Sunday, July 2, 2017

12 AK6 - The Three Musketeers

Bud (age 66), Jake (age 57) and Piet (age 71
   My main reason for taking this 1996 ride to Alaska was to accompany Bud since he was befallen with bike problems when the five RAMS members rode together to Alaska in 1991. Jake also found the opportunity to go again, so the three of us went together. I tried to plan the ride to be challenging for all three expert dirt riders. I laid it out similar to my earlier 1992 Canol Road trip, but a little more aggressive for a variety of reasons.

   I left Buchanan alone on the Fourth of July, heading north through the Catskills toward Jake’s home in Slingerlands, near Albany. It rained most of the way, which I hoped wasn't setting a precedent for our tour. Bud arrived from his home in Stow, MA around the same time I did. Arlene treated the three of us to a great surf-and-turf dinner of steaks and lobster.

     Day 1 - It was chilly when we left Jake’s. We crossed the Mohawk River at Canajoharie where we saw locks along the old Erie Canal, which is now called the New York State River Thruway. Later we enjoyed a scenic ride through the Adirondack Mountains where we saw what appeared to be another small set of locks near Lowville. We stopped near there for a second breakfast.
About to leave Jake's home in Slingerlands, NY
   We crossed the St. Lawrence River via the Thousand Islands Bridge and got a nice view of some of the many small islands that the bridge is named for. We covered 500 miles that first day and reached North Bay, Ontario by nightfall. Our reservations weren’t in the best part of town, which raised some concern about the security of the bikes, especially Jake’s new BMW R1100RT, which was the most valuable. We located a relatively secluded spot for them behind the building before checking in. Bud was riding his new BMW K75 and I was riding an elderly 1200cc Gold Wing.

     Day 2 - Soon after we got up, Jake realized that his bike key was missing. He searched his pockets, his bedding and his luggage to no avail. When I went out to load up, I found it lying in clear view on the pavement between our parked bikes. Enough said for security. We had coffee in the room and rode 100 miles before finding breakfast. The temperature was a cool 52° when we left. It stayed cool and cloudy for several hours before the sun finally broke through around mid-morning, although the overcast soon returned, as did a few sprinkles before lunch.

   Lakes and rolling hills on both sides provided the nicest scenery of the day. By mid-afternoon the road became much straighter with balsams, cedars and poplars on both sides of the highway. Daisies, buttercups and other wild flowers flourished in the broad right-of-way between the highway and the thick forest. We located our motel easily about five miles east of Geraldton, Ontario.

     Day 3 - The room had no rollaway, so I slept on a plastic inflatable mattress that I was carrying for such emergencies, which didn’t provide a very restful night. My skin stuck to the plastic whenever I turned, and the mattress gradually lost most of its air during the night, which put me on the floor by morning.

   We started in the rain at 5:50, with the temperature at 55°. The rain continued for about an hour before gradual clearing. We stopped at a small café near Nipigon Bay, Ontario for breakfast. The scenery was nice all day. I recognized some of the area north of International Falls from my tough 1981 trip 15 years earlier, with its bare rocky ground, trees that seemed to be stunted, and black rock on the surface that reminded me of exposed magma. We rode through a few showers with raindrops as big as grapes before reaching the eastern edge of the prairie. We stopped for the night near Winnipeg, Manitoba.

     Day 4 - It rained heavy during the night, but stopped just before we checked out. We rode through several light showers in the morning and saw a lot of wheat and other crops growing, followed by about a hundred miles of mostly forest with poplar and balsam trees for another hundred miles. The roads became gently winding two-lane macadam with a coarse surface as we continued heading north. Bud and I transferred gas from our spare cans into the tank before reaching The Pas, where the distances between gas were getting much greater. We located a bank in The Pas where we exchanged some travelers checks for Canadian currency.

   About 10 miles before Flin Flon, we began to see solid granite on the surface of the ground. It seemed as though the earth’s underbelly was showing through. There were very few trees, or grass, or other vegetation in some areas, just smooth, flat stone. Flin Flon is a city of about 7,000 people, built at least partially on this flat granite surface. It's a mining town where mainly copper, zinc and other precious metals like gold are mined. Copper and zinc were discovered there in 1914, the year that the town was founded, although the mines were not fully developed until 1929. The huge smoke stack in town can be seen for miles. Much of the population appears to be Scottish or Irish. We visited a museum where Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, a mythical character who is said to have founded the town is featured. We also rode around town to see some of the unique sights before finding our motel.
Welcoming center in Flin Flon, Manitoba 
     Day 5 - Having eaten too much too late, I didn’t sleep well. We left Flin Flon at first light, heading due west and expecting a long, tough day on gravel roads. We couldn't find a place open, so we left without breakfast with a spectacular view of the huge smokestack behind us, accentuating by the sunrise. We entered Saskatchewan at the west end the town. The temperature dropped to 46° during our first two hours on the scarcely-traveled, rough gravel of SK Rte 165. We stopped in the middle of the road a few hours later for a nature break. We hadn't seen another vehicle for an hour or more. Bud said, “What are we doing for breakfast?” I reached into the trunk of the Gold Wing for a can of sardines, and said I was thinking of having it right here. His response was, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Our stand-up breakfast in the middle of the road included canned sardines and granola bars. Bud refused to eat any of the sardines, but he was carrying beef jerky sticks. Many flies, gnats and huge mosquitoes swarmed around us while we ate. We saw no other vehicles on the road during all the time we were there. We left as soon as possible due to the insects.
Having Breakfast along SK Rte. 165
   We continued for another 65 miles on SK Rte 165 before reaching Rte 2. I had hoped to get gas at the intersection, but there was none. La Ronge was only 20 miles north, so we gassed up there and returned. We went through 100 miles of construction and more gravel on Rte 165, where the logging trucks were going in both directions. The roads got much better in Alberta where we saw wheat and canola growing, and cattle in other fields. It rained for the last half hour into Athabasca, Alberta where we had reservations at a beautiful, modern inn. It was by far the longest and toughest day of our trip. We covered more than 700 miles in 13 hours, of which most was loose gravel and construction.

     Day 6 - I slept well on a much better rollaway cot. I was awake by 4:30 and got the others up. We had breakfast at an IGA grocery store that had a small restaurant inside. We were on the road in less than an hour, but in a steady rain. It had rained most of the night, and we had intermittent showers most of the morning. The temperature stayed in the low fifties for most of the day.

   We passed through Dawson Creek at “Mile Zero” of the Alaska Highway around noon. There was construction and heavy traffic for the first 40 miles of the Alaska Highway, which cleared up after Fort St. John. The sun came out and stayed with us for part of the afternoon as we climbed into the Canadian Rockies through the scenic Pink Mountain area. There was dust in many spots where loose gravel was used to fill potholes and frost breaks in the pavement. Otherwise it was totally paved and in fairly good shape. A truck followed us for several miles at 75 mph and finally passed us doing 80 or better. We stopped for the night at Fort Nelson.

     Day 7 - I woke at 2:50 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I got up at 4:15 and made coffee. We were on the road an hour later. It was 55° and mostly cloudy. It dropped into the mid 40s in the mountains. We saw bears, Dall sheep and caribou as we passed through some of the most scenic areas between Steamboat Mountain and Muncho Lake, BC. We rode about 20 miles of loose gravel and 10 miles of messy construction before calling it a day at Mukluk Annie’s Salmon Bake, just west of Teslin, YT, where we rented a cabin and enjoyed a great salmon dinner.

     Day 8 - I woke up early again, around 3:30. I got Bud and Jake up at 4:15. By the time we turned onto the South Canol Road, the temperature had dropped to just above freezing. The guys were beginning to tire of my breakfast fare of sardines and granola bars; although traveling mostly on long, lonely dirt roads, you don’t find cafés that easily, and I wasn’t about to wait for the restaurant at Mukluk Annie’s to open, probably at 7 AM.

    The South Canol Road was the highlight of our tour, as it was on my previous tour. We stopped several times for photos. It was actually the first place we stopped only for the photos. Bud and Jake would have liked stopping more often. The first thirty or forty miles of the Canol Road was a little dusty, but it got progressively better as the good weather held. We enjoyed spectacular scenery for about four hours along the scarcely traveled, 138-mile, winding gravel road. I saw a female moose with young, but not as many animals as I saw on my previous Canol Road trip. We went into Ross River, but didn't try heading up the North Canol Road. From there, we headed north for Dawson City, which was a long and tedious ride on the Klondike Highway that consisted of many more miles of gravel with a lot of construction. It was exceptionally scenic but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first time I rode it in 1977. We stopped for lunch at a small café in Carmacks.

   Before entering Dawson City, we stopped at the Dome for a spectacular view of the city and the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. It is said that on the 21st of June it's possible to see the Midnight Sun from the Dome on a clear night. We arrived at the Dawson City Bed & Breakfast about 5:30. It was the third time I stayed there. I was recognized and it felt like I was returning to a regular vacation spot. After cleaning up, we walked into town and had dinner at a restaurant called Klondike Kate’s.

     Day 9 - Our gracious host Jon had breakfast ready at six, as I requested. The food was excellent as usual. We were out of there by 6:45. The Yukon River ferry was empty with no vehicles waiting. We were the only three vehicles aboard for the 10-minute crossing. There was also no one waiting on the west bank when we landed. The Top-of-the-World Road was beautiful that morning. We could see the Richardson Range clearly, far to the north, and there was very little dust and no traffic.

   We cleared US customs quickly and headed for Tetlin Junction on the Taylor Highway, which was rough and dusty as usual, and in terrible condition, including 25 miles of construction. We spread out to avoid fouling each other’s air cleaners. I rushed ahead so I could stop at the 1898 gold dredge for a photo with Bud and Jake rounding the bend in the background. When I got there, I quickly put the bike on the side stand, ran to an ideal spot, and got my camera ready. I waited a minute, then two, then several, and no one came. My first thought was about a downhill, off-camber turn about six miles back that had a lot of loose, marble-sized gravel all over the road, and I thought about Bud’s stiff right leg resting on the highway peg, and about his favoring the hand brake. It was not a good spot for using the front brake. I turned the bike around and headed back, expecting the worst.

   I found them after only two miles. Jake had his plastic covers already removed and laying on the ground as they were looking for the reason his BMW suddenly quit. After watching them for a minute or so as they checked the fuses and connections under the seat, behind the headlight, and under the tank, I asked Jake if he had the operator’s manual for the bike. I opened the book to the troubleshooting page and began to read aloud: “Bike will not start: 1. No gas in tank. 2. Ignition switch in off position. 3. Kickstand down.” !!! Enlightenment suddenly came over Jake’s face and he immediately looked under the bike where he found that the broken kickstand interlock switch was dangling loose. It took only a few minutes to bypass the switch, button up the covers and we were on our way. The final 25 miles into Tetlin Junction was very rough with heavy washboard, thick loose gravel and billows of dust.

   We stopped for lunch in Tok before heading east on the Glenn Highway, which was rough with many frost heaves and breaks in the pavement, several of which were filled with loose gravel. I had reserved a cabin in Glennallen, but after seeing the condition of the cabins and seeing no place nearby to eat, we decided to press on for Palmer, 126 miles farther west. We stopped briefly to view Matanuska Glacier from the highway before heading for the same motel we stayed at on our previous trip with the RAMS. We ran through a few brief showers between Tok and Glennallen. When another light shower began just 20 miles from Palmer, I thought it was only a brief one, so I kept riding. But it suddenly became very heavy and we got soaked. Finding no vacancies where we stayed last year, we continued on for a few miles and found a motel where the rates were reasonable but there was no rollaway. Oh well, I used my defective inflatable mattress again.

     Day 10 - We located a Wal-Mart in Anchorage where Bud bought motor oil, a funnel and paper towels. He did his oil change in Rey and Becky’s driveway. Rey was at work when we arrived, but he took time off and came home for a few hours to make lunch for us. We had baked halibut and Alaskan sea crab, along with corn on the cob, a salad, and other assorted dishes. I took my grandson Robyn for a short ride on the bike, and later I tried to fix his computer, to no avail. It appeared to be missing a few key files. Jake went in search of the BMW dealer where he had ordered a tire earlier. The dealer was too busy to work on it that day but he made an appointment for the following morning. We got back to Palmer about 6:15, and had a late dinner at the hotel in town.

     Day 11 - Bud and I headed for Denali Park while Jake went to get his tire mounted. The temperature was only in the mid 40s. It got considerably colder as we approached the entrance to Denali, where it also began to rain. After a short tour of the Visitors Center we returned to the bikes and headed out in the rain. It rained on and off for the rest of the day. We got to Tok about 4:45, about a half hour before we were scheduled to meet Jake coming from Anchorage. He arrived an hour later than he planned, after being delayed to look for a lost saddlebag along an extremely rough section of the Glenn Highway between Tok and Glennallen. The bag literally snapped off the side of his new BMW in one of the deep dips. He didn't hear or feel it go and couldn’t find it.
Mario Francisco del Castro Filho from Brazil
   While we were on our way to dinner, we spotted a salty-looking guy getting gas with a BMW K1100. We walked over to talk with him and learned that he was on a solo tour from his home in Brazil. He had already been to Tierra del Fuego, Chili at the southern tip of South America, and also to Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost point accessible by road in North America. As Jake was talking with him, I was looking at the huge pile of gear tied onto his bike. I noticed Jake’s saddlebag perched on the very top. The guy said he found it lying alongside the road. Jake offered to treat him to dinner for finding his bag, which he accepted with a big smile. We learned at dinner that his name was Mario Francisco de Castro Filho. He was a dealer in boats in his home country of Brazil. He was a very interesting guy. He told us about a motorcycle accident he had a few years earlier, which left him in a coma for three days. He said he spoke French and English fluently before the accident, in addition to his native language, but he got amnesia as a result of the accident and completely forgot how to speak French and English. Although he was relearning English on this trip, he still struggled with it. He said he was headed for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta where he was entered in the competition with the Brazilian rowing team. He said he had been sleeping in his bag on the ground during the trip, and that he was traveling a lot at night because of the heavy RV traffic and road construction during the day. After dinner we took photos of each other and exchanged decals and other friendliness.

     Day 12 - We were up early for our ride to the Haines Ferry. I was anxious to get an early start due to the possibility of long delays in some of the construction areas. I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the ferry to Skagway, since we had no reservations. The temperature was 51° when we left Tok, but it soon dropped into the mid 40s. We enjoyed the scenic ride through the Beaver Creek area, which had practically no traffic. We arrived at the construction area in the Yukon just before a heavy rainsquall. The mud wasn’t deep, but the surface was wet and slippery with a lot of washboard and small puddles. I had a scary close call when I ventured too close to the edge of the road to avoid some of the severe washboard while on a slight bend in the road. My rear tire suddenly broke traction on the very edge, and the bike began a long broad-slide at 65 mph. Luckily the Wing corrected itself. There was a steep drop off the edge, which could have caused a really bad scene. Most of the heaviest construction was between the Alaska border and Burwash Landing, as usual. It was overcast around Lake Kluane, which is usually one of the better spots for photos. I had planned a brief photo op there, but we didn't stop.

Haines Highway Summit
   The electric power was out at Haines Junction. We had to wait for one of the gas stations to start-up their auxiliary power. It rained on and off during our ride down the Haines Peninsula. Patches of snow lay in several places near the treeless summit. It was cold and raining most of the way, with fog. We arrived at the ferry building in Haines at 3:30, a full five hours before we had to queue up for boarding. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 10 PM, which gave us more than enough time to eat, explore a little around the area, and still get back in good time for boarding.

Jake took this "selfie" with a time delay
   We had a high-priced meal at a local restaurant in Haines while we waited. We filled up with some of the highest-priced gas we got anywhere on the trip, we browsed through a few of the souvenir shops, and we rode around the small town. The ferry loading operation went extremely slow. Several of the huge RVs and motor homes were getting hung up as they eased their way down the steep loading ramp onto the main ferry deck. The major difficulty was due to it being dead-low tide. The front end of some of the motor homes dragged the deck as they loaded through the side of the ship. The short ferry ride up the Skagway Channel happened well after dark, so we missed seeing some of the nice scenery from the deck. We finally got to bed in Skagway at 1:20 AM.

     Day 13 - After not much more than a nap, we headed up through the scenic canyon toward White Pass and the Canadian customs station. We stopped several times for photos on the way up through the canyon and over the pass before proceeding to Jake’s Corner on the Alaska Highway where we had a full breakfast. The original crusty owner for which the place is named sold out several years earlier, but his huge collection of old trucks, snow-removal equipment and other machinery still adorned the complex like a museum. Some of the equipment dated back to the early 1940s when the Alaska Highway was built.

   We rode mostly on good roads and had good weather from there to the Cassiar Highway junction. We encountered a few areas of light construction on the Alaska Highway and again on the Cassiar where we rode through about 15 miles of very dusty gravel. The rest of the roads were in great shape. We had lunch from some of the smoked salmon that my son-in-law Rey had prepared for our return trip. Our overnight reservations were at the North Country General Store Bed and Breakfast at Dease Lake where we had a suite of rooms in this unique inn. We ate a full, roast-beef dinner that evening at the Other Place Restaurant nearby.

     Day 14 - We were up at 4:15 for what I figured would be a long and potentially difficult day on the Telegraph Creek Road. A community kitchenette area in the hallway had a cereal, coffee and filtered water, which was the breakfast part of their "bed and breakfast". I made coffee for the three of us, and we had their granola cereal before getting on the road around 5:40. If the road hadn't been quite so dry and dusty, we would have gone all the way to Telegraph Creek, but it was extremely dusty, and we had to spread out quite far to avoid fouling each other’s air filters.

   I saw a large gray fox dart across the road at one point, but no other animals.  We went as far as the confluence of the Stikine and Tahltan Rivers in the Tahltan Indian Reserve. The view from the narrow razorback ridge, far above the two white-water rivers, was spectacular. We aborted the trip to Telegraph Creek there, and returned to Dease Lake where we made a quick stop at the bed and breakfast one last time to use the toilet facilities before heading down the Cassiar Highway. It started to rain around 10:30, and continued for most of the time we were on the dirt sections, which helped to keep the dust down. Some places got messy, and we got splashed with muddy water several times by oncoming trucks. We saw a guy and a girl on a BMW dual-sport bike coming the other way. They were obviously having problems in the slippery mud. We assumed they had given up and turned back when we saw the same couple later near Stewart.

   We got a room in Stewart, BC before heading into the mountains north of Hyder, AK where we hoped to see the Salmon Glacier like I did on my previous trip. But we ran into rain and heavy fog while picking our way up the twisty, rough access road that leads to the glacier. The road was covered with deep, muddy potholes this time, which were hard to see in the fog. We went 22 miles into the mountains along the treacherous roads without ever seeing the spectacular glacier, which was one of the highlights of my earlier tour. The fog was too thick to see anything. We eventually decided to head back to the motel in Stewart where we had a late dinner and turned in at 8:45.

     Day 15 - I didn’t get to sleep until around one o’clock. I still got the guys up a little after 5:00. We packed the bikes and left in a steady rain after eating smoked salmon in the room with coffee. We stopped an hour later for a full breakfast at Meziadin Junction. It rained for more than four hours. Then it became overcast for the rest of the day, with occasional showers. It was heavily overcast for our long climb along TC Rte 16 into the Canadian Rockies toward Jasper Park. Our overnight reservations were on the banks of the Fraser River at Tête Jaune Cache where I stayed on my earlier trip. The restaurant where we had dinner had become a Korean barbecue. We shared a large table with several other motel guests. The Korean chef named Kim was said to be famous in his home country for several dishes on the menu, which included barbecue beef, bean sprouts, fiddlehead fern, hot radishes and hot cabbages. We all enjoyed the meal. It was a long tiresome day for me without enough sleep.

     Day 16 - It was raining and 48° when we rode into Jasper. We had breakfast at a fancy restaurant in the alpine village. A group of Swiss people from a tour bus came out of the restaurant about the same time we did. We talked with a few of them as we prepared to leave. One guy kept smiling and asking in poor English, “You goving?” I answered twice, “Yes, we’re going.” He kept saying it like I didn’t understand him, and each time I answered the same way. I thought he might be a little simple, or maybe hard of hearing, but finally his wife, who spoke fluent English, enunciated, “He asked if this is your Gold Wing.” Meanwhile he was smiling and nodding. As we were pulling out, he said with a big smile, “Gute fahrt!” which Jake said later was German for “Have a good trip.” The guy probably concluded that I was the one who was a little simple.

   We made our way down the Icefields Parkway through Jasper and Banff Parks in steady rain that became mixed with snow and sleet around Parker Ridge in Banff Park. The temperature at Columbia Icefields was only 36°. We stopped for a few photos before finally running out of the rain near Lake Louise, but it remained heavily overcast. After turning east on the TC 1, we went through a lot of road construction. Later, along the Kananaskis Trail, we saw several Rocky Mountain sheep. The Forestry Trunk Road that runs parallel with the Continental Divide was dusty with marble-sized gravel, but we had a good ride. Our overnight stop was in Blairmore, Alberta.

     Day 17 - It was 53° and partly cloudy when we left Blairmore at 5:30. It dropped into the mid 40s near Crowsnest Pass. We saw several BC provincial cops with speeders pulled over along Rte 3, which is usually patrolled heavily. We had a nice half-hour ferry ride across Kootenay Lake after riding a 50-mile twisty road along the east side of the lake getting there. We got to Spokane at 3:30 where we were supposed to meet Ralph Spencer. He had planned to accompany us for a day or so but he never showed. It was 82° in Spokane, which was hot, and we were still in long johns.

     Day 18 - It was clear when we left Spokane. We rode on several scenic secondary roads through rolling wheat fields in eastern Washington into Idaho. We learned while having breakfast in St. Maries that heavy damage from early spring flooding had not yet been cleared in the Rockies; and that some of the roads that I planned to take along the St. Joe River and over the Continental Divide into St. Regis, MT were still being repaired. The flood took out several roads in the area. We took a huge detour via Idaho Rte 3 and I-90. Later we experienced several construction delays in Montana, which got us to our motel in Lewistown around 6:00. I hosed all of the mud out the radiator core that evening because the engine had been running hot.

     Day 19 - We had breakfast in Jordan, MT. It was cool and clear all morning as we rode through the barren farming areas in eastern Montana. We had lunch at a taco stand later in Watford City, North Dakota. It was becoming increasingly cloudy in the afternoon. We rode through a few brief showers late in the day, and we had 350 miles of construction delays before reaching our motel in Carrington, ND. It was a long, tedious afternoon.

     Day 20 - We rode through several rain showers during the day, a few of which were heavy, and crossed the Mississippi River where it's only about 10 feet wide. Later we checked into a doublewide trailer at the Woodland Motel in Augusta, WI before heading for Phil Bourdon’s farm nearby. A rear tire that I shipped there had arrived, so I proceeded to change it in his barn. We enjoyed a dinner that Connie prepared, and afterward we visited with our hosts for a few hours before returning to the doublewide.

     Day 21 - Phil came over early and led us over several remote farm roads for more than 240 miles to the Michigan state line where he turned back. We used the Upper Peninsula to reach the Mackinac Bridge, and then we rode the Circle Route on the east shore of Lake Michigan where many of the towns had flowers planted along the streets. We located our Super 8 in Cadillac easily, but when we learned there was no rollaway cot, we opted for a room at a different motel nearby.

     Day 22 - We were on the road at first light so we could spend more time at the AMA motorcycle museum in Westerville, Ohio. We spent a few hours going through the displays and we stopped to talk with a few AMA employees we know. After leaving, we headed directly into the farmland where a lot of Amish buggies were on the road, especially around Mount Eaton. A few times there would be as many as three and four in a group holding up traffic in the hilly terrain. Cars would crest the blind hills and have to panic brake for the horse and buggies that travel very slow through the dips. We ran into a heavy shower just before reaching Massillon.
Changed my tire at Phil Bourdon's farm in Wisconsin
     Day 23 - We rode several scenic secondary roads getting home on our final day, including a few gravel roads in the Alleghenies. The main regret of our trip was the shortage of photo ops, which was mostly my fault because of the way I planned the trip with a daily average of more than 520 miles, which included many wet gravel roads in heavy rain. It allowed very little time for anything other than a heavy throttle. But I'm sure it was a ride we'll all remember.

The next chapter is: 13 Goose Bay on a Lightweight

No comments:

Post a Comment