvous, and we had dinner at the Round Barn Restaurant. It sprinkled a little on the way, but we managed to stay dry.
Day 8 - Ed phoned our room at 6 AM to make sure we were up. We had donuts and coffee in the lobby, and talked about having a full breakfast with the entire group in Cooke City, MT. It was about 50° when John took off up the mountain at 6:30 while the rest of us were still getting ready. Jake & Arlene left 10 minutes later in the car, followed a minute or so after that by Ed. Finally Bud, Lilli and I started up the mountain at 6:45. Having learned of a problem at home, Ralph headed back to Sun City after only one evening with the group.
We came upon Ed on one knee near the 9,000-foot level removing his headlight bulb. His BMW began to act up after the generator went dead, which weakened the battery. After we removed all of the bulbs, Bud followed him back to Red Lodge to find a motorcycle shop where he hoped to get it fixed. Lillian and I continued up the mountain. The Beartooth Highway was spectacular in the crisp morning air. The temperature at the pass was only 40°, but it was very clear. We took a few pictures and continued on to Cooke City where we met the others just as they were leaving the restaurant. So much said for breakfast together. Lilli and I decided to skip the full breakfast and head into Yellowstone Park with Jake, Arlene and John. The Silver Gate entrance to the park is only 4 miles from Cooke City.
Inside the park we saw bison, elk, a lot of beautiful scenery and a lot of burned-out forest, where fires had ravaged a huge area a year earlier. I just missed a pothole that John hit dead center, bending both wheel rims of his new Suzuki. Our scenic highlights included Yellowstone Falls, which we viewed from Inspiration Point, and Old Faithful where we arrived a few minutes before it blew hot water and steam high into the air - not quite as high as I imagined from images that I had seen. Traffic in the park was moderately heavy with many slow-moving RV’s and campers.
We took photos at Grand Teton National Park, and later we noticed a lot of lightning as we approached Jackson Hole, WY, our overnight stop. The skies had been looking progressively darker and more ominous during the afternoon. John passed us as we neared the motel. Jake and Arlene were there when we pulled in at 4:20. Bud arrived about 45 minutes later, having left Red Lodge at the same time as Ed, who got his generator fixed, but Ed travels a lot slower. The brushes hanging up in their slides had caused his generator problem. Ed got in around 6:15. We went downtown together to Western Sizzler for dinner. Bud's K75 had been running poorly most of the day, and it was smoking a lot. John managed to straighten his bent rims a little that night. Of the four bikes, we had problems with three on our first day together.
Day 9 - It was cool when we left the motel for a few days of visiting ghost towns. Lilli and I had muffins from the Mini-Mart next door with tea from the lobby. Four of us rode together for the first time as we climbed the 10% grade toward Targhee Pass in Idaho, followed by a steep and twisty descent down the western slopes toward Victor, ID. Bud's bike spit and smoked a lot when he started, but it performed well all day after a fill-up with high test. We stopped for a full breakfast at the Old Bank Restaurant in Victor. The service there was slow but the food was good. Jake and Arlene arrived a little later in the car and skipped breakfast, having had a complimentary breakfast where they stayed. The ride over Targhee Pass was beautiful, as was the scenery through the lush farmlands in Idaho. We saw potatoes, oats, summer wheat and a lot more of the yellow stuff, which Ed suggested might be mustard. We saw cattle feeding in lush fields of alfalfa, and we saw a bark beetle infestation that affected mostly lodge-pole pine.
Virginia City, MT, the first partial ghost town we visited on our loop, looked more like a tourist town with its many gift and craft shops. Most of the buildings were occupied, so it wasn't much of a ghost town. Nevada City, MT was better, with more interesting exhibits and several unoccupied houses, but it was still not a true ghost town. On our way to Bannack, MT that afternoon we ran into a sudden, fierce thundershower with strong winds and heavy rain. Jake and Arlene were directly behind us in the car at the time. I pulled off the highway so Lilli and I could quickly duck into their car. John and Bud stopped earlier to put on rain suits, but Ed ran into the heaviest rain as suddenly as we did, and he got soaked. We watched him pass by from our dry spot of the car, where we stayed until the storm passed. Ed didn't stop.
Lilli and I rode directly from there to Bannack, while the others checked into the Super 8 in Dillon. We were happy to find that Bannack was a true ghost town, much like Bodie, CA that we visited three years earlier. We parked outside and walked through the historic town, which was once the capital of Montana. Tourists were allowed to enter and inspect many of the abandoned houses and other buildings. We got to the motel at 5:30 and had a batch of whiskey sours with the group before we all went to dinner together at a nearby Pizza Hut. The service was terrible but everyone liked the pizzas. My $6 senior discount on the combined check prompted someone in the group to suggest that at least it partially made up for the poor service.
Day 10 - It was quite cool when we got up, so we had a leisurely breakfast and left late. We rode on a narrow, unmarked country road with a lot of potholes near Anaconda, MT. We could see where the area had been strip-mined for copper ore. Otherwise it was a scenic ride that included a section called Pintler Scenic Route. We stopped in Drummond for gas. We had a cinnamon roll there, which also served as our lunch. Then we went directly into Garnet, our next ghost town. We rode on ten miles of fairly rough gravel to reach Garnet. The last two hills were steep and twisty with washouts. We all made it without incident, after which most of the group strolled through the ghost town for about an hour. Bud and Ed didn't care for the walking part, so they waited in the parking lot and watched the bikes. Garnet is another authentic ghost town, smaller than Bannack, but at least as interesting. We left via an easier northern exit. It rained lightly for about a half hour, so we kept our rain suits on all the way back to the motel. Heavy cloudiness discouraged much of the picture-taking around Flat Head Lake where the scenery is usually superb.
Day 11 - It began to rain just as we entered Glacier National Park. We rode through several miles of construction in the rain, including areas with slick mud. We were able to see the high peaks only through heavy overcast as we climbed the steep approach to Logan Pass. We couldn't see the beautiful panorama across Avalanche Creek. At one point near the summit we rode through a thick cloudbank where we could barely see the double-yellow line in the road. Heavy fog and snow-banks up to 12' surrounded the parking lot at the pass, where it was barely 40° and windy. It cleared by the time we reached St. Mary's Lake on the eastern end of the park. Glacier is one of the most spectacular national parks in the US, but we saw very little of it during this visit.
The road from St. Mary's Lake to Browning was a great bike road with smooth macadam and long, sweeping turns with slight banking. The weather had cleared by then. We had lunch at a small burger shop in Browning that was run by Blackfeet Indians. We were the only Caucasians in the place. The terrain between Browning and Choteau was mostly rolling hills through cattle country. We saw hundreds of head of cattle grazing in the fields. After the ground leveled a bit, we saw wheat, barley, alfalfa, and a lot more of the yellow stuff. The wide-open country between Choteau and Helena was beautiful, and typical of Montana.
We got to our motel in Helena about 4:45. Bud's new shock was there, so he went out and quickly replaced it in the parking lot, after having ridden five days with no rear suspension dampening at all. Later we had a batch of whiskey sours and went next door to Ralph's Family Restaurant for dinner. The service was worse than Pizza Hut. It took a half hour to get the salad, and at least another hour to get the entree. They ran out of prime-rib special, meaning a few of us had to change our orders. When the meal finally came, my alternative roast beef was dry and tasteless. It reminded me of the lousy meal we had in Conrad, MT three years earlier. We didn't get back to the room until after 9:00. Ralph's Restaurant epitomized some of the eating conflicts we experienced on the trip. I get very little pleasure from the pseudo-epicurean, so-called full-service restaurants, and I dislike eating late in the evening. I also get irritated with poor food, poor service, or both. When we left Ralph’s that evening, I was definitely irritated, although it didn’t seem to bother most of the group.
Day 12 - Lilli and I had breakfast at McDonald’s while the others returned to Ralph's for the more traditional full breakfast. Elkhorn, our next ghost town, was about 12 miles up a rough gravel road. Elkhorn was once a mining town where silver, gold and lead were once extracted. It was now mostly private property where visitors were allowed to walk amongst the buildings, but there were signs saying to stay away from certain homes. We didn't see any people, although we saw several places that were obviously lived in. Sportsmen might have rented the houses during the hunting season. We saw a young elk and a few deer while we were in the town. We explored the abandoned hotel, saloon, barbershop, mining fraternity hall and a few other abandoned buildings that were open. Lilli and I located the cemetery about a mile from town. There were almost a hundred graves, mostly children between the ages of three days and 11 years. The founder of the mine was also buried there. I almost dropped the bike when I stopped on a steep incline at the cemetery gate and the front brake wouldn’t hold on the loose gravel. We went backwards on the bike together as it slid down the hill faster and faster with the front wheel locked. I was dragging my feet all the way. I managed to hold it upright with my feet as we skidded backwards for about 70 feet. It finally stopped with both of us still aboard, sitting upright on the bike.
From there the group rode 156 miles along Interstate 90 to our motel in Columbus, MT. Bud, John and Ed continued on to Red Lodge to change oil and service their bikes. Lilli and I stayed in Columbus and checked into the motel early. I changed my left-front brake pads in the parking lot. I had a slight sore throat and an irregular heartbeat, so I took an extra heart pill and rested. I assumed that part of the problem was from the stress of trying to keep our tour running on an even keel for the past five days. Bud and Ed returned by 5:30, while John, Jake and Arlene stayed in Red Lodge on their seemingly endless pursuit of gourmet eating places. Bud found a huge nail in his rear tire that needed two plugs to seal. We shared a batch of whiskey sours at the motel to relax, and we went next-door to the Town Pump for dinner.
Day 13 - I woke up with a sore throat after a rough night, and my sinuses were totally clogged. I actually felt sick and thought about heading for the emergency room in Billings for medication, but I took two extra-strength Tylenols instead. I soon felt a little better, although weak, and my heart was still acting up, which I guessed was a mild attack of atrial fibrillation from the stress. Four of us had breakfast together at the Town Pump.
The road to Red Lodge afforded panoramic views of the Beartooth range. We rejoined John, Jake and Arlene, and left immediately for Cody, Wyoming over some exceptionally nice roads. We located the museum and spent three hours browsing the exhibits and having lunch at the snack shop. The museum had a cowboy section, an Indian section, an art section that included cowboy and Indian art, and it had the largest small-arms exhibit I have ever seen. On our return to Billings via another exceptionally scenic route, the temperature rose to above 90°. Lilli and I had a relaxing dinner alone at Perkins during an evening rain shower. I retrieved my sleeping bag and other gear from Arlene's trunk because the guys were getting a head-start for Alaska in the morning.
Day 14 - I slept much better after having taken two 12-hour Sudafed caplets and a Sominex. My sore throat was gone and it seemed that my cold was breaking up. Lilli and I had breakfast at Perkins and returned to the motel where she packed for her flight home. Arlene's flight was the following day. The four others left early for Whitefish, figuring that if they waited for me it would get too late. I left right after taking Lilli to the airport, and rode faster than usual. I looked for them along the way, especially in Helena where I thought they might be having lunch. The view of Helena from a high overlook, fifteen miles west of town, was spectacular. I had an enjoyable ride the entire day, alone, especially along one route where I saw a huge private buffalo herd. Ed said later that he saw a bear near Flat Head Lake.
I got to Whitefish at 4:00. The others pulled in 45 minutes later. They said that after having a problem locating gas in the morning, they decided to wait for a station to open while having midmorning coffee. As we gassed up that evening Ed noticed a puddle of oil on the ground, dripping from his fork. He said he changed the oil in it before leaving on the trip, but he didn't know exactly how much he put in it, which is typical of Ed. He said he was quite sure he didn't overfill it, but he wanted to visit the BMW dealer in Kalispell in the morning to have the seal replaced before entering Canada.
Day 15 – The sky was clear, although it was quite cool. After breakfast, Jake and Ed headed for Kalispell to locate the BMW dealer while the rest of us headed for the Canadian border. The dealer had other on-the-road customers with more serious problems than Ed’s, so he wouldn't be able to work on Ed’s fork seals for quite a while, so Ed bought some "stop-leak" and left. Meanwhile the rest of us topped off our tanks in Eureka with the last US gasoline available before crossing the border. We climbed steadily into the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia where we spotted five huge male bighorn sheep about 5 miles out of Radium Hot Springs. We took a 38-mile unplanned side trip into the town of Banff to exchange currency, since I didn’t know of any other banks along our route. John wouldn’t eat at the McDonald’s in Banff with the rest of the group. He opted for a few pieces of fruit and other “healthier food” at a nearby grocery store.
The scenery through Banff and Jasper Parks was spectacular. John split off for a side trip to Lake Louise while Bud and I continued on the planned route. We saw a large herd of mountain goats near the gas station in Banff Park, and later we saw four white longhaired goats. We took only a few pictures in Jasper Park because of having consumed too much time in Banff, where we stopped to view Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Glacier and the Columbia Icefields. The weather was great all day with a crystal-clear sky and temperatures in the low 70s. John passed us along the way and got into Hinton, our overnight stop, about 20 minutes before Bud and I did. Ed and Jake arrived a little after 9:00. Jake had gotten a speeding ticket from a British Columbia provincial cop when he stepped up his pace to catch up. Ed's fork mysteriously stopped leaking without using the stop-leak. It was beginning to remind me of a cattle drive without the help of cowboys to control the herd. Keeping track of everyone was driving me mad.
Day 16 - The temperature was only 42° when we started the day, and it was getting progressively cooler every day. We were all wearing long johns for the first time. I wore most of the clothes I brought with me. We stopped after only a few miles where I also put on my rain suit to break the wind. The 86-mile stretch from Hinton to Grand Cache was on a nice, winding, two-lane tar road through thick conifer forests, where we saw a few deer and a coyote. That was followed by a 100-mile stretch of very rough gravel into Grand Prairie. Freshly applied calcium chloride and water made the first 15 miles wet and slippery, but no dust. We then traveled 85 miles of loose, dry gravel where the bikes raised a half-mile trail of dust. We had to spread out to avoid fouling each other’s air cleaners. John was carrying a spare tire on his rear carrier that he lost somewhere in that area. Ed dropped his bike in the loose gravel, which fortunately happened at the slower speed that he usually travels. I reached the tar and waited as the others arrived a few minutes apart, except for Ed who motored in about an hour later. While waiting for Ed, John went back to search in vain for his lost tire. We had lunch in Grand Prairie where we finally learned that the yellow stuff we had been seeing for the past 10 days was canola, the predominant crop around Grand Prairie.
It was a warm 86° when we stopped in Dawson Creek for Ed and Jake to exchange currency. We got to our motel in Fort St. John earlier than expected, which gave us time to hose off some of the calcium chloride and share a batch of whiskey sours. The family suite cost the least of any accommodations on the entire trip.
Day 17 - Sunlight streaming through the window woke me at 4:15 AM. I didn't wake the others until our usual 5:30. We ate at a classy inn nearby that I was OK with, and we were still on the road by 7:00. Meanwhile, the temperature climbed to around 60°. I mentioned to the group before leaving that we had to get gas near Mile 171 because there wasn't much gas along that section of the Alaska Highway. When we got there, I spotted the small sign across from the gas station, "Next Gas 123 miles." John also saw it but Jake was looking the other way at some interesting equipment and he sailed right on by. We yelled and waved our arms to no avail. Fortunately Bud and Ed saw us there and stopped.
Jake must have assumed we were flying, so he took off very fast to catch us. As soon as I got my gas, I went in hot pursuit, averaging about 80 mph on the gravel for the next 50 miles. I was eventually stopped by road construction. I asked the girl at the flag if she saw someone fitting Jake's description. She said he was in the group that just left with the pilot car, but I would now have to wait for it to return. As several vehicles lined up at the flag I walked back through the line, asking if anyone was carrying spare gas. I found a guy from California in an old VW hippie wagon who had a full 2½-gallon can-full in the back. I explained our problem and asked if he would please stop when he saw us stranded alongside the road. I finally overtook Jake 30 miles beyond the construction. By then he was traveling only 40 mph to conserve whatever gas he had left. I calmly pulled up alongside and said, "Hi Jake. How are you doing on gas?" He turned to me with a real despairing look and said, "Terrible!" I said the next gas was about 20 miles. He said he was quite sure he couldn't make it. He had already been on reserve for 35 miles. Confused because his bike usually had a much longer range than mine, he asked how I was doing on gas. I said, "Pretty good"; and I explained what happened. I said, not to worry, because he was about to be rescued by a guy from California in a VW wagon.
After the "Good Samaritan" gave Jake the gas, we followed him into Ft. Nelson where Jake refilled his can and thanked the guy again. The scenery in the mountains beyond Ft. Nelson became much nicer, especially around Muncho Lake and Summit Lake. Our reservations were at the Muncho Lake Lodge where the rooms were very reasonable. John took a quick dip in the lake where I think the water must have been barely above freezing. John's rear tire was showing significant wear, and he began to worry that he wouldn't make Anchorage with it. We all shared a batch of whiskey sours while Ed, Jake and John also had a beer. We had lasagna for dinner in the lodge's dining room, and we had a RAMS club portrait taken beneath a huge, stuffed ram’s head on the wall.
Left to Right: Jake Herzog, Bud Peck, Ed McIntyre, John Thurber and Piet Boonstra,
posing under the ram's head with appropriate T-shirts at the old Muncho Lake Lodge
Photo courtesy of Jake
Day 18 - We had breakfast at the lodge next door and were on the road by 7:00. John had left for Whitehorse alone at 5:45, hoping to find a tire there. We met a road crew just starting work for the day about 80 miles out. I slipped through before the flag station was set up, and I noticed that Bud got through behind me, but when I got to the other end of the construction Bud wasn’t with me. Ed came through and said that he saw Bud stopped along the road. He didn't know what Bud's problem was. I tried to get back to him but the flag stations had been set up in the meantime, which blocked my return. Jake learned when he came through that Bud's bike had stripped its driveshaft spline, so he turned around and returned to where the vehicles were lining up at the flag, and he found a guy with a pickup truck escorting a large modular home on a tractor-trailer. The guy agreed to carry Bud and his bike the 125 miles into Watson Lake, but they had a problem with the girl at the flag when she insisted that an escort vehicle was not allowed by law to leave the vehicle it was escorting. After a lengthy argument, she agreed to let the pickup go out and get Bud and his bike, although everyone in the long line had to wait there for its return. They had a little extra time to load the bike onto the pickup because the pilot car was still at my end of the construction area where the driver, a pretty blonde, had jumped out of the truck to ran for the bushes saying to the girl at the flag, "Oh, I gotta pee like you wouldn't believe!" She was several feet short of the bushes when she suddenly stopped and pulled down her tight jeans and panties right there. When she came running back, still pulling up her jeans, she said to the other girl, "I didn't make it! I peed all over myself!" The other girl simply answered, "Next time don't wait so long!"
When Bud got to Watson Lake, he made a quick assessment of his mechanical problem to determine what parts he needed, and he called Gordon Razee in Rhode Island who had the parts in stock and would send them out immediately via Fed Ex. Jake stayed with Bud to make sure the parts were on their way, while “Steady Eddie” and I started out for Whitehorse. John was already well on his way there. Bud stayed in Watson Lake with hopes of catching up with the group in a few days. Ed and I got to the hotel in Whitehorse at 6:00, having ridden through several light showers. I didn't bother to put on my rain suit, although Ed suited up. Ed said he got white knuckles on the infamous steel-deck bridge at Teslin. John, having been unable to find a tire in Whitehorse, was at the hotel when we arrived. Our rooms cost $80 Canadian each, which was the highest price we paid for lodging on the trip. We delayed dinner until Jake arrived around 8 PM.
Day 19 - I slept well in spite of the late dinner, and woke at 6:15, which was the latest on this trip. We ate at a hotel across the street where two eggs over easy with sausage breakfast was $7.20. Jake's check came to more than $10. It seemed as though prices on food and lodging had gone up considerably in Whitehorse since my last trip ten years earlier, although I usually ate most of my breakfast meals at McDonald's. We gassed up and were on the road by 7:50. The sky was very threatening. We rode through a few cold showers about 40 miles up the Klondike Highway as the temperature dropped several degrees. The poplars, balsams and other trees were getting slimmer and shorter as we rode farther north. We got gas in Carmacks and again at Stewart River Crossing where we also had lunch and removed the rain suits.
About 12 miles south of the Dempster Highway junction we saw a totally smashed Honda CB1000F leaning against a tree. Its front wheel was pushed back more than a foot. A lot of the rider's gear was piled neatly against the tree. His tank bag was there, as was his sleeping bag and saddlebags, which were apparently torn off in the crash. It appeared that he left the road at a fairly high rate of speed - possibly forced off by an oncoming vehicle or by one he was passing; or he could have dozed. It was on a relatively straight stretch of road. We made inquiries in Dawson later but couldn't learn anything about the accident. We thought he could have survived because there appeared to be no obstacle for him to hit after apparently going over the handlebars; unless he hit a vehicle coming the other way. The bike had a Swiss plate.
That scene and a few of our own breakdowns on this trip exemplified some of the risks of adventure touring alone in areas where there are hundreds of miles between small pockets of civilization. How soon after the accident would someone come by to find the rider? If he survived, and was seriously injured, what would happen next? How far is the nearest facility to treat him? Bud's bike simply broke down on a busy highway while riding with four friends, and he had to wait for a week in Watson Lake for a part from Rhode Island. I thought about my own trip up the Dempster Highway in 1981 when the road was still closed for the season, and I realized again how much I depend on my faith. That trip also exemplifies the need for an exceptionally reliable bike, a good dirt riding ability, and the need for good judgment on so many quick decisions that need to be made en route regarding gas availability, sudden weather changes, detours, and many others. Last, but far from least, the rider needs the skills and the tools to fix whatever needs to be fixed by himself alongside the road.
We stayed at the Dawson City Bed & Breakfast. Our host insisted everyone remove his shoes at the front entrance. His wife probably did most of the cleaning and cooking while he was the gracious host and footman. After checking in, we strolled through town on foot, and visited a Klondike Gold Rush museum. We ate salmon steak that night at a hotel in town and telephoned Bud. He hadn’t received the parts yet, but he had high hopes of joining us in a few days. John noticed oil dripping from somewhere in the rear of his Suzuki but he couldn’t determine the exact source. The second half of Ed's air-filled seat cover ruptured and lost all of its air. The first half ruptured several days earlier.
Day 20 - I requested from our host that our breakfast be ready by 6:30. He served strawberry rhubarb short cakes, cheese scones, cereal, muffins with butter and jam, bananas, orange juice and coffee. All of it was great. We loaded the bikes before breakfast so we could head for the ferry landing as soon as we finished eating. Our host told us about a stubborn forest fire burning somewhere between the Yukon River and the US border. Due to the inaccessibility of the fire, they were letting much of it burn out. It had been burning for more than a month, in spite of water being dumped on it occasionally by helicopters. A big section of the Top-of-the-World Road was shrouded in a thin cloud of smoke from it; but in spite of it, the road was still one of the highlights of our trip. There were sheer drops off unprotected edges where, at one point, we saw the remains of a pickup camper. The surface of the entire length of the 60-mile Top of the World Road was fairly smooth after having been recently graded and treated with calcium chloride. The Taylor Highway, from the US border to its end near Tetlin Jct. was in sharp contrast. The Taylor Highway consisting of 115 miles of dry, loose gravel with a very rough washboard surface. I had rarely seen it in good shape. We stopped to explore the abandoned gold dredge in Jack Wade Creek that had been idle since the end of Klondike Gold Rush days.
As we neared Tetlin Junction, I figured that Ed wouldn’t be there for a while because of all the loose gravel, so I pulled into a dusty turnoff area and changed my oil, oil filter and spark plugs. I took some heat from the others for polluting the environment, but the state often oils those turnoff areas anyway to keep the dust down. The gas station at Tetlin Junction had gone out of business, although we had enough gas to reach Tok, fourteen miles farther, where we also had lunch at the small corner café. We rode through a few light showers later between Tok and Fairbanks.
Fairbanks hadn't changed much since I stayed there on my first tour in 1977. Arlene had gotten the names of two motels through the AAA, and we chose the better of the two. I wouldn't say it was in the seedy part of town because most of Fairbanks looked seedy to me. One of the two run-down rooms we rented was on the third floor. The other was on the second. The first floor seemed to be occupied mainly by welfare people. Athabascan Indians operated the motel, and most of the guests and people hanging around the lobby were Athabascans. The streets were crowded with them. We ate at a small café across the street, which was filthy, and the food was the worst we had on our trip. I ordered fried chicken while the others had hamburgers. Ed's bike fell over while we were eating when the side stand sank into some soft tar. We took a walk after supper. We were panhandled, propositioned and generally pestered by hordes of the street people. I washed my jeans, shirt and socks in the sink. They were dry by morning.
Day 21 - I don’t think anyone got more than a few hours sleep. The natives wandered the streets and talked all night, which made me anxious about the bikes. We left the windows open all night for the fresh air. It finally quieted down around 5 AM. When I looked out at that time, I realized it had started to rain, which merely made the street people find temporary shelter. We began the day in the rain. The road out of Fairbanks had some curves and rolling hills that we enjoyed in spite of the weather. The temperature dipped into the 40s around Denali. We stopped at the visitors' center and took in a slide show. It rained until we got to Trappers Creek where we stopped for a deli lunch at a big general store.
The weather became comfortable after lunch as the temperature rose into the 60s. We decided to bypass Anchorage and go directly into Palmer where we had reservations. No one seemed interested in visiting Anchorage, which was influenced somewhat by our stay in Fairbanks; although Anchorage is much cleaner and much more cosmopolitan. We learned that the bed and breakfast in Palmer that Arlene arranged by phone had two double beds for the four of us, which we canceled and went instead to a motel. We felt sorry for the woman at the B & B where they had probably bought the food for our breakfast. We had a batch of whiskey sours at the motel before walking six blocks in the rain to the Valley Hotel for a roast-turkey dinner. After returning to the motel, we talked for a while with an interesting guy who worked with a mining operation nearby. It rained steady most of the evening.
Day 22 - I heard heavy rain when I woke in the morning, so I didn’t wake the others until 6:00. John left for Anchorage at 6:30 to get a new rear tire mounted and to get his bike serviced. He planned on getting to Anchorage long enough before the place opened so he could wash the bike. He would be their first customer, and the engine would have cooled down to check the valves. We returned to the hotel for breakfast before leaving in the rain. It rained steady for the first two hours. We stopped briefly at Matanuska Glacier for photos from the highway. The road from Palmer to Glennallen was twisty macadam with steep rock embankments to our left and the Matanuska River Valley on our right. I was disappointed that we had to ride it in the rain, which made the pavement a little slick, and it spoiled the otherwise nice scenery. The temperature dropped to the low 40s at Eureka Summit where the fog was thick and the rain was mixed with sleet.
It sprinkled a few times between Glennallen and Tok, and heavy clouds hung over the mountain range to our right, which was barely visible through the overcast. We got to Tok early because of skipping Anchorage. We inquired at the Visitor’s Center about the best motel deal, and were directed to the one across the street where a two-room family suite cost $120. It turned out to be a good suggestion. Jake canceled the B & B reservations in Tok too after learning they intended to put the five of us in one king-sized bed, a queen, and a single. Jake and Ed replaced spark plugs in front of the motel. Jake's BMW had been cutting out again, and he hoped the new plugs might help. John got in at 6:00 with his new tire mounted, his bike fully serviced, and the rims banged out a little better than they were. We ate at the same corner café in Tok where we had lunch a few days earlier.
Day 23 - The temperature was 41° when we left Tok. It was our coolest start of the trip. We soon stopped to put on rain suits to break the wind. The roads from Tok to the border were in fair condition, with occasional gravel breaks. It became rougher from the border through the Beaver Creek area to Kluane National Park, with severe dips that made the Gold Wing’s center stand hit the road a few times. One of the dips on a turn threw me a few inches off the seat when the bottom hit the road. It rained a little before reaching Lake Kluane where we had lunch at the small café on the lake. It was quite expensive - $5.75 for a thin ham sandwich and $1.50 for a coke. The proprietor was a surly guy in his 50s dressed in construction clothes. When I asked for a little water, he motioned toward the window and said gruffly, "There's a whole lake full of it." He didn’t bring any, which was reflected in his tip.
The scenery was nice from there to Whitehorse. The last 50 miles of paved road into Whitehorse was wide, straight and smooth. The temperature never got above 55° all day, although the crisp air was refreshing. We stayed at the same hotel that we used on our way up. We had salmon steak for dinner at the hotel next door, which was much less expensive than most prices in the city. We called Bud and learned that his parts were held up in Vancouver. Apparently they were trying to figure out how to get them from there to Watson Lake in the Yukon. He now expected them by bus at 4:30 the following afternoon, and he hoped to meet us between there and Teslin in a few days.
Bud's problem accentuated another of the many risks involved in long distance adventure touring, especially traveling alone in remote uninhabited areas. There are so many things that could fail on the motorcycle that would require special tools or special skills to fix, which the rider might not have, and a mechanic and/or parts could be far away. It's imperative that the bike be reliable enough and that the rider possess the skills necessary to get him out of any kind of situation. He could be hundreds of miles up a closed road in a foreign land and have a catastrophic failure to the motor, wheels, transmission, or whatever; or he could have serious injuries from an accident. There were few cell phones in those early days, and no cell-phone service in most remote areas.
DAY 24 - Our next highlight was a visit to historic Skagway, Alaska, which was a side trip to the coast. We had breakfast at a McDonald’s where Ed complained loudly about the plastic flatware and the polystyrene containers, as he often did whenever we stopped at a fast-food place. Ed was also getting more irritable every day, which riders often get from fatigue. The temperature was 49° and raining lightly when we left in full rain suits. The road to Skagway was paved with occasional gravel breaks and sections. Beyond Carcross, YT the scenery was very nice, especially around White Pass where the Yukon borders Alaska. The fog was thick in some areas, but we were able to see the snowcapped mountains and other scenic highlights. We crossed the border just before reaching the 3,292-foot crest of the pass. The US customs building was eight miles farther. It was overcast and windy at the summit, which cut down even more on the visibility. We were barely able to see the small ponds, the tundra, and the strange lichen-like moss that grows on the rocks in that area.
Skagway, AK was six miles beyond the US customs station via a steep twisty descent through a spectacular gorge. Two cruise ships were in port at Skagway. Small planes and helicopters were taking off and landing from a grassy area near the dock. A narrow-gauge railroad took people up through the gorge on sightseeing trips to White Pass. The auto-road clung to one wall of the gorge while the railroad clung to the other. The auto-road actually looked wider and safer than the railroad. We walked through town and visited the bank and the museum; and we had some delicious pie at one of the restaurants. The place was filled with tourists.
We gassed up and left Skagway around 10:45 AM, stopping only for a few photos on our way back up through the gorge. On a loose gravel road between Carcross and Jake's Corner, I chose the wrong way around a road grader and got held up for a few seconds. Meanwhile Jake and John crossed a nine-inch berm and passed the grader. By the time I got by, I noticed that their speed had increased considerably, and when I turned it up to 75 mph, they were still moving away like it was a race. I grabbed a big handful of throttle and went after them in earnest. At one point, I got into some soft sand on an inside corner and the big machine squirmed a lot, but when I reached the firmer surface I was able to get by them, clocking about 85 on the loose gravel. Jake kept his head and realized it was getting a bit ridiculous at that point. He just laughed as I fishtailed by both of them. John resumed the chase, but when he got close to my rear fender he figured I was probably half out of control already, and if he attempted a pass at that point, one of us might get hurt. It was the only time that our Type A personalities surfaced while riding. We stopped at Jake's Corner for about a half hour to inspect the machinery. We saw two right-hand-drive 1940 Ford trucks, a V8-driven snow-blower mounted on the back of a six-cylinder, four-wheel-drive truck, an old snow-track vehicle, and several other interesting pieces of equipment. I learned that crotchety old Jake, who originally owned the place, had sold out to the guy who is there now.
We got to the Northlake Motel in Teslin around 4:30. It drizzled quite a bit during the day but the temperature rose into the 50s. We had dinner at Mukluk Annie's Salmon Bake where the food was excellent. The salad bar had homemade macaroni and potato salads, baked beans, sourdough rolls and a variety of vegetables. I ordered sweet-and-sour ribs and had a huge blueberry turnover for dessert. The woman proprietor came by our table during the meal and asked if we would join them singing “Happy Birthday” to her daughter Nicki, who was nine years old that day. She had composed a song for Nicki that she sang as she played the piano. After the birthday song, she sang another older song that she had written about Mukluk Annie’s and the Alaska Highway many years ago. We left in the midst of the songfest, which I thought was great, but John didn't think much of all the fuss. After calling three radiophone numbers, trying to reserve lodging in Iskut, BC for the following night, I was finally able to contact the Tatogga Lake Resort by regular phone and reserved two small cabins.
Day 25 - We had breakfast at the motel in Teslin, which was quite expensive and the food wasn't that good. As we were packing to leave, a couple of drunken native-American teenagers drove up in a beat-up old Datsun pickup. They barely missed running into the bikes while still reeling from the previous night. They were telling “Newfie” jokes to Ed while he was trying to fix his fairing bracket. Ed was having trouble getting the screw started, and one of the kids volunteered to help. Ed obliged, but the kid promptly dropped the screw and lost it behind the fairing, which of course upset Ed even more, and he grumbled at the kids. The motel management apparently called the Mounties, because before we left, two Mounties took the kids away in handcuffs. It was the only time I saw the Mounties during all the time we were in Canada.
We left Teslin across the long steel-deck bridge at 7 AM. About two hours later, our BMW jinx struck again when Ed's alternator stopped working and his battery went completely dead. Bud was supposed to meet us not far from there, so I continued on to look for Bud while Jake and John stayed to check the brushes and connections on Ed's bike. I was also searching for a gas station to get a piece of wire to charge Ed’s battery if they couldn’t fix it. The first gas station I came to was at the Cassiar Highway junction, 53 miles away. I didn't see Bud along the entire stretch, so I bought a piece of wire at the gas station and headed back.
I met Jake and John coming the other way. They had checked everything and decided that a pickup truck to get Ed to Watson Lake was their next move. I got back to Ed and immediately wired his battery to mine after removing my headlight fuse for more current. I ran my engine at 2500 RPM for about a half hour. That and a push start with all of his fuses removed, was enough to get him the 65 miles into Watson Lake. We met the pickup truck that the others had ordered about 10 miles before reaching Watson Lake, and I turned him around. I bought a battery charger at the local auto-parts store for $75 and gave Ed a full charge, after which the two of us headed for Tatogga Lake. Bud's new part, which missed the bus the previous day, was now said to be definitely due on the 5 PM Greyhound. The others would follow Ed and me as soon as they got Bud's bike operational.
Ed was very slow on the dirt sections of the Cassiar, but the single charge lasted four hours into Dease Lake, where we caught the gas station just before it closed 9:00. I thought the others should have caught us by then, but there was no sign of them. I charged Ed's battery for another 30 minutes as we got a sandwich “to-go” at a small café.
His battery must have gotten much less current with my headlight fuse in. In hindsight, it would have been better to find an electrical outlet and set the charger on high during that time. We left Dease Lake at 9:30, just as it was getting twilight and we were on dirt again - and it began to rain. Darkness settled in around 10:15. Ed's night blindness, his recent cataract operation and his lack of a headlight gave him a sizable handicap. I tried to provide light for him by riding close alongside, but he went so slow a few times I had to slip my clutch in first gear to go that slow. Consequently his battery died in less than two hours. The blackness of the night, the heavy rain and the muddy road conditions combined to make it our darkest hour in more ways than one. Tatogga Lake was still 12 miles away and I suspected our hosts had gone to bed. I had given up hope on the other guys coming from behind by that time, thinking they may have had a problem getting Bud's bike operational, and who knows how long it would take now.
I wired my generator to Ed's battery in total darkness alongside the highway, trying to contain my frustration. It seemed like Ed had given up. He just stood there. Several trucks and cars passed, but no one stopped to offer help or even find out what our problem was. We were there in total darkness because I had to remove the headlight fuse again. Finally as we stood waiting for the battery to charge, three single lights came bobbing over the hill. I was never so glad to see anyone. Bud stayed with me to provide more light for Ed while Jake and John went ahead to secure the cabins.
John had brought only dark glasses and a dark face shield, never having intending to ride at night, so he was essentially night blind. Ed did a little better with the extra light shining on the road, and we finally reached the cabins. They were very rustic and unpainted, but had warm blankets and space heaters. I set the charger on low for an overnight charge before we turned in. We had ridden only 40 miles of dirt that day but it felt like much more. If we only had the makings for a batch of whiskey sours to relieve the tensions, but I ran out more than a week ago. We got to bed at 1:15 AM.
Day 26 - The people at Tatogga Lake were very friendly, and we had a good breakfast there before taking on the rest of the Cassiar in steady rain. Road construction near Stewart Junction made it a real challenge. The mud was slick with deep ruts in many places. A few times I had to skid my feet on the ground to control the Gold Wing. Ed got through OK, but he fell when he stopped too close to a ditch to park the bike for a pee stop. I think he was totally stressed out and over-tired. His bike fell over into the ditch and pinned him under it. I stopped and yelled jokingly, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" When I didn't immediately jump off and run over to free him, a guy in a pickup truck stopped, looked at Ed and looked at me and said, “Is he a friend of yours?” The guy then got out of his truck and helped me lift the bike off of Ed. The only damage was that his left mirror snapped off. Ed wasn’t hurt.
Since Bud missed out on Alaska altogether, he followed my original route sheet into Hyder, AK from Stewart Junction, which is an 83-mile round trip. Hyder is a small town on the extreme southern tip of the Alaskan panhandle. The road into Hyder passes a few active glaciers not far from the road. The rest of us skipped Hyder because of Ed's battery problem and continued south on the Cassiar Highway after some lunch. I got permission to plug the charger in for a quick charge while we ate. The scenery along the Cassiar was great, as was the first 50 miles of TC Rte 16 into Smithers on blacktop. The temperature rose into the 70s. We stayed at the Aspen Motor Lodge in Smithers, ate at Smitty's Restaurant and washed a lot of the dirt and salt off the bikes at a nearby car wash. We rode about 380 miles that day, of which 120 was on dirt with a lot of slick surface and deep mud ruts. It felt good to be back to civilization.
DAY 27 - We got up later than usual at 6:00, and gassed up after breakfast. Ed's battery got a full charge overnight. We ran into a few sprinkles and messy detours before the weather finally cleared, and it got warmer around Vanderhoof. We stopped at a KFC at Prince George for lunch. I found a 110-volt outlet for the charger behind the building for Ed's battery. The young waitress wouldn’t sell Bud the pieces that he asked for, saying he could only order a combination from the menu board, which didn’t sit well with Bud at all. Bud was beginning to get irritable, especially after the frustrating week of waiting for parts in Watson Lake and missing most of Alaska.
We were entering a long holiday weekend for British Columbia Day, and we learned that all of the BMW shops in Vancouver and Kamloops would be closed. We decided to take Ed all the way to Lewiston, Idaho where according to Bud’s dealer directory, there was a BMW shop in Clarkston, WA, just across the Snake River. That would be five days of Ed riding all day every day without an alternator. The temperature rose to the mid 80s by the time we reached Williams Lake. Bud, Ed and I located the motel and unloaded our gear. An hour later Jake and John still hadn't shown up, so I started back to look for them. I stopped at a small cycle shop along the way, just before it closed, to arrange for a pickup truck in case we needed one. I thought Jake’s BMW had broken down for sure since he had been having progressively more trouble with it cutting out during the previous nine days. Just as I started up the long hill out of Williams Lake, Jake came flying down. I turned around and tried to ride with him, but after pushing it up to 85 and 90 mph, I decided it would be far less frustrating to simply follow him at a normal speed until he stopped.
He said later that he worked on the bike for more than an hour, and when he got it going, the only way to keep it going was to run it steady at high speed. We rented the Queen's Suite at the Super 8, which gave us three beds rather than two and a rollaway. The room included a small kitchenette, a living room area, a queen bed, an extra-long double bed, a large pullout couch and the rollaway. The price was almost the same as a double with a rollaway. Bud and I ate at a family steak house called Mr. Mike while the others opted for the finer cuisine of The Pub next door. I set Ed's battery on a slow charge for the night.
Day 28 - Jake woke us at 6:15 when I overslept again, which I rarely do. The sky was crystal clear and the temperature was 57°. Jake's bike started and ran well all day. We passed through some nice green farmland until about 15 miles out of Cache Creek where we descended into the huge dry valley. The terrain around Cache Creek is dry and hilly with many strange-looking buttes. We continued to descend into Thompson River Canyon where we saw several large white-water rafts and a few kayaks coming down through the rapids. A short while later, on a twisty road along the Fraser River Canyon, we watched a cable car as it rose slowly out of the canyon. It was British Columbia Day weekend.
We had lunch at a busy restaurant in Hope called Rolly's while we charged Ed’s battery at a motel next door. Later we rode 48 miles of Trans-Canada One to Abbotsford before crossing the border at Sumas, WA. Bud filled out the necessary forms at Canadian customs to recover the duty he paid on his drive-shaft parts, after which we enjoyed a nice ride through some lush farmland in a fertile valley near Mount Baker. The temperature rose to the low 80's before we stopped for the day in Burlington, WA. Jake used my first-aid kit to treat his arm, which he burned while working on his machine the previous day. We had dinner at a restaurant near I-5, the same one that Bud and I used in 1988 on our back-road tour of the US.
Day 29 - There was a chilly ground fog around when we started the day. We stopped at the steel-deck bridge over Diablo Canyon where we took photos of the waterfall upstream and the raging creek 500 feet directly below the bridge. We also stopped for photos several times in North Cascades Park during our climb to Washington Pass. The scenery was outstanding for the entire time. It was 80° in Winthrop, so we peeled off several layers of clothes. It was very dry around the Chief Joseph and Grand Coolee Dams.
We saw a lot of wheat fields in eastern Washington between Paternos and Lewiston. There was a sign nearby saying it was the largest wheat-producing area in the country. The view of Lewiston from the highway north of the city was spectacular. It gave the impression of coming in by airplane. It was easy to find Mac's Cycle Shop in Clarkston, but their mechanic had the day off. Jake took a chance and bought a voltage regulator for his bike, hoping it would cure his cutting-out problem, but it didn't. We made arrangements for Ed's bike to be worked on in the morning before we re-crossed the Snake River to find our motel in Lewiston. We ate across the street at Spencer's Restaurant where the service was slow. We finally got back to the motel around 9:30. Bud called his sister Posey in Boise to say we would be there the next day to pick up the tires that three of us sent there before leaving home.
Day 30 - A strong thunderstorm passed through during the night, although everything was dry by morning from a steady breeze. We ate breakfast at a nearby café and left by 6:45 in a comfortable 64°. We left Ed after discussing the options of how he could catch up when his bike was fixed. We knew he would have to wait two hours for the shop to open, and we figured it could take another couple of hours to fix the problem, change his tires, and road test the bike. If the problem involved a part they didn’t have in stock, Ed might be there for a few days.
We saw beautiful hilly countryside as we left Lewiston via some treeless, rolling hills for the next 60 to 70 miles. Golden wheat swayed in the breezes over the tops of the hills for many miles. After cresting White Bird Pass, we entered a huge valley and saw White Bird Battlefield, a historic area of Nez Perce Indian fighting. Our next steep descent was nine miles of twisty roads with several runaway ramps. We enjoyed yet another spectacular ride through Payette River Canyon, and later through some high meadows from Grangeville to the town of New Meadows, where we saw thousands of head of cattle grazing in the tall green grass. We stopped at a fruit stand for a basket of peaches. At one of the stops we spoke with a guy from Oklahoma. He and his wife were touring with a GL1500 Gold Wing.
We got to Boise at 3:00, unloaded our gear at the motel and looked for Posey's house to pick up the tires. Jake was the only one to actually change a tire there. Bud's tires weren't worn enough because of his full week in Watson Lake, John got his changed in Anchorage, Ed was getting his changed in Clarkston, and mine also weren't worn enough to change. I shipped two tires to Posey’s house, which I would carry on the back seat until they were needed. I used the extra time to wash my jeans and shirt at the motel, and I draped them on the bike to dry in the 94° heat.
Bud got back from Posey's about 6:30 and we had dinner at a Denny's. I had a bad dizzy spell and a few momentary blackouts that afternoon. I knew it was from stress as the extended periods of interacting with the group and dealing with all of the problems were taking their toll. Our evening “batch” usually helped to relieve a lot of that. We certainly could have used it now. The irritations in the group were running high. Ed got in around 8:45 with his bike fixed and a new tire mounted. His generator problem turned out to be a bad rotor.
DAY 31 - I didn’t sleep at all that night, which might have been partially due to anxiety about my bad spell, although the two cups of tea with dinner probably contributed. It was my turn to sleep on a rollaway cot, which had a bar across the middle of my back. I tried moving the mattress onto the floor but it didn't help. Once when I began to doze off, Ed turned the bathroom light on, which brought me to full consciousness again. Finally I got up at 4 AM and went down to the lobby to have a few cups of tea, hoping it would keep me awake enough for riding that day.
We rode through more grassy hills followed by a thick Ponderosa pine forest with very twisty roads in Idaho for about 60 miles, which led us into some high meadows where I stopped to see a few huge wild turkeys through my binoculars. We also saw five elk on our way through the forests. Eventually we crested Galena Pass into Sun Valley where the traffic was heavy. We had excellent deli-type sandwiches there for lunch from a convenience store.
We visited Craters of the Moon where Bud and I rode the scenic loop through the lava fields and took several photos while the others waited at the Visitor Center. It was difficult for me to stay awake between there and Idaho Falls from my lack of sleep. After checking into our motel, Bud and I had an early supper together at Smitty's, after which I fell asleep at 7:00 and didn't wake up for anything while the others watched TV and talked for a few hours.
Day 32 - I got up at 4 AM and tiptoed down to the lobby for tea. When I returned around five I started to draw water from the sink for our cooler, but for some reason the pipes were full of air and the sound of air blasting through the pipes woke Ed and Bud. Ed soundly cursed me out for waking him up in the "middle of the night", even though it was close to our usual wake-up call. In addition to the bike problems, our personal idiosyncrasies were wearing on each other. Innocent offhand cracks and criticisms, which would normally be taken good-naturedly with a laugh, were being taken as slurs. Ed was having more than his share of bike problems, and he was on edge most of the time. Sometimes he would vent his frustrations at the desk clerks saying that as a senior citizen he should not have to climb the stairs to a second or third floor room, and he would vent his anger at us when someone charged the room before he got there because he wanted a chance to use his credit card too to stay relatively equal.
When I left the motel that morning, I noticed that the starter on the Gold Wing turned over very slow. It took me to breakfast and back but a quick check of the battery revealed that the water was very low, so I added a quart and it snapped right back. I figured it must have boiled out when I ran several days with the headlight fuse removed for charging Ed's battery.
Our route from Idaho Falls to Alpine Junction was very scenic, as were a few of the roads we used in Wyoming, through a beautiful green valley in cattle country. We had lunch at an Arby's in Evanston and used I-80 for about 25 miles, which was also scenic. The scenic highlight of our day though was in Utah's Flaming Gorge country, followed by a steep descent through switchback curves into Vernal where it was over 90°. John already checked into the Econolodge an hour before the rest of us arrived. He wanted to know what took us so long. The comment only added fuel to the tension, but no-one responded. Jake changed his front tire that evening, giving him two fresh tires.
Day 33 - The road from Vernal through Dinosaur to Craig, CO along US Rte 40 was desolate and rough. Dinosaur is a tiny western town surrounded by huge sandy mesas and dry desert. We gassed up in Steamboat Springs and had a snack before heading into the Rockies on CO14. The first 30 miles was a beautiful climb, after which we crossed a high desert for another 50 miles where the hardtop was covered with a thin layer of sand. The 50 or 60 miles that we rode east of the Continental Divide was spectacular, which included a steep twisty descent through the Poudre River Canyon where some of the vertical rock walls are 60 and 70 feet high in some places, and a swift-running white-water river cascades down the mountain alongside the road.
Bud wanted to stop at a place we passed in the high desert for lunch but no one seemed interested. Bud never liked having to make his stomach wait, and he was also getting irritable. Most of the group were already uptight. After this latest minor dispute, everyone seemed to drift apart as we seemed to ride independently through the canyon, giving the emotions time to settle. The exhilaration of flying down the twisty road for an hour helped to heal some of it, but when we stopped momentarily at the bottom, Bud said he had decided to take a side trip alone through Estes Park toward Fall River Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park. John and Jake started out with him, but went only as far as Estes Park where they turned back because of the heavy traffic. Bud continued on alone, which is the way I'm sure he wanted it in the first place to help him cool down.
The Winterset Inn in Greeley was not the easiest place to find for almost everyone on their own, but we finally managed to regroup there after everyone seemed to disappear on their own for a while. Before the others arrived at the motel, it seemed like a good time for me to change my rear tire and rear brake pads. Even though the tire had more than a thousand miles left on it, I was sure it wouldn’t last to New York and it would lighten the load I was carrying on the Gold Wing. Most of us ate across the street at a Western Sizzler. Bud got back around 7:00, after having reached Fall River Pass in rain, sleet and even a little snow, but he loved it, and it was noticeable that he felt better.
Day 34 - In the morning we saw several colorful balloons take off from an open field in eastern Colorado, and we watched them as they sailed silently by. Later we saw a huge feedlot for cattle. There must have been thousands of head of cattle in a single, square-mile area. We saw several more feeder pens that morning, as well as huge fields of corn, sorghum, sunflowers and onions. The land in eastern Colorado is mostly flat high plains with occasional arroyos. The land is used mainly for farming and cattle ranching. We didn't find a gas station like I had hoped in Haigler, Nebraska, so we left our planned route to get gas in Benkelman, the hometown of movie wagon-master Ward Bond. Near Bazine, KS, an old man in a car coming from the opposite direction crossed over the centerline and headed directly at me. I hit the brakes, thinking he was asleep. He kept coming for another few hundred feet before finally making an abrupt left turn directly in front of me. When we got to Dan Johnson's house that afternoon, I related the incident to him. Dan is the brother of Herluf Johnson, another of the top enduro riders in New England of the late 1960s. He laughed and said they call that maneuver a farmer's turn, and that many of the older people still do it in that area, and you have to be constantly on the alert for it.
We arrived at Dan's at 4:30, and were treated to an outdoor cookout with fresh tender beefsteaks that were butchered that morning, followed by ice cream and brownie cake. Dan and Elaine had planned to put us together in double beds, not realizing our size or that we don't sleep together, especially at a point on the trip when we are already at each other’s throats. John slept on the living room couch while Bud slept on a cot in the children's room. I was given a double bed in an obviously feminine room, with Victorian decor and a Victorian bed. Being very tired, I turned in at 9:30 while the others stayed up and visited with our hosts.
Day 35 - A strong, warm breeze blew through my room all night. Not being accustomed to sleeping in a breeze, I woke a few times and I dreamed a lot, but generally I slept well. For breakfast, Elaine served hot cornbread with honey, butter and syrup, along with melon pieces and milk. I enjoyed it a lot, although a few of the group also went out for coffee, which Dan and Elaine don't use. We left there at 7:45 AM and headed south across some sparsely populated farmland. After having run close on gas the previous day, Ed insisted we top off our tanks every 80 miles rather than the usual 150 miles. He was sure I would run him out of gas in the sparsely populated areas of central Kansas. A big buck deer darted across the road between Bud and Jake at one point. Later we saw the biggest road-kill of the trip, a full-grown horse.
Although Kansas is generally known for being mostly flat, our route was hilly and interesting. We saw a lot of sorghum, which is used mainly to fatten the cattle. We had hamburgers at Braums, a fast-food place that also has ice cream and pastries, much like Friendly's. John's bike fell over in the soft tar in the parking lot while we were eating. The fall broke a piece off his windshield and bent the end of his clutch handle. He was also keeping an eye out for a dealer to get a new front tire. The soft-composition sport tire that he got in Anchorage was almost down to its wear bars. We stopped at a rest area near the Mississippi River and chatted with a few riders we met there before proceeding into Joplin, MO to find a motel.
Day 36 - Ed woke the group at 6:00 when I overslept. We had a quick breakfast at Denny's and were on the road by our usual time. We enjoyed a few good bike roads through the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas and later in Tennessee. I hit a bird with the top of my windshield that I was sure was about to hit me in the face. We saw rice paddies, cotton fields and a lot of sorghum. It was an excellent day with light traffic and good roads.
After I made several bold passes around a string of slow-moving trucks and cars, I got separated from the others. Usually when that happens I would put a few miles between us to give them the diversion of catching up. This time, after about five miles of fast riding, I ducked into a side road. Less than a minute later Bud went by doing about 70, followed a short distance behind by Jake and then John. When I got back onto the highway, I rode as fast as I could but was unable to catch them until they stopped to check the map after about 25 miles. They weren’t amused. A short while later I missed a turn that cost us about 20 minutes. I took heat for both incidents. Later we lost time finding our motel in Lexington, TN, which only added to the growing frustrations.
Day 37 - From Jellico, TN I had chosen a rarely-used, steep rough pass near Cumberland Gap. It was raining fairly hard at the time and there was road construction with soft dirt and deep gravel. A few large sections of the road had literally broken away and fallen off the edge. I was glad for having included it because it was different and challenging, but everyone didn’t share my feelings. By the time we reached our motel that evening, wet and tired, a few had enough of my route sheet, and probably of my trying to make the ride more interesting. Adding to these frustrations, I had called ahead and reserved the Econolodge in Bristol, which was closer to our planned route than the Super 8. The route sheet didn't say which we were using. Since we stayed at so many Super 8s on the trip, most of the group thought our reservations were there. John broke away in mid-afternoon, as he often did, and headed for the Super 8. Bud slowed down and waited for Ed, who was running a few miles behind. Meanwhile, I led Jake directly to the Econolodge. He said that Bud told him we were staying at the Super 8, which explains why John wasn't waiting for us in the reception area like he often did. I asked the clerk to please call the Super 8 and ask them to send any lost motorcyclists over to the Econolodge. I finally rounded up everyone, but I received more choice words after we reassembled. We had dinner at the Omelet Shoppe next door around 8:00.
Day 38 - It was overcast and drizzling when we returned to the Omelet Shoppe for breakfast. Jake got sick from something he ate either that morning or the previous night, and he had all he could do to hold it down. Up to that point he had been holding up to the tensions very well, but I wondered if his indigestion wasn't a sign of his stress. John was the first to abort. He never revealed exactly what it was that bothered him most, but he packed his gear; suited up, and said he had more important things to do at home, and he left without breakfast. I couldn't convince him how great a ride I had planned for the day, and that the first 170 miles of my Virginia route was one of my favorites. John replied that he had already ridden on every road in Virginia and he wasn't interested. I knew that his front tire was wearing thin, as was his patience; and I figured he couldn't afford extra mileage on either. He also had a badly worn swinging-arm bushing that he wasn’t mentioning.
Ed was the next to split, but he waited until after breakfast. I learned that he had been secreting a sore butt for weeks, which his ruptured air-cushion seat cover didn't help, and that he had enough of the rough, twisty, country roads that I had chosen through Cumberland Gap. He headed for our overnight stop at Jake's uncle's place in Berkeley Springs, WV via interstate highways. Most of our morning ride was on rural roads in the Piedmont area of western Virginia near the West Virginia state line. The weather was overcast all morning, and it drizzled a few times. A roadblock on our way to Goshen Pass redirected us onto a long detour along I-81 near Lexington, so I put together an impromptu 200 miles, including some of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Jake had trouble with his engine cutting out again in Front Royal, which sounded like we were shooting up the town. Consequently I aborted the planned back-country roads and took mostly four-lane highways from Front Royal into Berkeley Springs. It was obvious that everyone had enough - maybe more than enough.
We spent our last night of the trip at the home of Jake's Uncle Ed where we slept in a rustic and very interestingly furnished barn that Ed had converted into first-class guest quarters. We had a beer before going to dinner, and we ate at a newly opened Italian restaurant owned by friends of Uncle Ed. At dinner, Uncle Ed asked what each of us would remember most about the trip. I answered first, "I had an amnesia attack a few years back that still affects my memory, and if I'm lucky, I won’t remember anything!" I said it as a joke, but at that point there was some truth to it.
Day 39 - Jake and Ed decided to take interstate highways home from Uncle Ed's. Bud and I continued on the planned route for a while, but he and I also split in Gettysburg, so I could visit for an hour or so with my daughter and grandchildren in Hanover, PA. I tried to catch up with Bud later, but it was futile. The route sheet led us through Amish country and the towns of Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. The area was quite crowded with tourists, but it was quaint and picturesque with many Amish buggies and fancy decor, which I doubt the others would have appreciated this late in the game. The route took us across the Delaware River at "Washington's Crossing", north of Trenton, where a bridge now spans the river, followed by several of my favorite country roads through New Jersey and southern New York State. I had lunch alone at a Burger King in Sparta, NJ that I've used often in the past, and I was home by 5:30. In hindsight, the last week or so of this trip was anticlimactic to the original motivation of getting to and seeing Alaska and the Northwest. There's still so much more out there to see and enjoy.
The next chapter is: 10 AK5 - The Canol Road