The primary motivation of my 5th trip to Alaska, just a year later, was to take a long solo ride on several remote gravel roads in the Yukon and Northwest Territories that I had never seen; but mainly the North and South Canol Roads in the Yukon. In spite of the Alaska Highway being paved for its entire length for its 50th anniversary, I rode on more than 2,000 miles of gravel roads during this trip with the same 1987 4-cylinder Gold Wing I rode on the 1991 trip with the group. I was most interested in beautiful places where few people have ever traveled. The Dempster Highway and the Prudhoe Bay Haul Road had already lost much of their luster for me because so many have already been there.
I began the trip with a few uncongested back roads through Amish country in Pennsylvania, the Appalachians in West Virginia and Kentucky, the Piedmont area of western Virginia, and the tobacco farms in Tennessee. I continued west through the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas into Oklahoma before eventually turning due north through hundreds of miles of grasslands Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota to the border at North Portal. I kept heading north through Saskatchewan all the way to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. From there I rode south for several hundred miles of lonely gravel in the NWT to reach Fort Nelson, BC on the Alaska Highway. I stopped a few miles west of Teslin where I had dinner at Mukluk Annie's Salmon Bake and rented a cabin for the night. It's about a half-hour ride from there to the start of the South Canol Road at Johnson's Crossing.
Day 1 - My investment in a radar detector paid for itself in the first hour of the first day when I was thinking more about my upcoming adventure than anything else, and I sailed out of Harriman State Park into a 20 mph speed trap in Sloatsburg. I was far above any allowed tolerance. The gadget let out a single loud squawk on the K band as I went for both brakes just before spotting the shiny new state police cruiser tucked in behind some bushes about 500 feet up the road. It served as a warning that I had better pay closer attention to sudden changes in speed limits. I passed many quaint Amish buggies in the lush farmland near Parkesburg, PA while searching in vain for a photo-op along the banks of the Susquehanna River. I had good weather all day, and I spent the first night at Donna's home in Hanover, PA where Asia and Robyn were getting ready to leave on their annual visit to Alaska where I would see them again at their dad's in 2 weeks.
Day 2 - One of the highlights of the day was Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, near the presidential retreat at Camp David, where the roads are twisty and the traffic was light. Later I rode through Sharpsburg, site of the Battle of Antietam Creek where thousands of young men lost their lives in a single horrible day of the Civil War not long before the next slaughter at Gettysburg. Later I explored a few twisty and scarcely-traveled roads in West Virginia and western Virginia that I had never used. When I realized I had planned far too many miles of "exploring" for a single day, I got onto US 19 around 5:00 and rode directly into Tazewell, VA where I had planned to stop for the day.
Day 3 - I had planned even more miles of seldom-used byways for my third day, so I got up earlier and left at the first faint light. It was hazy and barely daylight as I felt my way out of Tazewell on the Trail of the Lonesome Pine. A few other roads that I chose were difficult to find because my maps were not very clear for those tiny country roads in the tristate area around Cumberland Gap. TN Rte 63 out of Sneedsville was one of the day’s highlights, as was KY Rte 74 out of Middleboro. Both were twisty and narrow through beautiful countryside. I had packed my tank bag with snacks and emergency rations before leaving home, which I used for lunch whenever I was tight on time. I could reach into my bag and snack while I was riding. It worked out so well that I rarely stopped for lunch during the entire trip. I ran into a few brief showers that morning, although the temperature rose to around 90° later in the day as it got hot and humid. I stopped at a small roadside stand in mid-afternoon for a huge soft ice cream cone for only 53 cents. I checked into a small motel that night in northwestern Tennessee.
Day 4 - It was drizzling and overcast when I left after a Hardee breakfast. I wore my rain suit all day. It poured around 1:00 and continued to rain fairly hard through the Ozarks. Thank goodness for the Gold Wing's weather protection. I used scenic Rte 16 most of the way across Arkansas. I especially liked the sweeping turns of one 175-mile stretch where I rarely saw another vehicle. By the time I descended into Fayetteville, AR late that afternoon, the sky had cleared and the temperature was back up into the 90s.
Along Tennessee Rte 63 near Sneedsville, TN
Day 5 - It was clear and already 70° when I left at 6:15. By 11:00 it was 90° and humid. I had to panic brake a few times in northeastern Oklahoma because I went into a few of the turns far too fast. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and the road wasn’t marked on some of the curves. Around that time I was also getting a little groggy. I was sore between my shoulder blades, in my lower back, my rear and my throttle hand; and I was beginning to burn from the sun. I was also fighting strong crosswinds out of the south that kept throwing me around. All in all it was a strenuous 600-mile day, but a good one. My radar detector sounded off a few times in Kansas and I had to watch for that too. On the open prairie I could detect radar more than a mile away, which gave me plenty of time to slow down if I was a little too fast. I stayed overnight in Norton, KS where I found a nice room for only $18.
Day 6 - It was 52° and cloudy when I left without breakfast. I stopped about an hour later in McCook, NE where I spotted a McDonald’s. It began to rain around Ogallala, and continued intermittently for most of the day. I rode through mostly grasslands with green rolling hills in sparsely-populated cattle country. I almost ran out of gas twice before reaching the motel in Hettinger, ND. Once was when I counted on the next town being only seven miles away, but I got detoured for 25 miles just before reaching it. Entering the Mountain Time Zone gave me a little extra time at the motel to wash out a few things.
Day 7 - Anticipating a long day, I was on the road at first light. The temperature was only 42° when I started. It didn't get above 60° until around 2:00. I wore double-force high-tech underwear and a jacket, along with my rain suit top as a windbreaker most of the day. I enjoyed the grasslands of Nebraska and the Dakotas where I had practically no traffic all day. I rode on six miles of soft dirt through an Indian reservation in North Dakota. After crossing the border into Saskatchewan, the terrain got flat as a tabletop and the wind increased, although most were tailwinds.
North Dakota grasslands
Day 8 - I had breakfast at 8 AM in Vermilion, Alberta. It was an easier day than I figured. My route bypassed North Brattleford, Edmonton and a few other cities where I would have lost time. I was able to maintain a good average most of the day. The Alberta scenery is much nicer than Saskatchewan with its rolling hills and trees, which are mostly Canadian spruce, balsam and poplar. I had good weather all day and got into Valleyview before 3:00, which allowed time to replace the spark plugs, oil, and oil filter. I used two 5-liter plastic containers that I got from the motel owner. I cut one into a drain pan to catch the oil, and I used the other to dispose of it. Later I went downtown to eat. There was a local celebration going on with traditional Native American dancing. A big fire truck with a musical band aboard rode around town that evening, and they passed the motel. A few showers also passed through during the evening. At 3 AM a party outside my room got pretty noisy. It woke me from a sound sleep.
Day 9 - I had breakfast at the motel restaurant, which opened at 6:00. It was a beautiful clear, cool morning. The highway was straight and smooth with very few cars. I was able to maintain a 65 mph average through most of the sparsely-populated areas. I saw three deer near Peace River, a town in northwestern Alberta. I also saw a ruffed grouse with two baby chicks when I stopped for a nature break. The mother was fearless and kept charging at me in a show of force to protect her young, which were about the size of ping-pong balls. It was 80° in the Northwest Territories, so I peeled off a few layers of clothes. Not far from there, it clouded over and got quite dark. The wind changed to the north, the temperature dropped 25° in less than 20 miles, and it began to rain.
I stopped for photos at Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls before riding into Hay River to look for a restaurant and check on motel prices. It turned out to be somewhat of a frontier town with dirt roads and very high prices. I didn't see any inviting cafés either, so I returned to Enterprise, a small hamlet in the South Slave Region of the NWT. I already had courtesy reservations, and there was a diner. It was quite rustic there too, but clean and comfortable.
Liard Trail in the Northwest Territories
I had already gotten into bed when I thought I should check on the status of the native-run gas station at the intersection with the Liard Trail that was 205 dirt-road miles from there. I learned that they had gone out of business, making my next gas 350 miles in Fort Liard. Even by filling my two plastic Prestone containers, I would have to average about 46 mpg, which I thought was unlikely with the muddy construction and other factors. A trucker I spoke with at the café said I could leave the McKenzie Highway about 65 miles from there. He said I'd find gas at Dory Point, just 14 miles off my planned route. So then I could easily make the 300 miles from there to Fort Liard with the two extra gallons I was carrying.
Day 10 - I was up at 4:45, ready and anxious to take on the first long, lonely dirt road. It was a chilly 43° and cloudy, and it looked like rain. I wore my full rain suit. The rain during the night made the 30 miles of construction very slippery. I was able to get through before the construction crews arrived, which was in my favor. Some of the work areas had deep ruts, some had standing water, and others were just plain slick. I had to skid both feet on the ground a few times to keep from losing it. I saw only one vehicle in the first 65 miles, which was a provincial work truck.
Alexandra Falls, Northwest Territories
When I didn't spot a place to eat at Dory Point, I had lunch from my tank bag. Back on the McKenzie, I saw a vehicle about once an hour. It was actually in good shape for a gravel road. I stayed in the firm tire tracks because there was a lot of thick, loose gravel everywhere else. Much of it was relatively straight. I stopped for a photo at Alexandra Falls, which I thought was pretty wild. I transferred the spare gas into the tank about 110 miles out, and realized I was getting better than 46 mpg, which was unusually high. It sprinkled a few times on the McKenzie and began to rain as I turned onto the Liard Trail. The surface got messy with thousands of tiny puddles of water and occasional patches of mud. I refueled at Fort Liard and pressed on, thinking the road surface might deteriorate even more. I saw a few deer on the McKenzie, and two red foxes and four bison on the Liard, but no vehicles.
The rain stopped as I approached the British Columbia border, and it got a little warmer. As soon as the surface dried up, it got very dusty. The 60° temperature felt good after 40s and 50s most of the day, with rain. I was tired by the time I reached the long narrow, single-lane bridge across the Fort Nelson River onto the Alaska Highway. I had ridden 470 miles of gravel that day. The road was mostly straight and level. It certainly didn’t offer the type of riding that I came for, but I enjoyed the adventure. There was very little spectacular scenery either, except an occasional waterfall. It was hundreds of miles of straight gravel with dust, and sometimes mud. I ate Chinese that evening in Fort Nelson and tried to clean up some of my things from the dust.
Day 11 - It was overcast with fog in the valleys when I started up the Alaska Highway. The fog was especially thick around Steamboat where the nicest scenery begins. I saw four caribou near Summit Lake and a young Bighorn Sheep just west of there. I ran into some early morning rain between Steamboat and Summit, although the sun was out by the time I reached Muncho Lake. A huge forest fire was raging just west of there. Smoke covered more than a thousand square miles. I hit one huge pothole that threw me a few inches off the seat. I thought for a moment I might lose it. The Alaska Highway was not as crowded as I thought it would be on its 50th anniversary year (1942 - 1992).
While waiting for the pilot car at some road construction 55 miles from
Watson Lake, I learned from a motorist that the South Canol Road was closed a
week earlier due to a landslide. If it was still closed, I would have to skip
it and detour north out of Watson Lake on the Campbell Highway to get to the
North Canol Road. If so, I would miss much of what I came for. My plan called
for riding both sections of the Canol Road the following day. I stopped at the
maintenance camp in Watson Lake to inquire about the latest status. They called
and learned that it had just been reopened.
|Young Bighorn Sheep along the Alaska Highway|
Cabin at Mukluk Annie's Salmon Bake
I reached Teslin at 4:30 after going through another major construction area 80 miles west of Watson Lake, which delayed me for about 30 minutes. I decided to bypass my reserved motel in Teslin and try Mukluk Annie's Salmon Bake for a cabin since I planned to eat there anyway, and it would save time in the morning. I got a nice cabin for $35 and later a grilled salmon dinner for only $12, which included a great salad bar. The deal that night included all the salmon you could eat. I ate salmon like a bear going into hibernation. It was grilled just the way I like it.
After dinner I walked down to the lakeshore where I met other cyclists making camp. Three guys and a girl were on two 1000cc Moto Guzzis and a BMW R1000GS, all with European plates. The oldest of the three guys was removing the rear wheel from the Guzzi, which was attached to a stripped-down sidecar that they used only for their luggage. I noticed a travel sticker on one of the tanks that read, “Cape Horn, Chile.” I asked if they had just come from Cape Horn, and the answer was yes. They had already been on the road for more than two months. What a trip! My own upcoming adventure suddenly seemed like a trip around the block.
Day 12 - The name Canol Road was derived from Canadian Oil. The Canol Project was undertaken in 1942 during WWII, following discovery of oil in the Northwest Territories. When the US Army Corps of Engineers was nearing completion of the 1,520-mile Alcan Highway with more than 20,000 men, they were redirected by the War Department to divert some of that manpower to building a 513-mile pipeline system from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The oil was badly needed to fuel Alaska and protect it from a possible Japanese invasion. The project included a 4" oil pipeline with several pumping stations along its length and a refinery in Whitehorse, including airfields and other support facilities. The project was abandoned four years later after only about a million barrels of oil had been pumped through the line.
The entire Yukon section of the Canol Road has been reopened to summer traffic and is being maintained to minimum standards, which means there would be very little vehicular traffic on it, and no RVs. The 138-mile southern end from Johnson's Crossing on the Alaska Highway to Ross River on the Campbell Highway has been designated the South Canol Road. The North Canol Road is a 144-mile continuation from Ross River to the NWT border. An additional 231 miles of the original pipeline road from there to Norman Wells is now known as the Canol Heritage Trail, which is unsuitable for most motor vehicles and used primarily as a hiking trail; although occasionally a few adventurous dirt bikers will try it, but some of the river crossings are deep and hazardous, and complete washouts are common. The Canol Heritage Trail also passes through prime grizzly bear and caribou habitat. It is said to have some great scenery.
I assumed that day would be the toughest and probably the riskiest of my 14,000-mile tour, with more than 450 miles of narrow, rough dirt roads. The fact that the entire Canol Road is maintained to minimum standards meant that I had to be prepared for anything. I expected to eat both breakfast and lunch from my tank bag. I considered shortening the day, which would mean making camp somewhere along the North Canol Road, but I was not prepared for that. I wasn't even carrying a sleeping bag.
Johnson's Crossing was 25 miles from Mukluk Annie's. It was 46° and overcast when I turned up the narrow, twisty South Canol Road at 5:30 AM, having left the cabin at 5:00. None of it appeared to be much more than a single lane. I cautiously guided the big Gold Wing through several tight turns and sharp up-and-down hills before climbing quickly to 4,000 feet. It began to rain less than 30 minutes after I got onto the road, and the surface immediately got very slick. Occasionally it would rain heavy, which raised concern for landslides and washouts. The road had just been reopened after having been closed for a week due to a slide. I noticed one spot where a washout had been recently repaired, which looked temporary at best, and I wouldn't be surprised if it washed out again later that day.
I saw no vehicles or people during the first 100 miles. I saw a beautiful lynx dart across the road only twenty feet in front of me near Quiet Lake. He stood about 3 feet tall to his back. A short while later I saw a huge bull moose, and then a chocolate-colored fox with silver hair on his neck, which I think is called a cross fox. I saw a female moose with twins that were only days old. I was excited during most of my ride on the South Canol Road. It was exactly what I came for, so it didn't disappoint. I saw beautiful lakes and streams with the Pelly Mountains and the Big Salmon Range in the background. The narrow, twisty road rose to more than 500 feet above the Lapie River. It seemed as though there was nothing holding the road from falling away into the valley below. I went near the edge at one spot and saw a fracture in the dirt under me, like it was about to break away, so I tiptoed back to the bike. Just before reaching the Campbell Highway, I crossed a one-lane Bailey bridge that spanned the rocky gorge over the Lapie River Canyon. I spent about four hours on the South Canol Road alone and saw no one during the entire time, driving or walking.
It was 10:30 when I filled my tank with gas and filled two extra one-gallon containers in Ross River prior to boarding a small cable ferry to cross the river. The ferry operator asked how far I was going, and if I expected to return that day. I said I was headed for the NWT border and yes, I did hope to be back that day. He smiled and shook his head as he looked at his watch. He then gave me directions to where he lived. He said when I get back, assuming it would be after 5:00, I could walk across the footbridge and find him at home. He was quite sure I wouldn't be able to make it back by 5:00. Two European youths waiting at the ferry crossing for a lift asked if I would tell their friends at the first Macmillan River bridge that they would be there as soon as they could find a car or truck that was going that far, which was about 120 miles. Their wait would be long if traffic on the North Canol was no heavier than it was for me earlier on the South Canol.
The river crossing took only a few minutes with the cable ferry, and I was on my way. The North Canol Road was straighter than its southern counterpart, but I realized soon after leaving the ferry that I would never be back by five in spite of stepping lively. The surface of the first ten miles was damp and slick. After that, I rode mostly on loose gravel with larger stones. Almost all of the turns were unmarked and some were deceiving. A few times I went into a turn much too fast and skittered precariously on the shoulder as I struggled to regain control. The thought of ending the trip right there flashed through my mind, which made me ease up a bit. It was also rough in places, with potholes, and sometimes baseball-size stones. I came around one turn and had to panic brake for a caribou that turned and faced me down less than ten feet away. I thought at first he would charge, but I sat still and blipped the throttle a few times. Eventually he turned and ran.
Another time I rounded a bend and hit the brakes for a strange-looking animal in the road that stood more than 3 feet tall to his back. It was completely black with a long slim tail like a mountain lion but it had longer legs with padded feet. When it took a few easy strides into the bush I thought it ran like a tall slim canine. I didn’t get a good look at its head but the head was short and looked most like a black long-tailed lynx. It was a beautiful animal.
|A relatively straight section of the North Canol Road|
About a hundred miles from Ross River, just before transferring extra gas into the tank, I came across the first of several groups of abandoned World War II vehicles, including several trucks and an old road grader, all of which were probably used when the road was being built. I also saw a few abandoned buildings that were used as living quarters by construction workers, and I saw the remains of a maintenance depot for repairing heavy equipment. Later I saw several sections of four-inch-diameter pipe lying loose.
I stopped to talk with a few hikers on foot to see if they were the friends I was supposed to relate the message to. They spoke only French but I was able to conclude that they weren’t the right group. They looked exhausted from walking. They both wore head nets for protection from the insects that were very thick in the area. Whenever I stopped, even for only a minute or so, all of the bare areas of my skin would be immediately covered with swarms of mosquitoes, flies and other small insects. Just before reaching the first of several Macmillan River bridges I was approached by two young guys, one carrying a rifle. I learned after a few anxious moments that they were the ones I was supposed to relay the message to. I stopped and talked for a minute but the insects were very thick, I was on short time, and I was also nervous about their strange behavior. I took off as soon as I could, and pressed on for the NWT border.
The final fifty miles had the nicest scenery. Thick underbrush gave way to green, hilly tundra with spectacular snow-covered mountains all around me. I saw an airstrip and a few accesses to mining areas for barite, zinc, lead and silver. I saw very few maintenance trucks. The few I did see were usually traveling at a high rate of speed. They were a lot more familiar with the road than I was. I hoped that I wouldn't meet one on a turn while I was struggling for control on loose gravel. About 8 miles from the NWT border, I came upon a stream with no bridge. The water was less than a foot deep. I could see vehicle tracks entering and leaving the water, but there were many large boulders in the swift-running stream. I studied the situation and looked for a clear path between the rocks. While I was contemplating my next move a crusty-looking guy in a four-wheel-drive pickup drove through it from the other side. I watched his wheels splash and bounce as he came across, and I decided that even though it was only about 10' across, it would be very risky at best to cross with the Gold Wing.
I was concerned I could break the water pump or the oil filter because both
hang quite low and unprotected in front of the engine. I might also stall it in
the middle and have quite a job getting it out with the rocks plus the weight
of the bike. So I decided to turn around there. A few more miles wasn't worth
the risk with spare parts and/or mechanical help so far away.
|The big rocks made it risky for the Wing|
The guy in the pickup stopped for a moment, shook his head and smiled, and he said, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din." I learned from our brief conversation that he's retired and lives alone all summer in a small cabin in the area. He said the road is actually passable for another 28 miles. The Tsichu River, inside the Northwest Territories, is the first really major obstacle of the Canol Heritage Trail to Norman Wells, NWT. A bridge is out there too, and the water is much deeper and swifter, which would present a formidable barrier to most vehicles, especially Gold Wings. It was 2:30 when I turned the bike around to head back. It had taken four hours to get to that point and I was sure it would take at least three-and-a-half to get back, which meant I would definitely be using the footbridge to get the ferry operator at home.
I got to Ross River just as a maintenance truck was also arriving. I asked him if he had made arrangements with the ferry operator to get across. He said "No one is getting across on that ferry tonight." He went on to explain that the ferry's fan blade had gone through the radiator about mid-afternoon, and he was called to work on it. I asked how long he thought it would take to fix it and he said it depended on how long it would take to get a radiator, a fan and a water pump for an obsolete diesel. If they happen to have all of the parts in Whitehorse, it should only be a day or two. If he has trouble finding the parts, there is no telling how long it might take. My heart dropped as I visualized spending a week or more in Ross River with my bike on the wrong side of the river.
Footbridge across the river
I walked across the single-span suspension footbridge with the mechanic. The bridge was about 400 feet long and it swayed slightly in spite of its heavy stay cables. The walkway tilted to the left at one end of the bridge and tilted to the right at the other end. I carried most of my gear across because I didn't expect to get back to the bike that night. I walked directly to the home of the ferry operator while the mechanic went to call his boss. When I spoke with the operator, to my surprise, he smiled and said, "Come on, I can get you across." I told him about the mechanic being there too, so we went to find him first.
The operator said it happened while he was taking a car across. He spent hours working on the ferry's diesel engine in the middle of the river with the anxious passenger aboard. It's a lucky thing the ferry was attached to a cable, or he would have been swept down the river in the swift current. He said that he jury-rigged the engine so that he could get me across. I was the only one stranded with a vehicle on the wrong side. After he started the engine, the crossing took only a few minutes, after which he immediately shut it down. As soon as the mechanic and I loaded our vehicles aboard, the operator restarted the diesel and took us across the river. I’m sure the engine didn’t overheat in that short period.
View of Dawson City from the "Dome", showing the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers on the upper left and the famous Top-of-the-World Road on the upper right.
I had reservations at Sooley's Bed and Breakfast, a café with a small separate building in the rear with four rooms and a common bath. After a quick shower, I tried to clean up some of my things before turning in. My face shield was badly scratched. The zipper on my tank bag had stopped working from the dust, which was in everything, including most of my clothes that were covered with dust. It was too late to wash everything because it wouldn't have had time to dry. I was exhausted from a long day. It was after 10 PM when I finally got squared away enough to get into bed.
Day 13 - It was 46° and partly cloudy when I got up at 5:30. When I learned that breakfast wouldn't be served until 7:00, I went for a walk along the river. I also couldn't buy gas until 8:00, so I killed more time at breakfast talking with Sooley, the owner. I asked if he knew about any motorcyclists traveling on the Canol Heritage Trail. He said he heard that three had come through the previous year, two Europeans and a Canadian, all on competition dirt bikes with knobby tires. He said it was during a dry spell when the rivers were very shallow. I thought it sounded like a great candidate for a future adventure, but that kind of trip would need a lot of planning and a special motorcycle. After breakfast I found the gas station attendant having coffee at a small café.
I got on the road at 8:20, which was the latest start of my tour. I spotted a lynx on the Campbell Highway, and I visited Dome Mountain before checking into the bed and breakfast in Dawson City. The "Dome" offers great panoramic views of the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, the Ogilvie Mountains, Bonanza Creek, and the start of the Top-of-the-World Road.
I stayed at the same bed and breakfast where our group stayed the previous year, a beautiful and spotless home, run by a friendly guy named Jon and his pretty Filipino wife. I ate Chinese at a downtown restaurant that evening. I didn't sleep too well, possibly because my anxiety was high. I dreamed about my dirt bike that night. I kept trying to start it but it wouldn't start. Next it was my camera that wouldn't work. As I kept trying to take a picture, it exploded in my face, starting little fires all around. I wondered what the strange dreams meant. It was probably the Chinese food.
Road to Clinton Creek
Day 14 - Jon's breakfast was great as usual with strawberry-rhubarb tarts, sausage croissants, muffins and assorted Danish pastries. I talked with him while eating, and I learned a little about Clinton Creek where he was once a supervisor at the now-abandoned asbestos mine. I decided to visit Clinton Creek that day, which was about 30 miles off the Top-of-the-World Road.
I got to the Yukon River ferry at 7:00. There was a line of more than 30 large RVs waiting to cross, most of them in a huge convoy from Oregon. Only two large units can fit on the small ferry at one time, so it could be several hours before everyone got across. I went to the head of the line to see if I could squeeze in where a car or RV couldn't. I was immediately waved aboard, just as they were about to raise the boarding ramp and leave. The Top-of-the-World Road was beautiful that morning. The sky was clear and the early morning sun glistened on the mist that settled in the valleys.
I located the road to Clinton Creek easily. There were many tent campers along the first 20 miles, but I saw no one after the steep descent to the Forty-Mile River. The road is not maintained beyond there because drivers are probably wary about crossing the bridge. The planking is deteriorated, although the main structure appears to be sturdy. After crossing, I learned that the road that I thought would lead into the town had a bridge totally out. The water was far too deep to cross, so I didn't get into the town. I followed a different road to the asbestos mine and explored the mining area. There was a lot of abandoned equipment lying around, and a small airstrip that was used extensively during the 1991 forest fires. I followed another road that led me to the confluence of the Yukon and Forty-Mile Rivers where I finally turned around. I saw no one.
|Searching for the asbestos mine|
Abandoned bridge on the way to Clinton Creek
Road to Eagle, AK
When I got back to the Top-of-the-World Road, it was crowded with RVs. I passed several before reaching the US customs station. The customs agent said he had already checked 69 RVs through that morning. I turned north from the Taylor Highway in Alaska for a side trip to Eagle. It was inevitable that I would have to face the RVs eventually. The road to Eagle was in pretty good shape considering it clings to the sides of the hills and canyons in some places, and is prone to slides. There was a lot of loose gravel, but I enjoyed the ride. It's a typical small Alaskan town, very rustic and unorganized with lots of junk lying around. The riverfront area looked neater than the rest. I gassed up there before heading for Tok. On the way out, I met a huge tour bus coming the other way, very fast. Luckily I had advance warning from a leading car with flags and banners and a big sign saying a bus was following.
The tail end of the huge convoy was going by when I got back to the Taylor Highway. I passed no less than 30 RVs on the extremely dusty, narrow, badly-worn gravel road. Several of the drivers showed resentment by blowing their horns. It was just about the worst hundred miles of dirt I ever rode. One of my rain deflectors snapped off the windshield from the constant vibration. The zipper on my tank bag stopped working from dust the day before and everything inside was a mess, not to mention how much got into my lungs and the bike's air filter. I cussed the RVs, I cussed the road, and I cussed the State of Alaska for the terrible condition of the road. I went by three Gold Wings from Ontario while moving quite fast. They must have thought I wasn't wired right. I got to Tok about 4:30 and checked into the same Quonset-hut lodge where our group refused to stay the previous year due to its run-down condition. It hadn't improved at all - maybe got worse.
After checking in, I had to admit, at least to myself, that it was in pretty bad shape. My room was on the sunny side, which made it very hot. I opened the window but the screen was ripped out. So I couldn't leave it open because it would let in too many mosquitoes. The community toilet smelled strong of mildew and urine. I didn't hear anyone else in the building, and my room was about halfway down a long, almost-pitch dark hallway. My only consolation aside from the price was that although the sheets were tissue thin from wear, they looked and smelled clean. There was no dead-bolt or safety chain on the door, so I piled my heaviest bags against it before I took a Sominex and got into bed - an old steel Army cot.
I was asleep for about 3 hours when jiggling in my door lock woke me. I yelled, "Who's there?" The jiggling continued, so I yelled louder, "Who's there? What do you want?" The jiggling seemed to quicken and suddenly the door began to open in spite of my heavy bags behind it. I wasn't sure if I was having a nightmare or if it was actually happening. I presumed whoever it was had a weapon, and I got pretty shook up. I thought my best defense at that point was noise, as much as I could make, so I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Hey, what are you doing breaking into my room?" The guy mumbled in a heavy foreign accent something like, "I'm looking for my rope." Thoughts of what he planned to do with the rope raced through my mind, and I yelled even louder, "Get out of my room!" He finally left, and I got up and re-locked the door. This time I moved my entire bed against it. My heart was beating so hard it took me a long time to get back to sleep.
Day 15 - I got up at 4:15 and got ready to leave. I ate a little in the room before carrying my gear out. I was relieved to find that the bike was still there. As I was pulling out, I noticed a state police barracks diagonally across the highway, so I stopped to report the incident. There was only an office worker on duty, but I filled out a form and signed it. The girl asked if I was returning that way; and if so, would I please stop by on my return trip. She said a trooper would investigate the incident, and he may have questions. I told her I would be back in three days.
I left Tok a little after 5 AM. I saw a large female moose on the Glenn Highway about an hour later. It got very overcast and began to rain, so I suited up. It rained harder when I was about 50 miles from Valdez, and it poured the rest of the way. The side trip to Valdez was spectacular in spite of the rain and fog. It took me over Thompson Pass and through Keystone Canyon, and I saw several big glaciers near the road at the highest pass. I stopped there, and also at Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls for photos.
While getting gas in Valdez, I asked the attendant if it has been raining long. He said it had been raining steady, and sometimes heavy, for four days. By the time I got back to the Glenn Highway it was clear again. It was probably raining only along the coast.
Bridal Veil Falls on the road to Valdez in the rain
I had always enjoyed the ride from Glennallen to Palmer, although it rained most of the way this time. I got to Palmer early and proceeded to wash some clothes, including my jeans and jacket, and I hung them around the room to dry. I was able to make temporary repairs to the tank bag zipper, and I cleaned the inside of the bag. I stayed at the same motel that our group used the previous year, and I walked to the same hotel where I ordered the same really good dinner. On the way back, I got caught in the rain the same way we did last year. It was all like déjà vu.
Day 16 - I rode into Anchorage after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, and I stopped to buy a few T-shirts at the bike shop. I called Rey, who said he expected me on the 16th, which is what I had told Asia two weeks earlier in Hanover. I must have glanced at my route sheet at the time and saw a 16, which was actually the 16th day of my trip and not the 16th of July. It was only the 12th when I arrived, which was four days earlier than they expected me. I was lucky they hadn't gone somewhere for the day. We had a nice visit. Rey cooked chicken soup and barbecue ribs for lunch, after which Asia and Robyn gave my bike a much-needed wash.
|L to R: Asia, Robin, Rey, Rebecca and Grandma|
Giving the bike a well-deserved cleaning
We enjoyed a long walk in Kincaid Park where we saw a couple of bald eagles perched in a tree. Becky and the kids ran ahead and exercised the dog while Rey and I followed at a more leisurely pace and talked. Rey's dinner consisted of a Chinese-style dish, giant shrimp and smoked haddock. His mom was there all day. I left around 7:30 that evening and had a little trouble with a wet spark plug on my return to Palmer. I had to take the cap off the plug and clear mud out of the drain hole to let the water out.
Day 17 - I stopped at the state police barracks in Tok to check with the troopers about the problem I had at the motel a few days earlier. A different girl took a few minutes to find the complaint and said, "Oh yes, here it is. That case was resolved. The woman who rented the room to you apparently misplaced the registration. At midnight her husband, not realizing the room was rented, rented it again. They think what the guy was probably trying to say was that he was looking for his room, not his rope.”
I reached White River Lodge on the Alaska Highway about 4:30, intending to rent a cabin, which turned out to be very run down. One of the cabins had an old pullout couch for a bed and a long outside walk to a bathroom in the lodge. The other cabin was next to a noisy diesel-powered generator that provided power for the entire site. Both cabins were filthy with bare wood floors. There was no furniture except for the bed, and no locks on the doors. The doors opened out, so they couldn't even be blocked. I decided to rent a room inside the lodge instead, which cost about twice as much, but it was much cleaner and the bed was more comfortable.
Day 18 - It was 45° and cloudy at 4:15. The restaurant was open 24 hours, so I had a full breakfast before leaving at 5:30. I saw the third lynx of my trip in Kluane National Park. It was only 43° and raining at Bear Creek Summit. I gassed up at Haines Junction before turning south for Haines. The Haines Road was very scenic but it was so cold, rainy and foggy that I didn't get much pleasure from it. It was only 41° at Chilkat Pass, BC. It was completely treeless at the pass with snow patches alongside the road for about 20 miles. I met a guy at the ferry dock from San Jose riding a Gold Wing. He complained a lot about the poor condition of the Alaska Highway, especially between Lake Kluane and the Alaska border, which is the Beaver Creek area. He swore he would never ride it again. He came via ferry from Seattle to Haines and was returning the same way, stopping for a day or two at each port-of-call along the ferry route. He certainly wouldn't have liked some of the roads I traveled during the previous week.
I enjoyed the brief ferry ride to Skagway, but I didn't care for having to "stage" for two hours before sailing. The scenery along the Skagway channel is very nice, although I'm sure it would have been a lot nicer on a clear, sunny day. The wind was so strong it was difficult to stand or walk on the deck. During the one-hour sea-going ferry ride, I saw a cruise ship coming from Skagway and another tied up at the dock. A girl from the National Park Service spoke to the passengers in the forward lounge about the history of Skagway with entertaining anecdotes. I had a barbecue rib dinner in Skagway, and I walked around town in spite of a steady drizzle. My motel was first class, as were the prices in Skagway.
|Klondike Highway after leaving Skagway|
Day 19 - I left Skagway at 5:30, without breakfast. It was 48°. The scenery along the Klondike Highway was beautiful, especially through the canyon and over White Pass into Canada's Yukon Territory. About five miles north of Tagish, YT, I saw a female moose with twins, only a few months old. The weather was clear on the Alaska Highway with temperatures in the 50's. I got a pretty good break through the construction area with only a 15-minute wait for the pilot car. I used the time to inspect the bike. Later I saw a 22-wheel truck overturned near one of the rest areas. I figured someone must have pulled out in front of the guy. He was standing there with fresh lacerations on his face, waiting for someone to come and get his rig back on its wheels.
There was a brief shower at the Cassiar Junction while I gassed up. There were only 18 miles of dirt left on the Cassiar between the Alaska Highway and Dease Lake where I stayed. I washed out a few things and replaced a paper-thin front brake pad with a used one I was carrying. I replenished my food supply at the local grocery store, including enough for breakfast. When I asked at the gas station about the condition of the road to Telegraph Creek he laughed and said, "That's a road?" He said it was narrow, rough and dangerous with sheer drops of several hundred feet, and he would never go up it. It was what I had expected.
Day 20 - I was up at 4 AM, the earliest of any day of the trip. Breakfast in my room consisted of baked beans, sardines, and a cup of hot tea. It was barely first light when I got on the road to Telegraph Creek. The first fifty miles was twisty and narrow, and it looked a lot like hard-packed topsoil. It had rained during the night, which made the dark brown surface slippery in spots. It would certainly be a lot worse in heavy rain. I heard that it gets very muddy and slippery with deep, soft ruts. I rode through a brief shower about 25 miles out of Dease Lake, and the surface became very slick, and water quickly accumulated in the tire tracks. I saw a large bull moose about 30 miles out of Dease Lake.
About halfway to Telegraph Creek, I could see the snowy peak of Mount Edziza in the southwest. The road began a sharp descent with 20 percent grades and switchback curves for about ten miles into a small canyon and through some strange lava beds. It then climbed sharply to a narrow ridge of the same type terrain with 400-foot drops to the Tahltan River on one side of the ridge, and a similar drop to the Stikine River on the other side. The road then descended steeply through another series of switchbacks to a bridge across the Tahltan River into a small Tahltan First Nation village. I saw a few old smokehouses and a sign that advertised fresh-smoked salmon. Another steep grade then climbed alongside the edge of the Stikine River canyon with no side rails, which offered beautiful views of the river valley far below.
I passed through another Tahltan village near the top of a 3-mile climb. A sign identified it as the former home of the Tahltan bear dog, "a small animal, almost extinct, that would bark persistently, holding the bear at bay until the hunter arrived." Telegraph Creek, ten miles farther, was another Tahltan Indian community. Services like gas, food and lodging were available. I also saw a small general store and a public school. The town was an important center during gold-rush days. Since then it has been a communications terminal, the head of navigation on the Stikine River, and a commercial salmon-fishing area. Guide services are available for hunting, fishing and river trips. A 12-mile road continues west to Glenora, the site of an attempted, but abandoned, railroad route from southern British Columbia to the Yukon Territory.
After a few photos in Telegraph Creek, I headed back to Dease Lake. Only
110 miles of dirt remains on the Cassiar Highway south of Dease Lake. Most of
it was treated with calcium chloride to keep the dust down. From the original
480 miles of spectacular dirt that I rode in 1977, a total of 130 remains, half
of which may be paved by year-end. Many RVs and campers now use the Cassiar as
an alternate route to Alaska, including many from our west coast. I saw a black
bear and a brown bear a few miles apart, and several eagles. I ran through a
few rain showers before reaching Stewart Junction. The gas station was closed
due to a recent fire, in which someone died. I reached Stewart on the fumes, 254
miles from my previous fill-up. My next side-trip from the Cassiar Highway to
Stewart, BC went through a picturesque canyon and past glaciers, rushing
streams and snow-covered peaks. I got to Stewart about 3:30 and decided to go
into Hyder, AK for some exploring before checking into the motel. Hyder is a
small town with a single short main street and no customs check between the two
communities. The only access is by that single road from Stewart. The road led
me quickly through town and out the north end, and continued uphill along a
glacier-fed river. I followed it for about ten miles and was about to turn
around when I saw a sign: "All vehicles beyond this point must have
chains.” That made it look much more interesting to me, so I kept going and
climbed gradually for three or four more miles to where I was again about to
turn around when I noticed another sign saying that Salmon Glacier was straight
ahead, so I continued.
|Stikine River Canyon|
|A home, or possibly a church, in Telegraph Creek.|
The road soon began an even steeper climb into the mountains to a vantage point where I could see a spectacular S-shaped river of ice winding down through the canyon below me. As I continued to climb, I realized that the road was far above the glacier. At one point I stood looking down at the confluence of two glaciers, one coming from the north and the other from the northwest. It was a mind-boggling panorama. There were huge piles of snow along one side of the road, and a 300-foot drop to the glacier on the other side. The dirt road that I had been following was carved out of the side of the mountain. I learned later that it continues to the Premier Mine, a few miles beyond where I finally turned around.
During the summer, the water from melting snow builds up high in the
canyon behind the toe of the glacier. Once a year the broken-up toe of the
glacier rises very high, and the huge ice dam eventually breaks. The water,
along with tons of ice, logs and other debris comes cascading down through the
canyon, flooding the entire valley below. It must be an awesome and terrifying
sight. Local people told me that when it breaks, it sounds like thunder, and it
actually makes the earth tremble. I spent more than an hour exploring above the
glacier before heading back to secure my room, for which I had a 6:00 courtesy
hold. At $74.50 (Canadian) it was the highest price I paid for a room on the
trip. I removed, cleaned and lubricated the speedometer cable that night
because it had been groaning for about a week. I also did other minor bike
service. The 1200cc Gold Wing proved to be a great dual sport bike. I rode
thousands of miles of gravel with it on this trip, some of which was quite
rough. I enjoyed every mile, and rarely worried about the bike. I used a
special custom seat that was made by Mike Corbin not long after he opened his
business. I used that seat on four different Gold Wings for almost a
|I eventually returned to Stewart.|
Day 21 - It was clear and 48° at 5:15 AM. It was to be my first full day on improved roads in almost two weeks. Upon reaching normal civilization, I stopped at a do-it-yourself car wash to clean away the calcium chloride that had accumulated from the Cassiar Highway. I saw two large deer near Burns Lake and two black bears between Prince George and Tête Jaune Cache (pronounced "Tee John Cash"). The temperature rose to 80°. I felt warm for the first time in two weeks. I had beautiful scenery all day. My motel at Tête Jaune Cache was on the banks of the Fraser River with the Canadian Rockies as a backdrop. I took one of the most beautiful photos of the trip from right outside my room. While checking on my course for the next day, I realized I had made several errors with miles vs. kilometers, so I revised it slightly, including a few extra side trips to fill-in the days.
Day 22 - It was an outstanding day of scenery in spite of the cloudy skies and brief showers. It began crystal clear and 48°, although after turning south onto the Icefields Parkway it clouded over and began to drizzle. I saw several mountain sheep in Jasper Park. It was cold and rainy around the Columbia Icefields, which is one of the highest points on the parkway. It cleared up some in the southern areas of Banff Park near Lake Louise. I came upon Lake Moraine while exploring on a side trip. It is one of the most beautiful spots I had ever been, although I couldn't even find a reference to it in the Alberta brochures.
I took off my rain suit at Lake Moraine, but as soon as I got to Trans-Canada One, the temperature dropped 20°, and by the time I got to the Kananaskis Trail it was raining and 50°. The first 68 miles of the Kananaskis was paved with excellent scenery. It started to rain very hard as I turned off onto a forestry trunk road that was gravel. It rained for the next 67 miles into Coleman, AB.
The road got very slippery in a few places. The only areas where it
wasn't slick on the surface, it was rough with a lot of loose gravel. I saw a
beautiful young elk along the Kananaskis Trail. I spotted several competition
dirt bikes parked in a field alongside the road on one of the muddiest sections
with about a dozen pickup campers and some makeshift rain shelters with guys sitting
underneath, drinking beer. I saw a sign saying, "Over the Bars X-Country Club."
They might have been on a weekend dirt-bike outing when the heavy rain and cold
temperatures turned them off to riding. I wondered what they thought when they
saw a big Wing splashing by, through all of the mess. I beeped my horn a few
times, turned up the wick a little and waved.
|Tête Jaune Cache in the Canadian Rockies|
|Along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper Park|
Along the Kananaskis Trail
My reservations were in Blairmore, AB, which was once a coal-mining town. It was cold and raining when I got there. My room was near the center of town in an old hotel. I was concerned about the parking. I thought about looking for something else, but I had guaranteed reservations. It turned out to be a really nice place with good food and friendly people. I asked what time they served breakfast, and the answer was, "Our normal time is 7:00, but what time would you like to have breakfast? We will have someone in the kitchen to prepare it for you."
Day 23 - It rained most of the night, and was still overcast in the morning. An older gent was up and waiting for me when I got to the restaurant about 5:45. He prepared a hearty breakfast of sausage and eggs, and we talked for a while. I finally got up and left for Spokane. I saw a young elk as I approached Kootenai Pass. I entered Washington at a small customs station at Nelway, and rode through a dense forest of huge evergreens. Later I took a wrong turn and found myself on a remote forestry road in the mountains. The gravel went for 30 miles and came out in Chewela. I saw two young deer feeding in a guy's home garden there. Ralph Spencer was waiting at the Motel 6 in Spokane when I arrived at 2:30. He had driven his Mazda Miata from Sun City, AZ.
|A forestry road in Washington State|
After my shower, we went together to find Roy Bodnar, another friend, and we visited with him for a while. Ralph and I had dinner at the Holiday Inn, after which I serviced the bike. The cap on the radiator expansion tank had come loose, and the tank was empty, which could explain why the fan had been coming on more than usual that day. I filled it, added the last of my spare engine oil and added water to the battery. I noticed that mud on the Kananaskis had taken its toll on my left-front fork seal. Oil was trickling down the fork leg. I also saw a trace of oil on the right-rear shock. I had two trips to Alaska on the bike by that time, and a lot in between.
Day 24 - A strong thunderstorm passed through during the night with a lot of thunder and lightning, which went on for almost an hour. In spite of having only 450 miles on my route sheet for the day, I felt anxious about it. I had a feeling I needed extra time, so I was up and on the road by 5:45. I didn't stay for breakfast. Ralph and I talked as I packed. It was 60° when I left, but it got considerably cooler an hour later in Idaho.
|St. Joe River Road, Idaho|
It was a nice ride along Coeur D'Alene Lake. I saw two deer and a young elk. I had a close call with one when he crossed my path. I rode along the St. Joe River Rd, a dirt road, with 16 miles of fresh construction. I made a wrong turn onto a logging road, thinking it would lead over St. Joe Pass into Montana. I climbed the steep grade for 10 miles through switchback curves to reach the top of the mountain where the road simply ended. I retraced my route back down the mountain, which cost me about 45 minutes total, but I eventually found the right forestry road into Montana. It was almost lunchtime when I stopped for a late breakfast in St. Regis. I was stopped later by 40 miles of construction east of there, which cost me another 45 minutes. In Missoula, I learned that I had made yet another 60-mile error on my route sheet. The three problems and the time change from Pacific to Mountain Time brought me into Lewistown around 7:45 PM, which was four hours later than I planned. I had been on the road for 13 hours. I remembered having somehow predicted it when I got up that morning. When I arrived at the motel in Lewistown, it was 56° and raining. The temperature while crossing the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass was in the 40s. I noticed during my nightly check of the bike that the rear tire was wearing quite thin. I had doubts that it would make the last 2700 miles to home.
Day 25 - I had breakfast in a small café and left in my rain suit. As soon as I got through the Judith Mountains it began to clear up. By 10:00 it was sunny. I had a strong headwind most of the day. The speedometer cable that caused problems earlier, finally snapped around midmorning. Consequently, I had to plan my fuel differently and use the tachometer to figure my speed. I spent the entire day on Route 200 through the gently rolling grasslands of Montana and North Dakota with very little traffic. I saw cattle and a few sheep grazing, and I saw a lot of barley and wheat. I saw a car about every 20 to 30 minutes. I reached my motel in Washburn, ND about two hours earlier than planned due to another route sheet error. I used the time to wash out a few things, and to sightsee around the town.
Day 26 - The terrain in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is generally flat with mostly barley, alfalfa and sugar beets, as well as corn and beans. I continued on Route 200 most of the day, some of which was called the Lewis and Clark Route. I rode through a few showers in northern Minnesota, and I crossed the Mississippi where I could almost jump across. Around midday I realized that the front fork was losing quite a bit of oil, which was getting onto my right trouser leg. I even got some on my glasses. I stopped to let air out of the front suspension in an effort to relieve the pressure, and I wrapped a rag around it to contain the spread of the oil. I was preoccupied with the fork when I forgot about my saddlebag cover sitting there loose. As I started to pull away it flew off and went skittering down the road, which scratched it up. With the speedometer cable broken, my front suspension losing oil, my rear tire getting close to the cords and my saddlebag cover getting scraped up, I began to wonder if the good fortune that had been with me for so long had finally run its course, although things do wear out, and I often procrastinate on the maintenance.
I saw a lot of marshlands in eastern Minnesota near where I crossed the St. Croix River into Wisconsin. It started to rain lightly and continued to come down for the rest of the day. Wisconsin seemed a lot greener than most places I had been for the past several days, and the forests were thicker. I found riding without the speedometer to be tricky. Four separate police cars put their radar on me while I was using the tachometer to judge my speed. For my gas stops I kept track of the mileposts, especially after going on reserve. I got a nice room in Hayward, Wisconsin that was almost the last room in town. I learned that they were having logrolling competition that weekend. I noticed a bald spot on the rear tire and figured it would last another full day at best. I called the Honda Riders Club and got the name of a shop on my route that might have the tire.
Day 27 - The motel was supposed to have a continental breakfast at 6:00, but I waited until 6:10 and saw no one around, so I left to find breakfast on the road. The temperature was in the thirties, and there was quite a bit of frost around. Good weather was with me all day. I bought a tire in Escanaba, Michigan that was the only Dunlop K491 they had in my size. It was a "blem", which I assumed meant it had a cosmetic defect. I tied it onto the back seat for later.
I saw four deer that morning, all young. One was a tiny fawn. I followed the scenic Circle Route along the north and east shores of Lake Michigan. The beaches on the north shore are almost always empty. Towns on the east shore are mostly picturesque vacation areas. One town had flowers planted along both sides of the streets all the way through town. There was a lot more traffic than I had seen in several weeks. I stayed at a Days Inn on the shores of Lake Cadillac and mounted the new tire close to an air machine at a nearby gas station. It took me an hour and a half, as I took my time. I also swapped a rear brake pad with a used one that I was carrying, which I found in the bottom of the saddlebag. The muddy roads certainly take their toll on brake pads.
Day 28 - I had breakfast at a small café nearby and was on the road by 6:30. It started to rain a half hour later and drizzled for about two hours. I saw mainly small towns and rural farm country in southern Michigan and Ohio. I got to Westerville, OH and the AMA Headquarters at 2:00 and attended the Life Members Dinner that evening. I had timed my trip so I could attend.
Day 29 - I rode home from Westerville via interstate highways. My total mileage for the trip was just over 14,000. I estimated about 2,100 miles of it was on unpaved roads. My longest day was 610 miles. My daily average was 480 for the days that I rode. It was my favorite, and one of my most satisfying, adventure tours. I saw a great deal that few have ever seen, and I did it alone. I enjoyed myself a great deal.
The next chapter is: 11 Maya Ruins in the Yucatan